Lecture 3. The Historic Aspect of Prophet Muhammad’s Life

Dawah & Tabligh, Muhammad, the last messenger, the last message / Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Let us now consider the life of the Prophet of Islam (Peace be upon him) in the light of the four criteria set forth in our pervious talk.The first one is “historicity”. In this regard, the whole world agrees and marvels at the way the followers of Islam have meticulously preserved not only the record of their Prophet’s life but also everything even remotely concerned with his noble personality. There have been narrators and biographers who devoted their life in collecting, recording, classifying and narrating the Prophets sayings, his deeds and everything related to his life. These biographers include his own worthy companions who were his direct disciples, and then those who learnt from them, and then the generation coming immediately after them. In addition, the collectors of the holy Prophet’s sayings and his traditions and his biographers include persons up to 4th century since the Prophet’s migration to Madinah. When all this heritage was collected, written and arranged, the personal information about each narrator was also recorded which included such important features as the narrator’s name and family background, his life history, his moral and ethical conduct, etc. The number of these biographical notes is nearly one hundred thousand. This collection is known as Asma-ur-Rijal.

The well-known German scholar Dr. Springer was in the Indian Education Service in 1854 and was the secretary of Bengal Asiatic Society. In his supervision, Waqidi’s Maghazi was published in 1856. It was edited by Von Kremer. The worthy companions of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) were known as Sahabah. Hafiz Ibn Hajar’s book ‘Isabah Fi Ahwal-as-Sahabah’ was published too. Dr. Springer claims that he is the first European ever to have written the Life of Muhammad from original Arabic sources. In his biography he is generally hostile to the Prophet (Peace be upon him). But even he writes (in his introduction to lsabah’s English edition in 1864) “There is no nation in the world, nor has there ever been one who can match the Muslims in the art of Asma-ur-Rijal [the historical personal facts about the biographers or reporters of the Prophet’s traditions] through which we can find out today the biographical details of half a million reporters.” Nearly a hundred thousand Sahaba were present in the Hajj known as the Hajjat-al-Wida’a (Farewel Pilgrimage of the holy Prophet). Eleven thousand of these men have had their names recorded in history because they have reported some of the sayings or deeds of the holy Prophet (Peace be upon him). This noble service has made them immortal in the pages of history.

The holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) passed away in the 11th year of Al-Hijra calendar, which begins with his migration to Madinah. Some of the elder companions of the Prophet were still alive in the 40th year of Al Hijrah. By the 60th year a number of Sahabah who were young in the Prophet’s time still lived. By the end of the first century nearly all of the Prophet’s worthy companions had died. Here is a list of the last of Sahabah with the times and place of their death.


Place of Death

Year of Death (Hijrah)

Abu Umamah Bahili



Abdullah bin Harith bin Jaram



Abdullah bin Abi Aufa

Kufah (Iraq)


Saib bin Yazeed



Anas bin Malik

Basrah (Iraq)


The last of the Prophet’s companions to die was Anas bin Malik who had served the Prophet (Peace be upon him) for ten years as his personal attendant. He died in the 93rd year of Al-Hijrah calendar corresponding to the year 712 of Gregorian calendar.

The students of the Prophet’s companions are known in the Islamic history as Tabi een. Their era begins with the first year of Al-Hijrah but they are not considered the Sahaba i.e. the holy Prophet’s companions, because they could not receive direct instruction from him, although they were born in his time but could not see him or they were too young to learn. They include Abdur-Rahman bin Harith (born 3 AH), Qais bin Abi Hazim (born 4 AH) and Saeed bin Musayyib who was born in 14th year of Al-Hijrah. A great number of Tabi ‘een made it their life’s sole mission to spread the teachings of the holy Prophet and the detailed account of his noble life throughout the Islamic world. You can form some idea of the total number of these dedicated men by lbn Saad’s account of the number of Tabi’een in Madinah alone. He classifies them into three groups. The first group includes those who had met the elder companions of the holy Prophet and received direct knowledge about his life from them. Their number comes to 139. Then there are 129 of those who had met the Prophet’s companions in Madinah and received instruction from them. The last group comprises 87 of those who had met several, or at least one, companion of the holy Prophet and learned from them the Prophet’s traditions. This brings the total number of Tabi’een in one city alone to 355. This indicates a great number of the companions’ students who were present in Makkah, Taif, Basrah, Kufah, Damascus and in Yemen and Egypt. Their whole life was dedicated to preaching the holy Prophets mission and teaching his words and deeds. You may also keep in mind the extreme care taken in recording and reporting the Prophet’s traditions from each of his companions. Each companion’s reports were carefully counted and classified. The following table gives the names of the elder companions who have reported most of the Prophet’s traditions (May Allah be pleased with them all).


