Updates
Home / Analysis / iERA respond to Tom Holland and Channel 4

iERA respond to Tom Holland and Channel 4

British broadcaster Channel 4 aired a programme “Islam: The Untold Story” on Tuesday 28th August 2012 with the show presented by Tom Holland. A number of absurd and outrageous claims were made by Holland against Islam such as Makkah not being mentioned in the Quran and that all historical information from about Islam from the earliest sources is fabricated and unreliable.

Holland relied on rogue scholarship and discredited academics to make his claims that Islam has no historical or intellectual basis and it is scandalous that a major broadcaster such as Channel 4 allowed this programme its airtime.

We urge all Muslims and non-Muslims alike to complain to Channel 4 and Ofcom as it is fundamentally irresponsible for flagrant untruths about one of the world’s most significant religions to be spread amongst millions of people

Please write to Channel 4 at  www.channel4.com/4viewers/contact-us and to Ofcom at www.ofcom.org.uk.

By complaining, we want to ensure that Channel 4 will not allow such programmes to be shown on their services again. Muslims need to make sure Islam is accurately portrayed in the media which already has a bias against our beautiful religion.

This paper is a response to the Channel 4 Programme “Islam: The Untold Story”, the paper will address each of the main claims made by Holland.

1. The claim that there is no historical evidence in the seventh century on the origins of Islam.

Tom Holland’s assertion that there is no historical evidence for the seventh century origins of Islam is historically inaccurate. This notion cannot be sustained in light of the contemporary non-Islamic as well as material evidence. For instance, early Christian chronicles in the seventh century elaborate on the origins of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and some of the laws practised by the early Muslims. Below are some examples of these chronicles:

Doctrina Jacobi written in 635 CE
A document called Doctrina Jacobi written only two years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) clearly mentions that a prophet had appeared amongst the Arabs:
“I, Abraham, went off to Sykamina and referred the matter to an old man very well-versed in the Scriptures. I asked him: “What is your view, master and teacher, of the prophet who has appeared among the Saracens”.(1)

Here it can be clearly seen that a prophet among Saracens  [i.e. the Arabs] is  mentioned.  The questions is: who was this prophet among Arabs? And what does  a prophet do? The Prophet of Arabs was non other than Muhammad (peace be upon him)  and it appears that the meaning of the term “prophet” was clearly understood by the author of this narrative. A prophet, in a Judeo-Christian sense, leads his people and teaches them about God and this is exactly what the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did. A Christian chronicler couldn’t have understood the term differently. Holland’s claim that there is no evidence of Islam before the early Islamic conquests is anachronistic. If there is evidence of a prophet among Arabs, why then one should doubt the existence of the teachings of that prophet?

A record of the Arab conquest of Syria written in 637 CE

A record of the Arab conquest of Syria written in 637 CE, just 5 years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), clearly mentions him by name. Interestingly, the date of the document agrees with the best Arab date for the battle of Yarmuk:

“…and in January, they took the word for their lives did the sons of Emesa, and many villages were ruined with killing by the Arabs of Mụhammad and a great number of people were killed and captives were taken from Galilee as  far as Bēth.” (2)
In this record, the name of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is clearly mentioned. Holland’s claim that the Prophet does not appear in records until 60 years after his death is historically obnoxious. Sebeos, Bishop of the Bagratunis (Writing c.660 CE)

A mid seventh century account of Islam comes from Sebeos who was a bishop of the House of Bagratunis. This chronicle suggests that he lived through many of the events he relates. As for Muhammad (peace be upon him), he had the following to say:

“At that time a certain man from along those same sons of Ishmael, whose name was Mahmet [i.e., Mụhammad], a merchant, as if by God’s command  appeared to them as a preacher [and] the path of truth. He taught them to recognize the God of Abraham, especially because he was learned and informed in the history of Moses. Now because the command was from on high, at a single order they all came together in unity of religion. Abandoning  their vain cults, they turned to the living God who had appeared to their father, Abraham. So, Mahmet legislated for them: not to eat carrion, not to drink wine, not to speak falsely, and not to engage in fornication. He said: with an oath God promised this land to Abraham and his seed after him forever. And he brought about as he promised during that time while he loved Ishmael. But now you are the sons of Abraham and God is accomplishing his promise to Abraham and his seed for you. Love sincerely only the God of Abraham, and go and seize the land which God gave to your father Abraham. No one will be  able to resist you in battle, because God is with you.” (3)

This narrative by Sebeos clearly undermines Holland’s assertion that there are no historical records elaborating on the life, teachings and mission of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). In fact this particular narrative  suggests that  the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had taught his companions about Islam and the tenets of this faith were well established and understood by the time Sebeos  was writing his chronicle. Holland, for some reason, failed to notice these important non-Muslim testimonies as to the established existence of Islam as a  way of life in the mid seventh century. Some more evidence of the early mention of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) can be seen here.

Holland appears to have turned a blind eye to the rich Islamic historical tradition. There are no “black holes” and there is no missing information. There is plenty of material evidence available to substantiate the accuracy of the Islamic narrative on the early history of Islam. For instance, there are thousands of inscriptions on rocks  in Saudi Arabia confirming the chronological accuracy of the Islamic historical records such as Hadith and Sira/Maghazi literature. One such inscription can be  found here.

This inscription states ‘In the name of Allah, I, Zuhayr, wrote [this] at the time Umar died in the year four and twenty (i.e. 24 AH)’. This dated early text confirms the established existence of the Islamic Hijri calendar, the truth of the event of Hijrah (migration) of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the existence of Umar bin Khattab (the second Caliph of Islam), and the accuracy of the Islamic chronology, as according the Islamic historical records, the second Caliph of Islam died in the year 24 AH (644 CE). Also, there is an undated early seventh century inscription, which documents the Islamic Shahadah proclamation. It can be found here.

There is also plenty of Papyri evidence available to confirm the chronological as well as the factual accuracy of the Islamic narrative. Some of this papyri evidence can be witnessed here

Why would Holland ignore all of this visible evidence and turn a blind eye to it?

