Ibn Ishaq

Ibn Ishaq
Muslim historian
Muḥammad ibn Isḥaq ibn Yasār
Title Ibn Isḥaq
Born 85 AH /704 AD[1]
Died 150–159 AH/761–770 AD[1][2]
Ethnicity Arab
Region Medina, Alexandria, Baghdad
Main interests Prophetic biography
Influences Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, Yazīd ibn Abī Ḥabīb
Influenced Ibn Hisham, al-Tabari

Muḥammad ibn Isḥaq ibn Yasār ibn Khiyār (according to some sources, ibn Khabbār, or Kūmān, or Kūtān,[3] Arabic: محمد بن إسحاق بن يسار بن خيار‎, or simply ibn Isḥaq ابن إسحاق, meaning "the son of Isaac") (died 767, or 761[4]) was an Arab Muslim historian and hagiographer. He collected oral traditions that formed the basis of the most important biography of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.



Born in Medina, ibn Isḥaq was the grandson of a Christian man, Yasār, who had been captured in one of Khalid ibn al-Walid's campaigns and taken to Medina as a slave. His grandfather became the slave of Qays ibn Makhrama ibn al-Muṭṭalib ibn ʿAbd Manāf ibn Quṣayy and, having accepted Islam, was manumitted and became his mawlā, thus acquiring the nisbat al-Muṭṭalibī. Yasār's three sons, Mūsā, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān, and Isḥāq, were all known as transmitters of akhbār, who collected and recounted tales of the past. Isḥāq married the daughter of another mawlā and from this marriage ibn Isḥāq was born.[3]

There are no details of his early life, but in view of the family nature of early akhbār and hadith transmission, it was natural that he should follow in their footsteps. He was also influenced by the work of ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, who praised the young ibn Ishaq for his knowledge of maghāzī (literally, stories of military expeditions). Around the age of 30, ibn Isḥaq arrived in Alexandria and studied under Yazīd ibn Abī Ḥabīb. After his return to Medina, based on one account, he was ordered out of Medina for relating a false hadith from a woman he did not meet (Fāṭima bint al-Mundhir, wife of Hishām ibn ʿUrwa),[3] but those who defended him, like Sufyan ibn `Uyaynah, stated that Ibn Ishaq told them that he did meet her.[5] Leaving Medina (or forced to leave), he traveled eastwards towards what is now Iraq, stopping in Kufa, al-Jazīra, Ray, finally settling in Baghdad. There, the new Abbasid dynasty, having overthrown the Umayyad caliphs, was establishing a new capital.

Ibn Isḥaq moved to the capital and found patrons in the new regime.[6] He was commissioned by the Abbasid caliph Al-Mansur to write an all-encompassing history book starting from the creation of Adam to the present day, known as "al-Mubtadaʾ wa al-Baʿth wa al-Maghāzī" (lit. "In the Beginning, the mission [of Muhammad], and the expeditions"). It was kept in the court library of Baghdad,[7] although none of his writings are now extant. He died in Baghdad around 761–770 AD.

Biography of Muhammad

Ibn Isḥaq collected oral traditions about the life of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. These traditions, which he orally dictated to his pupils,[7] are now known collectively as Sīratu Rasūli l-Lāh (Arabic: سيرة رسول الله‎ "Life of the Messenger of God") and survive mainly in the following sources:

  • An edited copy, or recension, of his work by his student al-Bakka'i, which was further edited by ibn Hisham. Al-Bakka'i's work has perished and only ibn Hisham's has survived, in copies.[8] According to Alfred Guillaume (at xvii), ibn Hisham "abbreviated, annotated, and sometimes altered" the text of ibn Isḥaq. Interpolations made by ibn Hisham are said to be recognizable and can be deleted, leaving as a remainder an "edited" version of ibn Isḥaq's original text (otherwise lost). Guillaume (at xxxi) points out that ibn Hisham's version omits several narratives given by al-Tabari in his History of the Prophets and Kings (e.g., at 1192, and at 1341), for which al-Tabari cited ibn Isḥaq as his source. In the "edited" text we have, an introductory part describes pre-Islamic Arabia (about 100 pages in Guillaume), before commencing with the narratives surrounding the life of Muhammad.
  • An edited copy, or recension, prepared by his student Salamah ibn Fadl al-Ansari. This also has perished, and survives only in the copious extracts to be found in the voluminous History of the Prophets and Kings.[8]
  • Fragments of several other recensions. Guillaume lists them on p. xxx of his preface, but regards most of them as so fragmentary as to be of little worth.

