‘Islam the Untold Story’ and the Ramadhan Foundation

This is a guest post by Amjad Khan

Last week, Channel 4 broadcast a documentary entitled ‘Islam – the Untold Story’ which was presented by the renowned historian Tom Holland. Holland, who has also written extensively on the subject, attempted to piece together the early history of Islam using available historical resources rather than simply relying on Muslim accounts which, in any case, were produced many decades after events they speak about.

Since Holland came to a number of conclusions which, let’s say, strayed from the orthodox view of Muslim history as relayed by Muslims, he and Channel 4 have managed to attract the wrath of the defenders of the faith. This was inevitable, predictable and quite sad.

However, the press release from the ever reactionary ‘Ramadhan Foundation’ was a real treat. Not only was it semi-literate and nonsensical, it also contained serious errors, something it tried to accuse the documentary makers of. Here it is in full:

Mr. Mohammed Shafiq, Chief Executive of the Ramadhan Foundation comments:

“I strongly condemn Channel 4′s documentary tonight titled “Islam, untold story” which makes a mockery of impartial and objective broadcasting. This distorted, biased programme did not have the decency to check its facts and has broadcast lies. I am disappointed that an international broadcaster like Channel 4 has behaved in unbelievable way.

There are thousands of Muslims scholars across the globe including many in locations where Tom Holland visited during the programme but he did not see fit to speak to them and therefore I draw the conclusion he did not want the real truth but wanted to promote his utter rubbish.

For instance he said Mecca was never mentioned in the Holy Quran, but in reality it is mentioned two times; Al- Azhab Chapter 33 Verse 6, Al Fath Chapter 48 Verse 24. There is also a mention of the Kaaba and Sacred Mecca Mosque in the Quran in Surah Al Isra Chapter 17 verse 1. A simple search would have produced this but his desire to distort Islam blinded him to objectivity and honesty. He featured evidence from a number of University Professors who happened not to be Muslim when he could have gone to any Muslim Scholar and asked his questions and would have got the answers.

I have asked several senior Muslims Scholars in the United Kingdom to watch the programme and identify all the inaccuracies which we will forward to relevant authorities for action as detailed in our complaints.

There is a desire amongst some people trying to change or discredit Islam whether its politicians, commentators or broadcasters like Channel 4. The British Muslim community will not allow Channel 4 to distort our faith and our history.

The Ramadhan Foundation calls on Channel 4 to apologise for this programme, withdraw it from online viewing and also order an immediate inquiry into why this was allowed to be broadcast. How many Muslims Scholars, community leaders were given a copy of this programme before transmission? Whether historic facts in relation to Islam were verified by the presenter and who his sources were.

The Ramadhan Foundation has complained to Channel 4 and also Ofcom in this matter and hope it will be addressed promptly and extensively”

Where to start with this mess! Firstly, what Shafiq is referring to as ‘historical facts’ are merely popular Muslim accounts of Muhammad’s life that were written at least over 100 years after his death. They are not facts. That is precisely the reason why Holland did not rely on the opinions of Muslim scholars since he was attempting to portray an account of Muhammad’s life based on historical data. This is a simple and obvious point that Shafiq, not surprisingly missed.

He then attempts to discredit Tom Holland by claiming that his documentary states that Mecca is not mentioned in the Quran at all. He follows this with two references in the Quran where Mecca is mentioned. However, in both of these references the word ‘Mecca’ is not used, it is only added in by translators in the English translations since that is the place the translators think the Quran is referring to. Furthermore, Holland does not say that Mecca is not mentioned in the Quran, in fact it is mentioned once in Chapter 48, verse 24 and Hollland acknowledges this.

We finally end with a bit of conspiracy theory about how the media is out to destroy Islam and all the usual conspiratorial nonsense. Ramadhan Foundation’s press release illustrates exactly why so many historians and scholars have been reluctant to present anything critical of Islam in recent years and why Holland was so reluctant and careful with his wording. Most reactionary Muslims have very little time for real facts and data and instead resort to the ad hominen if anyone dares to contradict established Muslim accounts.