2. Unjustified rejection of the Islamic narrative.

Tom Holland’s presentation was clearly biased in the programme, as he ignored other scholarly views that would call his approach into question. For example, Michael Cook, a historian specialising in early Islamic history explains the importance of early non-Muslim accounts of the origins of Islam:

“What does this material tell us? We may begin with the major points on which it agrees with the Islamic tradition. It precludes any doubts as to whether Muhammad was a real person: he is named in a Syriac source that is likely to date from the time of the conquests, and there is an account of him in a Greek source of the same period. From the 640s we have confirmation that the term muhajir was a central one in the new religion, since its followers are known as  ‘Magaritai’ or ‘Mahgraye’ in Greek and Syriac respectively. At the same time, a  papyrus of 643 is dated ‘year twenty two’, creating a strong presumption that something did happen in AD 622. The Armenian chronicler of the 660s attests that Muhammad was a merchant, and confirms the centrality of Abraham in  his preaching. The Abrahamic sanctuary appears in an early source dated (insecurely) to the 670s.” (4)
Holland’s rejection of the Islamic narrative lacks academic rigour. Commenting on Holland’s approach Peter Webb, who teaches Classical Arabic literature at SOAS, the University of London, explains the “resilient” and “robust” nature of the Islamic tradition:
“Over the past century, the Muslim tradition has been challenged by many academics and it has proven remarkably resilient in its own defence…but the Muslim account of history, the textual integrity of the Koran and the mnemonic capacity of oral traditions are more robust than Holland gives them credit…few scholars today would claim it was entirely fabricated. Holland would have done better to adopt a cautious and sensitive approach to the Arabic sources, rather than abandoning them in favour of a sensational rewriting of history.” (5)
Professor Robert Hoyland from the University of Oxford highlights how conclusions similar to Holland’s, including the view that Mecca was in a different place, is a result of not studying the Islamic material and developing scenarios not based on evidence:
“..the historical memory of the Muslim community is more robust than some  have claimed. For example, many of the deities, kings and tribes of the pre-Islamic Arabs that are depicted by ninth-century Muslim historians also feature in the epigraphic record, as do many of the rulers and governors of the early Islamic state. This makes it difficult to see how historical scenarios that require for their acceptance a total discontinuity in the historical memory of the Muslim community – such as that Muhammad did not exist, the Quran was not written in Arabic, Mecca was originally in a different place etc. – can really be  justified. Many of these scenarios rely on absence of evidence, but it seems a shame to make such a recourse when there are so many very vocal forms of material evidence still waiting to be studied.” (6)

3. Rejecting the Islamic oral tradition.

As discussed above, Holland’s approach is inherently biased as he unjustifiably rejects the entire corpus of the Islamic tradition, including the oral Prophetic traditions. Patricia Crone asserts in the documentary that with oral traditions “you remember what you want to remember”. With this assertion Holland attempts to undermine the entire science of Hadith (Prophetic traditions). The science of the Prophetic traditions is based upon scrutinising the isnad (chain of narrations) and the matn (the text). Nabia Abbot, a prominent academic who has conducted extensive study on the Prophetic traditions, explains how the growth of these traditions was as a result of parallel and multiple chains of transmission which highlights that these traditions are trustworthy and a valid source of historical information. She writes:

“…the traditions of Muhammad as transmitted by his Companions and their Successors were, as a rule, scrupulously scrutinised at each step of the transmission, and that the so called phenomenal growth of Tradition in the second and third centuries of Islam was not primarily growth of content, so far as the hadith of Muhammad and the hadith of the Companions are concerned, but represents largely the progressive increase in parallel and multiple chains of transmission.” (7)
Harald Motzki, an academic on Hadith literature, has similar sentiments. In an essay that appeared in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies he concludes that the Prophetic traditions are an important and useful type of source concerning the study of early Islam:
“While studying the Musannaf of `Abd al-Razzaq, I came to the conclusion that the theory championed by Goldziher, Schacht and in their footsteps many others – myself included – which in general, reject hadith literature as a historically reliable sources for the first century AH, deprives the historical study of early Islam of an important and a useful type of source.” (8)
Hence, even a sceptic like Motzki couldn’t resist the strength of the preservation the Islamic Prophetic tradition. On what basis then people like Holland reject the entire Islamic literary corpus?

4. The absurdity of rejecting the oral tradition.

Even if we were to follow Holland’s line of enquiry, it would lead us to absurdities. The philosophical implications of rejecting the Prophetic traditions are quite damning. In epistemology – which is narrowly defined as the study of knowledge and belief – testimony is considered as one of the sources of knowledge, and when applied properly it can form justified beliefs. Testimony is a valid source of knowledge only when it comes from a reliable source especially if there are multiple sources in agreement. Obviously there are conditions as to how we can use testimony, but in the majority cases we consider testimony as a valid source of knowledge. For instance, take our certainty on the fact that China exists. Many people have never been to China, eaten Chinese food in China or spoken to someone in China. All they have as evidence is a map of the world and people telling them they have travelled to China and others claiming to be from China but is this sufficient? However, if we examine why we have such a high level of certainty that China exists, regardless of the above questions, we will conclude that it is due to recurrent testimony. Recurrent testimony is when such a large number of people have reported a claim to knowledge (such as the existence of China) that it is impossible for them to agree upon a lie or to simultaneously lie. This is accentuated by the fact that most of these people never met and lived in different places and different times. Therefore to claim that they have lied is tantamount  to propose the existence of an impossible conspiracy.

