Tom Holland’s Bizarre Conjecture About Islam’s Birthplace

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.

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69 Responses to Tom Holland’s Bizarre Conjecture About Islam’s Birthplace

  1. Pingback: Tom Holland's Bizarre Conjecture About Islam's Birthplace | Inayat's … « Twitter Trends!!

  2. Eliott says:

    Inayat, you’re clearly struggling with the idea that someone who does not believe in your religion searches for an earthly explanation of its origins. You’re being really disingenuous here; even if Holland had lived up to your very exacting demands of scholarship you’d be making the same criticism because you’re a man of faith. Perhaps this acting up is for your audience?

    • Elliott: On the contrary, I actually enjoy having my faith challenged and questioned. That is why I have made a point of reading all of Richard Dawkins’ books! My sadness regarding the C4 documentary is that it was so poorly researched and argued. Holland had professed a desire to search for facts but then instead went on to make some very bizarre conjectures on the basis of very questionable data. That is why I wish C4 had got a decent historian from one of our great universities to do a more serious programme instead bringing viewers up to date with the most established research.

  3. Scrutinizer says:

    One assumes that the producer/director team of Rebecca Dobbs and Kevin Sim as well as Channel 4’s commissioning editors must have looked at the credentials of Tom Holland for investigation into Muslim historiography. Here are a few dimensions that deserve some circumspection:

    Firstly, Holland seeks pride to be known as “a storyteller, dealing in mysteries and marvels”. This is before he unsuccessfully tried to get a doctorate from Oxford University in English literature. He then turned to writing ghost stories.

    Secondly, is Holland’s logic that if any information does not fit his criteria then it cannot be a fact. History has never been so black and white, but always comes with shades of grey. Thus the argument goes as follows: NO part of Mecca ever had any agriculture, thus it cannot be the place where Islam surfaced.
    People passed by Lot’s relics day and night. Since they were not the Meccans hence it is not where Islam really appeared.

    Thirdly, for a considerable part in the documentary Holland shows himself with a group of desert nomads.
    He never explains on what basis, he selected that bunch of men specifically. Were these persons arranged for the writer by a local fixer or was it for the unique quality of information. Even then Tom Holland is disrespectful and discourteous to his nomadic hosts. As they stood to pray, Holland perched himself in their midst with the shooting going on. He then abandons following them sits motionless and clearly distracts the other worshippers. This is intrusive and disrespectful in all cultures.

    Fourthly, note Holland’s descriptions of Arab being ‘most despised’, notorious savages’. Then their civilization and its history is referred to as ‘no full light, only darkness’ everything ups for grabs sucked through a black hole.’ Holland also states the black hole that surrounds Islam doesn’t gives its secret easily.

    Fifthly his use of his sources is selective dependent on partial or subjective interpretation. His source Patricia Crone says we don’t know anything about Islam’s origins since it all happened in an isolated place secluded from rest of the world. Well, doesn’t that applies to practically most religions of the world?

    Finally Holland makes lofty statements such as Jerusalem could serve as harbinger of a spectacular future and that Mohammed’s night journey to Jerusalem served as a nuclear reaction firing off isotopes to power.

  4. Scrutinizer says:

    Consulting Dr Sami bin Abdullah bin Al Maghlouth, professor of Early Islamic era history and geography in Saudi Arabia would have addressed many issues to the viewers’ satisfaction. Here is a link to his book on the Historical Atlas on the Life of Mohammad

    That would have saved Tom Holland all that time where he shows himself in the company of a few Arab beduins to claim ‘we have no key that unlocks the desert nomads’ moral universe built upon stories. The matter of fact is Holland didn’t look for the right answers with the right people at the right places.

    • Nobbly Stick says:

      Your link has some lovely pictures but it is all in Arabic. perhaps a link to a translated version or perhaps, the academic content of the very long document, is sadly lacking.

      On the other hand, Israeli ‘revisionist’ archeologists have published huge amounts of materials undermining Jewish history as gleaned from the ‘Torah’ and all in English. All without threats of violence. But then, Judaism is based on interpretations of what the Sky Pixie presumably wanted the Jews to do and does not claim any tight historical accuracy.

  5. Shame. Poor Muslims! Now Islam is being scrutinized just like any other religion. Yes, it would be much easier if everyone would simply accept that praying and accepting the superiority of Muslims is the best way. Then Muslims could kill each other in peace.
    As it stands, you need to fabricate, deceive and misinterpret to make anything stick. And if the scrutiny by scientists refuting all scientific allegations of the last decade was not enough, now it’s the historical accuracy which is being questioned. Tough times.
    Get used to it.
    And stop whining.

