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By Chai-Lien Liu
Excerpt from The Arabian Prophet: A Life of Mohammed From Chinese and Arabic Sources
There are some heroes in history whose lives have been rescued from obscurity many centuries after their work was accomplished; who came to their own and received their meed of praise long after they had done their work. The contrary is true of the Prophet of Arabia. His Koran, although never intended to be his autobiography, introduced the story of his life from Morocco to Central Asia in less than a century and is to-day the best known book to one-seventh of the human race. There is also no dearth of biographies of Mohammed in the various languages of the Near East where his life, teaching, character and his career have left an indelible impress upon all literature. It would be easier to remove fossils from marble than to eliminate the influence of Mohammed's life from the Arabic language and literature. The whole of Moslem Tradition - all its vast accumulation - finds its sole material in what Mohammed said or did or allowed. The earliest biography of Mohammed of which we know is that by Ibn Ishaq (A.H. 151). The original is not extant, but it is quoted and referred to by Ibn Hisham (A.H. 218) in his famous life of the Prophet. An extensive commentary on Ibn Hisham's life was written by Abul-Kasim Abd ar-Rahman al-Suhaily (A.H. 581) (printed in Cairo in1914). Katib Al-Waqidi (A.H. 207) and al-Tabari (A.H. 310) are also well-known sources. The most extensive and critical study of the Life of Mohammed for Western readers is contained in the Annali dell'Islam by Leone Caetani, the Italian orientalist in nine folio volumes.
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