The sīra

Authored by: Pavel Pavlovitch

Routledge Handbook on Early Islam

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  August  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138821187
eBook ISBN: 9781315743462
Adobe ISBN:


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Modern scholars of early Islam use the terms sīra and maghāzī as the respective designations of works about the biography of the Prophet Muḥammad in general and his military expeditions in particular. In the parlance of Muslim traditionists who flourished in the first half of the 2nd century AH/718–768 CE, however, the term maghāzī likely encompassed the events from the lifetime of the Prophet and the reign of the first four caliphs (c. 570–c. 661 CE). The famous historian Muḥammad b. ʿUmar al-Wāqidī (d. 207/822) inaugurated a narrower conception of maghāzī as the military expeditions and raids of the Prophet, including the political assassinations carried out on his behest (Hinds 1986). Al-Wāqidī’s innovative conception of maghāzī coincided with ʿAbd al-Malik b. Hishām’s (d. 218/834) introduction of the term sīra as a title of his recension of Muḥammad b. Isḥāq’s (d. c. 150/767) biography (Maghāzī) of the Prophet comprising the pre-Islamic (mubtadaʾ), Meccan (mabʿath), and Medinese (maghāzī) periods (Sellheim 1965–1966: 42–43). Thus, the term sīra came to cover the entire life of the Prophet, whereas the meaning of maghāzī was applied specifically to his military endeavors.

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