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The History of al-Tabari, vol. 9, The Last Years of the Prophet. The Formation of the State, A.D. 630-632/A.H. 8-11.

translation of al-Tabari's Tarikh is here evidenced by three volumes (from a total of four when the series is completed) dealing with the life of Muhammad. Volume 6 of this translation covers pp. 1073 to 1256 of the de Goeje edition of al-Tabari's Arabic text (detailing Muhammad's ancestors and following his life up to the hijra in 622 C.E.), volume 7 covers pp. 1256 to 1460 (treating the years 622-626 C.E.) and volume 9 covers pp. 1654-1837 (corresponding to the years 630-632 C.E.). The availability of this basic source material on the life of Muhammad in translation will prove a tremendous boon to students and researchers alike. Alfred Guillaume's translated version of Ibn Ishaq's Sira ca now be profitably compared with another reliable translation; this allows details regarding the life story of Muhammad to be clarified in a number of instances and displays the progress which has been made by the past generation of scholars in coming to an understanding of the fundamental source material. These volumes will be necessary references for all scholars in the field becaus of the extensive work the translators have done in clarifying many difficult points. The evidence of this lies in the annotations which have been provided (243 notes in volume 6, 236 in volume 7, and 1453 |!~ in volume 9). Poonawala's volume is enhanced by extensive reference to parallels in other texts (includin non-Ibn Hisham transmissions of Ibn Ishaq, al-Baladhuri, al-Yaqubi, al-Masudi, and Ibn Kathir) and by a seven-page bibliography.

Montgomery Watt has appended introductory essays (under his own name) to both o the Watt-McDonald volumes. These forewords provide a summary of the substance and significance of the texts, and also, in the case of the foreword to volume 6, a section on "the sources and their reliability." As far as the sources go, Watt isolates the three main ones used by al-Tabari in this section of the text (Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Sad, Ibn al-Kalbi) and gives them some brief attention. The mai focus of his interest, however, falls on the question of the reliability of these sources and the ultimate authorities (who are referred to here as "scholars") used by these writers. The discussion is essentially a restatement of a number of Watt's earlier essays in which he makes the claim that, early on in Islamic times, hadith and sira were two separate disciplines with distinct methodologies; thus, for Watt, regardless of the historical problems which scholars have raised with hadith (Goldziher, Schacht and so forth), the issue o forgery and the like does not arise for the sira. The material must be accepted as genuine unless it can be demonstrated to be false (as in the case, for example, in Watt's phraseology, when "it doesn't make sense"). The arguments fo and against this position do not need repeating here. It is worth pointing out, however, that Watt continues to miss the point of the discussions on the transmission and reliability of the literary sources which we have available to us today. His claims concerning 80-year-old people today who can remember World War I and the sinking of the Titanic simply do not grapple with the problems of the history of early Islam nor with the character of the Muslim historiographical tradition (problems which are far more serious than just whether or not people can remember things accurately for 100 years). There is one further observation to make about this introductory essay. I was struck, upon reading Watt's summary of al-Tabari's text, by the number of occasions on which Watt deems the material to be suspect. Yet Watt never enunciates any clea criteria which allow him to come to a determination of what "makes sense" in this recounting of history from 1500 years ago. The reason Watt is forced to excuse his sources so frequently--sources which he deems to be reliable in general, it is to be remembered--is that at no point has he penetrated the narrative below the level of the "facts" presented. None of the larger question over the grand scheme of things in al-Tabari's writing of the history (except i matters of chronological ordering) have been tackled. Watt seems to have little concern for the actual argument and perspective of al-Tabari himself.

All these arguments and discussions do not detract in the least from the value of the translations presented (and, wisely, Poonawala does not raise these issues in his translation, except implicitly in a number of footnotes regarding Shiite claims to Muhammad's inheritance, which he perceives as a subtext throughout the section). All those interested in the life of Muhammad and the Muslim accounts of same will find these volumes of much interest. I did note on minor glitch in volume 6 (pp. 157, 159 and 162), where the date of the hijra is given as September 624 rather than September 622, which certainly will confuse some beginning students, especially since these slips occur in the overall summary and explanation of the chronology of Muhammad's life as provided by al-Tabari.

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Author:Rippin, A.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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