Abū ‘Abdullāh Muḥammad b. ‘Umar al-Wāqidī’s Historiography of the Prophet Muhammad’s Military Expeditions (A Critical Study of the Methododology with Special Focus on al-Wāqidī’s Kitāb al-Maghāzī)
Date: 2 March 2020
University of Exeter
Doctor of Philosophy in Arab and Islamic Studies
Within the very specialist realm of Islamic history, the name of al-Wāqidī retains a somewhat unique place. Praised and respected by many, but also criticised by his fellow historians, al-Wāqidī is without doubt a polarising scholar of the military expeditions of the Prophet Muhammed. His most famous and the only fully preserved work, ...
Within the very specialist realm of Islamic history, the name of al-Wāqidī retains a somewhat unique place. Praised and respected by many, but also criticised by his fellow historians, al-Wāqidī is without doubt a polarising scholar of the military expeditions of the Prophet Muhammed. His most famous and the only fully preserved work, ‘Kitāb al-Maghāzi’, continues to divide opinion as it has done for many centuries." This thesis argues that the doubts and scepticism directed at al-Waqidi’s works as a reliable historical source have to be reviewed and reassessed. The thesis claims that the strength of his work rely less on its authenticity in establishing what happened in the past and is far more intriguing as part of a genre that can be called Islamic historiography. Thus, the focus here is on the methods and style adopted by al-Waqidi while also claiming that other contemporary histories are as problematic as his. The method of the thesis is first to explore the literature and debates about Islamic historiography and highlight the need to look at the historiographical method and less on the historical content. The conclusion is that textual interpretation of the works of al-Waqidi highlights his importance, underrated by other scholars.The thesis demonstrates the ‘authenticity’ and ‘reliability’ of al-Waqidi’s Kitab al-maghazi by locating these in al-Waqidi’s historical method, which can be summarized as follows: collection of facts, dates, duration, biography, tradition (whatever this may mean), isnad, authoritative scholarly sources, eyewitness accounts; narrating ‘history’ around, let us say, the tropes of history as ‘revelation’ and ‘salvation’, which are cultural determined; and ‘agency’ of the author, al-Waqidi, that allows him to transcend the ‘conditions’ in which he lived, demonstrated by his representation of warriors and diplomats and women, by his equal reliance on faith and reason, and his strategies of ‘forgetting’ the pre-Islamic past. As such this is a solid reading of al-Waqidi’s text based on informed understanding of the narrative techniques of 9th/10th-century Arabic-Islamic ‘history’. "
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