The issue of the succession to Muh.ammad overshadows every aspect of the story of the first public announcement of his mission in the sı-ra accounts of al-T.abarı-and Ibn Kathı-r, spilling over into the latter’s tafsı-r work as well. The dichotomy of public versus private, the villainy of Abu-Lahab, and even the miraculous division of food and drink take a diminutive role in this story when compared to its potential use in the Shı-ʿa/Sunnı-debate. Both authors make their views on this matter quite clear, although al-T.abarı-does so far more subtly than does Ibn Kathı-r. Even those aspects of the story that do not at first appear to be political are drawn into this politicization, revealing that medieval Muslim scholars viewed the story of the beginning of Muh.ammad’s public mission as the perfect vehicle through which to discuss the implications of its end. Al-T.abarı-’s sı-ra account favors the public aspect of the story by the number

of reports included. But he expresses himself more fully in the two reports that relate the private meeting between Muh.ammad and his close kin – the only reports that include an element of the supernatural. The first of these is the account from Ibn Ish. a-q that introduces readers to the story itself, but the second serves to politicize the event beyond the level of Ibn Ish. a-q’s report and likely reveals al-T.abarı-’s own political views. The second report is supposed to originate during the caliphate of ʿAlı-, and the story of Muh.ammad’s miracle and his announcement is bracketed by the story of how ʿAlı-came to rule instead of al-ʿAbba-s. Thus, al-T.abarı-appears here to support, not necessarily the religious sect of Shı-ʿism itself, but at least the argument that the ʿAlids have a more legitimate claim to the caliphate than the ʿAbba-sids. And while al-T.abarı-at no point himself discusses his views of these things, such an interpretation can be inferred by an examination of events in his life and of his works. As previously discussed, al-T.abarı-wrote a two-volume work that collected

all the known reports regarding the events at Ghadı-r Khumm. He did this in response to the lectures of a rival scholar who argued against the historical authenticity of the event itself. The work apparently drew the attention of both the Shı-ʿa and the ʿAbba-sids, and so al-T.abarı-wrote works on the virtues of all four of the Ra-shidu-n and, at the request of the ʿAbba-sids, on al-ʿAbba-s,

although none of these works survives. Franz Rosenthal interprets this as al-T.abarı-’s attempts at being an objective historian who wanted to pay equal respect to all of the first four successors to Muh.ammad,1 but another interpretation is that al-T.abarı-did support the ʿAlid political cause, and simply wrote the other works to avoid being censured by ruling authorities. Ibn Kathı-r points out that he was accused of supporting a Shı-ʿı-interpretation of the Qurʾa-n verse associated with the ritual ablutions before prayer, and undertook a bit of linguistic gymnastics to pull al-T.abarı-firmly back to the Sunnı-side of the argument. These accusations do not, in and of themselves, confirm al-T.abarı-’s political views, but when taken in conjunction with an in-depth examination of his works, they begin to show some merit. But while al-T.abarı-has overtly politicized the supernatural in his sı-ra

account of this event, his Tafsı-r is another matter entirely. In this genre, he includes only one report of the private meeting, the report from Ibn Ish. a-q, and so leaves out the more direct political implications of the event in his exegesis. However, in his treatment of Muh.ammad’s public announcement in this genre, he includes reports in which certain individuals are specifically called by Muh.ammad, and these only make sense when read in light of a politically-charged milieu. The individuals named – S.af ı-ya, Fa-t.ima, and al-ʿAbba-s – are each progenitors of various claimants for rulership of the Islamic world. Muh.ammad’s aunt, S. af ı-ya, was mother of the Zubayrids; Fa-t.ima was wife of ʿAlı-and mother of H. asan and H. usayn; and al-ʿAbba-s was ancestor of the ʿAbba-sids. While the Zubayrids had long ceased to be a political threat by al-T.abarı-’s day, the struggle between the ʿAlids and the ʿAbba-sids was ongoing. Thus, a political interpretation is possible with these reports as well. And yet, all of the reports that relate the historical context of Muh.ammad’s first public preaching in this genre are dwarfed by those that relate entirely different matters, such as grammar and lexicography. The fact that al-T.abarı-does not focus his attention on even such a contentious issue as the succession to Muh.ammad in this genre reveals that he likely did not view the exegesis of the Qurʾa-n as a suitable venue for political debate. Ibn Kathı-r suffers from no such compulsion and there is much interplay

