Posted by Zia Shah
It seems that Tom Holland has wasted five years of his life by penning a book, In the shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World. He starts with the assumptions that there can be only secular explanations for achievements of Muhammad, may peace be on him, and rise of Islam and no wonder he reaches the same conclusions. His 5 year journey seems to be sheer waste, he comes back to where he started, without seeing anything, after a tedious journey through his distorted assumptions.
He wants to constantly bank on the devious and uncertain and disregard the apparent and the obvious. He seems to be a reverse incarnation of a fundamental teaching of Islam:
He (Allah) it is Who has sent down to thee (Muhammad) the Book; in it there are verses that are decisive in meaning — they are the basis of the Book — and there are others that are susceptible of different interpretations. But those in whose hearts is perversity pursue such thereof as are susceptible of different interpretations, seeking discord and seeking wrong interpretation of it. And none knows its right interpretation except Allah and those who are firmly grounded in knowledge; they say, ‘We believe in it; the whole is from our Lord.’ — And none heed except those gifted with understanding. (Al Quran 3:8)
This verse is a fitting rebuttal of Holland’s work. Allah says about those with a negative and prejudiced approach, “those in whose hearts is perversity pursue such thereof as are susceptible of different interpretations, seeking discord and seeking wrong interpretation of it,” achieving nothing, and true knowledge always escapes them. I would encourage readers to read the commentary of this verse in a five volume commentary to distinguish between honest scholarship and research and sloppy work and propaganda. Before, we leave this verse, please note that it starts with an address to the Holy Prophet Muhammad and you would note that Holland has missed scores if not hundreds of references to the Prophet Muhammad in the Holy Quran, as will soon become evident, by the first quote from his book.
He discounts the Holy Quran as a source of history of Prophet Muhammad’s life by writing about the Holy Quran:
Those who are named in the pages tend to be angels, demons or prophets. There are the four mentions of Muhammad himself of course. Then there is an enigmatic figure called Zayd, who seems to be both the ex-husband of one of the prophet’s wives and his adopted son: tradition would subsequently identify him as one time slave who died in battle as an early martyr for Islam. Finally, there is an unbeliever by the name of Abu Lahab, who appears in the biographies of the Prophet as his uncle, and who is condemned together with his wife, ‘to burn in the Flaming Fire.’ No other contemporaries are mentioned by name.
Mentioned by name or not, the Quran is filled with accounts of Prophet’s life and those of his companion. By his half truths, Holland is trying to paint a distorted picture of the Holy Quran as a source of history. After highlighting limited mention of the Prophet Muhammad by name in the Holy Quran, he goes onto mentioning the name of Zayd to bring the age old propaganda of Christian apologists against Islam, in as much as the Prophet married the divorcee of his adopted son. Refutation of that is for another day. Holland continues his description of the Quran:
The focus of the Qur’an is fixed implacably, not on the personal, but on the divine. Before the awful dimension of such a radiance, in which God’s omnipotence can be experienced as something both intimate and cosmic, as a presence that is simultaneously closer to the believer than his own ‘jugular vein’ and more remote than the most distant star in the universe, what is any mere mortal? The voices that feature in the Qur’an are those of God Himself and His prophet no one else gets much of a hearing.
Even though, it is true that the Prophet Muhammad is mentioned by name in the Holy Scripture of Islam only four times, but, he is referred or alluded to scores if not hundreds of times and these references are well known to many a believers, like the back of their hand. So, Tom Holland’s half truth is only to mislead and misguide naive readers into thinking, as if we cannot learn much from the Holy Quran about early Islam and that is why he puts emphasis on the Hadith and biographies of the Prophet Muhammad and stresses that the earliest biographies were not written until two centuries after his death. This is his way of distorting the early history of Islam, which he calls secularizing of history or its secular explanation and understanding. The name of Jesus son of Mary appears more than 20 times in the Holy Quran and this contrast in the frequency of mention of name of Muhammad himself and an Israelite prophet, should serve as an epiphany, to any open minded researcher that unlike the New Testament Gospels, which have been described as an obsession with the death of Jesus, almost like an obituary of Jesus with a long prologue; the Holy Quran, a literal word of God, does not succumb to any obsession with the name or life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.
