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A Critical Reading of Lings' Muhammad' SAWS

A Critical Reading of Lings' Muhammad' SAWS



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A-Critical-Reading-of-Lings'-'Muhammad'-SAWS by GF Haddad
A-Critical-Reading-of-Lings'-'Muhammad'-SAWS by GF Haddad

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Foreword to the first Swedish translation
\u00a9 GF Haddad 2005
wenty-three years after its first publication in 1983, Mu^ammad\ue002: his life based on the earliest sources by the late Ab\u2030

Bakr Sir\u00a5j al-D\u00cfn (Martin Lings, d. 2004) continues its lead as the best-written work of Prophetic biography in English and has now been translated into a dozen languages. The readers\u2019 blurbs from distinguished writers on the back cover call it \u201csuperb... scrupulous... exhaustive... mesmerising... easy and absorbing... enthralling... engrossing... majestic... gripping... fascinat[ing].\u201d Indeed, Lings\u2019 lofty English, his knowledge of genealogy, his reflexive and worshipful narrative style, and his excellentadab with the Prophet \u0153 all deserve such glowing praise.

Knowledge of Genealogy

Lings\u2019 keen sense of the family tree and tribal kinships of the Prophet, upon him and them blessings and peace, makes for a rich intertext of Prophetic Sham\u00a5\u2019iland Kha|\u00a5\u2019i|, Ahl al-Bayt and Companion lore, and general S\u00cfra historiography inside hisS\u00cfra itself. Note how much of those arts he packs into this brief paragraph in Chapter XIII (\u201cThe Household\u201d):

Mu^ammad\u2019s eldest uncle, \u00a4\u00a5rith [ibn \u00a2Abd al-Mu~~alib], who was now dead, had left many children, and one of the sons, his cousin Ab\u2030 Sufy\u00a5n, was also his foster-brother, having been nursed by \u00a4al\u00cfmah amongst the Ban\u00cf Sa\u00a2d a few years after himself. People would say that Ab\u2030 Sufy\u00a5n was of those who bore the closest family likeness to Mu^ammad; and amongst the characteristics they had in common was eloquence. But Abu Sufy\u00a5n was a gifted poet \u2013 perhaps more gifted than his uncles Zubayr and Ab\u2030 >\u00a5lib \u2013 whereas Mu^ammad had never shown any inclination to compose a poem, though he was unsurpassed in his mastery of Arabic, and in the beauty of his speech.

High English
Lings\u2019 lofty style evokes the beauty of the language of the Quran and Hadith, as in these renditions of the meanings of the
Blessed Quran:
(Chapter XVI, page 45, paragraph 5) By the morning brightness, and by the night when it is still, thy Lord hath
not forsaken thee nor doth He hate thee, and the last shall be better for thee than the first, and thy Lord shall
give and give unto thee, and thou shalt be satisfied...
(XVI, 48, 3) Verily We shall load thee with a word of heavy weight.
(XXIII, 67, 3) Verily those who say: \u201cOur Lord is God\u201d, and who then follow straight His path, on them

descend the Angels saying: \u201cFear not nor grieve, but hearken to good tidings of the Paradise which ye are promised. We are your protecting friends in this lower life, and in the Hereafter wherein ye shall be given that which your souls long for, that which ye pray for, in bounty from Him who is All-Forgiving, All-Merciful.\u201d

And the meanings of the Noble \u00a4ad\u00cfth:

(XXXI, 99, 1) \u201cI take refuge in the Light of Thy Countenance whereby all darknesses are illuminated and the things of this world and the next are rightly ordered, lest Thou make descend Thine anger upon me, or lest Thy wrath beset me. Yet it is Thine to reproach until Thou art well pleased. There is no power and no might except through Thee.\u201d

(LIV, 193, 4) Unlike most of the dead [of U^ud], the man of Muzaynah who had fought so valiantly had none of his people present, for his nephew had also fought to the death. So the Prophet went to him and stood beside him saying: \u201cMay God be pleased with thee, even as I am pleased with thee.\u201d

Islamic Manner of Mentioning the Prophet \u0153

Lings does not mention the Holy Prophet \u0153 by name from the time he became Prophet but only by his Prophetic titles \u2013 except when citing the disbelievers through free indirect speech. This courtesy reflects the ethics of the Quran and those of his Companions, upon him and them blessings and peace.

