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Truth about Biography(Life of Muhammad) written by Ibn Ishaq

Posted on: March 21, 2012

In The name of Allah,The Most Merciful,The Most gracious

Truth about Biography(Life of Muhammad ) written by Ibn Ishaq

Who Was Ibn Ishaq?

His full name is Muhammad b Ishaq b Yasar, born in Madina about 85AH/ 702CE and died in Baghdad 151AH. Ibn Ishaq was the earliest (but one of the worse) biographers of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).  Ibn Ishaq was born in Madina (The city of the Prophet) approximately 85 years after Hijra, which is approximately 704 CE. He is thus considered one of the Tabi‘in and he is reported to have met Anas ibn Malik. He worked in Madina until the Abbasids replaced the Umayyads in the caliphate (750 C.E.). After that he is reported at various places in Iraq and Iran and he died in Bagdad in 768 C.E.

He was the first author to write Sirat Rassoul Allah/ Biography of Muhammad (peace be upon him). His grandfather, Yassar was a Christian captured by Khalid b al Walid in Aynul Tamar in 12AH who became a slave to Qays b Makhrama b. al Muttalib b. Abdu Manaf who was manumeted after he accepted Islam. His father Ishaq and uncle Musa were well known traditionists which eventually led to Ibn Ishaq as a writer and author. [1]

It is unclear that Ibn Ishaq must have devoted himself to study and research the apostolic tradition by attending lectures in Egypt and then returning to Madina to collate and arrange all the materials that he had accumulated.

Ibn Ishaq’s  biography of Muhammad the Sira was based – besides others – on many of the reports about Prophet Muhammad from books written by several different authors called al Maghazi which described the stories of the wars that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) fought.

The original book has not been found but its contents were traced through other contemporaneous authors who copied his book such as Ibn Hisham.Early Muslim historical writing was primarily concerned with the biography of Muhammad (Sirat Rasul Allah) and the first wars of Islam (Al-Maghazi). Muhammad Ibn Ishaq related the first known biography (Sira). This work no longer exists in its original form, but has been preserved in at least two recensions, one of these recensions being authored by Ibn Hisham (with many revisions), as well as by Al Bakka’i, al Tabari, Yunus b. Bukayr, al Athir, Al Qarawayoun (in Fez, Morocco) manuscript, etc.; thus Ibn Hisham’s work represents one of the earliest (but not entirely reliable) authorities on the life of Muhammad. [2]

The Arabic text was published at Gottingen in three volumes by F. Wustenfeld, 1858-60, and a German translation by G. Weil, The Historian of the Caliphate, appeared at Stuttgart in 1864. It is this latter work which is perhaps better known in the West, and is now more conveniently read in the English translation of the late Alfred Guilaume.

Alfred Guillaume’s English translation is probably the best attempt at the reconstruction of Ibn Ishaq’s work. This was produced largely by translating what Ibn Hisham reports from Ibn Ishaq, adding quotations from the latter that are included by al-Tabari (mainly the material that Ibn Hisham omitted) and placing Ibn Hisham’s comments on Ibn Ishaq’s work at the end of the translation in a section called “Ibn Hisham’s Notes” [3]  The page numbers suggest that Ibn Hisham’s comments constitute about 15% of his recessions of Ibn Ishaq’s work.

Ibn Hisham’s (833 C.E.) work contains information concerning the creation of the world, Biblical/Isreali Prophets, and the advent of Islam. The actions and deeds of Muhammad were noted, and his battles described in great detail. Ibn Hisham’s Sirat Muhammad rasul Allah is considered by Dunlop as one of the best existing authorities on the life of Muhammad.

We do not know if Ibn Ishaq ever wrote a “book” in the ordinary sense of books. What has come down to us seems to be from the notes taken by his pupils. The standard source is now the “Sirat al-Nabi” (“Life of the Prophet”) of Abd al-Malik ibn Hisha (died 830, 835 or perhaps much later) which is a systematic presentation of Ibn Ishaq’s material with a commentary by Ibn Hisham.

This should be supplemented by the extracts in al-Tabari and other authors. For example, the story about the allegic Verses was not reported by Ibn Hisham. But it was repeated by al-Tabari and others. Ibn Hisham makes no secret – in the Introduction to his book – of the fact that he omitted some of the material Ibn Ishaq included that reflected negatively upon Muhammad’s character.

The part of Ibn Hisham’s work due to Ibn Ishaq is now usually called the”Sirat Rasul Allah” (“Life of Allah’s Messenger”). Ibn Ishaq’s work originally consisted of three almost equal parts. The first was a history of the world up until the beginning of Muhammad’s ministry. The second was an account of Muhammad’s work in Mecca and the third was an account of his work in Madina and his death.

The first part, the Mubtada’ (Mabda’), one has to go to the Tafsir and History, which is actually based upon the Hebrew Bible, from Genesis (In the Beginning/ Mubtada’), the beginning of Creation story. Unfortunately, Ibn Hisham was not interested in these stories and jumped directly to the story of Abraham, who is the ancestor of Muhammad (p) and the Arab race. Much of this part it is lost. What remains is based on Arabic traditions and the Jewish scriptures. Al Azraqi for example, quotes some passages from the missing section in his Akhbar Mecca.

