The BIG Debates http://thebigdebates.com seeks to build a bridge of understanding, discussion and dialogue between Western and Islamic thinkers Mon, 24 Mar 2014 20:33:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Can consciousness be best explained by God’s existence? http://thebigdebates.com/can-consciousness-be-best-explained-by-gods-existence-hamza-tzortzis-iera/ Mon, 24 Mar 2014 20:33:57 +0000 http://www.thebigdebates.com/?p=1086 This presentation took place on Tuesday 4th March at the Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland.

Here, Hamza Andreas Tzortzis in this academic debate with Professor Peter Simons argues that current biological and philosophical explanations fail to explain consciousness comprehensively.

Mr Tzortzis asserts that no matter if we found out everything about the brain and it’s neurochemical activity we will never be able to grasp and comprehend inner subjective conscious states. He concludes that God’s existence is the best explanation for this phenomenon.

After the debate, here’s what Mr. Tzortzis had to say:

Last night I had a debate with Professor Peter Simons on “Can consciousness best be explained by God’s existence?” It was a wonderful experience. Professor Simons showed great manners and humility. I was particularly amazed by the fact that the professor agreed with almost everything I had to say. He agreed with my account of why biological and philosophical accounts of consciousness fail to explain it. The point of disagreement was on what we understood to be the best explanation. I presented a five point argument asserting why God best explains internal conscious experience (phenomenal states) and the professor argued that we don’t have an answer but if we work hard enough we will find one that fits well with the materialistic paradigm.

 

The professor’s main contention was that God cannot be the best explanation as the improvement of science throughout time has shown that God has been replaced by a naturalistic scientific explanation. My response to this contention was that Islam strongly promotes scientific explanations for natural phenomena. However I continued by saying that the professor’s contention was misplaced because the argument I presented was not a “God of the gaps” fallacy. I argued that even if we were to know everything about the brain and even if we were to map all the possible neuro-chemical patterns we will still not be able to find out the reality of inner conscious states. In basic terms the argument I presented is not based on a lack of scientific knowledge but rather it is making the valid conclusion that inner conscious states cannot be addressed by materialism due to the key problems highlighted in my presentation. The debate, which was more of a friendly discussion, is an example of how Muslims and atheist academics can sit down together and really share ideas without having to resort to the binary and aggressive approach of some of the neo-atheists. The professor and myself hugged and I gave him a gift of my favourite translation of the Qur’an.

 

This debate is one of its kind for two main reasons. Firstly the form of the argument from consciousness I presented is unique. Secondly the well mannered nature of both speakers. This is how I want to continue to engage with leading atheist academics. I think the days of excessive passion and rhetoric are slowly coming to an end (mainly because the neo-atheists have already been exposed as unnuanced).

Please share this debate with your friends, relatives and contacts and let’s create a new narrative. Having seen it now, please make your own videos on the topic, blog posts, facebook updates and podcasts.

To learn more about this topic, we have a free online webinar coming up so click here to register now for that now.

[fbcomments width=”550″]

]]>
DEBATE: Islam or Atheism Which makes more sense? http://thebigdebates.com/debate-islam-or-atheism-which-makes-more-sense-2/ Tue, 12 Nov 2013 13:06:02 +0000 http://www.thebigdebates.com/?p=1080 Melbourne-Big-Debate

Friday 20th September, 2013 in Melbourne, Australia

[fbcomments width=”550″]

]]>
DEBATE: Are the godless deluded? http://thebigdebates.com/debate-are-the-godless-deluded/ Tue, 12 Nov 2013 13:01:41 +0000 http://www.thebigdebates.com/?p=1076 Sydney-Big-Debate

 

Godless Delusion Debate
Hamza Tzortzis Vs Ian Bryce
24th September 2013

[fbcomments width=”550″]

]]>
Debate: Was the Quran Reliably Transmitted from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)? http://thebigdebates.com/debate-was-the-quran-reliably-transmitted-from-the-prophet-muhammad-peace-be-upon-him/ Thu, 15 Aug 2013 13:56:11 +0000 http://www.thebigdebates.com/?p=1065

Adnan Rashid and James White debate the textual transmission of the Quran. Adnan argues that the Quran, unlike the Bible, was transmitted directly from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) very reliably by his disciples. Adnan’s view is that every single word of the Quran can be traced back to the Prophet Muhammad. James on the other hand contends that the Quran’s textual transmission is not as magnificent as the Muslims claim. He uses a number of sources to make his point. To have an informed view on the textual transmission of the Quran, please watch the debate and share your thoughts below:

[fbcomments width=”550″]

]]>
A Note on the Problem of Induction http://thebigdebates.com/a-note-on-the-problem-of-induction/ Sun, 24 Feb 2013 11:54:51 +0000 http://www.thebigdebates.com/?p=870 Induction is a thinking process where one makes conclusions by moving from the particular to the general. Arguments based on induction can range in probability from very low to very high, but always less than 100%. Here is an example of induction:

I have observed that punching a boxing bag properly with protective gloves never causes injury. Therefore no one will be injured using a boxing bag.

As can be seen from the example above, induction faces a key problem which is the inability to guarantee the conclusion, because a sweeping generalisation cannot be made from a limited number of observations. The best it can provide are probabilities, ranging from low to very high.[A] In the aforementioned example the person who made the statement could not logically prove that the next person to punch a boxing bag will not get injured.

Therefore, the problem with induction is that it can’t produce certainty.[B] This issue was raised by the 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume in his book, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Hume argued that inductive reasoning can never produce certainty. He concluded that moving from a limited set of observed phenomena to making conclusions for an unlimited set of observed phenomena is beyond the present testimony of the senses, and the records of our memory.[1]

From a practical scientific perspective, generalisations made for an entire group or for the next observation within that group based on a limited set of data, will never be certain. For example, a scientist travelled to Wales and wanted to find out the colour of sheep (assuming he does not know the colour of sheep), and he started observing the sheep and recording what colour they are. Say after 150 sheep observations he found that all of them were white. The scientist would conclude based upon his data, using induction, that all sheep are white. This basic example highlights the problematic nature with the process of induction as we know sheep can also be black. Certainty using induction will never be achieved. Professor Alex Rosenberg in his book Philosophy of Science: A Contemporary Introduction explains the problem of induction and he concludes that this is a key problem facing science; he writes,

Here we have explored another problem facing empiricism as the official epistemology of science: the problem of induction, which goes back to Hume, and added to the agenda of problems for both empiricists and rationalists. [2]

Notes & References

[A] There are two main types of induction, strong induction and weak induction. Strong induction moves from the particular to the general in a way that makes a conclusion for the whole group. Weak induction moves from the particular to the general in a way that makes a conclusion for the next observation.

An example of strong induction is the conclusion that all ravens are black because each raven that has ever been observed has been black.

An example of weak induction is that because every raven that has ever been observed has been black, the next observed raven will be black.

[B] Induction can reach certainties but not in the form of generalisations. For example,

I observe an instance of A with the quality B.

Therefore, the nature of A allows B.

