His full name is Muhammad b Ishaq b Yasar, born in Madina about 85AH/ 702CE and died in Baghdad 151AH.
Ibn Ishaq was born in Madina approximately 85 years after Hijra, which is approximately 704 CE. He is thus considered one of the Tabi‘in and he is reported to have met Anas ibn Malik. He worked in Madina until the Abbasids replaced the Umayyads in the caliphate (750). After that he is reported at various places in Iraq and Iran and he died in Bagdad in 768.
He was the first author to write Sirat Rassoul Allah/ Biography of Muhammad. His grandfather, Yassar was a Christian captured by Khalid b al Walid in Aynul Tamar in 12AH who became a slave to Qays b Makhrama b. al Muttalib b. Abdu Manaf who was manumeted after he accepted Islam. His father Ishaq and uncle Musa were well known traditionists paving the way to Muhammad as a writer and author.
It is clear that Muhammad must have devoted himself to study and research the apostolic tradition by attending lectures in Egypt and then returning to Madina to collate and arrange all the materials that he had accumulated. In his days, many of the most important traditionalists such as al Zuhri and Yazid b. Abu Habib quoted from him and thought very highly of his knowledge and authority.
Ibn Ishaq's monumental biography of Muhammad the Sira was based - besides others - on many of the reports about Muhammad from books written by several different authors called al Maghazi which described the stories of the raids conducted by and on behalf of Muhammad.
The original book has not been found but its contents were traced through other contemporaneous authors who copied his book such as Ibn Hisham.
Early Muslim historical writing was primarily concerned with the biography of Muhammad (Sirat Rasul Allah) and the first wars of Islam (Al-Maghazi).Muhammad Ibn Ishaq related the first known biography (Sira). This work no longer exists in its original form, but has been preserved in at least two recensions, one of these recensions being authored by Ibn Hisham (with many revisions), as well as byAl Bakka'i, al Tabari, Yunus b. Bukayr, al Athir, Al Qarawayoun (in Fez, Morocco) manuscript, etc.; thus Ibn Hisham's work represents one of the best existing authorities on the life of Muhammad.
The Arabic text was published at Gottingen in three volumes by F. Wustenfeld, 1858-60, and a German translation by G. Weil,The Historian of the Caliphate, appeared at Stuttgart in 1864. It is this latter work which is perhaps better known in the West, and is now more conveniently read in the English translation of the late
Alfred Guillaume's English translation is a masterful attempt at the reconstruction of Ibn Ishaq's work. This was produced largely by translating what Ibn Hisham reports from Ibn Ishaq, adding quotations from the latter that are included by al-Tabari(mainly the material that Ibn Hisham omitted) and placing Ibn Hisham's comments on
Ibn Ishaq's work at the end of the translation in a section called "Ibn Hisham's Notes" (pp. 691-798). The page numbers suggest that Ibn Hisham's comments constitute about 15% of his recessions of Ibn Ishaq's work.
Ibn Hisham's (d.833) work contains information concerning the creation of the world, Biblical Prophets, and the advent of Islam. The actions and deeds of Muhammad are meticulously noted, and his battles described in great detail. Ibn Hisham'sSiratMuhammadrasul Allah is considered by Dunlop as one of the best existing authorities on the life of Muhammad.
We do not know if Ibn Ishaq ever wrote a "book" in the ordinary sense of books. What has come down to us seems to be from the notes taken by his pupils. The standard source is now the "Sirat al-Nabi" ("Life of the Prophet") of Abd al-Malik ibn Hisha
(died 830, 835 or perhaps much later) which is a systematic presentation of Ibn Ishaq's material with a commentary by Ibn Hisham.
This should be supplemented by the extracts in al-Tabari and other authors. For example, the story about the Satanic Verses was not reported by Ibn Hisham. But it was repeated by al-Tabari and others. Ibn Hisham makes no secret - in the Introduction to his book - of the fact that he omitted some of the material Ibn Ishaq included that reflected negatively upon Muhammad's character.
The part of Ibn Hisham's work due to Ibn Ishaq is now usually called the
"Sirat Rasul Allah" ("Life of Allah's Messenger").Ibn Ishaq's work originally consisted of three almost equal parts. The first was a history of the world up until the beginning of Muhammad's ministry. The second was an account of Muhammad's work in Mecca and the third was an account of his work in Madina and his death.
The first part,the Mubtada' (Mabda'),one has to go to the Tafsir and History, which is actually based upon the Hebrew Bible, from Genesis (In the Beginning/ Mubtada'), the beginning of Creation story. Unfortunately, Ibn Hisham was not interested in these stories and jumped directly to the story of Abraham, considered by the followers of Muhammad as the ancestor of Muhammad. Much of this part it is lost. What remains is based on Arabic traditions and the Jewishscriptures. Al Azraqi for example, quotes some passages from the missing section in his Akhbar Mecca.
