Living in the Time of Prophecy: Internalized Sirah Texts

Developing Just Leadership

Muzaffar Iqbal

Muharram 26, 1432 2011-01-01

Occasional Paper

by Muzaffar Iqbal


Modern Sirah texts are deeply affected by the formidable historical currents that have shaped the post-colonial Muslim world. The intellectual rigor of some of these texts notwithstanding, the trend that dominates most nineteenth and early twentieth century Sirah works is to justify and apologize. Muslim intellectuals of this period were generally reacting against two centuries of colonial dominance; with few exceptions, their characterizations of the life of the Prophet were attempts to rationalize the miracles mentioned in classical works of Sirah, omit events which would be considered “scandalous” in the political climate of their times, and more generally introduce an ‘historical-critical’ mode of so-called scientific objectivity borrowed from the intellectual apparatus of Orientalism.

During the last quarter of the twentieth century, Sirah texts started to move away from the political, social, and intellectual burdens. This relief made it possible for a few writers to produce remarkably vivid accounts of the entire Prophetic era, recapturing the intimacy that was the hallmark of classical Sirah texts. A necessary step in writing such Sirah was the personal internalization of that unique period in human history when the last of Allah’s prophets lived on earth. The present paper examines this process of internalization, which allowed these writers to produce works that read as if the writers — and their responsive readers — were ‘living in the time of prophecy.’ The paper explores characteristic features of the process of internalization as “read back” in the works produced by this process.

Historical Background: An Overview

A defining feature of modern 1 Sirah texts — indeed of all branches of Islamic studies — is the emergence of “lay scholars.” 2 There are numerous historical, social, and political reasons for this, but one over-arching factor is the Muslim encounter with the West. The French occupation of Egypt and the south of Syria (1798–1801), and the long British occupation of the Indian subcontinent, which formally came under the British crown in 1857, and colonization of other parts of the Muslim world all have had decisive influence on the field of Islamic studies in general and Sirah studies in particular. For the first time in Muslim history, Europe had direct contact with a very large number of Muslims and Western civilization began to directly influence Muslim daily life in a manner that had not been experienced before. Sirah texts of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries reflect various facets of this impact.

Most of these lay scholars were actually appalled by the state of their people and, for the most part, they uncritically accepted the European verdict —even condemnation — of their own history, culture, civilization, and intellectual tradition. To be sure, most of them retained a firm faith, but their intellectual foundation of faith was severely damaged. Many of these lay scholars also became aware of the European attacks on the life of the Noble Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, and this painful recognition prompted them to write “defensive works.”3 In addition to “defensive texts,” these trends yielded (i) motivational and inspirational works which attempted to awaken Muslims and prompted them to action; (ii) apologetic and polemical works using a rational approach which flattened — and in many cases discarded — anything that did not fit the scientific rationalism then reigning supreme in Europe; and (iii) Sirah texts which reflect strong impact of modern Western political and social theories.

Many authors of these Sirah works were literary critics, writers, poets, intellectuals, and scholars trained in humanities through a Western-style education. They read the works of European writers on the life of the Prophet, upon him peace and blessings, and in order to respond, adopted their methodologies and frameworks. More often than not, they found faults with traditional understanding of Sirah works, criticized the “supernatural” aspects of these accounts and explained away the miraculous in order to fit their notion of the life of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, within a rational framework. Many simply claimed that the only miracle of the Prophet was the Qur’an.4 They used logical arguments to discard a good part of traditional understanding of Sirah texts.

This is not to deny the existence of Sirah works during this era which continued to use the traditional understanding,5 but to underscore the dominant trend which gained force with the passage of time so much so that one can genuinely speak of a flowering of modern Sirah texts during the first three decades of the twentieth century. No doubt, these writers were personally filled with the love of the Prophet, as every Muslim is, but their education and more importantly their obsession of the so-called “scientific method” deeply influenced their understanding of prophethood and consequently their attempts to study the life of the Prophet “scientifically” led to reductionism and distortions.

This trend is most apparent in the works of Egyptian Sirah writers of the first half of the twentieth century many of whom had gone to Europe for education, although it is not limited to them. Others were literary figures who ventured into the domain of Sirah either to “defend” the Prophet,6 or to reveal some new facet in his personality (e.g. socialism and heroism).7

During this same time period, non-Muslim, mostly Western, tradition of Sirah went through its own transformation: The expansion of European knowledge of other cultures through travel and trade during the eighteenth century and European understanding of the Muslim world through colonization in the nineteenth century, coupled with the forces of rationalization and Enlightenment served to transform open missionary hostility8 toward Islam and Muslims into Orientalism proper, which claimed to study Islam and its Prophet, upon him peace and blessings, scientifically. Major works which redefined the parameters of discourse include works by Simon Ockley (History of the Saracens, 1708–18), Edward Gibbon (History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1776–87) and Thomas Carlyle (The Hero as Prophet, Mahomed, 1840). These were the so-called “sympathetic works” which approached the Prophet, upon him peace and blessings, a historical figure who had played a part in world events and not as a diabolic deceiver driven by depravity and greed. The emergence of Orientalism was fostered by the establishment of chairs of Arabic (Leiden, 1613; Cambridge, 1632; Oxford, 1634), the compilation of Arabic dictionaries and grammars (especially that of Silvestre de Sacy, 1810), and the acquisition and study of numerous manuscripts from the Middle East. The material resources available to Western scholars increased considerably. This increase led Ernest Renan to state confidently that “one can say without exaggeration that the problem of the origins of Islam has definitely now been completely resolved…The life of its founder is as well-known to us as that of any sixteenth century reformer. We can follow year by year the fluctuations of his thoughts, his contradictions, his weaknesses . . .”9

This understanding of the Western scholars of the Prophet being in the “full light of history” was to be replaced within the course of the twentieth century by its opposite: the Western scholarship was to go on the “quest for the historical Muhammad”;10 this took place through a number of important shifts which included an assault on the sources of Prophetic biography by men like Ignaz Goldziher, who passed the verdict that Hadith cannot be trusted as a historical document; Joseph Schacht, who emphasized that ‘to a much higher degree than hitherto suspected, seemingly historical information on the Prophet is only the background for legal doctrines and therefore devoid of independent value”;11 and Henri Lammens, who argued that all we know about the Prophet, upon him peace and blessings, consists of a few allusions taken from the Qur’an and elaborated into stories. Others who had impact on the Western understanding of Sirah include Regis Blachere, Montgomery Watt, Rudolf Sellheim, F. E. Peters, Patricia Crone and Michael Cook.

