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The Vanished Imam: Musa al Sadr and the Shia of Lebanon

The Vanished Imam: Musa al Sadr and the Shia of Lebanon [Kindle Edition]

Fouad Ajami

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Product Description

Product Description

In the summer of 1978, Musa al Sadr, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Shia sect in Lebanon, disappeared mysteriously while on a visit to Libya. As in the Shia myth of the "Hidden Imam," this modern-day Imam left his followers upholding his legacy and awaiting his return. Considered an outsider when he had arrived in Lebanon in 1959 from his native Iran, he gradually assumed the role of charismatic mullah, and was instrumental in transforming the Shia, a quiescent and downtrodden Islamic minority, into committed political activists.

What sort of person was Musa al Sadr? What beliefs in the Shia doctrine did his life embody? Where did he fit into the tangle of Lebanon's warring factions? What was behind his disappearance? In this fascinating and compelling narrative, Fouad Ajami resurrects the Shia's neglected history, both distant and recent, and interweaves the life and work of Musa al Sadr with the larger strands of the Shia past.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 939 KB
  • Print Length: 228 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press (1 April 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #625,870 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the mysterious shi'a 12 May 2004
By A Customer - Published on
Though the place is Lebanon and the time is mid-20th century, the story it tells offers a lot of insight into the present situation in Iraq. Ajami gives a brief, cogent history of Shi'a religious beliefs, history and politics. Musa al-Sadr, the vanished imam of the title, is a tantalizing individual who tried to bridge the abyss between the Shi'a past and its future. I found the book and the bespoke imam fascinating. Lebanon in the 1970s was a misunderstood religious, political and international disaster and there are frighening parallels to the events of today.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ajami's best 22 Oct 2007
By Hussain Abdul-Hussain - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is Ajami's best. It creates the ideological, sociological and historic context for the career of one of the most illustrious Iranian-born Lebanese Shiite mullahs in Lebanon. Ajami also provides clear genealogy of the roots of Mussa Sadr.

In 1959, Sadr had arrived in Lebanon to succeed the mufti of Tyr in southern Lebanon. Unlike religious men of his time, Sadr took his position to unprecedented levels as he started preaching a reverse in the fortunes of the Shiite community of Lebanon that had presumably been until the arrival of Sadr a marginalized and impoverished group living under the grip of its unsympathetic feudal lords.

Ajami skillfully captured the revolutionary and untraditional discourse of Sadr as he painted his importance in Shiite minds by comparing him to Shiite legendary imams. Ajami also highlighted the contradiction in Sadr's message upon the breakout of Lebanon's civil war in 1975. While Sadr first announced that he was opposed to violence, realities had in fact forced him to start forming his own armed militia.

The book is informative while Ajami's entertaining style adds much value to this work.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still the best book for understanding Shia/Sunni politics 9 Mar 2011
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Curious about the story that Musa al Sadr might still be alive in some dungeon of Gadaffi's (I refuse to spell that cur's name correctly by way of protest), I discovered this early book by Ajami, which turns out to be not only the most beautiful and evocative, but the most useful book I've read on the feeling of modern Arab, Iranian and Levantine politics, despite that it is 25 years old. So much hasn't changed, or is just now changing - in Iran, Libya and Egypt - that it is surprisingly apt. Most of all, the Vanished I. gives the most spacious and clearest explanation of the Shia outlook and experience that I've ever encountered (I've heard Ajami expound upon it here and there, but this is virtually a whole book about it. The book is most dated about Lebanon itself - but everything that has taken place since 1986 was set in motion by the main players in Ajami's account. I can't begin to summarize or crystallize what I now know about Sunni-Shi'a differences, but I assure you I am wiser about them.
One thing I can recount of which I was entirely unaware is that Persia is Shia only because of a dynastic change only 400 years ago - it was not "naturally" Shia, as I had always somehow stupidly assumed. And clerics and intellectuals had to be imported from what is now Lebanon to Shia-ize its population - much as areas of Europe were Catholicized or Protetestantized for similar reasons around the same time (did you know that northern Italy and Poland had big Protestant, even (the latter) Unitarian populations before the counter-reformation? So the link between Iran and Lebanon's (really Syria's) Shia was centuries old - and Al Sadr's family originated in the Lebanon, were "sent" to Persia in the 16th century, and he returned from Iran to Lebanon only in the 60s.
Also great is the portrait of Al Sadr himself - he is very much a sixties kind of guy - tall, big personality, got along wonderfully with other faiths. He is wonderfully in the mold of big clerics of that age - Rabbi Abraham Heschel, Father Ted Hesburgh, Bishop Pike, etc. The Lebanese loved him because he dressed well and had a sense of style, essential to success in Lebanese life - Ajami quotes someone who says that Musa Al Sadr was the first mullah he ever encountered whose shoes weren't dirty.
All in all, I'd say this is the second most beautiful and wise book on Arab religion and politics (well, Persianized Arab) after Doughty's Arabia Deserta.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars About More than Just A Shi'i Leader 31 Jan 2009
By Eagle Eye - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Magnificent book vital to understanding As Sadr's role in redefining the politics of the Lebanese Shia and the genesis of Amal and Hezbollah. Through it you also learn a great deal about the Lebanese state and the interactions of its main communities. There are deep insights here and a visceral understanding of south Lebanon as only someone like Ajami (a Shi'i orig from that area) could impart them. The weakness is that it is perhaps too admiring, to the detriment of some alternative insights that a more balanced and objective view would provide.
5.0 out of 5 stars Intimate Portrait of a Sincere Muslim Activist and Reformer 31 Dec 2013
By Ahmad Hassan - Published on
Sayyid Musa al Sadr was a genuine and charismatic modern Muslim reformer. His story is presented by noted scholar, author, and news analyst and commentator Fouad Ajami in a book that is well-researched, superbly written, and told in a clear and gripping style. The author starts by setting the backdrop for the Imam’s (religious leader) mission. He provides a very good history of Lebanon (especially that of the South, home to the Lebanese Shia population) and the numerous challenges present there during the middle of the twentieth century (especially that of a severe lack of essential infrastructure). He also provides a very useful personal history of the Imam himself and that of his family and extended lineage (which traces back to the prophet Muhammad). The author spends much time going over various social, religious, economical, political, and historical aspects that may be difficult for a Westerner to grasp initially, but which are necessary for the overall story (and its proper context) to be understood. The crux of the Imam’s mission is summarized by the author on page 96:
“Musa al Sadr’s political agenda emerged out of the way he interpreted the faith. Faith was not about ritual, but about social concerns, about the needs of men. Religion was not something that had to be quarantined and kept pure by stern guardians; it could be made to address modern needs. Thus the man of religion, rajul al din, need not hide and solely concern himself with old books and rituals.”
The author does a terrific job of conveying to the reader that this was indeed what Musa al Sadr believed and stood for while working tirelessly to enact reform and build a better future for his people, his adopted country, and perhaps even for greater Islam itself, during very difficult times and challenging circumstances. This is a moving story about a rare, larger than life personality narrated by a gifted writer and respected scholar. Highly recommended. Ahmad Hassan, author of The Science of the Quran.
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