The second part, which is often called al-Mab’ath, begins with the birth of Muhammad and ends when the first fighting from his base in Madina takes place. It is a collection of prophetic hadiths, especially about the events behind the revelation of one or another verse in the Quran (the division between Meccan and Madinan suras), lists of significant persons (for example, the earliest Muslims) and poetry. Ibn Ishaq does not attempt a chronology, but he does arrange his material in a logical sequence.

The third part consists of a careful month-based chronology (which falls apart at the end) and the campaigns Maghazi (Ibn Ishaq counts 27, but he stretches the meaning of campaign) made by Muhammad from his base of operations in Madina are carefully embedded in this chronology. But before this campaign literature there is a copy of the document called the Constitution of Madina and an extensive section of Tafsir and Hadiths. Tafsir also occurs several times embedded in the campaign literature. The campaign literature itself includes extensive poetry and lists of persons involved as well as description of battles or why no battle took place.

The Tafsir is among the earliest in Islam and the American Quran scholar John Wansbrough classifies it as Haggadic in his most primitive subset of the Tafsir. That is, it is primarily devoted to passing on a narrative.The campaign literature is followed by an appendix describing campaigns made by other Muslims under Muhammad’s directions and a relatively brief account of his death and succession by Abu Bakr.

There are about 600 Hadiths in Ibn Ishaq’s book “Sirat Rasullah” and most of them have what appears to be questionable (at best) isnads (chains of transmissions) . But the later hadith collectors (Bukhari, Muslim, etc)

rarely used any material from the Sira (because of the lack of quality and authentic isnads). It is important to note that Muslims follow the Quran and the Hadith 100% only. Not the Sira. There are almost as many poems as hadiths in Ibn Ishaq, but later commentaries tend to view them as worthless because they feel so many of them were forged (by Muslims). Alfred Guillaumme, translated it in English in his own monumental work “The Life of Muhammad”.

Who were the other Earlier Sources of Islam?

During the early days of Islam, there were numberous books written about Islam and Prophet Muhammad. These books were the Sirat (Biography) and the Maghazi ( the battles). These books are completely different than the hadith books– as in they are not as reliable as the hadith. The Sirat and the Maghazi weren’t carefully written or compiled. Many unreliable accounts and fictional narratvies crept into them. Anyways below is a list of the earliest compliers and biographers of the Prophet and the Maghazi.

  • Aban b. `Uthman al-Bajkali

(640-718 C.E.), son of the  caliph who wrote a book on maghazi which has not survived, nor has it been cited by Ibn Ishaq or al-Waqidi.

  • `Urwa b. al-Zubayr b. al-Awwam

(643-712 C.E.) the cousin of the Prophet and referred to the founder of Islamic history. There is doubt that he authored anything, but there are many traditiions that have been handed down in his name.

  • Shurabil b. sa`d

(740 C.E.), who wrote a maghazi, but this book was considered unreliable and thus seldom used by later historians.

  • Wahb b. Munabbih

(654-728 C.E.), who wrote the Kitab al-Mubtada, which inspired many Muslim versions of the lives of the prophets. However, much was attributed to him for which he was not responsible, and the earliest fragment is 228/842, and several early writers did not use him.

  • Al-Waqidi

(734-823 C.E.) worte over twenty works of an historical nature, but only the Kitab al-Maghazi has survived as an independent work. His reputation is mared by the fact that he relied upon story tellers; viz., those who embellished the stories of others. Al-Waqidi did such embellish, such as by adding dates and other details onto the account of Ibn Ishaq

  • Ibn Sa’d

(784-845 C.E.) He was a Sunni Muslim scholar of Islam and an Iraqi biographer, received his training in the tradition from Al-Waqidi and other teachers.

  • Al-Tabari

(923 C.E.) was a polymath who wrote on many subjects (including a commentary on the Quran) but is perhaps most famous for his history of the world, which extends to July 915.

  • Ali bin Muhammad al Madaini

(840 C.E.) – Imporant for the Arab conquests of Persia.

The Differences between Sirah and Hadith

Several critics of Islam say that Ibn Ishaq’s “Sirat Rasulallah” – “Life of the Prophet of Allah” is considered the most authentic biography of Prophet Muhammad.

This is certainly false. While it is true that Sirat Rasulallah is the oldest and earliest biography of the Prophet– no Muslim accpets Ibn Ishaq to be 100% true, inspired, a sunnah book or reliable. Most of the material of the Sira as we’ll see has been rejected by hadith collectors such as Bukhari, etc.

What several critics of Islam and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) fail to realize is that there is a huge difference between Sirah (Biography of the Prophet) and Hadith (the sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad). The Seerah is a collection of narrations about the people and events surrounding the Prophet (SAW) arranged in a chronological order. The amount of rigor put into authenticating and analyzing the chains and narrators [4] of an incident or event that is found in the Seerah is far lower than when a narration is used in the Sunnah or Hadith. Only the top of the top narrations, namely Sahih [5]  or Hasan [6] are used in the books of Hadith and Sunnah. As for Seerah this is not the case, the narrations used include all the authentic and acceptable ones, along with ones with weaknesses. The reason for including these weaker narrations is in order to fill in gapes or holes in the story. Muslims accept the hadith 100%. Muslims however don’t accept the Sirah 100%— rather Muslim scholars question 70% of the material found in the works of  Al-Waqidi, Ibn Sa’d, Ibn Ishaq, etc. These were more or less historians– they were not hadith collectors. Ibn Ishaq, Al-Waqidi, Ibn Sa’d and Al-Tabri all operated outside of f all the sciences of Islam and isnaad (Arabic for chain of transmitters).  Ibn Is’haaq’s specialty was seerah therefore he was abandoned by the scholars of hadeeth (such as Bukhari and Muslim) when it came to narrating hadeeth and a reason for this might be because he might include those weaker narrations while he narrated the hadeeth.