  6. Pingback: Channel 4 cancels screening of film questioning Islam’s origins | Old News

  7. Sunners says:


    Now that Channel 4 has bowed to the ‘security concerns’ and pulled the broadcast you should be really happy with yourself. After all, now you and the other muslims of this country won’t be ‘offended’. The really offensive thing is how you refuse to stand up for free speech and essentially endorse a policy of violence and censorship. There can be no doubt that the ONLY reason for Channel 4’s security concerns was because of the threat of violence from a certain portion of the muslim community, and the silence of the majority.

    Why is islam so insecure? Why won’t it stand up to historical investigation and scrutiny? Islam is in serious crisis, loudly claiming to be a religion of ‘peace’ and ‘equality’ but clearly in the glare of the world’s spotlight being neither! Stuck in the Middle Ages, paranoid, defensive, and frankly completely at odds with liberal Western democracies.

    I used to hate the term ‘Islamofascist’ when spouted by the American neo-cons but the unfortunate truth is that it is the most appropriate term for people like yourself and numerous other muslim ‘leaders’ who would squash free speech, debate, and impose your backward looking, violent, misogynistic, homophobic religion on us all.

    Channel 4 should be ashamed of themselves for bowing to your demands, and you should be ashamed of yourself for calling for such censorship. The more we screen these types of programs, the more Satanic Verses are published and read, and the more cartoons of Mohammad that are published, the better.

    • Sunners: I posted some of my criticisms here on my blog of the C4 documentary. That is all. Are you suggesting that I should not have done so? And yet you are saying that you stand up for free speech! You seem to want to have it both ways.

      What is it about my criticisms of the C4 programme that have irked you? I thought they were not unfairly worded.

      • cobalt11r says:

        It is possible the commentator meant ‘Islam’ when citing ‘your’ , although it isnt clear. I am curious, though. Even though your blog is simply a rebuttal of ideas presented in the show ( which I have not seen as i do not watch TV ) – what is your opinion on the show being cancelled for security reasons. Do you feel it is appropritae for the cancellation to take place ?

        • cobalt11r: The programme has already been aired and is still available for viewing on 4OD so what are you talking about? If C4 have cancelled an internal ‘private viewing’ citing ‘security concerns’ they should provide more details because the police say they have no knowledge of the event or any threats relating to it. If C4 have indeed received any threats then that would be terrible and I hope they report all such incidents to the police so they can be properly and thoroughly investigated and the appropriate action taken.

        • Umar Alansari says:

          Do we have evidence, thus far, to substantiate C4’s statements that there are threats against Mr Holland’s person?

          More likely, C4 were called out on the quality of Holland’s extremely partial, incomplete ‘scholarship’ (see iERA’s response at His (sole) muslim contributor was not, by far, a specialist in Islamic History (never mind historiography), but a philosopher and theologian – one who was apparently only recruited to provide “yes” or “no” responses to Holland’s questions to him, which had less to do with history & Islam and more to do, effectively, with making an implicit point about the personal safety of anyone seeking to challenge muslims’ beliefs.

          Holland kicks off his programme with historical references to Arabs as a people “most despised”, and “notorious savages”; nooo, no hint of partiality there, of course not. (Don’t expect an early history of the Jews, based on purely non-Jewish sources (flattering as they must be) from the same person any time soon.)

          The man, styled a “historian”, has no background in history or historiography, never mind Islamic history, or Arabic (or Syriac, or Hebrew or (…)), being actually a jumped-up novel writer who started out in horror fiction, later discovering a vein in dramatic (novelised?) reconstructions of history. (Actually, he was already “at it” in his horror fiction days, cleverly mixing historical facts with fantasy – e.g. imagining Lord Byron as a vampyre…)

          And, at a time when any criticism of Islam, regardless of merit – most especially anything that purports to “challenge” the foundations of the Faith itself – sells like hot cakes, he (along with the flagging Channel 4) has no doubt realised he could further bump up sales (and fame/ notoriety) that much more by mining this rich field. “If Dan Brown, with his intriguing fictional spins on Christian history, can do it, why not me?”

      • sinders says:

        No, you are entitled to your opinions of the show, of course you are. I have no idea whether the show’s point of view, or yours, is the more valid. However – can you state for the record that you deplore unequivocally any threats of violence towards C4 (it being unlikely that there be any other reason for C4’s decision yes?), and anyone critical of or who mocks Islam? Just so we all know where you stand.

        I look forward to your reply.

        • sinders: If C4 have indeed received any threats then that would be terrible and I hope they report all such incidents to the police so they can be properly and thoroughly investigated and the appropriate action taken. However, as C4 have cancelled an internal ‘private viewing’ citing ‘security concerns’ they should provide more details because the police say they have no knowledge of the event or any threats relating to it.