I’m not saying I completely agree with everything Holland presented, but I defend his right to present a historical analysis of Islamic history without being subjected to fact-free hysterical garbage from reactionaries. His conclusion, that the Arab Empire gave birth to Islam rather than it being the other way around, is only half true in my view. I believe that the Arab empire codified and produced the Islam we know today, in the same way Constantine did with Christianity, but there were still followers of a tribal leader called Muhammad who claimed divine inspiration. I also believe the Quran was a work in progress for many years and was codified many decades after Muhammad’s death and thus verses could have been added or omitted.

Furthermore, Holland’s more substantive points about early Muslims not using Muhammad’s name and the Quran appearing to address an agrarian olive growing community rather than the desert dwelling Meccans, isn’t mentioned. Nor are the facts that the ahadith and very first sirah (biography) were written over 100 years after Muhammad’s death and hence of very little value to a historian studying the origins of Islam.

Finally, the Ramadhan Foundation seeks to present itself as a leading moderate Muslim organisation. It is, in fact, a group aligned with extremists of various stripes that pushes a reactionary agenda. It has on its advisory board well known extremists such as Abdul Hakim Quick who preaches that Jews and non-Muslims are filth and that gays should be killed. It has previously defended Yusuf al-Qaradawi and hosted notorious hate preacher Zakir Naik as well as members of Hizb ut Tahrir. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that their response to this programme was so alarmist.

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14 Comments

  1. omar hussain
    Posted September 2, 2012 at 4:32 AM | Permalink

    “I also believe the Quran was a work in progress for many years and was codified many decades after Muhammad’s death and thus verses could have been added o r omitted”.

    The fact you’ve said the above proves you have no knowledge of Islaam and maybe a change of name is in order.

  2. anon
    Posted September 2, 2012 at 7:22 AM | Permalink

    muslim accounts are not facts—-Such a claim must be proven—Holland does not do so—-which speaks of his inept research…..

  3. Yusuf Jemal
    Posted September 2, 2012 at 8:27 AM | Permalink

    The above comments again miss the point. Just as the entries in the Jewish Bible must be treated with caution as they were not written at the time they are discussing and are obviously written with a bias, like wise the same can be said about the New Testament exactly the same applies to the Qu’ran. If modern biographies come in for factual criticism how much more so is the argument valid for books written and compiled by people who never met their subject? Faith is not always the same as fact and Tom Holland was looking for indisputable facts rather than exploring belief.

  4. Sarah
    Posted September 2, 2012 at 8:56 AM | Permalink

    Ramadhan Foundation is not ‘a leading Muslim group’, It is run by two people; Mohammad Shafiq and his brother!

  5. Mustafa Bir
    Posted September 2, 2012 at 9:08 AM | Permalink

    Omar, your position is “I accept unquestioningly everything my teachers have told me.” Would you accept it unquestioningly if they told you there were fairies at the bottom of their garden? Are you a man, or merely an empty vessel into which someone else has poured their beliefs and claims?

    And anon – you don’t understand the nature of proof. If Muslim accounts ARE facts, it’s up to you to provide the evidence. Mere assertion does not make it so.

  6. Mark
    Posted September 2, 2012 at 9:09 AM | Permalink

    The documentary was an interesting piece, but the the reaction to it, while worryingly predictable, is truly fascinating. Until Muslims learn to shrug off criticism of Islam and show they are at ease with their faith there will always be friction between History & Theology.

  7. billo
    Posted September 2, 2012 at 11:41 AM | Permalink

    The Ramadhan Fondation and Mr Shafique got one of their Mecca references correct (48.24)

    I believe that the other one comes from reading Pickthall.