Why Ibn Ishaq can’t be trusted/The Problems with Ibn Ishaq

“The Life of Muhammad” by Ibn Ishaq has been quoted by many critics of Islam. They get excited when Ibn Ishaq paints a bad picture of Prophet Muhammad and use it in their writings to attack Islam.  Although Ibn Ishaq  was the earliest of the traditionists to write a biography of the events that pertained to the time of Muhammad (p) there are several severe problems with his writings. As Bassam Zawadi says” just because something is early doesn’t mean it is true”. He has a good point.  Not everyone back then was reliable and honest.  Ibn Ishaq was known to be careless in him collecting stories about the Prophet, etc.

That his Isnads (chains of transmissions) were defective, ie not ‘iron’ tight by naming all the reporters, which is important because this determines whether the transmitter of the story is trustworthy or not. Ibn Ishaq was not an eye witness to any of the events of Prophet Muhammad’s life.  Ibn Ishaq was writing about 150 years after the Prophet’s death so this is very important. In Islamic sciences in order for a report of the Prophet (peace be on him) to be true is if the isnad is solid or not.

He used reports of traditions gathered from Jewish sources. Jews made up a lot of false stories/legends of Prophet Muhammad (just like the early Christians living outside of Palestine made up a lot of myths and legends of Jesus and put them in the Gospels). Making up stories and legends about the Prophet are unnacceptable in the eyes of many Islamic scholars.

Ibn Ishaq was (for lack of better term) a “suck up” to the Jews of Arabia. He said several complimentary reports of the Jews of Arabia, despite the fact that the Jews of Arabia were constatnly fighting with the Arabs and were charging interest when loaning money. The Jews of Madinah were constatly plotting againist the Prophet Muhammad. They were always trying to undermine his authority. In fact they sided with the Makkans in order to assinate the Prophet.

Most important of all, his report about Laylat al Qadr (the first revelation), contradicts all the hadith versions. The hadith collectors Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, etc were more careful in collecting their hadith (their chains of transmission).

There are several stories in Ibn Ishaq which are never found in the hadith. The reason why is because several hadith collectors such as Bukhari– did not trust Ibn Ishaq.

Ibn Ishaq as an author was in fact subjected to devastating attacks by scholars, contemporary or later, on two particular accounts. One was his uncritical inclusion in his Sira of so much spurious or forged poetry [7] ;the other his unquestioning acceptance of just such a story as that of the slaughter of Banu Qurayza [8].  It gets worse for Ibn Ishaq though. First let’s talk about what Imam Malk thought of Ibn Ishaq.

Who Was Imam Malik? What Did Imam Malik have to Say about Ibn Ishaq?

Malik bin Anas Bin Malik bin Abu Amir Al-Asbahi (715-801 C.E.) or Imam Malik– lived cloest in the time to the life of Prophet Muhammad of all the collectors of the hadith (Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, etc). He was born more than 80 years after the death of the Prophet.

Imam Malik was a complier of a respected hadith collection, called Muwatta. Imam Malik was a hadith scholar. Imam Malik called Ibn Ishaq a liar and an imposter for writing false stories about Prophet Muhammad. Imam Malik has said that Ibn Ishaq “reports traditions on the authority of the Jews”.


Ibn Ishaq was condemned by some of our major Islamic scholars.

Shaykh ibn Taymiyyah said:

“Allah has provided evidence (i.e. Isnad) establishing the authenticity or lack thereof of the narrations that are necessary in matters of the religion. It is well known that most of what was reported in aspects of Tafsir (commentaries on the Qur’an) is similar to narrations reporting Maghazi (or Seerah) and battles, promoting Imam Ahmad to state that three matters do not have Isnad: Tafsir, Mala’him (i.e. great battles), and Maghazi. This is because most of their narrations are of the Maraseel (plural for Mursal) type, such as narrations reported by Urwah Ibn az-Zubair, ash-Sha’bi, az-Zuhri, Musa Ibn Uqbah and Ibn Ishaq

.” [10]

Imam Malik was not the only contemporary of Ibn Ishaq’s to have problems with him. Despite writing the earliest biography of Prophet Muhammad, Scholars such as al-Nisa’I and Yahya b. Kattan did not view Ibn Ishaq as a reliable or authoritative source of Hadith. [11] Though some thought his use of collective isnad (chains of tranmissions) problematized his Hadith, several people went so far as to call Ibn Ishaq a liar on matters of Hadith.

Others claim Ibn Ishaq included verses in his Sira that he knew were not authentic.

The Original Form of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah is Lost

As I have already said, the Sirat written by Ibn Ishaq only exists in a later revised and shortened version by Ibn Hisham, who died in 834 C.E, 60 years after Ibn Ishaq– and in fragments quoted by other Muslim writers including another historian, Muhammad Ibn Jarir Al-Tabari (839-923 C.E.).