Linking this to the Prophetic traditions, not only do we have mass testimony of events and statements of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), we have a detailed science dedicated to authenticate these traditions. Prophetic traditions consist of two components: isnad (chain of narrations) and matn (text). Each of these have detailed criteria that scrutinise the chain and the text to a degree that leaves very little room for doubt. To reject these traditions is tantamount to rejecting facts such as the existence of China or the entirety of history, as these events have been verified via recurrent testimony also. Moreover, each Prophetic tradition has been scrutinised more rigorously than any historical fact we have with us today. Thousands of  companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) narrated reports from him and these reports were then transmitted to subsequent generations with maximum care and authenticity. An anonymous report or a narration originating from an unknown source was immediately rejected. Companions such as Abdullah bin Umar, Anas bin Malik, Abu Hurairah, Aysha, Hudaifah bin Yamaan and many more narrated reports from the Prophet and they were then passed onto the next generation. A very good treatment of this subject can be found in M. M. Azami’s “Studies in Early Hadith Literature”.

The criteria used to verify prophetic traditions are summarised below:

Some criteria for the evaluation of Isnad

The unblemished and undisputed character of the narrator was the most important consideration for the acceptance of a prophetic tradition. A branch of the science of hadith (‘ilm al-hadith) known as asma’ ar-rijal (the biographies of the people) was developed to evaluate the credibility of narrators. The following are a few of the criteria utilized for this purpose:
  1. The name, nickname, title, parentage and occupation of the narrator should be known.
  2. The original narrator should have stated that he heard the hadith directly from the Prophet.
  3. If a narrator referred his hadith to another narrator, the two should have lived in the same period and have had the possibility of meeting each other.
  4. At the time of hearing and transmitting the hadith, the narrator should have been physically and mentally capable of understanding and remembering it.
  5. The narrator should have been known as a pious and virtuous person.
  6. The narrator should not have been accused of having lied, given false evidence or committed a crime.
  7. The narrator should not have spoken against other reliable people.
  8. The narrator’s religious beliefs and practices should have been known to be correct.
  9. The narrator should not have carried out and practiced peculiar religious beliefs of his own.
Some criteria for the evaluation of Matn
  1. The text should have been stated in plain and simple language as this was the undisputed manner of speech of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
  2. A text in non-Arabic or containing indecent language was rejected (for the same reason as above).A text prescribing heavy punishment for minor sins or exceptionally large reward for small virtues was rejected.
  3. A text which referred to actions that should have been commonly known and practiced by others but were not known and practiced was rejected.
  4. A text contrary to the basic teachings of the Qur’an was rejected.
  5. A text contrary to another established prophetic tradition was rejected.
  6. A text inconsistent with historical facts was rejected.
  7. Extreme care was taken to ensure the text was the original narration of the Prophet and not the sense of what the narrator heard. The meaning of the Prophet tradition was accepted only when the narrator was well known for his piety and integrity of character.
  8. A text by an obscure narrator which was not known during the age of the Prophet’s companions or of the subsequent generation was rejected.
It is clear from the above that the criteria for verifying the Prophetic traditions is comprehensive and robust. Even in the philosophy of history we do not find such comprehensive criteria.

5. The textual Islamic tradition.

Holland continues to espouse his uninformed perspective by claiming that there is an absence of textual evidence from the Islamic narrative. In response to this there are a myriad of written works in the early period of Islam. Below is a list of some of the early works:

Saheefah Saadiqah: Compiled by Abdullaah Ibn ‘Amr ibn al-Aas during the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). His treatise is composed of about 1000 prophetic traditions and it remained secure and preserved.

Saheefah Saheehah: Compiled by Humaam Ibn Munabbih. He was from the famous students of Abu Hurairah (the eminent companion of the Prophet). He wrote all the prophetic traditions from his teacher. Copies of this manuscript are available from libraries in Berlin and Damascus.

Saheefah Basheer Ibn Naheek: Ibn Naheek was also a student of Abu Hurairah. He gathered and wrote a treatise of Prophetic traditions which he read to Abu Hurairah, before they departed and the former verified it. (9)

One of the early Hadith compilations was Muatta of Imam Malik , compiled by Malik bin Anas (d. 179 AH/795 CE). A fragmentary papyri manuscript of this collection from the time of the author is extant to this day. It can be seen here.

This clearly shows that the Hadith literature existed in textual form and was written with extreme care and enthusiasm. Malik bin Anas was a student of Nafi’, who  was a student of Abdullah bin Umar and Abdullah narrated directly from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This is an uninterrupted chain of Hadith (also known as the Golden Chain).  Malik narrates extensively from Nafi’ in his book and all these reports reach the Prophet Muhammad directly and some of these reports can be verified in manuscript form in international libraries.

In light of the above, the claim that there were no texts or historical documents in the early seventh century is a false one, and clearly undermines the integrity of the programme.  All authentic Hadith literature can be traced back to the Prophet and much of this literature existed in written form in the early days of Islam.

6. Further baseless assumptions.

Holland’s unjustified rejection of the oral and textual Islamic tradition forces him to attempt a coherent alternative. Admitting that he cannot do this, many times describing his source of information as a “black hole”, he uses certain Quranic verses in an attempt to justify his revisionist approach to the Islamic narrative. Holland uses the story of the Prophet Lot and the so-called non-mention of the city of Mecca as means to justify his alternative theory.

