Muslim Group Angered by Brit Documentary Asking, ‘How Islamic is Islamic State?’

Islamic State flag

British historian and broadcaster Tom Holland’s latest documentary, ‘ISIS: The Origins of Violence’, has angered a leading Muslim organisation.

Prior to its broadcast on May 17th, Holland said the question his Channel 4 documentary sought to answer was “basically this: just how Islamic are the Islamic State?”

The bestselling author courted controversy in 2014 when he wrote that “The grim truth is that sanctions can be found in the Qur’an, in the biographies of Mohammad and in the histories of early Islam for much that strikes the outside world as most horrific about the Islamic State”.

The documentary begins in Paris at the site of the Bataclan massacre, where 89 people were tortured and killed.

It then wends its way eastward, past Vienna – “Muslim armies came this far twice,” Holland reminds the viewer, pointing out a town “where they massacred everyone” – and on to Istanbul.

The historian suggests that the idea of jihad as holy war first took hold in the Islamic world after the Arabs failed in their first attempt to conquer the city, then known as Constantinople.

He describes how these first invaders were elevated to the status of martyrs, visiting a shrine established to honour one of them when it finally fell to the Turks in 1453, centuries later.

Istanbul was the seat of the caliphs, who served as the Prophet’s direct successors, for hundreds of years under the Ottoman sultans – until the empire was defeated by Britain and her allies during the Great War, and overthrown by the Turkish nationalist Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

“I have no religion, and at times I wish all religions at the bottom of the sea,” he once said. “My people are going to learn the principles of democracy, the dictates of truth and the teachings of science. ”

Atatürk, although best known in the West for his persecutions of the Armenians, also implemented a series of aggressively secular policies designed to confine Islam to private life, and abolished the caliphate.

But the idea survived in the Arab world, Holland claims, inspiring Osama bin Laden and, ultimately, the foundation of the present-day caliphate under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Holland visits an ancient Christian monastery in northern Iraq, just miles from the borders of the Islamic State, occupied by a bare handful of monks and priests who tell them their faith has no future in the area, but they remain out of a sense of duty.

Holland contrasts the Christian monastic tradition with that advocated by the Prophet: “Our monasticism is jihad in the cause of God. Our monasticism is the crying of ‘Allahu Akbar!’ on hilltops.”

The historian explores the plight of the Yazidis, visiting the shattered city of Sinjar and the holy shrine at Lalish, in the Kurdish mountains.

He describes how, unlike the Christians and Jews whose status as “People of the Book” can allow them to survive under Islamic rule as second-class citizens, provided they pay a special tax called the jizya, the Yazidis are exposed to slavery, forced conversion or death.

Speaking to Abu Sayyaf, a Salafi cleric and leader of the Jordanian Jihadi Salafist Movement, Holland is told that shariah does not allow for the Yazidis to live under the jizya.

“The same rules do not apply to the Mushrikun,” he states. “No jizya. Nothing. Either Islam or death.”

The documentary angered a number of British Muslims, in particular the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPACUK).

The MPACUK, a verified organisation which describes itself as “the UK’s leading org for empowering Muslims to focus on intelligent political activism to demand our rights”, took particular issue with the fact that Holland had consulted Israeli experts for the programme.

Holland appeared unmoved, however, and accused the group of  harbouring anti-Semitic attitudes.

“Honestly, Britain’s Muslims deserve so much better than to have sinister clowns like MPACUK claim to represent them,” he said.

Follow Jack Montgomery on Twitter: @JackBMontgomery


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