Ibn Hisham, the editor of Ibn Ishaq’s biography admitted to removing certain stories from Ibn Ishaq’s work

Ibn Hisham was not a scholar of hadith. He was only a biographer and did not use the proper method of collecting Hadith and the proper way of deterimining a valid isnad. Ibn Hisham explains that in his version he omits a lot of material from Ibn Ishaq’s biography:

“God willing I shall begin this book with Isma’il son of Ibrahim and mention those of his offspring who were the ancestors of God’s apostle one by one with what is known about them, taking no account of Isma’il’s other children, omitting some of the things which I.I. has recorded in this book in which there is no mention of the apostle and about which the Quran says nothing and which are not relevant to anything in this book or an explanation of it or evidence for it; poems which he quotes that no authority on poetry whom I have met knows of; 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 – all these things I have omitted

. But God willing I shall give a full account of everything else so far as it is known and trustworthy tradition is available. [12]

Satanic verses are stories found in these books.

Other Problems with Early Sources of Islam

We have seen the unreliablity of the Sira and the Maghazi. The books of the Maghazi have not appealed to Islamic scholars as being authentic.  We’ve also seen Ibn Ishaq, Al Waqidi and Ibn Sa’d have all been condemned by Islamic scholars. In fact Ibn Ishaq had been called a liar and Al Waqidi was also attacked for narrating extremely weak stories about the Prophet Muhammad. Even Al-Tabari (another early biographer of Prophet Muhammad, who was the first to mention the false story of the “Satanic” verses”) was honest enough to say in the introduction of his book:

“Let him who examines this book of mine know that I have relied, as regards everything I mention therein which I stipulate to be described by me, solely upon what has been transmitted to me by way of reports which I cite therein and traditions which I ascribe to their narrators, to the exclusion of what may be apprehended by rational argument or deduced by the human mind, except in very few cases. This is because knowledge of the reports of men of the past and of contemporaneous views of men of the present do not reach the one who has not witnessed them nor lived in their times except through the accounts of reporters and the transmission of transmitters, to the exclusion of rational deduction and mental inference. Hence, if I mention in this book a report about some men of the past, which the reader of listener finds objectionable or worthy of censure because he can see no aspect of truth nor any factual substance therein, let him know that this is not to be attributed to us but to those who transmitted it to us and we have merely passed this on as it has been passed on to us.” [20]

Thus, Al-Tabari faithfully displayed these accounts in the exact manner through which he received them. Can he then be held liable if any objectionable accounts should arise? To translate this into laymen’s terms, al-Tabari has simply refused accountability by avoiding the task of historical criticism. Therefore, any spurious accounts are not to be attributed to him.

Getting back to Al Waqidi , According to Many Islamic scholars, Al-Waqidi was considered a liar and very unreliable. Below I’ll provide quotes from various Islamic authorities on this:

Abd Allah Ibn Ali al Madini and his father said: “Al-Waqidi has 20,000 Hadith I never heard of.” And then he said: “His narration shouldn’t be used” and considered it weak.

Yahya Ibn Muaen said: “Al-Waqidi said 20,000 false hadith about the prophet.”

Al-Shafi’i said, “Al-Waqidi is a liar.”

Ibn Hanbal said, “Al-Waqidi is a liar.”

Al-Bukhari said he didn’t write a single letter by Al-Waqidi.

(Siar Aalam al nublaa – althagbi – biography of Al-Waqidi)

Al-Waqidi and his book have been regarded as the least trustworhty and most careless biographers of Prophet Muhammad. Ibn Khalikan says “The traditions received from Al Waqidi are considered of feeble authority and doubts have been expressed on the subject of his veracity.

The following Muslim author writes:

“As a report of history, this narration suffers from two fatally serious defects. The first is the UNIVERSALLY RECOGNISED UNTRUSTWORTHINESS OF AL-WAQIDI. Details of his unreliability as a narrator would probably fill several pages, but all of it may be suitably condensed into a statement by Imam ash-Shafi’ee, who was his contemporary, and who knew him personally. Ash-Shafi’ee has the following to say: “”In Madinah there were seven people who used to forge chains of narration. One of them was al-Waqidi.” [21]

Even the English translator of Ibn Sa’d’s work had this to say about al-Waqidi:

“… The chain of the narrators is not reliable because the person who narrated to Ibn Sa’d was Waqidi WHO IS NOTORIOUS AS A NARRATOR OF FABRICATED hadithes

. The next one Ya’qub is unknown and ‘Abd Allah Ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman is not a Companion. Consequently this narration is not trustworthy. ” [22]

G.F. Haddad seeking to deny the historicity of the Satanic Verses where he calls into question al-Waqidi’s reliability. Here is what Haddad says about al-Waqidi:

[(*) Muhammad ibn `Umar al-Waqidi (d. 207), Ahmad ibn Hanbal said about Al-Waqidi is that “He is A LIAR.” Al-Bukhari and Abu Hatim al-Razi said: “DISCARDED.” Ibn `Adi said: “His narrations ARE NOT RETAINED, AND THEIR BANE COMES FROM HIM.” Ibn al-Madini said: “HE FORGES HADITHS.” Al-Dhahabi said: “CONSENSUS HAS SETTLED OVER HIS DEBILITY.” [23]