Against this background and dominant trend, a remarkable development in Sirah writing emerged during the last quarter of the twentieth century, which attempted to recapture the intimacy and traditional understanding of the original source-texts which had been shadowed by the modernistic trends. This development was further helped by the overall political, social, and intellectual revivalism of the Muslim world at the beginning of the fifteenth Islamic century — a time which heralded the emergence of the contemporary Muslim world and closed the period of three centuries of siesta. In fact, one can call the turn of the fourteenth Islamic century a watershed, marking the closure of the lowest intellectual and political mark in Muslim history and heralding a period of awakening which, like all such changes, is currently characterized by a great period of confusion, chaos, violence, and intellectual anarchy, but which, nevertheless, has all the ingredients and signs of a turning point in world history, which might as well be a decisive event for the whole humanity.12 These works, called “Internalized Sirah Texts” in this paper, reflect varying degree of the process whereby the author actually experientially conceives the events, and then recasts them as if he or she was there. This is in contrast to presenting information. The process of internalization is both an intellectual as well as a spiritual journey of the author, back in time, as it were, into the very heart of the events. It is living in the Prophetic era.13 A characteristic feature of the “Internalized Texts” is that they differ from other Sirah texts where the Prophetic era remains external to a very large extent and seldom forms an organic unity with the author. They also vary a great deal in their style, extent of detail, target audience, intent and purpose. For example, Sayyid Sulaiman Nadvi’s (1884–1953) Rahmat-i ‘Alam is a short Sirah intended for students, but one that is able to transpose the reader to the times of the Prophetic era. Its fluent prose, its evocative narrative and its conciseness is a remarkable achievement of the first order.14

In order to explore the process of internalization, we must begin with a note on source material, as all Sirah texts draw their content from a common collection of sources. These include the Qur’an and Hadith along with previous works on Sirah.

Earliest Sources of Sirah

Besides the Qur’an and Hadith, early sources for Sirah include the ansab (genealogy) literature, and the reports and works which ultimately go back to the Companions (Sahabah), may Allah be pleased with them all; the Successors (Tabi‘un) and those who followed them. Among the works which impacted all Sirah texts, the following deserve special mention.

  1. The still-to-be discovered collection of traditions concerning Prophetic life and battles, gathered by Aban b. ‘Uthman b. ‘Affan (d. 105/723), collected in book form by his student, ‘Abd al-Rahman b. al-Mughirah (d. before 125/742).
  2. Kitab al-Maghazi of ‘Urwah b. al-Zubayr,15 from which subsequent authors quote extensively.
  3. Kitab al-Maghazi of Wahb b. Munabbih (d. 110/728), a part of which was discovered by C. H. Becker among the papyri of the Schott-Reinhardt collection, now preserved in Heigelberg.16
  4. The lost book on Maghazi by ‘Abd Allah b. Abi Bakr b. Hazm (d. 135/752), from whom Ibn Ishaq, al-Waqidi, Ibn Sa‘d, and al-Tabari quote.
  5. Works by ‘Asim b. ‘Umar b. Qatadah, originally his lectures later committed to writing and used by Ibn Ishaq and al-Waqidi.
  6. The lost work of Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri (d. 124/741), from which his student Musa b. ‘Uqbah (d. 141/758) quoted in his own lost work, which, nevertheless survives in fragments in many later works, especially in volume 3 and 4 of Ibn Sa‘d’s Tabaqat.
  7. The preserved fragments of the book of Ma‘mar b. Rashid, who was a student of al-Zuhri, and from whom Ibn Sa‘d, al-Waqidi, al-Tabari, and al-Baladhuri, all quote.
  8. The Sirat Rasul Allah of Ibn Ishaq (85–152/704–769), the first complete Sirah, in Ibn Hisham’s (d. 218/833) recension.
  9. Sirah and history works by the third and fourth century writers, notably those by Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad b. ‘Umar al-Waqidi (d. 207/823); Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad b. Sa‘d b. Mani‘ al-Basri al-Zuhri (d. 230/844); al-Azraqi (d. 243/858); al-Baladhuri (d. 278/892); and al-Tabari (d. 310/923).17

Defining the Process of Internalization

All Sirah works are ultimately based on source texts, some which have been listed above. What distinguishes one work from another in terms of the use of source material is the writer’s selection, understanding, and, ultimately, internalization of the material present in these sources. For the purpose of this paper, the following steps are used as markers or stages to explore the process of internationalization of the material used for the writing of Sirah works.

  1. Spiritual dimension of the process of internalization
  2. Psychological dimension with its accompanying manifestation on the emotional plane
  3. Intellectual dimension involved in the processing of facts and information
  4. The process of organic reconstruction

i. Spiritual Dimensions of the Process of Internalization

No author of a biography can remain unaffected by the life he or she is attempting to reconstruct but in this case it is not merely the question of a remote contact; rather, one comes into a very strong magnetic field, as it were, capable of deeply impacting one’s whole being at the spiritual level. This is obvious even with those authors who do not believe in his prophethood or those who approach him with enmity in their hearts, for they end up writing words devoid of truth and reverence and often pass very strong negative judgments. For a believer, however, it is much more than an academic exercise. As one interacts with the source material, a spiritual transformation begins to take place and the more one is capable of receiving the spiritual benefits of this interaction with the life and times of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, the deeper is the impact. This is a completely personal process, but it is reflected in the works of authors who have entered this process.

Familiarity with source material also enriches one’s understanding of the events. Details of the Prophetic battles, for instance, not only bring a deeper awareness of what took place during the battle, but also about the relationships between the Prophet, upon him peace and blessings, and his Companions, may Allah be pleased with them all. This intimacy is capable of opening spiritual realms for receptive hearts, as these very personal details of human interaction at a heightened time, filled with perils and risks to one’s life, serve as starting points for enhancing one’s own relationship with the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace. Reflected in Sirah works, this proximity to the one who was sent as mercy to humanity, infuses text with intimacy, love, and spiritual courtesy, as the following representative sample shows:

The Prophet now drew up his army, and he passed in front of each man to give them good heart and to straighten the ranks, bearing an arrow in his hand. “Stand in line, O Sawad,” he said to one of the Helpers who was too far forward, and he gave him a slight prick in the belly with his arrow. “O Messenger of God, thou hast hurt me,” said Sawad, “and God hath sent thee with truth and justice, so give me my requital.” “Take it,” said the Prophet, laying bare his own belly and handing him the arrow whereupon Sawad stooped and imprinted a kiss where it was his due to place the point of the shaft. “What made thee do this?” said the Prophet. And he answered: “O Messenger of God, we are now faced with what thou seest; and I desired that at my last moment with thee — if so it be — my skin should touch thy skin;” and the Prophet prayed for him and blessed him.18

Notice the intimacy this passage brings to the reader through a recasting that could not have been possible without the internalization of this beautiful event that took place on the Day of Badr. The dialogue format, the emotional content of the exchange, the deep love of Sawad, may Allah be pleased with him, and the heightened sense of danger all bring to life not only the exchange but also the personal relationship of a Companion with the Prophet, upon him peace and blessings. To be sure, there are degrees of transformation that take place within the being of a writer; the same event can produce different results and different levels of spiritual response. The following example of one event, reconstructed by three different writers, will demonstrate this:

