This report is the result of 15 months of painstaking research conducted by Mufti News’ scholar-in-residence, Dr. Faisal Ali Qatari, whose primary area of academic specialization is in the backgrounds of people and of ideas that undermine the central tenets of Islam.
Dr. Qatari’s latest groundbreaking research on the subject of Islamophobic historian Tom Holland required a LOT of work. We are told he interviewed several people, and that he ordered and returned several books from Amazon.uk. And Dr. Qatari also spent a lot of time riding the Tube, and walking… through city streets, at famous historical sites, and in libraries, often while looking thoughtful and carrying a backpack.
Already, Dr. Qatari’s work has caused a firestorm among the people who have used Tom Holland’s work as a basis for questioning Islam. Every one of Tom Holland’s official biographers refused multiple requests to be interviewed by Mufti News for this article. Yet they have already begun a campaign to discredit Dr. Qatari’s research, calling it “not serious” and “satirical.” We think this defensive reaction is simply additional evidence that Dr. Qatari has uncovered something significant.
Read for yourself the radical new research that is questioning the very foundations of the work that questions the very foundations of Islam.
According to traditional accounts memorized by Islamophobes, anti-Muslim bigots, and ex-Muslims around the world, four years ago, Tom Holland, the British historian and documentarian, and author of the book”In the Shadow of the Sword,” produced the documentary film “Islam: the Untold Story.” Taken together, Holland’s work calls into question the historicity of the traditional Muslim account of the origins of the Holy Qur’an, and of the role of Muhammad (peace be upon him), in bringing it about. But, is this really true? And is Tom Holland even really a historian… at all?
Not everyone is so sure.
As a researcher who specializes in questioning people and ideas that question Islam, I was fascinated at the prospect of writing about Tom Holland. I thought it would be a relatively simple matter, as it often is with other Islamophobes. But with Tom Holland, when I started looking, I found that wasn’t the case. Looking for information about Tom Holland… it’s kind of like getting sucked into a black hole.
I wanted to adopt a historical approach to studying Tom Holland and his work, and why it evolved as it did. In order to understand Tom Holland, one needs to get a sense of the culture in which the stories about him arose.
The challenge with adopting this historical approach is that by looking at Tom Holland in his own context- which in any other field would be wholly uncontroversial- what we find is often in direct contradiction with what supporters of Tom Holland and his work believe.
Of course, the traditional accounts of his supporters are often all we possess. But there’s one problem: there’s not a shred of evidence supporting them. None. Zero. Nothing. For other critics of Islam- Maajid Nawaz, Asra Nomani, Irshad Manji- there are all kinds of evidence of their existence. But with Tom Holland, I can’t find anything.
There’s nothing there.
What can we actually say about Tom Holland? What do we really know about him? And how can we get find the truth without offending the people who support him, and believe the traditional accounts of his story?
To start with, much of Tom Holland’s research on Islam, strangely, seemed to rely on the work of the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker Bowles and that of beloved French character actor, Gerard Depardieu. Our calls to Buckingham Palace were not returned. But Mr. Depardieu’s representatives issued a statement:
“Sometimes, the facts regarding Tom Holland’s work, and what Islamophobes believe about it cannot be squared.”
I began my research of Tom Holland with the most basic facts. I looked at LOTS of microfilm. As the story goes, Holland was born in 1968 near Salibury, England. He was educated at Queen’s College in Cambridge, where he majored in English and Latin. Upon graduating, he wrote some historical fiction, as well as several purported “non-fiction” books about the ancient world. There is some evidence that he won a major literary prize for his work on the Roman empire in 2004, before he turned his attention to the topic… of Islam.
But if there was a man named Tom Holland, born in England in the 1960’s and living there for his whole life, we would expect to find ample evidence of his existence. There should be lots of mentions in the historical record about him. I found records for a “Tim Holland.” But no “Tom Holland.” It didn’t make any sense.