          • Joseph says:

            Inayat: you haven’t really answered sinder’s question. We don’t really know your opinion clearly. Are you against violence towards those who criticize or mock Islam? A simple “yes” or “no” would suffice.

          • sinders says:

            Inayat: Please answer my question fully. Thanks.

        • I thought my views have been made clear but here I go again. I deplore any alleged threats against C4. I hope if they have really received any threats that they will alert the police immediately so that they can promptly investigate.

          • Joseph says:

            What about the part “and anyone critical of or who mocks Islam?” In light of what happened to the American embassies in Egypt and Libya in the last days, I have scarcely heard any Muslims out there condemning the violence. Some of us are left with the feeling that that’s what we can expect if we’re open about some issues toward which there are people out there that are sensitive enough to use violence to protect their own sensitivity. What I’ve seen goes along the old argument like “I don’t approve the violence, *but* person X shouldn’t have said that about Islam/Muhammad/etc”. They don’t approve violence but they don’t condemn it either; they just find a rationale behind it, and live comfortably with it.

          • Gerry kershaw says:

            Yes Joseph, I think you’ve summed it up.

          • sinders says:

            You have made you views clear regarding the C4 show, but not the other part of the question. Please answer it. Thanks..

          • 5i5i says:

            Why are you so keen to question that the threats exist? I saw Tom Holland on friday and the threats were very real to him.

    • Ross says:

      why are western academics so insecure that they can’t handle a rival school of academia? why rather than fighting islamic scholars, don’t they co-operate with them in archeological research as they do with Israeli universities?

      • Umar Alansari says:

        Actually, I believe there is a fair amount of cooperation.. among *academics*. Holland is *not* an academic; he is a jumped up novel writer who peppers his writings with academic references, to lend them credence, and adds his own brand of drama. He takes an obviously intriguing (nay, provocative) but academically discredited theory (and it is not a new theory either) – that “Islam never existed” per se and was an Arab invention cobbled together over a long period from Judeo-Christian influences for purposes of empire-bulding – and plays “connect the dots”, although he is not a scholar, has no mastery of Islamic history (or history), or Arabic, or other Semitic or early languages besides Latin. This is why people have been reacting strongly to this programme, because the actual, wider context of scholarship, muslim and non-muslim, has not been presented in any way in this sensationalist piece!

        There are plenty of credible scholars; all one need do is bring them together, including gainsayers like Crone, who is trotted out in the programme to provide an academic stamp of approval despite being regarded by many fellow academics as insincere and flawed in her analyses; in fact, her own student, Roger Hoyland, now a Professor at Oxford, has demonstrated that the early non-muslim sources greatly agree with the muslim sources, and her own mentor, although a fellow revisionist traveller, when reviewing her 70s book “Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World”, expressed the concerns that “…most, if not all, [of the sources] have been or can be challenged on suspicion of inauthenticity” and “the material is upon occasion misleadingly represented”.

  8. Sceptic says:

    I’m not religious, or a typical atheist, I think something is out there but don’t know what? There is no proof. I agree with a lot of Islam’s policies, beliefs, justice ways etc but the stories of how it came about are silly. Do people really consider themselves sane if they believe them? I equally can’t comprehend christianity or islam, so this isn’t a bias attack. (For the record jesus loving is even more outrageous in my opinion, water into wine, rise from the dead etc etc) Both their origins and stories are preposterous. If someone came out with them now they would be rediculed and committed to a mental hospital! That is a fact!

    But from a neutral and rationale standpoint (which no religious defender can claim to be from as they immediately have a bias) it seems that it could be a form of control or for some weak people who need something to believe in so their life is not in vain, a purpose. Can you really say the ‘prophet’ or ‘jesus christ’ were really real and did what their story books tell? You must be crazy to believe all those stories. Are the holy books fiction or non-fiction?

    Now a days if someone claims god spoke to them or told them to do such and such, they are rightly sectioned, but because this allegedly happened a couple thousand years ago then it is true? Sounds a bit far fetched really.

    Look how scientology is perceived, a modern day ‘religion’ that allegedly started with lord xenu banishing alien souls into our volcanoes. Modern, clever humans will totally dismiss that crazy talk but it’s not done with older religions because it’s old so it must be true.

    Very dangerous, why can’t people believe in themselves and their families and love, honour and devote themselves to them and not to a deity they have never and will never meet and can’t prove exists.