Muhammad led the Muslims and organized their ranks. As he looked over the Quraysh army and compared them with his thin ranks and poor equipment, he felt quite apprehensive. He returned to his booth with Abu Bakr, strongly moved by fear and pity for the career of Islam should the Muslims lose on this day. Turning his face to Makkah and his whole soul to God, he began to pray, calling on God to give him victory. He prayed to God for a very long while, and was heard repeating the following words: “O God, here is Quraysh with all her tribe seeking to belie your Prophet. O God, give us the assistance which You promised. O God, if this little army perishes, when will You be worshiped again?” Muhammad prayed with hands raised to heaven. His mantle fell off and Abu Bakr had to pick it up and put it back on his shoulders. Abu Bakr said to him: “O Prophet of God, enough calling on God; He will surely give you what He promised. Muhammad continued to pray, pouring out his whole soul in pious invocation to God to help him in this hour of precipitous danger. After near collapse, he came back to himself and told of a vision he saw of God’s victory. With radiant face, he went out to meet his men and incited them to put their faith in God and enter the battle without fear. He assured them one by one: “By Him who controls Muhammad’s soul, not one of you today fights and falls but God will enter him into His paradise.”19

The second account of the same event, though somewhat different in details, reads:

When the two parties approached closer and were visible to each other, the Prophet [Peace be upon him] began supplicating [to] Allah “O Allah! The conceited and haughty Quraishites are already here defying You and belying Your Messenger. O Allah! I am waiting for Your victory which You have promised me. I beseech You Allah to defeat them (the enemies).”20

A third account reads:

Quraysh had now begun to advance. Seen across the undulating dunes, the Meccan army appeared to be much smaller than it was. But the Prophet was fully aware of their true numbers and of the great disparity between the two hosts, and he now returned to the shelter with Abu Bakr and prayed for the help which God had promised him. A light slumber came upon him, and when he woke he said: “Be of good cheer, Abu Bakr; the help of God hath come to thee. Here is Gabriel and in his hand is the rein of a horse which he is leading, and he is armed for war.”21

Notice the intimate personal presence one feels in the third account, which is absent in the first and weakly present in the second. The highlighted text (italicized) also shows writers’ own projections on to the state of the Prophet, upon him peace and blessings. These differences are not merely of style, they reflect the inner impact source material elicited in the author, their personal process of internalization of the event and their spiritual participation in the event. The highlighted (italicized) text also shows how these three authors have understood the Prophet’s recognition of the importance of that day of Badr.

Recounting of the Prophetic battles is a good place to explore the process as they are better able to show the heightened consciousness of the writers of the Sirah works and hence another example — this time from the Battle of Uhud —would serve to illustrate the point. All three accounts given below are concerning the time in the Battle when the Prophet was left with a few Companions on the hill:

The first account has a subtitle “The Prophet’s Escape” and reads:

Quraysh took the news of Muhammad’s death with exhilaration and joy, and Abu Sufyan began a search for his body on the battlefield. The Muslims around Muhammad did not deny the news of his death in obedience to Muhammad’s own commandment designed to prevent any new onslaught by the Quraysh against him. Ka‘b ibn Malik, however, came close to the circle and, bending himself over Abu Dujanah, noticed that the Prophet was there and still alive. He proclaimed at the top of his voice: “O Believers, be glad, for the Prophet of God is here and still alive.” The Prophet, however, asked him to keep quiet. The Muslims then reinforced the protective circle around the Prophet and moved with him farther up toward the mountain; they were led by Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Ali ibn Abu Talib, al-Zubayr ibn al-‘Awwam and others. The cry of Ka‘b brought about a different effect upon the Quraysh. Most of the latter did not believe it but regarded it as an enemy trick designed to rally the Muslims to fight again. A few Makkans ran toward the Muslims shouting, “Where is Muhammad? Death to me if he lives!” The Prophet hurled the javelin of al-Harith ibn al-Simmah at the oncoming party. It hit the leader, threw him off his horse, and killed him. When the Muslims reached the entrance to the valley on the other side, ‘Ali filled his shield with water, washed Muhammad’s face and poured some water on his head. Abu ‘Ubaydah ibn al-Jarrah pulled out the two links of chain from Muhammad’s wound, and his two front teeth fell off in the process. While this was taking place, Khalid ibn al-Walid pursued the Muslims on the hillside with a small force of Makkan cavalry. But they were repelled by ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab and a number of the Prophet’s companions. The Muslims continued their retreat. So great was their exhaustion that when it was noon, the Prophet led the prayer seated, suffering as he was from his wounds, and the Muslims prayed behind him seated also.22

A second account also has a subheading, “the Most Awkward in the Messenger’s Life,” and it reads as:

Eventually, the enemy of Allâh breathed his last at a place called Sarif, while they were taking him back to Makkah.” In a version by Abul-Aswad, on the authority of ‘Urwa: He was bellowing like a bull and saying: “By the One in Whose Hand is my soul, if (the pain) I am suffering from now were distributed among the people of Al-Majaz, it would cause them to die.” During the withdrawal of the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) up to the cover of the mountain, a big rock blocked his way. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) tried to mount it, but having worn a short heavy armour, and being seriously wounded — he could not ascend it. Readily enough Talha sat in a position that enabled the Prophet (Peace be upon him) to stand on his back. Then he lifted him up till he stood on it. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) then said: “Talha, after this job, is eligible for the Garden (Paradise).” When the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) settled down in his headquarters in the hillock, the idolaters started their last attack upon the Muslims. Ibn Ishaq related that: “While the Prophet (Peace be upon him) was on the way to the hillock, a group of Quraishite elite ascended the mountain. They were led by Khalid bin Al-Waleed and Abu Sufyan. So the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) implored his Lord saying: ‘O Allah, they (i.e. the idolaters) should not be higher (i.e. in position or in power) than us (i.e. the Muslims). Therefore ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab and some of the Emigrants fought the idolaters till they drove them down the mountain. In Al-Maghazi — a book by Al-Umawi — it is stated that the idolaters went up the mountain. So the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said to Sa‘d: “Drive them off.” “How can I drive them off by myself (i.e. without anyone to assist).” But the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) repeated the phrase three times. Sa‘d then took an arrow out of his quiver, shot it at one of them and killed him. He said: “Then I took another one I know (to be good) and I shot with it another man. Then I took a third I know and killed a third one. Consequently they climbed down the mountain. I said to myself, ‘this must be a blessed arrow.’ I put it in my quiver.” He kept it with him till he died. His children kept it with them ever after.23

The third account is given below:

