Islamic Studies Sīra
Gurdofarid Miskinzoda
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 May 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0149


The term sῑra (short for al-sῑra al-nabawiyya, meaning -“the sῑra of the Prophet”) refers to the body of literature devoted to the life of the Prophet Muhammad. Sῑra, as one of the earliest types of literature in the Muslim tradition and as an account of the life of Muhammad, served many tasks, all of which had an impact on the way it was shaped and developed. Sῑra has been predominantly studied as a major source for the life story of Muhammad. Although its value as a historical source has been questioned by modern scholarship, sῑra continues to be used for the purposes of the historical reconstruction of the life of Muhammad and the early history of Islam. Some scholars, however, are more interested in understanding the nature of sῑra as a separate genre of Muslim historical and literary tradition in order to gain better understanding of the concerns of early Muslims regarding such important questions as the concept of prophethood and the nature of religious authority and religious law. Although many works have been devoted to the life of Muhammad and its sources, few can be listed under works that deal with sῑra literature itself. The purpose of this entry is to suggest the most important works that belong to the latter category.

General Overviews

There are very few general overviews devoted solely to sῑra, and those listed in this section are mostly individual articles rather than systematic studies on the subject. Kister 1983 and Levi Della Vida 1987 provide overviews of sῑra literature while discussing its most important aspects. Khalidi 1994 and Robinson 2003 discuss sῑra as part of the development of historical writing among Arabs, while Donner 1998 analyzes it within the wider context of sources for the life of Muhammad and the early history of Islam. Raven 1997 and Raven 2006 are more detailed studies of sῑra that discuss important aspects of sῑra as a body of literature, its characteristics, and its functions. They also provide information on the most important earliest sources and their authors. Hinds 1996 analyzes the usage of the terms maghāzī and sῑra. In particular, Martin Hinds illustrates the development of sῑra and maghāzī literature based on the way these two terms have been used by the tradition.

  • Donner, Fred. Narratives of Islamic Origins: The Beginning of Islamic Historical Tradition. Princeton, NJ: Darwin, 1998.

    Attempts to address issues concerning sources for the early history of Islam. Donner discusses various approaches to the study and use of these sources while defining his own approach as critical-descriptive. He also aims to answer the question of why and when Muslims started writing history. Much of these discussions are also relevant for the study of sῑra.

  • Hinds, Martin. “‘Maghāzῑ’ and ‘Sῑra’ in Early Islamic Scholarship.” In Studies in Early Islamic History. Edited by Martin Hinds, Jere Bacharach, Lawrence Conrad, and Patricia Cone, 188–198. Princeton, NJ: Darwin, 1996.

    Seminal study on the relationship between maghāzῑ and sῑra and the way these two terms have been used by the Muslim tradition and modern scholarship. First printed in 1983 in La Vie du Prophète Mahomet (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France).

  • Khalidi, T. Arabic Historical Thought in the Classical Period. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511583650

    Seminal study on the development of historical thought and the written tradition of works on history among the Arabs. Use the index for references to sῑra.

  • Kister, M. J. “The Sῑrah Literature.” In Arabic Literature to the End of the Umayyad Period. Edited by A. F. L. Beeston, T. M. Johnstone, R. B. Serjeant, and G. R. Smith, 352–368. Cambridge History of Arabic Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511659409

    Important essay on sῑra literature that provides an overview of numerous works of sῑra and their authors and serves as a good introduction to the subject. In particular, Kister lists most of the important compilations and discusses the role of poetry in sῑra and concerns with genealogy and factionalism in sῑra.

  • Levi Della Vida, George. “Sῑra.” In E. J. Brill’s First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913–1936. Vol. 7. Edited by Martijn T. Houtsma, 439–443. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1987.

    One of the first works devoted to sῑra that serves as a useful introduction to the subject. Levi Della Vida provides a most useful discussion on the meaning and use of the term sῑra. He also discusses the origin and character of sῑra and the emergence of the written sῑra tradition.

  • Raven, Wim. “Sῑra.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. 2d ed. Vol. 9. Edited by C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W. P. Heinrichs, and G. Lecomte, 660–664. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997.

    Brief introduction to sῑra that provides an overview of various works of sῑra and their authors. It also covers issues such as the functions of sῑra and the use and quality of poetry in sῑra. For an updated version of the same, see Raven 2006.

  • Raven, Wim. “Sῑra and the Qurʾān.” In Encyclopaedia of Qurʾān. Vol. 5. Edited by J. D. McAuliffe, 29–51. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2006.

    Perhaps the most useful and up-to-date overview of sῑra at present. Although concentrating on the relationship between sῑra and the Qurʾan, it also provides useful insight on all other aspects of sῑra studies.

  • Robinson, Chase. Islamic Historiography. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

    Seminal work on Islamic historiography, its genres, and issues of studying sources for the study of Islamic history. Provides useful information on various works of sῑra. Most relevant for the study of sῑra are chapters 1, 2, and 7.

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