According to Donner, the material in ibn Hisham and al-Tabari is "virtually the same".[8] However, there is some material to be found in al-Tabari that was not preserved by ibn Hisham. For example, al-Tabari includes the controversial episode of the Satanic Verses, while ibn Hisham does not.[7]

Following the publication of previously unknown fragments of ibn Isḥaq's traditions, recent scholarship suggests that ibn Isḥaq did not commit to writing any of the traditions now extant, but they were narrated orally to his transmitters. These new texts, found in accounts by Salama al-Ḥarranī and Yūnus ibn Bukayr, were hitherto unknown and contain different versions as compared to those found in other works.[9]

Views about his sīra narratives

Notable scholars like Ahmad ibn Hanbal appreciated his efforts in collecting sīra narratives and accepted him on maghāzī, despite having reservations on his methods on matters of fiqh.[3] Ibn Ishaq also influenced later sīra writers like Ibn Hishām and Ibn Sayyid al-Nās. Other scholars, like Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, also made use of his chronological ordering of events.[10]

The most widely discussed criticism of his sīra was that of his contemporary Mālik ibn Anas.[3] Mālik rejected the stories of Muhammad and the Jews of Medina on the ground that they were taken solely based on accounts by sons of Jewish converts.[11] These same stories have also been denounced as "odd tales" (gharāʾib) later by ibn Hajar al-Asqalani.[11] Mālik and others also thought that ibn Isḥāq exhibited Qadari and Shi'i tendencies (Guillaume also found evidence of this, p.xxii,xxiv),[3] and relied too heavily on what were later called the Isrā'īlīyāt. Furthermore, early literary critics, like ibn Sallām al-Jumaḥī and ibn al-Nadīm, censured ibn Isḥāq for knowingly including forged poems in his biography,[3] and for attributing poems to persons not known to have written any poetry.[9] The 14th-century historian al-Dhahabī, using hadith terminology, noted that in addition to the forged (makdhūb) poetry, Ibn Isḥāq filled his sīra with many munqaṭiʿ and munkar reports.[12]

Guillaume notices that Ibn Isḥāq frequently uses a number of expressions to convey his skepticism or caution. Beside a frequent note that only God knows whether a particular statement is true or not, (p. xix) Guillaume suggests that Ibn Isḥāq deliberately substitute the ordinary term "ḥaddathanī" by a word of suspicion "zaʿama" ("he alleged") to show his skepticism about certain traditions. (p. xx)

English Translation

The English-language edition of ibn Isḥaq currently used by non-Arabic speakers is the 1955 version by Alfred Guillaume, although some have questioned the reliability of this translation.[13][14] Guillaume combined ibn Hisham and those materials in al-Tabari cited as ibn Isḥaq's whenever they differed or added to ibn Hisham, believing that in so doing he was restoring a lost work. The extracts from al-Tabari are clearly marked, although sometimes it is difficult to distinguish them from the main text (only a capital "T" is used).

Other Works

Ibn Isḥaq wrote several works, none of which survive. Apart from the al-sīra al-nabawiyya, he is credited with Kitāb al-kh̲ulafāʾ, which al-Umawwī related to him (Fihrist,92; Udabāʾ, VI, 401) and a book of Sunan (Ḥād̲j̲d̲j̲ī Ḵh̲alīfa, II, 1008).[7]

Reliability of his ahadith

In hadith studies, which early Muslim scholars examined more seriously than prophetic biography,[9] ibn Isḥaq's hadith was generally thought to be "good" (ḥasan) and himself having a reputation of being "sincere" or "trustworthy" (ṣadūq). However, analysis of his isnad (chain of transmission) has given him the negative distinction of being a mudallis, meaning one who did not name his teacher, claiming instead to narrate directly from his teacher's teacher.[15] Because of his tadlīs, many scholars including Muhammad al-Bukhari hardly ever used his narrations in their sahih books.[16] According to al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī, all scholars of ahadith except one no longer rely on any of his narrations, although truth is not foreign to him.[17] Others, like Ahmad ibn Hanbal, rejected his narrations on all matters related to fiqh.[3] Al-Dhahabī concluded that despite his good qualities any narration solely transmitted through him should probably be considered as containing munkar.[12]