Of course, then I realized maybe I should try searching for a “Thomas Holland,” and in fairness, there were hundreds of people with that name living in the UK for that period. But there was still one question I couldn’t answer; one area where the story didn’t fit the facts:
I thought, “If his name is ‘Tom Holland,’ shouldn’t he be from Holland? If he was really from England, his name should be ‘Tom England,’ or maybe ‘Tom London.’ But a ‘Tom Holland’ from England? Something’s not adding up…”
With so many people believing the traditional account about Tom Holland, this kind of thing is almost impossible to challenge. But an academic such as myself often has to choose between doing history, and respecting the beliefs of the believers. And so, undaunted by the dangers of pursuing the historical Tom Holland, I flew to Amsterdam. But there was one person who did not think I should go: Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr.
Dr. Nasr was very concerned that in my search for the historical Tom Holland, I was dismissing the many oral traditions about him.
“When you search for facts, you cannot disregard the many oral traditions that have already been established,” he explained. “When something is an oral tradition, it becomes sacred. It doesn’t matter if the thing is true or not.
Continued Dr. Nasr, “It is very disrespectful to question things that a lot of people believe, even if the oral traditions are most probably wrong and very ridiculous.”
I nodded. But as an academic, I have no regard for the sacred. I respect nothing and nobody. And so I pressed on, undaunted, more determined than ever to know the truth about Tom Holland.
I arrived in Amsterdam, and after spending several days relaxing in a local coffee shop, the answers began to crystallize for me. Here, in the Netherlands, I found references to the name ‘Holland’ almost everywhere I looked. Perhaps it was here that the stories about Tom Holland originated, in the country that elected both Geert Wilders and Ayaan Hirsi Ali to parliament- indeed, the most Islamophobic country in the entire world.
What I now believe happened is that Geert Wilders, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and other global Islamophobes developed a strategy to undermine Islam by questioning its historical foundations. But they could not credibly advance those theories themselves. They needed a singular personality, a unifying figurehead. So they concocted the story about an “historian” named ‘Tom Holland’ as having originated their Islamophobic theories, from a supposedly “objective” point of view. The real Tom Holland probably had very little to do with the work attributed to him. In a sense, Tom Holland as we know him probably never existed… at all.
But then why do the oral traditions about Tom Holland place him in England- in the country that would eventually elect a Muslim mayor in its capital city- and not in Holland itself? What does England have to do with the Netherlands?
Perhaps that’s the whole point… perhaps Tom Holland had to be from England precisely because nobody from Holland would be able to corroborate the story. Or perhaps it was because nobody would take seriously the theories of an academic from Holland. Either way, the evidence was mounting against the traditional narrative.
I also discover something else. I googled the name “Tom Holland” and found that that is the name of the actor who played in the movie “Billy Elliot.” Not only is the “Tom Holland” backstory an elaborate ruse, but they’ve hired a famous actor to portray him when necessary in order to keep the charade going.
I shared my findings with Dr. Nasr, about how I was starting to believe that the traditional accounts about Tom Holland were, in all likelihood, myths that were constructed for political purposes. Dr. Nasr did not like the direction this was heading in.
“Please, leave me alone. Let me die in peace,” he said to me, before adding, “I never would have signed your release if I knew where you were going with this. Get out of my house.”
I don’t like upsetting Dr. Nasr. His books on Sufism are so amazing. But there is simply no going back. I cannot reverse my conclusions. I now believe that the works attributed to Tom Holland on Islam- his documentary film”Islam: the Untold Story;” and his book “In the Shadow of the Sword– were likely not created by him per se as is commonly believed, but rather that they emerged from a range of circumstances. And though the black hole that surrounds Tom Holland and his work does not yield its secrets easily, we must continue to ask the hard questions, no matter how much we annoy Dr. Nasr in the process.
It is only by asking the hard questions about Tom Holland- the questions nobody wants to ask- that we can hope to arrive at the true, historical Tom Holland. While this may not sit well with those who blindly accept the traditional narratives about his work and his life, the fight against Islamophobia depends on it.
You can watch “Tom Holland’s” original documentary here. And watch for our upcoming Channel 4 documentary “Tom Holland: The Untold Story” in 2017.