What Non Muslim Scholars say about the early Sources

Muslim Scholars (Both Classical and Present) aren’t the only ones that attack early Souces of Islam such as Ibn Ishaq, Al-Waqidi, Al-Tabari, etc. Even Non Muslim Scholars reject the Early Biography material of the Prophet. Here Micheal Cook gives us his reasons for rejecting the earlier material:

“False ascription was rife among the 8th century scholars and that in any case Ibn Ishaq and contemporaries were drawing on oral traditions. Neither of these propositions is as arbitory as it sounds. We have reason to believe that numerous traditions on questions of dogma and law were provided with spurious chians of authorities by those who put them into circulation and the same time we have much evidence of controversy in the eigth century as to whether it was permissiable to reduce oral traidtion to writing. The implications of this view for reliablity of our sources are clearly rather negative. If we cannot trust the chains of authorities we can no longer claim to know that we have before us the seperate transmitted accounts of independent witnesses; an if knowledable of the life of Muhammad was transmitted orally for a century before it was reduced to writing, then the chances are that the material will have undergone considerable alteration in the process”

[24]  Even the famous Polemist and Hatemonger, Robert Spencer admits in his book: The Truth about Muhammad , that “However, Ibn Ishaq’s life of Muhammad is so unashamedly hagiographical that its accuracy is questionable.”

[25]  Yet in the 400 footnotes of Robert’s book, 120 of them are referenced to Ibn Ishaq! This is one the reasons why I can’t take Christian critics aganist Islam seriously— they pick and choose what they want to believe from the sources for Islam.


So we can see that these various Ibn Ishaq’s stories are worthless. Same with many of the stories found in Al Waqidi and some of the stories found in Ibn Sa’d (although Ibn Sad was much better). No Islamic Scholar accepts Ibn Ishaq to be 100% true.



Notes and Bibliography

[1] Guillaume, Alfred: The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ishaq’s sirat Rasul Allah (London, 1955) pgs 8-15

[2] Donner, Fred — Narratives of Islamic Origins, The Darwin Press, 1998 pg. 132

[3] Ibid pg. 691-798.

[4] Chain (Arabic is isnad) and Narrators (Arabic is rijaal) – use dint he Sciences of the authentication or rejection of hadith.

[5] Sahih – a hadeeth that is authentic based on its chain of narrators. Accpeted as a source of Shareeah in Islam.

[6] Hassan means a good hadith. One that is judged by competent Hadith, one that is judged by competent Hadith scholars to be reliable, but not of the same, highest level of authenticity as the Sahih Hadith.

[7] On this see W. Arafat, “Early critics of the poetry of the Sira”, BSOAS, XXI, 3, 1958, 453-63.

[8] We’ll discuss this incident later.

[9] Kadhdhab and Dajjal min al-dajajila. Uyun al-athar, I, 16-7. In his valuable introduction Ibn Sayyid al-Nas provides a wide-ranging survey of the controversial views on Ibn Ishaq. In his full introduction to the Gottingen edition of the Sira, Wustenfeld in turn draws extensively on Ibn Sayyid al-Nas.

[10] Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu’ Al Fataawa, Volume, 13, page 345

[11] Jones, J.M.B. Ibn Ishak. Vol. IV, in Encyclopaedia of Islam

, edited by Ch. Pellat, and J. SchachtV.L.M.B. Lewis. London: Luzac & Co., 1971: pages 810-811.

[12] The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, with introduction and notes by Alfred Guillaume [Karachi Oxford University Press, Karachi, Tenth Impression 1995], p. 691

[13] Ibn ‘Adiyy, Al-Kamel, Vol. 6, p. 145

[14] Ibn al-Gawzi, Al-‘Ilal, Vol. 1, p. 279

[15] (Allama Shibli Nu’Mani, Sirat-Un-Nabi, volume II, p 173-174)

[16] M. M. J. Fischer & M. Abedi, “Bombay Talkies, The Word And The World: Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses”, Cultural Anthropology, 1990, Washington, Volume 5, No. 2, p. 127.

[17] T. Khalidi, Arabic Historical Thought In The Classical Period, 1994, Cambridge University Press, p. 47.

[18]  Ibid., p. 48.

[19] “Muhammad”, Encyclopedia of Islam

[20] Abu Ja`far Muhammad bin Jarir al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Tabari: Tarikh al-Umam wal-Muluk, 1997, Volume I, Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut (Lebanon), p. 13

[21] Tahdhib al-Kamal vol. 26 p. 194, in a footnote

[22] Ibn Sa’d’s Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir, Volume I, English translation by S. Moinul Haq, M.A., PH.D assisted by H.K. Ghazanfar M.A. [Kitab Bhavan Exporters & Importers, 1784 Kalan Mahal, Daryaganj, New Delhi, 110 002 India], p. 152, fn. 2; capital and bold emphasis ours

[23] Mizan al-I`tidal (3:662-666 #7993)

[24] Cook, M: Muhammad

, Oxford 1983. pg. 65

[25] Spencer, Robert: The Truth about Muhammad

, Regnery Publishers, 2006 pg. 25

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5 Responses to "Truth about Biography(Life of Muhammad) written by Ibn Ishaq"

To whom it may concern,

For all of those who would like something more than the typical Islamic self denial, I would suggest this article that addresses the usual well regurgitated criticism of Ibn Ishaq and his biography of the life of Muhammad, which can be found here.

