The Cambridge Companion to Muhammad edited by Jonathan E. Brockopp (Cambridge Companions to Religion: Cambridge University Press) As the Messenger of God, Muhammad stands at the heart of the Islamic religion, revered by Muslims throughout the world. The Cambridge Companion to Muhammad comprises a collection of essays by some of the most accomplished scholars in the field exploring the life and legacy of the Prophet. The book is divided into three sections, the first charting his biography and the milieu into which he was born, the revelation of the Qur'ān, and his role within the early Muslim community. The second part assesses his legacy as a law-maker, philosopher, and politician and, finally, in the third part, chapters examine how Muhammad has been remembered across history in biography, prose, poetry, and, most recently, in film and fiction. Essays are written to engage and inform students, teachers, and readers coming to the subject for the first time. They will come away with a deeper appreciation of the breadth of the Islamic tradition, of the centrality of the role of the Prophet in that tradition, and, indeed, of what it means to be a Muslim today.
Muhammad is the world's most popular name for boys. The king of Morocco, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the president of Egypt are all named Muhammad, and when the famous boxer Cassius Clay became a Muslim, he was given the name Muhammad Ali. If there is a Muslim family in the world that does not have a brother, grandfather, or uncle named Muhammad, they almost certainly have a relative who has been given one of the Prophet's other names: Mustafa', Ahmad, or al-Amin. One also finds the names Muhammadi ("Muhammad like") and Muhammadayn ("double Muhammad"). These habits of naming are indicative of a popular devotion to the Prophet that enhances, and in some cases overwhelms, the historical limits of the man who died more than fourteen centuries ago.
The fact of this devotion should not surprise. The popular veneration of Muhammad is quite similar to that offered to Jesus, the Buddha, and countless other religious figures around the world. Yet time and again —whether in reaction to Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses or to cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten — Muslims' reactions in defense of their prophet have caught non-Muslims off guard. There are many reasons for this gap in understanding, but three concern me here. First, although Jesus and the Buddha have overwhelmingly positive reputations in contemporary Western civilization, that of Muhammad is decidedly more mixed. Second, many readers are simply unaware of the breadth and depth of devotion to Muhammad in Muslim societies as evidenced in the riches of Persian literary traditions, rituals surrounding the celebration of his birthday, modern poetry, music festivals, and more. But the third, and perhaps most important, reason for this misunderstanding has to do with the unique role of the Prophet Muhammad in Islamic religious history.
Muhammad is much more than a man who died more than 1,400 years ago; he is the central animating figure of the Islamic tradition. He is imitated in virtually every act of ritual, leadership, devotion to
God, morality, and public comportment. Muslims pray in just the way that Muhammad did, and the Sufi quest for unity with God is based on Muhammad's own journey to heaven. Some Muslim men seek to dress and wear their hair as the Prophet did, and some Muslim women seek to dress as did his wives. To carry out these actions, Muslims study the life of their prophet to perfect their own religious practice. But every act of reading is also one of interpretation, and imitation is no rote repetition but a creative adaptation to current circumstances. We could even say that Muslims continue to define Muhammad as they reread and apply the events of his life to their own time and place.
It is fair to suggest that Muhammad would be amazed at the Islam of today. He was an Arab and perceived of himself as a prophet to the Arabs, yet less than a fifth of the world's Muslims speak Arabic today. Muslim rituals and practices, from Indonesia to the Americas, incorporate tradition and modernity in an almost-bewildering variety. Yet almost all Muslims use some Arabic phrases in prayer, including recitation of the Qur'an in its original language, though they may not understand the meaning of the words. Further, scholars of Muslim history must master the Qur'an and the earliest Islamic literary sources, all of which are written in Arabic. To learn about Muhammad, then, first requires an imaginary journey into the time and space of Arabia some fourteen centuries ago.
Muhammad was born, lived, and died in Arabia, or more specifically, in the part of western Arabia we call the Hijaz. This is a strip of mountains with a coastal plain that parallels the Red Sea and receives a small amount of rainfall (about four inches) each year, just enough to support small animal herds and, in the lowland oases and the highland plateaus, some agriculture. Archeological evidence tells us of lively cultural centers in the south and north of the Arabian Peninsula, but we still have much to learn about the area where Muhammad was born. His hometown of Mecca was probably an important trading town, with a religious cult centering on the Ka`ba, a shrine that would later become the physical center of Islam. Caravans of camels were apparently organized both north to Syria and south to Yemen, as well as east to Iraq, but local trade was probably also important.
The religious world of the Hijaz likely reflected that of the surrounding regions, where local traditions lived side by side with various forms of Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism. What little we know about these local traditions, often called paganism or polytheism, comes largely from later Islamic sources. These inform us that Meccans venerated many different gods and goddesses, some of them representing qualities of strength or of fate, whereas others represented natural forces.
The name Allah was known to them, however, as that of a high god who had especial control of weather and ships at sea (Q 29:63-5; 31:31-2). As for other religions, it must be recalled that Arabia was quite distant from the centers of those cults, and that Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism were all undergoing significant shifts in their identity during this period. Therefore, the adherents of those traditions, who made their way to the Hijaz for one reason or another, may have had beliefs and practices quite different from what we might normally associate with the versions of those religions that have been transmitted to us.
THE LIFE OF MUHAMMAD
Just as we depend on internal sources for our knowledge of early Christianity and Buddhism, so also we are entirely dependent on Islamic sources for Muhammad's own history, especially the most significant events of his life. These tell us that Muhammad was born to `Abd Allah
and Amina, perhaps in the year 570 CE. Most biographers emphasize the miraculous events associated with his conception and birth, such as the appearance of a mystical light on his father's brow before conception and the emerging of this light from Amina's womb. Further signs of his calling are recorded in his childhood, including a visitation from angels who split open his breast to remove from it the black spot of sin. These are some of the hints that this man had already been chosen by God to be his special servant and to receive the Qur'an, the last of God's revelations to humankind. Before that moment, however, Muhammad lived in Mecca, and like many inhabitants of that town, he was involved with organizing caravans. For a time he worked for a wealthy widow named Khadija, and his industriousness caught her eye; they were married and started a family together. So life was quite ordinary when, at the age of forty (in 610 CE), Muhammad began meditating in a cave high in the hills outside of Mecca.
During these meditations, he was overwhelmed by a vision of the angel Gabriel commanding him, "Recite!" This event changed his life forever, and he began, slowly, to understand that God had chosen him for a special mission. From that point forward, Muhammad's life would be caught up with the persistent, at times unpredictable, appearance of revelations from God, revelations that would eventually be gathered together to make up the Qur'an.
Muhammad's life is, in many ways, inseparable from that of the Qur'an. Just as the Qur'an is traditionally divided into Meccan and Medinan phases, so also Muhammad's life may usefully be separated into two periods: the first from 610 to 622, from the time he first received revelation until his flight (hijra) from Mecca to Yathrib (later called Medina), and the second from 622 until his death in 632. This break is significant in many ways and is marked by the fact that Muslims begin their calendar in 622, the year that the new Muslim community was founded in Yathrib.
