In Islam, two sources are used to explain the religion and its laws: the Qur'an, a revered text, and the hadith, the sayings and activities of the Prophet Muhammad as reported by friends and followers during his lifetime. This skilled translation, which includes the Arabic of one of the key Islamic texts, long-awaited in English, presents a fascinating selection of hadith compiled by the ninth-century scholar at-Tirmidhi that humanizes the Prophet for modern audiences, presenting him through the eyes of contemporaries who comment not only on his spiritual demeanor and qualities but also on his physical appearance and mannerisms—including his hairdressing, his sitting posture, his sandals and turban, his armor, his favorite condiments, and his jests and laughter.
This new edition of the Sham¥’il translated by Muhtar Holland, published by Fons Vitae Press is a welcome addition to the classic works of the world’s spiritual traditions. The work represents a continuation of a textual tradition reaching back over a thousand years. This translation provides us at the same time with a window opening onto the roots of the spiritual tradition of Islam itself, a tradition that perceived spirituality as a process of transformation in the individual that was integrally linked to one’s adherence, both inwardly and outwardly, to the example of the Prophet Muhammad. This implied that the degree to which one was participating in the Prophetic model was the degree to which one was considered to be participating in Islamic spirituality itself. The present translation also provides meaningful material for responding to the urgent need to revisit and re-evaluate what Islamic spirituality actually entails. This is as important for Muslims today as it is for other faith traditions. Access to original texts serve this purpose better than any third person account or interpretative work. Finally, this work as a portrait of a prophet in all its intimacy and detail, compiled by a venerated master of the hadith tradition, is a timeless testimony to the aspirations of all those who would seek to follow the spiritual life.
A Portrait of the Prophet as Seen by His Contemporaries offers to the specialist and general reader alike access to this treasure of prophetic lore that has enlivened the hearts and imaginations of Muslims throughout the world, from the first Islamic community until today. This works also offers anyone, seeking a deeper understanding of the human spirit, a lofty example - at once timeless and personal, of the potential of our individual human nature. The present translation would be a valuable addition to any university course dealing with Islamic spirituality, history, or literature, whether at the introductory or upper level. In a course dealing with the life and legacy of Muhammad I envisage it becoming a standard text. Many thanks to Muhtar Holland and Fons Vitae for the service they have rendered us all in the translation and publication of the Sham¥’il of al-TirmidhÏ and making this priceless text available to an entirely new audience.
Kenneth Honerkamp, January 29, 2008