The list of available works on the Sīrah, or prophetic biography, is almost too long to mention. I have, therefore, confined this list to English works and, then, to works that are the most useful for students of my Sirah courses (HST101: Prophetic Biography – The Makkan Era and HST102: Prophetic Biography – The Madinan Era). This list, therefore, is not meant to be exhaustive, nor is a student required to read through all of the works. In fact, I would suggest that a student choose only or two works from each sublist to read along with the in-class lectures.
1. Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources by Martin Lings(Inner Traditions International)
Probably the most recognized and popular English work on the sīrah, Martin Lings’s narrative of the Prophet’s life (upon him blessings and peace) is now a classic. With the exception of several factual errors and the use of some weak sources, this work remains the most recommended amongst traditional scholars and is unparalleled in its language and narrative description. Because it is a one-volume work and avoids any sort of interruptive academic discussions, it is easy to get through and equally enjoyable. If one does not purchase and study the more detailed sīrah works, this is an absolutely necessary read.
2. Prophet of Mercy by S. Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (Haji Arfeen Academy) Translated by Mohiuddin Ahmad
One of my favorite works because of its emphasis on the aspect of the Prophet’s da’wah and struggles (upon him blessings and peace). The author’s passion for religious revival can be seen throughout the work and highlights the inspirational and transformational leadership style of the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace). The first chapters of the book, which focus on the reigious, social, and political context in which the Messenger of Allah (upon him blessings and peace) was sent, are of particular importance. The printed edition, however, is lacking in many respects. The translation is wanting and the actual binding and paper is of poor quality. A revised translation is available online, but I have yet to find it in published form. Still, it is definitely worth the read. I studied that original Arabic version of the book with my teacher Mawlana Tariq Jameel, who showered it with high praise and considered it a must-read for every Islamic activist. [Update: Turath has recently published a beautiful revised edition that includes maps and fixes the complaints I mentioned above. The recent print, in my humble opinion, makes this work an even more essential read and places it easily at the top of my new list.]
3. The Jurisprudence of the Prophetic Biography by Dr. M Sa‘id Ramadan al-Buti (Dar al-Fikr) Translated by Nancy Roberts
Also a one-volume work, this book concentrates on lessons that can be learned from the life of the Messenger of Allah (upon him blessings and peace), especially lessons of a political and legal nature. A unique feature of the work is the author’s rebuttal of Orientalist and modernist objections to the prophetic biography and a clarification of the stance of the Ahl al-Sunnah on those important issues. The work has fewer details than other works because of its emphasis on morals and lessons, which incorporate nearly half of the text.
4. Ar-Raheeq al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar) by Safi-ur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri
One of the more recognized and widely-distributed short works on the sīrah, The Sealed Nectar is a highly accurate and concise narration of the Prophet’s life (upon him blessings and peace). Although a bit drier than Martin Lings’s work, I have found that many students and teachers prefer its clear quotation of primary sources and citation of books. The book has gone through at least a couple reprints and editions. The most recent, I’ve been told, has had significant improvements made to it and should be preferred when purchasing. The author, recently deceased, was a renowned Ahle Hadith scholar of the subcontinent with an eye for accuracy in hadith transmission. This is perhaps the work’s strongest feature.
5. Siratul Mustafa by Maulana Idris Sahib Kandehlawi (Zam Zam Publishers and Madrasah Arabia Islamia) Translated by Mufti Muhammed Kadwa
I must thank Mawlana Hussain Kamani for reintroducing me to this book. I had previously only read sections of the second volume of this three-volume masterpiece in the original Urdu while studying hadith in Karachi, Pakistan. At the time, my focus was on the legal nature and details of the Madinan campaigns and I saw the book then as more of a maghāzi-focused work than a complete sīrah. Having revisited the work upon Mawlana Hussain’s suggestion, I’ve quickly fallen in love with it and use it as a primary resource for my teaching. Haven been written by an erudite hadith scholar, the book’s discussions on the hadith are excellent and unique to the work. Although it is a bit technical at times for the novice, scholar and non-scholar alike will benefit highly from the book. Essentially written in response to another popular work on the sīrah, it does go out of its way to clarify important issues and counter recent misconceptions that have arisen around the Prophet’s noble life (upon him blessings and peace).
6. The Noble Life of the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) by Dr. ‘Ali Muhammad As-Sallaabee (Darussalam) Translated by Faisal Shafeeq
I must admit that I have yet to thoroughly read the English translation of Sallābī’s recent one-volume Arabic book. The English translation occupies three thick volumes and based on a cursory look, seems up to par in respect to language and overall accuracy. What is unique about this work is its avoidance of weak hadith transmissions and the devotion of a section after each chapter to a discussion of morals and lessons that can be learnt from the Prophet’s life (upon him blessing and peace). Although it is a lengthy work, I have benefited extensively from the book while preparing lessons and have used it in the past for lectures. Again, I can not vouch for the translation as I have only read the Arabic original.
7. Atlas on the Prophet’s Biography: Places, Nations, Landmarks by Dr. Shawqi Abu Khalil (Darussalam)
A supplemental work really, this book is essentially a compilation of maps, charts, and pictures that will help any student visualize the places, environment, climate, and geography of the prophetic biography. This book is especially important to those who have not visited the Hijaz and visited the landmarks of the prophetic biography in person.
There is a plethora of other works available in English, Arabic, and Urdu that will be helpful to any student of the sīrah. However, in an attempt at keeping this list concise, I have chosen to leave most of them out. In reality, I would be doing the list injustice if I didn’t mention some other books that I benefited from in my study of the sīrah during different stages of my life.
In particular, I must mention Manṣūrpūri’s magnificent compilation Rahmatan li ‘l-ʿĀlamīn (a horrific translation exists called Muhammad: Mercy for the Worlds in one volume; I have not read the 3-volume translation that is said to be much better), Ibn Isḥāq’s Sīrah (translated by Guillaume as The Life of Muhammad: Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah), Ibn Hishām’s Sīrah, Ibn al-Qayyim’sZād al-Maʿād, and last but not least, Sayyid Sulayman Nadwi’s Muhammad: The Ideal Prophet: A Historical, Practical, Perfect Model for Humanity. My wife, a passionate reader of the sīrah, particularly enjoys Adil Salahi’s Muhammad: Man and Prophet and often first recommends Ar-Raheeq al-Makhtum to her students.
Keep in mind that I have not include books of the Shamāʾil in the above list, since I hope to devote a separate detailed article to such books in the future, Allah-willing.