In terms of the Qur'an, the Meccan and Medinan phases mark a difference in language, content, and style. For example, a typical seven-verse sample (Q 8o:17-23) from the Meccan period reads like this:
May humankind perish! How ungrateful! Of what things did He create them?
Of a drop of fluid
He created them, and determined them, then He made the path easy for them, then makes them to die, and buries them, then, when He wills, He raises them.
In pithy language, the Qur'an reprimands humankind for being ingrates. The audience for these short verses is universal, and the scope reaches from conception to resurrection; further, the Arabic is punctuated with rhythmic language and rhymes. In contrast, here are three verses (Q 2:1 8 375 ) typical of the Medinan period:
O you who believe! The Fast is prescribed for you, just as it was prescribed for those who were before you — perhaps you will be aware!
Days numbered — but if anyone is sick, or on a journey, then a number of other days, and for those who are able to fast, a redemption by feeding a poor person. But those who willingly do the better, so it is better for them, and should you fast it is better for you, if you only knew.
The month of Ramadan, in which the Qur'an was sent down as a guidance to people, and as clear signs of guidance and salvation. So those of you who witness the month should fast it. As for the one who is sick, or on a journey, then a number of other days. God desires ease for you, not hardship; and that you complete the number, and magnify God according to that to which He has guided you, perhaps you will be grateful.
In these Medinan verses the scope is narrower. Instead of all humankind, a specific group of believers is addressed and given the task of fasting. Whereas the Meccan verses invoke the natural world and speak of its ultimate end in apocalyptic terms, the Medinan verses are often interested in providing a community with order and rules. What ties them together is the command to remember God's activities (e.g., creation, revelation) and to be grateful for them. This is only one example of the complex relationship between the two styles of writing, but the distinctions here form a striking parallel to the stories we have of the Prophet. During the Meccan period, we are told that the Prophet was caught up in an adversarial relationship with the population of Mecca, which largely rejected his preaching. The strong exclamations in the first excerpt seem especially suited to this crowd. In contrast, the Prophet found a receptive community in Medina, one that needed to differentiate itself from surrounding communities of Jews, pagans, and, outside of Medina, Chris-
To some Western scholars, the relationship between the Qur'an and Muhammad seems too convenient, as if stories of the Prophet's life were designed to explain differences found in the Qur'an. For the Meccan period, the problem is complicated by the fact that the Qur'an is the only
writing we possess that derives from that period. All the rest — histories of the period, biographies of the Prophet, interpretation of the Qur'an —was written down long after the Arab conquest of the Sassanid empire and the southern half of the Byzantine Empire (632-645 CE) and certainly after Muhammad's successes in Medina. As several contributors to this volume point out, Muhammad's doubts in his early mission (as described in the Qur'an) were hard to understand given the almost-unbelievable expansion of Islam after his death. Although some histories dutifully record the Prophet's despair, others gloss over those weak moments in favor of a more triumphant picture, one that fits better with his ultimate success.
Nonetheless, all the sources agree on this basic outline of events: After his first experience of receiving the revelation, Muhammad took three years before he began preaching publicly. During that time, he discussed these incidents with his wife, Khadija, who helped him understand the nature of the supernatural events. All agree that she was the first to believe in his mission, though there is a significant dispute about who among the men was first: his cousin and eventual son-in-law 'Ali, his freedman Zayd b. Haritha, his friend Abu Bakr, or several others. The members of this intimate circle are worth noting, especially his wife, Khadija; his daughter, Fatima; his cousin, 'Ali; and his friend Abu Bakr, as their examples are precedent setting for Muslims, and their names are often mentioned in this volume. But it is also worth noting that this close circle did not include his influential uncles, though the precise role of Abu Talib, Muhammad's protector after his father and grandfather died, is disputed. Abu Talib did, however, continue to extend his protection to Muhammad, even after his nephew (Muhammad) and son (`Ali) rejected the religion of their fathers.
One may wonder, however, to what extent either Muhammad or the earliest slams of the Qur'an demanded a rejection of pre-Islamic religious practices. After all, the verses quoted herein demand that "He" has ultimate authority over life and death but do not explicitly deny the existence of other divine powers. (In contrast, later slams of the Qur'an are quite clear in their rejection of polytheism or, in the language of the Qur'an, of "ascribing partners to God.") One indication that Muhammad may have sought reconciliation early in his career is the event now known as the Satanic Verses. The story, as told to us by the historian Abu Ja`far al-Tabari (d. 3 1 o/922-9231), goes that Muhammad wished so fervently for reconciliation with the religion of his forebears that when Satan whispered false verses in his ears, he mistook them for true revelation.
Whether true or not, the story points to an increasing animosity between Muhammad and his Meccan audience, an animosity discussed at length by Walid A. Saleh in Chapter 1 and illustrated by an emigration of some of Muhammad's followers from Mecca to the Christian kingdom of Abyssinia and by a boycott against Muhammad's clan. Tradition has also preserved many stories of both Muhammad's and his followers' suffering, especially after the deaths of Abu Talib and Khadija in 619.
With the loss of his protectors, Muhammad was openly mocked in Mecca and forced to look outside the town for support. Numerous verses in the Qur'an, said to come from this period, seem to console Muhammad, encouraging him to be patient. This is also the time when most sources say that this verse (Q 17:1) was revealed:
Glory be to Him who transported His servant by night from the sacred mosque to the farthest mosque, which We have surrounded with blessing, in order to show him one of Our signs.
This verse, of especial importance to Sufis, is the scriptural basis for Muhammad's Night Journey, in which God transported him to Jerusalem. This event is often combined with the mi`raj, Muhammad's ascent into heaven, where he spoke with God face-to-face. Early historians disagreed on when, precisely, these trips occurred, but their connection to a period of persecution is psychologically satisfying: in Muhammad's time of trouble, God granted him a vision that marked his special place among the prophets.
MUHAMMAD IN MEDINA
Eventually, Muhammad left Mecca, negotiating safe passage for him and for his followers to the oasis of Yathrib, some two hundred miles to the north. This hijra, the emigration of Muslims from Mecca to Yathrib in 622, was a turning point for the early community. Yathrib would come to be known as Medina (Ar. madinat al-nabi, "the city of the Prophet"), and there hundreds converted to the new religion; when the Prophet died there in 632, he left behind thousands of believers.
We know much more about Muhammad's ten years in Medina than about his time in Mecca. In addition to the Qur'an, we have the accounts
transmitted by his ever-increasing cohort of followers. It is also worth noting, however, that although the key events of Mecca were interior (Muhammad's first revelations, his response to his mission and to the Meccan resistance, his Night Journey), the key events of Medina were public (community organization, several significant battles, and many minor raids). Public events not only have more witnesses but also conform to known patterns of human social behavior. Medina was also home to a diverse community of social and religious groups, and Muhammad's increasing stature brought him into negotiations with even more such groups in the surrounding territory. As a result, we often have competing accounts of single events, thus reflecting the different interests of those groups.
