Finally we have an antidote to Faisal Islam's Channel 4 programmes on Mohammed and the birth of the Islamic religion. Faisal spoon-fed us the oral tradition of Islam over the course of several programmes covering the birth of the Prophet in Mecca, his divine revelations in a nearby cave, his falling out with local polytheistic priests who felt that many gods were better for business than one god, his flight to Medina and his eventual return after triumph in battle.
And last night (28-Aug-2012) ancient historian Tom Holland demolished the whole thing in a single 75 minute Channel 4 programme called Islam: The Untold Story.
The programme was effectively a spin-off of a book, In the Shadow of the Sword, that Holland has spent the last five years researching and writing. In it he demolishes the oral tradition of Islam both by pointing out that there is no evidence for it, and that there is quite a lot of evidence against it. For example muslims pray facing Mecca because that is where Mo was born. Oops - early mosques actually faced lots of different directions.
In fact there seems to be very little evidence that Mo even existed until about 60 years after he is supposed to have died. He probably did not come from Mecca (mentioned only once in the Koran) but from further north. Holland suggests Azdat in the Lebanon as a possibility.
The Story of Mo would appear to have grown with the telling. When the Arabs moved East after the fall of the Roman Empire they needed a monotheistic religion to put up against the prevailing religions of Christianity and Judaism and so Mo was co-opted; his book the Koran was written (previously it had been an oral story only) and the dogma fleshed out. With the Roman and Persian empires having fought themselves to a standstill the Arabs were able to move into the resultant power vacuum and expanded across the Middle East and Maghreb. Naturally, the new religion, being an instrument of conquest, said that
its believers were the finest of peoples and fully entitled to help
themselves to the land and property of the unbelievers.
Tom Holland can probably expect a fatwa in the post.