The biographical works of both al-T.abarı-and Ibn Kathı-r indicate that after Muh.ammad receives the first revelation, the story of his life changes dramatically. No longer do we have a neat division between the supernatural and mundane; his life during the roughly 12-year period leading up to his emigration to Medina in 622 CE is completely taken over by his role as prophet. Whereas the story of the very earliest period of his life reveals how he succeeded despite humble beginnings, the reports of this period show a marked decline in his mundane role as respected merchant, while at the same time revealing the emergence and continued growth of his role as prophet. The sources relate that he preaches secretly for the first three years of his mission and that during this time he faces no serious opposition from his fellow Meccans. But after he begins to preach publicly that the Meccan gods are false and that all who follow them face a painful Day of Judgment, the Quraysh – including some of his own family members – begin to oppose him violently. It is during this period, too, however, that Muh. ammad begins to display an increasing amount of control over the supernatural. Most miracles are still performed for him rather than by him, but his direct influence over the supernatural world has begun. One such example of Muh. ammad’s newfound control over the supernatural

is connected to the first publication of his mission; it is the story of his miraculous multiplication of a small amount of food and drink to satisfy several men from his extended family. The larger story actually describes two separate events: a public annunciation that includes no element of the supernatural and a private announcement intended only for members of his kin-group during which he performs his miracle. As in the story of Muh.ammad’s conception, only select individuals are aware of the miracle. Unlike that story, however, this event is highly politicized, not because of the miracle itself, but rather due to the fact that immediately after Muh. ammad announces his mission to his extended family, he asks for someone to assist him in his efforts and to succeed him. ʿAlı-is the only volunteer and in most of the reports of this event related by al-T.abarı-and Ibn Kathı-r, Muh.ammad accepts him and announces ʿAlı-’s new status to his gathered kin. Since later generations of Shı-ʿı-Muslims would

argue that Muh.ammad had named ʿAlı-as his successor before his death, the political and religious implications of this story overshadow the miracle in the sı-ra works of both authors. The controversial private meeting and the more general public announcement are intricately intertwined between the sı-ra and tafsı-r works of al-T.abarı-and Ibn Kathı-r, and each author has his own view of the importance of these events and their role in the history of the Muslim community. Al-T.abarı-and Ibn Kathı-r relate the story of Muh. ammad’s first public

preaching by focusing on three major themes in their works. The first is the public aspect of Muh.ammad’s announcement, which is the main focus of both authors’ works of tafsı-r, but which also plays an important role in their sı-ra accounts. In this part of the story, Muh.ammad calls out to his fellow Quraysh, has them verify his honesty, presents his message, and is promptly vilified by his paternal uncle, Abu-Lahab. The second theme is the politicization by both authors of the story of Muh.ammad’s private meeting with his extended family. For al-T.abarı-, this politicization is limited to the reports he includes in his work of sı-ra, but Ibn Kathı-r politicizes this event in both genres in order to deny the Shı-ʿa of his day any proof for their arguments in favor of the primacy of ʿAlı-. The third theme is that of God’s protection of Muh.ammad. Although Muh.ammad is opposed by many of his family members throughout the course of his mission, it is Abu-Lahab who plays the main villain in this part of the tale, and his opposition to Muh.ammad carries over from the public to the private version of this event. In the reports that al-T.abarı-and Ibn Kathı-r relate in their tafa-sı-r, Muh.ammad must also be protected against Abu-Lahab’s wife, Umm Jamı-l, as well as several would-be assassins. The miraculous means by which these individuals are thwarted in their plans reflect the importance of this theme for both authors. For al-T.abarı-, the most important aspect of the story of Muh.ammad’s first

open preaching of his mission is the public act itself. In both genres of sı-ra and tafsı-r, the majority of the reports that he relates for this event detail the public rather than the private setting. Since this aspect of the story contains no miracle, this serves as another example in which al-T.abarı-represents an important story in the life ofMuh.ammad that includes both supernatural andmundane possibilities. This does not mean that the supernatural has no role to play, as al-T.abarı-not only incorporates the miracle story of the food and drink into both works, but also includes stories of miracles unrelated to this event. In his sı-ra, he includes a report that overtly politicizes the private encounter between Muh.ammad and his extended kin and that draws further attention to Muh.ammad’s control over the supernatural. But in his tafsı-r, such overt politicization is not to be found, signifying that, for him, the exegesis of the Qurʾa-n is not the appropriate genre for such political debates. Instead, he includes stories of divine protection ofMuh.ammad, but his focus, as usual, is on the grammatical, lexicographical, and religious meanings of the verses involved. Ibn Kathı-r, too, is concerned with the various meanings of the Qurʾa-n

verses he associates with this event, but, unlike al-T.abarı-, he does not separate

his treatment of events according to the genres in which they are described. While the reports he relates in both genres include the public venue, and allow for this event to occur without any miracle whatsoever, he goes out of his way to argue against the authenticity of the reports that detail the private meeting. His tone in this case is overtly defensive and he even calls into question the authenticity of a report found in Ah.mad b. H. anbal’s Musnad – a work that he otherwise attempts to equate with the authoritative Six Books. He uses all of the available tools at his disposal to refute any possible Shı-ʿı-interpretation of this event: he makes accusations against reports’ chains of authorities, he provides his own interpretation of the matn of reports, and he quotes Qurʾa-n 5:67 to support this interpretation.1 Ibn Kathı-r views the Shı-ʿı-interpretation of the events surrounding Muh.ammad’s first public preaching as so repugnant that he is justified in manipulating his source material to present his own view – something that is anathema to his overall argument in favor of a return to the Qurʾa-n and the sunna.