Background of the Seerah
Before we begin studying the Seerah it is important to know why you should study it, where the sources for the Seerah originate and a little bit of the genealogy of pre-Islamic Arabia.
So why should we study the Seerah?
Allah has ordered us to know the prophet Muhammad ﷺ – ‘Indeed there is for you, in the messenger of Allah, an exemplary manner, a perfect conduct.’
It puts the Quran into context – Many verses of the Quran are revealed at specific times in the prophet’s life and talk about specific events taking place at that time. Without knowing the context, how can you truly understand the Quran?
It gives us motivation – On seeing how difficult the struggles of the sahaba and the prophet were, it shows us how any difficulty that we are currently facing is nothing in comparison to theirs. It also inspires us to be better Muslims in the face of adversity.
It provides us a role model of how to live by showing us the lives of the very best of people
It increases our love for the prophet
It gives us the knowledge with which we can defend the honour of the prophet from those who would slander him
Now, how do we know exactly what happened 1400 years ago? These are the main sources that we get our knowledge of the prophet’s life from:
The Quran – The Quran talks about all the major events of the prophet’s life and was revealed as the Seerah took place, sometimes directly as a response to an event that happened. However it is not chronological, and the names or references to the events are not explicitly mentioned.
Hadith – There are thousands of books of hadith, but the 6 sahih ones are usually used. Each hadith is a saying of the prophet, and so is a snapshot into his life.
Books of Seerah – The first people to write up the Seerah were the sons of the sahaba. Uruwa ibn Zubair wrote one of the first and greatest accounts, as his aunt was Aisha (RA) and so he had access to many details. Another was Adnaan ibn Uthman, who also wrote a compilation of stories, after which a scholar named Ibn Shihab Az-Zuhri came and took those treatises and compiled them into a larger book.
However the most famous scholars to write books on the Seerah were those of the next generation. Muhammad ibn Ishaaq, born 85 Hijra, was the greatest of these scholars and wrote down everything he heard. He even travelled to other cities to find out the stories of the sahaba who had moved there, and was the first to put these stories into chronological order. One of the greatest things he did was that he compiled everything with isnaad, meaning the chain of narrators. This told us where the sources came from, and so helps us verify the authenticity of the stories.
However, one of the problems of Ibn Ishaaq’s book on the Seerah was that it was so big that it was almost 15 volumes long, and so was very difficult to copy by hand. For that reason, a student of his student, named Abdul Malik ibn Hishaam came and summarised his Seerah down to four volumes, and because it was so much smaller it was copied more instead of Ibn Ishaaq, and now the Seerah of Ibn Ishaaq has – unfortunately – been lost to us. However, a very famous (modern) scholar named Dr Hamidhullah came and found about a quarter of a copy of Ibn Ishaaq in repositories in Germany, France and London, which showed us that ibn Hishaam’s Seerah was an accurate summary that had simply removed things like long poetry and cut down long lineages in names so they only went back to a few ancestors. This confirmed the authenticity and accuracy of ibn Hishaam’s Seerah.
Now that we know where our sources for the Seerah come from, we can take a brief look at the civilisations of pre-Islamic Arabia.
Al-Arab-Al-Baai'da – These were the extinct Arabs, the Arabs longs before the time of Muhammad ﷺ. These were the earliest recorded civilisations to live in the land of what would be called Arabia and were from those who fled from the city of Babel. They included the Thamood, Aa’d and Saleh, the earliest of which were the Thamood who flourished around 3000BCE at least – 5000 years ago.
Al-Arab-Al-Baaqiyah – These were the ‘existent’ Arabs at the time of the prophet, and of these there were also two types:
1) Qahtaani (Al-Arab-Al-A'ribah) – Qahtaan was the father of the Ya'rab – which is where the word Arab and the language of Arabic come from – and so he was considered the father of the Arabs. There are many opinions on who he was, but the majority opinion is that he was a descendant of Saam, one of the sons of Nuh (AS), which is where the word ‘Semite’ comes from. These Arabs were in place far before the Adnaani arabs.
2) Adnaani (Al-Arab-Al-Musta'ribah) – Ismail (AS) married into the Qahtaani Arabs when they were passing through where he and his mother Hajar had been left by Ibrahim (AS) in central Arabia. There he began speaking and assimilating into the Arabic culture, and the first civilisations in central Arabia – which was formerly barren – were formed. One of his far descendants was Adnaan, from which the Adnaani Arab tribes sprung forth (Ismail (AS) had other descendants who weren’t Arab) and the prophet Muhammad (SAW) was himself the 20th generation descendant of Adnaan. Although the Adnaani Arabs came after the Qahtaanis, they actually became more influential, renowned and better at Arabic since they were in the centre of Arabia and so all the other Qahtaani tribes had to pass through them, meaning they became a centre of trade. This meant that the prophet came from the best of people in the time and place, and was in the perfect position to spread the message of Islam.
You should now know why you should want to study the Seerah and where the sources for it come from, as well as why they are reliable and accurate. As well as this, you should have some understanding of the Arabs of pre-Islamic Arabia, so that you can fully comprehend the context in which the Seerah takes place.
Dr.Yasir Qadhi’s Seerah of The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) 003