Maghazi Literature

1 January 2017

Arabic was chiefly a spoken language with an oral literature of elaborate poetry and, to a lesser extent, prose. It is certainly known that the revelation of Quran had an important impact on the development of the Arabic literature. In the pre-Islamic era, both poetry and prose dealt with a restricted range of topics; however with the rise of Islam and the revelation of Quran, the range of topics had expanded dramatically to encourage for developments in prose and poetry.

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In this paper, I provide a historical overview about the development of the Maghazi literature in Islamic prose between the first/seventh century and second/eighth century. This paper also discusses the different styles and characteristics in a comparison context between three of the most recognized compilers of maghazi in the Islamic prose; Musa b. ‘Uqba, Ibn Ishaq, and al-Waqidi. It also discusses the different issues which exist in this genre of literature.

As literature, the Maghazi literature goes under the Sirah literature as it forms a sub-category within the Sirah of the Prophet. . Historical overview: As this kind of literature falls under the Sirah, many scholars related them to each other and used them in the same context to talk about the life of Muhammad and the historical events which includes the Muslims expeditions during his life; moreover, they refer to the compilers of this literature as “the compiles of maghazi and sirah” such as Ibn Ishaq, as Kritzeck (1975) explains. However, other scholars identified the maghazi literature as a separate literature of its own. Al-Waqidi, who is regarded as the most authoritative by Malik.

Anas and Ibn Hanbal, compiled his own book, named Kitab al Maghazi which exists in a short fragment of twenty extracts with chains of narrators. It is not certainly indicated when the Maghazi literature did begin specifically but Kritzeck clarifies that Urwa b. al-Zubayr was recognized to be the first to classify a material on the maghazi because of the link between him and al-Zuhari, who was known as an important authority on maghazi and sirah, referred to him as an “inexhaustible sea of information,” also scholars as Ibn Ishaq and al-Waqidi referred to him and his accounts in their books.

It is believed that this literature first began during the seventh century when the Islamic material came to be written. Three of the most important compilers of maghazi literature who came in the beginning of the second/eighth century and worked on gathering as much credible accounts about the maghazi of the Prophet as possible are: Musa b. ‘Uqba, Ibn Ishaq, and al-Waqidi. As mentioned earlier, al-Waqidi’s book was the most recognized among all due to the number of compilers who referred to it in their writings about maghazi.

For example, Ibn Ishaq in his section about the maghazi in his book about the sirah of the Prophet corresponds very directly to Kitab al Maghazi for al-Waqidi and to the accounts of Musa b. ‘Uqba. Different writings came after the writings of Musa b. ‘Uqba, Ibn Ishaq, and al-Waqidi and continued to be based on the second/eight centaury such as Kitab al-Tabaqat al-kabir of Ibn Sa’d, Ansab al-Ashraf of al-Baladhuri, and Al-Bidaya wa-‘l-nihayah of Ibn Kathir, had sections about the maghazi which included material from the writings of the three major compilers of Maghazi literature.

The three compilers used the isnad as a presentational mechanism to introduce their accounts just as it is used in the Sirah literature. Musa b. ‘Uqba used the collective isnad in his writings, where he mentioned a couple of the latest authorities and hid the full isnad of the account; he also introduced some accounts by the phrase “Musa b. ‘Uqba said, from al-Zuhari…,” as Kritzeck (1975) affirms.

Ibn Ishaq, in his writings about maghazi, rarely completed his isnad, and in many times he just chose to neglect to refer to any authority; for instance, he introduced some of the accounts by saying: “One whom I do not trust related to me…. ” This technique of using the collective isnad in the case of Musa b. ‘Uqba or hiding some of it or sometimes all of it in the case of Ibn Ishaq raises many questions concerning the authenticity of the Maghazi literature. On the other hand, Kritzeck (1975) states that al-Waqidi used the methodology of collective isnad as well but in a more systematic way.

