Sīrah Literature in the Arabic Language

We all know that firstly the Sīrah Literature was written in the Arabic language, and all the authentic sources from which we can receive information related to the life of Prophet Muḥammad (SAW) are available in it, also it is the language of the Holy book of Islām which is the first key source to Prophet’s biography, i.e. the Holy Qurān. Additionally, the Noble Ḥadīth, the early written accounts of his biography, and all the most authentic sources are in Arabic. Hence, it is the source language through which the information has been taken for later compilations in other languages.

As we have discussed above, the Holy Qurān, the Noble Ḥadīth, and the early written accounts are the main sources of Sīrah. Now, we will discuss the development of Sīrah literature in the Arabic language accordingly.

Early Islamic Writers who Laid Down the Outlines of Sīrah Literature

There is a list of those early Islamic Sīrah writers who devoted themselves to collecting the Ḥadīth literature orally which was not present in written form, without having any idea of Sīrah writing or making any special arrangement of the material. But when the material was collected and they tried to categorize it, the traditions (أحاديث) that belonged to the life and achievements of Prophet Muḥammad (SAW) were automatically separated from the narrations on other juristic subjects. These writers continuously engaged themselves in collecting this material and laid down the outlines of Sīrah literature but a large part of the basic material was reduced to writing [1]. Some of the famous personalities associated with Sīrah writing in the early period are:

  1. ‘Urwah bin al-Zubayr bin al-‘Awwām (d. c.92 H).
  2. Abān bin ‘Uthmān (d.105 H)
  3. Wahb bin Munabbih (d. 110 H).
  4. ‘Āṣim bin ‘Umar bin Qatāda (d.120 H).
  5. Shura’ḥbīl bin S‘ad (d. 123 H).
  6. Ibn Shihāb al-Zuhrī (d. 124 H).
  7. ‘Abdullah bin Abū Bakr bin Ḥazm (d. 135 H).
  8. Mūsā bin ‘Uqbah (d. 141 H).
  9. M‘amar bin Rāshid (d. 150 H).
  10. Muḥammad ibn Isḥāq (d. c. 152 H). [2]

Abān bin ‘Uthmān was a scholar of Ḥadīth (حديث) and Fiqh (فقه), and the available information shows that he was the first who wrote about the life of Prophet Muḥammad (SAW) or Maghāzī (مغازي).[3]

But all these very earliest sources were lost over the course of time, and we can find their excerpts only in the later Sīrah works. Now, we will discuss those Sīrah sources that have great prominence and play a vital role in helping us understand the biography of Prophet Muḥammad (SAW), and all the later Sīrah writers take reference from these sources.

Prominent Sīrah Sources   

Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah:

Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah written by ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Hishām (d. 213/218 H) is considered among the most authentic and trustworthy sources of Sīrah literature, and ibn Hishām was the first who used the word Sīrah as the title of written biography of Prophet Muḥammad (SAW), and it became popular by Sīrah of ibn Hishām. Actually, it is an abridged version of “al-Maghāzī” written by Muḥammad Ibn Isḥāq (d. ca. 152 H) that Ibn Hishām (d. 213/218 H) got through Ziyād bin Muḥammad al-Bakkāī’ (d. 183 H) [4]. Dr. Akram Ḍiyā’ al-‘Umarī wrote that “Sīrat ibn Hishām is reliable among all the later Sīrah writers who wrote about Prophet Muḥammad (SAW) and it is very close to the books of Ḥadīth that makes it a strong and authentic source for the Sīrah writers”.[5]

Al-Maghāzi by al-Wāqidī:

The second important source of Sīrah literature is AlMaghāzī written by Muḥammad bin ‘Umar al-Wāqidī (129/130 H -207 H). However, some narrators of Ḥadīth refused to accept its narrations. Imām al-Shāfaī’ (150-204 H) says his books are replete with falsehood and myths.[6]­­

Al-Ṭabaqāt al-Kubrā:

The third important source is al-Ṭabaqāt al-Kubrā written by Muḥammad ibn S‘ad (d. 230 H). Since he was the writer (الكاتب) of al-Wāqidī (130 H-207 H) therefore, according to some scholars he falls on the list of untrustworthy Sīrah writers. But, nowadays narrators (محدثين) have challenged this view and have included him in the list of trustworthy writers.[7]

