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Enlightening...., 28 April 2013
Tom Holland has presented us with a very good colourful overview of the protracted power struggle between the Christian Roman Empire and the Persian Sassanian Empire, and their internal problems, continuing on into the period leading up to the Arab Conquest commencing circa AD 634. He covers the signifant political, religious and military interactions of that period in a fast moving, forthright and entertaining style and gives us an insight into the thinking of the key protaganists of the period. Given the scale of the activities across the two major international empires of the day this can of course be only a selective overview of key events. However we are given a credible understanding of the period supported by a wealth of references and supporting evidence to verify his findings.
It helps for the reader not to be a novice in this period of history, and helps if he has a previous understanding of the timelines, and the main players and characters of that age. Holland's Timelines and Glossary are a useful tool in achieving this.
Of particular interest is the development of the Christian theology of Monotheism from the Council of Nicea and the divisions in the understanding of the Trinity and Divinity of Christ which followed it, and the subsequent migration from New Roma of differing interpretations of Monotheism from what came to be the accepted Orthodoxy, into the border regions and into the Arabian Peninsular. We are also acquainted with the relationships that were developed by both New Roma and Shahiran with the Arab clans, the foederati, who were paid as mercenaries to police both Empires' borders.
The scene is thus set for understanding the historical setting for the Arab Conquest. Tired and weary, decimated, lacking treasure and manpower, ravaged and decimated by plague, both the Roman and Sassanian Empires after centuries of conflict between themselves, are declining in power and authority. Opportunities for booty for the taking in fertile lands then present the nomadic Arabs, largely unaffected by plague, and militarily strong as foederati, with irresistible temptation. Thus the Conquest can be seen as the normal progression of the worldly cycle of declining and rising empires. Holland poses the theory that the prophet Mohammed, the Quran and the birth of Islam was a necessary requirement for the unification and cohesion of this new Arab Empire, rather than the generally accepted traditional Islamic view that the Arab Empire resulted from the Prophet, the Divine Revelations and the spreading of the Message.
Hollands scrutiny of the Quran suggests that there is some doubt about the Quran's Divine origins, and that it was developed in the years after Mohammed's death by the Arab leaders and Umayyad Caliphates as a tool to unify what would otherwise have dissolved into a dismembered Arab Empire of feuding clans and chieftans. He poses that the Quran was developed from and inspired by a mixture of Jewish and Christian traditions, early scripture and legends that were extant at that period in time, and which reflected Monotheistic interpretations contrary to the New Roma Orthodoxy.
Holland's investigations into the Hadiths, and biographies of Mohammed suggest that these were written well after the death of Mohammed and show considerable signs of additions and development to suit contempory political expediency. Investigation of the Sunna shows signs of it reflecting and adopting earlier Jewish and Zoroastrian origins. Indeed if one doubts the Divinity of the Quran's origins then the foundation rock on which these documents were raised turns to sand, and the Hadiths and Sunna, however well meaning, can only be considered as the works of mortal man influenced by Judaic Christian and Zoroastrian traditions, contempory events, and little more.
Holland quotes the Quran, "Religion in God's eyes is submission" (Quran 3.19), and that Islam is "The religion of truth" (Quran 61.9). What we do not see in Holland's analysis is little if anything of God's love. Rather we see mercenary war bands of foederati, the search for booty and plunder, the oppressive jizra taxes on non Muslims, organised slavery of the conquered peoples including the abuse of women, unwillingness to share the new faith with the conquered peoples, and continual fitna (civil) war. Surely the truth of Islam should be exemplified in the formative years of Islam and in the birth pains? If this then is the truth, the full truth is not only in what we see in Holland's analysis, but is also in what is not there to be seen. "In the Shadow of the Sword" can be seen as an apt title, if this is indeed the truth.
In summary this book is a must for all thinking Christians, Muslims and Jews who are interested in discovering, investigating and understanding the truth behind the Arab Conquest and the Birth of Islam in today's Age of Enlightenment. Research too into the many references should be a serious undertaking.