There are a lot of books, articles and lectures on the life of Prophet Muhammad . Most of us have heard at least a thing or two about his life and times. But where do the authors get these details from? What are the sources that we use to gather information about the biography of Prophet Muhammad ? Let us look at the sources of Seerah.
The number one source of the Seerah is the Qur’an. The Qur’an was revealed throughout the 23 years period that we mostly study, so it is catering to situations that arose during that time. Qur’an references almost every single major incident that happened during the life of the Prophet .
Qur’an is the world of Allah, therefore what better source can there be than the Qur’an. In the Qur’an we find the incidents described in the most eloquent of speeches. Also, the Qur’an tells us what was going on inwards – how the believers or the disbelievers were feeling inside. The Qur’an for example tells us things such as – “Your hearts were in your thoughts”, “You became cowards”, “You were scared that Allah will expose you”. Who can expose the hearts of the people other than Allah (S)? Therefore, the Qur’an is an amazing source of the Seerah.
The Qur’an also tells us about things that we otherwise would not have known. For example, in the battle of Badr, Allah says, we sent down three thousand angels.
However one of the issues with the Qur’an is that it is not ordered in chronological order. The other issue to keep in mind is that the references are often not mentioned in the chapters. For example, the word ‘Uhud’ is not mentioned in Surat Al-Imran. We need to know that Al-Imran was revealed for the battle of Uhud and Surat Al-Anfal was revealed for the battle of Badr.
The second source of the Seerah is the Hadith, in fact every Hadith is a snapshot of the Seerah. Hadith is the saying of the Prophet and what is the saying of the Prophet except one incident.
The third source of Seerah is the books that are written specifically for the Seerah. The first people to start writing books of the Seerah are the children of the companions of the Prophet .
Most famous of them is Urwah ibn Zubair – he is the son of a companion, grandson of a companion, his mother was a companion and so was his brother. Moreover, his aunt was Aisha (R), the wife of Prophet . Therefore, Urwah is the primary narrator of a lot of the Hadith and Seerah because he had access to Aisha (R) – Aisha (R) being his aunt, did not need to be in Hizab around him.
There are other writers as well that had written books, but it is beyond the scope of this page to discuss those in detail.
The greatest scholar of Seerah is Muhammad Ibn Ishaq who was born in Madina around year 85 of Islamic calendar. He grew up with the children and grandchildren of the companions and maybe he even met some of the companions as well. Ibn Ishaq began writing everything that he heard, he had a passion for the Seerah. He began compiling the Seerah in chronological order. His primary source of information was the people in Madina but he also traveled to other cities to gather information. One of the best thing about his compilation is that he compiled everything with the chain of the narrators. The chain of narrators or ‘Isnad’ as it is called in Arabic, is an uniquely Islamic phenomenon. The chain of narrators tells us where the story came from. Because in Islam, we always wanted to verify the authenticity.
Ibn Ishaq died at 150 Hijra, by then he had written a massive book, some say it had 10-15 volumes. It was so big that it was difficult to copy – as we know, back then to copy you had to write everything from cover to cover. Therefore, later on, Ibn Hisham who was the student of the student of Ibn Ishaq, decided to summarize the work of Ibn Ishaq. Ibn Hisham did not add anything, he subtracted. He did not rearrange, he simply deleted. Nowadays Ibn Hisham is available in four volumes. Ibn Hisham died 213 Hijra.
The fourth source of Seerah are the books written on the characteristics of the Prophet . In Arabic, these types of books are called Shama’il. A number of early authors wanted to describe the Prophet and they wrote books about his description. The most famous of those books is Shama’il Tirmidhi.
The Shama’il (specialities) is a genre of books that deals with the looks, characteristics, manners, possessions etc of the Prophet .
Another source of Seerah the books written about the miracles of the Prophet (PBUH). In Arabic, they are called Dala’il. There are many such books, by looking at the miracles described there, we can extract Seerah. The most famous book of Dala’il is called Dala’il-un-Nubuwwah al-Bayhaqi. This is a massive book, it contains around 12 volumes.
The other sources of Seerah includes the history of the companions. There are recorded histories about some of the companions, from which we can gather information about the Seerah. Then there are books about the histories of Makkah and Madina, by reading the histories of these two cities, we can also extract information about the Seerah of the Prophet (PBUH).
The content of this page was compiled from video lectures on the Seerah of the Prophet Muhamamd (PBUH) by Yasir Qadhi. The video can be found here.