Sumayya Khanam

Department of Arabic

A.M.U. Aligarh

Abstract:

The word Sīrah is not a new term; it had been recognized and used in the past also. In the present era it is well known all over the world both in its linguistic sense as well as its terminological one. It is an Arabic word which is derived from the Arabic verb “Sāra (سَارَ)”, “Yasīru (يَسِيرُ)”, “Sairan (سَيراً)” and “Masīran (مَسِيراً)”. Linguistically, it means “to travel” or “to be on a journey”. In terminology, it means the life history of Holy Prophet Muḥammad (SAW). Generally, the biography of Prophet Muḥammad (SAW) has been written almost in every language of the world. Uncountable books have been written on the Sīrah of Holy Prophet Muḥammad (SAW) from the Islamic Period until now. This Sīrah topic is familiar in both the places, in the East as well as in the West. And, there are various trends and methodologies that have been adopted by writers in writing on this subject. This paper will describe some important trends in Sīrah literature.

Key Words: Sīrah, Trends, Narrated Sīrah, Historical Style, Juristical Sīrah, Literary Trend, Analytical Approach, Geographical Approach, Prophetic Medication, Scientific Approach, Educational Trend, Subjective Trend, Panegyrical Trend.

In Arabic Dictionaries, the meanings of Sīrah are given as – the tradition, the way, the character, etc.[1] In “Al-Mawrid” and “Hans-Wehr dictionary” (Arabic to English), the meanings of the word Sīrah are listed as conduct, comportment, demeanor, attitude, behaviour, way of life, way of acting, biography, memoir; life history; curriculum vitae, etc.[2] In Mauṣū‘ah Kashshāf Iṣṭilāḥāt al-Funūn wal ‘Ulūm, meaning of Siyer (plural of Sīrah) is mentioned as biographies, conducts, manner of dealing with others, life of Prophet Mohammed – Biographies. Encyclopaedia of Islam explains that it means way of going; way of acting, conduct, way of life; memorable action, record of such action, biography, the life and times of…, and it has been extensively used for the traditional account of Prophet Muḥammad’s life and background.[3]

However, the term Sīrah denotes the life history of Prophet Muḥammad (SAW). And to show the faith, affection and compliance to the blessed Prophet Muḥammad (SAW) and his teachings by the Muslims, in particular, the main objective of writing the Sīrah was that it was an effort to save the historical records correctly without any corruption. In the early Islamic period, this literature was known by the term Al-Maghāzī. The reason why this term was used was that the early written Sīrah books were filled with the description of battles fought by Prophet Muḥammad (SAW) and his Companions, and focused less about his blessed life. The renowned names in this field are, ‘Urwah Ibn al-Zubair (d. ca. 92 AH), Abān ibn ‘Uthmān (d. 105 AH), Shuraḥbīl ibn S‘ad (d. 123 AH), Wahb ibn Munabbih (34 H-114 H), ‘Abdullah ibn Abū Bakr ibn Muḥammad ibn Ḥazm (d. 130/135 AH), ‘Āsim ibn ‘Umar ibn Qatādah (d. 120 AH), Muḥammad ibn Shihāb al-Zuhrī (58 AH-124 AH), etc. Later, the situation took another turn, his biography came to be termed by the “Sīrah” ((سيرة; and became the subject of endless series of writings and studies, made by traditionalists, historians, jurists and scholars in every corner of the world. There are various trends and methodologies that have been adopted by writers in writing on this subject. Since, it is not possible to mention them all, some major trends have been discussed as follows.

The Narrated Sīrah methodology which was adopted by those scholars who were well versed in the science of Ḥadīth and compiled their work on the basis of authentic narrations (Aḥādīth) along with the chain of narrators, for example, Imām Bukhārī, Imām Muslim, etc.[4]

 The Historical style deals with the events and incidents regarding the holy life of Prophet Muḥammad (SAW). The events of his life are described in a chronological order, and the writers adopted the pattern likewise, “the events of the first year of Migration, the incidents of second year, etc”. Some prominent works are included like, Tārīkh al-Umam wal Mulūk (well-known by Tārīkh al-Ṭabarī) by Abū J‘afar Muḥammad Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (224-310 AH), ‘Uyūn al-Athar fī funūn al-Maghāzī wal Shamāi’l wal Siyer by Abū Fatḥ Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad Ibn Syed al-Nās (d.734 AH), Al- Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah by Ḥāfiẓ ‘Amāduddīn abū al Fidā’ Ismā‘aīl ibn ‘Umar bin Kathīr (701-774 AH), Sīrah al-Rasūl Muqtabisah minal Qurān al-Karīm by ‘Izzah Darūzah (1887-1984 AD),  Aṭlas Tārīkh al-Islām by Ḥusain Mu’nis (1911-1996 AD), etc.

