Weekend Reading

Recollections of books carried back and forth on the elevated train -- in a long-term, though belated, attempt to learn something about the world.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Roy Mottahedeh : The Mantle of the Prophet

This is a curious book

Each chapter has two parts:  one that follows the life of a semi-fictional imam named Ali Hoshemi -- and the other that sketches out 1400 years of Iranian and Shia history.

Neither part is very satisfactory.

The story of Hoshemi is frail because he is almost completely outside the drama of the Iranian Revolution. Presumably, as a Shia jurisconsult, he benefits from the establishment of a theocratic state. But he doesn't participate in the rebellion beyond anonymously writing a pamphlet or two against the Shah that gets him thrown in jail for a few months. Nor does get involved with protecting anyone within the many political or religious factions persecuted and murdered by the Khomeini regime.

Like Mottahedeh himself -- he considers himself just a scholar.

He may be based on a real iman whom the author knows, but in the  necessary effort to keep his identity unknown, all of his possibly interesting peculiarities have been scrubbed away.  There is not one word about his extended family.

So there is hardly any story to tell about him beyond the following:

Smart boy wants to be a professional religious scholar (just like dad) --  he studies hard --- he gets a nice clerical position -- story over.

Likewise -- the author is so dispassionately lite-headed  about religious and political history,  I had some difficulty  not nodding off.  He is a little too concerned with projecting a positive attitude towards his subject.

As he explained in the introduction,  he wanted to write about the Shia higher clergy because their training and practice is so involved with logic -- applied, of course, to the interpretation of the Koran and subsequent authoritative texts.

He seems far less concerned with political power -- it's acquisition and  consequences.  That kind of story about the Iranian Revolution will have to  be found elsewhere.

The one thing I received from his book, however, is a greater appreciation for the Shah.  Most of his political prisoners survived -- while the Ayatollahs didn't make the same mistake.