550 complaints

The historian Tom Holland came close to saying Mohammed may not have existed at all in that Channel 4 documentary on Islam last week. Result: almost 550 complaints to both Ofcom and Channel 4. Also lots of outraged tweets. (Well that goes without saying at this point.)

The Islamic Education and Research Academy has published a lengthy paper denouncing the programme. But historians have rallied to Mr Holland’s defence.

The Academy claims the programme’s assertion that there  are no historical records detailing the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad is flawed, saying:

Holland appears to have turned a blind eye to rich Islamic historical tradition.

Ofcom, which has received 150 complaints about the programme’s alleged bias, inaccuracy and offence caused to Muslims, is  considering an investigation.

I like the flourish of “rich Islamic historical tradition” – as if a “rich” tradition were the point instead of an accurate one.


  1. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    The complaints are absurd, and the threats against Holland vile, but the programme itself was something of a disappointment: it’s useful content could have been conveyed in 10 minutes. Holland’s strongest argument was the absence of Muhammed’s name from coins until the 680s, but there was no coherent hypothesis about how an initially non-Muslim conquering power could have had the success it did (at no previous time were the Arabs anything like united); nor how it could have subsequently become Muslim. Typically, peripheral or semi-peripheral conquerors adopt the culture and religion of the more sophisticated societies they conquer – consider the barbarian conquerors of the Western Roman Empire, and the Mongols, for example.

  2. James says

    All the best religious figures have no real details about their life preserved. Makes it easier to create the person you want instead.

  3. says

    It’s a shame the guys from the Islamic Education & Research Academy have won themselves so much press without it being noted that they’re propagandists for theocratic tyranny. (And I’m not overblowing vague suggestions that faith should have a role in politics when I say that; I mean their Chairman is on record as supporting “slow, painful death by stoning” for adulterers and gays and the establishment of a state where “the Jew and the Christian know that they are inferior and subjugated to Islam”.)

  4. Rodney Nelson says

    Considering the Quran wasn’t put in its final form until 60 years after Mohammed’s official year of death, there is a good possibility that Mohammed didn’t actually exist. Also the name “Mohammed” only appears four times in the Quran and in three of those instances it could be used as a title–the “praised one” or “chosen one”–rather than as a proper name.

    Robert Spencer’s Did Muhammad Exist?: : An Inquiry into Islam’s Obscure Origins considers the likelihood of Mohammed’s life. Spencer considers the evidence iffy at best and doesn’t consider Mohammed to have been an actual person.

  5. Dave says

    For those interested in the historicity of Islam and textual criticisms of the Koran, a good starting point are works involving Ibn Warraq.

  6. says

    The programme was respectful to a fault, way too respectful for my tastes. It could have doubled its useful historical content if Holland hadn’t assigned so much time to chatting to the Bedouin and casting anguished gazes across dramatic desert landscapes as he wrestled the bad conscience caused by his sceptical conclusions.

  7. David says

    I’m reminded of the alleged rich Christian historical tradition of Jesus Christ.Unfortunately as were all aware of there’s just too many holes in the story of the historical Christ.

  8. says

    Damn these historians … how dare they look for things such as historical facts, it is all so disruptive to beliefs, how dare they point out that the emperor is naked.

  9. iknklast says

    Well, I know there’s a rich sci-fi tradition for the existence of Jim Kirk. Not to mention, he’s in numerous books, and we even have film! Ergo, Jim Kirk – real life dude, travelled to other planets, mated with alien women. And with pictures.

    Very rich tradition, that. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of documents attesting to his existence, and his actions.

  10. says

    Mohammed reportedly did not want his likeness published: no pictures, please. There are official cover stories for this, but other conceivable reasons include a reluctance to be recognised by the henchmen of offside tribal leaders. Then there are possible creditors, an outraged husband or two, or anyone likely to have a serious bone to pick and serious means for doing the picking.

  11. felix says

    “The historian Tom Holland came close to saying Mohammed may not have existed at all”

    I am pretty sure that he explicitly said the exact opposite of this.

  12. felix says

    Here’s a transcript: http://pastebin.com/53J6a5Dd

    Here’s what he says about Mohammed:
    “There is a curtain, as regards Mohammed, that you can’t get behind. What do we know about him and his life?
    Ah, well, we know that he existed, we know that he was active
    somewhere in Arabia, we know that he is associated with the book the Koran, he was the one who uttered it …”

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