Tarikh-i peyambar-i Islam [History of the Prophet Muhammad]

Author: Muhammad Ibrahim Ayati
Reviewed by: Dr.Muhammad-Reza Fakhr-Rohani

Muhammad Ibrahim Ayati, Tarikh-i peyambar-i Islam [History of the Prophet Muhammad], 4th ed., ed. and annot. Abul-Qasem Gorji, Tehran: University of Tehran Press, 1366 Sh/ 1987. 889 pp. [First ed., 1358 Sh/ 1979]

Ayatollah Dr. Muhammad Ibrahim Ayati (1294-1343 Sh/ 1915-1964) was a polymath whose writings still benefit enquirers in a variety of disciplines of Islamic studies. In addition to being an expert in Islamic studies and Arabic literature, he was an accomplished logician, philosopher, and historian whose knowledge of Arabic and English proved of immense value to him and the works he produced. The present book was written long before its first publication after the victory of the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1357 Sh/ 1979, yet it first appeared after the historic event of the Revolution for various reasons.

History of the Prophet of Islam

Among the books he developed, the present one demonstrates his expert knowledge of pre-Islamic Arabia as well as his expertise regarding the Arab tribes and their main offshoots and dynasties. As such, and due to his expertise, this book is still regarded as a major work, a Persian classic on the life of the Prophet Muhammad. It deserves mention that it must be a rather incomplete work of the author, for it does not touch upon the historic event of Ghadir Khumm where the Prophet Muhammad declared Imam Ali’s immediate successorship to himself at the Divine command, nor does it refer to the demise of the Prophet. Despite all these lacunae, it is an educative volume. The book lacks chapter titles or serial numbers. These and other indications suggest that the author might have intended to complete the book as it rightly deserved, yet his untimely death prevented him from accomplishing his initial plan.

The book takes its point of departure from the ancestors of the Prophet Muhammad. Although it is certain that he was a descendant of Ishmael (Ismāʻīl) son of Abraham (Ibrāhīm), yet his ancestors are listed from his 20th ancestor, ʻAdnān. This is done due to a hadith related from the Prophet himself in not going further after ʻAdnān. The book also touches upon the monotheist ḥanīfs who never worshipped any idol and held the religion brought and introduced by their ancestors, i.e., Ishmael and Abraham. Here and there, particularly in the discussions that pertain to the Jahiliyyah period, the book mentions names of some of the most notable idols of pre-Islamic Arb tribes. Some of these idols are mentioned in the Holy Quran, too.

As in the pre-Islamic Arabian context it was very much in vogue to compose poems, there appeared a range of poets whose classics were transcribed on long parchments and were hung over the walls of the Kaaba in Mecca. Due to the tribal communities of the Arabs in ancient Arabia, the book also discusses some tribe-oriented terminologies essential for understanding and conceptualizing the pre-Islamic tribal communities.

After a survey of the life of the Prophet, the book slows down its pace and takes the reader to the marriages of the Prophet and the children he begot. Discussing the year of birth of the Prophet’s daughter Fāṭimah al-Zahrāʼ, the book mentions Sunni views, and then cites references to well-authorized Shii hadiths in that she was born in the fifth year after the Prophethood.

The book takes the reader in its wonderful, historical journey from the earliest days of the advent of Islam, from the first pieces of the Divine revelation that illuminated the world anew down to the pressures the Meccan polytheists inflicted upon the Prophet. The pressures resulted in the earliest Muslims’ migration to Abyssinia (Arabic al-Ḥabasha, modern name Ethiopia, for sure the greater part of north-eastern Africa). This migration took place twice.

The pace of the book takes the reader to the time when it was necessary for the Prophet to take the historic emigration from Mecca to Medina, a travel that made the beginning of the Islamic calendar. On the evening when the Prophet was on the way to Medina, the first Infallible Imam ʻAlī made a unique sacrifice: to fool the opponents of the Prophet who had plotted to put him to their swords on the same night, Imam ʻAlī volunteered to sleep on the bed of the Prophet. In this way, the polytheists’ plot turned pointless and futile.

The book deals with the Medinan period of the Prophet with more details. This is because a new phase of Islam took shape there. As several wars were imposed on the nascent and growing community of Muslims in the Medinan period, the book portrays the battles with more graphic details.

The life of the Prophet had some diplomatic aspects, too. He signed treaties with others. Many tribes dispatched their delegations to him, and he dispatched his own representatives to them, too. These are also mentioned. Other kings and emperors also received his delegations.

The book deserves being regarded as a classic it its own right. Had it had been written in a European language, it would have received multiple editions and several translations.

The efforts of the late Dr. Abul-Qasem Gorji (1300-1389 Sh/ 1291-2011) prove significant in developing various useful indexes to this book.