The Story of Lot
Holland argues that the Qur’an alludes to places, landscapes and geography that are not descriptive of Mecca and the immediate surrounding areas. He claims that this implies that the Qur’an originates from a location other than Mecca or southern Arabia. He mentions the following verse of the Qur’an:
“And indeed, Lot was among the messengers. [So mention] when We saved  him and his family, all, except his wife among those who remained [with the evildoers]. Then We destroyed the others. And indeed, you pass by them in  the morning. And at night. Then will you not use reason?” (10)
Holland claims that the words “you pass by them in the morning and at night” indicate a place outside of Mecca because the ruins are nowhere to be found in Mecca. With this conclusion Holland makes some bold assumptions. He assumes that Meccans did not travel. This is a blunder as the historian Ira M. Lapidus in his book, “A History of Islamic Societies”, clearly states that the Arabs in Mecca were established traders travelling far and wide:
“By the mid-sixth century, as heir to Petra and Palmyra, Mecca became one of the important caravan cities of the Middle East. The Meccans carried spices, leather, drugs, cloth and slaves which had come from Africa or the Far East to Syria, and returned money, weapons, cereals, and wine to   Arabia.” (11)
If Holland had carefully read the Qur’an, he would have understood that the context of these verses was explained elsewhere in the book, as the Qur’an rhetorically asks the Meccans if they had travelled through the land to see the ends of other civilisations and cities:
“Have they not travelled through the land and observed how was the end of those before them? They were more numerous than themselves and greater in strength and in impression on the land, but they were not availed by what they used to earn.” (12)
The non-mention of Mecca
Holland claims that the city of Mecca is not mentioned in the Qur’an and therefore justifies his revisionist perspective. This is a complete fabrication. The Quran in the forty-eighth chapter clearly mentions the city of Mecca.
“And it is He who withheld their hands from you and your hands from them within [the area of] Makkah after He caused you to overcome them. And ever is Allah of what you do, Seeing.” (13)
This in itself shows as to how reckless, ill-informed and  biased was Holland’s approach to the whole subject.

7. Did the Arab Empire create Islam?

Although this contention of Holland’s does not provide a strong argument against Islamic tradition, it is worthwhile pointing out that his view that Islam emerged as a result of the Arab empire does not make sense when the historical events are viewed objectively. The late professor of Islamic studies William Montgomery Watt asserts:

“Islamic ideology alone gave the Arabs that outward – looking attitude which  enabled them to become sufficiently united to defeat the Byzantine and Persian empires. Many of them may have been concerned chiefly with booty for themselves. But men who were merely raiders out for booty could not have held together as the Arabs did. The ideology was no mere epiphenomenon but an essential factor in the historical process.” (14)
Hence, according to Watt, it was the religion of Islam that inspired the Arabs to unite and consequently carve an empire, not the other way around. In a similar vein the author Dr. Lex Hixon writes:
“Neither as Christians or Jews, nor simply as intellectually responsible individuals, have members of Western Civilisation been sensitively educated or even accurately informed about Islam…even some persons of goodwill who have gained acquaintance with Islam continue to interpret the reverence for the prophet Muhammad and the global acceptance of his message as an inexplicable survival of the zeal of an ancient desert tribe. This view ignores fourteen centuries of Islamic civilisation, burgeoning with artists, scholars, statesmen, philanthropists, scientists, chivalrous warriors, philosophers…as well as countless men and women of devotion and wisdom from almost every nation of the planet. The coherent world civilisation called Islam, founded in  the vision of the Qur’an, cannot be regarded as the product of individual and national ambition, supported by historical accident.” (15)
To claim that the empire of the Arabs produced a religion called Islam is to  assert that a child gave birth to his mother. Holland was certainly attempting to challenge all established historical laws.

8. What if the Qur’an is God’s word?

One of the key reasons of why the Muslim narrative has remained resilient against baseless and uninformed polemics is based on the fact that the Qur’an is from God. The argument is simple yet profound. If it can be shown that the Qur’an is from God, an Infallible and Omnipotent being, then it follows that whatever is in the Qur’an is true. This will include the fact that Islam is a religion sent by God and not the development of an Arab empire, as claimed by Holland.

How can we ascertain that the Qur’an is from the Divine?
The Qur’an, the book of Islam, is no ordinary book. It has been described by many who engage with the book as an imposing text, but the way it imposes itself on the reader is not negative, rather it is positive. This is because it seeks to positively engage with ones mind and emotions, and it achieves this by asking profound questions, such as:
“So where are you people going? This is a message for all people; for those who wish to take the straight path.” (16)
“Are the disbelievers not aware that the heavens and the earth used to be  joined together and that We ripped them apart, that We made every living thing from water? Will they not believe?” (17)
“Have they not thought about their own selves?” (18)
However the Qur’an doesn’t stop there, it actually challenges the whole of mankind with regards to its authorship, it boldly states:
“If you have doubts about the revelation we have sent down to Our servant,  then produce a single chapter like it – enlist whatever supporters you have other than God – if you truly think you can. If you cannot do this – and you never will – then beware of the Fire prepared for the disbelievers, whose  fuel is men and stones.” (19)
This challenge refers to the various wonders in the Qur’an, even within its smallest chapter, that give us good reasons to believe it is from God. Some of these reasons are the existence of supernatural linguistic, historical and factual statements in the Quran and these statements couldn’t possibly have originated from the mind of an unlettered seventh century Arabian inhabitant of Mecca i.e. the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Linguistic
The Qur’an’s use of the Arabic language has never been achieved before by anyone who has mastered the language past or present. As Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot, a notable British Orientalist, states:
“…and that though several attempts have been made to produce a work equal to it as far as elegant writing is concerned, none has as yet succeeded.” (20)
The Qur’an is the most eloquent of all speeches that achieves the peak of excellence, it renders peoples attempts to match its miraculous style as null and void. It is no wonder Professor Bruce Lawrence writes:
“As tangible signs Qur’anic verses are expressive of inexhaustible truth, the signify meaning layered within meaning, light upon light, miracle after miracle.” (21)

Historical

There are many historically factual statements in the Qur’an that show us that it is from God. One of them is that the Qur’an is the only religious text to use different words for the rulers of Egypt at different times. For instance while addressing the Egyptian ruler at the time of Prophet Yusuf (Joseph), the word “Al-Malik” in Arabic is used which refers to a ruler, king or sultan.
“The King said, ‘Bring him to me straight away!’…”(22)
In contrast, the ruler of Egypt at the time of the Prophet Musa (Moses) is referred to as “Pharaoh”, in Arabic “Firaown”. This particular title began to be employed in the 14th century B.C., during the reign of Amenhotep IV. This is confirmed by the Encyclopaedia Britannica which states that the word “Pharaoh” was a title of respect used from the New Kingdom (beginning with the 18th dynasty; B.C. 1539-1292) until the 22nd dynasty (B.C. 945-730), after which this term of address became the title of the king. So the Qur’an is historically accurate as the Prophet Yusuf lived at least 200 years before 18th dynasty, and the word “al-Malik” or “King” was used for the king of Egypt at the time, not the title “Pharaoh”.