I don’t expect this to be published at all, or for very long… but for those who can actually stand the fair minded reading of a different point of view I figure it’s worth an effort on my part. Just about any Muslim I’ve ever met has been raised in a religious regard, to have an absolutely blind allegiance to the sterilized and sanctified adoration of their beloved prophet. This of course, doesn’t allow for any true knowledge loving objectivity.

Have a great day!

Brother Mark:)




In the Name of Allah, the Companionate, the Merciful

Satan in the Holy Quran

The Holy Quran has talked about Iblis (Satan) as a physical being made of fire. He is portrayed as a rebellious creature, basking in glory of the matter he was made of and showing arrogance to man, who was made of clay. To Satan’s mind, fire is far superior to clay because it can destroy clay with its power. The cause of his rebellion against God was the high regard in which God had held Adam when He created him and for his forthcoming role on earth, especially when God ordered the angels to prostrate themselves to Adam. As the Quran implies, Satan was part of the angelic group.

The Quran keeps showing pictures that depict the dialogue with Satan to make clear the grudge this creature holds against man. He asked God to grant him immortal status in this life, so that he could concentrate on his vendetta against man. In so doing, he wants to topple man from the lofty station God had put him in and rouse in him the struggle between good and evil. He spares no effort in tempting man to incline towards doing what would in the end spell disaster for his being, by dampening down man’s spirit and his position vis-à-vis God.

Through the dialogue, the Holy Quran informs us that God had granted Satan his wish for the reasons He knows best. Nevertheless, He has made it abundantly clear to him and us that his power does not go beyond luring us towards committing what is vile and showing disobedience. There is, by no means, any direct authority that could entail force, coercion, and repression that Satan can exercise on man. Indeed, it is the type of man who chooses to embark on unbelief, waywardness, trampling his faith and not experiencing a sense of enmity to Satan, who gives Satan the sway over himself. In contrast, the person who chooses the path of belief does not usually give Satan any chance to manipulate him because of the strength of his belief. Thus, Satan’s plans to mislead such a person are doomed to failure. The Quranic dialogue has sought to capture all that, highlighting the general characteristics of Satan.

Satan’s role in the story of Adam’s creation

God created Satan and honoured and favoured him over many of his creatures. This regard with which Satan was held started when He ordered the angels, Satan included, to bow down to Adam in a big celebration that was held as a sign of glorification for the new creature on account of his intrinsic characteristics, the great role that awaited him in representing God on earth, and putting all creation at his service in order to play his part in the most efficient manner.

In many verses, the Holy Quran mentions the characteristics of Satan. By and large, he is portrayed as an insignificant creature who is at odds with God, especially in the great issues. He is painted as an egoistic self-centred and arrogant person, not least for his high opinion of his physical makeup being superior to others. Satan does not seem to give genuine thought to the other characteristics that, if found in others, could make them far superior, namely the spiritual, intellectual, and behavioural. These are the qualities that make man strive to reach the highest stations while competing for a better future, through sound ideology and better work.

The Quranic verses assume different approaches to present the whole picture in scenes that seem pulsating with life, movement and liveliness, with the aim of making the gulf between man and Satan far greater on the one hand. On the other hand, importance is given to the sense of the terribleness of arrogance and indulgence in self -worth and the extent to which it can influence the lives of living beings, as happened to Satan.

Here are some of the Quranic verses that make the boundaries of the portrait more defined:

And behold, We said to the angels: “Bow down to Adam” and they bowed down. Not so Iblis (Satan): he refused and was haughty: he was of those who reject Faith. (2: 34)

It is We Who created you and gave you shape; then We bade the angels bow down to Adam, and they bowed down; not so Iblis; He refused to be of those who bow down. (God) said: “What prevented thee from bowing down when I commanded thee?” He said: “I am better than he: Thou didst create me from fire, and him from clay.” (God) said: “Get thee down from this: it is not for thee to be arrogant here: get out, for thou art of the meanest (of creatures).” (7: 11–13)

Behold! We said to the angels: “Prostrate unto Adam”: They prostrated except Iblis (Satan): He said, “Shall I prostrate to one whom Thou didst create from clay?” He said: “Seest Thou? This is the one whom Thou hast honoured above me! If Thou wilt but respite me to the Day of Judgment, I will surely bring his descendants under my sway – all but a few!” (17: 61–62)

Going through these verses would suffice to draw a clear picture of Satan’s character. It is that of an arrogant creature that thinks highly of his physical fibre, so much so that he rebels against the will of God when he perceives that it clashes with the intrinsic conceited tendency of his character. Not only this, he seems bent on facing the consequences of his rebellion and not bothering about his fate, only to keep his “pride”.

