Origins of Islam: Most Recent Interview with Tom Holland

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by Neil Godfrey

Holland & Adams
Holland & Adams

Historian and author of In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire, Tom Holland, was interviewed last night on Late Night Live, an Australian “Radio National” program hosted by Phillip Adams.

I’ve posted twice before on Holland’s controversial view that Islam as we recognize it arose after the Arab conquests. Holland does not deny the historicity of Muhammad (though the evidence he cites seems flimsy to me) or that there was a form of “Islam” founded by the Prophet before the Arab conquests. It was only after the Arabs found that the empires of Rome and Persia had fallen so easily into their grasp (having been savagely ravaged by bubonic plague and war) that divine explanations were called for.

The conquered peoples, in particular the massive influx of slaves, fed their own beliefs and interpretations into the “hadiths”, sayings attributed to the Prophet, and — not without Caliphate dictates — forged what has become the Islam we recognize today. The Caliph most responsible, Islam’s equivalent of Saint Paul and Constantine combined according to Holland, was Abdul Malik (see Islam, the Untold Story).

If you haven’t caught up with Holland’s view yet, the interview is worth a listen: The Origins of Islam.

I still hope to post more details on Holland’s thesis from his book. I know his views are controversial, but I’m not pushing them to shock or undermine anyone’s beliefs. My sceptical inquiries are not “destructive” in their intent but are geared towards discovering the “bedrock of reality” — as Tom Holland himself also says in the interview. I’m open to alternative evidence and views, too. My approach is similar to the way I approach the study of Christian origins and the origins of the Jewish Scriptures.





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Neil Godfrey

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4 thoughts on “Origins of Islam: Most Recent Interview with Tom Holland”

    1. We have to cut Tom some slack here since I’ve heard on earlier interviews that he’s a friend of Robin Lane Fox. On my list of “to-do” posts is an analysis of Fox’s treatment of the Bible.

      No-one here will be surprised to hear that I believe both Fox’s and Holland’s foundations to be somewhat insecure in relation to this question. Tradition is not tossed overboard overnight.

  1. Thank you for posting this. I’ve only been reading Vridar for the last month or so, and so I had missed the original post about Holland’s book (which I now own and will review).

  2. Actually I was a bit disappointed with Holland in this interview. He said that in the Koran advocates whipping adulterers, while the Hadith advocates stoning. From this we are supposed to conclude that “Jews are converting to a kind of Islam and are bringing their own laws to the table…but the only way they can smuggle these in is to attribute them to Muhammed.” This sounds like Holland’s been reading a lot of New Testament scholarship, picking the least probable scenario for a textual anomaly in order to bolster the supposed social historicity behind all sacred texts. It’s far easier to suppose that by the time the Hadith were written, better, more complete copies of the Christian Bible had been translated into Arabic, and the imams simply copied it from there.

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