The documentary tells a very personal story of historian Tom Holland, who sets out to determine the origins of Islam. We see a lot of him walking around with a backpack in the Middle East and in university settings, talking to Bedouin tribesmen and academics, trying to match the beliefs of the former that derive from the Koran and oral traditions with what the latter can determine from actual records.
The traditional story of the origins of Islam is that after Mohammed got the word from god in Mecca, he converted Arabs to Islam and they then began their rapid conquest of the region, sweeping through the Middle East, northern Africa, west towards Europe, and East towards China.
But Holland find very little evidence for this story. For example, the first Arab conquerors in Jerusalem did not leave any traces of a new religion. In fact, the origins of Islam are pretty obscure and it seems more likely that the wide Arab conquest of the region preceded the origin of Islam, and that the story of Mohammed and Mecca was created much later, originating in the areas around Jerusalem as a result of the influence of Christian and Jewish theologians there.
He speculates that the new religion was concocted by one of the Arab leaders of that region during a civil war for the usual reason, because it gives a ruler greater power if he can claim that god is on his side. The remote site of Mecca in the desert was selected as the place of origin to try and make it look as if it was a completely new religion, uninfluenced by Christianity and Judaism.
The hostile reaction to this documentary reveals the hollowness of the claim of religious people that all they want is their religion to be treated with respect. Holland tells this story in an extremely respectful way, on many occasions even sounding apologetic that his uncovering of the origins of Islam does not correspond to the official version. There is no ridicule or derision. There are no salacious stories about Mohammed’s personal life. There are no portrayals of Mohammed or god. Nothing is said about Mohammed other than the bare biographical details about the years and location where he lived, though there seems to be remarkably little evidence corroborating even these basic facts. Innocence of Muslims this is not. And yet, he received death threats and British TV decided not to rebroadcast the documentary as scheduled because of fears for his safety.
This shows that the claims of the Muslims who were enraged by Innocence of Muslims that they merely seek ‘respect’ for their religion is disingenuous. What they seek is nothing other than complete agreement with them. Question their origins myths in any way, however respectfully, and they blow a fuse. Any attempt to arrive at a modus vivendi with such people based on rational principles is doomed to failure.