If you have observed Crows that are black you can conclude with certainty that some Crows are black. But you could not achieve certainty if you concluded that all Crows were black based on a limited set of observations. This type of induction that produces certainty doesn’t apply to evolution as inductive reasoning in the form of generalisations is not certain.

[1] David Hume. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, p. 108.

[2] Professor Alex Rosenberg. Philosophy of Science: A Contemporary Introduction. 2012, p. 198.

[fbcomments width=”550″]

]]>
DEBATE: Salvation in Islam and Christianity http://thebigdebates.com/debate-salvation-in-islam-and-christianity/ Mon, 29 Oct 2012 10:30:38 +0000 http://www.thebigdebates.com/?p=951 Adnan Rashid and Jay Smith

Date & Time: 10 October 2012, 7:30PM

Venue: The Ickneild Centre, Letchworth Garden City, Herts, HG6 1EF.

video coming soon

[fbcomments width=”550″]

]]>
DEBATE: Is The Bible Corrupted? http://thebigdebates.com/debate-is-the-new-testament-bible-corrupted-adnan-rashid-james-white/ http://thebigdebates.com/debate-is-the-new-testament-bible-corrupted-adnan-rashid-james-white/#comments Mon, 29 Oct 2012 10:28:49 +0000 http://www.thebigdebates.com/?p=945 Adnan Rashid debates Dr James White on one of the most important topics of our time – Is the Bible Corrupted?

Adnan Rashid argued that the New Testament, in it current form, is entirely man made and was not authored by its alleged authors. Dr James White, on the other hand, disagrees and claims that New Testament was indeed transmitted reliably from its authors.

This debate took place in September 2012 and will be very helpful in understanding some serious issues within Christian/Muslim history.

[fbcomments width=”550″]

]]>
http://thebigdebates.com/debate-is-the-new-testament-bible-corrupted-adnan-rashid-james-white/feed/ 1
DEBATE: Islam or Atheism Which makes more sense? http://thebigdebates.com/debate-islam-or-atheism-which-makes-more-sense/ http://thebigdebates.com/debate-islam-or-atheism-which-makes-more-sense/#comments Tue, 11 Sep 2012 10:26:40 +0000 http://www.thebigdebates.com/?p=941 TheBIGDebates_Hamza_Tzortzis_Lawrence_krauss

Islam or Atheism – Which Makes More Sense?

This debate sees Professor Lawrence M. Krauss, renowned cosmologist and Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, writer and lecturer explore these two world views that appear at odds with each other yet both claim to be based on reason and rationale.

This is no ordinary ‘Atheism vs. Theism’ debate, rather it is the opportunity for you to understand the intellectual foundations of Islam and Atheism and discover for yourself which is more rational.

[fbcomments width=”550″]

]]>
http://thebigdebates.com/debate-islam-or-atheism-which-makes-more-sense/feed/ 10
A Response to Tom Holland’s Defence of “Islam: The Untold Story” http://thebigdebates.com/a-response-to-tom-hollands-defence-of-islam-the-untold-story/ Fri, 07 Sep 2012 12:28:47 +0000 http://www.thebigdebates.com/?p=761 On 31 August 2012, Tom Holland responded to the many complaints Channel 4 had received with regards to his recent documentary “Islam: The Untold Story” [1]. He made a number of points in his defence and the most important of them will be addressed below. Holland’s words will be in bold italics and our response will follow his statements. He stated in his response:

‘The origins of Islam are a legitimate subject of historical enquiry…’

We agree and this legitimate enquiry should continue. We applaud and appreciate the efforts of any sincere, honest and objective scholar in this regard. In fact Muslims were the first people to scrutinise their own historical tradition and came up a systematic method to do so: ilm ul hadith (the Science of Hadith). Thousands of early Muslim authorities have put a tremendous amount of time and effort to ensure an unadulterated authentic transmission of the prophetic tradition to subsequent generations. We invite Holland to pay more attention to the science of Hadith and a number of works have been written in the English language for him to peruse.

‘We were of course aware when making the programme that we were touching deeply-held sensitivities and went to every effort to ensure that the moral and civilizational power of Islam was acknowledged in our film, and the perspective of Muslim faith represented, both in the persons of ordinary Bedouin in the desert, and one of the greatest modern scholars of Islam, Seyyed Hossein Nasr.’

Here Holland suggests that “ordinary Bedouin” were the right people to represent the intricate details of Islamic historiography or the Islamic academic position. How could the desert Bedouin present an academic view on the origins of Islam, as they are known to be not very well educated? They certainly do not have access to some of the early dated papyri evidence scattered all over international libraries, which mentions the disciples of the Prophet (peace be upon him). How could the Bedouin contribute to an academic debate at all? Instead of going to people like Patricia Crone and Fred Donner, why didn’t Holland visit the local public house to seek advice on matters academic for a non-Muslim perspective, just like he went to the tea drinking Bedouin in the desert to seek opinions on the historical origins of Islam?

As for Seyyed Hossein Nasr, he is indeed a very well established academic and has written extensively on Islamic philosophy. But the question is: was he the right person to consult on a specialist subject like the early Islamic history, when we have hundreds of other specialists/academics to deal with the topic? Early Islamic history is a very specific subject and requires a specialist to comment on it. The Nasr Foundation website describes his expertise as follows and early Islamic history is not one of them:

‘Professor Nasr speaks and writes with great authority on a wide variety of subjects, ranging from philosophy to religion to spirituality, to music and art and architecture, to science and literature, to civilizational dialogues and the natural environment.’ [2]

Dr Nasr may well be qualified to speak on Islamic topics but some of the questions posed to him ended with a “yes” or “no” answer. Having seen the biased selection of authorities in this programme, how do we know that Nasr’s views were even represented without any necessary editing?

While visiting the Bedouin in the desert, Holland should have taken some time to visit some of the academics in Arabia to ask the very questions he was asking Patricia Crone. We are sure he would come away enlightened. Holland further said:

‘An accusation laid against the film is one of bias and, although I believe that absolute objectivity is a chimera, what was incumbent upon us, in making the film, was to be up-front about my own ideological background and presumptions, and to acknowledge the very different perspective that Muslim faith provides.’

Our view is that Holland’s presumptions were historically anachronistic and we have already shown that conclusively in our response. Our response to the documentary presents some relevant crucial primary evidence and quotes from some of the major authorities in the field. Why would Holland deliberately presume the worst, especially when all historical evidence suggests otherwise?

‘If the film was about the origins of Islam, then it was also about the tensions between two differing world-views. Whether one accepts or rejects the truth of the tradition is ultimately dependent upon the philosophical presumptions that one brings to the analysis of the sources.’

There is no inherent tension between the “two world views” as far as the historical enquiry is concerned. Even if one was to accept the dichotomy of “two world views”, one would come to realise that truth and honesty are virtues common to all world views. Historical enquiry must be based upon truth and the whole truth can never be known until one has all facts explored. The programme utterly failed to take all facts into consideration, as seen from our response to the programme. The film was clearly biased in its presumptions and some of the evident presumptions were the non-existence of contemporary Islamic evidence and the rejection of the Islamic historical tradition. This was shown to be a misconception in our response to the programme.

