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Authenticity of the Prophet’s Biography

Questioner

Andin

Reply Date

Dec 22, 2016

Question

How reliable are the early biographies or seera of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and is it possible that the history of him may be tainted by human error or ideology? Thank you in advance, peace be upon you.

Consultant

Answer


Asalamu Alaikum Andin.

Thank you very much for this very timely question.

We know for sure that no one’s life has ever been subject to such detailed narration as the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him-PBUH). This is a unique characteristic of the life of Prophet Muhammad and has many significant implications.

It shows how much love and respect his Companions had for him. They were eager to know everything about his life, to follow him, and to communicate his guidance to their children and the following generations.

It also shows that along with being the leader of the state and a messenger of Allah, the Prophet (PBUH) was open to the fact that every aspect of his life–what he used to eat, drink, do in his own time inside and outside the house–would be examined. 

His life, not only stands as an epic story, but it also stands as an example that all human beings can, by the will of Allah, strive to emulate. 

This life has been recorded with extreme care and truthfulness.

The compilers of the seerah (biography of the Prophet) worked to the best of their ability and knowledge with the tools available to them to portray the life of the Prophet exactly as it was, and to transmit it to us so that we can have an accurate account of every incident in the life of the Prophet (PBUH).

This recording process was based, at the very beginning, on eye witnesses and oral transmissions. The Arabs were known to be very excellent narrators and distinguished memorizers. They were able to depend on memory for the transmission of the seerah.

At a later stage, this oral transmission began to be written down.

Today, we have many seerahs, each one approaching the life of the Prophet (PBUH) from a different angle. While one discusses the educational aspect, another discusses the political aspect, a third the spiritual aspect, and a fourth the communal aspect, and so on.

Even with all these various approaches, we can still say that there is a coherence and compatibility in the life events of the Prophet (PBUH) among all these books.  This coherence indicates that each approach is authentic and that events were recorded with great care and truthfulness.

As the life of the Prophet (PBUH) itself serves as a practical example of how a perfect life should be lived, it is one of the things which Almighty Allah takes the responsibility of preserving as it is a part of the dhikr (remembrance).

Yet, there is one important point to note here. The totality of the biography of the Prophet (PBUH) has not been subjected to the methodology of deep verification and authentication to which the ahadith (Prophetic traditions) have undergone.

This is simply because the ahadith or sunnah represent the secondary source of Islamic rulings and practices. Since the sunnah relates to worship and practices, matters of lawful and unlawful; they have to be scrutinized deeply and verified in terms of their texts and narrators.

This does not mean that the biography of the Prophet (PBUH) has not been subject to a similar authentication process. It is quite the opposite indeed. Modern Muslim scholars have made great efforts in verifying the many narrations that have been compile in the seerah.

This process of verification, although quite recent, is very significant in highlighting two important things:

  1. There were some weak narrations which were handed down from generation to generation and recorded without verification in some of the seerahs.
  1. As history is concerned, multiple narrations are normally compiled in the course of building a picture of a historical events regardless of how authentic they are.

To sum up, Muslims believe that the biography of the Prophet (PBUH) has been handed down to them in the most truthful form. And modern Muslim scholars, when they applied the hadith methodology to the seerah, have discovered that some versions of the seerah do contain some weak narrations.

And so, we should always try to get authentic books of the biography of the Prophet (PBUH) in which all the events have been verified. And we should bear in mind that because Almighty Allah promised to protect this religion, He will surely protect the biography of the Prophet as a shining authentic example for all of us.

I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch.

Walaikum Asalam.

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

10 Myths About Muhammad

Reading The Prophet’s Biography Led Me to Islam

Types of Prophetic Traditions

Difference Between Prophetic Traditions and The Prophet’s Biography




About Sheikh Ahmad Saad

Ahmed Saad is the founding director of Ihsan Institute of Arabic & Islamic Studies-UK. An international speaker and dynamic scholar. ()

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