The tragedy of Satan, a delusion

Some philosophers have tried to describe Satan’s position vis-à-vis his belief as tragic. They seem to portray him as a true monotheist and believer, who refused to bow down to Adam out of a desire to worship God alone, i.e. no one should prostrate to any one else but God. He has been depicted as willing to rebel against God’s command and tolerate His punishment, for the sheer love for, and truthfulness of belief in, Him. However, this argument does not seem to have any basis, neither in religion nor in logic, for two reasons:

1. The idea of Satan as a living being is not one that can be subjected to the empirical approach, so that we can have access to its details through our personal experiences. It is a matter of the unseen, which we have come to know about from God through what He revealed to His prophets. In this context, we have to countenance its features and details from the body of religious traditions, especially God’s divine revelations. As is evident from the above-mentioned verses, Satan’s refusal to prostrate himself to Adam was not induced by monotheism and love for God; rather, it was due to arrogance. We shall see in the ensuing discussion how he has a begrudging character, whose resentment knows no bounds, so much so that he spares no effort to inflict damage on the new creature and his offspring, as a means for venting his hate. And in order to achieve that evil end, he pleaded with God to let him live until the Day of Judgement. If this is the picture of Satan depicted in the Holy Quran, from where did those philosophisers bring us the portrait of the true believer and lover of God Satan had been, to the extent that he is prepared to be consumed by fire simply to keep pure his love for God and belief in Him? Can we not but consider this a figment of the imagination of a poet? A poet who is day-dreaming and trying to confer the semblance of tragedy on criminals, by virtue of identifying with their feelings, without giving measured thought to the real motives of the crime and its consequences on the land and people. A similar case is he who condemns the death penalty meted out to a murderer, [as a punishment in the Islamic penal code], on the basis of naive emotional feelings, losing sight of the conscious planning of legislation for man’s life. We may find some other details pertaining to this subject in the traditions of the Progeny of the Prophet (a.s.).

In Biharul Anwar, [a compendium of traditions (hadith)], and in the context of the stories of the prophets, Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) was quoted as saying, “Satan was ordered to bow down to Adam. He replied: O Lord! If You forgive me for not prostrating to him, I would worship You the kind of worship that no one else could match. God Almighty said: I wish to be obeyed whence I have decreed.”1

Some traditions from the Progeny of the Prophet (a.s.) spoke about this in a similar vein. In Tuhaful Uqool, Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) has been quoted as saying, “The angels’ prostrating to Adam was a sign of submission to God and out of love for Adam.”2

Abu Basira asked Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.), “Did the angels perform the prostrating act by putting their foreheads on the earth? He said: Yes, as a mark of glory to God Almighty.” 3

In the tradition (hadith) of the protestation (ihtijaj), in the context of a dialogue with a Jew, Imam Ali (a.s.) has been quoted as saying, “Their [the angels] prostration was not out of submission. They worshipped Adam to the exclusion of God, the Most High. However, it was out of recognition for Adam’s loftier station and by way of asking mercy for him.” 4

Satan’s Role Vis-à-Vis Man

What is Satan’s role vis-à-vis man? Does Satan have overwhelming power over man, so much so that the latter cannot walk the path of submission to and harmony with the will of God?

If this is the case, how can one understand this “God-given” domineering power? And how can one reconcile this with God’s Justice? The God who threatens man with punishment, if he rebelled against His commands, while making it possible for Satan to lure him away from the right path?

This could be the impression that is predominant among the generality of people, as a way of blaming Satan for many of the ills they are afflicted with and for being noncommittal. Thus, they find in Satan a whipping boy, i.e., to their mind, their going astray is a natural result of falling to Satan’s devices. However, the Holy Quran paints a different picture.

Satan has no power to exert on man, apart from trying to mislead him by way of devilish insinuations and creating tempting conditions for man to commit what is vile.

Man, on the other hand, has been endowed with conscious intellect that can draw the line between good and evil and be clear on the Divine messages, which open up all the roads to acquire the necessary knowledge to lead to God’s way. Man has also been graced with a strong will that helps in the process of sound decision-making and walking with firm steps on the right path.

This is what makes the struggle between man and Satan an equal one. In this fight, man has the free will to make choices amidst evil inclinations, tempting climates, and devilish suggestions. Yet, he has the means, of willpower, intellect, and conviction, to emerge victorious from this standoff, without giving in to factors of weakness or failure.

In portraying the character of Satan and his part in misleading man, the Holy Quran has provoked in the mind of the believers the strength of conviction that is capable of defeating all the forces of evil, especially with the weapons of mental power and strong belief, should he use them in the struggle. As for those who fall victim to his temptations, their failure is not due to intrinsic weakness but rather, because they contributed to paralysing, and eventually neutralizing, the powers at their disposal.

In this light, we should now know that lengthening Satan’s life till the Day of Judgement, and giving him the freedom to seduce man, who is armed with all the weapons necessary to put up a determined fight, into leaving the right way is a sign of confidence in man. This is so that man should be able to choose his destiny on account of his will and capability, not because of coercion and repression that could weaken his resolve and make him buckle under pressure. This is the difference between one who gets influenced by events and falls under their sway, and one who is the master of his own destiny and who makes the events subservient to his willpower and choice.