‘It has been suggested that I say in the film that Mecca is not mentioned in the Qu’ran. In fact, I say that Mecca is mentioned once in the Qu’ran. As a historian I have to rely on original texts and although later tradition (as brought to us through the hadith) has come to accept that other names are synonymous with Mecca, the fact is that there is only one mention of Mecca in the Qu’ran (although due to an unwarranted interpolation, a second one does appear in the Pickthall translation).’

The Mecca question was one of the most disturbing parts of the programme, as far as historical honesty is concerned. Here is what Holland said in the documentary at 39:20: ‘aside from a single ambiguous mention in the Quran itself, there is no mention of Mecca, not one, in any datable text for over a hundred years after Muhammad’s death.’ How is the reference ambiguous? The mention of Mecca is very explicit and there is only one meaning of the noun i.e. the sacred city where Muhammad (peace be upon him) was born. To suggest that the reference is ambiguous is to deliberately turn a blind eye to established facts. This is the problem with rejecting the Islamic tradition as any meaning and any interpretation, no matter how erroneous, can be entertained. Commenting on the prospect of taking up another explanation for Mecca, Patricia Crone states in the documentary: ‘why take it on, well that’s what historians do, if things don’t fit you try something else that might fit’. Both, Holland and Crone, do not provide any reasons to suspect the historicity of the city of Mecca presented in the Islamic narrative. Holland’s reason seems to be “the absence of evidence is evidence for absence”. But is the evidence absent? Absolutely not, there is more than enough evidence to ascertain the existence of the sacred city of Mecca of the Islamic narrative. By questioning the existence of such a city, Holland is claiming a mass conspiracy on part of the early Muslims. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims have been travelling to Mecca from the early days of Islam and this practice never ceased to exist to this day. Before that, thousands of pagans used to visit the city when it was the central place of idol worship in Arabia before Muhammad (peace be upon him) returned it to its Abrahamic origin as a bastion of monotheism. To ask the question whether the Mecca of Islamic tradition existed or not is to ask whether the Arabs of the seventh century were deaf, dumb and blind. Why would hundreds of thousands of people, in the second half of the seventh century, suddenly begin to visit the city of Mecca as a pilgrimage site if they didn’t find their predecessors do it?

‘On the broad perspective some complaints assert unequivocally, as is often said, that Islam was “born in the full light of history unlike the ancient faiths”. That may have been the belief of Western scholars back in the days of Ernest Renan, but it is most certainly not the academic consensus today.’

We ask Holland: have we yet discovered the full light of history or is there still a lot to discover? We quote Robert Hoyland again to show Holland as to the amount of evidence still in need of serious study:

‘The problem of the historiography of this period is certainly a very challenging one, and will remain so while no accepted criteria exist to verify the Muslim literary tradition. And yet there are grounds for optimism. Firstly, we do have a number of bodies of evidence – especially non-Muslim sources, papyri, inscriptions and archaeological excavations – that can serve as a useful external referent and whose riches are only just beginning to be exploited in a systematic manner. Secondly, the historical memory of the Muslim community is more robust than some have claimed. For example, many of the deities, kings and tribes of the pre-Islamic Arabs that are depicted by ninth-century Muslim historians also feature in the epigraphic record, as do many of the rulers and governors of the early Islamic state. This makes it difficult to see how historical scenarios that require for their acceptance a total discontinuity in the historical memory of the Muslim community – such as that Muhammad did not exist, the Quran was not written in Arabic, Mecca was originally in a different place etc. – can really be justified. Many of these scenarios rely on absence of evidence, but it seems a shame to make such a recourse when there are so many very vocal forms of material evidence still waiting to be studied.’ [3]

If there is a lot more to be studied, and that is definitely the case, then how can one even think of a consensus? Robert Hoyland provides some of the epigraphic and papyri evidence to suggest that this material evidence actually confirms the authenticity of the Islamic narrative in many regards. Holland, however, simply doesn’t seem to be aware of this evidence in the documentary.

‘It has also wrongly been suggested that we said there is no historical evidence for the seventh century origins of Islam. What I actually said in the film was that I had expected to find contemporaneous Muslim evidence – “but there’s nothing there.” And the Qur’an aside, the first mention of the prophet Muhammad’s name in Arabic is on the coin that we featured in Part Five, and on the Dome of the Rock, which we also featured prominently. The evidence provided by Christian contemporaries was mentioned in Part Three, and is dealt with at greater length in the book.’

Holland has actually confirmed what we claimed he said in our response. He repeats it here again: ‘I had expected to find contemporaneous Muslim evidence – “but there’s nothing there.”‘ Even though we provided so much contemporaneous evidence in our response, Holland simply failed to acknowledge it again. We presented links to original documents and inscription for Holland (and his likes) to see the evidence in black and white but that doesn’t seem to have changed his mind. Here it is again:

http://www.islamic-awareness.org/History/Islam/Inscriptions/
http://www.islamic-awareness.org/History/Islam/Papyri/
http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Text/Mss/

We will ask Holland again: the inscription of Zuhayr, is it not contemporaneous enough? The papyri documents mentioning ‘Amr ibn al ‘Aas by name, are they not enough evidence to confirm the authenticity of the Islamic chronology as well as narrative? We invite Holland to look at the contemporaneous evidence in Arabic provided by Robert Hoyland and the Islamic Awareness team on their website and reconsider his position or provide an alternative objective view on this evidence. One cannot simply claim “there is nothing there” and ignore piles of evidence in front of him. It is really surprising to see Holland accept a pile of undated stones as valid evidence to support his argument for the existence of an early mosque but when it comes to acknowledging dated contemporary texts that go against his “presuppositions”, he simply fails to address them in the documentary.

As for the mention of Muhammad (peace be upon him), why should we put the Quran aside, which is the biggest source of evidence for the historicity of Muhammad (peace be upon him)? The Quran is a valid form of contemporary evidence, which cannot be ignored. Our view is that if all the available evidence on Islam, excluding the traditional Islamic narrative, is put together it confirms rather than call into question the authenticity of the Islamic traditional narrative. Hence, all epigraphic, numismatic, archaeological, papyri, manuscript and other material evidence in fact confirms the authentic transmission of the Islamic historical tradition. Holland finally stated in the concluding remarks of his response:

“Obviously in a film of only 74 minutes, which opens up very rich and complex arguments and brings to light detailed academic scholarship, which has been going on for over forty years, it is impossible to articulate all the resonances and implications of every argument.”

This is why we were shocked to realize Holland’s choice of Bedouin to represent the Islamic perspective. In an important 74 minutes long full of “complex arguments” and “academic scholarship” documentary, Holland should have spent a little more time with Islamic historians instead of wasting all those precious minutes in learning the way of the Bedouin.

