In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Muhammad

  • Introduction: The Biographical Enterprise
  • Sources for Biographical Information on Muhammad: Qur'An
  • Sources for Biographical Information on Muhammad: Hadith
  • Biographies of Muhammad at Mecca
  • Biographies of Muhammad at Medina
  • Western Views of Muhammad
  • Modern Interpretations
  • Source-Critical Biographies of Muhammad

Islamic Studies Muhammad
Frank Peters
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 December 2009
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0052

Introduction: The Biographical Enterprise

For the first half of his life, Muhammad lived in obscurity, first as an orphan raised by relatives, and then as a merchant in Mecca. In his maturity he began to be regarded with curiosity, then with hostility, and finally with reverence as the Messenger or Prophet of God. The revelation he delivered is recorded in the Qur'an. Muhammad was merely the messenger of this revelation, the mortal who delivered God's warnings and promises to audiences in western Arabia early in the 7th century CE. But Muhammad's words and deeds, outside of those involving his revelation, are also considered crucial, not merely for an understanding of the Qur'an but as the model of a Muslim life.

Sources for Biographical Information on Muhammad: Qur'An

The first source of biographical information on Muhammad is Islamic sacred scripture—the Qur'an. It is venerated by Muslims as the Word of God delivered through his Prophet, and it is regarded by all, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, as a collection of utterances from Muhammad over the course of some twenty-two years, until his death in 632. The Prophet's death inaugurated the process of collecting all the revelations pronounced by Muhammad, and then arranging them in some kind of order, an order that had not existed theretofore. The result is the Qur'an, a text divided into 114 units, called suras, arranged not chronologically but according to length (longest to shortest). There is broad (but not unanimous) agreement that the content of the Qur'an, if not its arrangement, is from Muhammad. Thus, this sacred text constitutes an authentic document for the life of Muhammad, though a very incomplete one. Muhammad's life can be written from the Qur'an, as Rippin 2000 and Welch 1983 demonstrate. Indeed, this task was accomplished with remarkable success by Chabbi 1997. Cook 1983 (p. 70) provides a concise statement of the biographical information that can be gleaned from the Qur'an.

  • Chabbi, Jacqueline. Le seigneur des tribus: L'Islam de Mahomet. Paris: Editions Noesis, 1997.

    A masterful exploration of the life of the Prophet, extracted from the suras of the Qur'an.

  • Cook, Michael. Muhammad. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.

    Notable for its brevity, clarity, and careful sobriety.

  • Rippin, Andrew. “Muhammad in the Qur'an: Reading Scripture in the 21st Century.” In The Biography of Muhammad: The Issue of the Sources. Edited by Harald Motzki, 298–309. Leiden, the Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2000.

    A critique of efforts such as those in Welch 1983, with suggestions for a redirected approach to understanding Muhammad through the Qur'an.

  • Welch, Alford T. “Muhammad's Understanding of Himself: The Koranic Data.” In Islam's Understanding of Itself. Edited by Richard G. Hovannisian and Speros Vryonis, 15–52. Malibu, CA: Undena, 1983.

    Entries explore the task of constructing the life of Muhammad using the Qur'an as a historical source. These papers were delivered at the Eighth Giorgio Levi Della Vida Biennial Conference in Los Angeles on 1–3 May 1981.

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