It is always extremely difficult to be objective about the life of the founder of a Belief System such as Muhammad as his personality is inevitably blurred by an aura of the miraculous. Early biographers are preoccupied, not with historical facts, but with glorifying in every way the memory of one they believe to have been a Messenger of Allah.
Although as Philip Hitti in his "History of the Arabs" said that Muhammad was born in 'the light of history', when atually humanity knows MUCH LESS about Muhammad of 1400 years ago than they do about Abraham of 4400 years ago, Moses of 3500 years ago or Alexander the Great of 2300 years ago.
Because the Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula were not only mostly illiterate nomads who also left no written records of their history or events, that almost nothing about the actual date of Muhammad's birth and maturity is known except for the presumed ones concocted by his later followers.
Consequently, there is a rich accretion of myths and miracles, mysterious portents and heavenly signs, of copying and plagiarizing from other religious beliefs and traditions. It is in fact the propaganda of an expanding faith.
One of the sources that I frequently quote from is Ibn Ishaq's biography of Muhammad. So I decided that our listeners should get to know something about such a prolific and honest author.
Behind the legendary and mythical Muhammad, there lies very important stories that give us a more authentic picture of Muhammad the man with all his ambitions, fears, anger, lust, jealousy, love, revenge, deception, aggression, etc.
Although very little is known about his early years - the first certain date being that of the migration from Mecca to Medina, called the Hijra, which took place in AD 622 - it is still possible to build up the events of his real life as distinct from his symbolic one based upon the reports of the SIRA.
The most comprehensive biography of Muhammad, called "Sirat Rassool^Allah" was written decades after his death by Muhammad Ibn Ishaq (d.767). It is a fact that there exist no documents describing Muhammad and his formative years contemporaneous with him. All the 'relevant details' were written with the benefit of hindsight and with the purpose of creating a distorted image of a man of almost mythic and superhuman qualities: sinless (Isma); divinely inspired; faultless; fearless; political genius etc.
Muhammad's life had to be made perfect to reflect the alleged miracle of the Quranic 'revelations'. It became the compulsory (Sunna) for all Muhammadans; a way of daily life to be emulated by them in every detail since it was the copy of the most perfect man, Muhammad. This doctrine has fixed the mentality and traditions of the Muhammadan Muslims in a Time Warp forever stuck in Muhammad's seventh century Arabia.
Ibn Ishaq was the first and nearest in time to the stories about Muhammad since he wrote the biography about 100 years after his death; unlike many later authors of Muhammad's alleged sayings and doings gleaned from the eighth to tenth century mouths of reporters, almost 200 to 300 years after his death.
Muhammad ibn Ishaq ibn Yasar was born in Madina about 75 years after the death of Muhammad in 632/3 AD.
His grandfather, Yasar fell into the hands of Khalid ibn al Walid when he captured A'yn al Tamr in 634 AD having been held there as a prisoner by the Persian king. He was freed when he accepted Islam.
Yasar's children Ishaq and Musa became traditionists thus paving the way and preparing the author's life even before he reached manhood.
Muhammad Ibn Ishaq was associated with the second generation of traditionists called Al Tabieen/ Followers who saw some of the Sahabah / Companions but not Muhammad; notably, al Zuhri, Asim b Umar b Qatada and Abdullah b Abu Bakr. All these authors were so near to the events they recorded, that they needed no ISNAD/ Chain of Transmitters to cite their authority or to prove the veracity of their collections.
The ISNAD was needed much later on when the traditions were removed SEVERAL centuries after the death of Muhammad and tens of thousands of MADE to ORDER stories were concocted to fit in with the agenda of one sect or a ruler or another.
His study of Muhammad's Sunna (Muhammad's alleged deeds, sayings and traditions) must have started very early for at the age of 30, he went to Egypt to attend the lectures of Yazid b abu Habib. There, he was regarded as an authority, for the same Yazid, his tutor, afterwards related traditions on Ibn Ishaq's authority.
On his return to Madina, he went on with the collection and arrangement of the material he collated. Al Zuhri, who was in Madina in 123AH, is reported to have remarked that " the Madina would NEVER lack ILM (religious knowledge) as long as Ibn Ishaq was there", and he eagerly gathered from him the details of Muhammad's wars.
Although Ibn Ishaq's Sira was preceded by several Maghazi/ books of Raids of unknown dates, none the less, there is no doubt that his biography of Muhammad had no serious rival.
Muhammad bin Ishaq (who died in 150 or 151AH), is unquestionably the principal authority on the Sira (Muhammad's biography) and Maghazi (Raids) literature. Every writing after him has depended on his work, which though lost in its entirety, has been immortalised in the wonderful, extant abridgement of this pioneering work by Abu Muhammad 'Abd al-Malik bin Hisham or Ibn Hisham (d. 833)
Ibn Ishaq's work is notable for its excellent rigorous methodology and its literary style is of the highest standard of elegance and beauty. This is hardly surprising when we recall that he was an accomplished scholar not only in the Arabic language but also in the science of hadith.