Undercutting Holland’s Revisionist Approach

Tom Holland’s entire argument rests on a daring presupposition: the rejection of the Islamic historical tradition. The Hadith, which forms a substantial part of the Islamic historical corpus, is one of the most valid sources of history. Holland however rejects the Islamic narrative due to his epistemological bias. He argues that the basis of the Islamic tradition, the chain of transmission (isnad), is not a valid source of knowledge. This perspective is philosophically and historically rogue and cannot be taken seriously. As discussed in our paper, testimony is considered as one of the valid sources of knowledge, and when applied properly it can form justified beliefs. Testimony is a valid source of knowledge only when it comes from a reliable source, especially if there are multiple sources in agreement. Obviously there are conditions as to how we can use testimony, but in the majority cases we consider testimony as a valid source of knowledge. The philosopher C. A. J. Coady in his book ‘Testimony: A Philosophical Study’ highlights our dependency on testimony and the implications of rejecting it:

‘…many of us have never seen a baby born, nor have most of us examined the circulation of the blood nor the actual geography of the world nor any fair sample of the laws of the land, nor have we made the observations that lie behind our knowledge that the lights in the sky are heavenly bodies…’ [4]

Therefore the rejection of testimony would be tantamount to rejecting the existence of Peru or the roundness of the earth. Concerning the Hadith, not only do we have mass testimony of events and statements of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), we have a detailed science dedicated to authenticate these traditions. Prophetic traditions consist of two components: isnad (chain of narration or transmission) and matn (text). Each of these have detailed criteria that scrutinise the chain and the text to a degree that leaves very little room for doubt. Moreover, each Prophetic tradition has been scrutinised more rigorously than any historical fact we have with us today. Thousands of companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) narrated reports from him and these reports were then transmitted to subsequent generations with maximum care and authenticity. An anonymous report or a narration originating from an unknown or untrustworthy source was immediately rejected. This method of authentication validates testimony as an acceptable source of knowledge. The emeritus professor of philosophy, Keith Lehrer, in the book ‘The Epistemology of Testimony’ concludes that testimony provides a valid source of historical information once the ‘trustworthiness of others’ is ‘evaluated’. Lehrer writes:

‘The final question that arises concerning our acceptance of testimony is this. What converts our acceptance of testimony of others into knowledge? The first part of the answer is that we must be trustworthy in our evaluations of the trustworthiness of others, and we must accept that this is so. Moreover, our trustworthiness must be successfully truth-connected, that is, the others must, in fact, be trustworthy and their trustworthiness must be truth-connected. We must accept this is so. In short, our acceptance of their testimony must be justified in a way that is not refuted or defeated by any errors that we make in evaluating them and their testimony. Undefeated or irrefutable justified acceptance of the testimony of others is knowledge.'(emphasis added) [5]

Holland needs to answer the following questions if he wants his work to be taken seriously:

  1. Since authenticated testimony, which forms part of the Islamic historical tradition, is a valid source of knowledge, on what grounds do you reject this well-founded source of history?
  2. If you do reject authenticated testimony, are you willing to accept the philosophical and practical absurdities that follow from your unjustified skepticism?

Holland’s revisionist approach rests on the daring presupposition that authenticated testimony is not a valid source of knowledge. As explained above, this epistemological bias is unfounded and therefore Holland’s entire revisionist argument breaks down. In this light, it appears that Holland was not even interested in a serious academic discussion, hence no mention of the Islamic Hadith tradition and its value. He didn’t even present a valid reason for not considering the Islamic tradition as a historically valid source of information. Even the contemporary epigraphic evidence was ignored by Holland. Just because the Islamic tradition is religious in nature does not imply it is untrustworthy. Perhaps, Holland’s secular outlook prevented him from consulting the most important source of information in this enquiry: the hadith.

So long as the Quran is with us, we will continue to believe and worship the Lord of the worlds. It is the Quran that encourages valid intellectual pursuit. The Quran poses existential questions and encourages mankind to question its prejudices. We, the Muslims, are open to any valid debate and pursuit. May God guide us all to that which is true, Amen. 

[1] http://www.channel4.com/programmes/islam-the-untold-story/articles/tom-holland-responds-to-the-programmes-critics

[2] http://www.nasrfoundation.org/bios.html

[3] Robert Hoyland, New Documentary Texts and the Early Islamic State, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 69,No. 3 (2006), pp. 395-416.

[4] C. A. J. Coady. Testimony: A Philosophical Study. Oxford University Press. 1992, p. 82.

[5] Keith Lehrer cited in The Epistemology of Testimony. Oxford University Press. 2006, p. 158.

[fbcomments width=”550″]

]]>
A response to Channel 4’s “Islam: The Untold Story” http://thebigdebates.com/a-response-to-the-channel-4-programme-islam-the-untold-story/ Wed, 29 Aug 2012 12:06:50 +0000 http://www.thebigdebates.com/?p=752 This paper is a response to the Channel 4 Programme “Islam: The Untold Story”, which was shown on Tuesday 28 August 2012 and presented by Tom Holland. The paper will address each of the main claims made by Holland.

1. The claim that there is no historical evidence in the seventh century on the origins of Islam:

Tom Holland’s assertion that there is no historical evidence for the seventh century origins of Islam is historically inaccurate. This notion cannot be sustained in light of the contemporary non-Islamic as well as material evidence. For instance, early Christian chronicles in the seventh century elaborate on the origins of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and some of the laws practised by the early Muslims. Below are some examples of these chronicles:

Doctrina Jacobi written in 635 CE

A document called Doctrina Jacobi written only two years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) clearly mentions that a prophet had appeared amongst the Arabs:

“I, Abraham, went off to Sykamina and referred the matter to an old man very well-versed in the Scriptures. I asked him: “What is your view, master and teacher, of the prophet who has appeared among the Saracens”.(1)

Here it can be clearly seen that a prophet among Saracens  [i.e. the Arabs] is  mentioned.  The questions is: who was this prophet among Arabs? And what does  a prophet do? The Prophet of Arabs was non other than Muhammad (peace be upon him)  and it appears that the meaning of the term “prophet” was clearly understood by the author of this narrative. A prophet, in a Judeo-Christian sense, leads his people and teaches them about God and this is exactly what the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did. A Christian chronicler couldn’t have understood the term differently. Holland’s claim that there is no evidence of Islam before the early Islamic conquests is anachronistic. If there is evidence of a prophet among Arabs, why then one should doubt the existence of the teachings of that prophet?

A record of the Arab conquest of Syria written in 637 CE

A record of the Arab conquest of Syria written in 637 CE, just 5 years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), clearly mentions him by name. Interestingly, the date of the document agrees with the best Arab date for the battle of Yarmuk:

“…and in January, they took the word for their lives did the sons of Emesa, and many villages were ruined with killing by the Arabs of Mụhammad and a great number of people were killed and captives were taken from Galilee as  far as Bēth.” (2)

In this record, the name of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is clearly mentioned. Holland’s claim that the Prophet does not appear in records until 60 years after his death is historically obnoxious.