Unlike Mecca, Medina did not have a single town center but rather a variety of settlements strewn across an area of some twenty square miles. As Michael Lecker discusses in Chapter 3, we know a good deal about who occupied which areas of land because of recorded disputes over prestige (in providing land for the Prophet, for example) and other sources, such as histories of Medina, that do not belong to the traditional biographical literature. From these accounts we know that Medina had two key Arab tribes, the Aws and the Khazraj, which were split into a number of clans. In addition, there were other tribal groups in the oasis, including several Jewish tribes; they were Arabic speakers and fully integrated into the political and economic life of the oasis, but we know little of their precise religious practices or of what contact, if any, they had with the larger Jewish communities of Palestine and Iraq.
Ostensibly, Muhammad's arrival (traditionally on the twelfth of Rabi' al-Awwal, year i of the hijra [September 24, 622]), was meant to provide some central leadership to the various warring elements of the oasis. That he did, but he also brought along a further division, one that would prove decisive for Medina's future. From Mecca, Muhammad was accompanied by numerous followers (known as muhajirun, "those who had undertaken the hijra"), all of whom were believers in his message. These were largely settled among the Medinan believers of the Aws and Khazraj tribes, a group sensibly known as the helpers (Ar. ansar). Although the muhajirun and the ansar were united in faith, they were divided by tribal and other loyalties. The negotiation of those loyalties, and the relationship of the believers with the other inhabitants of Medina, is the subject of a curious document that Western historians have dubbed the Constitution of Medina (see the appendix to Chapter 3).
The Medinan verses of the Qur'an give us an insight into the social complexity of this community. There are lengthy disputes with Jews and Christians, collectively known as the People of the Book (Ar. ahl al-kitab), on theological matters, ranging from the nature of God to the nature of Jesus. There is extensive regulation of family matters: marriage, divorce, manumission of slaves, and treatment of children. There are descriptions of ritual cleansing, exhortations to pray and remember God, and rules of warfare. These last have received a good deal of attention, and rightfully so, as the transformation of jihad (from struggling against persecution in Mecca to taking up arms in Medina) coincides with the establishment of the community in Medina.
It is clear that the hijra from Mecca to Medina did not end the hostile relations between Muhammad and his hometown. The Battle of Bach (2/624) is the most important of these early skirmishes. While trying to raid a Meccan caravan, Muhammad and about three hundred of his followers ran into a larger Meccan military force instead. The Muslims decided to stay their ground and fight, surprisingly winning the day. The event is celebrated in the Qur'an, with God reminding the Muslims that He was behind their victory. Curiously, this animosity with the Meccans roughly coincides with a change in the prescribed prayer direction, one that put Mecca, not Jerusalem, at the center of the Muslim world. At the same time, verses are revealed that incorporate certain pre-Islamic practices, such as the pilgrimage to Mecca, into Islamic worship. In these ways, Islam was further differentiated from the practices of Jews and Christians.
The battles with the Meccans continued; some of these were barely survived by the Muslims (Uhud in 3/625), and others were a draw (Battle of the Trench in 5/627). During this period, Muhammad perceived the Jewish tribes in Medina to be a threat — they did not support his policies of war and refused to succumb to Muhammad's leadership. He banished one tribe after another, finally besieging the last significant tribe, the Qurayza, after the Battle of the Trench. In a brutal judgment, several hundred men of the tribe were executed and the women and children were enslaved. That this was a political and not a purely religious persecution seems evident from the fact that other, smaller groups of Jews remained in Medina.
The Battle of the Trench proved a turning point, emboldening Muhammad to expand his influence among the Bedouin tribes to the north of Medina. In the year 6/628, he concluded the Treaty of Hudaybiyya with the Meccans, allowing Medinans to perform the pilgrimage rites in Mecca without fear of reprisals. Muhammad then undertook the first two conquests of his career: Khaybar (7/629) and Mecca (8/63o). Khaybar was a rich oasis largely inhabited by Jews, and
Muhammad's negotiation of that conquest (in which Jews would maintain their rights to their lives, religious practices, and land in exchange for recognizing Muslim authority) was a key precedent for the conquest of Byzantine and Sassanid territory after his death. At the conquest of Mecca, Muhammad explicitly forbade his followers from killing any Meccans who stayed in their homes; the historian Ibn Ishaq (d. 150/767) records that only four Meccans were killed.
In the last three years of his life, Muhammad devoted himself to consolidating his control over central Arabia through diplomacy and warfare. Having seen his rise to power, many surrounding leaders were anxious to curry his favor, sending emissaries to Medina. Muhammad also led a sizable military force (our sources say thirty thousand men) to the Byzantine border town of Tabuk. The battle was not decisive, however, and it would not be until after Muhammad's death that Muslim forces would successfully defeat a contingent of the Byzantine army. It is possible, however, to overestimate the extent of Muhammad's influence in Arabia. Even up to his death there remained significant opposition to his rule both within Medina and without.
In the year 10/632, Muhammad undertook his "farewell pilgrimage," accounts of which have been preserved by his Companions. His death a few months later was devastating to this early community. The believers were dismayed, and many left the new faith to return to their old ways. Eventually, leadership was unified under one of Muhammad's close Companions, Abu Bakr, who was called a caliph, a deputy or a follower, of the Prophet. Abu Bakr was an old man, however, and at his death two years later, `Umar b. al-Khattab, another early Companion of the Prophet, but one with more ambition, took over leadership of the community. It was under `Umar and his successors that the conquests of surrounding territory began in earnest. Within a few decades, two of the world's major empires, the Byzantine and the Persian, would lose much of their territory to this new Arab-Islamic movement, a movement that gained strength with every successful conquest.
This early movement also survived enormous challenges. Numerous groups rejected the authority of the caliphs, including the partisans (Ar. sift' a) of 'Ali, who believed that leadership of the community should remain within the Prophet's own family. Significant civil wars were fought in 656, 66o, and 680. Perhaps even more surprising is that this movement maintained a separate identity and did not lose itself among the powerful cultural influences of the major world empires it conquered. After all, empires do not disappear overnight, and neither were the early conquests missions of wanton destruction. Tax structures, bureaucracies, and property ownership were all maintained as they were found, and the populace was not forcibly converted. The millions of Christian Copts in Egypt today attest to this fact, and Lebanon is still almost half Christian. Although the military conquests were an event of remarkable swiftness, the bureaucratic and cultural conquests were a much longer process. Slowly, the language of bureaucracy began to change from Greek to Arabic. The Roman denarius and Greek drachma became the Arab dinar and dirham, and the emperor's visage was gradually replaced with the statements "There is no God but God" and "Muhammad is the Messenger of God." Muhammad's name was thereby stamped into the consciousness of this community sixty years after his death.
