Ibn Ishaq
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Ibn Ishaq
Mu?ammad ibn Isq ibn Yas?r
? ? ?
Ibn Ishaq.png
Other names
Ibn Is?aq
BornAD 704
AH 85[1]
DiedAD 767
AH 150[1][2][3][4]
EraIslamic golden age
Main interest(s)Prophetic biography
Other names
Ibn Is?aq
Muslim leader
Influenced by

Mu?ammad ibn Isq ibn Yas?r ibn Khiy?r (Arabic pronunciation: [?is?a:q]; according to some sources, ibn Khabb?r, or K?m?n, or K?t?n,[5] Arabic: ? ? ?‎, or simply ibn Is?aq, , meaning "the son of Isaac" (died 767)[2] was an Arab Muslim historian and hagiographer. Ibn Ishaq collected oral traditions that formed the basis of an important biography of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.


Born in Medina circa A.H. 85 (A.D. 704), ibn Is?aq's grandfather was Yas?r, one of forty Christian or Jewish boys who had been held captive in a monastery at Ayn al-Tamr.[6] After being found in one of Khalid ibn al-Walid's campaigns, Yas?r was taken to Medina and enslaved to Qays ibn Makhrama ibn al-Mualib ibn ?Abd Man?f ibn Qu?ayy. On his conversion to Islam, he was manumitted as "mawl?" (client), thus acquiring the surname, or "nisbat", al-Mualib?. His three sons, M?s?, ?Abd al-Ra?m?n, and Isq, were transmitters of "akhb?r", ie they collected and recounted written and oral testaments of the past. Isq married the daughter of another mawl? and from this marriage Ibn Isq was born.[5][7]

No facts of Ibn Isq's early life are known, but it is likely that he followed in the family tradition of transmission of early akhb?r and hadith. He was influenced by the work of ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, who praised the young ibn Ishaq for his knowledge of "magh?z?" (stories of military expeditions). Around the age of 30, ibn Is?aq arrived in Alexandria and studied under Yaz?d ibn Ab? ?ab?b. After his return to Medina, based on one account, he was ordered out of Medina for attributing a hadith to a woman he had not met, Fima bint al-Mundhir, the wife of Hish?m ibn ?Urwa.[5] But those who defended him, like Sufyan ibn ?Uyaynah, stated that Ibn Ishaq told them that he did meet her.[8] Also ibn Ishaq disputed with the young Malik ibn Anas, famous for the Maliki School of Fiqh. Leaving Medina (or forced to leave), he traveled eastwards towards "al-Ir?q", stopping in Kufa, also al-Jaz?ra, and into Iran as far as Ray, before returning west. Eventually he settled in Baghdad. There, the new Abbasid dynasty, having overthrown the Umayyad dynasty, was establishing a new capital.[9]

Ibn Is?aq moved to the capital and found patrons in the new regime.[10] He became a tutor employed by the Abbasid caliph Al-Mansur, who commissioned him to write an all-encompassing history book starting from the creation of Adam to the present day, known as "al-Mubtada? wa al-Ba?th wa al-Magh?z?" (lit. "In the Beginning, the mission [of Muhammad], and the expeditions"). It was kept in the court library of Baghdad.[11] Part of this work contains the Sîrah or biography of the Prophet, the rest was once considered a lost work, but substantial fragments of it survive.[12][13] He died in Baghdad in A.H. 150.

Biography of Muhammad (S?rat Ras?l All?h)

Original versions, survival

Ibn Is?aq collected oral traditions about the life of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. These traditions, which he orally dictated to his pupils,[11] are now known collectively as S?ratu Ras?li l-L?h (Arabic: ? ? ?‎ "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.[14] Ibn Hisham edited out of his work "things which it is disgraceful to discuss; matters which would distress certain people; and such reports as al-Bakka'i told me he could not accept as trustworthy."[15]
  • 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 by Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari.[14][16]
  • 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".[14] 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.[11][17]

Following the publication of previously unknown fragments of ibn Is?aq's traditions, recent scholarship suggests that ibn Is?aq 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-?arran? and Y?nus ibn Bukayr, were hitherto unknown and contain versions different from those found in other works.[18]

Reconstruction of the text

The original text of the S?rat Ras?l All?h by Ibn Ishaq did not survive. Yet it was one of the earliest substantial biographies of Muhammad. However, much of the original text was copied over into a work of his own by Ibn Hisham (Basra; Fustat, died 833 AD, 218 AH).[19]

