Interview with Shaykh Abdul Aziz Suraqah on The Shama’il al-Muhammadiyya

Interview with Shaykh Abdul Aziz Suraqah on The Shama’il al-Muhammadiyya

Shaykh Abdul Aziz Suraqah is a renowned translator. Recently, Shaykh Abdul Aziz Suraqah completed a commentary and translation of Imam Abu ‘Isa al-Tirmidhi’s al-Shama’il al-Muhammadiyya. This book of Shamail describes the Prophet Muhammad’s ( (Allah bless him and give him peace) character and physical description.  We are fortunate to share this interview with Shaykh Abdul Aziz regarding his recent work.  To learn more about his projects and to find out how you can support, please visit


Bismillahi Al-Rahman Al-Raheem (In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful)

 Danish: What made you want to translate the Shama’il of Imam al-Tirmidhi?

 Suraqah:  Scholars state that the virtue of a science is proportionate to the virtue of what it aims to study; therefore, as a text that helps one know the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), it is one of the most virtuous texts out there. Actually, it didn’t occur to me to translate the Shama’il until I was approached and asked to do it. When I first began, it was limited to a translation of the hadith reports without their chains of transmission, and without the comments of Imam al-Tirmidhi, and with minimal commentary in the footnotes. But as I got half way into completing the first draft, it was clear that it required far more than just a few footnotes sprinkled here and there, but rather an entire commentary. . So, this is not just a translation of the Shama’il, but a full commentary on it as well.

 Danish: How can one best benefit from studying the Shama’il?

 Suraqah:  Following the tradition of different scholars who would write introductions to sciences they were writing about, I wrote in my preface a prolegomenon of sorts titled “How to read the Shama’il.” It lays out the proper approach one must take as they read the Shama’il—the proper spiritual lenses through which they venture into the text. In it I said:

One may ask why the Shama’il exists as a distinct genre of Islamic literature when virtually every hadith compilation is filled with descriptions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and his recorded statements and actions. The answer is simple: Learning about the physical and moral qualities of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) is a religious necessity and essential ingredient of sincere and sound faith. Simply put: the medium is the message. The medium of the message of Islam is the one who brought it to us, communicated its contents and reflected it perfectly—our master the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace). Understanding the Shama’il is therefore critical to any proper understanding of Islam, for it details the qualities of the message-bearer, which fundamentally alters how we understand the message he brought. Knowing the Shama’il is a pre-requisite to properly understanding Islam in general and the Prophet’s life (Sira) in particular, for it is his beautiful appearance, his lifestyle and his character that provide the ultimate contextualization needed for correct understanding of its content and application. Without a proper understanding of the Shama’il one is left to read Islam and the Prophet’s life through the lenses of his or her own socially conditioned impressions and assumptions.

[…]Before venturing into the dazzling meadows of the Shama’il, it is essential to understand certain key points. The first book about the Prophet’s sublime qualities is the Quran. It is the first and most excellent Shama’il. The beautiful moral, physical and spiritual qualities of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) are embedded in the Book of Allah. The Quran—the pre-eternal divine speech—is the supreme character reference. Some scholars have said, ‘If you want to see the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), then look into the Quran.’ This is undoubtedly true, as Imam al-Tirmidhi recorded in the Shama’il (hadith 385) from Anas ibn Malik, ‘I gazed at his blessed face, and it looked like a page from the Quran (mushaf)…’  The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), therefore, reflects the Quran and the Quran reflects him.

The entire preface is a good starting point for someone who wants to know how to approach the Shama’il.

Danish:  People often ask what the point is of knowing the physical description of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), and why don’t we just focus on his character. What is your response to that? 

Suraqah:  The Shama’il, by definition, refers to the Prophet’s qualities of character and nature. The Shama’il of Imam al-Tirmidhi is as much about the Prophet’s sublime character as it is about his beautiful form (Allah bless him and give him peace). Beauty in character is beauty in form, and the Companions transmitted to us the physical qualities so we could cherish it too. Sayyiduna Abu Bakr once went out at night in Medina in a state of hunger. He encountered the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), who asked him why he was out. Abu Bakr replied, “I’ve come out to meet the Messenger of Allah and gaze upon his blessed face!” Some scholars have stated that the reason why the Seal of Prophethood was between the blessed shoulder blades of the Prophet, and not on his blessed hand or another readily accessible place was because his face was a sufficient proof of his truthfulness—as ‘Abdullah b. Salam said when he went out to see him, ‘By Allah, that is not the face of a liar!”

Recognition of the qualities of the message bearer and his physical features are a part of recognizing his message. Allah mentions in Sura al-Mu’minun:

أمْ لَمْ يَعْرِفُوا رَسُولَهم فَهم لَهُ مُنْكِرُونَ

“Or, do they not know their Messenger, and so deny him?”

Danish:  What does this translation offer that other ones do not?

Suraqah:  Again, this is a commentary and not just a translation. It makes use of over a dozen classical commentaries and other sources. There were a couple of translations of the Shama’il I’d seen over the years—and may Allah reward the translators and publishers for their service—but there needed to be a full English commentary on the text that explains the narrations in a way that highlights the Prophet’s perfection and sublimity, as well as his lofty character and concern.

One thing that sets this work apart from others is the aesthetic detail. Admittedly, there is a utility in writing things in a simple style, but the intention behind this project from the outset was to make the entire work, not just the words, an expression of love and reverence, something that, when seen, evokes awe. The Shama’il of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) deserves far more, but it’s the least that can be done.

Danish: Thank you for the interview and may Allah bless and accept your work


To contact Danish Qasim directly, email

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