What is Seerah?
Seerah, in the Arabic language, means to travel or to be on a journey. A person’s seerah is his journey through life. It includes the person’s biography beginning with their birth, events in their life, their personalities and manners, and finally their death. The term Seerah predominantly refers to the body of literature dedicated to the life of the Prophet Muhammad. The sources for Seerah are the Qur’an, authentic Hadiths, and the books explicitly written for Seerah. We can also conclude that the most authentic biography of a great personality is that of Prophet Muhammad. Every aspect of his life has been passed down to us through thousands of chains of narrators who have used rigorous scrutiny to determine which aspects of his life were true or false.
Why do we need Seerah?
Seerah is a comprehensive account of the Prophet Muhammad’s life and one of the earliest types of literature in the Islamic tradition.It is studied as a major source for the life story of the Prophet Muhammad. It continues to be used for the purposes of historical accounts of the life of Prophet Muhammad and the early history of Islam. Seerah helps us understand the Qur’an. The incidents related to the Prophet’s life mentioned in the Quran are not listed in chronological order, so Seerah helps to grasp the context of those incidents more appropriately.
The books of Seerah are not written only for the followers of the Prophet but for everyone. It gives an insight into what he achieved in a small span of 23 years that changed the course of human history. The seerah is not only a book about the Prophet’s life and times, but it also represents the Prophet’s psychology on how to deal with the many facets of life.
The Prophet’s teachings and training were successful in ridding the Arabian Peninsula of all evils. He abolished racial discrimination, thievery, usury, misogyny, slavery, alcoholism, tribalism, murder, adultery, fornication, rape, paganism, superstitions, and what not. He had all the practical solutions for every human problem. This transformation was not limited only to the people of his own time and place, for this process continues today wherever his message spreads. His universal call encompasses, in addition to the rules of good conduct and spirituality, all the principles of economics, finance, administration, education, justice, and international law.
To put it in the words of Said Nursi:
“We present the Arabian Peninsula as a challenge to those who refuse to see the testimony of the blessed age of the Prophet. Let them each take a hundred philosophers, go there, and strive for a hundred years; would they be able to carry out in that time one-hundredth of what he achieved in a year?”
As stated in the Qur’anic verse that, “The Messenger of God is an excellent model” (33:21) and for that reason his methodologies are eternal. Alphonse de Lamartine frames his exemplary personality in following words:
“Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational dogmas, of a cult without images; the founder of twenty terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire, that is Muhammad. As regards all standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask, is there any man greater than he?”
Muhammad ibn Abdullah is the only person in history about whom many, if not most, biographies have been written. Biographers, both Muslim and non-Muslim, have written extensively about him. Karen Armstrong gives the following insight about him:
“He is an example of huge courage and commitment, an example of what one person can do with the help of the sacred, with the help of the divine, but with your own human inspiration too. Above all that he remained kind, human, warm, loving. He did not allow himself to become a daunting human being of daunting achievements. He must be one of the greatest geniuses the world has ever known, both spiritually and politically, yet he was also a genius at humanity. I think of his kindness to his wives, his kindness to children, his loving care of animals, his devotion to his companions, and the fact that he was constantly moved to tears when he saw suffering. Never in any moment of his life did he cease to be less than a human being. As a paradigmatic personality, Muhammad has important lessons, not only for Muslims, but also for Western people.”
William Montgomery Watt, Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Edinburgh, admonishes the western academia and orientalists in doing injustice in portraying the true image of the Prophet:
“His readiness to undergo persecutions for his beliefs, the high moral character of the men who believed in him and looked up to him as leader, and the greatness of his ultimate achievement – all argue his fundamental integrity. To suppose Muhammad an impostor raises more problems than it solves. Moreover, none of the great figures of history is so poorly appreciated in the West as Muhammad.”
After knowing what a seerah is, one can ask which is the best seerah book to look up to. We do not have to go very far to fetch that book. It is with all of us and most probably we have already read it many times. It is none other than the book revealed on him i.e. The Qur’an. The Prophet was the living embodiment of the Qur’an and its injunctions therefore the first book to understand the Prophet is the Qur’an itself.
There are a plethora of classical biographers of the Prophet like Ibn Hisham, Ibn Ishaq, Al Waqidi, and many more, who wrote corpora on his life. To suffice the need of contemporary seekers of the Prophet’s biography there are many good books written especially in the English language for the benefit of English readers. Some of them are the Sealed Nectar by Safiur Rahman Mubarakpuri, Muhammad: His Life Based On The Earliest Sources by Martin Lings (a.k.a Abu Bakr Sirajuddin) and The Noble Life of the Prophet by Dr. Ali Muhammad al-Sallabi. All these Seerah books are conscientious works and cover the Prophet’s life in factual manner for normal readers. Every incident from seerah is worth pondering as it contains multitudes of teachings and lessons for all times. It helps us understand the mind and methodology of the Prophet. A simple contemplation on any incident of the Prophet’s life can reveal insights about the multi-dimensional approach to solving problems.
Today fourteen centuries after his death, his influence is still ubiquitous and powerful.