Number of Traditions Reported

Year of death (Al-Hijra)

Abu Hurairah



Abdullah Bin Abbas






Abdullah Bin Umar



Jabir Bin Abdullah



Anas Bin Malik



Abu Saeed Khudri



These are the people whose reported traditions are the richest and most dependable source of the biography of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). The years of their death show that they were blessed with a long life. It indicates that innumerable students must have benefited first hand from their immense knowledge, and memorized, collected and preserved the Prophet’s traditions. In those days, the only knowledge regarded as real was the knowledge divinely revealed to the holy Prophet. Acquiring it earned a person great admiration and prestige. Thousands of the worthy companions of the holy Prophet imparted this knowledge to their families, their relatives and friends. This was the main purpose of their life and they single-mindedly pursued this purpose. They had been inspired by these words of the holy Prophet (Peace be upon him): “Pass on to others what ever you hear from me or observe in me.” There is another saying of the holy Prophet which calls upon every Muslim to continue the Prophet’s mission by spreading the Divine Knowledge to all mankind. It says, “Those who are present [observing me and hearing from me] must pass this Knowledge on to those who do not yet know.” That is the reason why immediately after the holy Prophet’s companions the younger generation followed in their footsteps and continued the sacred duty of preserving the revealed knowledge. They had to memorize each and every word of the Prophet’s traditions, repeat it several times over and preserve it to the letter. The holy Prophet, while urging his follwers to spread the knowledge of his words and deeds, had also warned them of very severe punishment in Hell if anyone deliberately falsified his traditions or misquoted him. As a result, many highly esteemed Sahabah (May Allah be pleased with them all used to tremble with fear when they were reporting a tradition lest they should make a mistake. It is said of Abdullah bin Masoud (May Allah be pleased with him) that he went white while reporting a saying of the holy Prophet and then said that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) had said like that or something nearly like that.

The early Arabs were naturally gifted with a very strong memory. It was part of their tradition to memorize and recite epic poems consisting of hundreds of couplets. Besides, it is Allah’s law in nature that the greater a faculty is used and practised the stronger it gets. The Sahabah and their disciples had got their power of retention to the pinnacle of perfection. They used to commit to memory each event of the Prophet’s life and each one of his sayings the way the Muslims of today learn the holy Quran by heart. A Muhaddith (a scholar of the Prophet’s traditions) used to learn thousands or even hundreds of thousands of the Prophet’s sayings by heart and retain them. Though later, people used to write them too as an extra precaution, but this was considered a weakness amongst the learned circles. So they used to hide their written notes lest people should think they no longer knew their traditions by heart

Gentlemen! Some orientalists and Christian missionaries led by Sir William Muir and Goldzier have challenged the credibility of the Prophet’s traditions and have tried to create doubts about their authenticity and truthfulness by claiming that their writing and collection began 90 years after the holy Prophet’s death. However we have already explained to you fully how the holy Prophet’s companions, the Sahabah (May Allah be pleased with them all), considered the knowledge imparted to them as a sacred trust, how they strived to meticulously preserve it and keep it unaltered, and then passed it onto the next generation. Therefore, there is absolutely no room for any doubt regarding the truthfullness of the sayings of the holy Prophet, even though the written form of the traditions came a little later.

The Sahaba (May Allah bless them) did not think it proper to put the traditions in the written form for three reasons.

1) Initially, the holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) had forbidden them to put anything into writing except the holy Quran while it was being revealed by Allah. He had said, “Do not write anything that you hear from me except the holy Quran.” The idea was to save the common people from mixing up the word of Allah with the sayings of the Prophet (Peace he upon him). Later, when the holy Quran had been fully preserved among the Muslims, the Prophet himself permitted his Sahabah to write down his sayings. Even then certain Sahabah avoided the written form out of extreme caution.

2) The Sahabah (May Allah bless them) were afraid that if the details of the Prophet’s life and his sayings were put in the written form, the coming generations will not pay due attention and importance to learning by heart and preserving the traditions. It will make them too lax and lazy to attain this knowledge. Their fears proved to be true. The later history of the Muslims proves that with the transfer of knowledge from the bosoms to the books, their insight and piety gradually declined. The Sahabah (May Allah bless them) were also mindful of the fact that anyone who might get hold of a few books, would claim to be a scholar of the holy Prophet’s traditions. There too, history has proved them right.

3) The third reason was that Arabs were proud of their exceptionally strong memory and it was still considered a sign of weakness to resort to writing for preserving a historical event. Even if they wrote something they preferred to keep it a secret. The scholars of the Prophet’s traditions believed that the oral tradition was a great deal safer than writing in order to preserve the sacred knowledge they held in trust. The written work is vunerable to the tricks of the forgerers, whereas the word imprinted on the heart is indelible. It is safe from any sort of change or outside interference.