Some of the Companions closed round the Prophet, and others were about to attack Ubayy when the Prophet ordered them to hold off their hands; and those who were round him said afterwards that he shook himself clear of them as if they had been no more than flies on a camel’s back. Then he took a spear from Harith ibn as-Simmah and stepped in front of them all. Not daring to move, they looked on in awe at his grim and deadly earnestness. As one of them said: “When the Messenger of God made a deliberate effort toward some end, there was no earnestness that could compare with his.” Ubayy approached with drawn sword, but before he could strike a blow the Prophet had thrust him in the neck. He bellowed like a bull, then swayed and almost fell from his horse but, recovering his balance, he turned and galloped down the slope and did not stop until he reached the Meccan camp where his nephew Safwan and others of his clan were now assembled. “Muhammad hath slain me,” he said in a voice he could not control. They looked at his wound and made light of it, but he was convinced that it was mortal, as indeed it soon proved to be. “He told me he would kill me,” he said, “and by God if he had spat upon me he would have killed me.” Was Muhammad not dead after all, they began to wonder. But Ubayy was clearly beside himself, and in any case it was easy to mistake one helmeted man for another. When the Prophet and his Companions reached the top of the glen, ‘Ali went to fill his shield with water from a cavity in the rocks. He held it out to the Prophet, but the odour of its stagnancy repelled him, and he could not bring himself to drink of it despite his thirst, though he used some of it to wash the blood from his face. Then, since they were still too easily accessible from the plain, he gave the word to move onwards to higher ground, and he tried to raise himself onto a ledge of rock from which further ascent could be made. But he was too weak for the effort, so Talhah crouched below the ledge with great violence to his wounds, and taking the Prophet on his back he raised him to the necessary height. The Prophet said of him that day: “He that would behold a martyr walking the face of the earth, let him look on Talhah the son of ‘Ubayd Allah?’ By the time they had found a place which could serve as a temporary camp the sun had reached its zenith and they prayed the noon prayer. The Prophet, who led it, remained seated throughout, and everyone followed his example. Then they lay down to rest and many of them slept a deep and refreshing sleep, while a relay of watchmen kept watch from a point of vantage overlooking the plain.24

All three narratives have the same source material, all provide, more or less, the same information, but in the first account, there is a conscious distance maintained by the author and even though some of the details are presented in dialogue form, they remain external to the writer and hence the reader. The second account is heavily compromised by the references to the sources which show academic erudition, even bookish scholarship, but not internalization. In the third account, we have a representation of the events which was first internalized, then graphically grasped, and finally written in a succinct manner which shows no signs of labouring over the details. This kind of prose cannot come into existence without the author’s own spiritual participation and hence transformation in the very event which is being reconstructed for the readers.

One more example will illustrate this more fully: an episode from the Prophet’s trip to Ta’if. This part of the trip involves the famous supplication made by the Prophet, upon him peace and blessings. Here is the first account with a subtitle, “Muhammad’s Excursion to Ta’if (628 C.E.)”:

The Quraysh doubled and redoubled their injuries to Muhammad and his followers until Muhammad could bear it no longer. Alone, and without telling anyone, he undertook a trip to the city of Ta’if where he solicited the support of the tribe of Thaqif after calling them to Islam. When they refused, he asked them not to spread the news of their refusal to his enemies that they might not rejoice at his failure. The tribe of Thaqif, however, not only repudiated Muhammad’s call but sent their servants to insult him and throw him out of their city. He ran away from them and took shelter near a wall which belonged to ‘Utbah and Shaybah, sons of Rabi‘ah. There, he sat under a vine pondering his defeat, within sight of the sons of Rabi‘ah. He raised his hands to heaven and prayed with noticeable pain “O God, please consider my weakness, my shortage of means, and the little esteem that people have of me. Oh, most Merciful God, You are the Lord of the oppressed, and You are my Lord. To whom would You leave my fate? To a stranger who insults me? Or to an enemy who dominates me? Would I that You have no wrath against me! Your pleasure alone is my objective. Under the light of Your faith which illuminates all darkness and on which this world and the other depend, I take my refuge. I pray that I may not become the object of Your wrath and anger. To You alone belongs the right to blame and to chastise until Your pleasure is met. There is neither power nor strength except in You.”25

The second account:

For ten days he stayed there delivering his message to several people, one after another, but all to no purpose. Stirred up to hasten the departure of the unwelcome visitor, the people hooted him through the alley-ways, pelted him with stones and obliged him to flee from the city pursued by a relentless rabble. Blood flowed down both his legs; and Zaid, endeavouring to shield him, was wounded in the head. The mob did not desist until they had chased him two or three miles across the sandy plains to the foot of the surrounding hills. There, wearied and exhausted, he took refuge in one of the numerous orchards, and rested against the wall of a vineyard. At a time when the whole world seemed to have turned against him, Muhammad (Peace be upon him) turned to his Lord and betook himself to prayer and the following touching words are still preserved as those through which his oppressed soul gave vent to its distress. He was weary and wounded but confident of the help of his Lord:

“O Allah! To You alone I make complaint of my helplessness, the paucity of my resources and my insignificance before mankind. You are the most Merciful of the mercifuls. You are the Lord of the helpless and the weak, O Lord of mine! Into whose hands would You abandon me: into the hands of an unsympathetic distant relative who would sullenly frown at me, or to the enemy who has been given control over my affairs? But if Your wrath does not fall on me, there is nothing for me to worry about.”

“I seek protection in the light of Your Countenance, which illuminates the heavens and dispels darkness, and which controls all affairs in this world as well as in the Hereafter. May it never be that I should incur Your wrath, or that You should be wrathful to me. And there is no power nor resource, but Yours alone.”26

The third account:

It was then that he decided to seek help from Thaqif, the people of Ta’if — a decision which eloquently reflected the apparent gravity of his situation in Mecca. For except that truth can conquer all things, what indeed could be hoped for from Thaqif, the guardians of the temple of the goddess al-Lat, whose shrine they liked to think of as comparable to the House of God? There must however be exceptions in Ta’if as there were in Mecca, and the Prophet was not without hope as he rode up from the desert towards the welcoming orchards and gardens and cornfields which were the outskirts of the walled city. On his arrival he went straight to the house of three brothers who were the leaders of Thaqif at that time, the sons of ‘Amr ibn Umayyah, the man whom Walid looked on as his own counterpart in Ta’if, the second of “the two great men of the two townships.” But when the Prophet asked them to accept Islam and help him against his opponents, one of them immediately said: “If God sent thee, I will tear down the hangings of the Ka‘bah!” and another said: “Could God find none but thee to send?” As for the third, he said: Let me never speak to thee! For if thou art a Messenger from God as thou sayest, then art thou too great a personage for me to address; and if thou liest, it is not fitting that I should speak to thee.” So the Prophet rose to leave them, perhaps intending to try elsewhere in Ta’if; but when he had left them, they stirred up their slaves and retainers to insult him and shout at him, until a crowd of people were gathered together against him and he was forced to take refuge in a private orchard. Once he had entered it the crowd began to disperse, and, tethering his camel to a palm tree, he made for the shelter of a vine and sat in its shade.