Rare Reports
Lings relies much on al-W\u00a5qid\u00cf\u2019sMagh\u00a5z\u00cf and mentions a couple of rare, moving reports exclusively found in this book:

1. The pilgrims, stopping to camp at \u00a4udaybiya, find themselves short of water, whereupon the Holy Prophet \u0153 (as he did on many other occasions related in the two\u00dfa^\u00cf^s) turned the dregs of a dried-up hollow into a gushing spring. This mira- cle was soon followed by another one, namely, the Prophet\u2019s \u0153 disclosure of his knowledge of what the ever-obdurate \u00a2Abd All\u00a5h ibn Ubay ibn Sal\u2030l had commented in denial of the first miracle without being informed of it by a human witness:

(LXVI, 249, 2) One or two of the hypocrites were amongst the pilgrims, including Ibn Ubayy; and, as he sat drinking his fill, one of his fellow clansmen addressed him saying: \u201cOut upon thee, O father of \u00a4ub\u00a5b, hath not the time now come for thee to see how thou art placed? What more than this can there be?\u201d \u201cI have seen the like of this before,\u201d said Ibn Ubayy, whereupon the other man remonstrated with him so threateningly that Ibn Ubayy went with his son to the Prophet to forestall trouble and to say that he had been misunderstood. But before he had time to speak the Prophet said to him: \u201cWhere hast thou seen the like of that which thou hast seen this day?\u201d He answered: \u201cI have never seen the like of it.\u201d \u201cThen why,\u201d said the Prophet, \u201cdidst say what thous saidst?\u201d \u201cI ask forgiveness of God,\u201d said Ibn Ubayy. \u201cO Messenger of God,\u201d said his son, \u201cask forgiveness for him,\u201d and the Prophet did so. [W\u00a5qid\u00cf 2:589]

2. (LXXIV, 296, 2) During the march on one of these days the Prophet saw a bitch lying by the side of the road with a litter of recently born pups which she was feeding, and he was afraid that she might be molested by one or another of the men. So he told Ju\u00a2ayl [ibn Sur\u00a5qah] of \u2122amrah to stand on guard beside her until every contingent had passed. [W\u00a5qid\u00cf 2:804]

Im\u00a5m A^mad said that Mu^ammad ibn \u00a2Umar ibn W\u00a5qid al-Aslam\u00cf al-W\u00a5qid\u00cf (d. 207) was an \u201cexpert in the battles and
campaigns\u201d but \u201chaphazard in assigning his chains of transmission.\u201d His rank as a ^ad\u00cfth narrator varies from \u201cvery weak\u201d
(\a\u00cff jiddan) and \u201cdiscarded (matr\u2030k) to \u201cfair\u201d (^asan). Ibn Taymiyya asserts, \u201cNo two people differ over the fact that al-

W\u00a5qid\u00cf is among the most knowledgeable of authorities in the details of military campaigns and among the best experts in all that pertains to them\u201d while al-Dhahab\u00cf said, \u201cThere is no disagreement over the fact that he is weak, but he is honest and very valuable\u201d and he is declared reliable by Ibn Sayyid al-N\u00a5s, al-\u00a2Ayn\u00cf, Ibn al-\u00a2Arab\u00cf, Ibn Daq\u00cfq al-\u00a2\u00acd, Ibn al- Hum\u00a5m, and others as documented by Ab\u2030 Ghudda in his Thal\u00a5th Ras\u00a5\u2019il f\u00cf \u00a2Ilm Mu|~ala^ al-\u00a4ad\u00cfth (p. 124-125 n.) and Ibn Taymiyya in al-\u00df\u00a5rim al-Masl\u2030l \u00a2al\u00a5 Sh\u00a5tim al-Ras\u2030l \u0153 (p. 97). A junior contemporary of Ibn Is^\u00a5q, al-W\u00a5qid\u00cf is the principal source of Im\u00a5m al->abar\u00cf (d. 310) in the latter\u2019sT\u00a5r\u00cfkh and his student and scribe Mu^ammad ibn Sa\u00a2d (d. 230) relied heavily on him in his>abaq\u00a5t.

