The element of the supernatural is pivotal to the story of H. a-t.ib’s letter. Without the warning from God, Muh. ammad would not have known that one of his closest companions had betrayed him and would not have sent ʿAlı-and the others to retrieve the letter before it could reach its destination. Had he not been warned about the letter, the entire mission to Mecca could have failed. Al-T.abarı-and Ibn Kathı-r agree upon the necessity of the supernatural element of this story, but reveal their viewpoints in diﬀerent ways depending upon the genre in which they work. In al-T.abarı-’s sı-ra account, he relates only one report, that by Ibn Ish. a-q, that directly points to the divine as the source of Muh. ammad’s information, and thus strictly controls which version of this story his readers are permitted to see; Ibn Kathı-r includes three reports in this genre, but only one – the report by Ibn Ish. a-q – directly supports the element of the supernatural, while the other two merely imply that the origin of Muh.ammad’s knowledge was divine. Thus, in this genre, neither author overtly states his opinion one way or the other, and so a more in-depth examination of their presentation of H. a-t.ib’s story in the sı-ra is necessary to ascertain their individual viewpoints. In their tafsı-r works, both al-T.abarı-
and Ibn Kathı-r include introductory sections that support the element of the supernatural, although Ibn Kathı-r is more direct in his assertions than al-T.abarı-. Their comments here become all the more important when compared to the reports that follow, since those that directly support a supernatural explanation for the source of Muh. ammad’s knowledge are outnumbered by those that either imply such a source or that fail to mention the miracle altogether, revealing that both al-T.abarı-and Ibn Kathı-r were willing put their own view of events ahead of the sources they used. Finally, a comparison of how each author presents this story in the genres of sı-ra and tafsı-r reveals that al-T.abarı-supported the role of the supernatural through strict authorial control in the sı-ra, but relied more upon his sources in his Tafsı-r by combining those reports that directly stated the supernatural source of Muh.ammad’s knowledge with those that at least implied such a connection to the divine. A comparison of Ibn Kathı-r’s sı-ra and tafsı-r accounts reveals that this author, despite his vehement insistence upon using only sources that are authoritative, and focusing especially on reports found in the Six Books and Ah.mad b.
H. anbal’s Musnad, is forced to use reports from other, less authoritative sources as these agree with his own personal interpretation of events in the life of Muh.ammad and the exegesis of the Qurʾa-n. In his sı-ra, he does not provide any comments that indicate his overt support of the supernatural element of this story, and his reports do not provide clarity on this matter. In his Tafsı-r, his introductory comments are so speciﬁc that he not only reveals his support of the supernatural, but states that the warning from God came as a direct result of Muh.ammad’s prayer – the only time that these two events are speciﬁcally connected in any of the sources examined here. But, in this genre, too, his reports do not necessarily support this interpretation, and Ibn Kathı-r is again at odds with his own sources, and must provide Qurʾa-nic proof for his assertions.