In light of this, how could have the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) known such a minute historical detail? Especially when all other religious texts, such as the Bible are mistaking in this regard? Also, since people at the time of revelation did not know this information (as the Hieroglyphs was a dead language at the time), what does this then say about the authorship of the Qur’an?

There are many more reasons for the Muslim belief in the Qur’an. We hope this provides the window of opportunity for the reader to study further and engage with a text that not only changed Arabia, but the entire world. Johnston , an authority on early Islamic history, agrees:
“Seldom, if ever, has a set of ideas had so great an effect on human societies  as Islam has done, above all in the first half of the seventh century. In little more than twenty years, the religious and political configuration of Arabia was changed out of all recognition. Within another twenty all of the rich, highly developed, militarily powerful world enveloping Arabia was conquered, save for Asia Minor and north Africa.” (23)
One of the biggest effects of the Quran on human history was the survival of Jews and some minor Christian sects due to the protection of Islam. This  outcome of the teachings of the Quran in itself was a phenomenon, please see “Islam’s War on Terror” for details here.

9. Selective Scholarship.

Holland’s choice of scholarship was very selective and was carefully planned to substantiate his argument. He appears to have ignored a bulk, in fact the majority, of scholarship to make his point stand out. He relied heavily upon the opinions of Patricia Crone (featured in the documentary), whose theories on the early Islamic history are discarded by most historians today. She has expressed her erroneous views on Islamic sources in a number of works. She went as far as to assert that some of the Islamic sources are ‘”debris of obliterated past”; and some of the early works, including Ibn Ishaq’s Sira (biography of the Prophet), are “mere piles of desperate traditions”. (24)

Crone has been heavily criticised by fellow historians for her radical views. Even Fred M. Donner, another historian featured in the documentary, rejected Crone’s approach. Referring to people like Crone, Cook and Wansbrough, Donner asserts that:
“…the sceptics have encountered some scepticism about their own approach, because some of their claims seem overstated – or even unfounded. Moreover, their work has to date been almost entirely negative – that is, while they have tried to cast doubt on the received version of ‘what happened’ in early Islamic history by impugning the sources, they have not yet offered a convincing alternative reconstruction of what might have happened.” (25)
Angelika Neuwirth, a German scholar on the Quran, has expressed similar sentiments on Patricia Crone and her likes. She states:
“As a whole, however, the theories of the so called sceptic or revisionist scholars who, arguing historically, make a radical break with the transmitted picture of Islamic origins, shifting them in both time and place from the seventh to the eighth or ninth century and from the Arabian Peninsula to the Fertile Crescent, have by now been discarded…New findings of Quranic text fragments, moreover, can be adduced to affirm rather than call into question the traditional picture of the Quran as an early fixed text composed of the suras we have…The alternative visions about the genesis of the Quran presented by Wansbrough, Crone and Cook, Luling and Luxenberg  are not only mutually exclusive, but rely on textual observations that are too selective to be compatible with the comprehensive quranic textual evidence that can be drawn only from a systematically microstructural reading.” (26)

Carole Hillenbrand has also rejected the extremely negative and selective approach of Patricia Crone and her school. (27)

It is clear from above, mainstream scholarly opinions that the Islamic historical narrative is far richer and trustworthier than most historical traditions. Most historians, who have no underlying political or religious agendas, accept the historical validity of Islamic sources.

In summary, Tom Holland has cherry picked from evidence as well as scholarship to take an unsubstantiated and marginalised view on the origins of Islam.  He saw what he wanted to see and rejected recklessly what he didn’t like. His exclusion of established academic positions and material facts points to the only conclusion of justifying his own prejudices and ignorance of Islamic tradition. 

A further response by the telegraph can be read here

 

 


Notes: This article has been cross posted from http://www.iera.org.uk/press_29aug2012.html. Please visit their site for more updates.
Islam21c requests all the readers of this article, and others, to share it on your facebooktwitter, and other platforms to further spread our efforts.
1. Doctrina Jacobi, Readings in Late Antiquity: A  Sourcebook, Routledge, 2005, p. 354.
2. A. Palmer (with contributions from S. P. Brock and R. G. Hoyland), The Seventh Century In The West-Syrian Chronicles Including Two Seventh-Century Syriac Apocalyptic Texts, 1993, Liverpool University Press: Liverpool (UK), pp. 2-3; Also see R. G. Hoyland, Seeing Islam As Others Saw It: A Survey And Evaluation Of Christian, Jewish And Zoroastrian Writings On Early Islam, 1997, op. cit., pp. 116-117.
3. R. W. Thomson (with contributions from J. Howard-Johnson & T. Greenwood), The Armenian History Attributed To Sebeos Part – I: Translation and Notes, 1999, Translated Texts For Historians – Volume 31, Liverpool University Press, pp. 95-96. Other translations can also be seen in P. Crone & M. Cook, Hagarism: The Making Of The Islamic World, 1977, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, pp. 6-7; R. G. Hoyland, Seeing Islam As Others Saw It: A Survey And Evaluation Of Christian, Jewish And Zoroastrian Writings On Early Islam, 1997, op. cit., p. 129; idem., “Sebeos, The Jews And The Rise Of Islam” in R. L. Nettler (Ed.), Medieval And Modern Perspectives On Muslim-Jewish Relations, 1995, Harwood Academic Publishers GmbH in cooperation with the Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies, p. 89.
4. Michael Cook. Muhammad, Past Masters Oxford University Press, Page 74. First published 1983 as an Oxford University Press paperback. Reissued 1996
6. Robert Hoyland, New Documentary Texts and the Early Islamic State, 2006
7. N. Abbott, Studies In Arabic Literary Papyri, Volume II (Qur’anic Commentary & Tradition), 1967, The University Of Chicago Press, p. 2.
8. H. Motzki, “The Musannaf Of `Abd al-Razzaq Al-San`ani As A Source of Authentic Ahadith of The First Century A.H.”, Journal Of Near Eastern Studies, 1991, Volume 50, p. 21.
9. M. M. Azami. Studies in Early Hadith Literature. 2001. American Trust Publications.
10. Qur’an 37: 133 – 138
11. Ira M. Lapidus, ‘A History of Islamic Societies’, Cambridge, p.14.
12. Qur’an 40: 82
13. Qur’an 48: 24
14. William Montgomery Watt, ‘Economic and Social Aspects of the Origin of Islam’ in Islamic Quarterly 1 (1954), p. 102-3.
15. Lex Hixon. The Heart of the Qur’an: An Introduction to Islamic Spirituality. Quest Books. 2003, page 3.
16. Qur’an 81: 26 – 28
17. Qur’an 21: 30
18. Qur’an 30: 8
19. Qur’an 2: 23
20. F. F. Arbuthnot. The Construction of the Bible and the Koran. London, p 5.
21. Bruce Lawrence. The Qur’an: A Biography. Atlantic Books, p 8.
22. Qur’an 12: 50
23. Johnston, Witnesses to a World Crises (Oxford, 2010), p. 357-8.
24. Patricia Crone, Slaves on Horses (Cambridge, 2003), p. 10.
25. Fred M. Donner, Modern Approaches to Early Islamic History, New Cambridge History of Islam v. 1, 2010, p. 633.
26. Angelika Neuwirth, Structural, Linguistic and Literary Features, the Cambridge Companion to the Quran, 2006, p. 100-1.
27. Carole Hillenbrand. Muhammad and the Rise of Islam. New Cambridge Medieval History.

