In this study I will analyse and demonstrate that the book ‘Understanding Muhammad’ is poorly written especially when you considers the quality and scope of the research carried out by the author.
The author of the book is not a scholar of either Islam or any related field such as Middle East, Arabic, etc.; Nor of Psychology and Psychiatry or any related field. His biography alleges that he pursued higher studies in Europe and he uses the title of ‘Dr.’ in an interesting way by claiming that this is only how others refer to him. As to what field, which university, etc., all such details just like his real identity are not disclosed. It is important to point out that the author himself does not claim to be an academic/scholarly expert either. I mention this simply to clarify that this book in not an academic study carried out by an expert.
A book by no means has to be an academic study written by an expert to be valid, useful or worthy of merit. The author’s approach and methodology will be looked at in more detail in a separate study, however, at this point, I simply wish to highlight that this book is not written from an objective view point.
The use of Internet
I began to notice that many of the posts on his site alisina.org were not original ideas or research but reminiscent of old material found on many anti-Islamic websites. This led me to closely examine the sources of the book, which revealed a clear pattern that most of this book was researched by using the Internet. Although there is nothing wrong with the use of Internet per se for research purposes but in the case of this book, it has led to many errors and dishonesties.
The author is not able to read the the original, primary and source material in the Arabic language and it seems no effort was made to verify the accuracy of the translated material which has resulted in some interesting inaccuracies. The over-use of Internet meant the overall quality of the book is affected as the author does not have authoritative command over his material and subject. It has already been pointed out that this book is not an objective study and the author’s use of sources from biased anti-Islamic websites is an evidence to this.
Examples of Inaccuracies and Dishonesties
The following is an extract from ‘Understanding Muhammad’ Page 4 of the second and the fourth editions:
“Traditions that are diffusely recurrent are called mutawattir. These traditions have come down to later generations through a large number of chains of narrations, involving diverse transmitters. It is virtually impossible that all these people, living in different localities and espousing (at times radically) different views, would come together, to fabricate the exact same lie and attribute it to their prophet.”
The next extract is from Mutazilah Wikipedia entry:
“In the Islamic sciences, hadith are classified into two types regarding their authenticity. The first type is diffusely recurrent (mutawatir) reports — those that have come down to later generations through a large number of chains of narration, involving diverse transmitters such that it is virtually impossible that all these people, living in different localities and espousing different views, would come together, fabricate exactly the same lie and attribute it to the Prophet of Islam or any other authority.”
Now comparing the above extracts clearly reveals the source of the passage to be this Wikipedia entry. It is also noticeable that not much effort was made to adapt or alter the passage but a slightly summarised version was simply copied and pasted into the book. The full ramifications of this will be examined later but I wish emphasise that the purpose of this borrowing is to create a false impression in the mind of the reader, unfamiliar with the subject, that the usage of the Hadith Corpus will be according to this measure and this simply is not the case. For one thing most Hadith are actually known as Khabr al-Wahid – those that in the first three periods of Islam had singular or few transmitters. For another Sina lacks the knowledge to actually distinguish between several different categories of Hadith.
Another example of an inaccuracy is the following extract from the footnote of the fourth edition of the book on page 8:
7 Muhammad had four daughters and two sons. His male children, Qasim and Abd al Menaf (named after deity Menaf) died in infancy. His daughters reached adulthood and married, but they all died young. The youngest daughter, Fatima, was survived by two sons. She outlived Muhammad by only six months.
The generally accepted version is that Prophet Muhammad has six children with Khadijah – Qasim and Abdullah and four daughters. Yet the above passage states the name of the second son to be “Abd al Menaf”.
The source of this quote appears to be http://www.answering-islam.org/Books/Jeffery/infancy.htm
“(i) We read in the Kitabu’l-Bad’i wa’t-Tarzkh of al-Maqdisi,5 that according to the ancient authority al-Qatada, the first son whom Khadija bore to Muhammad in the Jahiliyya was named by him ‘Abd Manaf, i. e., Servant of Manaf. Now Manaf was an ancient idol venerated by the Quraish, and at one time seems to have been the most important divinity at Mecca (a’zam asn am Makka).”
However Sina did not verify the actual Muslims source of this quote, which states:
According to the above this would mean the total number of sons would be three not two, hence Abd al-Manaf is an additional son and distinct from Abdullah. However the author only read the extract from answering-islam and assumed Abd al-Manaf to be in place of Abdullah.
At this moment the main concern is with looking at how poor research led to errors and this example too will be examined in further detail. However it is worth pointing out that the above Hadith is minor, classified as Fabricated and even contradicts another version of similar report by Qatadah. And despite the author’s intimation of of restricting to Mutawattir (recurrent) Hadith, he has included this despite its contradiction to more authentic Hadith.
The footnote from the second edition of the book states on Page 8 states:
“Acording to one tradition (that I have not been able to verify its authenticity) Muhamamd’s original name was Qutham. He was also known as Halabi. He changed his name to Muhammad (praised one) at the age of fifty-three, when he migrated to Medina.”
Although the author admits he is unable to verify the authenticity of this singular and elusive report but again my primary interest is with the author’s research. I questioned the author about this here. He stated:
“This footnote you mention was removed from the third to fifth editions of Understanding Muhammad. The reason I removed it was because I had little documentation to support it. But it is added again in the sixth edition. The sixth edition says.
Nur al-Din al-Halabi (d. 1634), the author of the book Insan al-`uyun fi sirat al-Amin wa-l-Ma’mun, popularly known as al-Sira al-Halabiyya, V.1 page 128, says Muhammad’s birth name was Qathem (not to be confused with Qasem, which was the name of Muhammad’s first son). Qathem means damaged or rotten, such as damaged milk. Al-Halabi explains, “After the death of Qathem Ibn Abd-Al-Mu’taleb (Muhammad’s Uncle) at the age of nine, three years before Muhammad was born, his father Abd-Al-Mu’taleb felt so bad that when the prophet was born, he named him Qathem.”
This, akin to the examples given above, is a partial quote found on the internet. If you remove the interjection it reads:
“After the death of Qathem Ibn Abd-Al-Mu’taleb at the age of nine, three years before Muhammad was born, his father Abd-Al-Mu’taleb felt so bad that when the prophet was born, he named him Qathem.”
If the author had verified this he would have found the actual reference from Sirah al-Halabia to be:
As to the following claim:
“Qathem means damaged or rotten, such as damaged milk.”
Then its source is the following Youtube video:
However, the video simply makes the above claim, but, does not give any references, source or evidence of any other kind. Looking up this name in classical Arabic lexicons Qamoos al-Muhit and Lisan al-Arab reveals:
In order not to make this post too long another aspect of this poor research and its effect will be examined in the next post.