Friday, January 9, 2015

Islam: The Untold Story (2012)

Writer: Tom Holland

Islam: The Untold Story is a Channel 4 documentary film written and presented by English novelist and popular Historian Tom Holland. It explores the origins of Islam, another one of those Abrahamic religions, that originated in Arabia in the seventh century. It takes a critical look at the orthodox Islamic account of its history claiming that it lacks sufficient supporting evidence.

I am an atheist and is of the view that a  person's belief in any fancy God or some religion should be a personal matter that should be left in their personal space. If you are prepared to take it to a public sphere and start interfering in matters that start to affect other people's lives, then you should be prepared to face up to the scrutiny that would entail. I see no difference between the scrutiny that these people should come under to the one that politicians are subjected to since both are handling power, which is a very dangerous thing. I wrote all this to make the case that questioning the historical evidence regarding what people are propagating in the name of God and religion is fair game since it is not just a matter of faith for us non-believers.

The Arab empire which came up during the waning years of the Christian Roman empire and Persian empire is something that has been credited with spreading Islam as a religion and even the conquest has been compared to as an 'Act of God'. What the documentary attempts to answer is whether it was Islam that spawned the Arab empire or is it another one of those case when the empire actually created the religion to consolidate the power and keep people united. This has precedence in history with the Roman Empire using Christianity for the same. Bible was commissioned and consolidated by the order of King Constantine who lived during the fourth century, around 300 years after the death of Jesus, if at all he existed. The documentary looks for evidence of Muhammad, The Prophet, as well as Mecca during the early days of Arabic conquest. The first evidence that comes up is in a coin issued by one of the kings fighting for leadership of the empire around hundred years after the supposed death of Muhammad. The presenter proposes that it was the empire that spawned the religion to keep it all together. As for Qur'an, unlike Bible it is very hard to pin down the places that it mentions which prompts the presenter to conclude that it is either a collection of texts written by different people or it is a deliberate attempt to remain ambiguous regarding the historical evidence. 

Overall Tom Holland manages to convey the confusion regarding his attempt at giving a historical examination to the whole thing. He presents the evidences that he could find upholding the skepticism that is the necessary characteristic for academic studies. Documentary when it aired got criticism from the expected quarters. 

Rating: 4/5