Ibn Hisham also "abbreviated, annotated, and sometimes altered" the text of Ibn Ishaq, according to Guillaume (at p. xvii). Interpolations made by Ibn Hisham are said to be recognizable and can be deleted, leaving as a remainder, a so-called "edited" version of Ibn Ishaq's original text (otherwise lost). In addition, Guillaume (at p. xxxi) points out that Ibn Hisham's version omits various narratives in the text which were given by al-Tabari in his History.[20][21] In these passages al-Tabari expressly cites Ibn Ishaq as a source.[22][23]

Thus can be reconstructed an 'improved' "edited" text, i.e., by distinguishing or removing Ibn Hisham's additions, and by adding from al-Tabari passages attributed to Ibn Ishaq. Yet the result's degree of approximation to Ibn Ishaq's original text can only be conjectured. Such a reconstruction is available, e.g., in Guillaume's translation.[24] Here, Ibn Ishaq's introductory chapters describe pre-Islamic Arabia, before he then commences with the narratives surrounding the life of Muhammad (in Guillaume at pp. 109-690).


Notable scholars like the jurist Ahmad ibn Hanbal appreciated his efforts in collecting s?ra narratives and accepted him on magh?z?, despite having reservations on his methods on matters of fiqh.[5] Ibn Ishaq also influenced later s?ra writers like Ibn Hish?m and Ibn Sayyid al-N?s. Other scholars, like Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, made use of his chronological ordering of events.[25]

The most widely discussed criticism of his s?ra was that of his contemporary M?lik ibn Anas.[5] M?lik 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.[26] These same stories have also been denounced as "odd tales" (gharib) later by ibn Hajar al-Asqalani.[26] M?lik and others also thought that ibn Isq exhibited Qadari tendencies, had a preference for Ali (Guillaume also found evidence of this, pp. xxii &xxiv),[5] and relied too heavily on what were later called the Isr?'?l?y?t. Furthermore, early literary critics, like ibn Sall?m al-Juma and ibn al-Nad?m, censured ibn Isq for knowingly including forged poems in his biography,[5] and for attributing poems to persons not known to have written any poetry.[18] The 14th-century historian al-Dhahab?, using hadith terminology, noted that in addition to the forged (makdh?b) poetry, Ibn Isq filled his s?ra with many munqa?i? (broken chain of narration) and munkar (suspect narrator) reports.[27]

Guillaume notices that Ibn Isq 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 Isq deliberately substitutes the ordinary term "?addathan?" (he narrated to me) by a word of suspicion "za?ama" ("he alleged") to show his skepticism about certain traditions (p. xx).

Michael Cook laments that comparing Ibn Ishaq with the later commentator Al-Waqid -- who based his writing on Ibn Ishaq but added much colorful but made-up detail -- reveals how oral history can be contaminated by the fiction of storytellers (qussa).[28] "We have seen what half a century of story-telling could achieve between Ibn Ishaq and al-Waqidi, at a time when we know that much material had already been committed to writing. What the same processes may have brought about in the century before Ibn Ishaq is something we can only guess at."[29]

Cook's fellow revisionist Patricia Crone complains that S?rat is full of "contraditions, confusions, inconsistencies and anomalies,"[30] written "not by a grandchild, but a great grandchild of the Prophet's generation", that it is written from the point of view of the ulama and Abbasid, so that "we shall never know ... how the Umayyad caliphs remembered their prophet".[31]

Popular historian Tom Holland believes that Ibn Ishaq should be compared to Homer, and his writing regarded as literature rather than history. Just as Homer believed the gods determined fates in the Iliad and Odyssey, so Ibn Ishaq described hosts of angels coming to the aid of Muhammad at the Battle of Badr.[32]


In 1864 the Heidelberg professor Gustav Weil published an annotated German translation in two volumes. Several decades later the Hungarian scholar Edward Rehatsek prepared an English translation, but it was not published until over a half-century later.[33]

The best-known translation in a Western language is Alfred Guillaume's 1955 English translation, but some have questioned the reliability of this translation.[34][35] In it Guillaume combined ibn Hisham and those materials in al-Tabari cited as ibn Is?aq'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).[36]

Other works

Ibn Is?aq wrote several works. His major work is al-Mubtada? wa al-Ba?th wa al-Magh?z?--the Kitab al-Mubtada and Kitab al-Mab'ath both survive in part, particularly al-Mab'ath, and al-Mubtada otherwise in substantial fragments. He is also credited with the lost works Kit?b al-kh?ulaf, which al-Umaww? related to him (Fihrist, 92; Udab, VI, 401) and a book of Sunan (d?j?d?j ?h?al?fa, II, 1008).[11][37]