between his sı-ra and tafsı-r accounts of this event. For Ibn Kathı-r, too, the political implications of the story of Muh. ammad’s announcement are of paramount importance, but – unlike al-T.abarı-– he is unwilling to allow this story to be told without his own views taking precedence. Ibn Kathı-r begins his sı-ra account, as does al-T.abarı-, with reports of the public announcement, but he includes those reports in which Muh.ammad calls out to the individuals mentioned above, S. af ı-ya, Fa-t.ima, and al-ʿAbba-s. He follows this section with the reports of Muh. ammad’s private meeting with his kin, and it is here that he most vehemently intrudes himself onto the text. He relates a number of versions of the story from a variety of sources, finding fault with any that might hint that Muh. ammad accepted ʿAlı-as his successor. He identifies an individual in the isna-d of al-T.abarı-’s report from Ibn Ish. a-q as “a liar and a Shı-ʿı-,” and even calls into question the authenticity of a report from Ah.mad

b. H. anbal, whose Musnad he otherwise expends much energy in equating with the Six Books of authoritative h.adı-th. Thus, Ibn Kathı-r uses the techniques of isna-d criticism when it is actually the matn of the report that he finds most offensive. But he includes, here, too, his reinterpretation of the text of the reports by claiming that Muh. ammad was not asking for someone to be his successor, but rather that he was simply asking for someone to act as executor of his estate should he be killed in the course of his mission. And so, according to Ibn Kathı-r’s interpretation, it was only this limited role that ʿAlı-

was volunteering to play. Ibn Kathı-r’s final act in discrediting this story is his inclusion of Qurʾa-n 5:67, which he claims promises Muh.ammad God’s protection from his enemies, and so negates the need for anyone to act in the capacity for which ʿAlı-had volunteered. Thus, Ibn Kathı-r, in his sı-ra account of this event, engages in isna-d-analysis, matn-criticism, and even uses a citation from the Qurʾa-n to bolster his own interpretation of events. Unlike al-T.abarı-, who relegates his overtly political report to the sı-ra,

Ibn Kathı-r repeats much of his argument verbatim in his tafsı-r of the Qurʾa-n verses relevant to this story. This reveals that, for Ibn Kathı-r, both genres are suitable for political debate, since he is attempting to incorporate both into Ibn Taymiyya’s program of reform. Just as Walid Saleh argues that Ibn Taymiyya worked to make tafsı-r into a h.adı-th science, so, too, does Ibn Kathı-r, but I would add that he tries the same thing with his work of sı-ra.2 While his success is somewhat limited for the genre of tafsı-r, Ibn Kathı-r’s attempts in the sı-ra fall far short of Ibn Taymiyya’s radicalization. Ibn Kathı-r is simply too embroiled in the controversies of his day surrounding the Shı-ʿa to risk letting this new methodology allow for any possible interpretation of events in the life of Muh.ammad other than those that fit into his decidedly conservative worldview. And yet, his attempts appear, on the surface, to use this very methodology. He insists on proper chains of authority and uses the Qurʾa-n to support his interpretation. And yet, his main problem lies with the content of the reports themselves, thus moving him to manipulate his methodology in order to present his own interpretation of its significance. As such, Ibn Kathı-r relegates the story of Muh. ammad’s first public preaching itself – the beginning of his mission with its concomitant miracle – to the background, behind his rhetoric surrounding what he viewed as the story’s proper interpretation.