SOURCES FOR THE LIFE OF MUHAMMAD
The coin depicted below is symbolic of the difficulties faced by researchers who seek to understand this earliest period of Islamic history. On the one hand, this coin is tangible evidence of Muhammad's life and legacy; it, along with ancient Qur'an manuscripts also from this period, forms irrefutable evidence of the early Muslim community. On the other hand, gold coins and fine manuscripts can be produced only by a wealthy and powerful state, one that has clear political interests in maintaining a certain sense of the past. For information from Muhammad's own period, we must turn to a difficult set of literary sources — histories, biographies, and legal texts. The earliest of these may go back to the first century of Islam, but even these did not reach their final form until the full flowering of Arabic literature, almost two hundred years after the Prophet's death. Although these sources are rich with information, they also contain contradictory voices and even fabrications, as the memories of the Prophet's Companions were recalled for subsequent generations. As Michael Lecker argues, there are pearls of specific details in this sea of information, but the process of distinguishing fact from falsehood is quite controversial.
The earliest compilers, Ibn Ishaq, al-Waqidi (d. 207/823), Ibn Sa`d (d. 23o/845), and al-Bukhari. (d. 256/870), worked hard to include accurate accounts, but they were also remarkably tolerant of contradiction, fearing more the omission of an important story than the cacophony of Companion voices. An early biography, therefore, reads somewhat like a postmodern novel, with multiple accounts of single events all packed next to one another. The Sira of Ibn Ishaq, for example, includes two accounts of Muhammad's chest being split open, one when he was a child in the care of a Bedouin nursemaid and the other when he was an adult, before being sent on the Night Journey. He makes no effort to reconcile the two or to say that one or the other is false. Yet the difference
is significant. In one, Muhammad is made pure long before taking up his prophetic mission; in the other, the splitting of the chest is a spiritual preparation for his journey to heaven. Scholars have responded to this contradictory information in numerous ways. Early Muslim scholars argued over whether Muhammad's Night Journey was a bodily journey or merely a spiritual one. Early modern Christian writers called Muhammad a fraud for claiming to have achieved this impossible act, whereas writers in the early twentieth century saw this journey as a fiction created by devoted followers.
WESTERN SCHOLARSHIP ON MUHAMMAD'S LIFE
Fifty years ago when Maxime Rodinson first published Mahomet, he prefaced his book with an apology for adding yet one more study of Muhammad to a world already full with "a very great number of biographies of the prophet of Islam." As John V. Tolan describes in Chapter 1, the study of Muhammad in Europe goes back several hundred years. But Rodinson needed only to look at the first half of the twentieth century to find significant works of scholarship produced by Muhammad Husayn Haykal, W. Montgomery Watt, Frants Buhl, Tor Andrae, and others. Although it is easy to dismiss some of these texts as "Orientalist" and therefore unworthy of attention, this is a mistake. These early twentieth-century authors engaged the primary sources with care, bringing new insights into these complicated texts. In the case of Tor Andrae, for example, his comparison of emergent Islamic with Ebionite religious texts produces remarkable insights, though he was perhaps overly influenced by the notion of parallels among religious traditions. Similarly, Rodinson has been taken to task for explaining away Muhammad's prophetic experiences as epilepsy, yet his astute observations on the role of ideology and social relationships in the early Muslim community cannot be easily dismissed.
In the past fifty years, scholars have tended to shy away from sweeping treatments of Muhammad's life, leaving to writers such as Karen Armstrong and Hans Kling the task of reconciling Muhammad's story with modern life. The appearance of Michael Cook's Muhammad in 1986 is remarkable for its exception to this trend, yet it also is arguably less a biography of Muhammad than it is a study of problems facing anyone who would write such a biography. Instead, Western scholars have either retreated into specific, narrow studies or rejected the search for the historical Muhammad altogether. The first of these trends seeks to refine the work already done by the great scholars of the past. A specific event from the Prophet's life or a relevant text passage is subjected to close scrutiny. The scholars carrying out this work bring enormous erudition to their tasks, but their work, published in such journals as Oriens and Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam, is not accessible to a general reading public. This is, in part, by design. First, it takes a significant mastery of texts to understand the point of the research in the first place, and second, there is little support for such work, either in the Muslim world or outside of it. More than ever, universities are under pressure to demonstrate relevance, making it significantly harder to fund scholars to devote years of their lives to mastering difficult languages and texts.
Such scholars are also under pressure by the second trend, the rejection of any search for the historical Muhammad. The meaning of this phrase, "the historical Muhammad," was once seen as self-evident. It meant the empirical data of Muhammad's life as a man, apart from any supernatural claims by him or his followers. Although the original notion might have been to weed out the ideological (i.e., religious) convictions of Muhammad's followers from their accounts of his life, it is now well understood that there can be no ideologically free account of such a man. As John Tolan points out, scholars have very often used their research as a foil for working out their own polemical agendas. In hopes of avoiding this trap, many have simply abandoned the task of understanding Muhammad in his own world, seeking rather to understand the ways in which his followers have perceived him. The focus, they argue, should be on who Muslims say Muhammad was, not on who scholars say he was.
To be sure, some non-Muslim scholars still remain blithely unaware of the influence their research can have on the Muslim world. Others seem openly antagonistic toward Islam or religious belief altogether. Yet it is a mistake to abandon historical-critical analysis of the texts for one simple reason: if we do not understand the earliest accounts of
Muhammad's life, then we cannot know how later writers changed and adapted those accounts. In other words, we need to identify the earliest layers of biographical writing if we are to trace out the ways that later authors utilize this information; only then can we assess the work of interpretation undertaken by those later authors.
ORGANIZATION OF THIS BOOK
The Cambridge Companion to Muhammad is designed to represent current trends in the scholarly study of Muhammad's life and legacy. It is split into three sections: "Muhammad in His World," "Muhammad in History," and "Muhammad in Memory." The first section gives essential background on the social and political landscape of Arabia before Muhammad's appearance on the world stage. It focuses on specific events in his life, from the Meccan and Medinan periods, and subjects our sources for these events to historical-critical analysis. The second section moves to the literature and culture produced in the premodern era (750-1453), focusing on the influence of Muhammad's example in this period. Separate chapters (on law, Sufism, ritual, personal piety, philosophy and politics) explore the ways that Muhammad was held to be the ideal example for Muslims in all areas of society. The final section moves to the early modern and modern periods, analyzing poems, theological and literary texts, and even songs and images, to elucidate the ways that the Prophet is remembered — by Muslims and non-Muslims alike — up to our own time.
The contributors to this volume all hold university appointments and all are devoted teachers. As such, they write with intellectual rigor and uncommon clarity of thought. Although it is our intention that this volume will help advance scholarly study, the book is designed to be read by nonspecialists. Read in aggregate, the chapters of this book should give readers a clear sense of who Muhammad was and some insight of his meaning for Muslims today and in the past.
