Book Review: Islam in Victorian Liverpool

By Mawlana Ismaeel Nakhuda

A version of this review was earlier published in the Asian Image newspaper. Additional information has been added to the review for the and readership – Ismaeel.

The story of Islam in Britain as told nowadays would always be incomplete without mention of the so-called ‘Shaykh al-Islam of the British Isles’ Abdullah Quilliam (d. 1932), the Victorian-era solicitor who converted to Islam and founded and presided over the Liverpool Muslim Institute.

As Muslims began settling in the UK in large numbers following World War Two, there was a time when we knew very little if anything about Quilliam and the Liverpool Muslim community. This unknown history, however, began to unravel itself bit by bit as historians and academics began piecing together Quilliam’s life through archives, his personal papers and, more importantly, past issues of his periodical, The Crescent.

Aside from being the main source of what we know today about this fledgling community situated at the second most important port of the mightiest empire of the day, The Crescent was at that time Quilliam’s main vehicle for raising his profile and that of his community and institute. It made him famous and drew funds from across the globe. In addition to a readership in Britain, thousands of copies were regularly sent abroad to subscribers across the world, from the Americas to the Malay Archipelago and as far south as Cape Town.

As a result, Quilliam became well known throughout the Islamic world. Eccentric, flamboyant and peculiar is how he is perceived. Those who have studied his life and his congregation often mention that there is still much to discover about the Brit who converted to Islam in Morocco in the late 1800s. To, therefore, come across a Muslim account of Quilliam and his community written by someone who was Quilliam’s contemporary is surely a novelty.

Having heard of the community and Quilliam, Yusuf Samih Asmay (d.1942), an Ottoman intellectual, travel writer and journalist who lived in Cairo, spent over a month in Liverpool observing the institute and interviewing its leader and the people associated with it. On his return to Egypt, he corresponded with the people he met and wrote a unique and intriguing eyewitness account of Britain’s first mosque community in the Ottoman language. What makes Asmay’s account specifically stand out is that he presents Quilliam and his institute in a way that is at odds with the image depicted in The Crescent.

Asmay does not take any prisoners. He criticises both Quilliam and the Liverpool Muslim Institute. His main denunciations revolve around how religious services are unorthodox and at odds with Sunni Islam (there seems to be a mixing of Islamic practices with Anglican Christianity). According to Asmay, prayers were conducted not at the appointed hours or in the necessary Islamic format. Ablutions and prescribed purity rituals seem to be ignored or not performed in the proper way, and Asmay laments “if only the brothers and sisters-in-faith in Liverpool could study the Qur’an and … a concise manual of Islamic faith, worship and ethics under a religious scholar one evening a week at this school it would be of great benefit.” This was something that fell on deaf ears with Asmay suggesting this himself as did other well-intentioned people.

Asmay also criticises how anti-Christian polemics are often the topic of discussions at the institute, something that he considers unwise in a deeply Christian Victorian society. He further observes that the private Islamic school and museum at the Liverpool Muslim Institute are not as grand as one may be led to believe going by The Crescent.

In relation to the museum housed at the Liverpool Muslim Institute, he amusingly writes that “the contents of the room are no more than a few fish and cat skeletons, some stuffed birds and a few stones and ores of different minerals and suchlike. There are antique shops that sell similar items on Manchester Street in Liverpool and if you are familiar with the contents of a single display cabinet in these shops, then it would suffice to describe the objects in this room. To have the audacity to name a room that lacks historical or scientific objects a museum can only be explained by Quilliam being an attorney.” The reference to the cat skeletons really caught my eye. Though not mentioned by the editors, I would not be surprised if the cat skeletons that Asmay observed were one of the estimated 180,000 mummified Egyptian cats that were sold at auction at Liverpool docks in 1890. Almost all were crushed and used for manure, except for a few that were saved and are housed today at Liverpool’s World Museum.

Asmay also reproduces an Ottoman translation of an advertisement that is regularly printed in The Crescent about the Liverpool Muslim Institute and its activities. He then comments, “Muslims in general in Liverpool are not members of the elementary school that is named an institute, which in reality is a small room where Mr. Quilliam’s children study. The mosque is not open for visitors every day let alone for worship. Saying [we are holding] Friday prayers is only lip-service. A lecture room and library has not come into existence. The [desultory] state of the museum has been mentioned above. The day school is an embellishment as is the case with the Friday prayers.”

He then amusingly adds, “Writing that there are evening classes for Oriental languages is like putting one zero in front of another. Alas, how much do the events of our times suffer from the pens of English journalists and the speeches of their lawyers? They have the ability and power to make a grain as small as a speck appear as big as a ladle. With our brother Mr. Quilliam being both a lawyer and a journalist, is it hard to imagine what he might be capable of, if we give it a little consideration?”

The publicity that The Crescent generated attracted funds from across the Muslim world. In relation to this, Asmay alleges financial irregularities and calls for the need to improve governance to oversee the donations that poured in. He also stresses the need for regulating the institute as a waqf or Islamic endowment. In the context of the improper use of funds, Asmay provides a profile of Mawlana Barakatullah Bhopali [1] (d.1927), an Indian who Asmay says Quilliam employed as a secretary due to his proficiency in Arabic, Persian and Urdu to write letters to Muslim rulers seeking financial assistance. Asmay was clearly unimpressed by Bhopali and writes that “his additional job is to be introduced as the Mufti of Liverpool to Muslims from the Orient who come to visit the city.”

What is even more damning are the questions that Asmay raises around Quilliam’s character, providing details that I certainly have never come across before. He also dubs The Crescent as a tool for propaganda and interestingly mentions that Quilliam and the Liverpool Muslim Institute is a British imperial project with some sort of colonial goal in mind to undermine pan-Islamic solidarity. As the editors mention in their introduction, for some the Liverpool Muslim Institute was a “political attempt to undermine Islamic unity through propaganda about an English mosque with Muslim converts to buttress Britain’s imperial authority” and “to counter Islam as a unifying anti-colonial force and to assimilate Muslims as imperial subjects.”

Interestingly, the editors’ also mention that Quilliam’s “designation as ‘Sheikh-ul-Islam of the British Isles’ came about through nomination” and election at a Liverpool Muslim Institute meeting with “no hard evidence to date that the Ottomans ever formally recognised the title or that its officials ever used the title in connection to Quilliam.”

Asmay’s book caused great controversy among Liverpool’s Muslims and had the potential to severely damage Quilliam and his institute. For reasons that are unclear, the Ottomans banned the book in 1898 following a private audience between Quilliam and Sultan Abdul Hamid II. This clearly shows that Quilliam had reach into the highest echelons of power within the Sublime Port. It is normally assumed that he enjoyed these relations because of a sense of common Islamic brotherhood. Is this, however, the case or is there something else sinister such as Quilliam’s Freemason links?

Though not mentioned in Asmay’s book or the editors’ introduction, notes and appendixes, it is now widely understood that Quilliam was a Freemason and member of several lodges before and after his conversion. He also enjoyed close associations with the Grand Master and Mayor of Liverpool John Houlding who was even awarded the Order of the Imtiyaz on the instructions of Sultan Abdul Hamid II. Several prominent Ottoman statesmen and dignitaries were masons who played crucial roles in palace politics, intrigue and kingmaking.

What the nature of Quilliam’s ties to Freemasonry in Constantinople was is unclear. What we do, however, know is that Quilliam suddenly left Liverpool in 1908 for Turkey and then returned to the UK under an alias in 1914. It is assumed that he was running away in advance of being struck off the Roll of Solicitors for unprofessional conduct as a solicitor. However, Quilliam’s arrival in Turkey coincided with the time when the Committee of Union and Progress (or the Young Turks), a secretive revolutionary organisation that had deep ties to Freemasonry, was forcing Abdul Hamid to reinstate the Young Turk constitution that eventually led to his deposition in 1909. Did Quilliam play a role in the political changes that took place in Turkey during that period and did his links to Freemasonry enable this? We know he assumed different aliases. Could it be that he assumed another identity to play a role in Constantinople and if so what was this role? Perhaps there is an Ottoman record chronicling this. These are questions that remain unanswered and hopefully as time passes, we can learn more.

Returning to Asmay’s book, this English translation has once more allowed this book to see the light of day. It includes a brilliantly written detailed introduction by the editors, followed by the actual book with meticulous notes and then an appendix consisting of brief biographies of key individuals mentioned within the text and other relevant information. Though it does not do any favours to Quilliam and the Liverpool Muslim Institute, it is an excellent contribution that enriches our understanding of the early days of Islam in Britain.

Book details
Title: Islam in Victorian Liverpool
Author: Yusuf Samih Asmay
Translated, notes and introduction: Yahya Birt, Riordan Macnamara and Münire Zeyneb Maksudoğlu
Publisher: Claritas Books


1It would seem Mawlana Barakatullah’s involvement with the Liverpool Muslim Institute was not one of his proudest moments. He is remembered today as a prominent Indian revolutionary, delivering fiery speeches and revolutionary writings in newspapers calling for India’s independence. While in Liverpool, Asmay reached out to the mawlana in relation to a host of problems at the institute from finance issues to lack of authentic Islamic instruction, something that might have struck a guilty note and prompted him to separate from the Liverpool Muslim Institute. Many years later, Mawlana Barakatullah appears in Afghanistan where he took on the role of Prime Minister of the first Provisional Government of India, which served as the Indian Government in exile during World War I and was presided over by Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh (d.1979). The government in exile was established by the Indian Independence Committee which was a broad coalition of Indian freedom fighters representing Muslims and non-Muslims of various shades and colours, including the then head lecturer at Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband, Shaykh al-Hind Mawlana Mahmud Hasan Deobandi (d.1920) and Mawlana Obaydullah Sindhi (d.1944). Mawlana Barakatullah died in San Francisco and was buried at Sacramento City Cemetery, California.

Taken from

Book Review: Maktūbat-i-Mashāyikh

By Mawlana Ismaeel Nakhuda

There are three genres of literature that are perhaps unique within the context of Islam in South Asia: malfuzattazkirahs and maktubat (aphorisms, hagiographies and letters). Often written in Urdu or Persian, all three are a delight to read, and overflow with wisdom and academic nuggets that really help us not only gain a better understanding of notable religious individuals and their temperaments, but also provide unique context of the social milieu people lived and operated in.

When it comes to the maktubat there are numerous famous collections of epistles written and received by luminaries from the Sub Continent. Perhaps one of the most famous being the Maktubat of Mujaddid Alf-i-Thani Shaykh Ahmed Sarhindi (d.1624) (may Allah enlighten his grave), which has been translated into various languages. Likewise, those connected to Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhalawi (d.1981) (may Allah have mercy on him) have also tirelessly produced compilations of his letters. Those connected to the silsilah are regularly advised to read them with the aim of gaining spiritual blessings (fayd) and an understanding of the way of our elders.

Within the UK, Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Yusuf Motala (d.2019) (may Allah have mercy on him) – one of Shaykh Zakariyya’s leading khalifahs – led the way on this with several compilations of Shaykh Zakariyya’s letters, including Makatib-i-Shaykh al-Hadith and Mahabbat Nameh, and a third compilation entitled ‘Inayat Nameh consisting of the letters he received from leading religious luminaries. Another lovely compilation of Shaykh Zakariyya’s letters was published by Shaykh Mawlana Hashim Patel, another one of Shaykh Zakariyya’s leading UK-based khalifahs, entitled Mereh Hadrat keh Khutut. (And as I write these words one of Mawlana Yusuf Motala’s khalifahs, Mawlana Ahmad ‘Ali Lunat has also published Jamal-i-Yusufi, a beautiful and heart touching collection of Shaykh Zakariyya’s letters to Mawlana Yusuf Motala that I hope to also write about soon.)

Maktubat-i-Mashayikh is a continuation of this Islamic tradition and consists of some eighty letters received by my teacher, the most erudite, hadith expert and accomplished lecturer in hadith, Shaykh al-Hadith Mufti Shabbir Ahmed Patel of Blackburn, UK. The letters span over 40 years and are from several leading scholars, particularly the late Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Yunus Jawnpuri (d.2017) and the late Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Yusuf Motala.

As a former student of Dar al-‘Ulum Bury, I saw Mufti Shabbir in his prime and had the honour of attending his classes and lectures in the final years of my time at the madrasah (1996-2001). His deep understanding, passion for imparting knowledge, wide reading, erudition and engaging style of lecturing was something that energised me then and the memories of sitting in his class still provide solace today, some 20 years later. His lessons were engaging and packed to the brim with wisdom and wit. Not only was he a conscientious lecturer, he was also diligent in covering the books he taught at a steady pace, ensuring the book would be comfortably completed by the end of the academic year without the need to rush due to lengthy discussions towards the beginning of the year. Later, I would read in Shaykh Zakariyya’s autobiography, Aap Biti, that this was also the habit of his father, Mawlana Muhammad Yahya Kandhalwi.

When Ramadan came, students at the Dar al-‘Ulum in those days would normally return home or go abroad to lead Tarawih. As someone who was not hafiz of the Qur’an and did not have the responsibility of leading the Tarawih prayers, it would happen that I would often spend several weeks during Ramadan at Dar al-‘Ulum Bury. This time would be spent either in khidmah of those sitting in seclusion (i‘tikaf) or in seclusion myself. It would also often be the case that Mufti Shabbir would be sat in seclusion and oversee the i‘tikaf programme himself. For a teenager from the back-to-back terrace streets of Lancashire, this was an opportunity to observe how the pious spent Ramadan and what I saw then still elicits a sweet taste in my mouth today. I saw a man who ate and slept little, just the bare minimum. Though he had a profound interest in the hadith sciences, Ramadan was dedicated to the Qur’an. He would spend his day constantly and consistently in its recitation from memory. How much he read was anyone’s guess, but I am sure it was no less than the entire Qur’an during the whole day if not more. His attachment to the Qur’an really stuck out. In those days, his children were young and he would often be flanked by them. He would recite his own Qur’an and then listen to his children’s hifz.

Mufti Shabbir had his own way of reciting. His voice was solemn, heart touching and emotional. Anyone who has had the fortune of listening to his recitation will testify to that. On the verses of punishment his voice would tremble and on the verses relating to Allah’s mercy and the bounties He has in store for the pious there would be a freshness in his voice that reflected the subject being recited. One would never bore of listening to his Qur’an and even now, decades later, I relish those invaluable moments.

