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Islam - The Untold Story


Islam: The Untold Story is a documentary film written and presented by the English novelist and popular historian Tom Holland. The documentary explores the origins of Islam, an Abrahamic religion that developed in Arabia in the 7th century; it criticizes the orthodox Islamic account of this history, claiming that it lacks sufficient supporting evidence. It was commissioned by the British television company Channel 4 and first broadcast in August 2012. Its release followed the publication of Holland's In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World (2012), which also discussed the rise of the Arab Empire and the origins of Islam.

Adopting the theories of academic historian Patricia Crone as a basis, Holland asserted that there was little hard evidence for the origins of Islam and asked why it took several decades after the death of Muhammad for his name to appear on surviving documents or artifacts. Arguing that there was little evidence for how the faith was born, he suggested that the city of Mecca may not have been the real birthplace of Muhammad and Islam, and – while not clearly disputing Muhammad's existence as a real historical figure – claimed that much of the Islamic origin story was later developed in the early years of the Arab Empire.

The documentary proved controversial. Mainstream media reception was mixed, and it provoked particular criticism from figures within the United Kingdom's Islamic community, who argued that Holland ignored evidence supporting the orthodox account of early Islamic history. Government-approved regulatory authority Ofcom and the broadcaster Channel 4 received an estimated 1200 complaints regarding the program. Channel 4 eventually cancelled a public screening of the documentary at their London headquarters after numerous threats of violence.

Possessor of a bachelor's degree in English and Latin from the University of Cambridge, Holland is an English novelist and popular historian who has published a trio of best-selling histories of the ancient world: Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic (2003), Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West (2005), and Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom (2008). In 2012, Holland's fourth work of history, In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World, was published; it explored the collapse of the Roman and Persian Empires, as well as the rise of the Arab Empire and the accompanying Arabian religion of Islam.

In an interview with The Spectator, he rejected the Islamic belief that the Qur'an constituted the direct word of God, stating that he believed it to have been "very clearly" written by a human being during Late Antiquity. He highlighted "the lack of sources" that were available with which to analyse the origins of Islam, and that all religious movements come to construct their own back story, in doing so erasing alternative accounts and interpretations of their history.

It was on the basis of In the Shadow of the Sword that public service television Channel 4 commissioned Holland to produce a documentary on the subject of Islam's origins. A spokeswoman for the company publicly announced that the documentary constituted a part of their "remit to support and stimulate well-informed debate on a wide range of issues" through "challenging established views" and providing access to alternative perspectives and information.

The film's screening came a month after the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) aired the first episode of television sitcom Citizen Khan. Revolving around the life of a British Muslim of Pakistani descent, the show had been co-written by its star, Adil Ray, himself a British Muslim of Pakistani descent. The BBC received 200 complaints regarding the content of the episode, including accusations that it perpetuated stereotypes about British Asians, ridiculed Islam and disrespected the Qur'an; some of these criticisms would be echoed in the furore regarding Holland's documentary.

Posted by George Freund on January 20, 2016 at 9:30 PM 873 Views