In the opening chapter of the first section, Walid Saleh provides a brief survey of Arabian history, beliefs, and practices before the rise of Islam, quickly moving on to the way that Muhammad was received as a prophet among the Arabs. His analysis combines a close reading of Qur'anic passages with the earliest biographical sources and shows how Muhammad addressed Arab expectations while also laying the foundation for their future conquest of the Sassanid and much of the Byzantine empires. The next chapter, by Uri Rubin, continues Saleh's analysis of the relationship of the Qur'an to the Prophet's biography, focusing on one key episode during Muhammad's Meccan period: the splitting of the moon. Early Muslim writers understood this event as a miracle and developed it into one of the most memorable images of Muhammad, one still popular among Muslims today. Rubin discusses this interpretation in light of Muhammad's preaching in Mecca, where he was primarily a warner of apocalyptic events. This view of Muhammad is in stark contrast to Muhammad's Medinan period as described by Michael Lecker. In his chapter, Lecker takes advantage of competing, often contradictory, accounts of Muhammad's life in Medina to find small, solid pieces of data on which we can begin to build a firm sense of Muhammad the man. Like Rubin, Lecker focuses on an event of seeming insignificance —Muhammad's acquisition of land in Medina — to illustrate Muhammad's standing after the hiira. At the end of his chapter, he includes a translation of a key document from this period known to Western scholars as the Constitution of Medina.
The chapters of the first section have much to say about how we read early sources for Muhammad's life, especially the Qur'an and the biographical literature (Sira). They are concerned with capturing a sense of how Muhammad was regarded during his own lifetime, before the development of Islam into a world phenomenon. The subsequent section, however, concerns sources written long after the story of Muhammad's life had been written. What we see in that section is the ways that authors of the period (750-1453) emphasized different aspects of Muhammad's life and personality as they sought to incorporate his life into Muslim rituals and institutions, providing an example of emulation to their audiences.
The first chapter in the second section, by Joseph E. Lowry, shows the process by which Muhammad came to be understood as the ideal lawgiver. Muhammad's example, known as his sunna (literally, "the well-worn path"),was made manifest through a specific narrative form known as a hadith. But as Lowry demonstrates, not all early Muslims agreed that Islamic law should be based on the words and deeds of the Prophet; nor was there agreement as to how one gets from prophetic precedent to applied law. Some of these arguments continue today, but the study of Muhammad's hadith remains a central aspect of Islamic learning. In Chapter 5, Robert Gleave addresses another problem posed by the hadith: how does imitation of the Prophet's actions translate into Muslims' everyday practices? The hadiths, after all, preserve much more than the way the Prophet prayed or led the troops into battle; they also contain advice on hygiene, medical treatments, and other personal matters. Gleave points out that a number of fine distinctions were developed to help pious believers sort through this vast array of information, but he also elucidates the theological issues that are intimately bound up
with the view of Muhammad as having a special relationship to God, the divine lawgiver.
The precise nature of Muhammad's relationship to God was further developed by early Sufis, as discussed in Carl Ernst's chapter. According to Safi theologians, Muhammad's right to serve as an exemplar for human action is based not merely in history but also on a cosmic relationship between Muhammad and God, known as the Muhammadan reality. Safi writers described this relationship in eloquent and poetic language, but this perception also profoundly affected their worldview and their ritual activities on a daily basis.
Special devotion to the person of Muhammad is by no means limited to Safi practitioners. As Marion Holmes Katz makes clear in her chapter, Muslims for centuries have engaged in pious acts of imitation that place the Prophet at the heart of Islamic ritual activity. The most obvious example is that of ritual prayer, which is carried out in precise imitation of the Prophet's actions, but there are many other examples. Katz focuses on one of these important rituals, the celebration of the Prophet's birth (mawlid), which is still commemorated today. As Katz points out, the mawlid celebration is a time to focus particularly on God's love in sending Muhammad to humankind and on Muhammad's love for his followers.
The final two chapters of the second section move us from the day-to-day imitation of the Prophet to attempts to develop political and philosophical systems on the basis of his example. In Chapter 8, Frank Griffel outlines the efforts of Muslim philosophers and theologians to reconcile Greek speculation on the nature of prophecy with their knowledge of Muhammad's example. As Griffel points out, these philosophers developed an astute analysis of dreams, intuition, and prophecy, and the ways that these human capacities connected both prophets and ordinary human beings to the divine. Just as the philosophers sought to reconcile their notions of science with prophecy, so also political theorists looked to Muhammad for their notions of ideal leadership. As Asma Afsaruddin points out in Chapter 9, these theorists seized on two important notions: precedence and excellence. The first regards closeness to the Prophet, in terms of belief but also in terms of family relationships, as a key requirement of just leadership of the community. The second seeks to define moral excellence by means of the Prophet's own example. Although the issue of just leadership of the community has obvious implications for Muslims today, the arguments that Afsaruddin outlines depend heavily on proper interpretation of the Prophet's biography.
The third section of this book elucidates the
of the Prophet's biography in the prose, poetry, and song of the early mod-
ern and modern periods. Following the rapid expansion of the Muslim
world in the early modern period, and the rise of scholarship on Islam in
opthis section draws from a much larger geographical canvas. For
Shahzad Bashir opens the section by looking at three examples of devotional literature from Iran and Central Asia in the early modern period. Much more than panegyrics glorifying the Prophet, these are complex texts that offer us important insights into the piety of the time. In analyzing this literature, Bashir finds sensitive consideration of themes such as the relationship of miracles and belief, devotion, and the mystical path.
In the early modern period, however, the Prophet was much more than simply a figure of devotion; he was also a symbol of threat to Europeans. As discussed by John V. Tolan, European scholars, animated first by the Crusades and then by the invasion of European territory by the Ottoman armies, depicted the Prophet as a bloodthirsty profligate. But Tolan argues that this was by no means the only view of Muhammad available to Europeans of the time. Especially as the study of Arabic and Islamic history developed in the West, scholars produced more complex and at times even irenic images of Muhammad.
Tolan's chapter brings us up to the modern period, where increased literacy and electronic media have led to an explosion of reflections on Muhammad's life by Muslims. As Anna M. Gade points out, the influence of Western methods of scholarship and literary criticism on the Muslim world is significant. Bookstalls in Indonesia, for example, feature translations of biographies by W. Montgomery Watt and Martin Lings alongside that of the Egyptian scholar Muhammad Husayn Haykal. Karen Armstrong's books have also been widely translated and are available throughout the Muslim world. Gade sees two significant trends in this modern writing: a commitment to historical authenticity and an emphasis on moral emulation. The first of these often results in skepticism toward supernatural events, and as such, they represent a break from premodern biographies that highlighted those events. The second, however, is a clear continuation of the emphasis on moral excellence found through the biographical tradition.
In the last chapter of this section, Amir Hussain discusses the influence of the Prophet on the media of a new generation: novels and popular music, the Internet, and film. Focusing primarily on North America, Hussain begins with a recent example of a very old genre, a praise poem to the Prophet Muhammad. This song, by Yusuf Islam, the former Cat
Stevens, is just one instance of a broader creative movement to express pious devotion to Muhammad. Hussain then continues to discuss the role of images, both positive and negative, in the Muslim world. As is evident from Hussain's chapter, and from the illustrations that accompany this book, Muslims have used the arts to express their love for the Prophet throughout the centuries. Although some authorities have decried any depiction of the Prophet as possibly idolatrous, most accept poems, songs, and even images if their purpose is to increase faith. These images emphasize a major theme of this book: Muslim devotion to the Prophet has taken on a wide variety of forms.