When he felt himself to be in safety and at peace, he prayed: “O God, unto Thee do I complain of my weakness, of my helplessness, and of my lowliness before men. O Most Merciful of the merciful, Thou art Lord of the weak. And Thou art my Lord. Into whose hands wilt Thou entrust me? Unto some far off stranger who will ill-treat me? Or unto a foe whom Thou hast empowered against me? I care not, so Thou be not wroth with me. But Thy favouring help-that were for me the broader way and the wider scope! I take refuge in the Light of Thy Countenance whereby all darknesses are illuminated and the things of this world and the next are rightly ordered, lest Thou make descend Thine anger upon me, or lest Thy wrath beset me. Yet is it Thine to reproach until Thou art well pleased. There is no power and no might except through Thee.”!27

Even disregarding the obvious differences in language and depreciation via translations28 as well as degrees of precision of reconstruction, what is obvious from the above example is not only the amount of information packed in the third account in a comparable space, but also its evocative power, its ability to draw the reader into the event, and its wonderful contextualization — all of which are lacking in the other two accounts.

ii. Psychological Dimension with its Accompanying Manifestation on the Emotional Plane

Human psychology, as understood from within the Islamic tradition, deals with processes which have an impact on the nafs, heart (qalb) and intellect (‘aql). Always transitory, psychological states are produced by transforming currents through one’s interaction with other human beings, books, and events. Writing a Sirah work is, in itself, a transforming process. It involves formation of relationship with the Prophet, upon him peace and blessings, as well as with numerous persons who appear in the source material in relation to the Prophet, upon him peace and blessings. During the process of internalization of the sources, these relationships attain a personal character and authors invariably reflect their psychological reception of the material they are dealing with. Critical control is needed to avoid sentimentalism but it need not be at the expense of suppressing the psychological impact one is able to convey to the readers.

Here is an example of how three different authors have portrayed the final moments of the Prophet’s life:

The same reports also tell that as the agonies of death became stronger, the Prophet turned to God in prayer saying: “O, God, help me overcome the agonies of death.” ‘A’ishah reported that his head was in her lap during the last hour. She said, “The Prophet’s head was getting heavier in my lap. I looked at his face and found that his eyes had become fixed. I heard him murmur, ‘Rather, God on High and Paradise.’ I said to him, ‘By Him who sent you as a Prophet to teach the truth, you have been given the choice and you chose well.’ The Prophet of God expired while his head was on my side between my lungs and my heart. It was my youth and inexperience that made me let him die in my lap. I then placed his head on the pillow and rose to bemoan my fate and to join the other women in our bereavement and sorrow.”

Did Muhammad truly die? That is the question over which the Arabs differed greatly at the time, indeed so greatly that they almost came to blows. Thanks to God’s will and care, the division was quickly stamped out and the religion of the Hanifs, God’s true religion, emerged unscathed.29

A second account:

When the pangs of death started, ‘Aishah leant him against her. She used to say: One of Allah’s bounties upon me is that the Messenger of All ah (Peace be upon him) died in my house, while I am still alive. He died between my chest and neck while he was leaning against me. Allah has mixed his saliva with mine at his death. For ‘Abdur Rahman — the son of Abu Bakr — came in with a Siwak (i.e. the root of a desert plant used for brushing teeth) in his hand, while I was leaning the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) against me. I noticed that he was looking at the Siwak, so I asked him — for I knew that he wanted it — “Would you like me to take it for you?” He nodded in agreement. I took it and gave it to him. As it was too hard for him, I asked him “Shall I soften it for you?” He nodded in agreement. So I softened it with my saliva and he passed it (on his teeth). In another version it is said: “So he brushed (Istanna) his teeth as nice as he could.” There was a water container (Rakwa) available at his hand with some water in. He put his hand in it and wiped his face with it and said: “There is no god but Allah. Death is full of agonies.” As soon as he had finished his Siwak brushing, he raised his hand or his finger up, looked upwards to the ceiling and moved his lips. So ‘Aishah listened to him. She heard him say: “With those onwhom You have bestowed Your Grace with the Prophets and the Truthful ones (As-Siddeeqeen), the martyrs and the good doers. O Allah, forgive me and have mercy upon me and join me to the Companionship on high.” Then at intervals he uttered these words: “The most exalted Companionship on high. To Allah we turn and to Him we turn back for help and last abode.” This event took place at high morning time on Monday, the twelfth of Rabi‘ Al-Awwal, in the eleventh year of Al-Hijrah. He was sixty-three years and four days old when he died.30

The third account:

The prophet had now returned to his couch and was lying with his head upon ‘A’ishah’s breast as if all his strength had been used. None the less, when her brother ‘Abd ar-Rahman entered the room with a tooth-stick in his hand, she saw the Prophet looking at it in such a way that she knew he wanted it. So she took it from her brother and gnawed upon it to soften it. Then she gave it to the Prophet, who rubbed his teeth with it vigorously despite his weakness. Not long afterwards he lost consciousness, and ‘A’ishah thought it was the onset of death, but after an hour he opened his eyes. She then remembered his having said to her: “No Prophet is taken by death until he hath been shown his place in Paradise and then offered the choice, to live or to die.” And she understood that this had been accomplished, and that he had returned from a vision of the Hereafter. “He will not now choose us!” she said to herself. Then she heard him murmur: “With the supreme communion in Paradise, with those upon whom God hath showered His favour, the prophets and the saints and the martyrs and the righteous, most excellent for communion are they.’ Again she heard him murmur: “O God, with the supreme communion,” and these were the last words she heard him speak. Gradually his head grew heavier upon her breast, until the other wives began to lament, and ‘A’ishah laid his head on a pillow and joined them in lamentation.31

Once again, there is an almost mesmerizing atmosphere in the third account, even though all three accounts are dealing with the same source material. What distinguishes one account from another is not merely style, but psychological participation of the authors — and consequently of readers — in these final moments of a blessed life which was to leave behind indelible mark on human history until the end of time.

iii. Intellectual Dimension Involved in the Processing of Facts and Information

All authors of Sirah deal with a certain amount of “raw information” which consists of facts, intricacies of relationships, genealogy, tribal and social relations and the like. What an internalized text does is not a simple reproduction of this raw content, but a deep consciousness of these details. Here is one example of an author’s keen sense of the family tree and tribal kinships of the Prophet, upon him and them blessings and peace. Note how much detail is packed in one brief paragraph:

The followers of the Prophet were continually increasing, but whenever a new convert came to him and pledged his or her allegiance, it was more often than not a slave, or a freed slave, or a member of Quraysh of the Outskirts or else a young man or woman from Quraysh of the Hollow, of influential family but of no influence in themselves, whose conversion would increase tenfold the hostility of their parents and elder kinsmen. ‘Abd ar-Rahaman, Hamzah and Arqam had been exceptions, but they were far from being leaders; and the Prophet longed to win over some of the chiefs, not one of whom, not even his uncle Abu Talib, had shown any inclination to join him. It would greatly help him to spread his message if he had the support of a man like Abu Jahl’s uncle, Walid, who was not only chief of Makhzum but also, if it were possible to say such a thing, the unofficial leader of Quraysh. He was, moreover, a man who seemed more open to argument than many of the others; and one day an opportunity came for the Prophet to speak with Walid alone. But when they were deep in converse a blind man came past, one who had recently entered Islam, and hearing the Prophet’s voice he begged him to recite to him some of the Koran. When asked to be patient and wait for a better moment, the blind man became so importunate that in the end the Prophet frowned and turned away. His conversation had been ruined; but the interruption was not the cause of any loss, for Walid was in fact no more open to the message than those whose case seemed hopeless.32