The second part, which is often called al-Mab'ath, begins with the birth of Muhammad and ends when the first fighting from his base in Madina takes place. It is a collection of prophetic hadiths, especially about the events behind the revelation of one or another verse in the Quran (the division between Meccan and Madinan suras), lists of significant persons (for example, the earliest Muslims) and poetry. Ibn Ishaq does not attempt a chronology, but he does arrange his material in a logical sequence.
The third part consists of a careful month-based chronology (which falls apart at the end) and the campaigns Maghazi (Ibn Ishaqcounts 27, but he stretches the meaning of campaign) made by Muhammad from his base of operations in Madina are carefully embedded in this chronology. But before this campaign literature there is a copy of the document called the Constitution of Madina and an extensive section of Tafsir and Hadiths. Tafsir also occurs several times embedded in the campaign literature. The campaign literature itself includes extensive poetry and lists of persons involved as well as description of battles or why no battle took place.
The Tafsir is among the earliest in Islam and the AmericanQuran scholar John Wansbrough classifies it as Haggadicin his most primitive subset of the Tafsir. That is, it is primarily devoted to passing on a narrative.
` The campaign literature is followed by an appendix describing campaigns made by other Muslims under Muhammad's directions and a relatively brief account of his death and succession by Abu Bakr.
There are about 600 Hadiths in Ibn Ishaq's collection and most of them have what appears to be acceptable isnads. But the later hadith collectors rarely used any material from the Sira (because of sectarian differences).There are almost as many poems as hadiths, but later commentaries tend to view them as worthless because they feel so many of them were forged (by Muslims).
Alfred Guillaumme, translated it in his own monumental work
"The Life of Muhammad" which is quoted in many instances in my thesis. Although he was the nearest of the traditionists to the events that pertained to the time of Muhammad and hence to the 'truthfulness' of what he wrote, several of the Muhammadan theologians reject his authority for several reasons:
(a)That he was a Shi'i favouring Ali over all the other contenders to the Khilfa
(b)That he held the view that Manhas free will, which is of course contrary to the Quranic perception
(c)That his Isnads were defective, ie not 'iron' tight by naming all the reporters, which of course is a totally irrelevant objection since he was reporting on events that were so recent that they did not require a chain of reporters. He was after all no different from all the other traditionists of his own period, since they too did not require Isnad to 'prove' their reports.
(d) He used reports of traditions gathered from Jewish and Christian sources which is unacceptable in the psyche of fundamentalist Muhammadans.
(e)He was generally so balanced in his views and reports that he had several very complimentary reports upon the Jews of Arabia which is again held against him by the fundamentalists who would rather have only one sided and extremely complimentary reports upon Muhammad and all his followers.
(f)Most important of all, his report about Laylat al Qadr (the first 'revelation'), contradicts all the later versions that were DOCTORED and ALTERED to suit the new theological conditions.
(g)Two other important and significant reports that diminish the concepts of infallibility and sagacity of Muhammad are challenged in the versions given by Ibn Ishaq.
Among the most important Muhammadan traditionists who thought very highly of him were:
I.I.I. al Zuhri: " Knowledge will remain in Medina as long as Ibn Ishaq lives"
II.Abu Zur'a: " When tested by traditionists he was found truthful"
III.Abu Hatim: "His traditions are copied by others"
IV.Al Shaf'i: "He who wants to study al Maghazi deeply must consult Ibn Ishaq"
V.Asim b Umar b Qatada: "Knowledge will remain among men as long as Ibn Ishaq lives"
VI.Ahmad b Hanbal: "Excellent in tradition"
*** It is not difficult to understand why the name of Ibn Ishaq has been held in low esteem by the Classical Traditionists of the Third Islamic Century. They were reluctant to, and in a total state of intellectual denial to accept Muhammad's potrayal by Ibn Ishaq, which is, to put it charitably, extremely unfavourable and unpleasant.
The biography shows a man who is utterly without mercy or compassion. He incites his followers to commit mass murder and assassinations against individuals and tribes who either displeased him, opposed him or, because of jealousy; he wanted to acquire their wealth and women.
He allowed and encouraged his gullible, superstitious and generally illiterate followers, to break every single rule of decency and chivalry to gain his ends. Their lives were totally dispensible. They were cunningly, deviously and inhumanly misled to their deaths with promises of Eternal Sexual and Sensual Pleasures in Muhammad's version of Paradise, as long as they fought and died for his 'belief system'.
This abysmal picture of Muhammad was not painted by, and cannot be dismissed as the rantings of an enemy of 'Islam'. That is why, in spite of the fact that the Classical Traditionists did their best to ignore his work, they also did not attack or try to discredit those portions of the biography that showed Muhammad in the most disagreeable manner.
In conclusion, one must insist that if Ibn Ishaq is found wanting because of the lack of Isnads in his reports, then one must cast aspersions on ALL the earliest reports which themselves also were without Isnads rendering the whole field of the earliest traditions null and void making the later ones even more suspect ***