In the remaining of this article, I will mention some of the references to the Holy Prophet in the Holy Quran in chronological sequence, these can be easily picked up in any good Muslim biography of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. Let me link one here by Sir Zafrulla Khan. In due course of time, we will develop a series of articles bringing out the myopia of Tom Holland’s work, God willing.
I will start my catalog of verses from the Holy Quran, with the very first revelations of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him:
Convey thou (Muhammad) in the name of thy Lord Who created,
Created man from a clot of blood.
Convey! And thy Lord is Most Generous,
Who taught man by the pen,
Taught man what he knew not. (Al Quran 96:2-6)
Thy Lord has not forsaken thee, nor is He displeased with thee.
Surely every hour that follows is better for thee than the one that precedes.
Did He not find thee an orphan and give thee shelter?
And He found thee wandering in search for Him and guided thee unto Himself.
And He found thee in want and enriched thee.
So the orphan, oppress not,
And him who seeks thy help, chide not,
And the bounty of thy Lord, proclaim. (Al Quran 93:4-12)
The Meccans had hatched a conspiracy to kill the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, in the thirteenth year of his ministry and he had to escape in the dark of the night and there were no shadows of the swords of Islam, as Muhammad escaped as a refuge and traveled the 210 mile expanse between Mecca and Medina. Muhammad had to hide with his companion Abu Bakr, later to be the first Caliph of Islam, and this is mentioned in the Holy Quran in the following verse:
If you help him (Muhammad) not, then know that Allah helped him even when the disbelievers drove him forth while he was one of the two when they were both in the cave, when he said to his companion, ‘Grieve not, for Allah is with us.’ Then Allah sent down His peace on him, and strengthened him with hosts which you did not see, and humbled the word of those who disbelieved, and it is the word of Allah alone which is supreme. And Allah is Mighty, Wise. (Al Quran 9:40)
Many of the details about the battle of Badr have been described in a Sura or chapter of the Holy Quran called Al Anfal and it is number eight out of 114 chapters. I will quote just one verse from the Sura, which mentions an event in the beginning of the battle, when the Holy Prophet Muhammad threw a handful of pebbles or sand towards the enemy and God blessed the event by a sand storm, which blew in the eyes of the Meccans, the enemies of Islam and a small an unarmed army of the Muslims was able to score a grand victory over their enemies. Allah owns the act of the prophet and the companions in so many words:
So you (companions of Muhammad) killed them not, but it was Allah Who killed them. And thou (Muhammad) threwest not when thou didst throw, but it was Allah Who threw, that He might overthrow the disbelievers and that He might confer on the believers a great favor from Himself. Surely, Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (Al Quran 8:18)
Muslims were allowed defensive warfare after migration to Medina and it was clearly a defensive stance meant to ensure religious freedom of not only the Muslims but also the Christians and Jews and others. The verses said:
Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged — and Allah indeed has power to help them — Those who have been driven out from their homes unjustly only because they said, ‘Our Lord is Allah’ — And if Allah did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft commemorated. And Allah will surely help one who helps Him. Allah is indeed Powerful, Mighty. (Al Quran 22:40-41)
Many of the events of Uhad are described in Sura Ale-Imran, the third chapter of the Holy Quran.
Many of the events are described in Sura Nur, the twenty fourth chapter of the Holy Quran.
Many of the events are described in Sura Al Ahzab, the thirty third chapter of the Holy Quran. Here I quote one of the verses:
O ye who believe! remember the favor of Allah on you when there came down upon you hosts, and We sent against them a wind and hosts that you saw not. And Allah sees what you do. (Al Quran 33:10)
Many of the events are described in Sura Fath, the forty eighth chapter of the Holy Quran. Before the negotiations of the treaty, the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him had taken an oath of allegiance from his companions. It is mentioned in the Holy Quran in the following verse:
Indeed, those who swear allegiance to thee (Muhammad) indeed swear allegiance to Allah. The hand of Allah is over their hands. So whoever breaks his oath, breaks it to his own loss; and whoever fulfills the covenant that he has made with Allah, He will surely give him a great reward. (Al Quran 48:11)
This is alluded to in Sura Nasr, the 110th Sura or chapter of the Holy Quran.