Sīrah Writers in the Medieval Period

Furthermore, the scholars of the medieval period also became enthusiastic and showed a great interest in Sīrah writing. We found a great treasure in the Prophetic life that emerged during this period. This material includes the Sīrah and Shamāi’l of Prophet Muḥammad (SAW). Great scholars and historians wrote at a length on this subject. These include scholars such as al-Qāḍī al-‘Iyāḍ (476-544 H) who wrote an exhaustive biography of Prophet Muḥammad (SAW) by the name “al-Shifā’: bi T‘arīf Ḥuqūq al-Muṣṭafā” in an excellent and attractive style. It is well-known and revered among Muslims. Next to that, a famous name is ibn Syed al-Nās al-Y‘amurī (d. 734 H) who wrote the book “‘Uyūn al-Athar fī funūn al-Maghāzī wal Shamāi’l wal Siyer”. Apart from these, some other major works on Sīrah are given below:[8]

  1. Ibn al-Jauzī (510 – 597 H) – Al-Wafā` bi Aḥwāl al-Muṣṭafā.
  2. Al-Zahr al-Bāsim fī Sīrat Abī Qāsim written by the historian Mughaltāī’ (d.762 H).
  3. Al-Mawāhib al-Laduniyyah fil Minahi al-Muḥammadiyyah by Shihābuddin al-Qasṭalāni (d.923 H).
  4. Al-Sīrah al-Ḥalabiyyah by Nūruddin al-Ḥalabī (d. 1044 H).

However, various distinguished historians also paid attention to this topic and made it a part of their historical work. All these are considered very important in collecting the Sīrah material. They include:

  1. Aḥmad bin Isḥāq al-Y‘aqūbī (d. 284 H) – Tārīkh al-Y‘aqūbī.
  2. Al-Ṭabarī (d.310 H) – Tārīkh al-Ṭabarī.
  3. Ibn al-Ḥazm (384 – 456 H) – Jawāmi’ al-Sīrah.
  4. Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr (368 – 463 H) – Al-Durar fi Ikhtisār al-Maghāzī wal Siyer.
  5. Ibn al-Athīr (d. 630 H) – Al-Kāmil.
  6. Ibn al-Kathīr (701 – 774 H) – Al-Bidāyah wal Nihāyah.
  7. Al-Dhahabī (d. 848 H) – Tārīkh al-Islām.

Besides that, the medieval period saw a great increment in the books that have been written on the biography of Prophet Muḥammad (SAW) and Islamic history.

Arabic Sīrah Literature in the Modern Period

The modern period also witnessed a great increase in the quantity of Sīrah books. It is not possible to encompass the name of all the Sīrah works. Some important and well-known works are given below:

  1. Imām al-Mursalīn by Ṭanṭawī Muḥammad Mūsā.
  2. Muḥammad (SAW) by ‘Abd al-Mun‘im Muṣṭafā al-Qubānī.
  3. Muhammad Rasūlallāh (SAW) by Aḥmed Taimūr Pāshā.
  4. ‘Aāzam al-Muslihīn (SAW) by Muhammad ‘Abd al-‘Azīm Yūsuf.
  5. Muḥammad ‘Inda ‘Ulamā` al-‘Arab by Sheikh Khalīl Yāsīn.
  6. Muḥammad Rasūlallāh (SAW) by Muḥammad Rashīd Raḍā (1865-1935).
  7. Muḥammad Rasūlallāh (SAW) by Muhammad Raḍā.
  8. Muḥammad Rasūlan Nabiyyan by ‘Abd al-Razzāq Naufil.
  9. Muḥammad al-Rasūl al-Insān by Fathi Riḍwān and Muḥammad Ṣabīḥ.
  10.  Muḥammad al-Nabī al-‘Arabī by ‘Umar Abū al-Naṣr al-Beirūtī.
  11. Qabsāt minal Rasūl by Muḥammad Quṭub (1919-2014).
  12. M‘a al-Rasūl by ‘Aāyeshah ‘Abd al-Reḥmān (1913-1998).
  13. Shamāi`l al-Rasūl by Anwar al-Jundī (1917-2002).
  14. ‘Abqaryatu Muḥammad (SAW) by ‘Abbās Maḥmūd al-‘Aqqād (1889-1964).
  15. Fiqh al-Sīrah by Muḥammad al-Ghazālī (1917-1996).
  16. Ḥayātu Muḥammad (SAW) by Muḥammad Ḥusayn Haykal (1888-1956).
  17. Al-Risālah al-Khālidah by ‘Abd al-Rahmān ‘Azzām (1893-1976).
  18. Muḥammad al-Masal al-Kāmil by Muḥammad Jād al-Maulā (1883-1944).
  19. Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah Durūs wa ‘Ibar by Dr. Muṣṭafa al-Sibā‘ī (1915-1964).
  20. ‘Alā Hāmish al-Sīrah by Ṭāhā Ḥussain (1889-1973) (Written in dramatic style).
  21. Naẓarāt fis Sīrah by Ḥasan al-Bannā (1906-1949).
  22. Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah by Muḥammad Fakhruddīn.
  23. Muḥammad (SAW) (Written in dramatic style) by Taufīq al-Ḥakīm (1898-1987).
  24. Muḥammad Rasūl al-Ḥurriyah by ‘Abd al-Reḥmān al-Sharqāwī (d.1987)
  25. Ḥujjatullāh ‘alā al-‘Aālamīn by ‘Allāmah Yūsuf al-Nabhānī (1849-1932).
  26. Muḥammad al-Qai’d by Muḥammad ‘Abd al-Fattāḥ Ibrāhīm.

