Reading List of Recommended English Books on the Prophetic Biography

The list of available works on the Sīrah, or prophetic biography, is almost too long to mention. I have, therefore, confined this list to English works and, then, to works that are the most useful for students of my Sirah courses (HST101: Prophetic Biography – The Makkan Era and HST102: Prophetic Biography – The Madinan Era). This list, therefore, is not meant to be exhaustive, nor is a student required to read through all of the works. In fact, I would suggest that a student choose only or two works from each sublist to read along with the in-class lectures.

1. Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources by Martin Lings (Inner Traditions International)

Probably the most recognized and popular English work on the sīrah, Martin Lings’s narrative of the Prophet’s life (upon him blessings and peace) is now a classic. With the exception of several factual errors and the use of some weak sources, this work remains the most recommended amongst traditional scholars and is unparalleled in its language and narrative description. Because it is a one-volume work and avoids any sort of interruptive academic discussions, it is easy to get through and equally enjoyable. If one does not purchase and study the more detailed sīrah works, this is an absolutely necessary read.

2. Prophet of Mercy by S. Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (Haji Arfeen Academy) Translated by Mohiuddin Ahmad

One of my favorite works because of its emphasis on the aspect of the Prophet’s da’wah and struggles (upon him blessings and peace). The author’s passion for religious revival can be seen throughout the work and highlights the inspirational and transformational leadership style of the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace). The first chapters of the book, which focus on the reigious, social, and political context in which the Messenger of Allah (upon him blessings and peace) was sent, are of particular importance. The printed edition, however, is lacking in many respects. The translation is wanting and the actual binding and paper is of poor quality. A revised translation is available online, but I have yet to find it in published form. Still, it is definitely worth the read. I studied that original Arabic version of the book with my teacher Mawlana Tariq Jameel, who showered it with high praise and considered it a must-read for every Islamic activist. [Update: Turath has recently published a beautiful revised edition that includes maps and fixes the complaints I mentioned above.]

3. The Jurisprudence of the Prophetic Biography by Dr. M Sa‘id Ramadan al-Buti (Dar al-Fikr) Translated by Nancy Roberts

Also a one-volume work, this book concentrates on lessons that can be learned from the life of the Messenger of Allah (upon him blessings and peace), especially lessons of a political and legal nature. A unique feature of the work is the author’s rebuttal of Orientalist and modernist objections to the prophetic biography and a clarification of the stance of the Ahl al-Sunnah on those important issues. The work has fewer details than other works because of its emphasis on morals and lessons, which incorporate nearly half of the text.

4. Ar-Raheeq al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar) by Safi-ur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri

One of the more recognized and widely-distributed short works on the sīrah, The Sealed Nectar is a highly accurate and concise narration of the Prophet’s life (upon him blessings and peace). Although a bit drier than Martin Lings’s work, I have found that many students and teachers prefer its clear quotation of primary sources and citation of books. The book has gone through at least a couple reprints and editions. The most recent, I’ve been told, has had significant improvements made to it and should be preferred when purchasing. The author, recently deceased, was a renowned Ahle Hadith scholar of the subcontinent with an eye for accuracy in hadith transmission. This is perhaps the work’s strongest feature.

5. Siratul Mustafa by Maulana Idris Sahib Kandehlawi (Zam Zam Publishers and Madrasah Arabia Islamia) Translated by Mufti Muhammed Kadwa

I must thank Mawlana Hussain Kamani for reintroducing me to this book. I had previously only read sections of the second volume of this three-volume masterpiece in the original Urdu while studying hadith in Karachi, Pakistan. At the time, my focus was on the legal nature and details of the Madinan campaigns and I saw the book then as more of a maghāzi-focused work than a complete sīrah. Having revisited the work upon Mawlana Hussain’s suggestion, I’ve quickly fallen in love with it and use it as a primary resource for my teaching. Haven been written by an erudite hadith scholar, the book’s discussions on the hadith are excellent and unique to the work. Although it is a bit technical at times for the novice, scholar and non-scholar alike will benefit highly from the book. Essentially written in response to another popular work on the sīrah, it does go out of its way to clarify important issues and counter recent misconceptions that have arisen around the Prophet’s noble life (upon him blessings and peace).

6. The Noble Life of the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) by Dr. ‘Ali Muhammad As-Sallaabee (Darussalam) Translated by Faisal Shafeeq

I must admit that I have yet to thoroughly read the English translation of Sallābī’s recent one-volume Arabic book. The English translation occupies three thick volumes and based on a cursory look, seems up to par in respect to language and overall accuracy. What is unique about this work is its avoidance of weak hadith transmissions and the devotion of a section after each chapter to a discussion of morals and lessons that can be learnt from the Prophet’s life (upon him blessing and peace). Although it is a lengthy work, I have benefited extensively from the book while preparing lessons and have used it in the past for lectures. Again, I can not vouch for the translation as I have only read the Arabic original.