  8. StopS
    Posted September 2, 2012 at 5:35 PM | Permalink

    Why can’t more commentators use this approach?
    Staying with facts, politely disagreeing where opinions differ and allowing for intellectual freedom on either side.

    Lovely!

  9. Posted September 7, 2012 at 12:23 PM | Permalink

    Amjad Khan: I also believe the Quran was a work in progress for many years and was codified many decades after Muhammad’s death and thus verses could have been added or omitted.

    The late codification of the Quran hypothesis has long fallen out of favor with scholars as very early manuscripts continue to show up, and recent research showing structural harmony in the Surahs of the Quran, among other things. Clearly you are not acquainted with Quranic scholarship. What a poseur!

  10. Amjad Khan
    Posted September 7, 2012 at 1:34 PM | Permalink

    I was wondering how long it would take for you to get personal. Yes those early manuscripts showing up don’t disprove the hypothesis at all, in fact, they support it since they are different from the Quran we have today, i.e. Sanaa manuscripts. Furthermore, they are many references from Muslim sources which support my argument, i.e. the story of the stoning ayats being ate by a goat and Caliph Abd al Malik claiming to have compiled the Quran himself.

  11. Rashel Miah
    Posted September 9, 2012 at 5:31 PM | Permalink

    In Quran Allah say a non Muslim will say bad and false about islam Tom is Christian and what will know about islam except bad things about islam.
    Rashel,Harrow

  12. Amin Riaz
    Posted September 11, 2012 at 10:27 PM | Permalink

    “let’s say, strayed from the orthodox view of Muslim history as relayed by Muslims”

    However . . . countless other Scholars got there first. He doesn’t really bring anything new to the table.

    - – -

    “they support it since they are different from the Quran we have today, i.e. Sanaa manuscripts. ”

    Actually they are not . . . else that really would be far more widely known.

    - – -

    “He follows this with two references in the Quran where Mecca is mentioned. However, in both of these references the word ‘Mecca’ is not used, it is only added in by translators in the English translations since that is the place the translators think the Quran is referring to”

    As I have already pointed out:

    إن أول بيت وضع للناس للذي ببكة مباركا وهدى للعالمين 3:96

    وهو الذي كف أيديهم عنكم وأيديكم عنهم ببطن مكة من بعد أن أظفركم عليهم وكان الله بما تعملون بصيرا 48:24

    Quran actually does use direct reference to Makkah. Something ‘Amjad Khan’ repeatedly overlooks.

    - – -

    “Nor are the facts that the ahadith and very first sirah (biography) were written over 100 years after Muhammad’s death and hence of very little value to a historian studying the origins of Islam.”

    This isn’t true at all . . . anyone with passing familiarity with history would see through that. But the opposite is true . . . 100yrs afterwards is still closer than 1400 years. And language and content of such works is often very revealing.

    - – -

    ” I defend his right to present a historical analysis of Islamic history without being subjected to fact-free hysterical garbage from reactionaries.”

    yet the reactionaries too . . .have the same freedom of speech right- or do they not? No mater how fact-free their rhetoric is.

    It is astounding – how one sided the “freedom” stick often is.

    - – -

    “I also believe the Quran was a work in progress for many years and was codified many decades after Muhammad’s death and thus verses could have been added or omitted.”

    What is really really interesting is that someone who claims to stand for evidence . . . actually doesn’t have much in the name of ‘evidence’ for his own ‘beliefs’. Note the interesting use of the verb ‘believe’.

    - – -

  13. FleetFox
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 3:26 PM | Permalink

    No one was expecting THIS. Surely?

  14. Sajid
    Posted November 16, 2012 at 2:52 PM | Permalink

    youtu.be/aAMX3ecS6Kc

    The Jinn And Tonic Show tomorrow will have Tom Holland as a guest – the producer of the Channel 4 documentary “Islam – The untold story” and author of “In the shadow of the sword.” It is possible to watch the show live on BlogTV (link on the video) and if you wish you may also call in to the show with Skype.

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