A Venture In Critical Islamic Historiography And The Significance Of Its Failure

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The concern to acquaint the Muslims of India with the earliest history of Islam, and to help them become better Muslims, has characterised the Nadwat al- ʿUlamā’s historical scholarship since its inception in 1894. This paper concen- trates on a monumental study of the life and achievement of the Prophet, the Sīrat al-Nabī, (7 vols., 1918-1980), produced by two distinguished scholars associated with the Nadwa. Planned as an authoritative presentation of the Prophet Muham- mad’s life, the Sīrat al-Nabī sought to answer Western scholarly criticisms on the Prophet, and remove all religious doubts perceived as having an unsettling effect on Muslims in British India. A clearly reformist concern, viz. to invigorate the Muslims’ religious identity by reaffirming their link with their sacred history, guided the conception and execution of the project. Although there initially was a conspicuous concern to maintain high standards of critical historiography, it was gradually nudged out by the reformist outlook. By the time the Siyar-i Sahāba series was initiated in the 1930s-with the purpose of showing how the Prophet’s life and conduct shaped those of his Companions, who in their own right could thus serve as moral guides-virtually all pretensions to critical historiography had manifestly been abandoned. Historiography had given way, the more glaringly in the Siyar-i Sahāba, to hagiography. For all its methodological and other deficiencies, however, the Sīra historiography of the Nadwa is of importance for two main reasons: it has served as a vehicle for the expression of reformist concerns, a way of responding to the dilemmas which the authors of these works perceived as confronting Indian Muslims; and it has been a medium through which a continuing effort has been made to acquaint Muslims with their sacred past, and with Islam itself.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)26-50
Number of pages25
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1994
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Religious studies


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