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It can be a delicate matter reviewing books that involve sacred texts and holy people.

Let me be
clear: this is a review of Muhammad the biography. It is not a review of Muhammad the Prophet.

The author Martin Lings was a Muslim convert and Arabic speaker who spent formative years in
Cairo and earned a Ph.D. on Sufism at SOAS University of London in 1959. He had a brief career
overseeing eastern manuscripts at the British Museum and Library. This biography of Muhammad
was written in 1983 and received prizes from governments in Pakistan and Egypt, as well as
international acclaim from Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Pros:

• This book covers most major events in the life of the Prophet, or at least those that I am
aware of
• It doesn't omit controversial events such as child marriage, caravan raiding, execution of
enemies and ransom of captives
• It is exciting and rendered in its unadulterated original form; angels fight alongside the
believers in their battles with infidels
• It follows a clearly presented and consecutively narrated timeline without digression into the
author's opinions

Cons:

• The book offers no modern critique; miracles happen and in fact are unremarkable
• It provides few dates; perhaps some are found in the footnotes missing from the ebook
• It declines any discussion of theological context; the past century of study goes unnoticed by
Lings
• It uses anachronistic English quoting people of the period; thee, thou and smiting thine foes
abounds

In Sum:

• It is a standard synopsis of the life of the Prophet, as told the Quran, Hadith and Sira, in a
unified work
• It doesn't include any analysis of the historical setting or of the textual content of the
sources
• It is an acceptable introduction if followed with more discerning books by Watt, Donner, and
others
Martin Lings’ biography of Muhammad is an internationally acclaimed, comprehensive, and
authoritative account of the life of the prophet. Based on the sira, the eighth- and ninth-century
Arabic biographies that recount numerous events in the prophet’s life, it contains original English
translations of many important passages that reveal the words of men and women who heard
Muhammad speak and witnessed the events of his life.

Scrupulous and exhaustive in its fidelity to its sources, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest
Sources is presented in a narrative style that is easily comprehensible, yet authentic and inspiring in
its use of language, reflecting both the simplicity and grandeur of the story it tells. This revised
edition includes new sections detailing the prophet’s expanding influence and his spreading of the
message of Islam into Syria and its neighboring states. It represents the final updates made to the
text before the author’s death in 2005. The book has been published in 12 languages and has
received numerous awards, including acknowledgment as best biography of the prophet in English
at the National Seerate Conference in Islamabad.

Like Abraham, Moses and Jesus before him, the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) came to unite not
divide. From one vantage point the religion known as Islam is an evolution, culmination or perfection
of expression regarding the One essence that is also known as the Real. From another perspective it
shows how much nothing has changed. “Islam” or “submission to God” is simply a return to the true
nature of who we are. Past all the religious externalities that have accumulated over centuries,
Submission is nothing more than unity with the only reality there is or ever was. It is discovery of the
Self at the deepest level.

Muhammad as a human represents symbolically the perfection of this unity in all aspects of lived
human experience. As the doctrine of original sin doesn’t exist in Islam, the life of the Prophet
Muhammad (s.a.w.) is taken as the ultimate example of how everyday activities are sanctified.
Doctrinally, Muhammad becomes the symbolic Universal Human – the single universal exemplar of
how to live the good life.

This is my second read of Lings’ classic biography, and after reading several other works from the
same author, it becomes obvious how the universal essence which he sees also shines through in
how he views the life of the Prophet (s.a.w.). Like Islam itself, Lings threads this essence through the
various religions back to the primordial reality as expressed in the Qur’an delivered by Muhammad
(s.a.w.): “for the revealed book itself was the central miracle of the Divine intervention now taking
place, just as Christ had been the central miracle of the preceding intervention”. (70) The function of
the Qur'an and by extension its example in the life of Muhammad was to “re-awaken in man his
primeval sense of wonderment which, with the passage of time had become dimmed or
misdirected.” (71)

Islam as a culmination and return is circular, unifying and universal. Muhammad’s life from start to
finish gives examples in every area of the spiritual and profane and his passions are sanctified in
every circumstance. Lings illustrates these examples from the start of Islam, which he states to be
founded “on the basis of the ritual purification and prayer” (47) through the establishment of the
ideal community at Medina. In between we see Muhammad as a human, a human who loved
women, perfume and prayer (according to the Hadith) and a human who was firm in defending the
sacred in his community from those who would seek to destroy it, but who also saw the greatest
expansion of Islam in his lifetime through peaceful diplomacy in the truce at Hudaibiyah.

Lings remains faithful to the classic biographies of the Prophet, dating back to the times of the
companions, and incorporates Qur’an verses and Hadith seamlessly into his narrative. Highly
recommended as a readable, authoritative account of the Prophet’s life.

This is an excellent English biography, and is a prized possession on my bookshelf.

The main thing I love about this, as a Western convert, is the style.

The Qu'ran does not contain a lot of straight forward biographical narrative type content, and
doesn't talk much about Muhammad directly.

Lings' biography captures the style of the biographical narrative chapters of the Old Testament. So
for someone who is used to reading about folks like Samuel and King David and Solomon from
Judges and Kings and Chronicles, they will feel right at home here.

As a result, this is a biography I recommend to Westerners to read.

As a Shia, I might take issue with some of the material from the final chapters, but this does not take
away significantly from the quality of the book. (The book takes a traditional Sunni perspective, but
for most things, it's all the same either way for the basic biography of Muhammad)

If you combine this book with Wilfred Madelung's Succession to Muhammad, you have a very nice
English introduction to the life of Muhammad and the leaders in the decades that came after.