    • Gunnar says:

      “Now a days if someone claims god spoke to them or told them to do such and such, ..rightly sectioned”

      Hmm, “God” is this thing we do our thinking with, inspired by lots of other things.
      Sometimes fumbling in the dangerous dark, and sometimes solutions, when found, are so, feel so, bright (in that fumbling dark) that it is like turning on the electric lights.
      Before electric lights it obviously was some kind of fire, or, something heavenly as everyone knew light came frm the sun, moon and stars (when cloudless dark nights).
      Howeer, few “modern” ppl in west have experienced total darkness, always too close to a road or city.

      Brain experts claim this is inbuilt in our brains, capability to construct different possibilities and a nice “high” when they turn out to “work”.
      I am sure you also know that books “speak”, and if written on stone, the stone speaks.
      If on papyrrus it babbles, like the bible??

      Additionally, in many instances when using the word “God” on can susbstitute it for “(Mr/Ms) Correct”, or “Heureca, I got it”, justice, mercy,etc,etc..

      Simple, yes?? (and the lights turned on like opening an refrigator in the dark? In the refrigator there was a book who spoke to me, after I started reading it)

    • Gunnar says:


      Btw, I remember one point when “God spoke to me”, or maybe his prophet,some call him Darwin? (his daughter called him daddy, wife sometimes “hubby”)
      Through a little mosquito.
      Worked on this old engineering problem, suddenly the little mosquito told me, “you know how I find my prey, flying around, small and light with wind directions changing,etc. I have this set of triggerable sensors, CO2,humidity, smells,etc” (OK, one book had spoke to me abt that earlier).

      Light came into my brain, stars and moon, sun breaked through the roof, the snow outside melted (or I found water in the desert) and a year later I patented it.

  9. Gerry kershaw says:

    Even if, as you say Holland’s scholarship was questionable, so what – since when did you become arbiter of what is and isn’t properly researched. And it still doesn’t mean that channel 4 should not be screening this programme. Are you suggesting they run anything on Islam by you first before screening. I would have some respect if you had at least condemned the threats that have stopped the airing of this programme – it wasn’t for its supposed poor quality of research that these threats were made. Gerry Kershaw.

    • Gerry: This is a blog. I expound my views here. That is all. If you don’t like it then read something else. C4 have already broadcast the programme and it is still available to view on 4OD.

      • Gerry kershaw says:

        Unfortunately it isn’t available to view in Australia just yet. Had the screening say been the other way around, private showing leaked to the sensitive hoards first, then it’s likely that the free to air screening might have been the one cancelled. And yes of course it is as you say your blog, so you can say whatever you like. But I think you must realise yourself that the fuss is less about Holland’s research, than it is about the freedom to express it and the propensity for some to get hysterical and oppressive when anyone ventures to comment on Islam. Do you have a view on whether or not there ought to be freedom to debate Islam, just as there is freedom to discuss and debate all other faiths. That’s all, dead simple – just curious. P.S. I have friends who have spent time in prison for the crime of muharabeh, they are used to not being able to safely express their opinions in their own country, but are amazed that we are not that free in the west either. I suppose the difference is, in their country it is the State meting out the punishments.

        • Gerry: Yes, people should indeed be free to debate and discuss about Islam and its origins. My criticism was not about C4’s right to air a documentary, it was about the poor quality of their programme!

          • Ross says:

            And the program was aired! What is the point in all of these responses arguments? Why don’t you just say – It was aired. Nothing got banned. A few people in Channel 4 headquarters got denied a big back-slapping party because presumably some Islamic scholars phoned in and said “That Holland is a fucking idiot – here’s the evidence why he’s an idiot…” then Channel 4 went “shit, you’re right. He is a bit of nonse.”

          • Gerry kershaw says:

            Fair enough. It is of course a possibility that much was made of the ‘threats’, perhaps the same level of threat might not have persuaded them to stop the free to air screening. Who knows. I have read some of Holland’s book, I can’t really comment on the quality of his research, the writing though, is just awful. Which is why I haven’t yet, and probably won’t finish reading it. Thanks for replying.

          • Gerry kershaw says:

            Ross – I think that was said. But If an Islamic scholar or two rang to dispute Holland’s account, then that’s great, bring on the debate. From what I have read since this started it is likely that C4 and Holland have taken advantage of the ‘threats’ at little cost to themselves. As you say the ‘backslapping’ party was shelved. No great loss, but big publicity gain.

          • Ross says:

            the documentary was not about Islam or Mecca or the Prophet – it was about Holland himself. He seems to think he’s Ernest Hemingway or similar. A great demythologiser of the mdodern age. In reality. he’s more like Mr Bean.

  10. feucht says:

    As Sunners asks…. why is Islam so desperately insecure?

    Religions are not privileged conduits to life-changing communion with the numinous, but highly sophisticated politically expedient crowd-control mechanisms.