An important aspect of the process of internalization — the one which can be used to gauge its success — is the continuity of the presence of a deep layer of the knowledge of relationships throughout the text. Thus, as opposed to Sirah works which are weak in internalized texts, the authors who are able to internalize the material live with their material, rather than quote it. This feature can be seen in yet another description given below, this time involving several family relationships as well as tribal structure:

The hopes of Hashim and Muttalib — the two clans counted politically as one —were set upon Muhammad for the recovery of their waning influence. But beyond all question of clan, he had come to be considered by the chiefs of Quraysh as one of the most capable men of the generation which would succeed them and which would have, after them, the task of maintaining the honour and the power of the tribe throughout Arabia. The praise of al-Amin was continually upon men’s lips; and it was perhaps because of this that Ab u Lahab now came to his nephew with the proposal that Ruqayyah and Umm Kulthum should be betrothed to his sons ‘Utbah and ‘Utaybah. Muhammad agreed, for he thought well of these two cousins, and the betrothals took place. 33

In his insightful “constructive critique” of Lings’s Sirah, Gibril Haddad has noted that:

At times Lings writes not only to narrate but to reflect — a Fiqh al-Sira of sorts before al-Ghazali and al-Buti — and makes keen observations, particularly in analysis of the attitude of the Jews toward the revelation: “[G]enerally speaking, whereas the Arabs were in favour of the man but against the message, the Jews were in favour of the message but against the man” (XIX, 57, 1) and the entire paragraph that begins “Many of the Jews welcomed at first what seemed to be the end of all danger of a further outbreak of civil war in the oasis” (XXXIX, 127, 2).

Of the arch-hypocrite of Madina, ‘Abd Allah ibn Ubay ibn Salul, he says “it was his policy to be as non-committal as possible, but he sometimes betrayed his feelings despite himself” (XXXIX, 128, 5). Lings is at his most brilliant in the Banu Qurayẓa chapter (LXI) and in the last four chapters of the book, particularly his superb contextualization of the hadith of Ghadir Khumm
(LXXXIII, 338, 2–3) which the sectarians have misused so much to wreak havoc on the Umma’s unity. To Allah is our return!

With the possible exception of Shaykh Muhammad Sa‘id al-Buti’s superior Sira entitled Jurisprudence of the Prophetic Biography (now available in English translation at Dar al-Fikr), even among Arabic books, in all these respects I cannot think of a single contemporary work that gathers all those accomplishments under a single roof. Allah have mercy on Abu Bakr Siraj al-Din Lings and reward him abundantly!34

The Isra’ and Mi‘raj of the Prophet, upon him peace and blessings, has been a major issue with many modern and modernistic texts. Many modernistic texts make this attempt without a disguise. In others, it is a process of “intellectual inquiry” that takes away from the spiritual aspects of this event. In still others, there are analytical discussions. The following serves as one example:

As phenomena in the spiritual life of Muhammad, al-Isra’ and al-Mi‘raj carry great and noble meanings that are greater than the foregoing descriptions have suggested much of which being the product of pure imagination. In the moment of al-Isra’ and al-Mi‘raj, Muhammad grasped the unity of being in all its totality and perfection. In that moment, neither space nor time could prevent his consciousness from encompassing all being; whereas our consciousness, determined by weaker perceptive and rational faculties, is incapable of transcending the limitations of space and time. In that moment, all frontiers fell before Muhammad’s insight; and all being was, as it were, gathered in his soul. In that moment, he came to know totality from beginning to end and represented this totality as the self-realization of the forces of goodness, truth, and beauty in their struggle against and conquest of evil, untruth, and fraud. All this happened to Muhammad by God’s grace. No one is capable of such transcendent vision except by means of superhuman power. If any of the followers of Muhammad were unable to match him in his struggle to rise to or to achieve such vision and perception, there should be neither blame nor surprise. Men’s degrees of endowment differ, and their vision of the truth is always determined by these limitations which our ordinary powers are unable to transcend. There is perhaps an analogy between Muhammad’s understanding of the universe at that moment and that of any other person who has risen to the highest level of consciousness possible for man. It is that of the story of the blind men who, upon being brought into contact with the elephant, were asked to identify it. It will be remembered that the first thought it was a long rope because he had touched its tail; the second, a thick tree because he had touched its leg; the third, a spear because he had touched its ivory; and the fourth, a moving round tube because he had touched its trunk. These views are to the unimpaired view of the elephant as the understanding of most of us to that of Muhammad, implied in al-Isra’ and al-Mi‘raj, of the unity and totality of being. In Muhammad’s vision, the finitude of space and time disappeared, and he beheld the universe all “gathered up” and present. Men capable of such great moments of consciousness see the details of space-time and problems of worldly living as mathematical atoms appended to the person without ever affecting him. None of them affect in the least the life of his body, the beat of his heart, the illumination of his soul, the enlightenment of his consciousness, nor his vibration with energy and life. For by existing, such a person enters into communion with all existence and all life, as it were, ipso facto.35

As opposed to this “analytical” description, the following organic whole takes the reader into the heart of this event in an experiential manner:

Then, as had happened to others before him — to Enoch and Elijah and Jesus and Mary — Muhammad was taken up out of this life to Heaven. From the rock in the center of the site of the Temple he again mounted Buraq, who moved his wings in upward flight and became for his rider as the chariot of fire had been for Elijah. Led by the Archangel, who now revealed himself as a heavenly being, they ascended beyond the domain of earthly space and time and bodily forms, and as they passed through the seven Heavens he met again those Prophets with whom he had prayed in Jerusalem: But there they had appeared to him as they had been during their life on earth, whereas now he saw them in their celestial reality, even as they now saw him, and he marvelled at their transfiguration. Of Joseph he said that his face had the splendour of the moon at its full, and that he had been endowed with no less than the half of all existing beauty. Yet this did not diminish Muhammad’s wonderment at his other brethren, and he mentioned in particular the great beauty of Aaron. Of the Gardens that he visited in the different Heavens he said afterwards: “A piece of Paradise the size of a bow is better than all beneath the sun, whereon it riseth and setteth; and if a woman of the people of Paradise appeared unto the people of earth, she would fill the space between Heaven and here below with light and with fragrance? Everything he now saw, he saw with the eye of the Spirit; and of his spiritual nature, with reference to the beginnings of all earthly nature, he said: “I was a Prophet when Adam was yet between water and clay.”