He was always full of energy and I saw this increase during the holy month. I recall one Ramadan some 25 years ago, when it fell in winter and the nights were long. That year Mufti Shabbir’s daily routine was to lead a portion of the Tarawih at the Sajidin Mosque in Blackburn and then head to the Markaz al-‘Ulum madrasah (also in Blackburn) where the Tarawih began a little later. He would lead a number of rak‘ahs there and then midway head for Dar al-‘Ulum Bury (some 12 miles away) where the prayer began even later. He would join the Dar al-‘Ulum congregation in between their Tarawih and lead a large portion of the prayer and end with witr. His memory was excellent and recitation steady and flawless. I also observed that he would be reciting the Qur’an from memory while he travelled from one venue to another. In fact, every time I ever travelled with him by car, rather than frivolous talk, his time would be spent reciting the Qur’an in a quiet but audible voice.

Despite being a senior lecturer in hadith and a teacher of individuals who themselves are senior scholars and hadith lecturers, I often recall Mufti Shabbir during the i’tikaf helping us pick up the dastarkhwan and tidying up after the iftar meal. And as my years at Dar al-‘Ulum passed I often saw Mufti Shabbir spending long days and weekends supervising and organising the cleaning of the madrasah, especially in preparation for official visits or annual gatherings such as the graduation ceremony of the final year students studying Sahih al-Bukhari. He was not hands off but got in with the students, and using the art of coaxing and persuasion led from the front and commanded the respect of students to deliver what needed to be done.

On one occasion, I remember the Dar al-‘Ulum cook not being able to prepare lunch for some reason and so Mufti Shabbir himself rolled his sleeves up and, in between lessons, prepared lunch on that day for the madrasah’s 400 students and teaching staff. A mammoth task indeed. If my memory serves me right, he said he had cooked Lucknowi Biryani. As someone who has never tasted Lucknowi Biryani I’m unsure whether this was the case, but I can certify it was a tasty meal and I ate to my fill.

On graduation from Dar al-‘Ulum, I became busy with university and employment in Saudi Arabia and perhaps became distant from our respected teacher. Just a few days before last Ramadan, I was visiting my mother’s home and ventured outside to take a call due to poor reception when a car pulled up next to me. Engrossed in the conversation I initially failed to recognise who it was and then when the window came down realised it was Mufti Shabbir. We met and seeing him unexpectedly made me extremely happy. He then handed me a box of Madinah dates and said this is a gift for you for Ramadan and went on his way. That memory remains with me and I cherished every date in that box. It also then dawned on me that I had taken so much from Mufti Shabbir but given nothing in return.

Maktubat-i-Mashayikh is an interesting read. The letters from Shaykh Yunus Jawnpuri are particularly noteworthy and exemplify the attachment between the two. They also contain a wealth of information on the science of hadith and its commentary. Perhaps the most interesting letter in the collection is the one on page 171 in which Mawlana Yusuf Motala grants Mufti Shabbir khilafah in Tasawwuf and provides some unique and useful advice that would be relevant to any salik. We pray Allah Most High grants Mufti Shabbir a long life, that He accepts his services for the faith and enables us to value this gem who is still among us. Amin.

This review was written at the request of Mawlana Khalil Ahmed Kazi of Madina Academy, Dewsbury, UK.

Taken from

Book Review: al-Taḥqīq al-Bāhir Sharḥ al-Ashbāḥ wa ʾl-Naẓāʾir

Book review by Mawlana Abu Asim Badrul Islam

التحقيق الباهر شرح الأشباه والنظائر (للإمام ابن نجيم المصري – 926-970

للإمام العلامة هبة الله التاجي (1151-1224 هـ)

المؤلف : الإمام العلامة هبة الله التاجي

المحقق : د. الشيخ أسامة محمد شيخ

الموضوع : الأشباه والنظائر في المذهب الحنفي

الناشر : دار اللباب (إسطنبول ، دمشق ، بيروت)

سنة النشر : 1443 هـ _ 2021م

رقم الطبعة : 1

عدد المجلدات : 8

Title:  Al-Taḥqῑq al-Bāhir Sharḥ Al-Ashbāh wa ‘l-Naẓā̕ir

Author:  Imām ῾Allāmah Hibat Allāh al-Tāji (1151-1224 AH)

Editor:  Mawlana Dr. Osama Muhammad Sheikh

Genre:  Ḥanafi legal maxims/legal analogy/jurisprudence

Publisher:  Dār al-Lubāb (Istanbul/Beirut)

Year of publication:  1443/2021 (1st edition)

Number of volumes:  8

Imām ῾Allāmah Ibn Nujaym’s (926-970 AH) Al-Ashbāh wa ‘l-Naẓā̕ir is a key work that is taught and studied by scholars of the ḥanafi legal school, who specialise in the issuing of legal rulings/edicts (fatwa). It is a work that has received much praise from jurists of the school throughout the centuries (Al-Taḥqῑq al-Bāhir, 1:31-33). Until now, there has been no good print of a commentary on this book. Extending over eight large volumes, Al-Taḥqῑq al-Bāhir is the only complete and detailed commentary on Al-Ashbāh wa ‘l-Naẓā̕ir – although, about 30 other works have been written on Al-Ashbāh wa ‘l-Naẓā̕ir, including several marginalia, most of which are incomplete, or do not include the entire text of Al-Ashbāh wa ‘l-Naẓā̕ir within the commentary and explanatory notes. Written by Imām ῾Allāmah Hibat Allāh al-Tāji (1151-1224 AH), Al-Taḥqῑq al-Bāhir is the only work on Al-Ashbāh wa ‘l-Naẓā̕ir that has commentated on every part of the author’s text in a detailed yet clear and simple style. The importance of this cannot be overemphasised – especially, considering the challenging and often ambiguous nature of the text.

In bringing this publication to fruition, the researcher-editor, Mawlana Dr. Osama Sheikh[1] spent seven years working from manuscripts of the book. He mentions in his introduction (1:60-64) that he accessed four complete manuscripts of the work, of which he used two as the principal manuscripts. He also mentions two incomplete manuscripts (1:64-65), which he also used in this critical edition.

The author of Al-Taḥqῑq al-Bāhir, Imām ῾Allāmah Hibat Allāh al-Tāji, has consulted tens of works of the ḥanafi masters in his work. These include principal texts (mutūn), commentaries (shurūḥ), fatāwā (legal rulings/edicts) and uṣūl (jurisprudence). However, when referencing or quoting other works, he often does so through the intermediary of secondary sources (1:57). In critically editing the work, Mawlana Dr. Osama Sheikh has endeavoured to visit the original published source of most of these references to verify the accuracy of the quotation. This proved to be a challenging and cumbersome task, as not all the references that the author mentions have been published, while some may not even be available anywhere in any format. In addition to this, Mawlana Dr. Osama Sheikh also used three commentaries of Al-Ashbāh wa ‘l-Naẓā̕ir in manuscript form. These are ῾Umdat al-Nāẓir, Tanwῑr al-Adhhāni wa ‘l-Ḍamā̕ ir, Kashf al-Khaṭā̕ir. During the course of his critical editing, Mawlana Dr. Osama Sheikh discovered that the author has often been casual in quoting from earlier works, not prioritising accuracy. This has in some places altered the meaning of what the author of the original source had intended. In addition to this problem, all the manuscripts of Al-Taḥqῑq al-Bāhir are filled with errors by the copyists. This made it more important to visit the original source of each reference quoted by the author.

Mawlana Dr. Osama Sheikh has very helpfully added headings in square brackets to each section that discusses a new mas῾alah or issue. This enhances the reading experience and makes it much easier to search for discussions on different issues. 

Where deemed necessary, ḥarakāt and i῾rāb have been added throughout the book. For a final thorough proofreading before going to print, the publisher, Dār al-Lubāb (Istanbul/Beirut), employed a team of in-house proofreaders/researchers. However, despite this, the book contains a lot of errors, which could have been easily avoided. Errors are generally of the following categories: typographical errors, errors in i῾rāb, omitted letters or words, and some mistakes made by Mawlana Dr. Osama Sheikh himself.

Another shortcoming of this edition, in my view, is that the actual matn (text) of Al-Ashbāh wa ‘l-Naẓā̕ir has been omitted by Dār al-Lubāb. For such a work, one would normally expect the matn to be at the top of the page, demarcated from the commentary by a line. Instead, all eight volumes of this edition contain continuous, non-stop commentary with words and parts of sentences of Al-Ashbāh wa ‘l-Naẓā̕ir within brackets in red ink. I believe, this was done by Dār al-Lubāb in its desire to keep the number of volumes down. Had Dār al-Lubāb added the matn at the top of the pages, the book may have been in ten volumes and its beauty and usefulness would have been much enhanced.

I have no doubt that the book will, at some point in the future, undergo a revision and we shall see a better second edition. However, given the sheer size of the book and the finances involved, only Allāh Most High knows when that may be. Until then, the serious student of ḥanafi fiqh and the scholar of fatwa find themselves with a difficult decision to make – whether to purchase this first edition of this brilliant work or risk waiting many years for a better revised second edition, or, even worse, see the book go out of print. This is further compounded by the hefty price tag (currently, £130-£150 here in the United Kingdom).

Abu Asim Badrul Islam
Northampton, ENGLAND
22 Jumāda ‘l-Ūlā 1443/27 December 2021
Special thanks to Mawlana Dr. Osama Sheikh.

Front cover of Al-Taḥqῑq al-Bāhir.
All eight volumes of Al-Taḥqῑq al-Bāhir alongside my extremely poor edition of Al-Ashbāh wa ‘l-Naẓā̕ir by the infamous Dār al-Kutub al-῾Ilmiyyah (Beirut).
Sample pages of Al-Taḥqῑq al-Bāhir. The headings in square brackets have been added by the editor, Mawlana Dr. Osama Sheikh.
Sample pages of Al-Taḥqῑq al-Bāhir.

[1] Mawlana Dr. Osama Sheikh completed his Dars-e-Niẓāmi (also known as Shahādat al-῾Ālimiyyah) course/master’s degree at Jāmi῾ah Fārūqiyyah, Karachi in 2007. He then completed a PhD degree at the Umm al-Qura University in Makkah Mukarramah.

Book Review: Al-Zubdah fī Sharḥ al-Burdah of ʿAlī al-Qārī

Al-Zubdah fī sharḥ al-Burdah. By al-Mullā ʿAlī al-Qārī. Edited by Māhir Adīb Ḥabbūsh. Istanbul, Turkey: Dār al-Lubāb, 1438/2017. Pp 203. ISBN 9786058323865.

Reviewed by Mawlana Kamil Uddin, Darul Qasim

The mantle Burdah wears in Islamic literature is unparalleled. A glimpse of this is shown by ʿAbdullah Muḥammad al-Ḥabashī who lists out 48 pages of commentaries and marginalia for the Burdah in his encyclopedic bibliography, Jāmiʿ al-shurūḥ wal-ḥawāshī[1]. The actual title of this instrumental poem is al-Kawākib al-durriyyah fī madḥ khayr al-bariyyah (lit. The Radiant Planets in Praise of the Best of all Creation) written by the Sufi Poet of the Shādhilī order, Sharaf al-Dīn al-Būṣīrī (d. 697/1298). This commentary, titled al-Zubdah (The Choicest), selects from previous glosses and builds a direct bridge from poetry to prose for readers. A salient feature of al-Qārī’s (d. 1014/1606) writings is his ability to take complex topics and weave the thread of understanding through them; this work is no different. Ḥabbūsh edited this work using two manuscripts; the first was from King Saud University and the second from Waliyy al-Dīn Efendi Library in Istanbul which is an extension of Beyazıt Devlet Kütüphanesi (Beyazıt State Library).

In his 25 page introduction, Ḥabbūsh gives brief background information on al-Būṣīrī, his qaṣīdah, and the lasting effect this poem had on poetry that followed him. He also lists out 9 specific commentaries, 2 of which al-Qārī referenced often which are the commentaries of Jalāl al-Dīn al-Maḥallī (d. 864/1460) and ʿIṣām al-Dīn al-Isfarāyīniyy (d. 944/1538), as well as the commentary of Zayn al-Dīn Khālid al-Azharī (d. 905/1500) which was often quoted in the marginalia of the King Saud manuscript of al-Zubdah. Since the three aforementioned glosses have yet to be printed, the value of such a publication heightens. Ḥabbūsh also extracts what he considers controversial couplets that exaggerate the praise of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, listing them out in the following order; 80, 81, 135, 136, 149, 146, 75, 156, 43, and 154. He adds footnotes under some of these couplets explaining how they are problematic and critiquing al-Būṣīrī’s choice of words. However, he does not seem to adopt the reading al-Mullā ʿAlī al-Qārī presents, one that is in line with Sunni creed and law. This is a problem because reading the sharḥ/ḥāshiyah genre requires one to be in sync with the previous research, which is why we see many authors writing glosses on their own texts (matn) because there is no commentator (shārīh) who could better rationalize that author (mātin).

Ḥabbūsh states that al-Qārī’s methodology of explaining contains three aspects. First he explains selected vocabulary (sharḥ mufradāt), followed by parsing (iʿrāb) unintuitive phrases, and concluding by giving a succinct, easy-to-read but eloquent understanding of the couplet. Sometimes al-Qārī switches the order but still touches on all three aspects. One of finest features of this commentary is al-Qārī’s ability to connect the poem to the Qurʾān and Hadith; this rhetorical concept is called iqtibās which literally means “the process of lighting one’s fire from that of another.” In the indexes listed at the end by the editor, I counted 122 ayahs from 52 surahs and 78 hadiths quoted by al-Qārī for a poem totaling 160 couplets. He was able to capture this light from other sources as well, for example he mentioned that couplet 58 was inspired by the eulogy of Fāṭimah, may Allah be pleased with her, for her father, the Prophet, peace be upon him. He also references the famous Majnūn in couplet 5 and al-Buḥturiyy (d. 284/897) in couplet 57, both of whom are famous for the art of panegyric in their own right. Al-Qārī also intertwines supplementary rhetorical and grammatical points along with theological and spiritual allusions (iīmāʾāt) throughout the commentary.