See also


  1. ^ a b Mustafa al-Saqqa, Ibrahim al-Ibyari and Abdu l-Hafidh Shalabi, Tahqiq Kitab Sirah an-Nabawiyyah, Dar Ihya al-Turath, p. 20
  2. ^ Robinson 2003, p. xv
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Jones, J. M. B. (1968). "ibn Isḥāḳ". Encyclopaedia of Islam. 3 (2nd ed.). Brill Academic Publishers. pp. 810–1. 
  4. ^ Robinson 2003, p. xv
  5. ^ Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Taqdima al-maʿrifa li kitāb al-jarḥ wa al-taʿdīl, at "Sufyān ibn ʿUyayna"
  6. ^ Robinson 2003, p.27
  7. ^ a b c d Raven, Wim, Sīra and the Qurʾān – Ibn Isḥāq and his editors, Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an. Ed. Jane Dammen McAuliffe. Vol. 5. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill Academic Publishers, 2006. p29-51.
  8. ^ a b c Donner, Fred McGraw (1998). Narratives of Islamic origins: the beginnings of Islamic historical writing. Darwin Press. p. 132. ISBN 9780878501274. 
  9. ^ a b c Raven, W. (1997). "SĪRA". Encyclopaedia of Islam. 9 (2nd ed.). Brill Academic Publishers. pp. 660–3. ISBN 90-04-10422-4. 
  10. ^ Muḥammad Ibn ʻAbd al-Wahhāb, Imam (2003). Mukhtaṣar zād al-maʻād. Darussalam publishers Ltd. p. 345. ISBN 978-9960897189. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=8JRzr6mC55IC&printsec=frontcover. 
  11. ^ a b Arafat, W. N. (1976-01-01). "New Light on the Story of Banū Qurayẓa and the Jews of Medina". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (2): 100–107. ISSN 0035-869X. JSTOR 25203706. 
  12. ^ a b Al-Dhahabī, Mīzān al-iʿtidāl fī naqd al-rijāl, at "Muhammad ibn Ishaq"
  13. ^ Humphreys, R. Stephen (1991). Islamic History: A framework for Inquiry (Revised ed.). Princeton University Press. p. 78. ISBN 0691008566. 
  14. ^ Tibawi, Abdul Latif (1956). Ibn Isḥāq's Sīra, a critique of Guillaume's English translation: the life of Muhammad. OUP. 
  15. ^ Qaraḍāwī, Yūsuf (2007). Approaching the Sunnah: comprehension and controversy. IIIT. p. 188. ISBN 9781565644182. 
  16. ^ A Biography of the Prophet of Islam, By Mahdī Rizq Allāh Aḥmad, Syed Iqbal Zaheer, pg. 18
  17. ^ al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī, Tārīkh Baghdād


Primary Sources

  • Alfred Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad. A translation of Isḥaq's "Sirat Rasul Allah", with introduction [xiii-xliii] and notes (Oxford University 1955), xlvii + 815 pages. The Arabic text used by Guillaume was the Cairo edition of 1355/1937 by Mustafa al-Saqqa, Ibrahim al-Abyari and Abdul-Hafiz Shalabi, as well as another, that of F. Wustenfeld (Göttingen 1858–1860). Ibn Hasham's "Notes" are given at pages 691–798.
  • Gustav Weil, Das Leben Mohammeds nach Mohammed ibn Ishak, bearbeitet von Abd Malik ibn Hischam (Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler'schen Buchh. 1864), 2 volumes. The Sirah Rasul Allah translated into German with annotations. Volume 1
  • Ibn Isḥaq, The Life of Muhammad. Apostle of Allah (London: The Folio Society 1964), 177 pages. From a translation by Edward Rehatsek (Hungary 1819 – Mumbai [Bombay] 1891), which has been abridged and introduced [at 5–13] by Michael Edwards. Rehatsek had completed his translation; it was given to the Royal Asiatic Society of London by F. F. Arbuthnot in 1898.
  • Ibn Isḥaq (2004). Al-Mazīdī, Aḥmad Farīd. ed (in Arabic). Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyah li-ibn Isḥāq (السيرة النبوية لابن إسحاق). Bayrūt: Dār al-kutub al-ʻilmiyah. ISBN 2745139827. 
  • Ibn Isḥaq (1976). Hamidullah, Muhammad. ed (in Arabic). Sīrat ibn Isḥāq al-musammāh bi-kitāb al-Mubtadaʼ wa-al-Mabʻath wa-al-maghāzī (سيرة ابن اسحاق، المسماة ب‍كتاب المبتدأ والمبعث والمغازي ). Al-Rabāṭ al-Maghrib: Maʻhad al-Dirāsāt wa-al-Abḥāth lil-Taʻrīb. 

Traditional Biographies

Secondary Sources

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