Recommended English Books and Lectures on Prophet Muhammad’s Life (Seerah)

It is important to study the seerah (prophet’s life) from beginning to end in order to properly understand the context and why and how things developed the way that they did. It is also one of the fundamental ways to build love of the Messenger (pbuh) in one’s heart. How can we love someone we do not know? Unfortunately, it seems many Muslims have either never studied his life or are only familiar with cherry picked popular snippets from his life. This is not the same as truly knowing him because for that we must study his life. Another benefit of studying the seerah, especially in details, is that it gives a more deeper understanding of the Qur’an. Many verses in the Qur’an are engaging directly with the incidents surrounding the Muslims in the Arabian peninsula and studying seerah provides us the full context of why certain verses came down the way that they did.

Here is a list of few sources in English that you can use in order to study the blessed life of Muhammad (pbuh) from beginning to end. Ideally, we should all strive to go through his whole life once a year:

Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources by Martin Lings – This one is also available on YouTube as a free audiobook. It is a good short book and you can listen to the whole thing in 5.5 hours. It is a popular book among both Muslims and non-Muslims. However, I would highly advise to go through Sh. Hamza Yusuf’s lectures that go along with it as a supplement. Sh. Hamza explains the book in this series of lectures and provides further details missed by Lings and points out some mistakes made in the book as well.

Muhammad: Man and Prophet by Adil Salahi – This is one of my favorites and frankly the best one I like. It is also available as a free audiobook here. This was the first time when I actually “understood” the seerah and kept up with the names and dates. It is very well written and I would highly recommend it to anyone.

Fiqh Us Seerah: Understanding the life of Prophet Muhammad by Muhammad Ghazali – This is by the recent Ghazali from the 20th century and not the classical Ghazali. It is easy to read and draws on practical lessons that can be derived from the various stages in the Prophet’s (pbuh) life.

The Jurisprudence of the Prophetic Biography by al-Buti – This is an English translation of Sh. al-Buti’s famous book. Some have claimed that this is perhaps one of the best books written in recent times on the topic of seerah.

When the Moon Split by Mubarakpuri – If you wan to read seerah without delving in to too many details, then this is the book for you. It’s precise and beautifully written. It is also available on YouTube as an audiobook.

Sirat Ibn Hisham by Ibn Hisham – This is a translation of an abridged version of one of the primary and earliest sources for the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) life.

The Life of Muhammad (pbuh) by Imam Nawawi – This is a brief work of only 96 pages and provides glimpses of the various aspects of the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) life. It does not go into much details. It is an English translation of an extract from one of Imam Nawawi’s books. It is a good resource to check quick facts about his life. The footnotes provided by the editor are also helpful and give further details of differences of opinion over various facets of his life and whether the stated fact is based on a reliable source or not.

Muhammad the last Prophet: A Model for All Time by Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi – This is written by one of the most influential Muslims of the 20th century. Nadwi was not just an Islamic scholar but also a historian. He also wrote another more detailed book on the topic that you can read as well. There is a third book on the topic as well written by him specifically for Tableeghi Jama’at focusing on brevity. This third version is very straightforward and can even be given to kids in middle school to read.

Life of the Final Messenger by Mufti Menk – This is a lecture series by Mufti Menk, a popular Muslim preacher from Zimbabwe. He covers the seerah in 29 lectures about an hour each. It’s precise, draws lessons from the different phases of the prophet’s (pbuh) life to implement today, and mentions Qur’anic verses that came down in the different stages of the Prophet’s (pbuh) life and the reasoning behind them. He also delves into many tangents on the side related to whatever he’s covering in that moment, it gets a little annoying sometimes but there are good lessons in them as well.

Seerah of Prophet Muhammad by Yasir Qadhi – This is perhaps the most thorough and detailed lecture series on the life of the Messenger (pbuh) done in the English language.