This edition also contains an 8 page bibliography (fihris al-maṣādir wal-marājiʿ) and an unfulfilling one page table of contents (fihris al-mawḍūʿāt). This text would have been enhanced for readers and researchers by including an index for the couplets, proper names and places, and a more expansive table of contents that gives an overview of the wide range of topics covered by both al-Qārī and al-Būṣīrī. One possible addition to the table of contents would be division of the poem into the ten sections (abwāb) mentioned on page 28. The editor ought to have included the full-length poem (qaṣīdah) in the beginning or end of the edition so that it can be read without pauses. It should be noted that the couplets are enumerated throughout the text and are in bold which make it easy to identify. Aside from the last two sentences at the end of the introduction and images of the first and last folios (lawḥah) there is no other information given about the manuscripts. Overall this is a welcome edition with accurate paragraphing, precise punctuation, and reliable referencing. Lastly, other editions of this work have been published since, one by Dār al-Imām al-Rāzī  in Cairo in 2018. Stamped on the title page is the claim Yuṭbaʿ li-awwal marrah alā arbaʿ nusakh khaṭṭīyah (Printed for the first time using 4 manuscripts).[2] Another one by Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyyah in 2019.[3] However, I have been unable to access these editions and thus cannot compare between them. The expectation is that they should be better but al-faḍl lil-mutaqaddim (special virtue is for the first).

[1] Al-Ḥabashī, A. Muḥammad, Jāmiʿ al-shurūḥ wal-ḥawāshī : muʿjam shāmil li-asmāʾ al-kutub al-mashrūḥah fī al-turāth al-Islāmī wa-bayan shurūḥihā, 5 vols. (Dār al-Minhāj, Jeddah, 2017), 1:659-707.

[2] Al-Qārī, M. ʻAlī and al-Khurāsānī, A. Muḥammad. al-Zubdah fī sharḥ al-Burdah. (Dār al-Imām al-Rāzī lil-nashr wal-tawzīʿ, Cairo, 2018).

[3] Al-Qārī, M. ʿAlī and Farḥāt, Ḥ. ʿAzīz. Sharḥ al-Mullā ʿAlī al-Qārī ʿalā Burdat al-Būṣīrī. (Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyyah, Beirut, 2019).

Book Review: Mufti Rashīd Aḥmad Ludhyānwī’s Irshād al-Qārī ilā Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī

Mufti Rashid Ahmad Ludhianvi, Irshad al-Qari ila Sahih al-Bukhari, Karachi: Maktabat al-Khalij, pp.436

By Maulana Zeeshan Chaudri 

Mufti Rashid Ahmad Ludhianvi (d.2002) was one of the senior Muftis in Pakistan during his life. He was born in Ludhiana in the year 1922 into a scholarly family. Ludhiana had been the location of many ‘ulama, famously being the first group to declare Mirza Ghulam of Qadian a disbeliever[1] and penning the fatwa ‘Nusrat al-Abrar’ [2]. So it is not surprising that Ludhiana produced scholars of the calibre of Mufti Rashid Ahmad. He had initially taken Maulana Husayn Ahmad Madani (d.1957) as his spiritual guide, and after Maulana’s demise he had taken Mufti Muhammad Hasan and then Maulana ‘Abd al-Ghani Phulpuri as his spiritual guides. Via Maulana Madani, his connection to Hajji Imdadullah (d.1899) went via Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (d.1905). And from his other two Shaykhs via Maulana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi (d.1943)[3]. 

His most famed work is the collection of his fatwas entitled ‘Ahsan al-Fatawa’ which is published in multiple volumes which demonstrate his mastery of the Hanafi school. His other works touch on a range of topics from aspects of spirituality to theology. The current work is Mufti Ludhianvi’s contribution to the study of the most authentic book after the Qur’an, Sahih al-Bukhari. The book only being a single volume does not go through the whole of Sahih al-Bukhari, rather the first few chapters. He provides an introduction to the book which tackles the position of those who question the authority of Hadith.  

Ghulam Ahmed Parvez (d.1985) was a controversial figure who wrote extensively in Urdu. The Quran was meant to be the focus with the Hadith not being considered an independent source of authority. Although he claimed to not completely do away with Hadith as he would accept and reject them based on its ‘agreement’ to the Quran[4], doing away with the independent authoritative nature of Hadith would radically change the way Islam is understood. Also it brushes to the side the extensive work done for the preservation of the Prophet’s life, without having any expertise in the field himself.    

There has been a common trait among many reformers of the 20th century in minimizing the role of Hadith, either through claiming that the Quran is sufficient or via using (and many a time abusing) classical principles which allow one to do away with many Ahadith[5]. Mufti Rashid Ahmad sensing this scepticism over the authoritative nature of Hadith dedicates a detailed introduction in defence.

An example of one of his evidences is the following verse of the Quran where Allah reminds the Sahabah that he had helped them in the battle of Badr. The Quran states ‘Recall when you said to the believers; does it not suffice you that your Lord will help you by sending down three thousand angels’ (al ‘Imran 124). Here the Quran refers to the Prophet informing the Sahabah about Allah promising to send angels, despite this not being mentioned in the Quran. This demonstrates that the Prophet reporting something from Allah which is not in the Quran is yet a source of authority (p.15). Other evidences are provided. 

In explaining the Hadith of Bukhari he inherits the method of his teachers in defending Hanafi positions. For example, the early dispute between the ‘ulama’ in reference to the definition of Iman. Imam Abu Hanifah (and others) had taken the position that actions (‘amal) are not part of Iman while the other ‘ulama’ considered actions as part and parcel of Iman, hence with the increase of good deeds the Iman also increases. Imam al-Bukhari was amongst the many ‘ulama’ who argued that actions are part of Iman and attempts to demonstrate this in the beginning of his Hadith collection. One of the evidences used by Imam al-Bukhari is the verse in the Qur’an where Ibrahim (as) asks Allah to show him how the dead would be brought to life. Allah responds with a question ‘have you not believed’, to which Ibrahim says ‘yes but for my heart to have itmi’nan’ (Surah Baqarah 260). 

Imam al-Bukhari utilizes this verse to demonstrate that iman increases. In response to this Mufti Ludhianvi explains that the term itmi’nan means to be at ease (sukun). So it was not that Ibrahim (as) intended for his iman to increase (as the Hanafis argue that iman is only tasdiq), but rather he had this desire inside him to see this spectacle. So to ease his desire and passion, he requested this from Allah (p.157).

This is just a snippet from the book and there are many other interesting passages for the student to benefit from insha’allah. 


[1] In the 1880s some notable ’ulama from Ludhiana had gone to Deoband to acquire the signatures of Maulana Ya’qub Nanotawi (cousin of Maulana Qasim Nanotawi) and Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi. There was an initial reluctance due to the severity of doing takfir, but they accepted it later, see Diya’ al-Husayn al-Ludhianvi (2017) Fatawa Qadiriyyah, Faisalabad: Islami Ta’limi Idarah

[2] This fatwa, penned in 1888, was a harsh refutation of Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan and argued for the permissibility of joining the Indian National Congress. It was oft-cited in later debates in regards to joining the Congress and the Muslim League, Ludianva, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz (1888) Nusrat al-Abrar, Lahore: Matba’at Sahafi

[3] Asia’abadi, Ihtisham al-Haqq (1981) Anwar al-Rashid, Karachi: H. M. Sa’id, p.85

[4] Parvez, Firqah Ahl-e Qur’an, Lahore: Tulu’ al-Islam, June 1975, p.59-60

[5] See for example (last access 12/7/2017)

[Review taken from

Meraj Mohiuddin’s Revelation: The Story of Muhammad (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him): A Critical Review


Reviewed by Bilal Ali Ansari

In the name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate.

Despite its relatively recent publication, Dr. Meraj Mohiuddin’s Revelation: The Story of Muhammad (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him) has quickly become one of the more popular, publicized, and widely-distributed additions to the growing corpus of English literature on the prophetic biography (sīrah). Boasting an aesthetically-pleasing, simple, and modern design, Revelationenjoys a long list of endorsements by well-recognized Muslim personalities in the West and a foreword by the American Muslim academic Dr. Sherman Jackson. 

The author, a physician by training, has taken great pains to design a book that is rich in illustrations to complement a condensed chronicle of the Messenger of Allah’s life (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). Mohiuddin includes a wealth of graphics: maps, family trees, and timelines that help visualize complex lineages and familial relationships, track the movements of armies, and contextualize significant events in time. Deceptively large in size, the book’s historical material is in fact quite concise, providing first-time readers of the sīrah a summarized version of the contents of, for the most part, Martin Ling’s Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sourcesand Ṣafī al-Raḥmān al-Mubārakpūrī’s The Sealed Nectar: Biography of the Noble Prophet(al-Raḥīq al-Makhtūm).

Readers will be able to immediately appreciate the overall quality of the printing: the heavy paper, strong binding, professional typesetting, minimalist design, etc… Unlike some sīrahbooks available in the market, which – despite some excellent content – are commonly discredited due to their poor grammatical constructions, imprecise translations, archaic prose, sophomoric transliteration, or simply the use of flimsy paper that allows text to bleed through to the other side, Revelationensures that no reader will superficially dismiss it on the basis of appearance alone. 

Once the curious reader opens the textbook to grade it on the basis of its actual substance, however, some serious limitations of the work begin to emerge. The graphics, timelines, glossaries, and quality printing become quickly and regrettably obscured by a paucity of sources, a careless narrative, an excessive poetic license, and a general reductionistic historical revisionism, amongst a laundry list of other issues. 

Of course, there is little reason to doubt the noble and sincere intentions of the author, who despite admitted academic limitations, goes to great pains to present readers with a biography that reflects his appreciation of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) while also appearing to be a critical and reflective narrative. Our intention in writing this review is not to place doubt on the author’s aims or motives. It is simply an attempt to bring to light some of the book’s shortcomings, be they obvious or subtle, so that readers may be equipped to read it with a critical eye. Our hope is that despite the work’s historical and methodological failings, readers will learn to appreciate its limitations while still taking advantage of the book’s noteworthy contributions, and that the author will benefit from the suggestions of this review – as harsh or extensive as they may seem – in producing future editions. 

Method of Critique

In this critique, we attempt to address some of the key issues of methodology and sources in the work under separate headings and with only a few examples from the text for each. Should it be requested or required, a future, more exhaustive corrigendum may be provided with a more detailed, systematic inventory of errors arranged in order of their appearance in the book. For the time being, we suffice with four main headings – poverty of sources, reductionist historical revisionism and cultural presentism, factual inaccuracies, and poetic license. We have not intended, by any means, to exhaustively list the book’s failings. We have also chosen not to focus on typographical or spelling errors, transliteration issues, or other minor points in this review. However, in some instances, when it is useful for the reader to address smaller matters, we have done so. A case in point is the author’s choice to exclude Arabic text in the book so that the reader “will not have to treat it with ceremonial care”, despite the cover of the book being adorned with a beautiful calligraphic print of the Prophet Muḥammad’s name (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), which even if not a verse of the Qurʾān, demands a certain degree of veneration and ceremonial care. 

Due to this ill-equipped reviewer’s own academic limitations and owing to the urgency with which this review was prepared, I am certainly under no illusion that my critique has sufficiently or comprehensively addressed the book’s flaws, nor that every particular assessment is accurate. It is my sincere hope that any mistakes found in this review will be rectified in the future, with help from the reader, for the general benefit.

Poverty of Sources

One of the more pivotal shortcomings of Dr. Mohiuddin’s Revelationis immediately obvious from the author’s introduction. Admitting a lack of expertise, the author laudably concedes to being “neither an Islamic scholar nor an amateur historian” and later admits to his “unfamiliarity with seventh-century Arabian customs” and an “unsophisticated understanding of tribal history and politics”. The self-admission helps to explain the author’s paucity of references and inattention to Arabic primary sources for the construction and verification of his narrative, due to which any original contribution to the sīrah genre of literature in terms of substantive research is minimal, perhaps even negligible. Omitting the visual aids and the multitude of overlong verbatim quotations, the actual body content of the book lacks much of the substance that is found in easily-available sīrah books in the market today. 

Many of these books, despite their own imperfections, could have tremendously benefited the author in compiling his narrative. Some are translations of Arabic primary source documents, like Alfred Guillaume’s reconstructed translation of the second-century historian Muḥammad b. Iṣḥāq’s (d. 159/770) maghāzīwork, and are indispensable to any writer limited to English-language sources (See Ibn Isḥāq, Muḥammad. The Life of Muḥammad: A Translation of Ibn Isḥāq‘s Sīrat Rasūl Allāh. Translated with introduction and notes by Alfred Guillaume. London and Karachi, 1955. See also Dr. ‘Abdul Latif Tibawi’s important critical review: The Life of Muhammad: A Critique of Guillaume’s English Translationin Tibawi, A. L., Arabic and Islamic Themes: Historical, Educational and Literacy Studies, London: Luzac, 1976, 25-52). For priceless descriptions of the Messenger of Allah’s (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) names, character, habits, miracles, and physical countenance, Mohiuddin could have used Aisha Bewley’s translation of Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ al-Yaḥṣūbī’s (554/1149) Kitāb al-Shifāʾ(‘Iyāḍ, al-Qāḍī. Muhammad, Messenger of Allah, Ash-Shifa of Qadi ‘Iyad. Translated by Aisha Bewley. Madinah Press, January 1, 2006) or Darussalam’s translation of the abridged Zād al-Maʿād (al-Jawziyyah, Ibn Qayyim. Provisions for the Hereafter. Summarized by Imam Muhammad b. Abdul Wahhab At-Tamimi. Darussalam) 

Similarly missing is Trevor Gassick’s translation of Ibn Kathīr’s (774/1373) celebrated and critical sīrah volume (Ibn Kathīr.The Life of the Prophet Muhammad. Translated by Trevor Le Gassick and reviewed by Dr. Ahmed Fareed. Garnet Publishing, September 1, 2000), the indispensable historiographical discussions in Shiblī al-Nuʿmānī’s Sīrat al-Nabī(Al-Nu‘mānī, al-Shibli. Sirat-un- Nabi. Translated by M. Tayyib Bakhsh Budayūnī. Idarah-i Adabiyat-i Delhi, reprinted in 1983) or Idrīs al-Kandhalwī’s critical hadith examinations in his Sīrat al-Muṣṭafā(Kandehlawī, Idrīs. Siratul Mustafa. Translated by Mufti Muhammed Kadwa. 3 vols. Zam Zam Publishers, January 1, 2011), as well as Abū-l-Ḥasan ʿAlī al-Nadwī’s (d. 1999) invaluable cultural and socio-political comments in hisal-Sīrat al-Nabawiyyah(al-Nadwī, Abu al-Ḥasan. Prophet of Mercy. Translated by Dr. Mohiuddin Ahmad. Turath Publishing, 2014). 

