Following on from Tuesday evening’s poorly researched documentary ‘Islam: The Untold Story’ which I blogged about here, I was curious to find out more about the presenter Tom Holland’s theory that the true birthplace of Islam was Avdat in Israel rather than the Makka we know today.
So, last night, I got in touch with Tom Holland through Twitter and you can read our exchange above (yes, I had to look up ‘synecdoche’ in a dictionary!). If Holland’s conjecture is correct then it would mean that the original birthplace of Islam at the time of the Prophet Muhammad was Avdat – a region near Palestine and it was only later under the Caliph Abd al-Malik (who ruled between 685 – 705 CE) that the Arabs for their own reasons changed the birthplace much further south to a new area that they also called Makka in the Hijaz.
This is a truly bizarre speculation especially as Tom Holland had said at the outset of his documentary that he was a writer of history who was interested in facts.
Just think about it for a moment and the sheer outlandish nature of Holland’s conjecture becomes mind-boggling. If the original birthplace was Avdat then the Hajj pilgrimage which of course predated the Prophet Muhammad and was well-established among the Arabs would also have been taking place there. As the Prophet Muhammad died in 632 CE and Abd al-Malik who was born in 646 CE and ruled from 685 – 705 CE, there would still have been many Arabs alive at the time of the Caliph Abd al-Malik who were actual companions of the Prophet. What would have been their reaction if the Hajj and the birthplace of Islam were changed by Abd al-Malik to the Makka we know today? Would they really have connived in such an action? It is simply a preposterous idea.
It is notable that when Holland asked Patricia Crone – one of the most vocal of the ‘revisionist’ historians – about where she thought the birthplace of Islam was, she refused to speculate and simply said ‘I don’t know’. And no wonder, because, to suggest any alternative other than the Makka we know today would present huge obstacles in reconciling what we know about Islam’s history with any such speculation.
But that clearly did not deter Holland. He could not produce any credible historian who would back up his conjecture but he went ahead anyway. I was really looking forward to a serious and evidence-based documentary about Islam. Instead we got a piss-poor effort from a writer who was clearly out of his depth and seemed to want to create controversy for controversy’s sake – after all, he does have a book to plug. For authors and publishers alike there is no such thing as negative publicity, it is all good for business. Channel Four should really be ashamed of themselves.
Update: See here for my latest twitter exchange with Tom Holland.