Another well-known method that the authors adopted to write about the life of Prophet Muḥammad (SAW) is the Juristical Sīrah or Jurisprudence of Sīrah. It means to extract or understand the laws of Islamic Jurisprudence from the incidents or events which occurred during the Prophetic period in the light of the Holy Qurān, noble Ḥadīth, sayings of Prophet Muḥammad’s (SAW) Companions, and the pious predecessors, opinions of the Islamic scholars and jurists. For instance, Kitāb al-Shifā’ bi T‘arīf Ḥuqūq al-Muṣṭafā by Qāḍī ‘Iyāḍ, Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah: Durūs wa ‘Ibar by Muṣṭafā al-Sibā‘iī (1946-1961 AD), Fiqh al-Sīrah by Syed Ramāḍān al-Būṭī (1929-2013 AD), etc.

The Literary trend of Sīrah writing has been applied by the scholars of later period both in prose and poetry. They compiled the incidents of Holy Prophet’s (SAW) life in the style of narrations (قصص) and dialogues. These accounts are not considered to be authentic. Some prominent works include Masraḥiyyah Muḥammad by Taufīq al-Ḥakīm (1898-1987 AD), Nadwāt al-A’sr fī Sīrah Khair al-Bashar by Muḥammad ‘Umar al-Dā‘ūq (1910-2006 AD).

Furthermore, in the Analytical approach of Sīrah, authors made the study of events and other materials related to his biography in an analytical manner and the description of the incidents are given after a deep investigation. For instance, Ibn Qayyim Al-Jauziyyah (d. 751 AH) wrote Zād al- M‘ād fī Hadiyyī Khair al-‘Ibād, Abbās Mehmūd al-‘Aqqād wrote Abqaryatu Muḥammad, Muḥammad Al-Ghazāli compiled Fiqh al-Sīrah, etc.

The Geographical approach is also an important aspect of the study of Sīrah; it is a methodology of Sīrah writing imbued with a deep understanding of the geostrategic perspective of the region in which the Holy Prophet Muḥammad (SAW) was delegated the task to spread the message of Allah; such as, M‘ujam al-Buldān by Yāqūt al-Ḥamawī (574 AH-626 AH), Kitāb al-Buldān by Y‘aqūbī, Tārīkh al-Arḍ al-Qurān by Syed Sulaimān al-Nadawī (1884-1953 AD), etc.

Moreover, in Prophetic Medication (Al-Ṭibb al-Nabawī), methodology of Sīrah writing, a discussion has been made on the medicines prescribed by the Holy Prophet Muḥammad (SAW) to the ailing people of his time. Along with the purification of the soul; by conveying the message of Allah to humankind, Prophet Muḥammad (SAW) also told about the medicines that physically cured a person; therefore, many writers also illustrated this aspect in their works. However, twenty five books in Arabic and a number of volumes in the Urdu language have been written on this subject[5]. Some important names include Al-Ṭibb al-Nabawī by Shamsuddīn Ibn Qayyim Al-Jauziyyah, Al-Minhaj al-Sawī wal Manhal al-Rawī fil Ṭibb al-Nabawī by Jalāluddīn al-Suyūṭī, etc.

The Scientific approach is also an important aspect of methodology of Sīrah writing in which discussions have been made with powerful, convincing and logical arguments, based on modern scientific thoughts. In the second half of the 19th century, the advent of Western colonial powers in the Muslim world opened a new era of studying Sīrah. On account of the extreme intellectual encounter between the Muslim orient and colonial occident, new dimensions were discovered to study this subject; and a new genre of literature emerged mostly in response to the excessive number of works made by the Western writers on Sīrah.[6] In response to the objections or false allegations of Orientalists on Islām and its Messenger (SAW), most of the renowned Sīrah writers have come up with authentic and logical evidences and adopted this scientific method of Sīrah writing; such as, Sir Syed Aḥmad Khān (1817-1898 AD) who wrote Khuṭbāt al-Aḥmadiyyah, Shiblī N‘umānī (1857-1914 AD) who presented Sīrat-un-Nabī, Syed Amīr Alī (1849-1928 AD) who prepared A Critical Examination of the Life and Teachings of Mohammed and then The Spirit of Islam, Muḥammad Ḥusain Haikal (1888-1956 AD) who wrote Ḥayātu Muḥammad, Muḥammad Sa‘īd Ramaḍān Al-Būṭī (1929-2013 AD) who also produced a work entitled Fiqh Al-Sīrah, etc.

The Educational trend of Sīrah writing aims to highlight the aspects of scientific education in the biography of Prophet Muḥammad (SAW), and therefore it focuses on his morals and behaviour as an ideal and perfect role model. Actually this is a methodology to study, understand and document the religious, ethical, social, political and economic education of Prophet Muḥammad (SAW). It is adopted by various scholars to a great extent; for example, Syed Abul A‘alā Maudūdī (1903-1979 AD), Sa‘īd Ḥawwa (1935-1989 AD), etc.