Given that the author expresses interest in the extraction of meanings and lessons from the historical narrative, the omission of Muḥammad Saʿīd Ramaḍān al-Būṭī’s or Muḥammad al-Ghazālī’s respective Fiqh al-Sīrahbooks is puzzling (al-Būṭī, M. Sa‘īd Ramaḍān. The Jurisprudence of the Prophetic Biography. Translated by Nancy Roberts and revised by Anas al-Rifā‘ī. Dār al-Fikr, January 1 2006; al-Ghazālī, Muḥammad. Fiqh-us-Seerah, Understanding the Life of the Prophet Muhammad. International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations and distributed by International Islamic Publishing House, revised second edition 1420/1999), just as is the exclusion of the 3-volume English translation of ʿAlī Muḥammad al-Ṣallābī’s al-Sīrat al-Nabawiyyah(as-Sallaabee, ‘Ali Muhammad. Noble Life of the Prophet. Translated by Faisal Shafeeq. Dar-us-Salam Publications, October 1, 2005) or Dr. Muḥammad Ḥamīdullah’s The Life and Work of the Prophet of Islam(Hamidullah, Muhammad. The Life and Work of The Prophet of Islam. Translated by Mahmood Ahmed Ghazi. Adam Publishers, January 1, 1998). 

As a result, the reader is left with, besides al-Mubārakpūrī and Lings, an unhealthy reliance on extractions from a handful of controversial figures and questionable authorities like Montgomery Watt, Reza Aslan, and Karen Armstrong. Without any direct reference to the ḥadīthmaghāzī, or shamāʾīlcollections of the critical ḥadīth scholars, like al-Bukhārī, Muslim, Abū Dāwūd, al-Tirmidhī, or al-Nasāʾī (whose canonical texts have long been translated into the English language) or their encyclopedic commentaries, readers are forced to rely on a slew of such secondary or tertiary sources and their wide array of fantastical imaginations born out of dated, reductionist attitudes. A simple internet search for critical reviews of Martin Lings or Montgomery Watt’s works (see for example, G. F. Haddad’s A Critical Reading of Lings’ Muhammador Muhammad Mohar Ali’s The Biography of the Prophet and the Orientalists with Special Reference to the Writings of William Muir, D. S. Margoliouth and W. Montgomery Watt) helps bring to light some of most glaring problems in Mohiuddin’s quotations: secular/materialistic reductionism, misinterpretation of socio-economic context, chronological snobbery, poetic license, and factual inaccuracy. 

As for other Mohiuddin’s other sources, Hamza Yusuf’s lecture notes are indeed valuable (even if not from a written or early source, or even necessarily original), as are most of the Tariq Ramadan’s reflections. From the journalist Adil Salahi the author actually takes very little, and the lengthiest selections he quotes from him are from Salahi’s most controversial and poorly-researched revisionist positions, foremost amongst them the issue of the age of ʿĀʾishah (may Allah be pleased with her).

It is entirely possible that this reviewer simply had too high of an expectation from the book from the onset, an expectation fed by the outstanding quality of print and the long list of endorsements. Yet, one cannot but imagine how many of the failings this review highlights could have been easily avoided had the author simply accessed the vast treasure of historical data available in the original, Arabic source material (or at least had his work thoroughly reviewed by a critical Islamic scholar or two trained in the use of such sources). To demonstrate how limiting Mohiuddin’s list of sources truly is – or for that matter any sīrah book composed using only non-Arabic sources – we have compiled a list of some published, accessible Arabic books on sīrah today, some of which span 14 volumes or more (and have chosen to leave out hundreds of other works from various sub-genres of historical literature, including the innumerable ḥadīth collections which would take too much space and time to add and some of which are published in over 50 volumes):

  1. Ibn Isḥāq, Muḥʾ wa-l-Mabʿath wa al-Maghāzī. (recensions and portions of which are published in Ibn Hishām, al-Ṭabarī, and others)
  2. Ibn Hishām, Abū Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Malik. Tahdhīb al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. Ed. Muḥammad Khalīl Harās. Cairo: Maktabat al-Jumhūriyyah, 1389.
  3. Ibn Ḥibbān, Abū Ḥātim Muḥammad. al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah wa Akhbār al-Khulafāʾ. Ed. ʿAbd al-Salām ʿAlūsh. al-Maktab al-Islāmī.
  4. al-Qayrawānī, ʿAbd Allah b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān. al-Jāmiʿ fī-l-Sunan wa-l-Ādāb wa-l-Maghāzī. Ed. ‘Abd al-Majīd Turkī. Dār al-Gharb al-Islāmī.
  5. Al-Rāzī, Abū Zakariyyā Aḥmad b. Fāris. Awjaz al-Siyar li Khayr al-Bashr. Ed. Muḥammad Maḥmūd Ḥamdān. Dār al-Bashr.
  6. al-Andulusī, Abū Muḥammad ʿAlī b. Aḥmad b. Saʿīd b. Ḥazm. Jawāmiʿ al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. Ed. Dr. Iḥsān ʿAbbās and Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Asad and reviewed by Aḥmad Shākir. Egypt: Dār al-Maʿārif.
  7. al-Namirī, Abū ʿUmar Yūsuf b. ʿAbd Allah b. Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Barr. al-Durar fī-l-Maghāzī wa-l-Siyar. Ed. Dr. Shawqī Ḍayf. Cairo: Dār al-Maʿārif.
  8. al-Qurashī, Abū al-Qāsim Ismāʿīl b. Muḥammad. al-Mabʿath wa-l-Maghāzī. Muḥammad b. Khalīfah al-Rabbāḥ. Beirut: Dār Ibn Ḥazm.
  9. al-Suhaylī, Abū-l-Qāsim ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿAbd Allah. al-Rawḍ al-Unf. Ed. ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-Salām al-Salāmī. Beirut: Dār Iḥyāʾ al-Turāth al-ʿArabī, 1421.
  10. al-Maqdisī, Abū Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Ghanī b. ʿAbd al-Wāḥid. Mukhtaṣar Sīrat al-Nabī Ṣallā Allāhu ʿAlayhi wa Sallam. Ed. Khālid b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Shāyiʿ.
  11. Ibn Abī Rukab, Abū Dharr Muṣʿab b. Abī Bakr. Sharḥ Tahdhīb al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. Egypt: 1329.
  12. Muḥibb al-Dīn al-Ṭabarī, Abū-l-ʿAbbās Aḥmad b. ʿAbd Allah. Khulāṣat Siyar Sayyid al-Bashar.Ed. Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Ghaffār Khān. Hyderabad, India: al-Jāmiʿah al-ʿUthmāniyyah (academic treatise) 1991, then published by Dāʾirat al-Maʿārif al-ʿUthmāniyyah, 2005/1426.
  13. al-Dimyāṭī, Abū Muḥammad Sharaf al-Dīn ʿAbd al-Muʾmin b. Khalaf. al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah.Ed. Asʿad Muḥammad al-Ṭayyib. Aleppo, Syria: Dār al-Ṣābūnī, 1416.
  14. al-Kinānī, Badr al-Dīn Abū ʿAbd Allah Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm. al-Mukhtaṣar al-Ṣaghīr fī Sīrat al-Bashīr wa-l-Nadhīr. Muḥammad Kamāl al-Dīn ʿIzz al-Dīn. ʿĀlam al-Kutub.
  15. al-Kinānī, ʿIzz al-Dīn b. Badr al-Dīn Abū ʿAbd Allah Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm Ibn Jamāʿṣar al-Kabīr fī Sīrat al-Rasūl Ṣallā Allāhu ʿalayhu wa Sallam. Sāmī Makkī al-ʿĀnī. al-Bashīr.
  16. Abū-l-Fatḥ, Fatḥ al-Dīn Muḥammad b. Muḥammad. ʿUyūn al-Athar fī Funūn al-Maghāzī wa-l-Shamāʾil wa-l-Siyar. Ed. Ibrāhīm Muḥammad Ramaḍān. Beirut: Dār al-Qalam.
  17. Abū-l-Fatḥ, Fatḥ al-Dīn Muḥammad b. Muḥammad. Nūr al-ʿUyūn fī Talkhīṣ Sīrat al-Amīn al-Maʾmūn. Ed. Sulaymān Ḥarsh. Dār al-Nawādir.
  18. Quṭb al-Dīn, Abū ʿAlī ʿAbd al-Karīm b. ʿAbd al-Nūr. al-Mawrid al-ʿAdhb al-Hanī fī-l-Kalām ʿalā al-Sīrah li-l-Ḥāfiẓ ʿAbd al-Ghanī. Ed. Nūr al-Dīn Ṭālib. Dār al-Nawādir.
  19. al-Dhahabī, Shams al-Dīn ʿAbū ʿAbd Allah Muḥammad b. Aḥmad. Mukhtaṣar al-Rawḍ al-Unf al-Bāsim fī al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah al-Sharīfah. Ed. Dr. ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Ḥarfūsh. Damascus: Dār al-Bashāʾir al-Islāmiyyah, 1426.
  20. ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn Mughlaṭāʾī, b. Qalīj b. ʿAbd Allah. al-Ishārah ilā Sīrat al-Muṣṭafā Ṣallā Allāhū ʿalayh wa Sallam. Ed. Muḥammad Niẓām al-Dīn al-Fatīh. al-Qalam, Dār al-Shāmiyyah.
  21. ʿAlāʿ al-Dīn Mughlaṭāʾī, b. Qalīj b. ʿAbd Allah. al-Zahr al-Bāsim fī Sīrat Abī-l-Qāsim. Ed. Aḥsan Aḥmad ʿAbd al-Shakūr. Riyadh: Dār al-Salām.
  22. Ibn Kathīr, Abū-l-Fidāʾ Ismāʿīl b. ʿUmar. al-Fuṣūl fī Sīrat al-Rasūl Ṣallā Allāhu ʿalayhi wa Sallam. Ed. ʿAbd Allah b. ʿAbd al-Muḥsin al-Turkī. Cairo: Dār Hijr.
  23. Badr al-Dīn, Abū Muḥammad al-Ḥasan b. ʿUmar. al-Muqtafā min Sirah al-Muṣṭafā. Ed. Dr. Muṣṭafā Muḥammad Ḥusayn al-Dhahabī. Cairo: Dār al-Ḥadīth, 1416.
  24. al-Fayrawzabādī, Majd al-Dīn Muḥammad b. Yaʿqūb. Sifr al-Saʿādah. Aḥmad Muṣṭafā al-Ṭahṭāwī. Dār al-Faḍīlah, 2004.
  25. Sibṭ Ibn al-ʿAjamī, Burhān al-Dīn Abū-l-Wafāʾ Ibrāhīm b. Muḥammad. Nūr al-Nibrās ʿalā Sīrat Ibn Sayyid al-Nās. Ed. by a team under the supervision of Nūr al-Dīn al-Ṭālib. Dār al-Nawādir.
  26. al-Maqrīzī, Taqī al-Dīn Abū al-ʿAbbās Aḥmad b. ʿAlī. Imtāʿ al-Asmāʾ bimā li-l-Rasūl min al-Anbāʾ wa-l-Amwāl wa-l-Ḥafadah wa-l-Matāʿ. Ed. Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd al-Namīsī. Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyyah.
  27. al-Yamānī, Abū Zakariyyā Yaḥyā b. Abī Bakr. Bahjat al-Maḥāfil wa Baghyat al-Amāthil fī Talkhīṣ al-Siyar wa-l-Muʿjizāt wa-l-Masāʾil. Ed. Anwar b. Abī al-Shaykhī al-Dāghistānī. Jeddah: Dār al-Minhāj, 1430.
  28. Zayn al-Dīn, ʿAbd al-Bāsiṭ b. Khalīl. Ghāyat al-Sūl fī Sīrat al-Rasūl. Ed. Muḥammad Kamāl al-Dīn ʿIzz al-Dīn ʿAlī. Beirut: ʿĀlam al-Kutub.
  29. al-Qasṭallānī, Abū-l-ʿAbbās Aḥmad b. Muḥammad. al-Mawāhib al-Ladunniyyah bi-l-Minaḥ al-Muḥammadiyyah. Ed. Ṣāliḥ b. Aḥmad al-Shāmī. al-Maktab al-Islāmī.
  30. Baḥraq, Muḥammad b. ‘Umar. Ḥadāʾiq al-Anwār wa Maṭāliʿ al-Asrār fī Sīrah al-Nabī al-Mukhtār. Ed. Muḥammad Ghassān Naṣūḥ ʿAzqūl. Jeddah: Dār al-Minhāj.
  31. al-Shāmī, Muḥammad b. Yūsuf. Subul al-Hudā wa-l-Rashād fī Sīrat Khayr al-ʿIbād. Ed. by a group of researchers. Cairo: al-Majlis al-Aʿlā li-l-Shuʾūn al-Islāmiyyah bi Miṣr, 1418.
  32. Ibn Burhān al-Dīn al-Ḥalabī, Abū-l-Faraj ʿAlī b. Ibrāhīm. Insān al-‘Uyūn fī Sīrat al-Amīn al-Maʾmūn. Dār al-Nawādir.
  33. al-Zurqānī, Abū ʿAbd Allah Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Bāqī. Sharḥ al-Mawāhib al-Ladunniyyah li-l-Qasṭallānī. Ed. Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Khālidī. Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyyah.
  34. al-Tamīmī, Abū Sulaymān ʿAbd Allah b. Muḥammad. Mukhtaṣar Sīrat al-Nabī Ṣallā Allāhu ʿalayhi wa Sallam. Ed. Quṣayy Muḥibb al-Dīn al-Khaṭīb. al-Maktabah al-Salafiyyah, 1397.
  35. Daḥlān, Aḥmad b. Zaynī. al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah wa-l-Āthār al-Muḥammadiyyah. Dār al-Nawādir, 2013.
  36. al-Banjāwī, Muḥammad b. Hārūn. Mulakhkhaṣ al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. Beirut: al-Maktabah al-Thaqāfiyyah.
  37. Jamāl al-dīn, Muḥammad b. Muḥammad. Shadhrah min al-Sīrah al-Muḥammadiyyah. Cairo: Maṭbaʿat al-Manār, 1321.
  38. al-Khuḍrī Bak, Muḥammad b. ʿAfīf. Nūr al-Yaqīn fī Sīrat Sayyid al-Mursalīn Ṣallā Allāhu ʿalayhi wa Sallam. Ed. ʿAbduh ʿAlī Kushk. Dār al-Bashāʾir al-Islāmiyyah.
  39. Riḍā, Muḥammad Rashīd. Khulāṣat al-Sīrah al-Muḥammadiyyah wa Ḥaqīqat al-Daʿwah al-Islāmiyyah. Cairo: Maṭbaʿat al-Manār, 1353.
  40. al-Ṭabbākh, Muḥammad Rāghib b. Maḥmūd. al-Fatḥ al-Mubīn ʿAlā Nūr al-Yaqīn fī Sīrat Sayyid al-Mursalīn Ṣallā Allāhu ʿalayhi wa Sallam.
  41. al-Banjāwī, ʿAbd al-Salām Hārūn. Tahdhīb Sīrat Ibn Hishām. Kuwait: Dār al-Buḥūth with Muʾassasat al-Risālah in Beirut, 1408.
  42. al-Miṣrī, Muḥammad al-Ghazālī. Fiqh al-Sīrah. With the takhrīj of al-Albānī. 6th ed. Egypt: Dār al-Kutub al-Ḥadīthah, 1965.
  43. al-Albānī, Muḥammad Nāṣir al-Dīn. Ṣaḥīḥ al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. Oman: al-Maktabah al-Islāmiyyah.
  44. al-Junaynī, Ibrāhīm b. Muḥammad. Ṣaḥīḥ al-Sīrat al-Nabawiyyah. Introduction and chapter arrangement by Dr. ʿUmar b. Sulayman al-Ashqar. Oman: Dār al-Nafāʾis.
  45. al-Mubārakpūrī, Ṣafī al-Raḥmān. al-Raḥīq al-Makhtūm. Dār Ibn al-Jawzī.
  46. al-Mubārakpūrī, Ṣafī al-Raḥmān. Rawḍat al-Anwār fī Sīrat al-Nabī al-Mukhtār. Saudi Arabia: Wizārat al-Shuʾūn al-Islāmiyyah.
  47. al-Jazāʾirī, Abū Bakr Jābir. Hadhā al-Ḥabīb Muḥammad Ṣallā Allāhu ʿalayhi wa Sallam Yā Muḥibb. Madinah: Maktabat al-ʿUlūm wa-l-Ḥikam.
  48. al-ʿUmrī, Akram Ḍiyāʾ. al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah al-Ṣaḥīḥah.
  49. Mahdī, Rizq Allah Aḥmad. al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah fī Ḍawʾ al-Maṣādir al-Aṣliyyah. Dār Imām al-Daʿwah.
  50. Mahdī, Rizq Allah Aḥmad. Ṣafwat al-Sīrat al-Nabawiyyah fī Sīrat Khayr al-Bariyyah Ṣallā Allāhu ʿalayh wa Sallam. Riyadh: Wizārat al-Shuʾūn al-Islāmiyyah wa-l-Awqāf wa-l-Daʿwah wa-l-Irshād.

