Caution: Bad Source on Wikipedia

While I’ve relied on Wikipedia articles for reasons I have already stated, ALWAYS remember that Wikipedia is only as good as its citations. Be aware that the articles surrounding Muhammad’s ministry are inundated with a particular source:

The Sealed Nectar, by Safiur Rahman Mubarakpuri, is dense with information and details, but it is not an academic work. Rather instead, it is pious literature, highly dogmatic, and researched only to the extent of using traditional resources without open evaluation. It’s translation into English is also quite flawed. Mubarakpuri is not transparent between when he is summarizing data from traditional records and when he is summarizing his own views. Any statement that cites The Sealed Nectar on Wikipedia should be held highly suspect as it’s likely to be citing a segment of Mubarakpuri’s opinion.

I would rather see traditional sources be cited directly if we’re to rely on traditional narrative to reconstruct the history around Muhammad. And if not direct data, then it’s important for a source to openly evaluate and test its material before drawing conclusions. This is important because Islamic tradition includes a very, very large catalog of writings and records, and not all records are in agreement over details with each other. It’s not bad that Mubarakpuri relies on traditional Islamic literature; that is an available body of material and should be factored into any Islamic history. What is bad is that he does not reveal what evaluations he made in choosing sources, the background of which items of that literature he selects, and which ones he leaves out and why he did so. It isn’t bad that his bank of resources is not comprehensive of all Islamic literature (that would be crazy), but that he does not acknowledge this and explain his limits. It is not bad that Mubarakpuri writes his opinions (why else write?), but that he does not make distinctions between his opinions and summaries of the data. Indeed, he does not even allow that his opinions get treated with any less authority than the Quran.

For example, when discussing Muhammad’s household, Mubarakpuri writes:

Discussing polygamy –in my opinion– is not a necessity; since a person who is familiar with the Europeans, and indecent practices, sufferings, wickedness, their sorrows and distresses, the horrible crimes they commit in this respect as well as the trials, the disasters that they are involved in, and which emanate directly from their deregard of the principle of polygamy form a good reason (to justify the soundness of polygamy). The distored picture of life in Europe with the ill-practices featuring it, could truthfully justify the existence and practice of polygamy. In this, there are Divine signs for all people possessed of lucid mind.

Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar, Dar-us-Salam Publications (1979), p. 491.

More egregious and long-form is Mubarakpuri’s section on the Jews of Medina, which is solid with anti-Jewish tropes: they were racists, full of hatred but too cowardly to act upon it, conquered their neighbors through fraud and usury, monopolized markets, incited wars in order to profit from selling weapons to both sides…

You know the type.

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