The Lives of Muhammad

The Lives of Muhammad

Kecia Ali
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    The Lives of Muhammad
    Book Description:

    Kecia Ali delves into the many ways the Prophet’s life story has been told from the earliest days of Islam to the present, by both Muslims and non-Muslims. Emphasizing the major transformations since the nineteenth century, she shows that far from being mutually opposed, these various perspectives have become increasingly interdependent.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-73551-4
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Chronology
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    For a man who lived fourteen hundred years ago, Muhammad has been in the news a lot lately. From the 2005–2006 Danish cartoon debacle to the 2012 uproar over theInnocence of Muslimsviral video, media coverage has often explained Muslim outrage by referencing long-standing prohibitions on the depiction of the Prophet and sensitivity to any insult directed at him. By the time this book appears there may have been another flash-in-the-pan incident, with these same tired explanations proffered alongside a portrait of irrational and fanatical Muslim rage, contrasted with a rational, pluralist, democratic West.

    Rather than plunge into...

  5. Chapter 1 The Historical Muhammad
    (pp. 6-40)

    The conventional narrative of Muhammad’s life goes something like this:

    Muhammad was born in Mecca in 570 CE to a father, Abdullah, from a poor but noble background. He belonged to the Quraysh tribe. Abdullah died while Muhammad was still in the womb of his mother, Amina. She in turn died when Muhammad was about six. He was taken in by his grandfather Abd al-Muttalib and, after the old man’s death, by his paternal uncle, Abu Talib, who raised him with his own sons. These cousins included Ali, to whom Muhammad grew close. Once grown to young manhood, Muhammad accepted...

  6. Chapter 2 A True Prophet
    (pp. 41-78)

    Muslim tradition views this encounter with Bahira as but one in a series of supernatural and non-Muslim affirmations of Muhammad’s special status and future promise.¹ Extraordinary occurrences punctuated his life. Radiant light spilled from his father’s forehead before his conception. His mother dreamed of illumination. Angels came and washed a speck from his breast when he was a boy in his foster mother’s care. Classical sources elaborate at length on these portents, which surrounded Muhammad’s birth and childhood with the luminous aura of the divine. Like the monk’s recognition of the “seal of prophecy,” which foreshadowed eventual confirmation of Muhammad’s...

  7. Chapter 3 Eminent Muslims
    (pp. 79-113)

    In Medina, Muhammad was not only a prophet but also—and in some contexts, primarily—a community leader and military commander. These latter elements of his role were long taken for granted by Muslims. His military expeditions were among the earliest stories recorded; Waqidi’sBook of Campaignswas devoted to them. In thirteenth-century Egyptian Sufi Muhammad al-Busiri’s famousBurda(“Cloak Ode”), an edition of which was printed in Leiden in 1761, the Prophet’s “military achievements are elaborated in gruesome detail.” He leads “an ocean of an army on floating steeds / That threw up clashing waves of heroes / Each...

  8. Chapter 4 The Wife of Muhammad
    (pp. 114-154)

    A version of this story, often in nearly these exact words, appears in a striking proportion of books about Muhammad written in the last century, whether aimed at pious Muslim readers, American middle schoolers, college students, or the general reading public.¹ Phrases like “wealthy older widow” and “remained faithful” recur. Whatever the exact words, the same points surface repeatedly: their respective ages, that she was a widow, her wealth, the Syrian caravan expedition, her positive impression, and that the marriage took place at her instigation. We learn that her wealth gave him the leisure for retreat and reflection.² We are...

  9. Chapter 5 Mother of the Faithful
    (pp. 155-199)

    If Khadija represents the positive role model and the linchpin of Muhammad’s maturation as a man and a prophet in Mecca, Aisha is the wife whose presence most colors his Medinan years and whose story continues to unfold after Muhammad’s death. She was a vital, if sometimes problematic, figure for the construction of Sunni orthodoxy, a major reporter of prophetic traditions, and a jurist of some note. Her chastity was impugned during her lifetime and her participation in an intra-Muslim civil war put her at the center of debates over women’s public roles. Humphrey Prideaux sees the political motivations behind...

  10. Chapter 6 An Enlightened Man
    (pp. 200-230)

    This story has long been a staple of Muslim accounts of Muhammad’s life. Ibn Ishaq gives two versions, which confirm that there was something special about Muhammad even before he was born. In one, the woman is the sister of Waraqa, Khadija’s Christian cousin. He had told her to expect a prophet to arise from among their people; recognizing the sign, she proposes to Abdullah, even trying to sweeten the deal with one hundred camels. In the other version, the woman is another wife of Abdullah. He approaches her, but she turns him down because he needs a bath. He...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 231-242)

    By the turn of the twentieth century, two largely separate streams of writing about Muhammad, one hagiographical and the other polemical, had converged in a single contentious body of literature. European and American portraits of the Prophet, shaped decisively by new notions of what made a man great and what counted as merit, set the agenda for Muslim depictions. Along the way, “authentic” historical sources from the first centuries of Islam became a touchstone for scholars and lay readers alike: all wanted to know thefactsabout Muhammad’s life. Texts written symbolically came to be read literally. A shared rhetoric...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 243-304)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 305-328)
  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 329-330)
  15. Index
    (pp. 331-342)