Today let me reveal to you, and it is being established for the first time here in this meeting with you, that it is absolutely baseless to claim that for a period of 90 or 100 years the job of preserving the holy Prophets biographical details and his sayings was limited to oral traditions alone. The real reason behind this misconception is that chronologically the first written collection of the holy Prophet’s sayings is considered to be Imam Malik’s Muatta, and the first of his biographies is said to be Ibn Ishaq’s Al-Maghazi, The two scholars were contemporary and died in the Hijrah years 179 and 151 respectively. That is why the first written collection of the holy Prophet’s traditions is deemed to have started in the beginning of the second century of the Hijrah calendar. However, there is sound historical evidence to prove that this work had started a lot earlier than that. Umar bin Abdul Aziz died in 101 AU. He was himself an eminent scholar and had been the governor of Madinah. He became caliph in 99 AH. During his tenure as the caliph he wrote to Abu Bakr bin Muhammad bin Amr bim Hazm, (the Qadi of Madinah and a great scholar and authority on the holy Prohpet’s traditions) and ordered him to begin the work on compiling the sayings and traditions of the holy Prophet. The reason he gave for his order was his fear of the loss of valuable information with the passage of time. This event is recorded in Bukhari, Mu ‘atta and Musnad Darimi, reported to be among the most authentic sources of the holy Prophet’s traditions. This executive order was carried out. An account of the holy Prophet’s life, his sayings and deeds was written and compiled. It was brought to the capital and submitted to Caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz. Later, several copies of this collection were made and sent to all the major cities of the Islamic world. Abu Bakr bin Muhammad bin Amr bin Hazrn was chosen for the job because he was not only the Qadi of Madinah, the centre of learning, but an Imam (an authority on religious knowledge). Besides, his aunt Amrah was a prominent disciple of Ayeshah (May Allah be pleased with her), the holy Prophet’s wife and one of the most reliable sources of his traditions. Amrah’s reports were based on the authority of Ayeshah. This collection was already safe with Abu Bakr bin Hazm when he was asked by the Caliph to collect and classify the traditions and pay particular attention to those reported by the holy Prophet’s wife Ayeshah (MayAllah be pleased with her).

The written heritage of the Prophet’s Era

We can further claim and prove that the written work of collecting and preserving the accounts of the sayings and deeds and teachings of the holy Prophet had started even in his own time. On the occasion of his triumphant return to Makkah, he had given a sermon, it is reported in the chapter titled “The Written Form of Knowledge” in Al-Bukhari (the most authentic book after the holy Quran) that Abu Shah, one of the Prophet’s companions from Yemen, had asked for that sermon and got it in the written form. The holy Prophet had sent several letters to different emperors and rulers of the world inviting them to come to the fold of Islam. He had had them all written. Several years ago one of those letters has been found intact. This was sent to Muqauqis, the ruler of Egypt. It was found preserved in the cover of a book in a church in Egypt. It is believed to be exactly the same letter dictated by the holy Prophet (Peace be upon him). The photocopies of this letter are generally available. It is in the ancient Arabic script and the contents and the Seal are confirmed by several traditions reported through different sources. This is one of the proofs of the authenticity of Islamic tradition.

Abu Hurairah, one of the elder Sahabah and most prominent narrators of the holy Prophet’s traditions, says that no one knows the holy Prophet’s sayings more than he does except Abdullah bin Amr bin Al-Aas. The reason he gives for that is that Abdullah bin Amr used to write everything he had heard from the Prophet whereas Abu Hurairah did not (quoted in Al Bukhari). It is also narrated in two of the most reliable and authentic books of the holy Prophet’s traditions i.e. Abu Dawoud and Musnad Ibn Hanbal, that once Abdullah bin Amr (May Allah be pleased with him) was asked why he wrote down everything the holy Prophet had said. He might have said some things in a state of anger. On bearing this, Abdullah bin Amr gave up writing the traditions but mentioned this incident to the holy Prophet (Peace be upon him). The Prophet pointed towards his mouth and said, “Keep writing. Nothing comes out of this mouth except the truth.” Abdullah bin Amr had named this collection Sadiqah (meaning “the truthful”). He used to say, “There are only two things in my life which inspire me to live on. One of them is Sadiqah and it is that noble collection of the holy Prophet’s sayings which I have heard from him myself.” (Quoted by Darimi). Mujahid says that we saw a book with Abdullah bin Amr and asked him what it was. He said, “this is Sadiqah which I have collected by listening to the holy Prophet (Peace be upon him), no third person was involved at all’, quoted by Ibn Sa’ad (2-2-125). There is no dearth of evidence to prove that the writing of the holy Prophet’s traditions had begun in his own life time, despite the fact that his Arab followers considered it a weaker form of preserving and protecting them and preferred to memorize them. It is quoted in Al-Bukhari that after his arrival in Madinah, the holy Prophet held a census of the Muslims in the city. The total number of Muslims was 1500 at that time.

The rules of Zakat i.e. the obligatory alms-giving, how it was to be collected and at what rate etc. were dictated by the holy Prophet (Peace be upon him). These instructions were written and sent to different collectors. Abu Bakr Siddiq (May Allah be pleased with him) the first Caliph, kept a copy of those with him (Darqutni Kitab-uz-Zakah). The fourth Caliph and the holy Prophet’s cousin Ali (May Allah be pleased with him) used to keep with him a document containing many teachings and instructions of the holy Prophet (Peace be upon him). He showed it to people on their request (Al-Bukhari). The peace agreement between the Muslims and the non-Muslim Quraish of Makkah was written by Ali at Hudaibiyah, a copy of which was given to the Quraish and the holy Prophet kept the other himself (Ibn Sa’ad, Al-Maghazi, p.71). When the holy Prophet appointed Amr bin Hazm the ruler of Yemen, he was given detailed instructions about his duties, obligations, charity etc. They were all in the written form. Abdullah bin Al-Hakim, another of the holy Prophet’s companions, received written instructions from him about dealing with dead animals (Tabrani). When a companion of the holy Prophet, Wael bin Hajr (May Allah be pleased with him) was returning home (to Hadur-Maut in Yemen) a special letter was written for him in which the holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) had given him instructions regarding obligatory prayer, fasting, usuary, thinking, etc. (Tabrani, p.242). Once Umar bin Khattab, the second Caliph (May Allah be pleased with him) asked a group of people if anyone knew the amount of money sanctioned by the holy Prophet as a compensation payable to the widow of a deceased. Dhahhak bin Sufyan stood up and said he knew it because they had received the holy Prophet’s instructions in this regard in the written form (Darqutni, p.485)

Umar bin Abdul Aziz ruled as a Caliph from 99 AH to 101 AH. He needed the holy Prophet’s written instructions regarding Zakat. He sent his messenger to Madinah in search of that document. It was found with the descendants of Amr bin Hazm (Darqutni, p.45l). Some of the Prophet’s written instructions sent to the people of Yemen included these problems: the holy Quran may be touched only in a state of purity; a slave cannot be set free by his new owner before the deal is closed; there is no divorce before the completion of the marriage contract (Darimi, p.293). Ma’az bin Jabal asked from Yemen if Zakah was payable on growing vegetables. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) sent a written reply forbidding him to take the Zakat on that (Darqutni, p.45) When the Umayyad Caliph Marwan declared in one of his sermons that Makkah was sacred, Rafea bin Khudaij, a companion of the holy Prophet, called out “So too is Madinah. And I have a written ruling. Would you like me to read it out to you?” (Ibn Hanbal, p.l 41). Dhahhak bin Qais wrote to the holy Prophets companion, Nu’man bin Bashir asking him, what chapter of the Quran was usually recited by the holy Prophet during the Friday prayers, apart from the chapter called Al Jumah. He wrote him back saying it was “Hal Ata-ka …” (Muslim, p.323). Caliph Umar bin Khattab (May Allah be pleased with him) wrote to Utbah bin Farqad informing him that the holy Prophet had forbidden [male followers] from wearing clothes made of pure silk (Muslim, p. 307).

These are some of the rulings and instructions that the holy Prophet had got written and sent to various people on different occasions. There is evidence to prove that many of the senior companions of the holy Prophet wanted to compile or actually did compile his sayings and traditions in the form of a book. For instance, the first Caliph, Abu Bakr (May Allah be pleased with him) compiled a number of sayings during his rule but later did not like having them written and destroyed the collection. Caliph Uinar considered this matter deeply but finally could not dare to have the traditions written (lest it should be considered an innovation in religion). You have already heard that Abdullah bin Amr had prepared a collection of the holy Prophet’s sayings and had written them down with his permission Many people used to come to see this collection and he used to show it to them (Tirmizi, p.38). A major portion of Caliph Ali’s rulings in legal matters was presented to Abdullah bin Abbas (May Allah be pleased with them) and it was in the written form. The traditions narrated by Abdullah bin Abbas were written and collected. One such collection was brought to him by the people of Taif and read out to him [for his approval and confirmation] (Tirmizi, p.691). Saeed bin Jubair used to write the holy Prophet sayings narrated by Abdullah bin Abbas (Darimi, p.69). Abdullah bin Amr’s collection, Sadiqah, remained in the custody of his grandson Amr bin Shoaib, but he was considered a weak link in the chain of narrators because he used to read out from his grandfather’s collection rather than depend on his own memory. Wahab (a Tabi’ee) had compiled the sayings reported by the holy Prophet’s companion Jabir bin Abdullah. It was in the possession of Ismail bin Abdul Karim. Another collection reported by Jabir bin Abdullah was prepared by Sulaiman bin Qais Yashkuri. Abu Zubair, Abu Sufyan, and Sha’bi who belong to the second generation after the holy Prophet’s companions and are regarded as Imams of Hadith had heard Jabir’s collection from Jabir himself. Samrah bin Jundab is a companion of the holy Prophet. His son, Sulaiman, used to quote from him. Later, his grandson, Habeeb, quoted from the same collection. No one from the holy Prophet’s companions had committed to memory a greater number of his sayings than Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him). Some of these traditions were compiled by Humam bin Munabbih. This collection is known as Sahifat Humam (Humam’s collection). Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal has copied it in his famous “Musnad’ (pp.312-318). Bashir bin Nuhaik wrote a collection of traditions from Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) then got his permission to narrate them. Once, Abu Hurairah entertained a guest at his place and showed him a few pages saying those were some of the holy Prophet’s traditions which he used to report. The narrator of this incident says that those pages were not in Abu Hurairah’s handwriting but written by someone else (Fath Al-Bari).

Another of the holy Prophet’s closest companion is Anas bin Malik (May Allah be pleased with him). He has reported a great number of the holy Prophet’s traditions. He used to say to his sons: “My children! Preserve this knowledge in written form”. Abban, one of his students used to take down the traditions from him. A woman by the name of Salma reports that she had witnessed Abdullah bin Abbas (May Allah be pleased with him) writing down the holy Prophet’s traditions from his personal servant Abu Rafea. Waqdi one of the earliest biographers of the holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) reports that he himself saw the letter among lbn Abbas’s books which the holy Prophet had sent to the ruler of Amman, Munzir bin Sawee. A detailed report of the famous battle of Badr was written by Urwah bin Zubair and sent to Caliph Abdul Malik bin Marwan.

Abdullah bin Masoud was so close to the holy Prophet that he was considered to be a member of the holy Prophet’s family. He had the permission to call upon the holy Prophet at any time. He considered it incorrect to preserve anything in writing except the holy Quran. He used to complain that people came to him to learn from him the holy Prophet’s sayings and then went home and put them in writing. Saeed bin Jubair, an eminent Tabi’ee says that he used to learn the holy Prophet’s traditions from Abdullah bin Umar and Abdullah bin Abbas, take down notes and would make a fair copy the following morning. Several people used to learn the holy prophet’s traditions from one of his companions, Bra’a bin Azib and would write them down in his presence. Nafea, who served lbn Umar (May Allah be pleased with them all) for 30 years, used to dictate the holy prophet’s traditions to people. Once, Abdur-Rahman the son of Abdullah bin Masoud, showed a collection of the holy Prophet’s traditions to people, testifying that they were absolutely authentic. Saeed bin Jubair says that whenever a difference arose between him and his colleagues regarding certain details of a particular tradition, they would come to Ibn Umar for guidance and verification but would hide from him their notes because he strongly disapproved of writing down the holy Prophet’s traditions. Aswad, a Tab’ee says he found a written collection of traditions. He, along with his friend Ilqamah, presented it to lbn Umar but he destroyed it. Zaid bin Thabit is one of those companions of the holy Prophet who used to write down the verses of the holy Quran as they were revealed, and the Prophet would dictate them to him. He too, did not like the people recording the holy Prophet’s traditions in the written form. Once, Marwan requested him to recite the holy Prophet’s traditions and secretly arranged for some scribes to sit behind a curtain and write down everything that Zaid narrated. Caliph Muawiyyah (May Allah be pleased with him) tried the same method but this time Zaid found out and had the written record destroyed.

Gentlemen! You might have been overwhelmed by the abundance of unfamiliar names and the great number of authentic sources quoted by me here. But rest assured, we have reached a point where the path ahead looks straight and clear. I have tried to show, through these references and quotations, that if the written heritage is the only dependable source to the modern mind, the holy Prophet’s worthy companions collected enough of it with their own hands and passed it onto the next generation. In their turn, they preserved it and included it in their own books. Now, we would like to say that in the very life time of the holy Prophet’s companions their disciples had begun, researched and compiled the traditions, the incidents and the records of the holy Prophet’s life. They collected and verified this information by asking each and every man and woman, young or old, who knew any thing at all about any aspect of the holy Prophet’s life. Amongst the hundreds of Tabi’een who contributed to this noble mission, by collecting even the minutest details of the holy Prophet’s biography are such dedicated, painstaking and eminent scholars as Muhammad bin Shihab Zuhri, Hisham bin Urwah, Qais bin Abi Hazim, Ata bin Abi-Ribah, Saeed bin Jubair and Abu Zunnad (May Allah be pleased with them all). Shihab Zuhri is considered to be one of the greatest authorities on the subject of the holy Prophet’s traditions and his biography. He is a true Imam of Hadith and Seerah. He used to write down each and every thing about the holy Prophet’s life. Abu Zunnad says that while he and his colleagues noted and collected the Prophet’s rulings regarding only the lawful and the unlawful things, Zuhri would make a note of everything he learnt about the holy Prophet (Peace be upon him). Ibn Kaisan says that he and Zuhri were fellow students. He says that he decided only to collect and write what concerned the holy Prophet because he considered only this knowledge as Sunnah (the holy Prophet’s tradition) Zuhri told him to write about the holy Prophet’s companions as well, because he regarded that information too as part of Sunnah. Ibn Kaisan says that he disagreed with Zuhri on that point. He says the result was disastrous for him, whereas Zuhri reached great heights of scholarship. Imam Zuhri is only one of the hundreds of Tabi’een who collected and wrote down these records. He had written so profusely that, after the death of the Ummayyad Caliph Waleed bin Yazeed, a good number of beasts of burden were required to transport his works to a government office.

Imam Zuhri was born in the year 50 AH and died in 124 AH. His ancestors were Qureish, the same as the holy Prophet’s. He collected the holy Prophet’s sayings and traditions in their smallest details with extreme diligence, dedication and care. According to the historians he would go to every Ansari’s house in Madinah Munawwarah door to door and would talk to as many men, women, and children he could possibly meet, asking them if they knew any thing at all about the holy Prophet (Peace be upon him). He would then carefully note down whatever he had learnt from them. In those days many of the holy Prophet’s close companions were still alive, who had received direct knowledge and instruction from him. Therefore, Imam Zuhri was able to collect first hand information from them. He has a long list of his own students who were busy day and night collecting, verifying, classifying, recording, teaching and spreading the knowledge they had gained about the holy Prophet’s life and his mission. This was their life’s only ambition and these dedicated men had given up every thing else in life for the sake of this noble work.

There is a certain fallacy regarding the collection and classification of the literature about the holy Prophet’s life, his sayings and traditions. It is believed that this work was begun by the Tabi’een. Their era lasted for about a hundred years. Since the Tabi’een’s era supposedly began a hundred years after the holy Prophet’s death, it is concluded that the work about his life and mission was begun a hundred years later. Historically this is absolutely baseless. As has been said earlier, by definition a Tabi’ee is a person who did not receive direct instruction from the holy Prophet but saw his companions, the Sahabah, and learned from them. Some Tabi ‘een were born in the holy Prophet’s lifetime but were too young to receive any education from him. Others were born after his death (11 AH). They are all included in Tabi’een. Looking at it from this perspective we can say that the Tabi ‘een’s era began in or around 11 AH and it actually ended with the passing away of the last companion of the holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) which is a period of about 100 years. The end of this time meant the end of the Tabi’een’s period because to be called a Tabi’ee meant having seen one of the holy Prophet’s companions. Hence the work that actually began since the 11th year of AI-Hijra (the year of the holy Prophets death) cannot be deemed to have begun in the second century. If credit is given to the Tabi’een it does not mean that when they began their work, a hundred years had passed or every companion of the holy Prophet had left this world.

As a matter of fact there are three phases in which the work of gathering information about the holy Prophet’s life, his sayings, his traditions and his message, and its classification and recording was accomplished. In the first phase every person gathered first hand information individually and compiled and preserved it personally. In the second phase data was collected from each city where the holy Prophet’s companions had spread. In the third phase, information was collected from all over the Muslim world, and arranged and recorded in the form of the present day books. The first phase lasted about a hundred years (up to 100 AR). It corresponds to the period of the holy Prophet’s worthy companions and their senior disciples, the Tabi’een. The second phase lasted up to 150 AH. It corresponds to the time of those scholars who received direct instruction from the Tabi’een. The third phase extends to the third century of Al-Hijra which belongs to such eminent scholars of Islam as Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim, lmam Tirmizi and Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (May Allah be pleased with them all). The complete heritage of the first phase is found preserved in the books of the following generation which in turn has been entirely passed on into the books of the third phase. The hundreds of thousands of pages containing this noble heritage today have been derived from the books belonging to the second and the third generation. This is undoubtedly the most valuable and the most reliable literature of world history, unmatched and unparalled in human culture and a fact acknowledged by both friends and foes of Islam.

According to my eminent teacher, a scholar and historian of great repute, whenever other [non-muslim] nations of the world have tried to write their history from an oral tradition, this is what they have done. The events are recorded a long time after their occurance. All kinds of stories are recorded without checking their sources or their credibility. In some cases absolutely nothing is known of the people narrating a particular event. Then out of those myths some events are selected which seem reasonable and likely to have happened and others are discarded. After a while the stories attain the status of history. The ancient European history is no exception to this way of recording history,

On the other hand, the Muslims have set up a very strict and a very high standard of recording the biography of their holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) and have turned it into an art form. The first principle of this disci pline was to record an event in the words of a person who was himself part of that event or had personally witnessed it. If he was not an eye witness, he would record the names of all the persons narrating that particular event up to the person who had eye-witnessed it. Then he would record personal information about everyone included in the chain of narration, This usually included such details as to the name of the reporters, who they were, what they did, what they were like, what their moral character was like, whether they were intelligent or not, whether they were trustworthy or unreliable, if they were superficial or given to deep thought, if they were well-versed in knowledge or simply ignorant etc. It was extremely difficult to collect such minute and exact details about every person who had narrated a tradition. But thousands of dedicated Muslim scholars spent a lifetime compiling this information. They travelled from city to city only to meet personally a narrator of the holy Prophet’s traditions, gathering detailed information about them. Through their untiring research they were able to invent a new art form in Islamic literature known as Asma-ur-Rijal. Today it enables us to know the biographical details of over a hundred thousand people who took part in narrating a tradition of the holy Prophet (Peace be upon him).

This principle was meant only to judge the truthfulness and credibility of a narrator. There were other rules by critics too, laid down to evaluate a particular tradition regarding its accuracy from a historical and rational point of view. The Muslim scholars of the holy Prophet’s traditions were totally impartial and objective in their assessent of the narrators of the tradition. In their judgment they were so honest, fair and fearless that the Muslim nation can rightly be proud of them. Among the narrators of the holy Prophet’s traditions there were noble caliphs and powerful rulers, great leaders of men who were held in great awe and respect by their people. But the scholars of holy Prophet’s traditions were not impressed by their wordly station and gave everyone a fair judgment and due respect, no more no less. Their history is full of many illustrious and glorious examples. Imam Wakea was a great scholar of hadith. Apart from being an eminent scholar, his father held an important position in the government (which in modem terms may be described as Secretary of Treasury). Imam Wakea was so careful in quoting from his father that he always mentioned another source in support of his father’s narration. He would never quote a tradition on his father’s authority alone simply because he held a high office in the government. Can there be a better example of being so honest, careful and objective? Masoudi is another great scholar of Hadith. In the year 154 AH (770 AD) Imam Muaz bin Muaz noticed that Masoudi needed to consult his notes-while narrating a tradition of the holy Prophet (Peace be upon him). He at once declared his dissatisfaction with Masoudi’s authority as a narrator of hadith because he considered it a weakness of memory on the part of Masoudi. Imam Muaz is known to have rejected ten thousand dinars offered to him for remaining neutral in the case of a person whom he had judged to be unreliable. He disdainfully rejected the money saying he could never be the one to conceal the truth. It would be hard to find in history a better example of integrity and care in the reporting of historical facts.

However, what is still more amazing is the fact that all the information which formed the basis of the holy Prophet’s biography is available today. Muslim scholars have preserved every incident of his life along with their assessment of the status of the narrators whether he is to be considered authentic, reliable, wrong, right, not so reliable, strong or weak in his reporting of a particular event. The whole data is there for anyone to sift through and judge every tradition’s truthfulness by applying the same strict rules the Muslim biographers have applied to tell the wrong from the right. Gentlemen! These historical details and references might appear to you somewhat dull and painstaking because I have devoted a considerable amount of my lecture explaining these facts. But, I believe it was worth while to bring home to you the historic aspect of the holy Prophet’s biography and the soundness and reliability of its sources. Now I would like to put to you what formed the basis of the biography of the holy Prophet and – how these sources were arranged and used. The most important, the most authentic and the noblest part of his biography is, of course, the part which has been based on the holy Quran. It is a source whose veracity and dependability has not been successfully challenged yet, even by the adversaries of Islam. This part of his biography which is based on the authority of the holy Quran includes all the main features of his life.

His life before he was ordained a prophet, his being an orphan and poor, his search for the truth, his prophethood, the Divine revelation, his declaration of his mission and preaching, his ascension to the heavens, the enmity of the non-believers, his migration to Madinah, his battles, his character, in short every significant event of his life has been referred to in the holy Quran. This has made his biography the most authentic life history that exists in the history of mankind. It simply has no parallel.

The second source of his biography is the Ahadith or the traditions of the holy Prophet (Peace be upon him). These traditions come to be close to a hundred thousand. They have been sorted out and classified (depending on their chain of narration) as absolutely authentic; slightly less so; and the ones that are not the genuine sayings of the holy Prophet (Peace be upon him). The most authentic and reliable are known as Sehah Sitta. They consist of six books, compiled by highly regarded scholars after a very careful assessment of each and every tradition included in this collection. Then there are collections of traditions known as Masaneed. The biggest and the best known of these collections belongs to Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (May Allah be pleased with him). It consists of six volumes. Each volume contains no less than five hundred pages written in the small Egyptian hand writing. These volumes contain the traditions reported by the holy Prophet’s companions and each companion’s narration has been mentioned separately. They are a mixture of the events of holy Prophet’s life and his teachings.

The third source is known as Maghazee. They are books that mostly give an account of the wars and battles in which the holy Prophet took part himself. Some other incidents have also been mentioned. Some of the well- known Maghazee include that of Urwah bin Zubair (died in 94AH/ 712AD) Imam Zuhri’s Maghazee (124 AH/ 741AD), Maghazee of Musa bin Uqbah (141 AH/ 758AD), Maghazee by Ibn Ishaq (150 AH/ 767 AD), by Ziad Al Bakai (182 AH/ 798AD) and Waqidi’s Maghazee (207 AH/ 825 AD). These are some of the oldest sources of the holy Prophet’s biography.

The fourth source is the books of Islamic history whose early sections deal with the events of the holy Prophet’s life. Among these books, the most reliable ones with accuracy of detail are: Tabaqat by Ibn Saad (died 230 AH/ 844 AD), Tareekh-ar-Rusul Wal-Maluk by Al-Tabari, two books by Imam Bukhari, Al-Tareekh Al-Kabeer and Al-Tareekh Al-Sagheer and works of Ibn Habban and Ibn Abi Khuthaimah.

The fifth source is a collection of books known as Kutub-ad-Da-la-il which deal with miracles and spiritual highlights of the holy Prophet’s life. They include works like Da-la-il Al-Nu-buwah by Ibn Qutaibah (died 255AH), Da-la-il Imam Baihaqi (died 430AH), Da-la-il Abu Nuaim Isphahani (died 430AH), Da-la-il Mustaghfiri (died 432AH), Da-la-il Abul Qasim Ismail Isphahani (died 535AH). But the most comprehensive book on this subject remains Kha-sa-is Al-Kub-ra by Jalal-ud-Deen Sayyuti.

Then there are the books called Sha-ma-il. They are concerned with the morals, manners and details of the dignified daily routine of the holy Prophet (Peace be upon him). The first and the best known of these is Imam Tirmizi’s book called Kitab-Ash-Sha-ma-il who died in 279AH. Many eminent scholars have since written commentaries and explanatory notes on this book. However, the biggest book on this subject has been written by Qadi Iyadh. His book is called Al-Shifa Fi Huquq Al-Mustafa and its commentary has been written by Shihab Khafaji which is called Naseem Ar-Riyadh. There are some other books too, such as Sha-ma-il An-Nabi by Abul Abbas (died 432AH), Sha-ma-il An-nur-As-Satea by Ibn Al Muqri Gharnati (died 252AH) and Safar Al-Sa ‘adah by Mujaddid Al-Deen Ferozabadi (died 817AH).

Apart from the above mentioned sources there are books that deal with the history of the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah. They include some details of the Prophet’s life while he lived there, and point to the local sights which are associated with him in any manner. The oldest of these works are Akh-ba-ri Makkah by Al-Azraqi (died 223AH), Akh-ba-ri Madinah by Umar bin Shaiba (262AH), Fikihi’s Akh-ba-ri Makkah and Ibn Zabalah’s Akh-ba-ri Madinah.

Gentlemen! The historical data of the noble biography of the holy Prophet, that I have presented to you in today’s Lecture, can give a fair idea to the friends and foes alike of the holy Prophet about the historical status of his biography and the soundness and authenticity of its sources. The earliest Muslim biographers did not remain content with the oral or written evidence mentioned so far. But, in order to protect and preserve this immense amount of knowledge for the future generations, they established special institutions. These were dedicated for the teaching and training of specialists, Special scholars were taught the Maghazee in these study circles and a number of eminent scholars of the holy Prophet’s traditions were produced by them. For instance Qatada (May Allah be pleased with him) was the holy Prophet’s companion. His grandson, Asim bin Omer was an authority on Maghazee (died 121 AH). He used to teach the Maghazee in one of the study circles in the great mosque of Damascus. He had been instructed to do so by Caliph Umar bin Abdul-Aziz. Since the blessed time of the holy Prophet to our day, thousands upon thousands of books have been written about his life and teachings in different languages, in different countries, at different times. Urdu, a language of the Indian subcontinent, has a written tradition of no more than 200 years. In fact, no worthwhile written work exists in this language before 1857. Yet, hundreds of books, big or small, have been written about the holy Prophet’s life and his message in Urdu.

Leave aside the Muslims whose very faith and love for the holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) demands that they serve this cause with dedication. Come to his adversaries. In India, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Brahmo Samajis have written the Prophet’s biographies. In Europe, which does not claim any love for the Prophet, books have been written on the “Life of Muhammad” either to serve the Christian missionary or to satisfy their taste for knowledge or world history. A few years ago, it was mentioned in a literary magazine of Damascus, called Al-Muqtabas, that 1300 books have been published so far in various European languages about the Prophet of Islam (Peace be upon him). Add to it the number of books published about him upto the present time and you can get some idea of the interest shown by the non-Muslims in his biography. No book in English is more poisonous and hostile than Professor D.S. Margoliouth’s “Muhammad” published in 1905 as part of the series “Heroes of the Nations.” The author is a professor of Arabic at Oxford University. This man has distorted nearly every event in the holy Prophet’s biography. Yet, even he could not help admitting in the introduction of his book: “….The biographers of Prophet Muhammad form a long series which is impossible to end, but in which it would be honourable to find a place”, [Muhammad and Rise of Islam New York, 1905, p1]. John Devenport adopts a more sympathetic attitude. He begins his book “Apology for Muhammad and the Quran” (1870) with the acknowledgment that “Undoubtedly there is not a single law-giver or conqueror in the history of the world whose biography is more detailed and truer than that of Muhammad.” Rev. Bosworth Smith, fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, gave a series of lectures on the subject of “Muhammad and Muhammadanism” at the Royal Institute of Great Britain in 1874. These lectures were later compiled in the form of a book. How well does he state in this book:

“And, what is true of religion generally is also true, unfortunately, of those three religions which I have called, for want of a better name, historical—and of their founders. We know all too little of the first and the earliest laborers; too much, perhaps, of those who have entered into their labours. We know less of Zoroaster and Confucius than we do of Solon and Socrates; less of Moses and Buddha than we do of Ambrose and Augustine. We know indeed some fragments of a fragment of Christ’s life; but who can lift the veil of the thirty years that prepared the way for the three? What we do know indeed has renovated a third of the world, and may yet renovate much more; an ideal of life at once remote and near; possible and impossible, but how much we do not know! What do we know of his mother, of his home life, of his early friends, of his relation to them, of the gradual dawning, or, it may be, the sudden revelation, of his divine mission? How many questions about him occur to each of us which must always remain questions?

But in Mohammadanism everything is different; here instead of the shadowy and the mysterious we have history. We know as much of Muhammad as we do even of Luther and Milton. The mythical, the legendry, the supernatural is almost wanting in the original Arab authorities, or all events can easily be distinguished from what is historical. Nobody here is the dupe of himself or of others. There is full light of day upon all that light can ever reach at all.”

The Muslims have written thousands of books about the life of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and are still writing. Each one of these biographies is clearer, better documented, more reliable and has firmer historical sources than that of any other prophet of God. The early books about the holy Prophet’s life and teachings were learnt by hundreds even thousands of people from their original authors. They heard them from the original sources, read them and understood them to the letter, and then reported them to others. Six hundred pupils of Imam Malik, the author of the first compilation of traditions known as Mu’atta, learnt it directly from him. The audiance included the rulers and governors, scholars, researchers, literary persons, writers and people from all walks of life. Imam Bukhari’s Saheeh Al-Bukhari is regarded the most reliable book after the holy Quran. Sixty thousand people learnt it directly from Firbary, just one of the Imam’s numerous students. Can such care, such accuracy and soundness of sources, ever be matched by the life history of any other prophet or founder of a religion? This historicity was to be the lot of none other than Muhammad, the Prophet of Allah. May Allah send His Blessings and Peace upon him.

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