Who was Muḥammad ? What do the most authoritative Muslim traditions reveal about him ? How does one distinguish the man of history from the legendary man, who was subject to subsequent narrative amplifications from the first muslim religious communities ? How do the Ḥadīṯ and the Sīra literature present and elaborate such a prophetic figure ? How do they develop an original and sacred "mise en intrigue" of extraordinary destiny ? Beside those historical questions, other issues arise : how was this figure understood and venerated over the centuries, and why has Muḥammad remained an undisputed moral and ethical model for all Muslims ? Finally, with what hermeneutical tools can one read this abundant literature, often confusing, and sometimes even shocking ? How can we reconcile the contributions of the historical-critical approach with the muslim communities’ devotion to the world’s « best model » of religious expression ? This course will try to answer these questions through methodological engagement with the key sources via the historical-critical method, but with attention to contemporary ethical and didactic concerns.
The teaching program is divided into three parts. First, we will analyse the sources for the life of Muḥammad and the main characteristics of the Sīra literature, with particular attention to the work of Ibn Isḥāq. Second, we will focus on two significant moments in the life of Muḥammad with reference to Islamic Tradition (The Night Journey and the conflict against the Banū Qurayẓa). Finally, we will examine the various appropriations of the prophetic figure in the developments of medieval, modern, and contemporary Islam : Sunni and Shiite readings, philosophical texts, the Sufi, or jihadist literature.