    They need to seriously up their game however, if thay are going to maintain a significant societal role. Better and wider access to information means that fooling most of the people most of the time is a much tougher gig than even just a decade ago.

    Ballsachingly dull nombrilism about whether this old-guy-with beard said such and such on this sun-scorched heap of rocks or on that one over there, and it was on a Tuesday, not a Sunday… are not going to cut it.

    Get relevant or get ignored.

    • feucht: As I ask…why are you such a twit? All that has occurred on this blog is that I have offered my own observations on the C4 documentary and why I think it was poorly researched. Deal with that if you can…

      • Ross says:

        Am I missing something here? That documentary Untold Story was one part right? I was waiting for a follow up part 2 because the whole thing was like an indroduction – it never went anywhere. At one point when he bowed down to pray then stopped half way, I honestly thought that it might be a satirical comedy for a moment, like Michael Palin meets the Muslims. Cringe-worthy TV.

        There are already scholars from a non-religious point of view making good documentaries about religious histories e.g. Francesca Stavrakopoulou, who did The Bible’s Buried Secrets for BBC4 – brilliantly researched program – I wish she had done this program on Islam or someone like her and we wouldn’t even be having this debate. C4 has pulled the screening because it has realised that the program is shit. There is no security threat – the police have confirmed that. Interestingly – in those BBC documentaries we see Israeli archeologists and scholars fabricating evidence or over-reading evidence to “prove” their preffered theory, and Francesca ruthlessly debunks them – so clearly it’s not just Muslims who cloak their historical research in religious structures.

        What we needed was a documentary that examined the sources we do have rather than just tossing them all into the fire because they’re biased – virtually all historical records are biased as Holland admits himself here… It wasn’t so much ‘The Untold Story’ as, ‘The Blank Canvas’. He may as well have just said Mecca was originally Jerusalem and pissed off the Christians and Jews while he was at it.

        The way I would have approached it would have been to look at medievil Islamic historians like Ibn Khaldun who wrote about the original political leaders of the Islamic movement such as Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan and tried to examine the flaws in these sources – if they lied, why did they do so? What were their motivations – what was their source? Holland’s simplistic view appears to be that a bunch of bedouins just passed the stories about word-of-mouth until, all of a sudden, a medievil Iman said, ‘Shit! Lads – we’de better start writing this shit down. Get a quill Abdul!” As with the Christian Bible, that is the Torah, Haftorah, New Testament and the additional Jewish texts such as the Mishnah, Talmud and various important pesher texts such as The Dead Sea Scrolls – these religious texts were produced either on instruction from a secular power such as a King or in response to some political turmoil created by these secular powers. It is pointless to examine the texts without mentioning the context of events, or at least as much as we know of them – Holland skims these events superficially only to tentetively slip into his agent-provocateur gimp suite.

        Islamic scholarship is unfortunately tied up with religious authorities today in many countries which means scholars often don’t have the freedom to question everything but there are still historians out there who know more that what Holland presented. This idea that we don’t actually have concrete evidence for the specific details of the life of the Prophet could be applied to many important historical figures – look at all the mythology surrounding Julius Caesar – how much of what you think you know about him is true? Yet we’ll cross reference biased Roman sources and examine their intentions in a way that Holland won’t do with Islamic sources. That seems to be because our culture in the west is build on Roman assumptions about the form which cities, justice systems, governments etc. should take – so the west is guilty of exactly the same thing Holland is accusing Islamic societies of. It’s important to the west that Roman history is proved at least partially true or else our ‘democracies’ are built on sand – but we don’t give a shit if people think Islam is nonsense. And yet, which empire did more damage to the world? – Roman or Arabian? So he presents not a History, but an anti-History – we can’t be sure of anything so believe nothing.

        It was like watching an hour long mobile phone advert, like getting lost in some marketeers dream, and being extremely bored by their dream. Fluff.

          • Gerry kershaw says:

            Just for a moment let’s forget about the merits of Holland’s programme. And imagine ‘The Koran’s Buried Secrets’ by whoever, it doesn’t matter. If that can be shown on British TV without anyone getting upset about it, then that’s just great. I’m all for all for it. But let’s be honest here, and I don’t give a shit that the programme wasn’t actually banned, blah, bloody blah, what if a brilliantly researched, well written, top rated academic peer reviewed documentary gets aired that says some unpalatable stuff about Islam and god help us Mohammed. Then what, will it stay in the arena of civilised discourse, or will that depend on how unpalatable it is. I’m just saying.