About iERA

41 comments

  1. C4 and Tom Holland
    Assalaamualaykum,

    Firstly, please accept both my salutations and support for you masterful retort which is scholarly, yet palletable for the layman. Holland’s lies have been refuted through the works of Prof. Mustafa Al ‘Azmi, who had dispelled Patricia Crone and Michael Crook’s ‘Sana (Yemen)manuscripts’.Furthermore, the late Prof. Mohar Ali’s (RAA) numerous works have been at the forefront of refuting Orientalism, including Holland’s diatribe.

    The sad fact is that Holland’s vile-bile is known to be shoddy and amateurish at best, by the Orientalist community. It is clear that there are clear motives and characters behind him in this Islamophobic climate which we are living in, hence C4’s propagation of his (Holland’s)lies. If C4, like all ‘freedom worshippers’, truly believed in their ‘religion’, why not give Muslims the right to reply? Better still there is a plethora of Muslim academics well versed in Islam (not sell out secularists!), why not have an open live debate? Surely, C4 should relish the chance to put Islam on public trial/scrutiny?
    Sadly, Tom Holland’s book: In The Shadow Of The Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World, is legitimately on sale in the UAE! Whilst in Dubai earlier this year, I went into ‘Virgin Megastore’ (yes, Richard Branson’s tentacles get around!)I was shocked to see Holland’s nonsense proudly on display. The store manager appeared after I brought the books attention to Muslim staff and security. The manager (himself a Muslim)politely invited me into his office and listened to my passionate denuncation of the book. Promising that he (the manager) would thoroughly investigate the matter by contacting the relevant UAE Ministry. As an act of good faith, he had the Virgin Megastore shelves cleared of the offending material and even asked that I email him a brief report about how the book is offensive to Muslims. Imagine my surprise when a few days later he emailed me a scanned copy of the UAE censorship department; they had PASSED the book prior!

  2. abdelaziz benyounes

    Very well written
    The least i can say is that this article is well written and supported by multiple proofs. jazaka Allah Khairan

  3. hmmm
    When somebody questions the history of what you believe in, complaining about them and demanding that they be censored is definitely the rational and mature thing to do…

  4. Ch 4 Documentary
    I hope the Muslims of this world realise that religion in the west is dead. Only a fraction of the population practice religion. And not only that but they are busy making films like the ‘Last temptation of Christ’ where they make a mockery of their own prophet. So there is nothing stopping them from stopping the same to someone else’s religion.

    The idea behind this documentary was to make our blood boil, and that exactly what they have done. And we have as expected fallen into their hands. They know we will not retaliate because their prophets are also our prophets.

    Do what the English normally say ‘ Don’t get mad get even’. Let us make a documentary to retaliate rather than get mad and burn our property and houses.

    He is an historian. History is documented in written documents, Magna Carta, The American Declaration of independence. Witnessed in monuments, Arc de Triumph, The Wellington Memorial. Celebrated in coins. Theology on the other hand is only witnessed in the books of god. And if you do not believe in a book of god then you are hardly going to turn to it for evidence.

    Let get our heads cooled and now do something about it.

    Ahid Moghal

  5. Thoughts on the Ch4 Program
    I hope the Muslims of this world realise that religion in the west is dead. Only a fraction of the population practice religion. And not only that but they are busy making films like the ‘Last temptation of Christ’ where they make a mockery of their own prophet. So there is nothing stopping them from doing the same to someone else’s religion.

    The idea behind this documentary was to make our blood boil, and that exactly what they have done. And we have, as expected, fallen into their hands. They know we will not retaliate because their prophets are also our prophets.

    Do what the English normally say ‘ Don’t get mad get even’. Let us make a documentary to retaliate rather than get mad and not burn our property and houses just to please them.

    He is an historian. History is documented in written documents, Magna Carta, The American Declaration of independence. Witnessed in monuments, Arc de Triumph, The Wellington Memorial. Celebrated in coins. Theology on the other hand is only witnessed in the books of god. And if you do not believe in a book of god then you are hardly going to turn to it for evidence or answers.

    Let get our heads cooled and now do something about it in a practical way.

