Book Review: A scholarly work on Shi’ism in the Muslim world

07:53 AM Mar 15, 2020 |

This book is erudite and scholarly because in just 192 pages, Simon Wolfgang Fuchs tells us all we need to know about the Imamate and the various beliefs of the Shia Muslims.

He has done enormous work by visiting the madrasas or seminaries, expostulating their theology which is definitely in consonance with Islam. However, the majority Sunnis do not see eye-to-eye with their Shia brethren. And this will continue.


Fuchs is a lecturer in Islamic and Middle East studies at the University of Freiburg. He has , challenged common assumptions about Shia Muslims (whom he calls Shi’i Muslims,) and justifies their beliefs. He also delves deep into the raison d’ etre for the creation of Pakistan to tell a story of dissent and discussions between Sunnis and Shi’is.


Fucks focuses less on Iran because when these ulema think of the Iranian Revolution, Pakistan has emerged as a centre for polemical discussions between Shi’i political, theological and judicial institutions and those of the majority Sunnis.

He espostulates that a wider Shi’i religious landscape emerged after the Iranian revolution, arguing that lessons of the revolution—including how Pakistani scholars implemented Ayatollah Khomeini’s concept of vilayat-i faqih (guardianship or rule by a jurist) — were incorporated into South Asian Shi’i politics and theology through the vociferous, and often sectarian, discussions and debates between popular Islamic scholars in the region.

Some individuals emerge from the welter of details, such as Ihsan Ilahi Zahir, a Pakistani theologian and anti-Shi’i sectarian who was killed during a bombing in 1987. This book assumes that the reader has some basic knowledge of Shiism, South Asia, and the Muslim world.

Those who start studying the book will soon accept that Fuchs’s impeccable scholarship creates a film of complexity which they will find difficult to comprehend. The book has perhaps been written for a nuanced picture of the debate in Pakistan about the ideal Muslim state in the modern world. 

Complexity versus simplicity is what emerges in a scholarly text of this sort. There is no doubt that the sentences and grammar are correct but on the Flesch-Kincaid readability index, Fuchs may hover around the midway mark.

This is because his average sentence exceeds 15 words and the vocabulary assumes those who buy this book will be fluent in the English language with basic knowledge of the differences between the majority Sunnis and the minority Shi’ism adherents.

However, that may not always be the case and simplifying complicated theological doctrine would have increased both readability and marketability.

Be that as it may, the book is undoubtedly a valuable addition to the literature on Islam and the differences within the Muslim world.

This is because the Muslims, whether Sunni or Shia are undoubtedly discriminated against within India although the Constitution prohibits it.

But Constitutional morality and cultural morality often contradict each other. Hence, we continue to live in a country where religious discrimination against Muslims continue.

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