Now, let us dwell for a short while on these Quranic verses, which tell of the roles of both man and Satan:

(The Pagans), leaving Him, call but upon female deities: They call but upon Satan the persistent rebel! God did curse him, but he said: “I will take of Thy servants a portion marked off; I will mislead them, and I will create in them false desires; I will order them to slit the ears of cattle, and to deface the (fair) nature created by God.” Whoever, forsaking God, takes Satan for a friend, hath of a surety suffered a loss that is manifest. Satan makes them promises, and creates in them false desires; but Satan’s promises are nothing but deception. (4: 117–20)

He said, “Seest Thou? This is the one whom Thou hast honoured above me! If Thou wilt but respite me to the Day of Judgement, I will surely bring his descendants under my sway – All but a few!” (God) said: “Go thy way; if any of them follow thee, verily Hell will be the recompense of you (all) – an ample recompense. And arouse those whom thou canst among them, with thy (seductive) voice; make assaults on them with thy cavalry and thy infantry; mutually share with them wealth and children; and make promises to them. But Satan promises them nothing but deceit. As for My servants, no authority shalt thou have over them: Enough is thy Lord for a Disposer of affairs.” (17: 62–65)

(Iblis/Satan) said: “O my Lord! Give me then respite till the Day the (dead) are raised.” (God) said: “Respite is granted thee till the Day of the Time appointed.” (Iblis) said: “O my Lord! Because Thou hast put me in the wrong, I will make (wrong) fair-seeming to them on the earth, and I will put them all in the wrong, Except Thy servants among them, sincere and purified (by Thy Grace).” (God) said: “This (way of My sincere servants) is indeed a way that leads straight to Me. For over My servants no authority shalt thou have, except such as put themselves in the wrong and follow thee.” (15: 36–42)

He said: “Because thou hast thrown me out of the way, lo! I will lie in wait for them on thy straight way: Then will I assault them from before them and behind them, from their right and their left: Nor wilt thou find, in most of them, gratitude (for thy mercies).” (God) said: “Get out from this, disgraced and expelled. If any of them follow thee – Hell will I fill with you all.” (7: 16–18)

And Satan will say when the matter is decided: “It was God Who gave you a promise of Truth: I too promised, but I failed in my promise to you. I had no authority over you except to call you but ye listened to me: then reproach not me, but reproach your own souls. I cannot listen to your cries, nor can ye listen to mine. I reject your former act in associating me with God. For wrong-doers there must be a grievous penalty.” (14: 22)

The boundaries of Satan’s “authority”

It can be gathered from the verses above that, in his argument with God, Satan seems determined to entice Adam’s offspring away from the right path, by lying in wait for them at every corner and tempting them with false promises of impending good, if they turn their backs to God. However, God granted Satan his wish, but warned him against indulging in his dreams and posturing, in that he did not have any direct power to mislead people. That is, he cannot mislead those who strive in the way of guidance. It is not in his power to tempt those who aim for forthrightness and good works, and get to them. All that Satan can do is arouse doubts in people’s minds. Thus, those who are overwhelmed by wishful thinking may fall prey to his lure and follow him without any resistance.

Satan makes no bones about leading people astray. On the Day of Judgement, he openly confesses before those who were ensnared by his guile. He abdicates his responsibility in misleading the people who followed him by proclaiming that his role was confined to tempting them with wicked suggestions, i.e. he did not have access to their mental faculties so that he could adversely affect their willpower and freedom of choice.

It is evident that the issue is not one of deviating from the path of justice in creating man and directing his steps, in that it is within its natural environment, i.e. as God has willed. That is, it is a means of rousing struggle within man’s psyche, so that he is in a position to choose his way by exercising his free will, not by means of compulsion and suppression. This is what the following verses are trying to illustrate: “And on them did Satan prove true his idea, and they followed him, all but a party that believed. But he had no authority over them, except that We might test the man who believes in the Hereafter from him who is in doubt concerning it: and thy Lord doth watch over all things” (34: 20–21).

However, the picture becomes sharper when one consults other Quranic verses, which seek to rouse man and call on him to be unequivocally hostile to Satan. The verses also seek to show man the way to be the master of his own destiny, ignoring Satan’s temptations, such as:

When thou dost read the Quran, seek God’s protection from Satan the rejected one. No authority has he over those who believe and put their trust in their Lord. His authority is over those only, who take him as patron and who join partners with God. (16: 98–100)

Verily Satan is an enemy to you: so treat him as an enemy. He only invites his adherents,that they may become Companions of the Blazing Fire. (35: 6)

If a suggestion from Satan assail thy (mind), seek refuge with God; for He hears and knows (all things). Those who fear God, when a thought of evil from Satan assaults them, bring God to remembrance, when lo! They see (aright)! But their brethren (the evil ones) plunge them deeper into error, and never relax (their efforts). (7: 200–02)

Experiencing the atmosphere of the Quranic dialogue between God and Satan exposes Satan’s acrimonious position towards man. It is thus evident that he is bent on destroying man and undermining the lofty station God has lifted him to. Satan does this in reaction to God ousting him from the domain of His Mercy for having failed to obey His orders. Thus, there is no shadow of a doubt that the idea that Satan has not been done justice, in that he is a true believer deep down, is a ludicrous one. On the contrary, a picture of a psychopath comes across very clearly. The manifestations of this picture are his disobeying God’s orders and the positions he takes that are induced by selfish reactions, without giving a considered thought to the consequences of his actions to his destiny in this world and the hereafter.


Thank you for the research article. Every written word does not become authentic source of knowledge. Every printed sentence does not become a book.

Knowledge is a serious matter. Its source has to correct. eg, Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim etc

A.Basir, Kolkata, India


Subhanallah, may Allah(SWT) guide us and those who are astray and also protect us from those who try to write false stories about our beloved Prophet Muhammed (pbuh). Ameen, Ameen Ya Rabal Alameen. Jazakallahkhair for the article, all we can do dear brothers and sisters, is just to make du’aa, say Ameen with me dear brothers and sisters. Salam.


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