In the early months of 2012, the news of American troops burning copies of the Holy Quran in Afghanistan caused panic both in Washington and in Kabul as it sparked massive anti-US protests in the Afghan capital as well as in Pakistan and some other Muslim states.
However, the Quran burning incident wasn’t an isolated one; just a few months earlier a US pastor had burned copies of Muslims’ holy book and a few years before that a Danish cartoonist’s anti-Islam works had triggered deadly protests worldwide. And, now, a British Channel 4 documentary questioning the very origins of Islam is set to cause fresh uproar as Muslims keep asking why their religion is coming under attack?
Tom Holland’s ‘Islam: The Untold Story’ tries to cast doubt about the very foundations of Islam, including its birthplace of Mecca and the timing of the writing of the holy Quran. The ‘documentary’ claims there is a historical “black hole” surrounding the origins of the religion. Holland has defended his film, saying the origins of Islam are a “legitimate subject of historical enquiry.”
But in a western world where asking the simplest of questions about a historical event such as the Holocaust could put one behind bars for years, one wonders why repeated attacks against Islam are tolerated and even defended. Hurting religious sentiments of over a billion Muslims seems to have become not much of a big deal in the West as perpetrators rarely face punishment.
With the difference between a historical enquiry and an attempt to question and undermine a significant historical event clearly visible to all but the willfully blind, Channel 4’s documentary looks more like another link in the same chain of Islamophobia that drove radical extremists in Britain and Germany to kill innocent Muslims and the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik to slaughter dozens of children in the name of protecting Europe against Muslims. The attacks on Islam also provide Muslim extremists with a much-needed pretext to recruit more would-be suicide bombers ready to die for the sake of a misguided ideology.
A Canadian scholar on Islamic studies told me that the core argument of Channel 4’s documentary is based on claims made years ago by two western scholars named Patricia Crone and Michael Cook in a book titled ‘Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World’--The story of a book written by infidels for infidels. In the book the authors seek to build a narrative of the origins of Islam using non-Islamic sources. The work was rejected by the overwhelming majority of academic community as pure speculation.
The irony is that the authors themselves have rejected their book’s core hypothesis that states any study of origins of Islam should only be based on historical, archaeological and philological data rather than Islamic traditions.
The Channel 4 film has excluded all Islamic sources and only used western sources as evidence despite the fact that this notion is considered, by academic circles, as largely erroneous methodology. Therefore, the claim made in the British documentary is an oxymoron as viewers are being misled about the mainstream academic position regarding the origins of Islam that very much corresponds to what the Islamic tradition tells us.
So, why does such a film get aired despite its numerous historical and even academic flaws? What drives the British filmmaker to produce such a biased documentary on the basis of a discredited notion that’s been rejected even by its own creators? And, why is it that some European countries jail those who ask questions about the Holocaust as a historical event, but do not investigate the making and airing of a film against Islam as a religion?
These are some of the many questions that both academic and political circles may soon have to answer as soon as the Channel 4 documentary gets viral on the internet and public protests across the Muslim world start to scare those behind the production and broadcast of the blasphemous material.