[The Life of Prophet Muhammad (blessings and peace be upon him)], in the Collected Works of Sir Syed Vol 7
Author(s): Sayyid Ahmad Khan
Reviewed by: Abdur Raheem Kidwai
Reviewed by: Abdur Raheem Kidwai, Aligarh Muslim University, India
Published by: Sir Syed Academy, Aligarh, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, 2023, 556pp.
Originally published in English, entitled, Essays on the Life of Muhammad (London, 1870), the book under review is an expanded Urdu version which was first published in 1877. In 1861, Sir William Muir, a high-ranking British official, published his book, Life of Muhammad and earlier, in 1851, the Austrian Orientalist Aloys Sprenger, Principal of Delhi College in British India, had brought out his scurrilous Life of Muhammad. Although both Muir and Sprenger were Sayyid Ahmad Khan’s friends, he authored a stout refutation of both these damaging works on the Sirah. He travelled to England in 1869, stayed there for a year and consulted an array of Western writings on the Sirah for, apart from repudiating the Orientalists, his objective was to boost the morale of the demoralized Indian Muslims facing an aggressive missionary campaign against Islam.
Sayyid Ahmad Khan’s work has many distinctions and stands out as the first modern scholarly work on the Sirah, interlaced with full academic apparatus of drawing upon both primary and secondary sources in Hebrew, Latin, Arabic and English. The range of his sources is breathtakingly wide. Some of his noteworthy Western and Muslim sources include the Old and New Testament, George Sale, Voltaire, Renan’s Life of Jesus Christ, Horne’s A Critical Study of the Scriptures, Logan’s Christian Mythology, and works on history and geography by Bayle, Pococke and C. Forester, the six standard collections of Hadith, the classical works on the Sirah by Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Hisham, al-Waqidi, Tabari, Mas[udi, Ibn Sa[d as well as his contemporaries namely, Shah Waliullah and Shah [Abd al-[Aziz. This set a new trend in Urdu Sirah writing for it represented a marked departure from the then inauthentic, hagiographic writings teeming with weak reports and bordering on the supernatural. He introduced critical rigour and an analytical approach leading to sound, cogent inferences. His work served as a template for the early 20th century high quality works on the Sirah in Urdu by Qadi Sulayman Mansurpuri, Shibli Nu[mani and Sayyid Sulayman Nadwi.