Some illustrious Contemporary Sīrah writers and their works

  1. ‘Aẓmat al- Rasūl by Muḥammad ‘Atiyyah al-Ibrāshī (1897-1981).
  2. Ṣaḥīḥ al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah (1995) by Ibrāhīm al-‘Alī (d. 2004)
  3. Muḥammad al-Insān al-Kāmil by Muḥammad al-Ḥasan bin ‘Alwī al-Mālikī (1944-2004).
  4. Al-Raḥīq al-Makhtūm by Ṣafiur Raḥmān al-Mubārakpurī (1943-2006).
  5. Fiqh al-Sīrah by Sa‘īd Ramaḍān al-Būṭī (1929-2013).
  6. Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah fī ḍau’ al-Maṣādir al-Aṣliyyah by Mahdī Rizqullāh Aḥmad (b. 1945).

References

[1] Fārūqī, Nisār Aḥmed. Early Muslim Historiography, Mohammad Ahmad Idarah-i Adabiyat-i Delli, 1979, pp. 216-217.

[2] See: Ibn Hishām, ‘Abdul Malik. Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. Edited by Muṣṭafā al-Saqqā, Ibrāhīm al-Abyārī and ‘Abdul Ḥafīẓ al-Shalabī, Dārul Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2009.

[3] Al-Faḍilī, ‘Abdul Ḥamīd, Kutub al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah fil Lughah al-‘Arabiyyah min sana 1850 ilā 1970: Dirāsātun Naqdiyatun. Department of Arabic, A.M.U. Aligarh, 1993, p. 7.

[4] Ibn Hishām, ‘Abdul Malik. Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. Edited by, Muṣṭafā Al-Saqā, I’brāhīm Al-A’byārī, ‘Abdul Ḥafīẓ Shalbī, Dar al-Kotob Al-Ilmiyah, 2009, p.23.

[5] ‘Umari, Akram Ḍiyā`. Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah al-Ṣaḥīḥah. Maktabah al-‘Ulūm wal Ḥikam, Al-Madīnah al-Munawwarah, 1994, vol.1, p. 66.

[6] Ibid, p. 61. Dāi`rah-e-M‘ārif Islāmia. “Ilm-e-Sīrat” vol. 14, p. 179.

[7] ‘Umari, Akram Ḍiyā`. Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah al-Ṣaḥīḥah. Maktabah al-‘Ulūm wal Ḥikam, Al-Madīnah al-Munawwarah, 1994, vol.1, p. 66.

[8] Faḍilī, ‘Abdul Ḥamīd, Kutub al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah fil Lughah al-‘Arabiyyah min sana 1850 ilā 1970: Dirāsātun Naqdiyatun. Department of Arabic, A.M.U. Aligarh, 1993, pp. 98-99.

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