This reader admits to certain expectations on opening a book published by Yale University Press and written by a Distinguished Professor of International Relations at the Near East South Asia Strategic Studies Center of the National Defense University. The center, it bears noting, is a U.S. Department of Defense unit "focused on enhancing security cooperation" between Americans and regional "foreign and defense policy professionals, diplomats, academics, and civil society leaders."
Those expectations primarily concern scholarly objectivity; one does not expect to find a devout Shiite Muslim tract. That, however, defines The Prophet's Heir, an apologia for the key figure of Shiism, one of the most important personages of Islamic history, and the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, Islam's prophet.
Consider how Abbas describes his subject in his introduction (available gratis here): the Distinguished Professor of International Relations whose salary is paid by the U.S. taxpayer informs us on page one about Ali's "matchless valour as well as spirituality." He describes Islam as beginning "when the archangel Gabriel graced the city of Makkah [Mecca] with a divine message for someone very special. ... God's last prophet on earth." Page two goes on to explain that the divine message to Muhammad was "a continuation of what had already been revealed, but that had been forgotten or modified"—this being precisely Islam's standard, superior, and disdainful view of Judaism and Christianity. Page four calls Ali "an avid advocate for justice ... a brave warrior."
The apologetics also go far beyond Ali. Page nine announces that Muslims "excelled in areas ranging from arts and sciences to statecraft and empire-building across the continents during the last fourteen centuries." The next 190 pages continue in a similar da'wa (missionary) spirit, not bothering even to disguise the hagiography as biography but overtly treating pious history as factual history. That a reverent Shiite Muslim should want to write such a paean to his religious paragon is natural enough. But that the U.S. government funds and Yale University disseminates such Sunday-school materials surprises and dismays this reader.
The Prophet's Heir should alarm those concerned about the separation of church and state, those worried about government waste, and those fearful of lawful Islamist encroachments on the public square.