The summit of his ascent was the Lote Tree of the Uttermost End. So it is named in the Koran, and, in one of the oldest commentaries, based on the sayings of the Prophet, it is said: “The Lote Tree is rooted in the Throne, and it marks the end of the knowledge of every knower, be the Archangel or Prophet-Messenger. All beyond it is a hidden mystery, unknown to any save God Alone.” At this summit of the universe Gabriel appeared to him in all his arch angelic splendour, even as he was first created. Then, in the words of the Revelation: When there enshrouded the Lote Tree that which enshroudeth, the eye wavered not nor did it transgress. Verily he beheld, of all the signs of his Lord, the greatest. According to the commentary, the Divine Light descended upon the Lote Tree and enshrouded it and all else beside, and the eye of the Prophet beheld it without wavering and without turning aside from it. Such was the answer — or one of the answers — to the supplication implicit in his words: “I take refuge in the Light of Thy Countenance.”

At the Lote Tree the Prophet received for his people the command of fifty prayers a day; and it was then that he received the Revelation which contains the creed of Islam: The messenger believeth, and the faithful believe, in what hath been revealed unto him from his Lord. Each one believeth in God and His angels and His books and His messengers: we made no distinction between any of His messengers. And they say: we hear and we obey; grant us, Thou our Lord, Thy forgiveness; unto Thee is the ultimate becoming.36 Note how the author seamlessly weaves into his narrative Qur’ anic verses and Prophetic traditions and how he is able to transpose the reader into the heart of the event.

iv. An Organic Reconstruction

In the final analysis, all that the reader has is the text of the Sirah and not the process of internalization through which the author has gone. Thus, it is the organic infusion of the process that matters, as far as the reader is concerned. This process in itself is a fascinating aspect of Sirah texts. Whereas the authors of the classical texts had recourse to traditional molds and patterns, modern Sirah texts are often shaped by the extent of their authors’ ability to organically reconstruct their texts in a manner that is neither fictional nor false, but that still reads as a life story.

One particular aspect of modernist Sirah texts is how they deal with miracles. Since miracles are no longer assumed to have any scientific legitimacy, they are either denied or simply wished away through rationalization. This is not the same as the denial of the miracles by certain Mu‘tazilah; it is a modern kind of scientism which differs in many respects from the classical denial of the miracles. An example will make it clearer; here is the account of the Prophet’s stay in the cave of Thawr; Haykal gives it the subheading of “The Miracle of the Cave,” but uses an Orientalist source for his work:

The cobwebs, the two wild pigeons, and the tree and its branches these are the miracles which the biography books relate concerning the hiding in the cave of Thawr. The miracle is that none of these things were there when the Prophet and his companion entered the cave, and that thereafter, the spider hurried to weave its cobwebs, the two pigeons to build their nest and to lay their eggs, and the tree to grow its branches around the door. In this connection the Orientalist Dermenghem wrote, “These three things are the only miracles recorded in authentic Mussulman history: the web of a spider, the love of a dove, the sprouting of a flower three miracles accomplished daily on God’s earth.” [E. Dermenghem, op. cit., p.149].

He then adds another subheading, in bold: “Some Biographers Omit the Story” and writes:

This miracle received no mention in Ibn Hisham’s biography. His version of the story of the cave ran as follows:

“They [Muhammad and Abu Bakr] went to the cave of Thawr, on the south side of Makkah. Abu Bakr ordered his son ‘Abdullah to stay in Makkah during the day, listen to the news of the Quraysh and bring them knowledge thereof in the evening. He ordered his servant, ‘Amir ibn Fuhayrah, to continue to graze his sheep and to come by the cave at night. Asma’, daughter of Abu Bakr, brought them provisions of food in the evening, also. The Prophet of God-may God’s peace and blessing be upon him stayed in the cave three days. The Quraysh had announced a prize of one hundred camels to whosoever would bring back Muhammad to Makkah. ‘Abdullah, son of Abu Bakr, used to spend his day in Makkah listening well to the plotting and gossip of the Quraysh, and when visiting the pair in the evening, related the news to them. ‘Amir ibn Fuhayrah, servant of Abu Bakr, used to graze the flock of sheep around Makkah and, in the evening, passed by the cave and gave milk and meat to the pair. When ‘Abdullah, son of Abu Bakr, returned home to Makkah, he was followed by ‘Amir ibn Fuhayrah and his sheep in order to cover over his footprints. Three days later, when the interest of the Quraysh in this search had subsided, the man whom Abu Bakr had appointed to graze the two camels for the trip came with the three camels, two for Muhammad and Abu Bakr, and a third for himself….” That is all that Ibn Hisham says concerning the story of the cave.

In contrast, here is the account by Martin Lings:

On the third day the silence of their mountain sanctuary was broken by the sound of birds — a pair of rock doves they thought — cooing and fluttering their wings outside the cave. Then after a while they heard the faint sound of men’s voices, at some distance below them but gradually growing louder as if the men were climbing up the side of the mount. They were not expecting ‘Abd Allah until after nightfall, and there were still some hours to go before sunset, although in fact there was strangely little light in the cave for the time of day they supposed it to be. The voices were now not far off-five or six men at least-and they were still approaching. The Prophet looked at Abu Bakr, and said: Grieve not, for verily God is with us! And then he said: “What thinkest thou of two when God is their third?” They could now hear the sound of steps, which drew nearer and then stopped: the men were standing outside the cave. They spoke decisively, all in agreement that there was no need to enter the cave, since no one could possibly be there. Then they turned back the way they had come. When the sound of their retreating steps and voices had died away, the Prophet and Abu Bakr went to the mouth of the cave. There in front of it, almost covering the entrance, was an acacia tree, about the height of a man, which had not been there that morning; and over the gap that was left between the tree and the wall of the cave a spider had woven its web. They looked through the web, and there in the hollow of a rock, even where a man might step as he entered the cave, a rock dove had made a nesting place and was sitting close as if she had eggs, with her mate perched on a ledge not far above.37

It is important to note that some details of this event pose special problems for the ultra-rationalist authors of modern Sirah works (for instance for Haykal, whose account is given above); while here they are presented as a matter of fact. More important, however, are the internalized details of this event which allowed the author to recast it as if he were there.

In conclusion, one can say that modern Sirah works can be seen as recasting of traditional Sirah works as no further details can be added to what is already known of the life of the Prophet, upon him peace and blessings. It is, however, in the extent of internalization of the life and times of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, that these works differ from one another. There are also varying degrees of reception in the global readership of these works. For some, Lings’ Sirah may prove to be too difficult because of its style and high English, for others, this intimate reconstruction may provide spiritual opening and paths to that noble life which remains at the center of every Muslim’s life.

* * *

1. “Modern” is used in this paper to denote the period beginning with the nineteenth century.

2. “Lay-scholars” here means those who are not trained in Islamic studies through traditional channels but who entered the field from “outside,” that is, their primary training was in a field other than Islamic subjects, or those who had a rudimentary madrasah education before entering a modern educational system.

