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The Life of Muhammad

46 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0196360331
ISBN-10: 0196360331
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Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Arabic --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Ibn Ishaq (Arabic meaning "the son of Isaac) was a Muslim historian who died in 768.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 860 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (July 18, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0196360331
  • ISBN-13: 978-0196360331
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 2.2 x 5.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 89 people found the following review helpful By Elaine on August 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Ibn Ishaq was the earliest, and probably the most thorough, of Islam's historians. He never claimed that everything he heard was the perfect, absolute fact; rather, he very frankly writes "so-and-so said this, but so-and-so said that." Most of the discrepancies he cites are minor, and the vast majority of the incidents he cites are surprisingly consistent with what other Muslim historians say.

Later, Ibn Hisham produced a "rescinded" version of Ibn Ishaq's work, including in his work an introduction that explains frankly that he cut parts that others might find offensive. It is actually this work that survives -- to date no complete copy of Ibn Ishaq's orginial work has been found.

Meanwhile, however, other Muslim historians commented on Ibn Ishaq's work (before it was rescinded and lost) and quoted from it extensively. Guilliaume has taken these pieces and added them back in, and has indicated clearly what has been added, diligently citing the source of the addition in each case.

While this book is not exactly light reading, it is fascinating, and essential for understanding the context of the Quran. The Quran and the Life of Muhammad should be read side by side to really get an understanding of how Islam developed over the course of Muhammad's life.

Don't be put off by the extremely thorough names -- clan and lineage was an integral part of life in sixth-century Arabia so a person's name often is listed as "A son of B son of C son of D son of E of the clan F." It's even worse when they list four or five people that way, taking up two-thirds of a paragraph before getting to a verb, but just skip over this and read the great stories. This is a fascinating read and a fabulous academic resource.
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118 of 136 people found the following review helpful By William Gawthrop on October 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Ibn Ishaq wrote the Sirat Rasul Allah and the original of that work no longer exists.

Apparently Ishaq provided an unvarnished view of Mohammad and early Islamic practices and history. Those original works were edited by Ibn Hisham (and translated by Guillaume) who censored Ishaq in an early form of "political correctness." For example, Hisham states that he intentionally omitted portions that did not address Mohammad and "about which the Quran says nothing, ..., things which are disgraceful to discuss; matters which would distress certain people; and such reports as al-Bakka'a told me he could not accept as trustworthy (p. 691). Hisham's censorship appears consistent with Sharia law practices and rulings which may be found in "Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law", Book R (Holding One's Tongue), Chapter 2, (Slander), Section 2; and 6, Chapter 23 (Asking About Another's Mistakes) Section 1; Chapter 8 (Lying) Section 2: Chapter 10, (Giving A Misleading Impression) Section 1; Chapter 20, (Picking Apart Another's Words), Section 2 (Giving a Positive Interpretation to Others Seeming Mistakes).; Chapter 24, (Searching Out A Person's Faults); Chapter 36, (Revealing a Secret) Section 1.

However, according to the publishers, in this translation, Guillaume also incorporated a number of additions and variants found in the writings of early authors and what we have, according to the publishers, "may represent in English most of what is known of the life of" Mohammad.

The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 is The Genealogy of Muhammad; Traditions from the Pre-Islamic Era; Muhammad's Childhood and Early Manhood. Part 2 is Muhammad's Call and Preaching in Mecca. Part 3 is Muhammad's Migration to Medina, His Wars, Triumph, and Death.
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52 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Robert Schwartz on August 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book is an excellent reference for those wanting a more in-depth knowledge of Islam, but be warned: It is a difficult read. The text is flowery, repetitive, and much of the time so convoluted that after perusing a section one is left scratching one's head and asking, "What did he say?". So be prepared for a lot of very close reading and rereading.

That said, I would think this book makes a very good companion to The Koran.

One final caution: If you think Islam is the religion of peace, you may be disillusioned.
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful By K Adam on August 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In partial reply to the "reader from Maryland USA" below who scathingly reviewed this title ... The reader is correct in his summation of Alfred Guillaume. However, the translation of this classic text still is a work worthy of being read. Ibn Ishaq's abridgement of Ibn Hisham's work is used extensively throughout the Muslim world, and in its Arabic original it is out of reach to the normal English reader and student of Islam, Muslim or non. The wealth of biographical, historical, and other information in this volume is deep. The narration the "reader from Maryland" mentions (about the Gabriel incident) has in fact been mentioned by some Muslim scholars of the past (e.g. Ibn Sa'd, at-Tabari), though by general consensus among the majority of the 'ulema (Islamic religious scholars, both past and present) have deemed it false and weak. In studying this work, the reader should keep in mind A. Guillaume was not a Muslim, but rather an Orientalist translating a classic Muslim compilation of the Prophet of Islam. Biases and prejudices are apparent, but the views and "commentary" & notes of the translator should be kept in mind as such, and as not necessarily being the words of Ibn Ishaq or Ibn Hisham. With that said, I would recommend this title, and to read selected portions with caution.
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