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History and Seerah

Reconstructing Our Understanding of the Sīrah

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Alḥamdulillāh, I recently attended an Al-Kauthar course based on the Madīnah Period of the Sīrah. The course was taught by Shaykh Muhammad Cheppih who gave me an opportunity to teach the session on the Battle of Badr. It was an amazing experience and left me with much to think about regarding the Sīrah. For the first time in years, every story of the Sīrah had practical implications to everybody in attendance, many of whom only saw it as a series of stories in the past.

Now most of us grew up studying Sīrah in Islamic school, yet its effects on our life is very minimal compared to what it should be. We all admit that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is our role model and we love him more than any other human, yet very often our actions defy this claim. So the question I want to analyze and propose some solutions to today is, “Why don’t we gain maximum benefits from the Sīrah and how can we change the way we study it?”

I thought about this long and hard and came up with the following two major reasons:

1. Focus is misplaced

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In an average Sīrah class, the young students are required to memorize the names of people, dates of events and other facts. This is actually true about all history classes, not just Islamic history. The problem with this approach is that very often the facts taught are not very beneficial while the morals of the stories are either not taught at all or not given enough attention. Now if we think about this carefully, this approach is contradictory to Allāh’s approach to teaching history in the Qurʾān and Allāh’s way is always best. In the Qurʾān, stories are always taught in segments, lacking details like dates and names of places unless necessary with the focus primarily on the lessons. Think about it!  Which verse in the Qurʾān tells us the date of birth of any prophet? How many verses mention the prophet’s genealogy? How many verses offer physical descriptions of the prophets?

You will find that very few verses focus on historical facts, the focus is primarily on lessons as Allāh Himself testifies, “Indeed in their stories are lessons for people who think,” so why don’t we adopt this approach to teaching Sīrah, the lives of the Ṣaḥābah and other aspects of history? Imagine how much more fulfilling a history class would be if students are focusing their energies on extracting practical lessons from history, instead of memorize dates!

2. Focus is only on certain events

Notice how the average Muslim looks at the Madīnah period of the Sīrah as the Battle of Badr, followed by Uhud, followed by Aḥzāb, followed by Hudaibiyah and ending with conquest of Makkah? We take an entire rich 10 year period of history and compress it into a few events each of which lasted a few days. Now I am not trying to undermine the importance of these events in our history but I feel it would be very beneficial if we also spoke about and gave importance to other aspects of the Sīrah.

For example, the Battle of Badr took place in 2 AH and happened over a few days. What about the rest of year? What about life in Madīnah? We focus so much on the key events that we forget to explore angles to history like the prophet’s (peace be upon him) life as a father, husband, teacher, businessman and neighbor! These aspects of the Sīrah are also very important and so I propose that we strive to study other angles of the Sīrah in addition to the major events to gain a more holistic understanding of the greatest of men and his lifestyle (peace be upon him).

Alḥamdulillāh, in recent years though I have seen a good effort on the path of many scholars and Du’aat to teach our history in new and creative manners, focusing on the lessons and different aspects of the Sīrah. So I would like to end this with a list of lecture series and books that I recommend on studying the Sīrah from different angles:

Books:

  1. Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar) – Saifur Rahman Mubarakpur
  2. Fiqh As-Sīrah – Muhammad Al-Ghazali
  3. The Prophet Muhammad: The Best of all Husbands – Dr Ghazi Al-Shammari
  4. The Prophet’s Method of Correcting People’s Mistakes – Saalih Al-Munajjid
  5. In the Footsteps of the Prophet – Tariq Ramadan
  6. The Personality of Allah’s Last Messenger – Abdul Waheed Khan
  7. Muhammad As if You Can See Him – Dr A’id Al-Qarni
  8. Secret of Leadership and Influences – Sulaiman Ibn Awad Qaiman

 

Lecture Series and Courses:

  1. Children around the prophet – Dr Hesham Al-Awadi
  2. Women inspired by the beloved – Dr Hesham Al-Awadi
  3. Leadership lessons from the life of RasulullahMirza Yawar Baig
  4. A mercy to mankindYasir Qadhi
  5. Sīrah 101 and 102 coursesDr Daud Abdullah (only available as part of the Islamic Online University‘s BAIS program)
  6. Mercy to the Worlds and The Victorious One – Al-Kauthar courses
  7. The Shepherd’s Path – Al-Maghrib course

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Ismail Kamdar, a.k.a Abu Muawiyah, is the Head Tutorial Assistant of the Islamic Online University, and the host of Living Islam on Radio Al-Ansaar. He began his study of Islam at the age of thirteen, and has completed both the Alim course and a BA in Islamic Studies. He is the author of multiple books including Having Fun the Halal Way: Entertainment in Islam, Getting The Barakah: An Islamic Guide to Time Management and Best of Creation: An Islamic Guide to Self-Confidence.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Brother

    March 16, 2012 at 3:20 AM

    Masha’Allah, agree completely. Jazaak Allahu khayran. Btw, small typo- Madinah period was 10 yrs…

  2. Yousuf Tafhim

    March 16, 2012 at 6:12 AM

    JazakaAllah khair for this article. This is what I learned as well. School and Uni courses about the Seerah were always about facts and figures. But students never get a chance to get engaged with the lessons coming out from it. The question of “What I would have done if I was in that place” this lifts us up and truly admire Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), his companions, etc. and want to be like them.

  3. A Seymour K

    March 16, 2012 at 11:48 AM

    The Noble Life of the Prophet by Dr. Ali as-Salabi is an excellent antidote for the issues you have mentioned. I am not yet into the Madinah period and it’s been almost 600 pages thus far. I cannot imagine that he skips over everything that isn’t Badr, Uhud, Ahzab, et cetera.

  4. Umm Sulaim

    March 16, 2012 at 12:17 PM

    Knowledge of any Islamic Science has practical lessons for us today.  People sometimes get lost in unnecessary facts and figures.

    Umm Sulaim

  5. Sarah

    March 16, 2012 at 6:20 PM

    totally agree with both points. The impression one gets is that Mohammad pbuh was always fighting!
    I’m surprised you didn’t include Mohammad by Mohammad Asad.

  6. Abu Muawiyah Ismail Kamdar

    March 17, 2012 at 8:42 AM

    Jazakallah Khair to everyone who posted additional links.

    The more diverse and authentic Sirah sources we have, the better, so keep those links coming. :)

  7. Abdul Muhaimin Rahman

    October 31, 2014 at 2:46 AM

    Great Article Ma sha Allah.. I wanted to know , is the “sahih seerah an nabawiyyah ” by ibn kathir (tahqiq by albani) available in English, and pdf?

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