The House Divided: Sunni, Shia and the Making of the Middle East by Barnaby Rogerson

I don’t think anyone needs to be reminded that Islam has predominantly been in the news for over 20 years now.  With the two Gulf Wars and other actions that have involved Western forces, the views of the followers of this religion have, largely, been directed by mainstream news and social media.  However, is what we have witnessed on our screens and in newspapers a realistic description of not just the Islamic religion, but those who follow it?  In The House Divided: Sunni, Shia and the Making of the Middle East, Barnaby Rogerson takes us through the history of this fascinating religion and provides an indispensable insight into its followers who have not just made history but helped shape the world in which we live.

Although the beginnings of Islam are filled with as much mystery as they are the spirit of adventure, its origins in Medina are of some of the humblest origins in Abrahamic religions, for its founder, the Prophet, Muhammad was, allegedly, unable to read or write, which left his (written) teachings in the realms of the miraculous.  This, however, was also to create a long lasting issue as to who was to succeed him as ruler, as he left no written instruction.

In The House Divided this matter becomes central to the text, and how ‘house’ of Islam not only became divided throughout the centuries but spread as far as the reaches of Spain in the heights of the Muslim Empire spreading its message, splitting not only into the Sunni and Shia factions, but also the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia, whose bloodthirsty and monetary legacies are the stuff of legend themselves, but remain one of the most influential states in the world, and to the Turkish Empire which embraced a more Latin style text and more Western attitudes.  The House Divided is not just a history of a singular religion, but a history of the past 1500 years that have shaped our species.

Yet, The House Divided is not just a history of Islam, it tells the story of how the Middle East, as we know it was formed, maintained and how it came to be how we know it today, with heroes and villains not just in Islam itself, but a highly-focused exploration into those who aimed to profit from disruption (and creating disruption) in the area, namely countries such as Great Britain and the USA, whose aim for dominance over the oil markets have made millionaires out of some and destitute out od others.  This is a story of great extremes.

In The House Divided: Sunni, Shia and the Making of the Middle East, Barnaby Rogerson has not just created a vital and detailed history of the Middle East, but an account of how people have profited out of others in some of the most exploited regions on this planet. If The House Divided excels in great narrative on an invigorating subject it triumphs in its ability to focus our attention on our failings as a species and celebrates our abilities to join and succeed at the harshest of times.  A must read!

  • The House Divided: Sunni, Shia and the Making of the Middle East by Barnaby Rogerson is out now and published by Profile Books (£25.00). To order a copy go to
Tom Stanger
Host at Supernatural People podcast, Editor/writer at The Pilgrim Magazine, curator of the Pontyddim archives, tea drinker, hat wearer and autism advocate. PhD researcher on Gothic Literature & religion also does book reviews bad photography and other bits and bobs

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