Acclaimed worldwide as the ultimate resource material on the topic, in the English language, Martin Lings’ Life of Muhammad is unmatched by any other book. It is said to be the most definitive biography. First published in 1983, it is based on Arabic sources of the eighth and ninth centuries. Some important passages of these are translated in Martin Lings work. The volume owes the freshness of its approach to the words of the men and women who heard Muhammad speak and witnessed the events of his life. This not only ensures accuracy but also makes available valuable historical data. Lings writing is characterized by his exceptional gift for the narrative and for detailed description. His work reflects, at once, the simplicity and magnificence of the story of the great man s life.
Dr Victor Danner
“Mohammed (literally “one praised”) was born and raised in Mecca in Arabia. There is much source material on the life of the Prophet Mohammed. The book of revelations that he received from the Archangel Gabriel is known as the Quran. The Quran does not contain the life of Mohammed directly, although there are references made to it by the Archangel, and neither are the words of Mohammed in the Quran, although the Archangel does instruct Mohammed on what to say in various situations. The book of sayings of Mohammed as well as his deeds is known as the Hadith. Mohammed s life is a dramatic tale of exile from his home town of Mecca, to the nearby town of Medina, after which his following grew so rapidly that he actually defeated the Meccan armies in numerous battles, later to capture the city of Mecca by force.”
Excerpt from Muhammad, his life based on the earliest sources
Lings work achieves what few others can claim to on the subject. It is exhaustive and comprehensive without being dry or tedious. It reflects not only the Prophet s day-to-day existence but is also a chronicle of the age. It depicts with startling clarity the upheaval and change in attitude that took place with the arrival of Islam. His work acknowledges the esteemed position that women occupy in Islam and chronicles the way in which the religion emancipated women from the bondage of men by giving them equal rights. Women could inherit property, give evidence in courts of law, participate in trade and commerce, and had equal right to education.
To understand the work is to know who the Prophet really was. The book embodies events in his life and his personal attributes with refreshing candor. The riveting narrative brings out the true sense of grandeur inherent in the story of the Prophet. A classic written after examining all the Arabic sources on his biography, the work stands solidly against modern historical critical methodology.
Viewing the life of the Prophet as phases of a mission, this biography provides a perceptive account of what transpired 1,400 years ago. It synthesizes and analyzes various events from the life of the Prophet showing how different actions of the Prophet achieved the various objectives he set out to accomplish. These objectives include the formulation of the Islamic State, Preservation of the State, Foreign policy, Education of Companions etc. It portrays the historical Muhammad: a passionate, complex being who possessed political and spiritual gifts, and whose vision of monotheism intuitively answered the deepest longings of his people.
Lings projected information in such a manner that the reading produces not only an intense feeling of reverence and regard for the Prophet but also generates a desire to emulate him. Ling focuses on a detailed description of the Prophet s life. In his work, he embodies the spiritual leader, the warrior, and the man with all the facets of his personality.
While most acknowledge the brilliance of the work, some Islamic scholars differ. They feel that the biography draws heavily on sources, which, although ancient, are not fully trustworthy. They quote the example of Al-Waaqidi’s “Maghaazi,” from which Lings has translated passages. According to them, it is replete with forged traditions, and has been rejected by eminent specialists of hadith literature.
At the beginning of his treatise, Lings chose to quote from texts of the Bible’s Book of Genesis regarding the story of Abraham and how he settled his wife and son at Makkah. The Biblical account put Ishmael’s age at 13, whereas the traditions of Al-Bukhari indicate that he was a suckling babe at the time of their arrival in Makkah. It could be said, with justification that the age difference is of minor significance.
When criticized for quoting from the Bible instead of Islamic sources Lings replied: “I myself am more prepared to accept what Divine Revelation tells us than what was handed down in Arabia by word of mouth from generation to generation.”
The incident of the Prophet’s entry into Makkah is distorted, according to critics. He was commissioned by Allah to purify the Ka`bah by ridding it of all the idols surrounding it. This was authentically related in the compilation of Al-Bukhari.
Lings relation, however, gleaned from the forged narratives (Al-Waaqidi and Al-Azragi s work.) contradicts the essential principle of tauheed (unity of Godhead). Lings writes: “Apart from the icon of the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus and a painting of an old man said to be Abraham, the walls inside (the Ka`bah) had been covered with pictures of pagan deities. Placing his hand protectively over the icon, the Prophet told `Uthman to see that all other paintings, except that of Abraham, were effaced.”
However, majority continues to eulogize the work of Martin Lings and holds it in great esteem as a significant resource on Islam and the life of the Prophet. The book has been read with equal fascination by those already familiar with Muhammad’s life and those learning about it for the first time. It was selected as the best biography of the Prophet in English, at the National Seerat Conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, in 1983. In 1990, the book attracted the attention of Al-Azhar University, and the author received a decoration from President Mubarak.
Lings view of religion
This is consistent with the philosophy to which Lings adheres and propounds in his other writings, namely, The Perennial Philosophy. The principal theme of Perennialism is that all religions are in reality one, and mutually supportive and acceptable; it is merely their “outer” manifestations that differ. (Lings’ The Eleventh Hour). He believes in reincarnation (p. 26-29) and the pagan theory of pantheistic monism, i.e., the union of man and God (p. 104, 106).
Such tenets are contrary to the teachings of Islam as contained and preserved in the Quran and the authentic Prophetic Sunnah; the sole criteria for a Muslim for distinguishing truth from error and falsehood.
Religion is a system of thought, feeling, and action shared by a group that gives members an object of devotion. Lings believes the principles of universal goodwill and doctrine of the equality of humankind, which Muhammad proclaimed, represents one very great contribution to the social uplift of humanity. All great religions have preached the same doctrine but the prophet of Islam had put this theory into actual practice and its value will be fully recognized when international consciousness is awakened, and greater brotherhood of humanity comes into existence.