In the epilogue to this book, Abdulkader Tayob situates this collection of essays in the broader history of scholarly study of Muhammad, raising key questions about how we study the great figures of the past. His essay is a keen reminder that all reading of the past is an act of interpretation, of balancing evidence, and of making historical artifacts speak to modern audiences. As such, readers should regard this collection not as the final judgment of scholarship on the life and meaning of Muhammad but rather as a companion to further study. But there is more: Tayob argues that our time is marked by a trend toward humanizing the Prophet Muhammad, a process that takes on different meanings for different groups. But the result of this process is the continued relevance of Muhammad into the future, for both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Finally, a book such as this is registers many debts. Above all, I thank my collaborators for devoting such significant energies to this project and for graciously responding to my many queries and comments on their chapters. All have my gratitude, but conversations with Amir Hussain, Anna Gade, Michael Lecker, Walid Saleh, and Abdulkader Tayob helped me sharpen my ideas and greatly improved the book. Michael Lecker in particular offered many useful comments and corrections to my introduction. I must also mention Jane Dammen McAuliffe, editor of The Cambridge Companion to the Qur'an, who gave me both timely guidance and also an outstanding template on which to base this book. At Cambridge University Press, Marigold Acland offered sage advice at every stage of the book's production, and her assistant Sarah Green saved me many hours securing permissions for the images in this book. At Aptara, Larry Fox and his team have my thanks for their patience and attention to detail. And as always, Paula Droege has been my constant companion, listening, encouraging, and reflecting.
In Search of Muhammad by Clinton Bennett (Cassell) a survey of evidence for a biography of Muhammad that also provides some recognition of the pious dimensions of the meaning of the Prophet in Islamic thought. How much can we know of the life of Muhammad? As an academic inquiry into both the Mohammad of Faith and of history this work provides an introductory account principal documents and traditions from which to draw an historical account of Muhammad. Bennett offers an orientation to the evidence that is usually either assumed or not discussed in traditional and popular accounts of the life of the Prophet. As an introduction to the critical study of what is involved in the biography of Muhammad, this work offers both respect for faith and tradition as well as a critical and fair account of the many critical views about of Muhammad emerging from academic study of social and religious formation of Islam and creation of the Quran as a scripture. Bennett divides Muhammad's life into three periods: from his birth to his experiences of revelation (A.D. 570-610); the period between the revelation and his pilgrimage (hejira) from Mecca to Medina (610- 622); his ascent to power in Medina to his death (622-632). Very little is known of the early periods of Muhammad's life, but there is a good deal of biographical material from the later years, in part, says Bennett, because there were more witnesses to Muhammad's life and work. In part one, Bennett examines and evaluates biographical sources. He notes that there exist early collections of sayings attributed to the prophet that offer some insight into Muhammad's life, but that the earliest complete biography of Muhammad comes from the hand of Ibn Ishaq almost 100 years after Muhammad's death. Part two surveys the non-Muslim lives of Muhammad written between the seventh and 20th centuries. In part three, Bennett uses conversations with contemporary Muslims as he explores the significance for them of Muhammad's life and work. It all adds up to an accessible and thorough glimpse into the identity of Muhammad. In Search of Muhammad is a better than average introduction to the field and is useful as a guide to current literature and major themes of study.Contents: Introduction Part One 1 Muhammad of History: the Primary Sources 2 The Sources: a Critical Evaluation Part Two 3 Non-Muslim Lives of Muhammad: from the 7th to the 16th Centuries 4 Non-Muslim Lives: from the Renaissance to Today Part Three 5 Muhammad's Significance in Muslim Life and Thought 6 Conversations Islamic Conclusion: Towards a Postmodern Theology of Religions Appendix One: Time-Line of Main Events Appendix Two: Muhammad's Marriages Appendix Three: Questionnaire References Index Index of Qu'ranic References Index of Hadith References
Life of the Prophet Muhammad: Al-Sira al-Nabawiyya Voulme 1
Life of the Prophet Muhammad: Al-Sira al-Nabawiyya Voulme 2
Life of the Prophet Muhammad: Al-Sira al-Nabawiyya Voulme 3
Life of the Prophet Muhammad: Al-Sira al-Nabawiyya Voulme 4
Compiled mainly from various traditions of ahadith in the
fourteenth century AD by s prominent Sunni Syrian scholar, The Life of Mohammad
is a full examination, in chronological order, of the background, life and
mission of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Drawn from the earliest and
most reliable from the traditional point of view, Arabic sources, it offers the
fullest available account of the historical circumstances and personalities most
important in the founding of Islam. The quotations and anecdotes that constitute
its core are evaluated in terms of the trustworthiness of their sources. Variant
wordings that are related through differing lines of transmission are noted, and
Ibn Kathir gives both his own assessments and those of the earliest Islamic
authorities concerning the likely authenticity of these records. The comments
and conversations, derived from ancient texts, that are quoted in this work
constitute the basis of our knowledge of Islam during the lifetime of its
founder. The works lack the literary flow that someone might want when first
seeking to know the general events in the life of the prophet of Islam. For a
more popular account but sensitive to the tradition Martin Lings Life is by far
the best in English. These volumes however are important to any scholar of Islam
because of the linguistic and variant accounts of episodes in the life of
The first volume of this four-volume set relates the history of the Arab tribes who were the Prophet's forbearers, the lives of his parents, and the accounts of unusual events surrounding his birth. It then goes on to anecdotes regarding his childhood, the signs of the prophethood, and first revelations.
Volume II looks at the early years of the prophethood and includes such episodes as the Night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and the ascent to Heaven, and the emigration to Medina. It gives details of events in the two years following the emigration, including the building of the Holy Mosque and various military expeditions, and reveals how Islam, as a faith, developed.
Volume III gives details of the numerous battles between 3 AH and 8 AH to defend and spread the religion
Volume IV continues with the events of 9 AH and 10 AH, and presents the different accounts of the hajjat al-wada (the farewell pilgrimage) events surrounding the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
Ibn Kathir was born in approximately 1313 in the Boesra
district of eastern Damascus, and studied with the many great scholars working
in the city during his time. He died in 1374. Highly recommended for academic
Trevor Le Gassick is Professor of Arabic Literature at the
University of Michigan. He has devoted himself to the translation and commentary
of important works, both contemporary and from earlier eras that reveal
important aspects of the rich texture of Arabic literary culture.
Excerpt from Introduction:
The work at hand in its original Arabic is, in a sense, the
product of two minds: the author himself, Ibn Kathir and, to a lesser extent,
its editor, Mustafa 'Abd al-Wahid. In his introduction to the Arabic, 'Abd al-Wahid
points out that this work is in fact the culmination of a search for a biography
of the Prophet Muhammad to which Ibn Kathir makes reference in his celebrated
exegesis of the Quran. There is, however, no extant copy of any such
independent biographical study traceable to Ibn Kathir. That such a study did
exist is questionable, notwithstanding Ibn Kathir's own allusion thereto. Given
the unavailability of this particular work, 'Abd al-Wahid offers the theory that
the biography in question is none other than that which appears in Ibn Kathir's
chief work, his opus on history, the al-Biddya wa al-Nihdya. He argues
that the sira section of the latter work is so comprehensive in its
analysis of the life and times of the Prophet Muhammad as to almost obviate the
need for any independent study of the same topic. The biography at hand,
therefore, is the same as found in the al-Biddya. Nevertheless, 'Abd al-Wahid
must be commended for the not inconsiderable task of editing and publishing this
particular section as an independent unit, and appropriately titling it al-sira
al-Nabamiyya li Ibn Kathir.
