Television historian Tom Holland is receiving a multitude of criticisms and threats following his in-depth investigation into Islam. After examining the faith and its early texts, he came to some fascinating — and apparently enraging — conclusions in a documentary he produced for British television.
In a program called, “Islam: The Untold Story,” Holland claimed that there is little evidence written surrounding the life of the Prophet Muhammad — the central figure in the Islamic faith. Additionally, he noted that the Koran makes only one reference to Mecca, the religion’s holiest city. These sentiments, of course, cast doubts upon Islam and are, thus, controversial to say the least.
For those assuming that Holland is bent on disproving Islam’s beginnings, consider a portion of a review on the film that was written by The Guardian’s John Crace:
Holland is no attention-seeking, neo-Conservative, Niall Ferguson lookalike. Indeed, I’d guess his heart bleeds liberalism and, to my western sceptic eyes, his contention that the Arab empire gave birth to Islam, rather than the traditionally held belief that it was the other way round, seemed well-argued, fascinating – I learned a lot of history I didn’t know in a short space of time – and uncontentious. I would find it a great deal more surprising if a religious text written 1,400 years ago turned out to be wholly accurate. But for those who believe the Qur’an is the word of God passed directly to man and that inconvenient lacunae of knowledge are merely events that have yet to be properly explained, then Holland’s view is almost certainly blasphemous.
Watch the film’s trailer, below:
The response to the program, which aired on England’s Channel 4, was so fierce that Holland, a Cambridge-educated and award-winning writer and historian, received physical threats, angry tweets and other related responses.
“One Twitter user accused him of trying to destroy Islamic history, while another tweet called him a ‘fool’ for suggesting Islam is a ‘made-up religion,’” The Indian Express reports.
In another instance, Holland responded to a critic with the following message: “U are reminding me very effectively why I had vowed to keep off this topic” — a telling tweet that showcases some anticipation of the negative reaction.
In the midst of the controversy on Friday, Holland also decided to address critics head-on, penning an article clarifying his remarks on the Channel 4 web site.
“The origins of Islam are a legitimate subject of historical enquiry and this film is wholly in keeping with other series and programmes on Channel 4 where the historical context of world religions has been examined, such as The Bible: A History,” he wrote, going on to admit that he knew of the tensions surrounding the subject before making the documentary. “It is important to stress as we do in the film that this is a historical endeavour and is not a critique of one of the major monotheistic religions.”
Holland used the article to focus on the three areas in which he has been criticized over the film, taking the time to explain each in detail:
1. It has been suggested that I say in the film that Mecca is not mentioned in the Qu’ran. In fact, I say that Mecca is mentioned once in the Qu’ran. As a historian I have to rely on original texts and although later tradition (as brought to us through the hadith) has come to accept that other names are synonymous with Mecca, the fact is that there is only one mention of Mecca in the Qu’ran(although due to an unwarranted interpolation, a second one does appear in the Pickthall translation).
2. On the broad perspective some complaints assert unequivocally, as is often said, that Islam was “born in the full light of history unlike the ancient faiths”. That may have been the belief of Western scholars back in the days of Ernest Renan, but it is most certainly not the academic consensus today. [...]
3. It has also wrongly been suggested that we said there is no historical evidence for the seventh century origins of Islam. What I actually said in the film was that I had expected to find contemporaneous Muslim evidence – “but there’s nothing there.” And the Qur’an aside, the first mention of the prophet Muhammad’s name in Arabic is on the coin that we featured in Part Five, and on the Dome of the Rock, which we also featured prominently. The evidence provided by Christian contemporaries was mentioned in Part Three, and is dealt with at greater length in the book.
Despite Holland’s attempt to clarify his stance and to defend his exploration of the faith through a historical and not a theological lens, furor continues. While he has received threats and negative messages as a result of his work, it seems the historian is continuing to defend the documentary and to double-down on the investigation he undertook.
(H/T: Daily Mail)