    Ahid Moghal

  6. Keep the complaints coming….PLEASE
    Salam Alikum Brothers,

    Your complaints are working and please keep them coming…I have just received another reply to my complaint to Channel 4 (I also complained to OfCom) and they told me that Holland has written a reply to all the complaints they have received. He must have been forced to write this; so PLEASE keep the good work and keep on complaining to both Channel 4 and OfCom… the link to his embarrassing response is here:

    http://www.channel4.com/programmes/islam-the-untold-story/articles/tom-holland-responds-to-the-programmes-critics

    Jazakum Allah Khair
    Aymen

  7. Islam: the Untold Story, review
    Of course, as an Arab Muslim with an 14 year old experience in the Arabic Language and Islamic studies, I would be laughing hysterically at the programme and would find it ridiculous to even point out the mistakes because the whole investigation method was just absurd. What I found interesting however, was this review in the Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/9504588/Islam-the-Untold-Story-review.html By Christopher Howse

  8. stupid response from CH4
    Here is the stupid response I have received from Channel 4, and I have responded by using materials from the paper in this page…will let you know what they say to that….I have also complained to Ofcom through this page:

    https://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/tell-us/specific-programme-epg

    “Dear Mr Aymen,

    Thank you for your message about the documentary feature Islam: The Untold Story.

    We have noted your concerns but stand by the making and broadcast of this programme and we are satisfied that it is neither biased nor inaccurate. Channel 4 has consistently provided thought provoking programming around the theme of religion and this particular documentary follows very much in the footsteps of series such as our strand, Witness or series such as The Bible: A History.

    We can reassure you that Islam: the Untold Story was a carefully considered and scrupulously researched documentary that did not set out to criticise the Islamic faith. Rather it is a history documentary which examines the historical context in which the religion emerged. Clearly the origins of one of the world’s major religions are an entirely legitimate subject of academic enquiry and an equally legitimate subject for a historical documentary. Tom Holland is a highly respected, award-winning author and historian who has who has written four acclaimed books on the ancient and early medieval periods – including one on the emergence of Islam. The programme does contain a range of differing views on its central thesis. There is a clear recognition of Muslim faith throughout the programme – Seyyed Hussain Nasr, one of the world’s leading Muslim thinkers, appears within the film as a penetrating critic of what he sees as the arrogance and blindness of the Western tradition of sceptical historical enquiry.

    Nevertheless please be assured that your complaint has been logged and noted for the information of those responsible for our programming.

    Thank you again for taking the time to contact us. We appreciate all feedback from our viewers; complimentary or otherwise.

    Regards,

    Channel 4 Viewer Enquiries”

  9. Muazam A. Chaudhry

    Management Consultants
    The Channel 4 should have acted responsibily to allow the program to air it as it is very clear that Tom has a very limited knowledge of history as well as about Quran and Islam.
    f it is only an atempt to get cheap popularity out of the issue, the price he is going to pay along with Channel 4 is hudge which they are going to find out very soon.
    Have some sense and decency to live in this civilized world.
    Muazam

  10. Where do you complain in Ofcom
    Assalamualaikum,

    I’ve complained to Channel 4. But can’t seem to find the area in Ofcom to make an complaint. If someone could post the link here then that would be helpful.

    Jazakallah Khayren

  11. Sarah Ghadache

    A programme of lies
    This is ridiculous lies. Why would channel 4 allow such a program but to fuel problems for Muslims. Irresponsible channel 4.

  12. dirty tricks from losers
    When they get so stupidly low and dirty that shows they are scared of losing the hearts and minds of the world in favour of Islam… Keep doing the good work all you dawah groups. Allah will spread His deen inspite of all these vane tricks…

  13. Mohammed Qasim Siraj

    Mr
    This person has not literate knowledge of Islam and has revealed fabricated information on Channel 4. I urge you to take action.

  14. Complaint about hollands programme on islam
    I am very surprised at channel 4 putting on a programme which has no basis and is apparent even to a child about the validity of the content of the programme! Three major religions are widespread in the world, islam being one of them. If such lies were aired about the other two religions I would be upset too. Channel 4 obviously has no one checking the material being aired as blatant lies covered the entire programme, I would expect the management to stand for truth but instead they do no justice to the public watching. Also, sack the liar Mr Holland!

  15. It’s a shame channel 4 have chosen to to be known as highly unreliable in conveying ‘factual’ programmes… not a channel worthy of air time

  16. Muhammad Umar Chand

    Haji
    It is sad to see such ‘mockers’ Mustahza’een, particularly in the West, coming out openly demonising Islam as well as other religions. Liars are having a gloating time taking words as their weapons while their weapons of war have failed during the last decade to subjugate and intimidate Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somaliya and other places

  17. you said lie.

  18. Muhammad Azam Zaki

    Islam is a unchallengeable reality
    Every one who oppose Islam or have doubts about Islam must know that “Islam” is only & best religion of the universe and it is unchallengeable reality.

    For the people like holland there is strict warning in Quran and Inshahallah by the Grace of Almighty Allah they will have their destiny. Day of judgement is not far to decide.

    Everyone who opposes Islam must remember their forefathers also did the same but could not successful and Inshahallah holland & others of his type will be successful and will be go to the hell.

  19. This is how I have written to channel4
    Hello,
    It is sad to hear something that it is not true and a number of absurd and outrageous claims were made against Islam. As you may search that Islam is the only solution to the Humanity. Islam is the fastest growing Religion. Islam is the only religion that is acceptable in the sight of almighty God (Allah).
    Research more on Islam to get a better life.

  20. This is how I have written to channel4
    Hello,
    It is sad to hear something that it is not true and a number of absurd and outrageous claims were made against Islam. As you may search that Islam is the only solution to the Humanity. Islam is the fastest growing Religion. Islam is the only religion that is acceptable in the sight of almighty God (Allah).
    Research more on Islam to get a better life.

  21. Mohammad Ibrahim Khan

    [al-Anfal 8:30]
    And [remember, O Muhammad], when those who disbelieved plotted against you to restrain you or kill you or evict you [from Makkah]. But they plan, and Allah plans. And Allah is the best of planners.[al-Anfal 8:30]
    http://tanzil.net/#trans/en.sahih/8:30

  22. Assalaam ‘alaikum.
    I have written to channel4 and I thought can we send this link to them so that they can get the answers for their claim or some other forms.