On the other hand, in Subjective trend of the Sīrah, author deals with only a specific subject related to the holy life of Prophet Muḥammad (SAW) to give a complete and comprehensive idea of that subject; such as, political, social, administrative, leadership, characteristics, seal of Prophethood, etc. Some examples are, Al-Rasūl al-Qāi’d by Maḥmūd Shīt Khaṭṭāb (1919-1998 AD), Nabuwwah Muḥammad (SAW) fil Qurān by Ḥasan Ḍiyā’ uddīn ‘Itr (d. 1432 AH), Nisā’ al-Nabī by ‘Āi’shah ‘Abdur Raḥmān (1913-1998 AD), Al-Isrā’ wal M‘erāj by Muḥammad ‘Abdul Qādir, Muhammad  at Mecca, and  Muhammad at Medina by William Montgomery Watt (1909-2006 AD), etc.

The objective of Panegyrical trend of Sīrah is to praise the Prophet (SAW) through sermon, writings and poetry, and to delineate the admirable and laudable features, incidents, miracles, etc. For instance, Shamāi’l al-Tirmizī by Imām al-Tirmizī Muḥammad bin ‘Ῑsā (d. 279 AH), Al-Hudā al-Nabawī by Abū Nu‘aim al-Aṣbahānī (d. 430 AH), Al-Anwār fī Shamāi’l al-Nabī al-Mukhtār by ‘Allāmah Abū Muḥammad al-Ḥussain bin Mas‘ūd al-Baghwī (d. 516 H), Qaṣīdah Burdah by K‘ab bin Zuhair (d. 26 AH) and later by Muḥammad ibn Sa‘īd Al-Buṣīrī (d. 1295 AD), Al-Fatḥ al-Qarīb composed by Abū Bakr Muḥammad bin I’brāhīm known by Ibn al-Shahīd (d. 793) which is a poetical version of Al-Sīrah of Ibn Hishām[7], And Muhammad is His Messenger: The veneration of the Prophet in Islamic Piety by Annemarie Schimmel, etc.

The study concluded that we found a great treasure on the life of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) that was produced over the course of time. As time passed, changes occurred in Sīrah writing in respect to its theme, style and methodology. There are numerous trends and styles that have been adopted by Sīrah writers.

[1] Ibn Manẓūr, Jamāluddīn Muḥammad. Lisān al-‘Arab. Dār Iḥyā’ al-Turāth Al-‘Arābī. 3rd ed, ND, vol.6, p. 454. Al-Fīrozābādī, Majduddīn Muḥammad bin Y‘aqūb. Al-Qāmūs al-Muḥīṭ. 5th ed, Mua’ssisah Al-Risālah, 1996, p. 528.

[2] Baalbaki, Rohi. Al-Mawrid: Arabic to English Dictionary. 11th ed, Dār al-‘Ilm lil Malāiīn, 1999, p. 654. Arabic-English Dictionary: The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic. Edited by J.M. Cowan. 3rd ed, Spoken Language Services, Inc., 1976, p. 447.

[3] Encyclopaedia of Islam. Edited by. C.E. Boswort, E. Van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs and G. Lecomte. New edition, Leiden, Brill, 1997, vol.9, p. 660.

[4] N‘umānī, Shiblī. Sīrat-un-Nabī (2011). New ed, Dārul Muṣannifīn, Shiblī Academy, 2011, vol. 1, p. 20. Ghazi, Mahmood Ahmad. Muḥāḍrāt-e-Sīrat. 3rd ed, Al-Faiṣal Nashrān, 2009, pp. 197-200.

[5] Ghāzī, Maḥmūd Aḥmad, Muḥāḍrāt-e-Sīrat, 3rd ed, Al-Faiṣal Nashrān, 2009, p. 9.

[6] Ḥamīdullah, Muḥammad, The Life and Work of the Prophet of Islam. Translated by Maḥmūd Aḥmad Ghāzī, Adam Publishers and Distributors, 2007, p. i.

[7] 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, p. 11.

References:

  1. Ibn Manẓūr, Jamāluddīn Muḥammad. Lisān al-‘Arab. Dār Iḥyā’ al-Turāth Al-‘Arābī. 3rd ed, ND.
  2. Al-Fīrozābādī, Majduddīn Muḥammad bin Y‘aqūb. Al-Qāmūs al-Muḥīṭ. 5th ed, Mua’ssisah Al-Risālah, 1996.
  3. Baalbaki, Rohi. Al-Mawrid: Arabic to English Dictionary. 11th ed, Dār al-‘Ilm lil Malāiīn, 1999.
  4. Arabic-English Dictionary: The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic. Edited by J.M. Cowan. 3rd ed, Spoken Language Services, Inc., 1976.
  5. Encyclopaedia of Islam. Edited by. C.E. Boswort, E. Van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs and G. Lecomte. New edition, Leiden, Brill, 1997.
  6. N‘umānī, Shiblī. Sīrat-un-Nabī (2011). New ed, Dārul Muṣannifīn, Shiblī Academy, 2011.
  7. Ghāzī, Maḥmūd Aḥmad, Muḥāḍrāt-e-Sīrat, 3rd ed, Al-Faiṣal Nashrān, 2009.
  8. Ḥamīdullah, Muḥammad, The Life and Work of the Prophet of Islam. Translated by Maḥmūd Aḥmad Ghāzī, Adam Publishers and Distributors, 2007.
  9. 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.
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