Sebeos, Bishop of the Bagratunis (Writing c.660 CE)

A mid seventh century account of Islam comes from Sebeos who was a bishop of the House of Bagratunis. This chronicle suggests that he lived through many of the events he relates. As for Muhammad (peace be upon him), he had the following to say:

“At that time a certain man from along those same sons of Ishmael, whose name was Mahmet [i.e., Mụhammad], a merchant, as if by God’s command  appeared to them as a preacher [and] the path of truth. He taught them to recognize the God of Abraham, especially because he was learned and informed in the history of Moses. Now because the command was from on high, at a single order they all came together in unity of religion. Abandoning  their vain cults, they turned to the living God who had appeared to their father, Abraham. So, Mahmet legislated for them: not to eat carrion, not to drink wine, not to speak falsely, and not to engage in fornication. He said: with an oath God promised this land to Abraham and his seed after him forever. And he brought about as he promised during that time while he loved Ishmael. But now you are the sons of Abraham and God is accomplishing his promise to Abraham and his seed for you. Love sincerely only the God of Abraham, and go and seize the land which God gave to your father Abraham. No one will be  able to resist you in battle, because God is with you.” (3)

This narrative by Sebeos clearly undermines Holland’s assertion that there are no historical records elaborating on the life, teachings and mission of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). In fact this particular narrative  suggests that  the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had taught his companions about Islam and the tenets of this faith were well established and understood by the time Sebeos  was writing his chronicle. Holland, for some reason, failed to notice these important non-Muslim testimonies as to the established existence of Islam as a  way of life in the mid seventh century. Some more evidence of the early mention of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) can be seen here:

http://www.islamic-awareness.org/History/Islam/Inscriptions/earlysaw.html.

Holland appears to have turned a blind eye to the rich Islamic historical tradition. There are no “black holes” and there is no missing information. There is plenty of material evidence available to substantiate the accuracy of the Islamic narrative on the early history of Islam. For instance, there are thousands of inscriptions on rocks  in Saudi Arabia confirming the chronological accuracy of the Islamic historical records such as Hadith and Sira/Maghazi literature. One such inscription can be  found here:

http://www.islamic-awareness.org/History/Islam/Inscriptions/kuficsaud.html.

This inscription states ‘In the name of Allah, I, Zuhayr, wrote [this] at the time Umar died in the year four and twenty (i.e. 24 AH)’. This dated early text confirms the established existence of the Islamic Hijri calendar, the truth of the event of Hijrah (migration) of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the existence of Umar bin Khattab (the second Caliph of Islam), and the accuracy of the Islamic chronology, as according the Islamic historical records, the second Caliph of Islam died in the year 24 AH (644 CE). Also, there is an undated early seventh century inscription, which documents the Islamic Shahadah proclamation. It can be found here:

http://www.islamic-awareness.org/History/Islam/Inscriptions/hamid3.html.

There is also plenty of Papyri evidence available to confirm the chronological as well as the factual accuracy of the Islamic narrative. Some of this papyri evidence can be witnessed here:http://www.islamic-awareness.org/History/Islam/Papyri/.

Why would Holland ignore all of this visible evidence and turn a blind eye to it?

2. Unjustified rejection of the Islamic narrative:

Tom Holland’s presentation was clearly biased in the programme, as he ignored other scholarly views that would call his approach into question. For example, Michael Cook, a historian specialising in early Islamic history explains the importance of early non-Muslim accounts of the origins of Islam:

“What does this material tell us? We may begin with the major points on which it agrees with the Islamic tradition. It precludes any doubts as to whether Muhammad was a real person: he is named in a Syriac source that is likely to date from the time of the conquests, and there is an account of him in a Greek source of the same period. From the 640s we have confirmation that the term muhajir was a central one in the new religion, since its followers are known as  ‘Magaritai’ or ‘Mahgraye’ in Greek and Syriac respectively. At the same time, a  papyrus of 643 is dated ‘year twenty two’, creating a strong presumption that something did happen in AD 622. The Armenian chronicler of the 660s attests that Muhammad was a merchant, and confirms the centrality of Abraham in  his preaching. The Abrahamic sanctuary appears in an early source dated (insecurely) to the 670s.” (4)

Holland’s rejection of the Islamic narrative lacks academic rigour. Commenting on Holland’s approach Peter Webb, who teaches Classical Arabic literature at SOAS, the University of London, explains the “resilient” and “robust” nature of the Islamic tradition:

“Over the past century, the Muslim tradition has been challenged by many academics and it has proven remarkably resilient in its own defence…but the Muslim account of history, the textual integrity of the Koran and the mnemonic capacity of oral traditions are more robust than Holland gives them credit…few scholars today would claim it was entirely fabricated. Holland would have done better to adopt a cautious and sensitive approach to the Arabic sources, rather than abandoning them in favour of a sensational rewriting of history.” (5)

Professor Robert Hoyland from the University of Oxford highlights how conclusions similar to Holland’s, including the view that Mecca was in a different place, is a result of not studying the Islamic material and developing scenarios not based on evidence:

“..the historical memory of the Muslim community is more robust than some  have claimed. For example, many of the deities, kings and tribes of the pre-Islamic Arabs that are depicted by ninth-century Muslim historians also feature in the epigraphic record, as do many of the rulers and governors of the early Islamic state. This makes it difficult to see how historical scenarios that require for their acceptance a total discontinuity in the historical memory of the Muslim community – such as that Muhammad did not exist, the Quran was not written in Arabic, Mecca was originally in a different place etc. – can really be  justified. Many of these scenarios rely on absence of evidence, but it seems a shame to make such a recourse when there are so many very vocal forms of material evidence still waiting to be studied.” (6)

3. Rejecting the Islamic oral tradition:

As discussed above, Holland’s approach is inherently biased as he unjustifiably rejects the entire corpus of the Islamic tradition, including the oral Prophetic traditions. Patricia Crone asserts in the documentary that with oral traditions “you remember what you want to remember”. With this assertion Holland attempts to undermine the entire science of Hadith (Prophetic traditions). The science of the Prophetic traditions is based upon scrutinising the isnad (chain of narrations) and the matn (the text). Nabia Abbot, a prominent academic who has conducted extensive study on the Prophetic traditions, explains how the growth of these traditions was as a result of parallel and multiple chains of transmission which highlights that these traditions are trustworthy and a valid source of historical information. She writes:

“…the traditions of Muhammad as transmitted by his Companions and their Successors were, as a rule, scrupulously scrutinised at each step of the transmission, and that the so called phenomenal growth of Tradition in the second and third centuries of Islam was not primarily growth of content, so far as the hadith of Muhammad and the hadith of the Companions are concerned, but represents largely the progressive increase in parallel and multiple chains of transmission.” (7)

Harald Motzki, an academic on Hadith literature, has similar sentiments. In an essay that appeared in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies he concludes that the Prophetic traditions are an important and useful type of source concerning the study of early Islam:

“While studying the Musannaf of `Abd al-Razzaq, I came to the conclusion that the theory championed by Goldziher, Schacht and in their footsteps many others – myself included – which in general, reject hadith literature as a historically reliable sources for the first century AH, deprives the historical study of early Islam of an important and a useful type of source.” (8)

Hence, even a sceptic like Motzki couldn’t resist the strength of the preservation the Islamic Prophetic tradition. On what basis then people like Holland reject the entire Islamic literary corpus?