3. “Muslim discovery of the West,” W. C. Smith once commented, “was in large part a pained discovery of Western antipathy to Islam.” W. C. Smith, Islam in Modern History (London: Princeton University Press, 1957), 77. A good example of such a work is Sayyid Ahmad Khan’s A Series of Essays on the Life of Mohammed and Subjects Subsidiary Thereto (London: Trübner and Co., 1870).

4. For example, in the last story of the third volume of Taha Husayn’s ‘Ala Hamish al-Sirah (Cairo: Dar al-Ma‘arif, 1962), it is denied that the Prophet performed miracles. See Taha Husayn’s ‘Ala Hamish al-Sirah, part III, 238.

5. These include, for instance, Ahmad Zayni, Al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah wa ’l-Athar ’l-Muhammadiyyah (1875); al-Nabhani’s al-Mawahib al-Ladunniyyah; Muhammad al-Khudari’s Nur al-Yaqin (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi, n.d.).

6. For instance, the motivation for Tawfiq al-Hakim’s 1936 play, Muhammad, came from his encounter with Voltair’s play Fanatisme ou Mahomet le prophète. ‘Abbas Mahmud al-‘Aqqad wrote his ‘Abqariyyat Muhammad (The Genius of Muhammad) (Cairo: Dar Nahdat Misr, n.d.) because he was motivated to do so after reading Carlyle’s “The Hero as Prophet”; for references to original works and comments, see Antonie Wessels, A Modern Arabic Biography of Muhammad: A Critical Study of Muhammad Husayn Haykal’s Hayat Muhmmad (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972), 10–15.

7. For instance, Mahmud Shalabi, Ishtirakiyyat Muhammad (The Socialism of Muhammad) (Cairo: Maktabat al-Qahirah al-Hadithah, 1966) which was “inspired” by a speech of the Egyptian president Jamal ‘Abd al-Nasir, “who commented on the lack of a study of the socialism of Muhammad”; or ‘Abd al-Rahman ‘Azzam’s Batal al-Abtal aw Abraz Sifat al-Nabi Muhammad (The Hero of Heroes or the Most Prominent Attributes of Prophet Muhammad) (Beirut: Maktabat Lubnan, 1968); Wessels, A Modern Biography, 27–34.

8. Displayed by men like Bede, who considered Muslims a “plague of Saracens”; Charlemagne’s son Louis, who called Muslims detestable followers of the commandments of the demons.

9. E. Renan, “Mahomet et les origins de l’Islamisme,” Revue des deux mondes, 12 (1851),1065, quoted by Robert Hoyland, “Writing the Biography of the Prophet Muhammad: Problems and Solutions” History Compass 5: 2 (2007), 581–602.

10. F. E. Peters, “The Quest of the Historical Muhammad,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, 23: 3 (1991), 291–315.

11. Ibid.

12. It might well be a prelude to the unfolding of the “greater signs” as Mustafa Badawi has pointed out in his insightful Man and his Universe, for most of the “minor signs have already manifested.” See, Mustafa Badawi, Man and his Universe (Amman: Iqra Publishers, 2006).

13. It should be noted that almost every Sirah text by a devoted Muslim will have a certain degree of internalization of the life and time of the Prophet, upon him peace and blessings. What is being said is, therefore, not exclusiveness, but the degree to which the writer has internalized source material.

14. Sayyid Sulaiman Nadvi, Rahmat-i ‘Alam. (Karachi: Urdu Academy Sindh, 1983). The scene of the opening of Makkah is a representative sample of what is being said here.

15. ‘Urwah b. Zubayr, Maghazi Rasul Allah, Abu ’l-Aswad al-Du’ali, Muhammad Mustafa al-A‘zami, eds. (n.p.: Maktab al-Tarbiyyah al-‘Arabi li Duwal al-Khalij, 1981).

16. Josef Horovitz, “The Earliest Biographies of the Prophet and their Authors,” Islamic Culture 1 (October 1927); now available in book form, Horovitz, Josef, The Earliest Biographies of the Prophet and their Authors, Lawrence I. Conrad, ed. (Princeton: Darwin Press, 2002).

17. For a useful, however dated bibliography see, Muhammad Maher Hamadeh, Muhammad the Prophet: A Selected Bibliography, PhD thesis, University of Michigan, 1965.

18. Martin Lings, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources (London: G. Allen and Unwin, 1983), 146.

19. Muhammad Husayn Haykal, The Life of Muhammad (Allah’s peace and blessing be upon him), Isma‘il Raji al-Faruqi, trans. (New York: Islamic Book Service, 2005), 226.

20. Safi-ur-Rahman al-Mubarkpuri, Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar), (Riyadh: Maktaba Dar-us-Salam, 2002), 217.

21. Lings, Life, 146.

22. Haykal, Life, 267.

23. Al-Mubarakpuri, Ar-Raheeq, 277–278.

24. Lings, Life, 187–188.

25. Haykal, Life, 136–7.

26 Al-Mubarakpuri, Ar-Raheeq, 136–7.

27 Lings, Life, 98–9.

28. The first two accounts are translations whereas the third is originally in English. But even in their originals, the structure of the accounts remains the same.

29. Haykal, Life, 502–3.

30. Al-Mubarakpuri, Ar-Raheeq, 478–9.

31. Lings, Life, 345.

32. Lings, Life, 70.

33. Ibid., 40.

34. Gibril Fuad Haddad, “A Critical Reading of Martin Ling’s Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources,” Foreword to the first Swedish translation at d/crml_e.pdf>; accessed Feb 23, 2011.

35. Haykal, Life, 204. Haykal also attempts to enlist the service of modern science to “confirm” Isra’ and Mi‘raj. “In our modern age,” he writes, “science confirms the possibility of a spiritual Isra’ and Mi‘raj. Where there is a meeting of genuine forces, that which shines forth is genuine reality; just as a meeting of the same forces of nature configured by the genius of Marconi produced the real effect of lighting a light in distant Australia by means of an electric radiation directed at it on the waves of space from his ship in Venice. In this age of ours, science has confirmed the possibility of prestidigitation, of broadcast of sound through space by means of the radio, as well as of pictures and writing, all of which was considered too fanciful even for the imagination. The forces latent in nature are still being discovered by science, and every new day brings a new surprise. Strong and powerful spirits such as Muhammad’s are perfectly capable of being carried in one night from Makkah to Jerusalem and of being shown God’s signs. That is not opposed to reason, especially when the moral of it is the figurization of divine truths, of extraordinary meanings of beauty and transcendence, and of the unity of spirit and world so clearly achieved in the consciousness of Muhammad. Though extraordinary and unique to Muhammad, the experience is certainly possible for man upon removal of the illusions of this world, penetration of ultimate reality, and relation of oneself and the world thereto.” (P. 205)

36. Lings, Life, 110–11.

37. Lings, Life, 128–9.

(Courtesy: Islamic Studies 50:2 (2011) pp. 193–216)

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