    • Ross says:

      that’s the central issue which Holland has confused in the documentary – he is assuming that the people who wrote down or collected the early accounts of the Prophet’s life etc. were very similar in their motivations and means as Iranian Iatola’s and their scribes. There is no evidence that that is the case. He makes no serious attempt to dig far enough into the sources to come up with a convincing theory of their origins. He just rights them all off as products of a political mechanism – yet the interferance of political mechanisms in the bible didn’t stop us looking deeper into that text. Every time anyone does any work like this, they are shitting themselves thinking they are going to be the next Salman Rushdie/ Satanic Verses and that colours their whole approach, resulting in a sort of colonial point of view that completely misses most of the important points.

  11. Jack Holt says:

    Inayat says: “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.”

    Why would the Haj need to take place in Avdat? You seem to be saying that the Haj needs to be in Muhammad’s birthplace, but why? I suppose Tom Holland’s thesis is that Muhammed’s birthplace was subsequently assigned to Mecca as this was an existing holy place, and one of a distinctly Arab character. Is this really so implausible? I know from the Christian tradition that a lot of ‘facts’ were established because they were convenient to the religion, e.g. the dates of Easter and Christmas – the two most important dates in the Christian calendar – happen to coincide with pagan festivals! It seems plausible that similar tweaks are made in every religion.

    • Ross says:

      Did you see the documentary? Holland was talking about the birth of the hajj in Avdat, in addition to the prophet.

      • Jack Holt says:

        No he wasn’t. You can read the transcript here –

        I can’t find any mention of the Haj. It’s Inayat who says that the Haj and Muhammad’s birthplace must be the same (the bit I quoted in my earlier post), which I thought odd and was the reason for my question.

        • Jack: Read the fuller twitter exchange I had with Tom:

          He admits that he believes that both Islam’s birthplace and the Hajj were moved by the Caliph Abd al-Malik. Now read this article from yesterday’s Independent in which a SOAS academic dismisses Tom’s arguments as ‘unconvincing’ and says that recent research has tended to vindicate the traditional Muslim account of Islam’s history.

          • Jack Holt says:

            Inayat, I did read that Twitter exchange, here’s your opening salvo [paraphrasing] –

            ‘Your conjecture is that Avdat is the birthplace of Muhammad, does that mean the Haj originated there too?’

            Isn’t this a non sequitur? Why, Avdat being his birthplace, would it necessarily be the origin of the Haj?

            Perhaps you have a reason for believing the two to be inseparably linked (hence the reason for my initial question), but failing that it seems to me that you invited Tom Holland to trip over a logical fallacy and he obliged. Aren’t these the tactics of the debating society, rather than honest enquiry? Nowhere in his programme did he mention the Haj and it seems to me that there is nothing in his thesis which depends on the Haj originating in Avdat, so why did you ask the question? Was it solely in the hope of tripping him up? It gave you the opportunity to write a blog post rubbishing his thesis because of his dubious theory of the Haj, but is that fair given that his theory doesn’t really depend on the origin of the Haj?

  12. David says:

    Christianity was essentially shaped by the Romans who attended the conference at Nicea, hundreds of years after Christ. Christians have come to terms with that and accept it knowing that the Romans created a useful framework on which to base their beliefs around concepts such as the Trinity. Later on Martin Luther again reframed Christianity. It can be helpful when people reframe religions from time to time, for whatever reason, to keep them current and relevant. It doesn’t mean that the original message is diminished and can often magnify its strength.

  13. Gerry kershaw says:

    I look forward to more programmes on Islam, good, bad or indifferent though they may be. It needs to be discussed, freely and without fear of reprisals. After reading your replies to the various comments, I started to feel a bit creeped out. No doubt Holland has been a bit of a useful idiot for you, but they will not all be like that. It will get harder to shut down the discussion.

    • Gerry: I have no interest on ‘shutting down the discussion’ as you suggest. The whole point of blogging about the C4 documentary and engaging in a Twitter discussion with Tom Holland was to widen the discussion!

      • cobalt11r says:

        I am sure you do not, and I think so far this blog is great.

        But after the past few days, people are getting more sensitive. A US diplomat killed, and embassy stormed ..I mean genuinly stormed, in protest at a low budget ‘made in your living room’ ham acted trach film called ‘innocence of muslims’…I watched a couple of the trailers and it is simply an excuse to be bigoted and offensive with bad acting. But that isnt the point. The point is that the film was made by some extremist and obsessed individual somewhere in the US and posted on YouTube.How is that the fault or responsibility of teh US government..? The same as the burning of the Danish flags over a newspaper cartoon.

        Since when did whole countries become legitimate targets because of the bigotry of a few individuals or companies..? If a British person posted offensive material on YouTube, can we expect to have bombings..?