4. The absurdity of rejecting the oral tradition:

Even if we were to follow Holland’s line of enquiry, it would lead us to absurdities. The philosophical implications of rejecting the Prophetic traditions are quite damning. In epistemology – which is narrowly defined as the study of knowledge and belief – testimony is considered as one of the sources of knowledge, and when applied properly it can form justified beliefs. Testimony is a valid source of knowledge only when it comes from a reliable source especially if there are multiple sources in agreement. Obviously there are conditions as to how we can use testimony, but in the majority cases we consider testimony as a valid source of knowledge. For instance, take our certainty on the fact that China exists. Many people have never been to China, eaten Chinese food in China or spoken to someone in China. All they have as evidence is a map of the world and people telling them they have travelled to China and others claiming to be from China but is this sufficient? However, if we examine why we have such a high level of certainty that China exists, regardless of the above questions, we will conclude that it is due to recurrent testimony. Recurrent testimony is when such a large number of people have reported a claim to knowledge (such as the existence of China) that it is impossible for them to agree upon a lie or to simultaneously lie. This is accentuated by the fact that most of these people never met and lived in different places and different times. Therefore to claim that they have lied is tantamount  to propose the existence of an impossible conspiracy.

Linking this to the Prophetic traditions, not only do we have mass testimony of events and statements of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), we have a detailed science dedicated to authenticate these traditions. Prophetic traditions consist of two components: isnad (chain of narrations) and matn (text). Each of these have detailed criteria that scrutinise the chain and the text to a degree that leaves very little room for doubt. To reject these traditions is tantamount to rejecting facts such as the existence of China or the entirety of history, as these events have been verified via recurrent testimony also. Moreover, each Prophetic tradition has been scrutinised more rigorously than any historical fact we have with us today. Thousands of  companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) narrated reports from him and these reports were then transmitted to subsequent generations with maximum care and authenticity. An anonymous report or a narration originating from an unknown source was immediately rejected. Companions such as Abdullah bin Umar, Anas bin Malik, Abu Hurairah, Aysha, Hudaifah bin Yamaan and many more narrated reports from the Prophet and they were then passed onto the next generation. A very good treatment of this subject can be found in M. M. Azami’s “Studies in Early Hadith Literature”.

The criteria used to verify prophetic traditions are summarised below:

Some criteria for the evaluation of Isnad

The unblemished and undisputed character of the narrator was the most important consideration for the acceptance of a prophetic tradition. A branch of the science of hadith (‘ilm al-hadith) known as asma’ ar-rijal (the biographies of the people) was developed to evaluate the credibility of narrators. The following are a few of the criteria utilized for this purpose:

  1. The name, nickname, title, parentage and occupation of the narrator should be known.
  2. The original narrator should have stated that he heard the hadith directly from the Prophet.
  3. If a narrator referred his hadith to another narrator, the two should have lived in the same period and have had the possibility of meeting each other.
  4. At the time of hearing and transmitting the hadith, the narrator should have been physically and mentally capable of understanding and remembering it.
  5. The narrator should have been known as a pious and virtuous person.
  6. The narrator should not have been accused of having lied, given false evidence or committed a crime.
  7. The narrator should not have spoken against other reliable people.
  8. The narrator’s religious beliefs and practices should have been known to be correct.
  9. The narrator should not have carried out and practiced peculiar religious beliefs of his own.

Some criteria for the evaluation of Matn

  1. The text should have been stated in plain and simple language as this was the undisputed manner of speech of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
  2. A text in non-Arabic or containing indecent language was rejected (for the same reason as above).
  3. A text prescribing heavy punishment for minor sins or exceptionally large reward for small virtues was rejected.
  4. A text which referred to actions that should have been commonly known and practiced by others but were not known and practiced was rejected.
  5. A text contrary to the basic teachings of the Qur’an was rejected.
  6. A text contrary to another established prophetic tradition was rejected.
  7. A text inconsistent with historical facts was rejected.
  8. Extreme care was taken to ensure the text was the original narration of the Prophet and not the sense of what the narrator heard. The meaning of the Prophet tradition was accepted only when the narrator was well known for his piety and integrity of character.
  9. A text by an obscure narrator which was not known during the age of the Prophet’s companions or of the subsequent generation was rejected.

It is clear from the above that the criteria for verifying the Prophetic traditions is comprehensive and robust. Even in the philosophy of history we do not find such comprehensive criteria.

5. The textual Islamic tradition:

Holland continues to espouse his uninformed perspective by claiming that there is an absence of textual evidence from the Islamic narrative. In response to this there are a myriad of written works in the early period of Islam. Below is a list of some of the early works:

Saheefah Saadiqah: Compiled by Abdullaah Ibn ‘Amr ibn al-Aas during the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). His treatise is composed of about 1000 prophetic traditions and it remained secure and preserved.

Saheefah Saheehah: Compiled by Humaam Ibn Munabbih. He was from the famous students of Abu Hurairah (the eminent companion of the Prophet). He wrote all the prophetic traditions from his teacher. Copies of this manuscript are available from libraries in Berlin and Damascus.

Saheefah Basheer Ibn Naheek: Ibn Naheek was also a student of Abu Hurairah. He gathered and wrote a treatise of Prophetic traditions which he read to Abu Hurairah, before they departed and the former verified it. (9)

One of the early Hadith compilations was Muatta of Imam Malik , compiled by Malik bin Anas (d. 179 AH/795 CE). A fragmentary papyri manuscript of this collection from the time of the author is extant to this day. It can be seen here:

http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Hadith/PERF731.html.

This clearly shows that the Hadith literature existed in textual form and was written with extreme care and enthusiasm. Malik bin Anas was a student of Nafi’, who  was a student of Abdullah bin Umar and Abdullah narrated directly from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This is an uninterrupted chain of Hadith (also known as the Golden Chain).  Malik narrates extensively from Nafi’ in his book and all these reports reach the Prophet Muhammad directly and some of these reports can be verified in manuscript form in international libraries.

In light of the above, the claim that there were no texts or historical documents in the early seventh century is a false one, and clearly undermines the integrity of the programme.  All authentic Hadith literature can be traced back to the Prophet and much of this literature existed in written form in the early days of Islam.  

6. Further baseless assumptions:

Holland’s unjustified rejection of the oral and textual Islamic tradition forces him to attempt a coherent alternative. Admitting that he cannot do this, many times describing his source of information as a “black hole”, he uses certain Quranic verses in an attempt to justify his revisionist approach to the Islamic narrative. Holland uses the story of the Prophet Lot and the so-called non-mention of the city of Mecca as means to justify his alternative theory.

