69 of 71 people found the following review helpful
Probably the best resource out there,
This review is from: The Life of Muhammad (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Later, Ibn Hisham produced a "rescinded" version of Ibn Ishaq's work, including in his work an introduction that explains frankly that he cut parts that others might find offensive.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Meanwhile, however, other Muslim historians commented on Ibn Ishaq's work (before it was rescinded and lost) and quoted from it extensively.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.
If you want something a little easier to read, get Martin Lings' book: Muhammad, His Life Based on the Earliest Sources. A work of impeccable scholarship, this book is shorter, easier to read, and, while it is largely based on Ibn Ishaq, it also includes some other sources considered authentic by Islamic scholars. Lings won awards in Pakistan and Egypt for the book, which is in its third printing and is sold all over the Muslim world.
Again, the frustrating thing about any book on the life of Muhammad will be keeping track of who's who -- there are so many characters and many of them share the same name, so you have to make an effort to keep track of which Abdullah and which Sa'd they are talking about. (For example, at one point both of Muhammad's personal bodyguards were named Sa'd.) To add further confusion, the most polite way to address someone in Arabic is "Father of so-and-so" or "Mother of so-and-so" but Martin Lings is pretty good about using one form or the other consistently throughout the book. Also, there is a helpful index in the back of both Guillaume's and Lings' book for when you can't remember who's who.
Either of these books is essential reading if you are studying the Quran or Islam.