For this reason, most of the ISNAD (chains of narration) that he gives in his Sira are also to be found in the authentic books of hadith that were written two to three centuries after him.
Ibn Ishaq, like Bukhari and Muslim later on, travelled very widely in the Muslim world in order to authenticate the isnad of his hadith. It is reported that he saw and heard Saeed bin Al-Musayyib, Aban bin Uthman bin Affan, Az-Zuhri, Abu Salamah bin Abdur-Rahman bin Awf and Abdur-Rahman bin Hurmuz Al-Araj. It is also reported that Ibn Ishaq was the teacher of the following outstanding authorities among others:
(a) Yahya bin Saeed Al-Ansari
(b) Sufyan Ath-Thawri
(c) Ibn Jurayh
(d) Shu'bah bin Al-Hajjaj
(e) Sufyan bin Uyainah
(f) Hammad bin Zaid
The second most authoritative book on Sira is that of Al-Maghazi/ Raids by Muhammad bin Umar Al-Waqidi Al-Aslami (who lived from 130 to 207AH and is buried in Baghdad). This book was widely read in various parts of the Muslim world.
The third authoritative work on Sira is Ibn Sad's Tabaqat-ul-Kubara (nine volumes). Ibn Sad was both the student and the scribe/secretary of Al-Waqidi. The quality and scholarly excellence of his Tabaqat-ul-Kubara say a great deal about the academic competence of his teacher and patron.
Ahmad bin Jafar bin Wahb, (died 292AH) called Al-Yaqubi, his work is unique for its examples of Muhammad's sermons, not to be found elsewhere, especially those containing instruction and admonition.
Ahmad bin Yahya bin Jabir, died in 279AH called Al-Baladhuri, the work of this early historian is valuable for the texts it contains of certain important agreements which Muhammad concluded with some groups and individuals- among others, the texts of his agreements with the Christians of Najran, his agreement with the people of Maqna, his book to Al-Mundhir bin Sawi and to Akaydar Dawmah.
Ibn Jareer, died in 310AH called Al-Tabari, authored a monumental world history Tareekh-ul-Umam wal Muluk. Al-Tabari was not merely a historian, but also an unrivalled authority on the Arabic language and grammar, on hadith and fiqh, and on the tafseer (exegesis) and interpretation of the Quran. Evidence of the excellence of his scholarship, his prodigious and untiring intellectual genius, is provided by his major works which run into many lengthy volumes each.
Abul-Hasan Ali bin Al-Husain bin Ali Al-Masudi, died in 346AH. He is a very well-known Arab historian, descendent of one of the Companions of Muhammad, Abdullah bin Masood, author of two books on history including long sections on Sira, both mentioned above.
All the above LUMINARIES in Islamic history and exegesis refer to Ibn Ishaq's Sira in one way or another; a TESTAMENT to his authority and the veracity of his reporting.
I would like our listeners to know that a lot of the information that I recite in this chapter is gleaned from the most outstanding translation of Ibn Ishaq's SIRA by Alfred Guillaume in his monumental "The Life of Muhammad" which should be a MUST read for any of you, whether so called Believers or Unbelievers.
Any one having read and studied this book must come out ENLIGHTENED and AFFECTED by its depth of detail and the honesty of its reporting. It is in Ibn Ishaq's Sira that the Night Journey and the Satanic Verses controversies are first reported.
He was so honest that Ibn Hisham had to DELETE several stories that were too offending upon the character of Muhammad.
Several Fundamentalist Muhammadan exegetes condemned Ibn Ishaq for having included reports gleaned from first or second generation descendants of converted Jews and Christians. They condemned him because they deliberately perpetuated the falsehood that the Jews and Christians of Arabia were foreign nationals when in fact they were aboriginal and indigenous Arabians who converted to the monotheistic religions without force or coercion, unlike those who were forced or terrorised into following the CULT of Muhammad. This hatred of the People of the Book is institutionalized in the Quran in numerous unforgiving and unambiguous verses.
They condemned him particularly, because by the time any decent and unbiased person reading his SIRA would have no choice but to come to the following indisputable conclusions about Muhammad's character. That Muhammad was a:
Hatemongering, Warmongering, Racist, Misogynist, Vile, Child Molesting, Mass Murdering, Adultering, Coward, Serial Rapist and a Pathological Liar (just to name a few) and hence UNGODLY creature as very clearly demonstrated in his Quran and his Sunna.
Ibn Ishaq's reports are as objective as any one of his times could have been (hugely more honest and objective than Muhammad's later and modern followers) and the proof resides in the fact that he mentions numerous and enlightening stories about Jews and Christians that are UNBIASED and show them in a singularly benevolent manner contradicting their distorted and hatemongering portrayals in the Quran and by the later Muhammadan theologians and the Hadiths.