        Sorry for the rant Inayat. This is the only place I could think of to ask the question. But we havn’t heard condemnation from those countries leaders, or muslims, at this reaction. To bomb an embassy, and storm another, because one person out of millions posts their privately made film on YouTube is extreme. The US government has condemned the film. But as far as I know ( I may be wrong) No one from the Islamic
        community has publicly condemned the reaction.

        • The US film is a deliberate attempt to vilify the Prophet Muhammad and provoke Muslims. I would hope that people would not allow themselves to be provoked by the morons who made that film. The killings in Libya were terrible. Very sad. I hope the Libyan authorities are able to capture and bring to justice those who perpetrated the criminal acts.

          • cobalt11r says:

            me too. extremists on both sides lighting fires. the rest of us caught in the middle.

          • Gerry kershaw says:

            Reply to Cobalt11r’ comment – ‘ me too. extremists on both sides lighting fires. the rest of us caught in the middle’.
            No it isn’t that at all, that’s part of the problem, there is no equivalent between saying something, writing, or making a film that insults someones’s religion or ideology, and indiscriminately murdering innocent people because you’re upset by it. THAT IS THE WHOLE POINT! So here it is again, I hate analogies but I’ve tried everything else – An elephant goes on a murderous rampage because a piss-ant squeaked obscenities at it – forget the bloody piss-ant, and deal with the crazy over sensitive elephant. Jesus!

  14. Pingback: Islam documentary showing canceled.

  15. Gerry kershaw says:

    Actually the discussion is about the merits of Holland’s research and dubious conclusions. The shutting down is of the wider discussion. This is the one that addresses the issue of freedom of speech, and the recognition that it is people and not ideologies that ought to be afforded rights. I noted that the first part of your recent reply re the violence first mentions the ‘deliberate attempt to vilify ……’ etc. It is the usual disclaimer that we keep hearing. And the one that perpetuates the ludicrous concept of the ‘crime’ of blasphemy. Surely the bigger crime is the murderous response to the perceived hurt. But it seems that the world is falling over itself in the rush to condemn and blame the actions of one or two unpleasant individuals out of a population of 300 million. No country can prevent one of its citizens from saying unpleasant things, surely the weight of the debate must be looking at how Islam can be reformed and its followers encouraged to turn the other cheek. The events of the last few days once again makes any proportioning of blame between the two sides utterly pointless. An elephant has gone on a murdering rampage because a piss-ant has squeaked obscenities at it. Forget the bloody piss-ant, and deal with the crazy over sensitive elephant.

  16. Gerry: The US film was intended to provoke Muslims. Many Muslims have been demonstrating peacefully against it – that is their right and good luck to them. Those who have stepped over that line and have engaged in violence should be prosecuted. Your efforts to tar an entire global faith community with the actions of a few are quite silly – especially if you live in the UK. Remember that our government lied to us about Iraqi WMD and then went on to illegally bomb and invade that country at a cost of hundreds of thousands of lives. Now, I hope we can stick to the topic of this thread which was Tom Holland’s documentary. Otherwise, please go somewhere else.

    • Gerry kershaw says:

      First of all it wasn’t a US film, it was a film made by someone who’s identity has still not been established. When it has, it can then properly be described as a film made by that person, not a US film. Surely that is an attempt to tar an entire country’s populace with the same brush. Nowhere in my comments do I say anything that can be said to be an attempt to tar the entire global faith of Islam. I was a protester against the Iraq war, I am also a supporter of the fight for freedom in Iran, with close ties to that country. But neither of those issues is relevant here, you seem to have wandered off topic yourself. I am suggesting however that it is time for Islam to undergo reform from within and to purge it of this kind of disproportionate reactionary and murderous rage. My Muslim friends feel the same way, and not all of them are secular muslims. When I say secular Muslim I am referring to those who have had Islam imposed upon them by law for their entire lives, some nevertheless feel some spiritual connection with that faith. As a resident of the UK you are free to choose to your religion. I imagine this comment will be moderated and deleted as I have once again not stayed on topic, but I am replying to your comments. However, on topic, I agree that Holland’s research and the conclusions he draws are dubious. Thanks for replying

  17. Gerry kershaw says:

    Sorry, I meant to say cultural Muslims, not secular Muslims. But of those I know who are religious Muslims, I don’t know any who think this film, or the cartoons, are worth getting worked up about. There are more important things to be concerned with.

  18. Gerry kershaw says:

    Your comments on the Rushdie affair from today’s
    Guardian are below. You still think Rushdie’s ‘a bit pompous’ do you. He spent more than twenty years in fear for his life. Others died. As for the ‘US’ film it now seems that it may have been made by an Egyptian, citing fictional Jewish financial backers. Does it matter anyway. Or even that it was deliberately provocative. I just looked up anti- Jewish cartoons and films on the Internet. You will need a strong stomach for some of it.