He used to introduce the account with a list of the authorities then follow it with the statement: “each of them related to me a portion of this, some being more detailed in their accounts, and others have related to me also. I wrote down all that they related to me: they said…. ” He also mentions that al-Waqidi’s use of collective isnad excluded Ibn Ishaq although both of them had very similar accounts; as a result, that raised doubts about issues of plagiarism in his book. 3. 2 Chronological framework: Musa b. ‘Uqba, Ibn Ishaq, and al-Waqidi had different chronological framework presentation for the maghazi. In b. Uqba, the chronological details were given for many events. Ibn Ishaq gave some dates for some raids and left some without any dates.

Al-Waqidi, on the contrary, introduced complete chronological details about the expeditions and raids; including full precise dates for the maghazi, which leaves the reader to doubt the credibility of these dates since he was the only one who gave precise dates for all the raids. As cited by Kritzeck (1975), there are often some discrepancies regarding the dates for the same events between the three compilers. For instance, the battle of the Trench is recorded on Shawwal 4 by b. Uqba, Shawwal 5 by Ibn Ishaq, and Thu-l-qi’da 5 by al-Waqidi, this difference in the dates of the same event and many other events takes us back to the issue of authenticity of the Maghazi literature.

The one can easily conclude, with some reading through some of the texts of these compilers of maghazi, that there are some dates where all of the three compilers provided the same dates, dates which are common between two of the compilers and different than the third, dates which were only given by al-Waqidi alone, and finally dates which contradict the sources.

The apparent similarity between the three compilers and their accounts makes the reader wonder about the possibility of plagiarism in this type of literature. However, this doubt about plagiarism can be purged because the companions of Prophet Mohammad used to memorize and learn the maghazi of the Prophet; Ali b. al Husayn is documented as saying: “We used to learn the maghazi of the Prophet as we learnt a surah of the Qur’an,” as Kritzeck states. This explains the great similarities between the three compilers who referred in their works earlier authorities who memorized the same accounts of the same event.

In other words, the similarities between the texts of the compilers are explained by the fact that they were referring to a same common material. 5. Issue of authenticity: The fact that early compilers of Hadith and Sirah started to put the Islamic material into writings in the first/seventh century, and then followed by works of well known compilers such as Ibn Ishaq, al-Zuhari, al-Waqidi, and Musa b. ‘Uqbah in the beginnings of the second/eighth century, makes the reader doubtful about the credibility of the accounts of the news (akhbar) of Prophet Muhammad and his companions.

This gap of time since the death of the Prophet to the time the Maghazi literature came down into writings raises the question: How authentic is the work of the compilers of maghazi? Moreover, the fact that the three compilers mentioned in this paper had different ways of introducing the accounts of the same events and how each compiler accepted an account and rejected another, and the variation in the dates of similar events, leaves the reader skeptical about which source to accept and which to reject.

In the case of Musa b. ‘Uqba, there is absence of the full chain of narrators of the account; in the case of Ibn Ishaq, there are some accounts where the chain of narrators is omitted completely; and in the case of al-Waqidi, he combines different pieces of an event to build a complete account. Rizwi (1999) states about al-Waqidi’s: “…. Investigating the traditions concerning the murder of Kacb b. l-Ashraf in particular, in al-Waqidi’s Kitab al-Maghazi, Lecker exposes the fact that al-Wiqidi brings together three different traditions from earlier sources and weaves them together (he calls it a “combined report”) to establish a new version of the event. ” (p. 2) All of these characteristics in their texts and especially the ones in al-Waqidi’s book of maghazi, makes the reader aware of the personal judgments of the authors in their texts either to accept an account even if its chain of narrators is weak, or decide to reject one, or even favorite one on another.

These personal judgments of the compilers of maghazi and the differences in some aspects about their accounts degrade the authenticity of their accounts which as a result degrades the authenticity of Maghazi literature. 6. Conclusion: The Maghazi literature is a literature that provides a great deal of historical, political, and social information about a part of Prophet’s Muhammad life and the Islamic society in the period after the hijrah.

This literature is a significant source of information although we might not be certain about some of it because of issues in its authenticity due to different methodologies of research and different styles of presentation and citing by different compilers; however, one must not forget how this literature serves as a background of the Muslims victories across the peninsula of Arabia and a source of historical construction of the early Islamic period.

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