Some of the works from the maghāzīgenre of prophetic biography that are published and available today:

  1. Maghāzī ʿUrwat b. al-Zubayr. Published by Nabīhah ʿAbūd. Chicago: al-Bardiyyāt al-ʿArabiyyah, 1378.
  2. Maghāzī Wahb b. Munabbih al-Ṣanʿānī. Published by Nabīhah ʿAbūd. Heidelberg, Germany.
  3. Maghāzī Maʿmar b. Rāshid al-Azdī. Published by Nabīhah Maʿbūd. 1378.
  4. al-Wāqidī, Muḥammad b. ʿUmar. Maghāzī al-Wāqidī. Ed. Ṣabāḥ Muṣṭafā Aḥmad al-Ḥashshāsh. Cairo: 1424.
  5. Ibn Abī Shaybah, Abū Bakr ‘Abd Allah b. Muḥammad. al-Maghāzī. Ed. Dr. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz b. Ibrāhīm al-ʿUmurī. Dār Ishbīliyā.
  6. al-Andulusī, Abū Marwān ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb. al-Maghāzī. Ed. Khūrkhī Ajwādī. Madrid: 1411.
  7. Ibn Qāḍī Shuhbah, Taqī al-Dīn Abū Bakr b. Aḥmad. Aḥādīth Muntakhabah min Maghāzī Mūsā b. ʿUqbah. Ed. Mashhūr b. Ḥasan Āl Salmān. Muʾassasat al-Rayyān.
  8. al-Qurashī, Abū-l-Qāsim Ismā‘īl b. Muḥammad. al-Mabʿath wa-l-Maghāzī. Ed. Muḥammad b. Khalīfah al-Rabāḥ. Beirut: Dār Ibn Ḥazm.
  9. al-Andulusī, Abū al-Rabīʿ Sulaymān b. Mūsā. al-Iktifāʾ fī Maghāzī Rasūl Allāh wa-l-Thalāthah al-Khulafāʾ.

Reductionist Historical Revisionism and Cultural Presentism

The problem of the paucity of Revelation’ssource material is exacerbated by the author’s relatively injudicious selection of complimentary sources. The regular and uncritical extractions from Montgomery Watt, Karen Armstrong, Reza Aslan, Adil Salahi, and Martin Lings results in, among other things, an overall presentation of the prophetic biography with some fairly obvious cognitive biases: reductionism, presentism, chronological snobbery, etc… By reductionism, we are referring to the general unwillingness of some of the above authors to consider spiritual or religious factors in their historical explanations. By presentism, or “the fallacy of nunc pro tunc”,  we are referring to the problem in their historical analysis of an anachronistic projection of present-day ideas and perspectives onto the past, while chronological snobbery is a reference to the often subconscious presumption that the thinking, art, or science of an earlier time is inherently inferior to that of the present. These cognitive and cultural biases are particularly replete in the Watt, Aslan, and Armstrong excerpts, together which present an overall misleading view of the Prophet’s life (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and his motives rather than what the author alleges is objective and critical historical context.  

About Montgomery Watt in particular, Fred Donner, professor of Near Eastern History at the University of Chicago, notes how important it is to view his contributions to the prophetic biography as a product of their time. He states:

“The social sciences, after a period of gestation in the first half of the twentieth century, became in the years following World War II the regnant academic disciplines in much of the Western academy (and outside it, in the arena of policy formation). Watt’s work, like that of everyone else in that time, reflects this. His interpretation of Muḥammad’s life, for example, focuses on the economic and social tensions that, he argued, had developed in Meccan society because of the nascent inequality produced by the burgeoning commerce of Mecca. He spoke of the demise— under the corrosive effect of the growing rift between rich and poor – of what he called “tribal humanism,” the ethos of mutual responsibility according to which members of a tribe shared and looked after each other. Watt saw Muhammad’s teachings as, in part, a response to this essentially socio-economic and, hence, moral dislocation in Meccan society. There was relatively little emphasis on the impact of Muḥammad’s religious ideas as a factor in Islam’s appearance.

Watt’s work on Muḥammad resembled in some respects the earlier work of Hubert Grimme (1864-1942). Grimme had argued that Muḥammad was not a religious preacher, but a social reformer, concerned with succoring orphans and widows, and the poor generally. This view was, however, almost immediately criticized by other scholars, who emphasized the centrality in Muḥammad’s teachings of the idea of God’s oneness and concern with the Last Judgment and the afterlife, concerns that went far beyond merely mundane social issues.

Watt did not deny Muḥammad’s religious role—far from it; indeed, he seems to have accepted that Muḥammad had been sincere in presenting himself as a prophet, and always spoke of Muḥammad in a tone of respect that bordered on reverence. But he did not expend much ink in elaborating how Muḥammad’s religious message contributed to the success of the movement he had begun, nor did he explore very deeply how Muḥammad’s religious message fit into currents of religious thought in the seventh- century Near East. This tepid engagement by Watt with the religious aspects of Muḥammad’s mission was also in keeping with the outlook of the social sciences of his day. Social scientists at that time, and secular-minded historians above all, were uncomfortable talking about religion, and had particular difficulty accepting religion as a factor of historical explanation. So they often engaged in a kind of reductionism when speaking of early Islam, explaining away Islam’s worldly success as being due to something else, searching for what they considered the “real” cause—anything other than religion: the desiccation of Arabia, the lust for booty among Arabian tribesmen, the desire to open new commercial markets, the expression of a presumed “Arab” national feeling, the exhaustion of the two great empires, the social integration brought by Islam that unleashed the latent energy of a hitherto fragmented tribal society (this last one being my own contribution to the reductionist agenda). Watt was swimming in these secular waters too; the secular tone of his work was pronounced enough that the French Islamicist Georges-Henri Bousquet (1900-1978) gave his review of Watt’s Muḥammad at Meccathe wonderfully ironic title “A Marxist interpretation of the origins of Islam by an Episcopal clergyman.”” (Fred Donner, The Study of Islam’s Origins since W. Montgomery Watt’s Publications, paper presented on Friday, November 23, 2015, at the University of Edinburgh)

In fact, Donner is only one of several writers to highlight the biases in Montgomery Watt and other Orientalists’ works. Before him, Dr. Muhammad Mohar Ali (d. 2007), former professor of Islamic History at the University of Madinah and PhD graduate of SOAS, University of London, wrote a multi-volume critical analysis entitled: The Biography of the Prophet and the Orientalists: With Special Reference to the Writings of William Muir, D. S. Margoliouth, and W. Montgomery Watt(See Muhammad Mohar Ali, King Fahad Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an: Madinah, 1417/1997) in which he highlights a long list of instances in which Watt, amongst others, portrays the Prophet’s (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) motives as purely political, tribal, or economic. Zafar Ali Qureshi likewise commits two volumes to convincingly demonstrate that Watt is little better than some of his predecessors in portraying an imaginative prophet of the Orientalist discourse (See Zafar Ali Qureshi, Prophet Muhammad and His Western Critics: A Critique of W. Montgomery Watt and Others, Idāra Maʿārif Islamic, Lahore, 1992, 2 Vols, p. 1103).

The pluralist Reza Aslan’s No god but God, a sloppily researched publication by an often vulgar sensationalist, essentially regurgitates the spurious scholarship of Watt, Muir, and Margoliouth and advances much of their fantastical imaginations on the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). While one can understand the author’s desire for alternative voices and critical scholarship, the belief that Aslan “may represent the voice of a younger generation of Muslims that respect traditional teaching, but have become increasingly unsatisfied with its lack of critical analysis” is deeply problematic. After all, the assumption that traditional teachings lack critical analysis requires first a deep and scholarly engagement with the rich Islamic critical hadith and historical traditions, which neither the author nor Aslan are able to demonstrate. 

Particularly striking is the sheer proportion of Watt and Aslan’s quotes that present the reductionist bias highlighted above: Within the sixty-five occasions in which the author chooses to quote Watt, one may identify at least forty which confirm a reductionist bias (over 61%), and of the forty-two Aslan quotes in the book, at least thirty-one (nearly 74%) exhibit such a bias. In other words, the large majority of the Watt and Aslan quotes the author selects from their books are guilty of reductionist bias, not to mention widespread factual inaccuracy, poetic license, and pejorative language. We provide below a few selections from the book, some being extractions from Watt, Aslan, or Armstrong, and some being the author’s own verbiage, that demonstrate the presence of the aforementioned reductionist bias:

On page 58 the author quotes Aslan: 

“This trade, modest as it may have been, was wholly dependent on the Ka’bah; there was simply no other reason to be in Mecca. This was a desert wasteland that produced nothing. By inextricably linking the religious and economic life in the city, Qusayy and his descendants had developed an innovative religio-economic system that relied on control of the Ka’bah and its pilgrimage rites – rites in which nearly the whole of the Hijaz participated – to guarantee the economic, religious, and political supremacy of a single tribe, the Quraysh.” 

In Aslan’s poorly constructed narrative, the religious life of the Makkans is almost entirely reduced to economic incentives and deliberate manipulation of sacred rites to serve political or economic agendas. Aslan is unabashedly oblivious to the well-established reverence of the Makkan Arabs for sacred rites and the sanctity of the Kaʿbah, as well as the long-standing traditions that testified to their regard for religious custom. 

Similarly problematic is Aslan’s unsubstantiated claim quoted on page 71 that “the Abyssinians tried to destroy the Ka’bah… not because the Ka’bah was a religious threat, but because it was an economic rival.” Even if the two were mutually exclusive motivations, all historical accounts contradict Aslan’s claim of exclusivity. All the historically authenticated accounts we were able to find present Abrahah as a ruler who was primarily and initially motivated in the construction of the al-Qullays cathedral by a desire to appease the Abyssinian Negus and to direct the attention of the Arab pilgrims to the cathedral built in the Negus’s name. And he was motivated in his attack on the Kaʿbah by a fury incited by a man from the Kinānī Arabs who provocatively soiled his cathedral. Ibn Isḥāq and Ibn Hishām both transmit that when Abrahah built his matchless cathedral (al-Qullays) in Ṣanʿā, Yemen, and wrote to the Negus in Abyssinia that “he had built a cathedral of such magnificence whose like had not been built for a ruler before him” and that Abrahah would not rest until he could divert the Arab pilgrimages to it, and when news of Abrahah’s goals reached some of the Arabs, a Kinānī Arab from the tribe of Banū Fuqaym b. ʿAdī b. ʿĀmir b. Thaʿlabah b. al-Ḥārith b. Mālik b. Kinānah set out towards the cathedral in Ṣanʿā and soiled it and then returned to his lands. Upon learning of the incident, Abrahah took an oath to march upon the Kaʿbah and raze it to the ground. (Ibn Hishām, al-Sīrat al-Nabawiyyahpg. 50-54)

On the very same page (71) one will also find Watt’s imaginative claim that ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib’s negotiations with Abrahah “ought to be interpreted as a party move of a small group of Quraysh” and that “‘Abd al-Muttalib was presumably trying to get support from the Abyssinians against his rivals among Quraysh, such as the clans of ‘Abd Shams, Nawfal, and Makhzum”. Watt’s assertion here is neither explicitly nor implicitly supported by any historical evidence. It disappointingly reduces the role of morality and religio-ethical motivations in ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib’s narrative, replacing them instead with purely political or economic ones. 