Ibn Kathir, whose ancestors are said to have been from
Iraq, was himself born around the year 1313 CE/700 AH in the Boesra district of
eastern Damascus. He died 74 years later, shortly after suffering a total loss
of vision. He counts as his tutors such illustrious personages as the eminent
historian Shams al-Din al-Dhahabi, the Maliki jurist Abu Mesa al-Qarafl, and the
celebrated Damascene polemicist and jurist Ibn Taymiyya al-Harrani.
Ibn Kathir's was an era of the great political and social upheavals that posed many challenges to the Muslim world at large, and in particular, to its scholars. What with the scourge of the Tartars threatening the very existence of Islam as a socio-political entity from the outside and the sectarian and ethnic strife created by the Mamluk revolution doing much the same from within, Ibn Kathir and his colleagues, no doubt, had huge challenges with which to contend. In addition, the unrelenting pestilence and drought that had plagued the Levant and areas east thereof, made their burden all the more unwieldy. He died in 1387 CE/775 AH and lies buried in Damascus next to his master, Ibn Taymiyyah.
Ibn Kathir, true to the pre-eminent tendencies of the
academic milieu within which he functioned, brings to his study of the Prophet
of Islam the method of the muhaddith, the scholar of hadith traditions,
more assiduously than he does that of the traditional historian. In doing so,
however, he has, I believe, substantially succeeded in combining two of the
three sources available for the pursuit of the historical Muhammad: the hadith
literature and the sera; the Qur'an, being the third such source, features less
prominently, if not altogether rarely, in his study. Given the very extensive
usage of hadith material in this particular work, a word about the classical
nature of such material and its contemporaneous validity would be appropriate at
Early historical studies of Muslim society and culture, as
A. A. Duri points out, "followed broadly two lines that were distinct from
each other - that of hadith, and that of the tribes, which is in a sense a
continuation of pre-Islamic activities. "These two lines", he
explains, "reflect the two major currents in early Islamic society - the
Islamic and the tribal lines which influenced all aspects of life."'
According to Muslim tradition, the learning and transmission of the sayings and
actions of Muhammad, his tacit approvals and disapprovals of the actions of
others, and his general behavior had religious significance second only to that
of the Qur'an. To that end Muslim scholars began the collection of such data as
was related to the Prophet and his era even while he was still alive. At first,
the system of oral retention was popular, but by the middle of the first century
of the Muslim era, written compilations of ,hadith traditions began to appear.
By the end of the third quarter of that century, "a pattern was fixed for
the learning and teaching of the hadith which flourished in the second and third
centuries."5 A system of sorts for verifying the authenticity of such
prophetic traditions was allegedly extant from the earliest of times - albeit in
a rather rudimentary manner. That system, however, was neither systematized nor
rigorously applied until the advent of the civil wars, whereupon sources were no
longer regarded, prima facie, as trustworthy, but were instead increasingly
scrutinized to establish authenticity. Thus evolved the elaborate isnad system
where every badith was scrutinized from two perspectives: the text (matn)
containing the information transmitted as such, and the chain of transmitters
(sanad) giving the names of all those responsible for transmitting such
information from the Prophet himself.
As indicated earlier, Ibn Kathir's method in this
particular work is more that of the hadith scholars than it is of the historian;
al-Bukhari, Muslim and more so, al-Baihagi, Ahmad b. Hanbal, and Abu Nu-aim thus
feature more prominently as sources for his biography than do historians such
as Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Hisham or Tabari. But, as 'Abd al-Wahid rightly points out,
Ibn Kathir, on occasion, is not averse to using some rather obscure historical
works, some even that are no longer extant: the rare historical tractate of Musa
b. Uqba, and the al-Rawd al-Anf of al-Suhayh are examples thereof.
True to tradition, if not quite on the same scale as, for
instance, Ibn Hisham, are Ibn Kathir's copious citations of poetry, almost all
of which seem to have been taken from Muhammad b. Ishaq's biography of the
Prophet. The poems deal with a variety of themes and styles: there is, for
instance, the unmistakable sarcasm of Kalab b. Zuhayr as reflected in his
lampooning of the Prophet, followed by his subsequent retraction and apology as
in the much celebrated poem, Banut Sulad; there is also the occasional
celebration of pre-Islamic Arabian chivalry, as in the haunting ode of Abu al-Bakhtart
b. Hisham, when he speaks so movingly of his virtual self-immolation for the
love of a friend. Then, of course, there are the evocative panegyrics of Hassan
b. Thabit in defence of Islam, its Prophet, and his Companions.
Ibn Kathir, oddly enough for someone who has plumbed the
depths of hadith methodology, frequently paraphrases, not just the many
references to scholars such as Ibn Ishaq, but also, at times, the very ,hadith
material he so often quotes. He thus takes almost the same liberties with such
material as he does with works on history, and the reader, particularly of the
Arabic text, sometimes searches in vain for all but the gist of the traditions
that he ascribes to, say, the sahib of Bukhari or that of Muslim. 'Abd al-Wahid
offers two possible reasons for this anomaly; the one I believe to be somewhat
more plausible than the other. It may well be, he suggests, that Ibn Kathir was
simply quoting from memory, seeing no need for any further textual verification,
or it may also be that he is, in fact, using sources unavailable to us today.
This latter hypothesis is, I believe, somewhat disingenuous for it requires,
amongst other things, that Ibn Kathir possessed not one, but an entire set of
hadith works unique to his library alone!
The text itself suffers from a singular lack of the
literary cadence that makes the historical works of al-Tabari, for instance,
more of a pleasure to read. This seems to result from Ibn Kathir's efforts to
present an authentic description of the life and times of the Prophet of Islam,
and to submit such data as is found in the popular biographical works to the
scrutiny of hadith literature. The flow of his text is, without question, a
casualty of this exercise. But, as has been pointed out by a scholar of the
Bible, "If we read biblical narrative (or in this case the sirs material)
as a story, we abandon its historical truth. If we read it as literature, we
will often find literary art in it, but this art takes us further from
truth." Not that the method of Ibn Kathir is altogether without its
redeeming features: it certainly provides useful information to scholars,
particularly those of the traditional schools, who would prefer to have the
classical sources for sira studies close at hand.
The contents of works such as Ibn Kathir's sira are today
regarded by many scholars of Islam as largely proto-historical, focusing, that
is, on an era whose source documentation falls short of contemporary
historiographical standards. It is, some say, the stuff of myth and legend,
entwined in places with real historical data. For modern historians of Islam
and the Middle East such as Maxime Rodinson, Patricia Crone et al., sira
material contains, in the first instance, virtually "nothing of which we
can say for certain that it incontestably dates back to the time of the
Prophet".' And so, "when doing research about the life and work of the
Prophet Muhammad", Rudi Paret warns, "we on principle distrust the
traditional statement and explanation of facts given by later generations, in so
far as they cannot be verified by internal evidence or in some other way."
