in category Seerah

Why were seerah books first compiled?

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Tradition suggests the Caliph al-Mansur (d. 158/775) was the one who first recognised the need for Muslims to have a documented biographical account for the Messenger.  While sources in other traditions, Biblical Testaments for Jews and Christians for instance, explain the circumstances in which their prophets speak and act, the Qur'an speaks little of the Messenger's life and times thereby making context difficult to discern.  At the Caliph’s behest, Ibn Ishaq (d. 150/767) wrote his two-part compilation comprising Mab'ath and Maghazi that recollected the Messenger's birth, prophethood, call and struggles. It comprised a compilation of oral traditions Muslims had been transmitting for generations but differed from the hadith collections that were compiled and categorised based on their relevance to ritual and legal matters.  Ibn Ishaq laid his works out in a chronological sequence to provide a narrative of the Messenger's life situated in his 7th century context. He incorporated both the oral traditions, hadith literature as well as Qur’anic citations and poetry that reflected the tribal environment. Al-Waqidi followed his approach in Kitab al-Maghazi maintaining the broad narrative outline provided by Ibn Ishaq.  

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