Analytical Dimension

At times Lings writes not only to narrate but to reflect \u2013 a Fiqh al-S\u00cfra of sorts before al-Ghaz\u00a5l\u00cf and al-B\u2030~\u00cf \u2013 and makes keen observations, particularly in analysis of the attitude of the Jews toward the revelation: \u201c[G]enerally speaking, whereas the Arabs were in favour of the man but against the message, the Jews were in favour of the message but against the man\u201d (XIX, 57, 1) and the entire paragraph that begins \u201cMany of the Jews welcomed at first what seemed to be the end of all danger of a further outbreak of civil war in the oasis\u201d (XXXIX, 127, 2). Of the arch-hypocrite of Mad\u00cfna, \u00a2Abd All\u00a5h ibn Ubay ibn Sal\u2030l, he says \u201cit was his policy to be as non-committal as possible, but he sometimes betrayed his feelings despite himself\u201d (XXXIX, 128, 5). Lings is at his most brilliant in the Ban\u2030 Quray\u00b7a chapter (LXI) and in the last four chapters of the book, particularly his superb contextualization of the ^ad\u00cfth of Ghad\u00cfr Khumm (LXXXIII, 338, 2-3) which the sectarians have misused so much to wreak havoc on theUmma\u2019s unity. To All\u00a5h is our return!

With the possible exception of Shaykh Mu^ammad Sa\u00a2\u00cfd al-B\u2030~\u00cf\u2019s superior S\u00cfraentitled Jurisprudence of the Prophetic
Biography (now available in English translation at D\u00a5r al-Fikr), even among Arabic books, in all these respects I cannot
think of a single contemporary work that gathers all those accomplishments under a single roof. Allah have mercy on Ab\u2030
Bakr Sir\u00a5j al-D\u00cfn Lings and reward him abundantly!
ith great pleasure and thanks to All\u00a5h, therefore, I am honored to present the first Swedish translation of Lings\u2019S\u00cfra

to the public. Ann-Catrin Nilsson, the author of this translation, completed it in the lifetime of the author and with his authorization. Her translation was proofread by Muhammed Knut Bernstr\u00f6m, the author of the standard Swedish interpretation of the Quran. I trust that those who read Swedish will judge her work to be of the highest standard.

Genesis of This Critical Reading

It is also true that there are many problems with Lings\u2019 book. The subtle modifications inserted by Lings into the reprints of his Prophetic biography over the years, in the form of footnotes (possibly also in the text itself), show some acknowledg- ment of the need for amendments. This was not enough. Accordingly, Ms. Nilsson took the right approach in presenting Dr. Lings, two years ago, with five specific queries she thought \u201cwould need elucidation from an Islamic point of view.\u201d She told me she wrote Lings the following:

"There are ... some topics that I, having consulted well-informed muslims, think would need
elucidation from an islamic point of view. I list them here:
"Chapter I:

Can I add a note explaining that Hagar and Sarah, according to islamic tradition, were friends and wives on equal terms and that it was not, as in the biblical version, the anger of Sarah that drove Hagar out in the desert but the voice and will of God?

"Chapter VI:
Is there a note to be added about the source of the statement (on p. 17): \u201cMoreover one Christian had
been allowed and even encouraged to paint an icon of the Virgin Mary and the child Christ on an
inside wall of the Ka\u00b4bah, where it sharply contrasted with all the other paintings.\u201d?

"Chapter XI:
Would you mind a note about what is meant by \u201daverage height and average strenght\u201d when applied
to the Prophet (SAS)?

"Chapter LIV:

Here also a note seems appropriate since the interpretation: \u201d\u2026for God created Adam in His image\u201d might lead the mind in the direction of trying to visualize God as having a face. I have been told that the arabic language is equally open to the following interpretation, which should be the one more in conformity with the general islamic view: God created man in Adams (AS) image.

"Chapter LVIII:
Should a note be added to stress that the marriage of Zainab and the Prophet (SAS) first and foremost
came about, as the Quran says: \u201dso that it should not be difficult for true believers to wed the wives of
their adopted sons if they divorced them.\u201d (Q. 33: 37)?
"If you don\u2019t mind notes beeing added on the points given above I will insh\u2019All\u00e2h consult a qualified
person to formulate them and this being done let you know the result as soon as possible."
These queries are a representative sample of the honest questions any informed Muslim reader may ask herself about Lings\u2019
S\u00cfra. My own recent re-reading of the book, as the critical notes below show, conjured up the same issues, among other

cruxes which definitely need to be addressed. Ms. Nilsson offered that any answers Dr. Lings might forward be inserted as footnotes to the Swedish text. When he turned down that offer in a subsequent telephone conversation he had with her and \u201cforbade any notes whatsoever beyond his own,\u201d she turned to me to provide what she considered a necessary commentary.


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