    Inayat Bunglawala
    Founder and chair of Muslims4UK

    Looking back to the autumn of 1988, I think it is perhaps no exaggeration to say that it was in the heat of the Satanic Verses affair that we first saw the forging of a consciously British Muslim identity in the UK. I was a second-year university student at the time and it was a heady feeling marching and demonstrating alongside others who were from various ancestral backgrounds, including from the Indian subcontinent, north Africa, south-east Asia and elsewhere, but all united by their faith in Islam. Of course, our demands – which included the pulping of all copies of Rushdie’s novel – were, in retrospect, totally over the top and very embarrassing. We may not have liked his book, but there could be no excuse for trying to deny others the right to buy it aniterate it for themselves. I would hope that if the same events were to be replayed today, UK Muslims would instead respond by publishing their own books offering their own narrative. But you know what? After all these years, I still think Salman Rushdie is a bit pompous.

    • cobalt11r says:

      I have had a ‘heady feeling’ as well, marching in protest. Being part of something greater, united with others. Until I went on an anti fascist demo against the BNP. They had a big bald angry vitriolic fat guy with a rottweiler. we had a big bald crusty angry vitriolic fat guy with a dog on a rope. they yelled and gesticulated at eachother across the metal barricade.

      it was a george orwell ‘animal farm’ moment. I was 21. It was the last time i let myself get heady in protest. it is the same feeling rioters get also. it is seductive, being part of the pack and the crowd, seductive to have righteous indignation.

      • Gerry kershaw says:

        You need an Irshad Manji in the UK – in fact she is the Muslim best suited to leading the Muslim world. But, she’s a reformer, a woman, and she talks far too much good common sense. So that’s three reasons she won’t get the job, obviously the last one being the clincher.

        • Thanks, Gerry. I am sure Muslims everywhere will appreciate your very astute suggestion. Because the one thing they really need is your advice.

          • Gerry kershaw says:

            That’s what I thought.

          • Gerry kershaw says:

            “No matter how much you dislike an idea, one of the beliefs we have here in the United States is that you have to let all ideas flow freely….In America every single religion is ridiculed….There simply is, as much as you find that offensive, a fundamental difference between putting out an offensive idea and killing people.”
            – T J Walker, political and social commentator.

  19. Gerry kershaw says:

    Ditto Australia

  20. Padraig O Siouchru says:

    The latest showing of this film has been cancelled due to death threats and a campaign of abuse against Tom Holland on Twitter. How dare anyone have an opinion any more? This used to be a free country, now he who shouts the loudest and has the maddest stare rules.

    • Gerry kershaw says:

      Have just watched a few minutes of the very silly film that has upset so many in the Muslim world, although there are probably a lot more who really don’t care. I would be embarrassed and ashamed to admit to being insulted by such rubbish.

  21. frankzappasguitar says:

    I watched the documentary, and it was bad. The presenter (here I am standing with guys that wear the headscarves I know you’ve seen before! Cool right?!), the annoying directorial choices (spinning camera shot in the desert, that will show those Hollywood types!), the horrible writing (the inevitable “”maybe I was asking the wrong question..” turn 45minutes into the initial pursuit) were all elements evocative of standard docu-pop-quest fair that deserve only black, cynical laughter at the attempts of the lying-box to tell you something true.

    However, I think Mr. Holland still managed to bring up interesting points that are cause for further discussion and investigation. The part in his film about the olives, grains, and other foodstuffs that are foreign to the Hijaz was a revelation for me (a non-Muslim) and no one answered the questions he raised about agricultural history and the relevant knowledge of the original, 7th cent. CE audience — I’m really curious to know your thoughts on that part Inayat. The section on numismatics and the lack of textual evidence for the prophet is actually pretty standard in the scholarship you’d read at any European, Asian, or North American university on the subject of Islam’s origins and kingship. So, there were a good few minutes. For anyone who saw the film and with an interest in the subject of Islamic and Middle Eastern history, Donner and Crone are both accessible and good writers, I recommend their books.

    Final comment: no human knows exactly how the universe started, what God (are you there?) is thinking right now, or how it’s all going to wrap up. Humility is liberty from yourself sometimes.

  22. Gyryth says:

    Inayat – I appreciate your attempt to treat honestly with the issues this programme has raised. I did not think it was a first-rate documentary, but still better than most of the entertainment wallpaper that constitures television. I do not believe that anyone is genuinely offended by the quality of the production, but only by the questioning of elements of dogma that some people are defensive about being examined. I would welcome a rebutting programme made by a muslim scholar regarding the origins of the koran and the anomalies between it and the orthodox narrative (olives, vines, Lot’s home etc.) but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

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