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Sources of Muslim Historiography

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

The later Muslim historians acquired their information from the following sources:- Sira (biography), Maghazi (expedition), Ansab (genealogies), Tabaqat (classical sketches), Akhbar (information) and Tarikh (annals).

The sira (biography) is the first brick of the Muslim historiography, which is accessible in the traditions (riwayat) or the hadiths of the Prophet. Each hadith contains a chain, from its originator to its last transmitter. The whole chain is called isnad (supporting), while the actual wording of the hadith is called matn (text). The awail (evidence) of the isnad is classified into three groups (a) pre-Islamic narratives (b) from Adam onward (c) historical facts.

The historical facts had been collected from the hadiths on the above basis. The earliest famous collectors of awail (evidence) were Tamim al-Dari (d. 40/660), Ubayd bin Umayr (d. 67/687), Tabarani (d. 361/971), Abu Hilal al-Askari (d. 395/1005), etc. M.G. Rasul writes in Muslim Historiography (Lahore, 1968, p. 49) that, "In that period of historical development, history was closely linked with hadith and followed in fact the traditionalist method."

Another important point giving the idea of history-writing by the Muslims was the conquest of the countries. Description of these conquests and military expeditions came to be called as maghazi (derived from ghazwah means battle). The most notables among them were Urwah bin Zubair (d. 94/713), Wahab bin Munabbih (d. 97/717), Asim bin Umar Qatada (d. 119/738), Shihab al-Zuhri (d. 124/742), Aban bin Uthman (d. 201/816), , etc.

The ansab (pl. of nasab) means genealogies. The Arabs had good memory of recording the genealogies of their ancestors, whose factual notion was also the source of history.

The term tabaqat mean layer or class, which was used in the sense of generation to collect data of the origin of dynastic biography. The first to write on the dynasty i.e., the Abbasids was Muhammad bin Saleh bin Mihran bin al-Nattah (d. 119/738), but according to Fihrist (p. 134) by Ibn Nadim (d. 385/995) that Awanah bin Hakim al-Kalbi (d. 150/767) was the first to write the history of the Umayyads.

The akhbari were the compilers of akhbar (informations), who drew materials largely from the traditions and wrote direct and simple events. The famous among them were Awana bin Hakim (d. 147/764), Abu Mikhnaf (d. 157/774), Saif bin Umar and al-Madaini (d. 224/839).

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