The Holy Prophet Muhammad had to engage in defensive warfare, but was very mindful of casualties on both sides. The total casualties in all the wars that he engaged in were no more than 500. Here I present to you two quotes about what the non-Muslims had to say about his entry into Makkah as an absolute ruler, after being persecuted for thirteen years and battled against for another eight years. Reverend Benjamin Bosworth Smith (1784-1884) was an American Protestant Episcopal bishop, he wrote:
Now would have been the moment to gratify his ambition, to satiate his lust, to get his revenge. Read the account of Muhammad’s entry into Mecca along with the account of Marius Sulla as he entered Rome, one would be in a position to recognize the magnanimity and moderation of the Prophet of Arabia. There were no proscription lists, no plunder, no wanton revenge. From a helpless orphan to the ruler of a big country was a great transition; yet the Holy Prophet retained the nobility of his character under all circumstances. (R. Bosworth Smith (Muhammad and Muhammadanism)
Stanley Lane-Poole (18 December 1854 – 29 December 1931) was a British orientalist and archaeologist, he wrote:
But what is this? Is there no blood in the streets? Where are the bodies of the thousands that have been butchered? Facts are hard things; and it is a fact that the day of Muhammad’s greatest triumph over his enemies was also the day of his grandest victory over himself. He freely forgave the Kureysh all the years of sorrow and cruel scorn they had inflicted on him; he gave an amnesty to the whole population of Makkah. Four criminals whom justice condemned, made up Muhammad’s proscription list; no house was robbed, no woman insulted. It was thus that Muhammad entered again his native city. Through all the annals of conquest, there is no triumphant entry like unto this one. (Lane Poole, quoted in Introduction to Higgins’ Apology for Mohammad pp ixxi)
Whereas, the First and the Second World War had millions of casualties, the early Islamic wars, had minimal casualties in comparison. This was a result of peaceful teachings of Islam, even in the face of war. Allah said in the Holy Quran:
And fight in the cause of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not transgress. Surely, Allah loves not the transgressors. And kill them wherever you meet them and drive them out from where they have driven you out; for persecution is worse than killing. And fight them not in, and near, the Sacred Mosque until they fight you therein. But if they fight you, then fight them: such is the requital for the disbelievers. But if they desist, then surely Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful. And fight them until there is no persecution, and religion is freely professed for Allah. But if they desist, then remember that no hostility is allowed except against the aggressors. (Al Quran 2:191-194)
Surely, Allah had helped you on many a battlefield, and on the Day of Hunain, when your great numbers made you proud, but they availed you nought; and the earth, with all its vastness, became straitened for you, and then you turned your backs retreating. Then Allah sent down His peace upon His Messenger and upon the believers, and He sent down hosts which you did not see, and He punished those who disbelieved. And this is the reward of the disbelievers. Then will Allah, after that, turn with compassion to whomsoever He pleases; and Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful. (Al Quran 9:25-27)
Under this heading I have borrowed the whole description from the biography of the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, written by Sir Zafrulla Khan.
As indicated in the opening words of his address on the Day of Arafat, the Holy Prophet knew that this was to be his only pilgrimage, and this consciousness added to his eagerness to leave no part of his task undone. A Muslim’s knowledge that the Holy Prophet knew that what he esteemed as his greatest and final pilgrimage was not to be long delayed makes the memory of all that he did and said in the course of this pilgrimage poignant and precious.
On the tenth day of his journey the Holy Prophet reached Saif, an easy stage from Mecca; there he rested for the night, and on the morning, having bathed and mounted Qaswa, proceeded towards Mecca. He entered the upper suburbs by the same route, which he had taken two years before and, passing down the main street, approached the Ka’aba. As he passed through the Bani Shaiba Gate, with the Holy House full in view, he raised his hands to heaven, and invoked a blessing on it: ‘O Lord, add unto this House in the dignity and glory, the honor and the reverence, which already Thou hast bestowed upon it. They that for the pilgrimage, and the Umra, frequent this House, increase them much in honor and dignity, in piety, goodness and renown.’ Then, mounted as he was on his camel, he performed the prescribed circuits with other preliminary rites, and afterwards retired to a tent pitched for him in the valley.