In addition, the work at hand may be seen by some to be no
more than the product of one who had a variety of interests in the topic: one
who was, at one and the same time, a historian, a scribe of "sacred
biography", and also a devotee; the results of an endeavor such as Ibn
Kathir's, therefore, risk being perceived as less than the product of
This critical approach to Islamic historiography emerged
gradually in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was, understandably, only a matter
of time before Albert Schweitzer's "quest of the historical Christ"
would be appropriated by scholars of Islamic history in their search of the
demythologized Muhammad; after all, this kind of appropriation of the analytical
tools indigenous to studies of Christianity for the unravelling of the Islamic
historical experience has become almost a convention in Islamic and Middle
Eastern studies. Yet the entire process is, I believe, fraught with questionable
hypotheses, broad generalizations and a certain disregard for the spatio-temporal
factors that shape ostensibly similar events. The application of New Testament
heuristic tools such as Form and Redaction criticism to the corpus of
information pertaining to the sira seems to betray a casual disregard for the Sitz
im Leben of that very corpus. The life and work of Jesus is clearly
different from that of Muhammad; the former's mission - if it can be described
as such - is, for example, singularly devoid of the political and socio-economic
objectives that informed that of the latter. It is, therefore, hardly
surprising, as F. E. Peters in his recent article "The Quest of the
Historical Muhammad" points out, that "even though a great deal of
effort has been invested in research into the life and times of Muhammad, the
results do not seem at all comparable to those achieved in research on Jesus,
and the reasons are not at all clear."
Not all Western scholars were as eager to jettison the
classical material. W. M. Watt, writing in his Muhammad at Mecca, is clearly
more reluctant than Crone, for example, to reject out of hand all such material,
simply on the strength of Schacht's conclusion. He thus maintains that "In
the legal sphere there may have been some sheer invention of traditions, it
would seem. But in the historical sphere, in so far as the two may be separated,
and apart from some exceptional cases, the nearest to such invention in the best
early historians appears to be a `tendential shaping' of the material.
It must be remembered, however, that traditional Muslim scholars display little awareness of the foregoing conundrum. The classical methodology of hadith criticism as practiced by early Muslim scholars, with its close scrutiny of the isnad and the mutan of prophetic traditions, has, in the main, not been discredited, or even questioned, by Muslim scholars. If anything, that methodology has today been given a new lease of life by scholars such as Nasir al-Din al-Albani, who, for example, regard the re-evaluation of the early sources as integral to what they call the Islamic renaissance. Such a renaissance, Albani argues, will fall far short of its goals, without a thoroughgoing purge of what remains of the spurious material that had crept into hadith and sira works during the turbulent epoch of early Islamic history. He thus set himself the task of appraising scholars and the Muslim laity alike to those traditions that were deemed spurious by the regimen of classical hadith studies.
Clearly not all contemporary scholars are as eager as
Schacht to ring the death knell on hadith literature as a tool for unravelling
early Islamic history. Azami for one, in his studies on early ,hadith literature
has attempted to show that ,hadith literature is indeed the richest source for
the investigation of that era, for it provides, among other things, material for
the understanding of the legal, cultural and religious ideas of those early
centuries. He maintains that the theories of Margoliouth, Goldziher and more
recently, Schacht can no longer be incontestably accepted given the recent
discoveries of manuscripts or research. According to him "In the period
referred to, works on the biography of the Prophet and on other historical
topics were in a very advanced stage. We find that work on the biography of the
Prophet was begun by the Companions. 'Abd Allah b. 'Amr b. al-,As recorded many
historical events. It is possible still to trace his work in the ahadith
narrated by 'Amr b. Shu~aib (d. 118 AH) as he utilized his great grandfather
cAbd Allah b. 'Amr's books. Rurwah (d. 93 AH) in his biography of the Prophet
names his authority and most probably he had obtained the information in
writing. There are works mentioned here and there on a single topic of the Sirah,
e.g. Memorandum on the Servants of the Prophet, a book on the ambassadors of the
Prophet to different rulers and chieftains with their negotiations. There are
references to the collections of the Prophet's letters in a very early
But it is, in fact, these very sources that Azami cites
that have, through the use of contemporary literary and hermeneutical tools,
been relegated to no more than "the rubble of early Muslim history".
For Patricia Crone therefore, the "inertia" of material such as
appears heretofore "comes across very strongly in modern scholarship on the
first two centuries of Islam "The
bulk of it", she argues, "has an alarming tendency to degenerate into
mere rearrangements of the same old canon - Muslim chronicles in modern
languages and graced with modern titles."
Others have strived to arrive at the inevitable solution
intermediary, "a conceivable position that could be taken between the two
points of view represented respectively by Muslim and Western scholarship."
For him therefore, the hadith traditions "taken as a whole" do provide
a fairly reliable rendition of early Islamic history, and "a judiciously
and cautiously formulated overall view of what all those early reports ...
collectively point to, may in all likelihood be taken to be not very far from
the truth of `what really happened'.
and the Rise of Islam: The Creation of Group Identity by Subhash C.
Inamdar (International Universities Press) provides a biographical look at the
activities of Muhammad as illustrative of a psychoanalytically informed social
psychology. From its beginnings in a small sixth century Arabic community, Islam
today has nearly a billion followers and continues to spread throughout the
world. Yet few nonMuslims understand its history or its laws and customs
despite its growing influence and its involvement in conflict and controversy.
With his new book, Muhammad and the Rise of Islam, Subhash
Inamdar explores the rich early history of Islam, its emergence and growth, its
tenets and beliefs. And, for psychologists, he offers a reasoned and
reasonable explanation of Islam's success and its implication for the theory and
study of groups and group formations.
MAN AND PROPHET: A Complete Study of the Life of the Prophet of Islam
by M.A. Salahi
($39.99, hardcover; 752 pages; bibliography, index, Element Books, ISBN: 1-85230-703-X)
MUHAMMAD MUHAMMAD A Biography of the Prophet MUHAMMAD A Biography of the Prophet by Karen Armstrong, ($13.00, paperback, 288 pages, Harper San Francisco; ISBN: 0062508865
Salahi, a British journalist of Arabic origin, writes a column, Islam in Perspective in the English language edition of Arab News. His devotion to interpreting his religion for a non-Muslim audience makes this study of the life and teachings of Muhammad an authoritative source to consult for a modernist Sunni account of the significance of the Prophet. Salahi writes in an active style, offering important stories about Muhammads life within a fast paced exposition of his activities and teachings. The work is especially useful as a conversational introduction to the life of Muhammad emphasizing his trials as a prophet. Salahi is especially keen on political interpretations of the Prophet's actions and behavior.
Armstrong's provides fresh, evenhanded biography of the founder of Islam that represents Muhammad as a complex and passionate human being. Her account remains respectful without becoming an act of devotion. It is authoritative without distracting the reader with complex scholarly debates.
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