Reliability of his hadith

In hadith studies, ibn Is?aq's hadith (considered separately from his prophetic biography) is generally thought to be "good" (?asan) (assuming an accurate and trustworthy isnad, or chain of transmission)[38] and himself having a reputation of being "sincere" or "trustworthy" (?ad?q). However, a general analysis of his isnads 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.[39] Because of his tadl?s, many scholars including Muhammad al-Bukhari hardly ever used his narrations in their sahih books.[40] According to al-Khab al-Baghd?d?, all scholars of ahadith except one no longer rely on any of his narrations, although truth is not foreign to him.[41] Others, like Ahmad ibn Hanbal, rejected his narrations on all matters related to fiqh.[5] Al-Dhahab? concluded that the soundness of his narrations regarding ahadith is hasan, except in hadith where he is the sole transmitter which should probably be considered as munkar. He added that some Imams mentioned him, including Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, who cited five of Ibn Ishaq's ahadith in his Sahih.[27] The muhaddith Ibn 'Adi stated that he didn't find anything which showed any of his hadiths were da'if. He further adds that nothing could stand up to his sirah and maghazi works.[42]

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. ^ a b Robinson 2003, p. xv.
  3. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Ibn Ishaq". Retrieved 2019.
  4. ^ Oxford Dictionary of Islam. "Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad ibn Ishaq ibn Yasar ibn Khiyar". Retrieved 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Jones, J. M. B. (1968). "ibn Is". Encyclopaedia of Islam. 3 (2nd ed.). Brill Academic Publishers. pp. 810-11.
  6. ^ Lecker, Michael (2015-01-01). "Mu?ammad b. Isq ib al-magh?z?: Was His Grandfather Jewish?". Books and Written Culture of the Islamic World: 26-38. doi:10.1163/9789004283756_003.
  7. ^ Gordon D. Newby, The Making of the Last Prophet (University of South Carolina 1989) at 5.
  8. ^ Ibn Ab? tim, Taqdima al-ma?rifa li kit?b al-jar? wa al-ta?d?l, at "Sufy?n ibn ?Uyayna".
  9. ^ Gordon D. Newby, The Making of the Last Prophet (University of South Carolina 1989) at 6-7, 12.
  10. ^ Robinson 2003, p. 27.
  11. ^ a b c d Raven, Wim, S?ra and the Qurn - Ibn Isq and his editors, Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an. Ed. Jane Dammen McAuliffe. Vol. 5. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill Academic Publishers, 2006. pp 29-51.
  12. ^ Gordon D. Newby, The Making of the Last Prophet (University of South Carolina 1989) at 7-9, 15-16.
  13. ^ Graham, William A. (1992). "The Making of the Last Prophet: A Reconstruction of the Earliest Biography of Muhammad by Gordon Darnell Newby" (PDF). History of Religions. 32 (1): 93-95. doi:10.1086/463314. Retrieved 2017.
  14. ^ a b c Donner, Fred McGraw (1998). Narratives of Islamic origins: the beginnings of Islamic historical writing. Darwin Press. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-87850-127-4.
  15. ^ Guillaume, A. The Life of Muhammad, translation of Ibn Ishaq's Sira Rasul Allah, (Oxford, 1955), p. 691.
  16. ^ W. Montgomery Watt and M. V. McDonald, "Translator's Forward" xi-xlvi, at xi-xiv, in The History of al-Tabari. Volume VI. Muhammad at Mecca (SUNY 1988). Regarding al-Tabari's narratives of Muhammad, the translators state, "The earliest and most important of these sources was Ibn Ishaq, whose book on the Prophet is usually known as the Sirah". Discussed here are Ibn Ishaq and his Sirah, the various recensions of it, Guillaume's translation, and Ibn Hisham.
  17. ^ Cf., Ibn Ishaq (Guillaume's reconstruction, at pp. 165-167) and al-Tabari (SUNY edition, at VI: 107-112).
  18. ^ a b Raven, W. (1997). "S?RA". Encyclopaedia of Islam. 9 (2nd ed.). Brill Academic Publishers. pp. 660-3. ISBN 978-90-04-10422-8.
  19. ^ Dates and places, and discussions, re Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Hisham in Guillaume (pp. xiii & xli).
  20. ^ Al-Tabari (839-923) wrote his History in Arabic: Ta'rikh al-rusul wa'l-muluk (Eng: History of Prophets and Kings). A 39-volume translation was published by State University of New York as The History of al-Tabari; volumes six to nine concern the life of Muhammad.
  21. ^ Omitted by Ibn Hisham and found in al-Tabari are, e.g., at 1192 (History of al-Tabari (SUNY 1988), VI: 107-112), and at 1341 (History of al-Tabari (SUNY 1987), at VII: 69-73).
  22. ^ E.g., al-Tabari, The History of al-Tabari, volume VI. Muhammad at Mecca (SUNY 1988) at p. 56 (1134).
  23. ^ See here above: "The text and its survival", esp. re Salamah ibn Fadl al-Ansari. Cf, Guillaume at p. xvii.
  24. ^ Ibn Hisham's 'narrative' additions and his comments are removed from the text and isolated in a separate section (Guillaume at 3 note, pp. 691-798), while Ibn Hisham's philological additions are evidently omitted (cf., Guillaume at p. xli).
  25. ^ Mu?ammad Ibn ?Abd al-Wahh?b, Imam (2003). Mukhta?ar z?d al-mad. Darussalam publishers Ltd. p. 345. ISBN 978-9960-897-18-9.
  26. ^ a b Arafat, W. N. (1976-01-01). "New Light on the Story of Ban? Quray?a and the Jews of Medina". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. 108 (2): 100-107. doi:10.1017/S0035869X00133349. ISSN 0035-869X. JSTOR 25203706.
  27. ^ a b Al-Dhahab?, M?z?n al-i?tid?l f? naqd al-rij?l, at "Muhammad ibn Ishaq". [1]
  28. ^ Cook, Michael (1983). Muhammad. Oxford University Press. pp. 62-3. ISBN 0192876058.
  29. ^ Cook, Michael (1983). Muhammad. Oxford University Press. p. 67. ISBN 0192876058.
  30. ^ Crone, Patricia (1980). Slaves on Horses (PDF). Cambridge University Press. p. 12. Retrieved 2019.
  31. ^ Crone, Patricia (1980). Slaves on Horses (PDF). Cambridge University Press. p. 4. Retrieved 2019.
  32. ^ Holland, In the Shadow of the Sword, 2012: p.39
  33. ^ See bibliography.
  34. ^ Humphreys, R. Stephen (1991). Islamic History: A Framework for Inquiry (Revised ed.). Princeton University Press. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-691-00856-1.
  35. ^ Tibawi, Abdul Latif (1956). Ibn Isq's S?ra, a critique of Guillaume's English translation: the life of Muhammad. OUP.
  36. ^ E.g., Guillaume at pp. 11-12.
  37. ^ Gordon D. Newby, The Making of the Last Prophet (University of South Carolina 1989) at 2-4, 5, 7-9, 15-16.
  38. ^ M. R. Ahmad (1992). Al-s?ra al-nabawiyya f? dhaw? al-madir al-a?liyya: dir?sa ta?l?l?yya (1st ed.). Riyadh: King Saud University.
  39. ^ Qaraw?, Y?suf (2007). Approaching the Sunnah: comprehension and controversy. IIIT. p. 188. ISBN 978-1-56564-418-2.
  40. ^ A Biography of the Prophet of Islam, By Mahd? Rizq All?h A?mad, Syed Iqbal Zaheer, p. 18.
  41. ^ al-Khab al-Baghd?d?, T?r?kh Baghd?d.
  42. ^ Tahdhib al-Tahdhib, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalai.
Books and journals