On the seventh of the month, after the midday Prayer, the Holy Prophet preached to the concourse assembled around the Ka’aba. Next day, followed by myriads of devotees, he set out for Mina where he performed the ordinary prayers and slept in a tent. On the second morning at sunrise he moved to Arafat, where he arrived shortly after noon. The plain of Arafat, in which 100,000 eager pilgrims were gathered, was humming with Takbir, Talbeeh, Tasbih, Tahmeed and calling down blessings on the Holy Prophet. He proceeded through the throngs to Jabal Rahmat (Mount of Mercy).
Muhammad, the Chosen of Allah; rejected by Quraish; persecuted; penned in with his family and a few Companions for thirty months in Shi’b Abi Talib and denied all provisions and contact; hounded out of Taif; forced out of Mecca with a price of one hundred camels proclaimed for his person, dead or alive; pursued by the hatred of Quraish even in Medina; challenged by force, besieged, plotted against; faithful, loyal, steadfast, humble, obedient servant of Allah; His Messenger par excellence; in rejection and in acceptance, in trial and in triumph proclaiming as his stand: ‘Sufficient unto me is Allah, there is no god but He, in Him is my trust, the Lord of the Glorious Throne’ (9:129); Muhammad was now surrounded by an ocean of faithful, devoted hearts, all proclaiming the glory of Allah, celebrating His praise, affirming His Unity, supplicating Him for forgiveness, mercy, compassion, invoking His blessings upon Muhammad. Arrived at the Mount, the Holy Prophet stood on the back of Qaswa and made his address:
‘I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship save Allah, the One, without associate, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His Servant and His Messenger.
‘I do not think, O people, that we shall be gathered together here again. Your belongings, your honor, and your lives are sanctified and made inviolate like the sanctity of this day, this month and this city. You will soon appear before your Lord and He will call you to account for all your doings. Take heed that you do not go astray, after I am gone, and start slaying one another.
‘Take note, that I trample underfoot all un-Islamic customs and traditions. All blood-feuds are utterly wiped out. I hereby remit everything owed to any member of my family on that account.
‘Riba [interest] has been declared unlawful and is no longer due. I hereby remit any interest due to any member of my family; for instance, all interest due to my uncle, Abbas bin Abdul Muttalib, is remitted altogether.
‘Be ever mindful of the duty you owe to Allah in respect of your wives. You have married them with the guarantee of Allah’s name, and you have made them lawful for yourselves in accordance with Allah’s word. So be mindful of your covenant. They owe you fidelity; for any default on their part you may correct them gently. You owe them suitable maintenance. As regards those under your authority, see that you feed them with such food as you eat yourselves; and clothe them with the stuff you wear. If they commit a fault, which you are not inclined to forgive, and then sell them, for they are the servants of the Lord, and are not to be tormented.
‘Allah has made you brethren one to another, so be not divided. An Arab has no preference over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab over an Arab; nor is a white one to be preferred to a dark one, nor a dark one to a white one.
‘I am leaving something with you that will safeguard you against all error, if you hold fast to it. That is Allah’s Book.
‘There is no new prophet after me, nor any new law. Worship your Lord, observe Prayer, observe the fast during Ramadhan, pay the Zakat cheerfully, perform the Pilgrimage to the House of Allah, and obey those in authority among you; Allah will admit you to His Paradise.
‘You will be questioned concerning me also on the Day of Judgment. Tell me, then, what will you answer?’
There was a tremendous response: ‘We bear witness that you have conveyed all Allah’s commands to us.’ The Holy Prophet raised his finger to heaven and then pointed it at the people, and voiced the adjuration, ‘Hear, O Allah.’
The people affirmed, ‘You have discharged in full your obligations as Prophet and Messenger.’
In the same manner again, the Holy Prophet begged, ‘Bear witness, O Allah.’
A third time came the response, ‘You have made clear to us that which is right and that which is wrong.’
Again the entreaty went up from the Holy Prophet, ‘Hear, O Lord.’
He then charged those present to convey the substance of his address to those absent, observing that perchance he who hears at second hand may retain it better then one who is present.
As soon as he concluded, the revelation came: ‘This day have I completed My commandments – for you, and have brought to its fullness the favor that I have bestowed upon you, and have chosen Islam as your religion’ (Al Quran 5:4).