7. Atlas on the Prophet’s Biography: Places, Nations, Landmarks by Dr. Shawqi Abu Khalil (Darussalam)

A supplemental work really, this book is essentially a compilation of maps, charts, and pictures that will help any student visualize the places, environment, climate, and geography of the prophetic biography. This book is especially important to those who have not visited the Hijaz and visited the landmarks of the prophetic biography in person.

There is a plethora of other works available in English, Arabic, and Urdu that will be helpful to any student of the sīrah. However, in an attempt at keeping this list concise, I have chosen to leave most of them out. In reality, I would be doing the list injustice if I didn’t mention some other books that I benefited from in my study of the sīrah during different stages of my life.

In particular, I must mention Manṣūrpūri’s magnificent compilation Rahmatan li ‘l-ʿĀlamīn (a horrific translation exists called Muhammad: Mercy for the Worlds in one volume; I have not read the 3-volume translation that is said to be much better), Ibn Isḥāq’s Sīrah (translated by Guillaume as The Life of Muhammad: Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah), Ibn Hishām’s Sīrah, Ibn al-Qayyim’s Zād al-Maʿād, and last but not least, Sayyid Sulayman Nadwi’s Muhammad: The Ideal Prophet: A Historical, Practical, Perfect Model for Humanity. My wife, a passionate reader of the sīrah, particularly enjoys Adil Salahi’s Muhammad: Man and Prophet and often first recommends Ar-Raheeq al-Makhtum to her students.

Keep in mind that I have not include books of the Shamāʾil in the above list, since I hope to devote a separate detailed article to such books in the future, Allah-willing.

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25 thoughts on “Reading List of Recommended English Books on the Prophetic Biography

  1. Umer says:

    Assalaamu Alaikum Maulana,

    What do you think about Allamah Shibli Nomani and Maulana Syed Sulaiman Nadwi’s Seeratun Nabi (if you’ve gone through it of course)?

    jazakallah khair,
    Umer

    P.S. Congrats on the new addition to your family. I’m a good friend of your brother’s brothers-in-law Sameer and Uzair.

    • Bilal Ali says:

      Wa ‘alaykum salam Umer Bhai,

      I appreciate the congratulations very much. We are overjoyed at the addition to our family. Give Sameer and Uzair my salam.

      I read through portions of the multi-volume work Sirat al-Nabi when I was much younger and can not remember very well what my impressions were from then. Since then, I have only looked at the work in piece-meal.

      Of course, the work is well-known to many scholars and is very popular in the subcontinent because of its language (especially that of Shibli Nu’mani) and because of the thoroughness of its material.

      In terms of its content, the orthodox scholars did differ with Nu’mani on a few issues and it is said that the need to clarify the stance of the Ahl al-Sunnah prompted ‘Allamah Idris al-Kandhalawi to write his Sirat al-Mustafa. My teachers praised the work abundantly but did make it a point to rectify some of its errors while I was studying hadith.

      My mother, may Allah have mercy on her, really enjoyed the section authored by Shibli Nu’mani because of its language. I have been meaning to get around to reading the original Urdu of both authors and compare the style of both writers to understand why she preferred one over the other, but alas I have not taken out the time as yet. May Allah grant me tawfiq.

  2. Sister says:

    Assalamualaikum,

    Do you believe that reading a book by someone who is Salafi, like the author of Ar Raheem Al Makhtum, would truly be beneficial? I feel as if there’s going to be no nur in such a book as I believe an author’s taqwa impacts the knowledge he/she is imparting, and that’s why I have refrained from reading it. But based on your recommendation, I’d like to read it if you believe it’s not a problem to read such books.
    Also, would you happen to know anything about a person named Imam Abdullah Ibn Alawi al Haddad and whether he’s a certified scholar?

    JazakAllah Khair

    • Bilal Ali says:

      Wa ‘alaykum salam Sister,

      I appreciate your comments. My teacher of the sirah, Mawlana Tariq Jameel, recommended Ahl Hadith sirah works for one very important reason: accuracy of transmission. Every writer of the sirah provides his or her own special angle. Some sirah books are more spiritual than others. With sirah works that focus on accurate information, the spirituality is in the hadith themselves and because Mubarakpuri more or less lists out and organizes the hadith of the sirah, the works essential function is accomplished.

      We also must be careful not to lump all scholars of a particular academic tradition into one convenient category. There were many spiritual personalities within the Ahl Hadith movement in India, first and foremost their founder (as is claimed) Mawlana Nazir Husayn al-Dihlawi who is known to have given bay’ah to murids and engaged in formal tasawwuf.

      Scholars who attach themselves to the more modern usage of the term “Salafi” are also of variant temperaments and one will often find very spiritual people amongst them. One need only read one of Shaykh Uthaymin’s works or Ibn Baz’s works to understand that fact (a fact that demands one to respect them for their piety and acknowledge their status as scholars and people of Allah, despite any academic or usuli disagreements other scholars may have had with them).

      I do not know much about Imam Abdullah ibn ‘Alawi al-Haddad unfortunately even after having read a book on his life (as this sorry excuse for a student of knowledge has a poor memory and remembers little of what he read). What I can say for sure is that he was a scholar and a very pious man of the Ahl al-Haqq. My impression after having read the book, which I believe was titled Sufi Sage of Arabia or something along those lines, was very positive and I remember being filled with admiration for him and his piety.

