Untangling history’s greatest controversies

Every month, host Zach Cornwell takes a hard look at the historical conflicts that raise difficult questions, stoke controversy, and send our moral compasses spinning.

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Prophet's Dilemma: The Sunni Shia Split Part 1

When the Prophet Muhammed died in 632 AD, it triggered a succession crisis amongst his followers. After the dust settled, two divergent branches of the faith remained – Sunni and Shi’a. It is a deeply misunderstood story that has been unearthed and repackaged in the 21st century to inflame political animus and give superficial labels to complex tensions. In this episode, we will examine the very human, very relatable drama that unfolded against the backdrop of the rise of the Islamic Empire in the 7th century.


Muhammed – The Prophet. A merchant-turned-messenger from God.

Aisha – The Prophet’s favorite wife; Charming, fiery, and envious.

Ali – The Prophet’s cherished son-in-law. Lion of God. Humble, loyal, and honorable to a fault.

Fatima - Daughter of the Prophet and wife to Ali.

Abu Bakr – Aisha’s father, Muhammed’s close friend, and first Caliph.

Hussein – Grandson of the Prophet. Murdered at Karbala. Martyr of the Shi’a faith.


Hazleton, Lesley. The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammed.

Hazleton, Lesley. After The Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shi’a-Sunni Split in Islam.

Louer, Laurence. Sunnis and Shi’a: A Political History.

Hoyland, Robert G. In God’s Path: The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire.

Betts, Robert Brenton. The Sunni-Shi’a Divide.

Charles Rivers Editors. The History of the Sunni and Shia Split: Understanding the Divisions Within Islam.

Armstrong, Karen Keishin. MuhammedL A Prophet for Our Time.

Cole, Juan. Muhammed: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires.

Safi, Omid. Memories of Muhammed.

Holland, Tom. The Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire.

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