Primary sources

  • Alfred Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad. A Translation of Is?aq's "Sirat Rasul Allah", with introduction [pp. 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. digital scan
  • Gustav Weil, Das Leben Mohammed's nach Mohammed Ibn Ishak, bearbeitet von Abd el-Malik Ibn Hischam (Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler'schen Buchhandlung, 1864), 2 volumes. The Sirah Rasul Allah translated into German with annotations. digital edition
  • Ibn Is?aq, 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), abridged and introduced [at pp. 5-13] by Michael Edwards. Rehatsek completed his translation; in 1898 it was given to the Royal Asiatic Society of London by F.F. Arbuthnot.
  • Ibn Is?aq (2004). Al-Maz?d?, A?mad Far?d (ed.). Al-S?rah al-Nabawiyah li-ibn Isq ( ? ? ) (in Arabic). Bayr?t: D?r al-kutub al-?ilmiyah. ISBN 978-2-7451-3982-5.
  • Ibn Is?aq (1976). Hamidullah, Muhammad (ed.). S?rat ibn Isq al-musamm?h bi-kit?b al-Mubtada' wa-al-Mab?ath wa-al-magh?z? (? ? ? ? ) (in Arabic). Al-Rab al-Maghrib: Ma?had al-Dir?s?t wa-al-Abth lil-Ta?r?b.

Traditional biographies

Secondary sources

External links

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