The Holy Quran has to be taken as a very accurate source of contemporary events in the life of the Prophet Muhammad for a very simple logic and reason and many an orientalists have yielded to this reality. As the Quran was claimed as the literal word of All-Knowing God, if it was wrongly stating the events as they were unfolding before the eyes of believers and non-believers alike, it would have created a havoc and a large scale apostasy among the believers. So, for Tom Holland to trivialize an all important source of history does not make any sense. I would rather suggest that all other historical sources should be interpreted in light of the established facts outlined in the Holy Quran and all the differences between Tom Holland, fair minded Christian biographers and insightful Muslim biographers, will disappear in thin air.
His assumptions and methods are completely at odds with other historians and no wonder his findings are terribly strange as they are. Contrast his biography with those of Montgomery Watt, Karen Armstrong, Thomas Carlyle and Godfrey Higgins and one finds day and night difference. Here, I highlight some views about Montgomery Watt from Wikipedia:
His books have done much to emphasize the Prophet’s commitment to social justice; Watt has described him as being like an Old Testament prophet, who came to restore fair dealing and belief in one God to the Arabs, for whom these were or had become irrelevant concepts. This would not be a sufficiently high estimate of his worth for most Muslims, but it’s a start. Frankly, it’s hard for Christians to say affirmative things about a religion like Islam that postdates their own, which they are brought up to believe contains all things necessary for salvation. And it’s difficult for Muslims to face the fact that Christians aren’t persuaded by the view that Christianity is only a stop on the way to Islam, the final religion.” 
Charlotte Alfred, a reporter for the journal founded in Watt’s department at Edinburgh, the Edinburgh Middle East Report, pointed out:
His views on Islam and Christianity have at times been controversial. He rejects the infallibility of both the Bible and the Qur’ān, but regards each as divinely inspired. He has argued that the Muslim and Judaeo-Christian traditions have much to teach each other, personally commenting that his study of Islam deepened his understanding of the oneness of God.
Carole Hillenbrand, a professor of Islamic History at the University of Edinburgh, states:
He was not afraid to express rather radical theological opinions – controversial ones in some Christian ecclesiastical circles. He often pondered on the question of what influence his study of Islam had exerted on him in his own Christian faith. As a direct result, he came to argue that the Islamic emphasis on the uncompromising oneness of God had caused him to reconsider the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which is vigorously attacked in the Koran as undermining true monotheism.
Influenced by Islam, with its 99 names of God, each expressing special attributes of God, Watt returned to the Latin word “persona” – which meant a “face” or “mask”, and not “individual”, as it now means in English – and he formulated the view that a true interpretation of Trinity would not signify that God comprises three individuals. For him, Trinity represents three different “faces” of the one and the same God.
Karen Armstrong has published two biographies of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, in recent years and her first biography is much more accurate, in my opinion, and the second one is influenced to some degree by the Islamophobia, created by the unfortunate events of 2001 and Tom Holland’s scholarship is a complete reflection of Islamophobia, coined in gentle and deceptive terms. I provide links here for the work of Thomas Carlyle, Godfrey Higgins, Prof. Laura Veccia Vagleiri, John Davenport, and SP Scott, to be able to contrast their work with that of Tom Holland.
In this age of information as the arguments of the truth of Islam become more easily available to the Christians in the West, the exodus that we are seeing from Christianity towards agnosticism and atheism may well soon be directed to Islam. This is the fear that is the root cause of books by Tom Holland, Salman Rushdie and Robert Spencer. If this fear was not consuming Christian and agnostic apologists, they may as well ignore every thing about Islam. In conclusion, let me applaud Holland for putting a beautiful quote by George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, in the book. But, allow me to put a different twist on it. Hegel, an influential German philosopher of the 19th century, says: “Once the world of ideas has been transformed, reality cannot hold out for long.” This profound observation may soon become true in favor of Islam as the Western readers begin to see through the distortions of propagandists against Islam.
In the end I link one of my previous articles that was published in Muslim Sunrise, titled: Rising of the Sun from the West in the Latter Days.
1. Tom Holland. In the shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World. Little Brown, 2012. Page 308.
2. Page 303.
4. The Herald, The Scotsman, The Times, 27 October 2006.
The featured picture is courtesy of: http://www.schoolofthinking.org/2011/what-is-the-value-of-a-half-truth/