Noble Life of the Prophet (3 Vols.) by Ali Muhammad As-Sallaabee – This is recommended by some popular Muslim speakers and is considered a must review if you want to teach seerah.

al-Shama’il al-Muhammadiyya by Imam Tirmidhi – The English translation of the famous classical work that presents us detailed descriptions of the moral, physical and spiritual qualities of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The translators also include footnotes from well-known commentaries on the book.

al-Shifa by Qadhi Iyadh – This is an English translation of the famous classical book Al-shifa bi ta’rif huquq al-Mustafa (Healing by the recognition of the Rights of the Chosen one). The whole point of his book is to build a strong sense of awe and love of the Messenger (pbuh) in the person’s heart and to make you realize why he is so important. He attempts to emotionally connect the reader to the beloved of Allah (pbuh). It heavily focuses on the Prophet’s character, qualities, virtues, and miracles. It’s beautifully written. If you read it properly, you would not pass a day except by sending darood on the Messenger (pbuh). Now, there are some really weak stuff in the book as well and you can refer to a critical annotated commentary of it by Ali Kawshk. However, it is only available in Arabic. The number of these weak reports in the book are not a lot and does NOT take away from the overall value of this masterpiece at all. The translation is done by none other than Aisha Bewley, who is one of today’s most prolific translators of classical Arabic works into English. For more than thirty-five years she has been concerned with making the contents of many classical Arabic works more accessible to English-speaking readers. I trust her translations.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh): Life Before the Revelation – This is a short article that I put together summarizing his life before the revelation came down.

How to Start Studying the Hanbali School in English

Every now and then I get an email through this blog from someone who wants to begin studying the Hanbali school of fiqh but cannot understand Arabic. They are often eager to start right away and are looking for resources. I am going to share here what I usually tell them.

The first thing you need to understand is that if the Hanbali school is not the dominant school in your area, then it’s probably best not to study it but to stick to mastering the dominant school in your locality. This is what Hanbalis recommend. Why is this the case? This is in order to not cause confusion among the masses and keep harmony in the community. I would not recommend someone from Pakistan to study the Hanbali school, for example, because it is a dominant Hanafi country. Why be the odd ball out when there is no need to be?

The second thing to realize is that the most ideal thing when learning fiqh is to study with a teacher. Fiqh books are designed in that manner. They are not written for casual reading but written in a way to be studied with teachers. Try your best to find teachers in your own locality, who can teach you the Hanbali texts, or through online institutes that specialize in Hanbali texts.

If this is not possible, for whatever reason, then you should try to find YouTube videos of Shaykhs teaching the various texts of the school in English. Unfortunately, there is not much out there for Hanbali texts in English but it is growing. There are, however, a lot of resources available in Arabic for studying the school to an advanced level. So I would suggest the eager students of knowledge to make learning Arabic as part of their goal as well if they want to be serious.

Here is what I recommend for English only students after they have listened to the following two lectures:

Quddumi’s Primer

Buy the book from Amazon and use Sh. John Starling’s explanation of it on his YouTube channel. Sh. Joe Bradford also has a commentary on it which can be accessed on his YouTube channel.

Bidayat al-Abid

Buy the book from Amazon and use Sh. John Starling’s explanation of it on his YouTube Channel.

Umdah al-Talib or Akhsar al-Mukhtasarat

Buy the book from Amazon and use Sh. John Starling’s explanation of it on his YouTube Channel. This is still in the process and he occasionally uploads new videos on it. At the time of this writing, he is in the Book of Prayer and has completed the Book of Purification. You can also use my notes on Akhsar as supplement to the study.

Sh. Yusuf ibn Sadiq Hanbali also has an institute that he runs and you can join and access previous recordings for a small fee. He’s explaining Umdah al-Talib right now.

In English, nothing more advanced than the above is available as far as I know at the moment.

Other Material

As a supplement, I would also purchase and read through the following two books:

If you go through the above and comprehend everything, it should give you a good grounding in the school for a beginner insha’Allah.

You should also delve into the Usool of the school. I have some information on that here.