Only a few pages later (pg. 74) Aslan is quoted as stating that “the nomadic lifestyle is one that requires a religion to address immediate concerns. Which god can lead us to water? Which god can heal our illnesses?”, which in light of Aslan’s larger reductionist lens appears to suggest that theological realizations were little more than a result of immediate, mundane, and secular concerns, not intellectual reflection and spiritual introspection. Aslan’s chronological snobbery, a term coined by C.S. Lewis and Owen Barfield to describe the cognitive bias that pre-modern thinking and learning must be inherently inferior simply by virtue of its temporal priority, grants little credit to the nomadic intellect and the clarity of bedouin wisdom, such as is demonstrated in the well-transmitted statement of a bedouin Arab: “If camel dung gives evidence of a camel, and footsteps give evidence of a traveler, does not the overshadowing night, the tranquil day, and the sky full of constellations give evidence of (the existence of) the All-Knowing Creator?” (al-Jāḥiẓ, al-Bayān wa-l-Tabyīn1:163)

This sort of reductionist historical revisionism is also apparent in Watt’s denial of altruism in the Pact of Chivalry on page 80, his overemphasis of economic factors on page 98 (as well as the author’s own overemphasis of social justice motivations on the same page), Karen Armstrong’s reductionist focus on concerns about the aggressive market economy and social reform instead of theology and morality on pages 93, 100, and 103, etc… On page 103, in fact, Armstrong’s reductionism is coupled by an odd, indefensible error. She states, “In his desire to avoid a serious dispute, Muhammad did not, at this stage, emphasize the monotheistic content of his message… It was more important to practice the ‘works of justice’ than to insist on a theological position that would offend many of the people he was trying to win over.” It should be clear to any reader – be they expert or amateur – of the sīrah literature that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) undoubtedly emphasized monotheism in the early stage of his prophethood regardless of who it offended from amongst those who were dear to him. He was not simply advocating sweeping social reform. From the very first public statements the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) made was the unequivocal and emphatic claim that he (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) is the one God’s messenger and that he was sent to warn his people of the Last Day. Clearly, these were theological positions that he realized would offend many of the people he was trying to win over (the Messenger of Allah’s encounter with Waraqah immediately after prophethood is also sufficient proof that he was aware that his proselytizing would offend his fellow Makkans to the extent that it would eventually lead to his expulsion from Makkah).

The author likewise quotes Watt’s bizarre claim that “Muhammad’s original message was not a criticism of paganism. It appears to be directed to people who already had a vague belief in God, and to aim at making this belief of theirs more precise by calling attention to particular events and natural processes in which God’s agency was to be seen…” He then adds, “What, then, is the point of the Qur’an’s insistence on God’s goodness and power? Against whom is it directed? It is directed against the materialism of the Meccan merchants who thought that, because of their wealth and influence, they were little gods, disposing of Meccan commerce and politics as they pleased.” How is one to understand such a claim when faced with clear and incontrovertible evidence from the Qurʾān’s earliest verses indicating that the original message of Muḥamad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) no doubt emphasized rejection of paganism and provided critique of it in remarkable detail? Of course, if one were to identify all the passages in which Watt’s reduction of motivations to the socio-economic and material is on full display, this review would become detailed beyond readability (for just a few more examples, see pages 112, 115, 141, and 186).

Aslan’s imaginative reductionism is also replete throughout his quoted passages, as demonstrated in the several examples provided above. Below are some more egregious examples: On page 115, Aslan seems to imply that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) intentionally directed an attack on the status of the Kaʿbah in order to overturn the religio-economic system. Not only is the claim categorically false, to my knowledge their appears to be no historical evidence to indicate that the Makkans perceived the Prophet’s call to monotheism as a necessary attack on the sanctity or status of the Kaʿbah. On page 117, Aslan repeats his unsubstantiated claim that the Messenger of Allah’s (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) initial concern was not with how many gods there were but with revealing what kind of god Allah was. Aslan appears to struggle with the idea that part of the Prophet’s revealing what kind of god Allah is necessitated a focus on His oneness. To instead focus on the “more urgent message” of abolishing false contracts and the practice of usury is also to ignore the clear and simple historical fact that usury was prohibited only much later in the late Madinan period. 

Below are a few more examples of reductionist historical revisionism evident in the passages quoted by Mohiuddin: 

  • Armstrong (pg. 134) claiming that “Muhammad had no quarrel with the beliefs of Abu l-Hakam [Abu Jahl] or Abu Sufyan. In fact, much of their theology was quite correct…”
  • Armstrong (pg. 139): “This new religion was not about achieving metaphysical certainty: the Qur’an wanted people to develop a different kind of awareness.” The fallacy of both statements is quite apparent.
  • Watt (pg. 141): “The situation which confronted Muhammad was a malaise which had social, economic, political, and intellectual symptoms. His message was essentially religious in that it attempted to remedy the underlying religious causes of the malaise, but it affected the other aspects, and consequently the opposition had many facets”, in addition to, “He [Muhammad] doubtless accepted the Qur’anic view that he was only a warner, and sought for no more than a religious function….” Both quotes demonstrate that Watt is unable to comprehend the larger political, social, and economic message in revelation, both early and later revelation. The second passage makes it appear as if the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, initially sought no political position but later realizes that secular leadership was necessary to carry forward the word of God, hence his push to conquer Makkah. Of course, the injunction to conquer Makkah and the Prophet’s eventual establishment as a social, political, and economic leader can not, in Watt’s eyes, itself be a result of God’s revelation and divine injunction.
  • Watt (pg. 175): “Muhammad’s reasons for thus waiting until the majority had reached Medina were probably to ensure that waverers did not abandon the enterprise and to make it certain the he would be in a strong and independent position when he reached Medina and would not have to rely solely on the support on the Medinan Muslims.” Clearly, this conjectural statement is but a reflection of Watt’s general reductionist commitment.
  • Armstrong (pg. 308): “Muhammad had never planned to overthrow the Quraysh but had simply wanted to reform the social system, which, he was convinced, would bring the city to ruin.” In light of Armstrong’s general narrative, it may be tolerably assumed that by “ruin” she refers to worldly ruin, whereas the Prophet’s (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) concerns for the Makkans and mankind in general extended far beyond worldly social reform or economic and political ruin. Instead, his concern was primarily focused on their ruin in the next life and their failure in the eyes of Allah.

With such an abundance of choice quotations in which this sort of reductionist historical revisionism is evident in Dr. Mohiuddin’s book, it should not be surprising that such revisionism is also evident in the author’s own narrative. On page 106, for example, Mohiuddin appears to imply that the only things that troubled the prophet Muḥammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) in his 30’s was personal aggrandizement, wealth inequality, and social injustice, not polytheism, immorality, rejection of an afterlife, etc… On page 114, a similar uncorroborated focus on the problem of wealth inequality in Makkah leads into the problematic Watt and Aslan quotes on the following page. On page 110, the author exclusively mentions the Prophet’s charisma and determination in discussing his influence on “a number of ambivalent Meccans”, failing to identify the profound effect of the Qurʾān’s inimitable message, the appeal of Islam’s unadulterated monotheism, and the Prophet’s unparalleled honesty and good character, amongst other factors. For the sake of relative brevity we will suffice with the above examples. Otherwise, the curious critical reader will find more examples on the following pages (Aslan 67, Aslan 93, Armstrong 132, Watt 155, 168, 169, Aslan 187, Aslan 189,Watt 190,  Watt 205, Watt 206, Watt 207, Watt 238, Watt 263, Watt 291, and Watt 292) 

Factual Inaccuracies

A standard practice in the world of academic writing is peer (and often blind) review. Given the author’s self-admitted lack of expertise in the field of history and the Islamic sciences, it is not unreasonable to have expected him to have commissioned a review to be performed not only by peers but more importantly by a group of experts. To the reader’s great misfortune, however, it appears that the involvement of traditionally-trained and qualified Islamic scholarship in the Revelationproject was more or less limited to a list of endorsements and testimonials. Had some of the project funding been spent on a thorough expert review, it is possible that many of the factual inaccuracies and exaggerations could have been identified before publication. Admittedly, many of these errors are relatively minor. Others, however, are quite remarkable and require more attention in this review.

From the long list of comparatively minor errors is the author’s assertion on page 47 that Ibrāhīm (upon him be peace) “was born into a family of staunch polytheists”. Although it is established that his father, Āzar (also known as Tārikh amongst other names), was a committed polytheist (as opposed to those minority of scholars who posit that Āzar was in fact his uncle), little is known about the faith of his family elders other than that of his father. Although it was certainly the norm in Ibrāhīm’s (upon him be peace) time for people to have worshipped stone or wood idols, celestial bodies, or political leaders, we don’t know enough about his entire extended family to be able to make a categorical judgment on their beliefs. 

Another minor error occurs on page 71 on which the name the author gives to the “grand cathedral in Sana’a” is the “Yemeni Al-Ka’bah”, which is not only a grammatically incorrect construction but also deviates from the name given in the early sīrah literature: “Qullays”. (See Ibn Hishām, al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyahpg. 49; Mughulṭāʾī, al-Zahr al-Bāsim1:198-200. Although Mughulṭāʾī also quotes al-Qasṭāllī as providing the alternate spellings Qulays and Qalīs; See also al-Shihāb, al-Ḥāṣhiyah ʿalā Tafsīr al-Bayḍāwī oʿInāyat al-Qāḍī wa Kifāyat al-Rāḍī 9:567 sub Sūrat al-Fīl)

Transliteration inconsistencies and spelling errors are also relatively minor issues despite their frequency in the work. A thorough scholarly edit would likely have resolved these problems. For example, Medina al-Munawwarah should be al-Madīnah al-Munawwarah or al-Medina al-Munawwarah with the particle “al” before Medina to avoid confusing the ṣifahconstruction with the iḍāfahconstruction (pg. 59). On page 78, Ḥarb al-Fijār is misspelled as Harb al-Hijar. On page 198, “Umm Makhtum” should be “Umm Maktūm”.  On page 295, “ghayr” is improperly spelled and should instead read “ghayra” or “ghayrah”. … etc…

A scholarly edit by a properly-trained historian/ḥadith expert would also have helped the author identify the strength – or lack thereof – of many of the narrations he relies upon to construct his narrative. For example, the narrations of Ṭabaqāt Ibn Saʿdthat indicate that Muḥammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) learned how to swim and fly kites in Yathrib include the narrator Muḥammad b. ʿUmar al-Wāqidī, whose historical reports are considered highly suspicious by investigative hadith scholars who would view this narration, in its uncorroborated form, as unreliable at best and fabricated at worst.

Some potentially more significant errors include Mohiuddin’s incorrect identification of “belief in black magic” as a pagan superstition on page 64. Likely the author intended the “practiceof black magic” since belief in siḥr, often understood to be encompassing of what is often referred to today as black or dark magic, as real and effectual is neither antithetical to Islam nor Judaism. (See Sūrat al-Falaq 4 and its exegesis for Qurʾānic evidence of the reality of magic; See also Kitāb al-Furūq4:149 in which Imam al-Qarāfī categorically declares that indeed “magic has a reality, and the one affected by magic may die (of it), or at least his nature or habits may change (as a result of it) even if he does not come into direct contact (with the sorcerer), and this is the position of al-Shāfiʿī and (Aḥmad) Ibn Ḥanbal.”

On the same page the author quotes a fanciful and unsubstantiated claim of Reza Aslan that “the origin myths of the Ka‘bah indicate that it was a Semitic sanctuary with its roots dug deeply in Jewish tradition.” It is not clear what Aslan is referring to, as the Abrahamic origins of the Ka’bah seem to have had little effect on Jewish cultural or religious practices. No historical evidence is provided by Aslan to indicate Jewish veneration of the Ka’bah, nor an explanation for the lack of a Jewish presence in Makkah. 

Similarly, the author uncritically presents Aslan’s claim on page 71 that Arab society had “no concept of an absolute morality as dictated by a divine code of ethics”. This is only true so far as the Arabs had no written code of ethics passed down from the time of Ibrāhīm and Ismāʿīl, upon them be peace. The oral tradition, however, carried many of the Abrahamic ethical codes down to the Jāhilī Arabs, albeit in an adulterated form. Yet, it is a far claim to make that the society had no concept of an absolute morality dictated by a divine code of ethics when it continued to revere much of the Abrahamic tradition and its sacred rites. Certainly the moral structure of society had broken down. However, one must be careful to avoid careless absolutes.

As forgiving Mohiuddin is of Aslan’s poor research, he is equally forgiving – if even aware – of Aslan’s perennialist commitments and their influence on his portrayal of the Prophet’s biography (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). It is not as if Aslan is private about his pluralistic views. In an article in the Washington Post, Aslan states:

“It’s not [that] I think Islam is correct and Christianity is incorrect. It’s that all religions are nothing more than a language made up of symbols and metaphors to help an individual explain faith.” (Roig, Manuel (2013-08-08). “Reza Aslan: A Jesus scholar who’s hard to pin down”. The Washington Post)

In an interview with The Young Turks, Aslan publicly described Islam as:

a man-made institution. It’s a set of symbols and metaphors that provides a language for which to express what is inexpressible, and that is faith. It’s symbols and metaphors that I prefer, but it’s not more right or more wrong than any other symbols and metaphors. It’s a language, that’s all it is. (Aslan, Reza (October 13, 2014). “Reza Aslan – Bigotry, Fundamentalism and Neo-Atheism in the Media”. The Young Turks (Interview). Interview with Cenk Uygur)

On page 67 of Revelation, Aslan’s perennialism is subtly discernible in his reduction of the importance of monotheism as the distinguishing feature of Hanifism. Aslan alleges that “at the heart of the movement was a fervent commitment to absolute morality. It was not enough merely to abstain from idol worship; the Hanifs believed one must strive to be morally upright.” In fact, at the heart of the Hanifism movement was not primarily an absolute morality (as Aslan would define it) but pure monotheism (or at the very least a rejection of idol worship and polytheism); morality was secondary and subsequent to it. (See the available biographical information on the renowned Ḥanīfs Qass ibn Sāʿidah al-Iyādī in Dalāʾil al-Nubuwwahof Abū Nuʿaym al-Aṣfahānī, Ibn Kathīr’s al-Bidāyah wa-l-Nihāyah2:231-237 and Zayd ibn ʿAmr ibn Nufayl in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, bāb Zayd ibn ʿAmr ibn Nufayl, and Sīrat Ibn Hisham 1:224-232 and Waraqah ibn Nawfal ibn Asad in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, bāb Kayfa Kāna Badʾ al-Waḥy, and Umayyah ibn Abī al-Ṣalt ibn ʿAwf al-Thaqafī, all of which confirm that their distinguishing feature was an uncompromising tawḥīd, a belief in the Hereafter and the Resurrection, and an absolute repudiation of polytheism.) 

The author similarly forgives Aslan’s fallacious statement on page 81 that “Islam does not establish a closed universe of reference but rather relies on a set of universal principles that can coincide with the fundamentals and values of other beliefs and religious traditions.” Worse, he forgives Aslan’s untenable translation of al-nabī al-ummīas “the Prophet for the unlettered” instead of “the unlettered Prophet”. Aslan’s translation and interpretation are in fact not consistent with the grammar of the sentence as he claims (pg. 94). The problem of interpreting the construction of the phrase as possessive (iḍāfī) instead as descriptive (tawṣīfī) should not be lost on those with a basic familiarity with the rules of Arabic grammar. Further, is it not puzzling that Aslan equates illiteracy with scripture-lessness such that the verse may be used for that purpose? Is it not bizarre that Aslan does not hesitate to discard a millennium of grammatical expertise and exegetical tradition for the linguistically inaccurate suggestion of Kenneth Cragg? 