The Story of Lot

Holland argues that the Qur’an alludes to places, landscapes and geography that are not descriptive of Mecca and the immediate surrounding areas. He claims that this implies that the Qur’an originates from a location other than Mecca or southern Arabia. He mentions the following verse of the Qur’an:

“And indeed, Lot was among the messengers. [So mention] when We saved  him and his family, all, except his wife among those who remained [with the evildoers]. Then We destroyed the others. And indeed, you pass by them in  the morning. And at night. Then will you not use reason?” (10)

Holland claims that the words “you pass by them in the morning and at night” indicate a place outside of Mecca because the ruins are nowhere to be found in Mecca. With this conclusion Holland makes some bold assumptions. He assumes that Meccans did not travel. This is a blunder as the historian Ira M. Lapidus in his book, “A History of Islamic Societies”, clearly states that the Arabs in Mecca were established traders travelling far and wide:

“By the mid-sixth century, as heir to Petra and Palmyra, Mecca became one of the important caravan cities of the Middle East. The Meccans carried spices, leather, drugs, cloth and slaves which had come from Africa or the Far East to Syria, and returned money, weapons, cereals, and wine to   Arabia.” (11)

If Holland had carefully read the Qur’an, he would have understood that the context of these verses was explained elsewhere in the book, as the Qur’an rhetorically asks the Meccans if they had travelled through the land to see the ends of other civilisations and cities:

“Have they not travelled through the land and observed how was the end of those before them? They were more numerous than themselves and greater in strength and in impression on the land, but they were not availed by what they used to earn.” (12)

The non-mention of Mecca

Holland claims that the city of Mecca is not mentioned in the Qur’an and therefore justifies his revisionist perspective. This is a complete fabrication. The Quran in the forty-eighth chapter clearly mentions the city of Mecca.

“And it is He who withheld their hands from you and your hands from them within [the area of] Makkah after He caused you to overcome them. And ever is Allah of what you do, Seeing.” (13)

This in itself shows as to how reckless, ill-informed and  biased was Holland’s approach to the whole subject.

7. Did the Arab Empire create Islam?

Although this contention of Holland’s does not provide a strong argument against Islamic tradition, it is worthwhile pointing out that his view that Islam emerged as a result of the Arab empire does not make sense when the historical events are viewed objectively. The late professor of Islamic studies William Montgomery Watt asserts:

“Islamic ideology alone gave the Arabs that outward – looking attitude which  enabled them to become sufficiently united to defeat the Byzantine and Persian empires. Many of them may have been concerned chiefly with booty for themselves. But men who were merely raiders out for booty could not have held together as the Arabs did. The ideology was no mere epiphenomenon but an essential factor in the historical process.” (14)

Hence, according to Watt, it was the religion of Islam that inspired the Arabs to unite and consequently carve an empire, not the other way around. In a similar vein the author Dr. Lex Hixon writes:

“Neither as Christians or Jews, nor simply as intellectually responsible individuals, have members of Western Civilisation been sensitively educated or even accurately informed about Islam…even some persons of goodwill who have gained acquaintance with Islam continue to interpret the reverence for the prophet Muhammad and the global acceptance of his message as an inexplicable survival of the zeal of an ancient desert tribe. This view ignores fourteen centuries of Islamic civilisation, burgeoning with artists, scholars, statesmen, philanthropists, scientists, chivalrous warriors, philosophers…as well as countless men and women of devotion and wisdom from almost every nation of the planet. The coherent world civilisation called Islam, founded in  the vision of the Qur’an, cannot be regarded as the product of individual and national ambition, supported by historical accident.” (15)

To claim that the empire of the Arabs produced a religion called Islam is to  assert that a child gave birth to his mother. Holland was certainly attempting to challenge all established historical laws.  

8. What if the Qur’an is God’s word?

One of the key reasons of why the Muslim narrative has remained resilient against baseless and uninformed polemics is based on the fact that the Qur’an is from God. The argument is simple yet profound. If it can be shown that the Qur’an is from God, an Infallible and Omnipotent being, then it follows that whatever is in the Qur’an is true. This will include the fact that Islam is a religion sent by God and not the development of an Arab empire, as claimed by Holland.

How can we ascertain that the Qur’an is from the Divine?

The Qur’an, the book of Islam, is no ordinary book. It has been described by many who engage with the book as an imposing text, but the way it imposes itself on the reader is not negative, rather it is positive. This is because it seeks to positively engage with ones mind and emotions, and it achieves this by asking profound questions, such as:

“So where are you people going? This is a message for all people; for those who wish to take the straight path.” (16)

“Are the disbelievers not aware that the heavens and the earth used to be  joined together and that We ripped them apart, that We made every living thing from water? Will they not believe?” (17)

“Have they not thought about their own selves?” (18)

However the Qur’an doesn’t stop there, it actually challenges the whole of mankind with regards to its authorship, it boldly states:

“If you have doubts about the revelation we have sent down to Our servant,  then produce a single chapter like it – enlist whatever supporters you have other than God – if you truly think you can. If you cannot do this – and you never will – then beware of the Fire prepared for the disbelievers, whose  fuel is men and stones.” (19)

This challenge refers to the various wonders in the Qur’an, even within its smallest chapter, that give us good reasons to believe it is from God. Some of these reasons are the existence of supernatural linguistic, historical and factual statements in the Quran and these statements couldn’t possibly have originated from the mind of an unlettered seventh century Arabian inhabitant of Mecca i.e. the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Linguistic

The Qur’an’s use of the Arabic language has never been achieved before by anyone who has mastered the language past or present. As Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot, a notable British Orientalist, states:

“…and that though several attempts have been made to produce a work equal to it as far as elegant writing is concerned, none has as yet succeeded.” (20)

The Qur’an is the most eloquent of all speeches that achieves the peak of excellence, it renders peoples attempts to match its miraculous style as null and void. It is no wonder Professor Bruce Lawrence writes:

“As tangible signs Qur’anic verses are expressive of inexhaustible truth, the signify meaning layered within meaning, light upon light, miracle after miracle.” (21)

For more information please read the essays The Qur’an’s Challenge: A Literary and Linguistic Miracle and The Philosophical Implications on the Uniqueness of the Qur’an.

Historical

There are many historically factual statements in the Qur’an that show us that it is from God. One of them is that the Qur’an is the only religious text to use different words for the rulers of Egypt at different times. For instance while addressing the Egyptian ruler at the time of Prophet Yusuf (Joseph), the word “Al-Malik” in Arabic is used which refers to a ruler, king or sultan.

“The King said, ‘Bring him to me straight away!’…”(22)

In contrast, the ruler of Egypt at the time of the Prophet Musa (Moses) is referred to as “Pharaoh”, in Arabic “Firaown”. This particular title began to be employed in the 14th century B.C., during the reign of Amenhotep IV. This is confirmed by the Encyclopaedia Britannica which states that the word “Pharaoh” was a title of respect used from the New Kingdom (beginning with the 18th dynasty; B.C. 1539-1292) until the 22nd dynasty (B.C. 945-730), after which this term of address became the title of the king. So the Qur’an is historically accurate as the Prophet Yusuf lived at least 200 years before 18th dynasty, and the word “al-Malik” or “King” was used for the king of Egypt at the time, not the title “Pharaoh”.

In light of this, how could have the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) known such a minute historical detail? Especially when all other religious texts, such as the Bible are mistaking in this regard? Also, since people at the time of revelation did not know this information (as the Hieroglyphs was a dead language at the time), what does this then say about the authorship of the Qur’an?

