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Twelve Infallible Men : The Imams and the Making of Shi'ism (Hardcover) (Matthew Pierce)

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While many forms of Shi’a ritual, art, and literature played a role in shaping and transmitting the stories of the imams, Pierce focuses on the collected biographies of the imams through five of the earliest extant examples, which he believes constitute the formative stage of this genre that were written in Arabic from the tenth to twelfth centuries. Not attempting to verify whether the events described in the stories actually occurred, he connects these works to storytelling in its broadest and deepest sense--storytelling as a fundamental and indispensable means of making one’s own life and identity. The alternative historical perspectives enshrined within the biographies were meaningful precisely because of the relative marginalization of the Shi’a community from broader circles of influence--the flourishing of stories of the imams suggests they were an effective form of self-defense against a perceived attack on the community, narrative, and ideals. Citing the absence of universal agreement on how best to understand the difference between Sunni and Shi’a forms of Islam--the terms Sunni and Shi’a exist today in reciprocal relationship--any attempt to understand one is simultaneously a journey into the other. Pierce provides a quick guide to the infallibles with a brief introduction to each with their extended forms of name, most famous honorifics, generally agreed upon death dates, and a brief note about historical context. With most Western scholarship on Islam focusing on Sunni Islam thanks to the Ottoman empire, Shi’ism has largely been regarded as the “other” version. Annotation ©2016 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (

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