Amongst the more egregious issues in the book is the author’s claim that the noble Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) is “terrified that he is possessed” after first receiving prophethood. No doubt the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was overcome with natural fear and sudden alarm as a result of his awe-inspiring supernatural encounter with the archangel Jibrīl (upon him be peace). However, the fear was not of being possessed as the author claims. Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī, commenting on the expression “I feared for myself” found in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, states that the fear or terror that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) experienced was either due to the intensity of that first encounter with the angel Jibrīl, that it was so straining that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) feared he would not be able to endure it, or due to the realization of the intense burden that had suddenly been placed upon him and his apprehension of being incapable of fulfilling that duty. (Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-Bārī 1:24) The response of his noble wife Khadījah (may Allah be well-pleased with her) and her enumeration of his moral virtues corroborates this latter understanding.

A further blunder in that early narrative, although one not unique to this sīrah book, is the author’s uncritical acceptance of the idea that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) attempted on numerous occasions to commit suicide due to his apprehensions about his sanity. On page 95, the author quotes Aslan as stating, “But it is safe to say that if it were not for Khadijah, Muhammad might have gone through with his plan to end it all, and history would have turned out quite differently.” On the following page the author himself claims that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) begins “to doubt his own sanity. On several occasions he nearly throws himself off mountain cliffs, but each time he is greeted by Gabriel, who reminds him that he is, indeed, God’s messenger.” Both the idea that he doubted his sanity and that he nearly throws himself off a mountain cliff are simply not authentically established in the hadith and sīrah literature. Although mentioned by al-Bukhārī secondarily in his Ṣaḥīḥ, the portion of his narration of the story that speaks of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) intending to “end it all” and throw himself off a mountain are transmitted through a mursal(interrupted) chain of Ibn Shihāb al-Zuhrī who appended it to a sound transmission that has an uninterrupted chain. In other words, al-Bukhārī, in narrating the credible portion of the hadith with its uninterrupted and sound chain, secondarily includes a piece of information as an addendum that the narrator al-Zuhrī claims had reached him but through an incomplete or dubious chain. Experts of al-Bukhārī’s Ṣaḥīḥrecognize that such an addendum does not receive the guarantee of authenticity or soundness that al-Bukhārī provides for all those narrations in his work which contain a complete chain. Then when it comes to the mursalnarrations of al-Zuhrī, including this one mentioned in passing by al-Bukhārī in his Ṣaḥīḥ, the majority of the investigative hadith experts agree that they are unreliable. Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī, for example, notes in his Tadrīb al-Rāwī:

“(About) the mursalnarrations of al-Zuhrī, Ibn Maʿīn and Yaḥyā b. Saʿīd al-Qaṭṭān state: ‘They are nothing (i.e. they are not reliable)’. Al-Shāfiʿī states something similar. He explains, ‘…because we find him narrating from Sulaymān b. Arqam’. Al-Bayhaqī narrates from Yaḥyā b. Saʿīd that he states, ‘The mursal narrations of al-Zuhrī are worse than the mursalnarrations of others because he is a ḥāfiẓand whenever he is capable of naming (the narrators above him) he names them. He only omits those who he does not prefer to name.”(al-Suyūṭī, Taḍrīb al-Rāwī3:167 Dār al-Minhāj ed. Muḥammad ʿAwwāmah or 1:232 Dār Ṭaybah, ed. Abū Qutaybah Naẓr Muḥammad al-Faryābī) Note: the editor of the Tadrīb, the Ḥalabī ḥadīth master Shaykh Muḥammad ʿAwwāmah does add in his gloss that the early Egyptian ḥāfiẓAḥmad b. Ṣāliḥ disagrees with Yaḥyā’s criticism of al-Zuhrī’s mursalreports even though the prominent (mashhūr) position is that they are weak. See also Marāsīl Ibn Abī Ḥātim1:2 and for al-Shāfiʿī’s statements al-Bayhaqī’s al-Manāqib 1:531 and his al-Madkhal850.

Shaykh ʿAwwāmah’s detailed comments on the report in question in his single-volume study on al-Dhahabī’s al-Kāṣhif is useful to quote here in totality. He remarks about this interrupted narration of al-Zuhrī which runs through ʿĀʾishah (may Allah be well-pleased with her):

The ḥadīth of Sayyidah ʿĀʾishah, may Allah be well-pleased with her, in narrating the beginning of divine revelation upon the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, is well known. Al-Bukhārī and others narrate it through various paths; amongst them is al-Bukhārī’s transmission of it in the beginning of the Book of Dream Interpretation in his Ṣaḥīḥ through the path of ʿUqayl and Maʿmar – both independently – from al-Zuhrī from ʿUrwah from ʿĀʾishah, and at the end of it is: “…then Waraqah passed away immediately afterward and revelation paused for a period until the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, became downcast – according to what has reached us – to the extent that he repeatedly set out so that he may fall off the tops of lofty mountains. (Yet) every time he drew near the summit of a mountain so that he may fling himself from it, Jibrīl would manifest himself to him and say, ‘O Muḥammad! Truly you are the messenger of Allah!’ Hence his agitation would find calm and his heart (nafs) would become settled, so he would then return.”

Some of the opponents of the prophetic tradition (sunnah) refer to this narration – out of heresy, not ignorance -, claiming that in these attempts by the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, (is evidence of) an intent to kill his noble self, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and that this is not possible, for killing oneself is prohibited by consensus of all sacred law codes (sharāʾiʿ). They intend by this to discredit Ṣaḥīh al-Bukhārī, the first (preeminent) book of the sunnah!

The reply (to this claim) is that this postscript (ziyādah), starting from the statement “the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, became downcast – according to what has reached us – to the extent…” is a postscript of al-Zuhrī, one of the narrators of the chain. It is evident from the postscript that he appended it to the previous chain and did not mention his chain of transmission for it. Al-Ḥāfiz (Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī) states in al-Fatḥ,commenting on this narration, “The one stating ‘according to what has reached us’ is al-Zuhrī, and the meaning of the statement is that ‘amongst the various things that have reached us regarding the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, in this story…’. (The report is thus) from the unsourced/incompletely sourced reports (balāghāt) of al-Zuhrī and is not connected (mawṣūl, i.e. possessing an uninterrupted chain of transmission). The report is hence from those mursalreports whose grading amongst the scholars of ḥadīth is well-known – that they are nothing (not established) – according to al-Shāfiʿī, Yaḥyā al-Qaṭṭān, and Yaḥyā b. Maʿīn. In the wording of Yaḥyā al-Qaṭṭān, ‘The mursal narrations of al-Zuhrī are worse than the mursalnarrations of others.’”

(Shaykh ʿAwwamah then says:) I certainly know that we are not lacking in capability to provide answers containing various explanations, justifications, reconciliations, etc… to this postscript from the perspective of meaning, but this answer is the most appropriate and through it the dogged opponent will be deterred. (Dirāsāt al-Kāṣhifli-l-Imām al-Ḥāfiẓ al-Dhahabī, second ed., Dār al-Minhāj1:199-200 )

For a more detailed discussion and refutation of the notion that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, attempted to take his own life during this pause in revelation, see also Jamīl Ḥalīm’s Laṭāʾif al-Tanbīhāt ʿalā Baʿḍ mā fī Ṣaḥīḥay al-Bukhārī wa Muslim min al-Riwāyāt. As such notions potentially challenge the foundational theological doctrine of the prophets’ ʿiṣmah(protection from sin, or sinlessness), they should not be taken lightly and deserve further investigation.

On the margins of page 118, we also find the author stating that “a number of Muslim historians relate that Satan had inspired the Prophet to suggest that the three sister idols were intercessors for God, and that the verse was later  removed from the Qur’an (53:19).” The verse in question appears in the accounts of the early Muslim historians Muḥammad b. ʿUmar al-Wāqidī (ca. 130-207/ca. 747-823) and Muḥammad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (224-310/839-923). Regarding al-Wāqidī, critical hadith scholars view his historical reports with a great deal of suspicion, especially in relation to critical issues such as these Qurʾānic verses, in which the standards of authenticity must be applied most meticulously. Ibn Ḥajar, for example, grades al-Wāqidī as a disclaimed (matrūk) narrator despite the vastness of his knowledge. According to Ibn Ḥibbān (d. 354/965), it is because of inaccuracies and omissions in al-Wāqīdī’s transmissions that Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal considered him unreliable. Al-Dhahabī (d. 748/1348) stated, “He is a ḥāfiẓ, an ocean, yet I have not provided his biographical entry here due to the consensus (of the scholars) on disclaiming his hadith. He was amongst the vessels of knowledge but he was not proficient in hadith. He was a leader in maghāzī and sīrah, (though) he transmitted from every type (of narrator).”(See Ibn Ḥajar’s Tahdhīb al-Tahdhīb and Taqrīb al-Tahdhīb and al-Dhahabī’s Tadhkirat al-Ḥuffāẓ. Also, see T. Khalidi, Arabic Historical Thought In The Classical Period, Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 47-48). As for al-Ṭabarī, despite his preeminent status as a jurist and historian, the challenge with al-Ṭabarī’s Taʾrīkhis that it is not a critical historical work. Rather, it is an indiscriminate compilation of historical reports that reached al-Ṭabarī through chains of varying degrees of authenticity, all of which the author includes so that experts could sift truth from falsehood. Unfortunately, the uncritical dependence of Western writers – and of the committed Muslim imitators of their historical fantasies – on the works of al-Ṭabarī has helped introduce highly dubious ideas into the sīrah narrative, including the thoroughly debunked myth that Satan was actually capable of inspiring the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, to suggest that the three sister idols were intercessors for God. In an attempt to avoid further elongation of this section we will not produce here a full refutation of this problematic idea. Instead, we would simply like to bring to the reader’s attention the need for any compiler of the prophetic biography to be aware of the methodology of reading al-Ṭabarī’s Taʾrīkhwork before its utilization. In fact, it is al-Ṭabarī himself in the introduction to his first volume of the Taʾrīkhwho highlights this need, warning:

“Let he who examines my work know that I have exclusively relied upon, in everything I mention therein which I stipulate to be described by me, what has been transmitted to me by way of reports which I cite therein and traditions which I ascribe to their narrators, to the exclusion of what may be apprehended by rational argument or deduced by the human mind, except in very few cases. This is because knowledge of the reports of men of the past and of contemporaneous views of men of the present do not reach the one who has not witnessed them nor lived in their times except through the accounts of reporters and the transmission of transmitters, to the exclusion of rational deduction and mental inference. Hence, if I mention in this book a report about some men of the past, which the reader of listener finds objectionable or worthy of censure because he can see no aspect of truth nor any factual substance therein, let him know that this is not to be attributed to us but to those who transmitted it to us and we have merely passed this on as it has been passed on to us”  (Taʾrīkh al-Ṭabarī: Tāʾrīkh al-Umam wa-l-Mulūk, Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyyah, 1997 1:13, translation provided by Waqar Akbar Cheema whose refutation entitled “The Lie of Satanic Verse Exposed” is worth reading).

We finish this section with one last error, this one again found in one of the author’s many quotes of Reza Aslan. On page 204, Aslan claims, “But perhaps the most important innovation in the doctrine of jihad was its outright prohibition of all but strictly defensive wars.” It is perhaps defensible to mention that some historical reports are attributed to early scholars like ʿAtaʾ b. Abī Rabāḥ, Abū Salamah b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān (d. 104/722) and Sufyān al-Thawrī (d. 161/778) that argue against an obligation upon the individual to participate in an offensive jihad. It is also perhaps justifiable to argue that in the bigger picture, like in the case of Badr, even preemptive offensive military advances were and are part of a larger defense of Islam and the protection of its values. However, a categorical prohibition of all but defensive wars is simply untenable in light of the many campaigns in the prophetic biography that were indisputably offensive in nature and in light of the dominant classical opinion of Muslim jurists since the earliest generations. Perhaps the motivation behind a restriction of jihad to the defensive is to refute the false equivalence of jihad with forceful conversion of non-Muslims, a notion often wrongly associated with Islam. However, propounders of this restriction must reflect first on the verses of the Qurʾān which explicitly instruct Muslims to engage in offensive campaigns (such as Q 4:75 and 9:29) as well as the numerous prophetic military campaigns that were not preempted by the aggression of non-Muslims.

Poetic License and Excessive Liberties with the Sources

Poetic license is one of the key problems Dr. Gibril Haddad underscores in his valuable review of Martin Lings’s Muhammad, a work that is a key source for Mohiuddin’s narrative and is often quoted both verbatim and at length. This issue of poetic license and taking excessive liberties with the sources similarly plagues the recurrent Reza Aslan passages and even occasionally Mohiuddin’s own narrative. About Lings’ work specifically Dr. Haddad observes:

“Poetic license marks off Muhammad [may Allah bless him and grant him peace]: his life based on the earliest sourcesfrom all other serious Prophetic biographies. It is fair to say Lings often has more imagination than knowledge of what he describes and never takes to heart the absolute prohibition of fiction in Islām with regard to the Prophet [may Allah bless him and grant him peace]. Consequently, his constant embroidery detracts from the reliability of his book and, much as it is meant to enhance reading, brings it down to the romance level from which its titlepage homage to ‘the earliest sources’ had promised to exempt it. It is also possible that Lings spent little time in Muslim lands (although he kept company with René Guénon in Cairo for a while), where he normally would have absorbed some of the sensibilities of Muslims and might have avoided or at least suppressed, after the fact, the two or three more momentous misinterpretations in Muḥammad: his life based on the earliest sources. He defended them in reprint after reprint by beefing up his footnotes with references he thought provided enough justification. Instead, surely, he should have done away altogether with those passages. One of them is the “lightly clad” Zaynab scene – in his defense an error of taste that predates him; but an error, nevertheless, that “betokens ignorance of the immense rights and merits of the Prophet [may Allah bless him and grant him peace]” according to Qaḍī Abū Muḥammad al-Qushayrī al-Mālikī as cited by Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ in al-Shifā. (How greatly would Lings and many other biographers of the Prophet [may Allah bless him and grant him peace] have profited from reading that book before they set to their task!).” (Haddad, A Critical Reading of Martin Lings’ Muhammad)

In the case of the non-Muslim Orientalist Montgomery Watt, the issue extends well beyond that of mere embellishment, which Lings may also be guilty of, but Lings nevertheless maintains his commitment to the faith and a deep reverence for the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). Watt, on the other hand, shows relatively little regard for the immense rights and merits of Islam’s noble Prophet Muḥammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and his language throughout his two-volume work undoubtedly reflects his educational and religious background as well as his overall skeptical view of Islam as a true religion. Still, such skepticism is to be expected from an outsider to the faith and no doubt many readers of Watt’s books will assume that they are reading the biography of the Prophet of Islam through the perspective of a distant and even occasionally admiring “Other”. What is unexpected, however, is when a presumedly devout Muslim demonstrates such a lack of discretion in quoting any of the many distasteful and erroneous claims that Watt espouses in his biography, such as his assertion (pg. 195) that “it is tolerably certain that Muhammad himself had few scruples about fighting in the sacred months, but that he had to respect the scruples of an important section of his followers and to guard against repercussions which might weaken his prophetic authority.” Is one being led to believe that the prophet Muḥammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, would have had few scruples about violating the sanctity of the sacred months despite himself conveying Allah’s immutable message regarding their sanctity in the Qurʾān? 

