“Life of Muhammad” by Tabari

This article is also available in: Italiano

“Life of Muhammad” by Tabari is without a shadow of a doubt an immortal work and of extreme importance to better understand the figure of the Prophet, a pity that, in my humble opinion, this translation is not so sensitive towards the average Muslim

“Maometto” does not exist.

Before even putting the plot and starting to talk about the text, I want to clarify that, even if the Prophet is called here only and exclusively “Maometto”, for this whole article (and the following ones that deal with this topic) I will use only and exclusively “Muhammad”. In the future I will certainly make a video and a podcast in which I will better explain the theme of the name, but basically I do not share in any way this strange exclusively Italic mania of knowing the real name of a character, but persisting in calling him with a silly and squalid nickname that in its history has never had any kind of positive conception, at most neutral. For Jannah’s sake, I understand that once upon a time the average Italian did not really have the tools to call him differently, but since in the same text there are other characters who are called “Muhammad”, I find it absurd and aberrant that the only “Muhammad with the capital m “should bear this nickname. In the future I will explain myself even better and in more depth, but this thing has given me a continuous and constant sense of disrespect towards a figure that all of us Muslims love in a total and absolute way; forgive the outburst, now we can begin.

Life of Muhammad

Al-Tabari is a mid-9th century Persian historian who wrote a great “History of Envoys (of God) and Kings” in Arabic, the hegemonic language of the time. In his story he tells the various phases of the Prophet’s life, from his call to Mount Hira to the revelation that flows in the Quran and then, gradually, the égira to Medina, the first expeditions and the conclusion of his earthly life. The battles of Badr and Uhud, which took place in remote places in Arabia as large as India and which have always been fundamental points of reference in the culture of every Muslim, appear and relive in this story with the same pathos that we find in the stories better known to us than the battles of Salamis and Thermopylae.

Pros and cons: Tabari

This book, in my humble opinion, is one of those rare cases in which strengths and weaknesses are really great and evident, making it certainly an immortal work and to be purchased without any doubt by anyone interested in the subject, but on the other a work that, in my opinion, could have been done even better by making it a gem as far as Italian Islam is concerned; then let’s start with the merits: Tabari.


The great Persian historian is in fact a real absolute authority both as regards the exegesis of the Koran, still today a point of reference for all Muslims in the world, and as regards his “History of kings and prophets”, the whose present book represents only a very small part of this immense work. The importance of this text is due to its incredible precision and completeness, due to a very particular research model which, basically, aimed at transferring all possible information about a certain topic onto paper, mostly bringing official and consolidated sources, but not making too many problems in showing even less orthodox sources, obviously specifying their provenance. This has meant that, compared to many other works, Tabari’s is in general among the richest in information, allowing readers of all ages to better penetrate the facts and texts, thus giving an extremely complete vision. In this specific case we will be told the whole life of the Prophet, with a narration that begins even before his birth and will end only with his death, narrated with incredible wealth of detail. An element of absolute value are then the stories of the various expeditions, extremely complete and precise, so as to allow the reader to finally contextualize many verses of the Quran and to identify himself as best as possible in the various clashes that Muhammad had to face. One clarification: I do not know the reason, but the Israel and the Miraj are not even mentioned, the night journey made by the Prophet that led him to Jerusalem and allowed him to ascend to Heaven and observe “Heaven and Hell”; while I am writing the article I read that Tabari, albeit in a simplistic way, talks about it, it is probably a choice of the publisher.

Pros and cons: a translation with little heart

Those who follow me know, I hate to point out the defects, especially if in Italian the work in question exists only in that version, but here I cannot really exempt myself because, in my view, there are a whole series of shortcomings or implications that , for such a delicate subject, they should not be seen. The thing of the name I have already written before and I will not go into further, but that sense of veiled “disrespectfulness” is perceived in many points of the text, going to stain an experience that could really be of an absolute level. What immediately catches the eye is, for example, the fact that this translation was not made from the original Arabic text, but from a French translation, specifically that of Zotenberg. Now, even the Kebra Nagast that I brought some time ago was translated not from Amaric but from English, and it must be admitted that sometimes these operations are also understandable, but they really take away a lot from the beauty and value of what you are reading precisely because you will rely only not on which he wrote the work, but on what someone has already translated and interpreted.

If you want to see a movie about the life of the Prophet, this in my opinion is the best ever (although this is missing Isra, Miraj and the Battle of the Moat)

What instead catches the eye less initially but which makes its way more and more in the book is the idea that the latter is written almost only for a “Christian” public and that the Prophet has a merely historical and not particularly fideistic curiosity about the Prophet. Warning: I am not saying that there are insults and / or false news in the text (although it is very strange that Isra and Miraj are completely missing), but rather in the notes. In fact, I noticed that there is an attempt, probably involuntary, to try to dot the i’s on elements that for an average Muslim would be of secondary importance, but which for those who are not believers could make the figure of Muhammad “less special” . I do not doubt that it is my love for the Prophet that leads me to such reasoning, however, in my humble opinion, for a similar text there should have been a greater sensitivity towards Muslims, which seems to me to be lacking here instead. Very last final clarification: one of the few things that everyone knows is that Muslims never depict the face of the Prophet, because in a book that speaks of that the cover has just one of the rare images of the Prophet’s face? The lack of delicacy and attention also and above all passes from these things.

In summary: it is the only translation of this extraordinary book and therefore we keep this one, but there is an enormous lack of sensitivity that will not be able to fully appreciate this text by the average Muslim, it is a pity that the story of the prophet Muhammad is told.

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