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Tom Holland

  • Summary: 

    Where did Islam come from? The story of how it came to be established across a vast empire stretching from the Atlantic to the frontiers of China is conventionally traced back to the charisma and inspiration of a single man: Muhammad. But his story was not written until 200 years later. Join historian Tom Holland who has received death threats for challenging the long-held origins of Islam.

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    The London Bridge attackers wanted us to be in no doubt about their motivation. ‘This is for Allah,’ they shouted, as they slashed and stabbed their victims. When they could, they slit people’s throats — just as Isis executioners in Syria, claiming obedience to a command in the Quran ‘to strike off the heads of unbelievers’, had slit the throats of western hostages. Shot by police marksmen, the three men were hailed by supporters of Isis as ‘martyrs’.

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    When, for instance, in her speech after the London Bridge attacks, Theresa May decried as a perversion of Islam any notion that it might be incompatible with Western concepts of human rights, she had things precisely the wrong way round. Classically, Muslims have believed that no human rights exist except for those that have been prescribed by God. In the Quran, it is taken for granted that the only way to know how to live well is by means of a divine revelation. Naturally, the Quran casts itself as the ultimate source of these revelations.Anyone who does not submit to the god revealed in its pages is, then, by definition, inferior to those who do. This is all the more so because, according to one of Mohammed’s most quoted sayings, every newborn is naturally Muslim. ‘Then his two parents make him a Jew, a Christian, a Zoroastrian.’ Non Muslims, in other words, are effectively apostates. This is why, should they subsequently convert to Islam, they are termed by many Muslims ‘reverts’. It is also why, for a millennium and more, Islamic states actively discriminated against them. A Quranic injunction decreed that Jews and Christians pay a humiliating tax, the jizya, in exchange for the right to practise their respective religions. Those defined as mushrikun — ‘idolaters’ — were denied the right to practise their religion at all.

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    The proposition that Islam is especially intolerant, especially prone to violence, is one that has come to possess for liberals as well as Muslims the authentic quality of blasphemy. The possibility that sanction might exist within the Koran for brutal crimes committed by the Islamic State is an upsetting one for all decent and generous-hearted people – non-Muslim as well as Muslim – to countenance.

    Admin: The brutal truth is that the link does exist, see:  and what is being proposed here is in effect that the hadith and sira (biograpgy of Muhammad) are dropped because they are unreliable. This is something that others have proposed but it runs into a simple problem, namely, that the quran contains many violent verses and exhortations to violence. Thus even if Muslims were minded to largely dump the story of Muhammad much violence as well as the brutality of Sharia law would still remaIn.

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    The problem faced by the orthodox religious authorities in the Muslim world, however, is very similar to that which confronted the Catholic Church in the 16th century: escaped genies are tricky things to get back into bottles. The same impulse that prompted Luther to affirm the primacy of scripture over Catholic doctrine has also long been at work in Islam. As far back as the 13th century, a scholar based in Damascus by the name of Ibn Taymiyya proposed that the surest way to know God’s purpose was to study the practices of the first three generations of Muslims: the “forebears”, or “Salafs”. Reports of what Muhammad and his earliest followers had done, so he argued, should always trump subsequent tradition. Like Luther, Ibn Taymiyya was condemned as a heretic; but he also, again like Luther, blazed a momentous trail.

    Salafism today is probably the fastest-growing Islamic movement in the world. The interpretation that Isis applies to Muslim scripture may be exceptional for its savagery – but not for its literalism. Islamic State, in its conceit that it has trampled down the weeds and briars of tradition and penetrated to the truth of God’s dictates, is recognisably Salafist. When Islamic State fighters smash the statues of pagan gods, they are following the example of the Prophet; when they proclaim themselves the shock troops of a would-be global empire, they are following the example of the warriors of the original caliphate; when they execute enemy combatants, and impose discriminatory taxes on Christians, and take the women of defeated opponents as slaves, they are doing nothing that the first Muslims did not glory in.

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    Over the past few years, Western leaders whose knowledge of Muslim scripture is scanty in the extreme have repeatedly been obliged to pose as experts on Islam. The atrocities currently being committed by jihadis in the Middle East have prompted them to a particular slew of commentary. John Kerry, speaking recently in Iraq, was typical. The Islamic State, he declared, “claims to be fighting on behalf of Islam but the fact is that its hateful ideology has nothing to do with Islam.” A reassuring assertion, and one that almost everyone, including the vast majority of Muslims, would desperately like to believe – but wishful thinking, all the same.

    The grim truth is that sanctions can be found in the Qur’an, in the biographies of Muhammad and in the histories of early Islam for much that strikes the outside world as most horrific about the Islamic state. “Kuffar are afraid we will slaughter yazidis,” a British jihadi tweeted recently from Syria, “our deen [religion/ law] is clear we will kill their men, take their women and children as slaves insha Allah.” That this reading of assorted qur’anic verses and episodes from the life of the Prophet is the most brutal one imaginable does not necessarily invalidate it. To be sure, there are other, richer, more nuanced interpretations possible – and yes, the bone-headed literalism of those who would interpret the Qur’an as a license to maim, enslave and kill represents a challenge to everyone who prizes it as a revelation from God, supremely compassionate and supremely wise. That is no reason, though, to play the jihadis’ own takfiri game, and deny them a status as Muslims. The very appeal of their sanguinary interpretation of Islamic scripture is far too lethal to permit such a tactic. It is not enough to engage with the jihadis solely on the battlefield. They must be defeated as well in mosques, and libraries, and seminar rooms. This is a battle that, in the long run, can only be won by theologians.

  • Summary: 

    Classical historian Tom Holland’s observation that Christians in the Islamic State have gone from persecuted minority to sub-human target group highlights the parallel shift in Europe’s cities.

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