A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi‘is

A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi‘is

9780863569265 January 2019 Paperback 352pp

About the Book

An essential guide to understanding the divide that has come to define Islam and the Muslim world.

The 1400-year-old schism between Sunnis and Shi‘is is currently reflected in the destructive struggle for hegemony between Saudi Arabia and Iran – with no apparent end in sight. But how did this conflict begin, and why is it now the focus of so much attention?

In this definitive account, John McHugo charts the history of Islam from the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad to the present day. He describes the conflicts that raged over the succession to the Prophet, how Sunnism and Shi‘ism evolved as different sects during the Abbasid caliphate, and how the rivalry between the empires of the Sunni Ottomans and Shi‘i Safavids ensured that the split would continue into the modern age. In recent decades, this centuries-old divide has acquired a new toxicity resulting in violence across the Arab and Muslim world.

About the Author

After studying Arabic and Islamic studies at Oxford University and the American University in Cairo in the early 1970s, John McHugo’s career as an international lawyer took him to a number of Arab countries including Egypt, Oman and Bahrain over a period of more than a quarter of a century. He is an honorary Senior Fellow at the Centre for Syrian Studies at St Andrews, and a board member of the Council for Arab-British Understanding and the British Egyptian Society. He has also written on legal aspects of the Arab-Israeli dispute and advised Tim Farron, when he was leader of the Liberal Democrats, on Palestinian issues. His publications include A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi‘is, A Concise History of the Arabs and Syria: A Recent History.

→ Author Website


‘An important corrective … provides the reader not just with all the historical background he or she could want, in an accessible and comprehensible fashion, but also employs this sound knowledge to a clear-headed appraisal of the modern Middle East.’
Times Literary Supplement

‘It is no mean feat to cover over 1400 years of history ... Masterful and fascinating’
Jordan Times

‘In lucid and accessible prose, John McHugo shows that there is nothing inevitable about the so-called Sunni-Shi’i divide.’
Madawi Al-Rasheed, author of A History of Saudi Arabia

‘John McHugo takes us through the Sunni-Shi‘i divide over 1400 years of Islamic history with good judgement in balancing the various accounts, and a great clarity of expression.’
Moojan Momen, author of Shi‘i Islam: A Beginner’s Guide

‘Excellent … McHugo is a lucid interpreter of complex events.’
Law Society Gazette

‘[Provides] students and non-specialists with one clear account of the development of Muslim sectarian identities. McHugo [provides] an in-depth account of the diversity within medieval Islamic identities and how these identities have become politicized in the modern era. … Impressive … [This] is clearly written in accessible language with a thorough index and glossary of terms.’
Christine D. Baker, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, International Journal of Middle East Studies

‘An enriching and valuable read.’
HRH Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan