The Biography of Muhammad
Nature and Authenticity
Foreword by James E. Montgomery
Translated by Uwe Vagelpohl
Routledge – 2010 – 200 pages
This book considers the Arabic biographies of Prophet Muhammad, the earliest of which dates from two centuries after his life. These biographies, prized by Muslims, have been approached in the Western study of Islam from a range of positions. Some scholars reject them entirely, seeing in them products of the Muslim community’s idealisation of its history, while others accept them at face value, reasoning that, if not exact versions of events, the events could not have differed too much from their descriptions.
The author revisits the debate and reconsiders several key incidents in the life of the Prophet. By compiling an extensive corpus of materials and comparing them closely, this book analyses the transmission and the contents of the accounts. It shows that by understanding clearly the interaction in early Islam between written and oral modes of transmission, and by the judicious sieving of the accounts, as well as the lines of transmission, we can sometimes reach back to that generation of Muslims who though not themselves witness to the events were younger contemporaries of those who were. Establishing a solid basis for the informed study of Muhammad’s biography and adding to the ongoing debate, this book will appeal to scholars of early Islam, history and theology.
Foreword. Introduction 1. The Main Medinese Transmitters: Learning and Teaching the Use of Writing 2. The Text in the Transmission Process: Muhammad’s First Revelation (The Iqra’ Narration) 3. The Issue of Authenticity: The Tradition of the Slander Against A’isah (hadit al-ifk). Afterword. Appendix 1: The Corpus. Appendix 2: List of Sigla
Gregor Schoeler has been the chair of Islamic Studies at the University of Basel since 1982. His recent publications include Al-Ma’arrî: Paradies und Hölle, Munich, 2002 (German translation of the first part of al-Ma’arrî’s Risâlat al-Ghufrân), and Volume 4 of the Dîwân of Abû Nuwâs, Beirut 2003, and The Oral and the Written in Early Islam, London and New York 2006, and The Genesis of Literature in Islam: From the Aural to the Read, Edinburgh 2009.
Uwe Vagelpohl is a project researcher in the department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Warwick. His research focuses on translation as a medium of cultural communication and transformation in late antiquity and the Middle Ages.
James E. Montgomery is Professor of Classical Arabic, Staff Fellow and Director of Studies in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (Arabic) at Trinity Hall College, Cambridge, UK.