Sirat Rassool Allah :-
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. The early biographers were preoccupied, not with historical facts, but with glorifying in every way the memory of one they believe to have been a Messenger of Allah.
Consequently, there is a rich accretion of myth and miracle, mysterious portents and heavenly signs, of copying & plagiarizing from other religious beliefs and traditions. It is in fact the propaganda of an expanding faith.
One of the sources that we frequently quote from is Ibn Ishaq's biography of Muhammad. So we decided that our readers should get to know something about such a prolific and honest author.
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 by Al 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.
Behind the legendary 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.
His 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 or tenth 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 & 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 & 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.
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 a 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 Conquests 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 (Conquests) 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.
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/ Conquests 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 readers to know that a lot of the information that I record 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 by any of you, whether so called Believers or Unbelievers. I have quoted from this book many instances in my thesis.
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 Guilaume.
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's Sirat Muhammad rasul 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 Hisham (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, presumed 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 Jewish scriptures. 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 Ishaq counts 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 American Quran scholar John Wansbrough classifies it as Haggadic in 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).
Any one having read and studied this book must come out ENLIGHTENED & AFFECTED by the depth of detail and the honesty of its reporting. It is in Ibn Ishaq's Sira that BOTH the Night Journey and the Satanic Verses controversies are first reported.
Ibn Ishaq's reporting 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 had 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 Muhammas's Quran in numerous unforgiving and unambiguous verses.
Ibn Ishaq's reports are as objective as any one of his times could have been and the proof resides in the fact that he mentions numerous objective 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 Muhammas's Quran and by the later Muhammadan theologians and the Hadiths.
(Pages: 10 - 16, for example).
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 Man has 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 perverted 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 diverse SECTARIAN conditions.
(g) Two other important and significant reports that diminish the concepts of infallibility and sagacity of Muhammad are revealed in the versions given by Ibn Ishaq.
On the other hand, 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" dissolute degenerate depraved
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.
When one truly STUDIES Ibn Ishaq's biography of Muhammad, it reveals the degenerate character of a man who is utterly without mercy or compassion; he incites his followers to commit mass murder and assassinations against individuals - invariably UNARMED and in the depth of night - and tribes who either displeased him, opposed him or because of jealousy or 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 the dissolute Muhammad's promises of Eternal Sexual and Sensual Pleasures in Muhammad's WHOREHOUSE version of Paradise, as long as they fought and died for his 'belief system'.
This abysmal picture of a depraved 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 worst 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.