Indeed, the number of months with Allah is twelve (lunar) months in the register of Allah (from) the day He created the heavens and the earth; of these, four are sacred. That is the correct religion (i.e. way), so do not wrong yourselves during them. (Sūrat al-Tawbah 9:36)

Should one argue that the verses of Sūrat al-Tawbah were revealed in the later Madīnan period (9 AH according to Ibn Kaysān; see al-Ālūsī, Rūḥ al-Maʿānī, Muʾassassat al-Risālah10:201) and thus before the revelation the Prophet of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) may have not attached much value to the sanctity of these months, they would be overlooking the reference in the verse to the months being “the correct religion” or “way”, a reference to the months’ sanctity being an Abrahamic tradition, passed down from the prophets Ibrāhīm and Ismāʿīl, a tradition that was deeply honored and revered by the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) throughout his life, before and after prophethood. Again, that this positive view of the Messenger of Allah’s character and moral code (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) would be lost upon Watt is not unexpected. Nevertheless, it should not have gone unchallenged. 

It is also not unexpected that Reza Aslan, given his particular background and upbringing, would demonstrate relatively limited constraint in questioning the Companions’ committed loyalty and obedience to the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. Note, for example, his tone and language when he casually pontificates (pg. 233): “If Muhammad’s male followers were disgruntled about the new inheritance laws, they must have been furious when, in a single revolutionary move, he both limited how many wives a man could marry and granted women the right to divorce their husbands.” It is, however, disappointing that Mohiuddin fails to identify the various errors and insensitivities in the above statement: first, that it incorrectly asserts that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) granted women the right to divorce their husbands when the prerogative of divorce in Islam is in fact the husband’s by historical and juristic consensus (although a wife may initiate a request for divorce by offering financial motivation in the form of a khulʿ); and, second, that Aslan asserts that the male Companions were disgruntled (i.e. angry or dissatisfied) with the new inheritance laws, for which I am not aware of any evidence to suggest such a strong emotional response, and then, adding fuel to the fire, presuming that the Companions must have been furious with the ruling on the restriction on the number of wives they could marry. 

Of course, the distasteful rhetoric the author reproduces from the pen of Reza Aslan is not limited to his portrayal of the Companions. Perhaps in an attempt to portray himself as a neutral commentator or to appease hyper-skeptical Western readers of Islam, Aslan generously extends his sloppy and hyperbolical diction to the depiction of the blessed Prophet of Allah’s persona, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. In describing the Prophet’s emigration to Yathrib (later called al-Madīnah), Mohiuddin quotes Aslan as remarking (pg. 189):

“That Muhammad came to Yathrib as little more than the Hakam [arbitrator] in the quarrel between Aws and Khazraj is certain. And yet the traditions seem to present Muhammad arriving in the oasis as the mighty prophet of a new and firmly established religion, and as the unchallenged leader of the whole of Yathrib… His movement represented the tiniest fraction of Yathrib’s population; the Jews alone may have totaled in the thousands. When Muhammad arrived in the oasis, he had brought fewer than a hundred men, women, and children with him.” 

To illustrate the blunders of Aslan’s above depiction, let us examine a few important facts about the Prophet’s emigration and relationship with the people of Yathrib. First, it was during the eleventh year of prophethood, a full two years before the Emigration (hijrah), that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) invited some pilgrims from the Khazraj tribe to accept Islam. Upon observing him and hearing him recite verses of the Qurʾān, they are able to immediately recognize that Muḥammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was the very prophet about whom the Jews had foretold, and thus they remarked, “By Allah! This is the very same prophet whom the Jews longingly speak of. Take heed! Let not the Jews beat you to this good fortune and virtue.” (al-Kāndhalwī, Sīratul-Mustafā 1:363) No historical evidence lends weight to the idea that the leaders of Khazraj (Asʿad b. Zurārah, ʿAwf b. al-Ḥārith, Rāfiʿ b. Mālik, Quṭbah b. ʿĀmir, ʿUqbah b. ʿĀmir, and Jābir b. ʿAbd Allāh b. Rabāb, may Allah be well-pleased with them all) who first embraced Islam in that eleventh year of prophethood viewed the Prophet of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), at this instant or even later, as merely an arbitrator, or that in the many excited communications they had with their people upon returning to Madīnah that they viewed his message of God and the new faith as one of primarily a political importance. The nature of the pledges made by the Anṣār in the twelfth year in what is called the Bayʿat al-ʿAqabah al-Ūlā (the First Pledge of ʿAqabah) further reinforces the notion of primarily spiritual and moral motives and that the allegiance of the Anṣār was founded on the belief of the oneness of God (or the pledge to abstain from ascribing partners to Allah), abstinence from theft, adultery, infanticide, false accusations, and slander. Further, the deputation of Musʿab b. ʿUmayr al-Qurashī al-ʿAbdarī to the people of Madīnah for the purpose of teaching them about divine unity (tawḥīd), the Qurʾān, ritual prayer, and other basic religious legal rulings (which at this time comprise almost exclusively issues of ritual worship and good character), and the rapid increase of the Muslim population in a small period of time establishes that the spread of Islam amongst the Madīnans was built on theological and spiritual foundations, not merely political expedience. The actual historical reports about the hijrahare even more telling. Take, for example, the enthusiasm with which the Madīnans awaited the arrival of the blessed Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿUwaymir b. Sāʿidah reported that a number of men from his community from the Companions stated that when they heard of the Messenger of Allah’s departure (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) from Makkah, they began to await his arrival. They would leave towards the outskirts of the city after offering every morning prayer in wait, and swore by Allah that they would not waver until they could no longer find any shade, after which they would return, all of this taking place during days of scorching heat. This continued until finally the day of the Messenger’s arrival came, when they sat as they always had, and when the shade disappeared they returned to their homes. The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) arrived some time after they had returned home. Hence, the first person to actually see the Prophet’s arrival was a Jewish man who had been observing the Muslims’ eager and enthusiastic daily exoduses in anticipation of a possible arrival. The Jew thus bellowed with his loudest voice, “O Banū Qaylah (i.e. the Anṣār), your good fortune has arrived!” Such was the joy of the occasion that Imam al-Bukhārī transmits in his Ṣaḥīḥthat Barāʾ b. ʿĀzib (may Allah be well-pleased with him) remarked that “I have not witnessed the Madīnans as ecstatic as they were for (the arrival of) the Messenger of Allah (may Allah be well-pleased with him), to the extent that (even) the slave girls were exclaiming, ‘The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, has arrived!’” (Bukhārī, Manāqib al-Anṣār, bāb maqdam al-nabiyy ṣalla-Llāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam wa aṣḥābuhu al-madīnah) The women of the city clambered upon the rooftops of their homes and sang. The young girls of Banū Najjār chanted, “We are the maids of Banū Najjar, Oh! What a pleasure to have Muḥammad as a neighbor!” The residents of Madīnah sent impassioned and fervent pleas of invitations in hope that they would be honored to play host to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). In the face of all these details of the Emigration furnished by empirically authenticated traditions, are we expected to instead mindlessly accept Aslan’s claim that the Prophet’s coming “to Yathrib as little more than the Hakam [arbitrator] in the quarrel between Aws and Khazraj is certain”? I invite readers to thoroughly read themselves the chapters of the inception of Islam in Madīnah and the Emigration from the wide variety of available sīrah books, especially those written from primary and early secondary sources, and then to formulate an informed opinion on the attitude of the people of Madīnah before and during the Hijrah. 

Certainly not all embellishments found in Mohiuddin’s Revelationare equally egregious. Nevertheless, even the lighter cases of its embellishments result in unfortunate and unnecessary factual distortions. Take, for example, the extraneous details the author mentions on page 28 where he describes that when two lonely riders, one of them Ṣafwān ibn Umayyah, “crested the next hill, Safwan remembered how just a few months ago, another friend, Khalid ibn al-Walid, unexpectedly fell for the Prophet and begged Safwan to come with him to Medina”. No source for the details of this account are provided, thus one is unable to verify from where the author procured the detail that it was when Ṣafwān crested the hill that he remembered and reflected on Khālid’s conversion, or later on that “for the first time in his life, Safwan stopped to look into the Prophet’s eyes”. Perhaps these are relatively minor infractions. Nevertheless, they are unnecessary, unsourced, and extending into the realm of fiction. Similarly troublesome is Mohiuddin’s embellished narrative of Salmān al-Fārisī’s conversion to Islam in which he states that “Salman (al-Farisi) ended up in the remote valley of Quba, where he embraced the Prophet the moment he laid eyes on him”. In reality, the well-established reports of Salmān al-Fārisī’s conversion (may Allah be well-pleased with him) report that at Qubā Salmān al-Fārisī only began a long process of enquiry to verify that the prophecies about the last messenger applied to Muḥammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and that the process involved three tests, only one of which took place in Qubā, the second taking place in Baqī al-Gharqad, and the last in Madīnah at a later time. Similarly unnecessary embellishments can be found on page 71 in one of several instances in which the author quotes Lings’s Muhammadverbatim. See for example the expressions “…from the direction from the sea…” and “survivors said that they flew with a flight like that of swifts…” as well the other verbatim quotes of Lings. 

As Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī al-Nadwī so aptly notes to introduce his own sīrah work (translated into English with the title Prophet of Mercy), 

“A work of this nature should also be compatible with the spiritual truths and realities which are indispensable for comprehending the true nature of revelation, prophetic guidance, miracles and the recondite facts of mute reality, and should be written by one who can put his trust in the Prophet not as a national leader or statesman but as the Apostle of God sent for the guidance of the entire humanity. Only the life of the Prophet so written can be placed before every unbiased educated person (whether a Muslim or a non-Muslim) without any reservation or specious reasoning. Accordingly, the writer (speaking of himself) has placed more reliance on the original sources in describing the events and character of the Prophet and narrated them in a way that everything speaks for itself and allows the reader to arrive at his own conclusion. The life of the Prophet is a living portrait, conveying the feeling of the good and the sublime, for which the writer has no need to philosophise or draw any inferences. In its charm and grace, harmony and excellence, and effectiveness and appeal, the life of the Prophet does not, in truth and reality, need the polish or refinement of any writer or the exposition of an erudite scholar. All that one needs attempt is the narration of facts selected and arranged harmoniously, in a simple and unaffected style.” (Muhammad Rasulullah: The Apostle of Mercy, Haji Arfeen Academy pg. 3)


As the above critique has attempted to demonstrate, Dr. Meraj Mohiuddin’s novel attempt at presenting an accessible and relatable biography of the noble prophet of Islam, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, is a mixed bag. While the biographical sketch is furnished with laudable visuals and a sincere attempt at critical examination, it fails to provide a narrative firmly rooted in the original sources and one free of the hyper skeptical misgivings of an antiquated Orientalist discourse. Instead of a simple, fluid, and unaffected narrative with source material that speaks for itself, Mohiuddin dilutes his work with quote after quote from questionable authorities on Islam’s most critical historical period, notably Montgomery Watt, Reza Aslan, and Karen Armstrong. As a result, the reader is left with a rather charmless exposition, one starving for the grace of spiritual realities that are necessary for a harmonious understanding of the true nature of revelation of which al-Nadwī speaks above. Certainly, it does not help that the author is neither an erudite Islamic scholar, historian, or experienced writer. However, a heavier dependence on original, credible, and critical sources could have, to a great degree, remedied the author’s inexperience and inaptitude. More importantly, the Revelation project could have and should have utilized the services of content editors and reviewers well-versed in the Islamic historical critical tradition. 

So, while Mohiuddin’s passionate first foray into the world of sīrah writing is indeed “clear” and “eminently accessible” as its endorser Dr. Sherman Jackson asserts, it is questionably “based on some of the best Western scholarship on the life of the Prophet” as he also claims. It should also be fair to disagree with the following endorsement of the book by the respectable scholar and revered Muslim leader, Imam Zaid Shakir, who states: “Many biographies of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) have appeared in recent years. None, however, display the scholarly depth, methodological precision and factual clarity of Meraj Mohiuddin’s, Revelation: The Story of Muhammad (pbuh).”

It is our belief that if Dr. Mohiuddin addresses the several key concerns highlighted in the above review it is possible to remedy the book’s failings while also retaining its unique contributions. No doubt, the author is to be commended for his use of visual aids, tables, and explanatory notes to make otherwise seemingly complex lineages, family and tribal relationships, and geographical movements accessible to the average reader. It is not our intent to allow readers of this review to disregard his noble contributions in this regard. Mohiuddin’s laborious inclusion of visually appealing design, typesetting, etc… will appeal to both beginner and advanced audiences hungering for quality presentations of the beloved Prophet’s biography.

To Mohiuddin’s advantage is the fact that his own material in Revelation is relatively less marred by the discourtesy, poetic license, revisionism, and factual error that is the focus of our critique. This fact alone encourages us about the possibility of a revised edition that addresses the book’s most glaring issues by entirely or almost entirely omitting the Watt, Aslan, Armstrong (and to a certain extent others) quotes. If the author chooses not to enrich his work with original, primary sources and with the superior research of works recommended in the first subsection of this review, at the very least a removal of the aforementioned passages should limit the potential harm of reading his book uncritically. The reviewer can sympathize with the daunting nature of such a proposed revision and the inevitable extraordinary change of appearance that it will entail. However, we are also of the belief that the author has demonstrated a certain degree of sincerity and passion for the prophetic biography that will hopefully serve as sufficient motivation for the production of a significantly modified second edition. 

For the reader, 

Bilal Ali Ansari