There are many more reasons for the Muslim belief in the Qur’an. We hope this provides the window of opportunity for the reader to study further and engage with a text that not only changed Arabia, but the entire world. Johnston , an authority on early Islamic history, agrees:

“Seldom, if ever, has a set of ideas had so great an effect on human societies  as Islam has done, above all in the first half of the seventh century. In little more than twenty years, the religious and political configuration of Arabia was changed out of all recognition. Within another twenty all of the rich, highly developed, militarily powerful world enveloping Arabia was conquered, save for Asia Minor and north Africa.” (23)

One of the biggest effects of the Quran on human history was the survival of Jews and some minor Christian sects due to the protection of Islam. This  outcome of the teachings of the Quran in itself was a phenomenon, please see “Islam’s War on Terror” for details here:http://www.iera.org.uk/downloads/Islam_war_on_Terror.pdf.

9. Selective Scholarship

Holland’s choice of scholarship was very selective and was carefully planned to substantiate his argument. He appears to have ignored a bulk, in fact the majority, of scholarship to make his point stand out. He relied heavily upon the opinions of Patricia Crone (featured in the documentary), whose theories on the early Islamic history are discarded by most historians today. She has expressed her erroneous views on Islamic sources in a number of works. She went as far as to assert that some of the Islamic sources are ‘”debris of obliterated past”; and some of the early works, including Ibn Ishaq’s Sira (biography of the Prophet), are “mere piles of desperate traditions”. (24)

Crone has been heavily criticised by fellow historians for her radical views. Even Fred M. Donner, another historian featured in the documentary, rejected Crone’s approach. Referring to people like Crone, Cook and Wansbrough, Donner asserts that:

“…the sceptics have encountered some scepticism about their own approach, because some of their claims seem overstated – or even unfounded. Moreover, their work has to date been almost entirely negative – that is, while they have tried to cast doubt on the received version of ‘what happened’ in early Islamic history by impugning the sources, they have not yet offered a convincing alternative reconstruction of what might have happened.” (25)

Angelika Neuwirth, a German scholar on the Quran, has expressed similar sentiments on Patricia Crone and her likes. She states:

“As a whole, however, the theories of the so called sceptic or revisionist scholars who, arguing historically, make a radical break with the transmitted picture of Islamic origins, shifting them in both time and place from the seventh to the eighth or ninth century and from the Arabian Peninsula to the Fertile Crescent, have by now been discarded…New findings of Quranic text fragments, moreover, can be adduced to affirm rather than call into question the traditional picture of the Quran as an early fixed text composed of the suras we have…The alternative visions about the genesis of the Quran presented by Wansbrough, Crone and Cook, Luling and Luxenberg  are not only mutually exclusive, but rely on textual observations that are too selective to be compatible with the comprehensive quranic textual evidence that can be drawn only from a systematically microstructural reading.” (26)

Carole Hillenbrand has also rejected the extremely negative and selective approach of Patricia Crone and her school. (27)

It is clear from above, mainstream scholarly opinions that the Islamic historical narrative is far richer and trustworthier than most historical traditions. Most historians, who have no underlying political or religious agendas, accept the historical validity of Islamic sources.

In summary, Tom Holland has cherry picked from evidence as well as scholarship to take an unsubstantiated and marginalised view on the origins of Islam.  He saw what he wanted to see and rejected recklessly what he didn’t like. His exclusion of established academic positions and material facts points to the only conclusion of justifying his own prejudices and ignorance of Islamic tradition. 


1. Doctrina Jacobi, Readings in Late Antiquity: A  Sourcebook, Routledge, 2005, p. 354.

2. A. Palmer (with contributions from S. P. Brock and R. G. Hoyland), The Seventh Century In The West-Syrian Chronicles Including Two Seventh-Century Syriac Apocalyptic Texts, 1993, Liverpool University Press: Liverpool (UK), pp. 2-3; Also see R. G. Hoyland, Seeing Islam As Others Saw It: A Survey And Evaluation Of Christian, Jewish And Zoroastrian Writings On Early Islam, 1997, op. cit., pp. 116-117.

3. R. W. Thomson (with contributions from J. Howard-Johnson & T. Greenwood), The Armenian History Attributed To Sebeos Part – I: Translation and Notes, 1999, Translated Texts For Historians – Volume 31, Liverpool University Press, pp. 95-96. Other translations can also be seen in P. Crone & M. Cook, Hagarism: The Making Of The Islamic World, 1977, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, pp. 6-7; R. G. Hoyland, Seeing Islam As Others Saw It: A Survey And Evaluation Of Christian, Jewish And Zoroastrian Writings On Early Islam, 1997, op. cit., p. 129; idem., “Sebeos, The Jews And The Rise Of Islam” in R. L. Nettler (Ed.), Medieval And Modern Perspectives On Muslim-Jewish Relations, 1995, Harwood Academic Publishers GmbH in cooperation with the Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies, p. 89.

4. Michael Cook. Muhammad, Past Masters Oxford University Press, Page 74. First published 1983 as an Oxford University Press paperback. Reissued 1996

5. http://www.standard.co.uk/arts/book/islams-real-origins-7640194.html

6. Robert Hoyland, New Documentary Texts and the Early Islamic State, 2006

7. N. Abbott, Studies In Arabic Literary Papyri, Volume II (Qur’anic Commentary & Tradition), 1967, The University Of Chicago Press, p. 2.

8. H. Motzki, “The Musannaf Of `Abd al-Razzaq Al-San`ani As A Source of Authentic Ahadith of The First Century A.H.”, Journal Of Near Eastern Studies, 1991, Volume 50, p. 21.

9. M. M. Azami. Studies in Early Hadith Literature. 2001. American Trust Publications.

10. Qur’an 37: 133 – 138

11. Ira M. Lapidus, ‘A History of Islamic Societies’, Cambridge, p.14.

12. Qur’an 40: 82

13. Qur’an 48: 24

14. William Montgomery Watt, ‘Economic and Social Aspects of the Origin of Islam’ in Islamic Quarterly 1 (1954), p. 102-3.

15. Lex Hixon. The Heart of the Qur’an: An Introduction to Islamic Spirituality. Quest Books. 2003, page 3.

16. Qur’an 81: 26 – 28

17. Qur’an 21: 30

18. Qur’an 30: 8

19. Qur’an 2: 23

20. F. F. Arbuthnot. The Construction of the Bible and the Koran. London, p 5.

21. Bruce Lawrence. The Qur’an: A Biography. Atlantic Books, p 8.

22. Qur’an 12: 50

23. Johnston, Witnesses to a World Crises (Oxford, 2010), p. 357-8.

24. Patricia Crone, Slaves on Horses (Cambridge, 2003), p. 10.

25. Fred M. Donner, Modern Approaches to Early Islamic History, New Cambridge History of Islam v. 1, 2010, p. 633.

26. Angelika Neuwirth, Structural, Linguistic and Literary Features, the Cambridge Companion to the Quran, 2006, p. 100-1.

27. Carole Hillenbrand. Muhammad and the Rise of Islam. New Cambridge Medieval History.

[fbcomments width=”550″]

]]>