The two most important subjects to learn in Islam are Qur’an and seerah. Seerah is the bedrock of a believer. Everything we do is modeled after the Prophet ﷺ. If we don’t know him ﷺ , we don’t know how we should live our own lives. Unfortunately, many young Muslims are entranced by “seerah” books written by people like Reza Aslan or Karen Armstrong. The books are historically inaccurate, lack any spiritual depth, and fail to provide any useful seerah knowledge for a Muslim. I personally have seen several Muslims who lacked basic knowledge of seerah, aqeedah, and Islam in general who took up these books under the false belief that they were somehow superior because they were unbiased. Those people ended up confused about Islam and confused about the Prophet ﷺ after reading these books. As Imam ibn Sirin said, “This knowledge is your religion, so be wary who you take your religion from.”
So here’s a list of the top five English books on the seerah.
#5: Muhammad by Yahya Emerick
Any Muslim who grew up in the late 90’s and early 2000’s is familiar with Yahya Emerick’s works. From fiction books like Ahmad Deen and the Curse of the Aztec Warrior and Isabella: A Girl of Muslim Spain to Islamic textbooks used at weekend schools across America, his writings have been read by thousands and thousands of young Muslims. This seerah book is aimed at an adult audience but still has the clear, engaging style that Br. Yahya employs in his children’s books. At 336 pages, it strikes a good balance between breadth and depth.
#4 Prophet of Mercy by Abdul Hasan Ali an-Nadwi
Sh. Abul Hasan Ali an-Nadwi was one of the most important Muslim scholars of the last century. Although originally Indian, most of his books were written first in Arabic and then later translated into Urdu. He strongly attacked the then popular ideologies of Arab nationalism and pan-Arabism, labeling them as modern jahiliyyah. He was one of the founding members of the Muslim World League, served on the advisory council for the University of Madinah, and gave lectures at Islamic universities all over the Muslim world. His life was a steady series of struggles for social reform, religious revival and political awakening. This book is an English translation of his Arabic book titled as-Sirat an-Nabawiyyah. Written by a true historian, the book is grounded in traditional sources but also offers interesting analytical perspective.
#3 The Sealed Nectar by Safi ur Rahman Mubarakpuri
This is a seerah book that most Muslims have at least heard of, if not already purchased a copy for their home. Many years ago, the original Arabic work was chosen by the Muslim World League as the best seerah book in the world. As far as seerah books go, it’s pretty good. It covers a good breadth of the seerah without going into too much detail. Avoids fabricated narrations, etc. As far as the prose though, it’s not very good. The English is frankly lacking, with very choppy sentences and plain diction. You’ll get information from here but the translation makes it hard to really live the seerah while reading it.
#2 Noble Life of the Prophet by Ali Sallabi
This is one of the most meticulously researched books of seerah available in English. For every narration and incident mentioned, there is a reference to the original Arabic text that the narration is found in. While the book definitely gets redundant in certain places and tangential in others, it is an absolute must for anyone who wants an in depth understanding of the seerah. If you’re doing a halaqah series on the seerah, this is the book you would use as your reference.
#1 In the Footsteps of the Prophet by Tariq Ramadan
I was a freshman in high school when this book was released and came across it completely accidentally at the public library. I started reading it in the car on the way home and couldn’t stop until I finished. This is without doubt the best seerah book written in English and the one I always recommend when asked what seerah book to read. It’s not a very in-depth seerah book (only 250 pages long) but Dr. Ramadan manages to bring the character of the Prophet ﷺ alive in a way that no other seerah writer has. In the introduction, Dr. Ramadan writes, “Our aim is to more to get to know the Prophet himself than to learn about his personality or the events in his life. What is sought are immersion, sympathy, and essentially, love.” He definitely accomplishes his aim. The book will increase your love for the Prophet ﷺ every time you read it. I’ve read this book at least half a dozen times and every time, have a new appreciation for it. The lessons interspersed through the book constantly connect the Prophet ﷺ to our 21st century lives. For example, when talking about Surah ‘Abasa:
“No one must ever let power or social, economic, or political interest turn him or her away from other human beings, from the attention they deserve and the respect they are entitled to. Nothing must ever lead to a person to compromise this principle or faith in favor of a political strategy aimed at saving or protecting a community from some peril. The freely offered, sincere heart of a poor, powerless individual is worth a thousand times more in the sight of God than the assiduously courted, self-interested heart of a rich one.”
All of these are good seerah books to read. There are many, many options in the English language. Some are better than others. Start out with these five and you’ll have a solid understanding of the Prophet ﷺ’s life.