  3. Sister says:

    JazakAllah Khair. I very much appreciate the detailed explanation and it has expanded my understanding of things. I teach seerah to younger students and have mostly been using the Siratul Mustafa due to it’s detailed nature, but since I have the urdu version, it’s difficult to read in Urdu and then convert into English to explain. So I’ve been wanting to read Ar Raheeq Al Makhtum but not knowing if it was mostly factual, I was afraid to read it, lest there are ideologies mixed in there alongside the hadith. But now I can finally read it.

    As for the scholar Imam al Haddad, I read an excerpt from one of his writings and it was very well-written, so knowing that he is from the Ahl al Haqq, I feel I can read all his literature now.

    May Allah reward, multiply and accept your efforts in relation to hadith.
    Wasalam
    . .

  4. Bilal Ali says:

    There is an English version of Sirat al-Mustafa and the translation is fairly good (at least from what I can tell so far). I would recommend that you avoid many of the details in that book when teaching children. I like Abu ‘l-Hasan ‘Ali Nadwi’s “Muhammad The Last Prophet: A model for all time”. It is concise, easy to read for children, and has visual aids throughout the book. My mother used to teach this book to children for Sunday School and found it worked best for them. And Allah knows best.

  5. Nabeel says:

    Assalaamu `alaikum Mawlana

    I pray that you and your family are well. I wanted to ask whether you could detail some of the factual mistakes or accounts based on weak sources in Martin Lings’ seerah work? I plan on reading it soon inshaAlah, and would like to be aware of any errors before I begin.

    JazakAllahu khayra

    Wassalaam

    Nabeel

  6. Brother AR says:

    One point of Martin Lings version that I read was (in my own words), that Rasulullah (S) went to Zaid (R) house and he was not there but his wife Zaynab (R) opened the door, he (S) seem to have fallen in love with Zaynab (R)…

    Can you Clarify?

    • Hashim says:

      Salam, I have not heard this exact story, but a similar, very dangerous narrarative is oft-quoted by the Orientalists who wish to blemish the pure-ness of the Noble Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم. The narrarative is plucked out of an extremely weak story book complete with no Isnaad’s, far from being authoritative work, known as “Ath-Tha’labi.” I do not wish to quote such a dirty lie, but you can easily find it by looking it up online (look for marriage of Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم to Zainab رضي الله عنها). If this incident is mentioned in Lings’s book, it is definitely a short-coming on the side of the author.

  7. Sister says:

    Assalamualaikum,

    Can you kindly explain to me what explanation can I give to others if I was lecturing them about why we should study the seerah? Like, what is the purpose and what are the benefits?

    JazakAllah Khair

    • Bilal Ali says:

      Salam,

      There is an excellent discussion of the importance of sirah and its study in the introductions to Idris al-Kandhalawi’s Siratul Mustafa and ‘Ali Muhammad al-Sallabi’s Biography of the Prophet.

      These are some English resources. If you can read other languages, let me know and perhaps I can suggest some additional resources.

      Bilal Ali

      • Sister says:

        I’ll look into the english version of Siratul Mustafa. I think that should be perfect.

        JazakAllah Khair for the quick help!
        Wasalam

  8. Abdullah says:

    Assalamualaikum Moulana, I happen to stumble on this page while looking for a pdf version of Sirat al-Mustafa. Can you kindly forward it to me email if you have one or point me to a site from where I can download it. Jzkh. May Allah(swt) reward you immensely for your efforts and increase you in memory. Ameen.

  9. Abdullah says:

    Assalaamu Alaikum,

    I was wondering if you’ve read “In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad” by Dr. Tariq Ramadan, and if you had any thoughts on it. jA Khayr

  10. Abdullah says:

    Assalaamu Alaikum,

    I was wondering if you have read “In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad” by Dr. Tariq Ramada. If so, what are your thoughts on it, and would you recommend it. JazakAllah Khayr

  11. Zia Hydari says:

    Salaam,

    I am currently visiting Karachi and recently met an old friend and teacher from Darul Uloom (Maulana Zakaria Iqbal—if you know him) … he spoke very highly of Sheikh Buti’s Fiqh Al-Seerah and mentioned that he is using the text in his teaching … I landed on this page searching for reviews of Sheikh Buti’s book …

    The reason for my comment is the following phrase in your review: “lessons of political and legal nature” … as you may know, Sheikh Buti’s political stances have been controversial to say the least. While his scholarship in the cited work may be impeccable, it leaves doubts in the mind of laymen whether the lessons Sheikh Buti derives are sound (when his real life stances and actions are controversial).

    PS: if it is OK with you, please share your email for occasional non-public correspondence.
    PPS: I also spoke to Maulana Zakaria about dividing time between giving time precedence to learning fusha Arabic over reading the Quran and he convinced me that tilawat is separately important and learning to read should not be delayed too much

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