…(Hāshem) clan of Quraysh named Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib.
One of their own, he accomplished what the Quraysh had started, first by working against them, later by working with them.
This is not to suggest that there was necessarily an element of deliberate fabrication at work, at least at the level of a compiler like Ibn Isḥāq, who was clearly not inventing stories from scratch.
Nonetheless, some accretion of popular legend around a figure as seminal as Muhammad would be entirely expected.
This digest does not aim to separate historical fact from later legend.
For instance, unlike many earlier Western accounts, no attempt will be made to remove supernatural elements from the narrative in the interest of transforming it into an account that appears plausible by modern historiographical standards. Although founded by Abraham, worship there has over time become dominated by polytheism and idolatry.
Hence, even if one accepts that the Qurʾānic corpus authentically documents the preaching of Muhammad, taken by itself it simply does not provide sufficient information for even a concise biographical sketch.
Most of the biographical information that the Islamic tradition preserves about Muhammad thus occurs outside the Qurʾān, in the so-called (“Life of Muhammad, the Messenger of God”).
Especially the customary chronological framework for Muhammad’s life appears to have been worked out by later transmitters and collectors such as Ibn Isḥāq, rather than being traceable to the earliest layer of Islamic traditions about Muhammad.
These are sometimes linked with place-names, such as the passing reference to a victory at a place called Badr at 3.
However, the text provides no dates for any of the historical events it alludes to, and almost none of the Qurʾānic messenger’s contemporaries are mentioned by name (a rare exception is at ).
By carefully comparing alternative versions of one and the same biographical narrative, scholars have been able to show that a certain number of traditions about Muhammad’s life—for instance, an account of the Prophet’s emigration from Mecca to Medina—were in circulation already by the end of the 7th century.
An important collector of such early traditions was ʿUrwah ibn al-Zubayr, a relative of ʿĀʾishah who was probably born in 643–644 and who is plausibly viewed as having had firsthand access to former companions of the Prophet.
At least to historians who are reluctant to admit reports of divine intervention, the problem is reinforced by the miraculous elements of some of the material included in Ibn Isḥāq’s work.