The Succession to Muhammad

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The Succession to Muhammad: A Study of the Early Caliphate
The Succession to Muhammad.jpeg
AuthorWilferd Madelung
CountryUnited States
SubjectSuccession to Muhammad
Published1997, Cambridge University Press
Media typePrint, e-book
Pages432 pages

The Succession to Muhammad is a book by Wilferd Madelung published by the Cambridge University Press in 1997.[1] Madelung investigates the events after the death of Muhammad, where there was a battle to see who would control the Muslim community. This struggle resulted in the difference between Sunnite and Shi'ite Islam over authority (spiritual and temporal).

The author[edit]

Wilfred Madelung was born on December 26, 1930 in Stuttgart, Germany. After elementary and high school, he went to Cairo University, and in 1953 he graduated in the field of Islamic history and literature. Thereafter, he continued his education in his country. Finally in 1957 he got a doctoral degree in Islamic Studies from Hamburg University. Madelung completed his doctoral treatise under the supervision of famous German Islamologists. He became Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Chicago in 1969. Professor Madelung is at present Senior Research Fellow with The Institute of Ismaili Studies. Up until his retirement, Wilfred Madelung held the prestigious academic position of Laudian Professor of Arabic at the University of Oxford from 1978 to 1998. He waited until his retirement to release this tour de force to concentrate his years of scholarship in this, his magnum opus. Indeed, this is a personal work for he devotes this to his mother, who taught him to read history.[2][3]

Main theme[edit]

Wilferd Madelung analyses the conflict which developed after Muhammad's death for the leadership of the nascent Muslim community. He pursues the history of this conflict through the reign of the four 'Rightly Guided' caliphs to its climax in the first Islamic Civil War. The outcome of the war, which marked the demise of the reign of the Early Companions, resulted in the lasting schism between Sunnite and Shi'ite Islam. Contrary to recent scholarly trends, the author brings out Ali's early claim to legitimate succession, which gained support from the Shi'a, and offers a convincing reinterpretation of early Islamic history.


The Journal of the American Oriental Society applauded Madelung's mastery of the subject, but was critical of his reliance on ancient sources and neglect of modern scholarship, stating "... author falls outside the emerging consensus in the field which maintains a moderately skeptical attitude toward the Arabic materials". It further comments although Madelung did take an "optimistic view of the sources" and "Crone's and Hinds' ideas about the nature of caliphal authority are dismissed in one sentence", it still "offers a chance to see the Shi'ite case imaginatively made by a master scholar in complete control of the sources."[4] Iranian Studies also praised the work.[5] Hugh Kennedy writing in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society was more tepid, stating that "When Mu'awiya finally entered Kufa, Madelung tersely observes, 'The brute was celebrating victory' ... it is not clear that such openly partisan comment is appropriate in a work of historical research."[6] Ingrid Mattson writing for Journal of Religion observes "It is truly puzzling then that in his new book, Madelung presents what seems to be an almost partisan argument about the position of Ali".[7] It has been awarded the Best Book of the Year prize by the Islamic Republic of Iran for the year 1997.


  1. ^ Hughes, Aaron W. (2013). Muslim Identities: An Introduction to Islam. Columbia University Press. pp. 116–117. ISBN 9780231531924. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  2. ^ Daftary Farhad (2003). Culture and Memory in Medieval Islam: Essays in Honor of Wilferd Madelung. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 1860648592.
  3. ^ G.Morony Michael (2014). Universality in Islamic Thought. I.B.Tauris. pp. ix. ISBN 978 1 78076 943 1.
  4. ^ Lewinstein, Keith (April–June 2001). "The Succession to Muhammad: A Study of the Early Caliphate (review)". The Journal of the American Oriental Society. 121 (2): 326. doi:10.2307/606600. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  5. ^ Newman, Andrew J. (Summer 1999). "The Succession to Muhammad (review)". Iranian Studies. 32 (3): 403–404. doi:10.1080/00210869908701963. JSTOR 4311271.
  6. ^ Kennedy, Hugh (1998). "The Succession to Muhammad: A Study of the Early Caliphate by Wilferd Madelung (review)". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 8 (1): 88–89. doi:10.1017/s1356186300016473. JSTOR 25183470.
  7. ^ Mattson, Ingrid (April 1998). "MADELUNG, WILFERD. The Succession to Muhammad: A Study of the Early Caliphate (review)". The Journal of Religion. 78 (2): 321–322. doi:10.1086/490222.