lunedì 14 gennaio 2013

Historical Mohammed and Early Islam: a new persepctive

Everybody knows roughly the biography of Muhammad and how Islam was born. A pious merchant who used to retire into caves to pray, Muhammad received a revelation by God, whom he, the last messenger and prophet, gathered in the Koran and spread among his fellows, the inhabitants of Mecca. Forced to flee from his home town, he returned there some years later at the head of a large army of converted to his religion. When he died, the whole Arabia had been converted to Islam and in few years his religion diffused in the Middle East on the tip of the swords of the Arabs.

This is the history of Early Islam as Muslims tell it and as it had been accepted by Western historiography. But a new generation of scholars has been applying for a decade the criteria of modern historiography to the study of Muhammed's life and of Early Islam, and several doubts are arising on the validity of this history. In particular the scholars are investigating the place where Islam was really originated in and if it was since the beginning a new religion, distinct from Christianity and Judaism, or if this fundamental characteristic was acquired only after the beginning of the Arab conquests.

Regarding this matter, I suggest a documentary by Tom Holland for Channel 4, by the title of Islam - The Untold Story. Holland is a writer and a popular historian, but the foundations of this documentary are provided by historians like Patricia Crone.

Incidentally, Holland received several menaces after the airing of the documentary, besides several protests by Muslims, so much that an airing in front of a group of historians was cancelled.

Lisa O'Carroll, «Channel 4 documentary Islam: The Untold Story receives 1,200 complaints», The Guardian, 3 settembre 2012; John Hall, «Channel 4 cancels controversial screening of Islam: The Untold Story documentary after presenter Tom Holland is threatened», The Independent, 11 settembre 2012.