    Jazakallah Khair

  23. Surah al-Anfal (8), Ayah number 36
    “Indeed, those who disbelieve spend their wealth to avert [people] from the way of Allah . So they will spend it; then it will be for them a [source of] regret; then they will be overcome. And those who have disbelieved – unto Hell they will be gathered.”

  24. Complaint submitted to Ofcom (if this helps others)
    The above program can only be described as disgraceful at best. Not only is it completely lacking in its premise and facts but also blatant bigoted, racist, islamophobic propaganda.

    Please see below for established facts that refute Tom Holland and expose his ignorance and/or bigotry.

    http://www.iera.org.uk/press_29aug2012.html

    The article has cited authors such as A. Palmer, R.W Thomson, Michael Cook and N Abott amongst many others whose works on the subject have been published by Oxford and Liverpool University Presses and many other reputable publishers. This large body of established work clearly exposes the deception of Tom Holland.

  25. Re: Islam Origins Programme
    I’m quite appalled on this programme and how Chanel four would permit such I’ll advised journalism

  26. Mr Hamed Abdalla

    Mr
    Indeed I was very concerned. I was also wondering why Channel4 would stoop so low as to allow such an idiotic programe. If Tom Holand is indeed a scholar, then he will know that he is also a liar. Angry as i was, I was not so much surprised as i have known other christian people who claim to be scholars of great distinction, claim that Allah was a moon god that the Arabs were worshiping befor Islam.

  27. Ms
    I agree with patience, why don’t we make a documentary contradicting his false and baseless theories with more western scholars who would refute his absurd claims.Islam is spreading fast across the western countries and it for that reason they’ve stooped this low. This is not the first time, timme immemorial orientalist have studied Islam to find flaws, but Holland doesn’t even know Arabic. Many non muslim will research now about Islam and would accept Islam. We should become more proactive and learn our deen in the west.

  28. Must’ve been a christian that did this. they jhave a history of lying and making things up to propagate their religion

  29. priority???
    salams

    May allah swt bless you for being concerned.
    But why would we complain to the same kufaar who made the programme?

    Your appeal is well intentioned i am sure, but when muslims are being killed around the world, we sit and do hardly anything – what makes you think writing to the same people who attack Islam to say ‘please dont’ will stop them.
    A million ppl marched against the ‘satanic verses’, contacted MPs and complained – Nothing happened.
    Have you not still learnt that the only time people will hear muslims is when there is a threat of an army tht will follow?
    Do we not remember the words of Sultan AbdulHameed to the British government of tht time?
    May Allah swt guide us all.

  30. I’ve written to channel 4, but I did not find a contact form or email for Ofcom.

  31. why we want to see this
    Assalamu Alaikkum
    I do not think, we can give any importance for this program and the presenter,As we know there are millions of stories told against islam for more than 1433 years.we know the truth and like these program will make more non muslim people to do the research about islam and possibly converts themself. May Allah shows the right path to the humanity.

  32. vicarunisa Razvi

    mrs.
    Islam is chosen by Allah swt. (GOD) so if someone without any knowledge say or
    broadcast against it, no effect whatsoever its too strong and powerful for any
    one to even touch it with a slur or lies. So relax. Alhamdullillah, they fear it.

  33. Its been happening will continue to happen
    They don’t recognise the Haq. They do this for penny gains and it is not a good business for them. Islam (Haq) will prevail Inshallah. SubhanAllaah

  34. RE: OFCOM
    everyone reading this article pleaes write to OFCOM and to channel 4

  35. RE: OFCOM
    everyone reading this article pleaes write to OFCOM and to channel 4

  36. Farhana Qureshy

    patience
    Why allow people to make us so mad, WHY do we expect the TRUTH from the enemy of Islam, What Stops us to invest money and make our own programmes to tell the world about Islam, as all we seem to be wasting our energy and time, is clearing the mess aftermath, WHY do we not Unite and Destroy the enemy of Islam. Why in Allah’s name are we so weak that anyone is allowed to kill us physically, spiritually, and emotionally, mentally.

  37. Dr Akram Khan

    “Islam: The Untold Story” by Tom Hollan
    Tom Holland and his band of historians are modern day orientalists whose sole aim is to confuse the muslims and distort the pure religion of Islam. The quran has so many scientific miracles reported that have only recently been understood properly with the advent of science. These orientalist don’t give up do they; generation after generation they will enter the crusade to persecute and dishonour Islam.
    Another thing on the programme which Mr Holland did not even bother researching into is the mount Sinai which is NOT in Egypt and is in Saudi Arabia. I have full video of the mountain with all the historical detail as mentioned in the holy Quran and the Bible. They are not interested in that accuracy are they?
    Dr Akram Khan
    Senior lecturer in Chemistry and Muslim faith advisor
    Sheffield Hallam University

  38. Mr. Holland does not matter
    I believe Mr. Holland does not matter, as there are people who don’t believe in God, yet He exist. So if this lunatic is working for his own gain and is willing to tarnish the image of Islam, he is not gonna make it.

  39. Well said…thank you and we know the truth.
    Thank you very much for writing this post and for answering all the accusations by Holland. I have filled a complaint with Channel 4 and OfCom and I think it’s every Muslim’s duty to do the same.

    May Allah bless you and my final point would be this: Everyone can question the truth…but the truth is the truth…whether you want to believe it or not…it doesn’t change the fact that it is the truth.

    Aymen

  40. Scholor
    This person is a lier and the channel 4 is involve in this so take a agtion against these people

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Verify *

DON'T MISS OUT!
Subscribe To Newsletter
Be the first to get latest updates and exclusive content straight to your email inbox.
Stay Updated
Give it a try, you can unsubscribe anytime.
close-link
Subscribe for Updates or Support Us