Customer Review

80 of 89 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb Book, 17 Nov 2012
This review is from: In The Shadow Of The Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World (Hardcover)
When I set out to understand a bit more about Islam, my first port of call was Karen Armstrong's book 'Mohammed'. I came away from that with a portrait of Mohammed as a really rather impressive character - charismatic, compassionate, in many ways a couple of centuries or even millennia ahead of his time. I wasn't converted, but i was certainly made to think.
Now after reading Tom Holland, I realize that Armstrong's book is quite probably, in great measure, essentially a work of fiction. I say probably because, as Holland is the first to point out, the whole origin of Islam is shrouded in uncertainty, with far more unanswered questions than firm answers. If I was impressed by Mohammed, there's a simple reason for that - the first chroniclers of his life wanted me to be impressed, and that's how they presented him. I'm embarrassed now at the way in which I swallowed Armstrong's friendly portrait quite so uncritically.
Tom Holland picks up on the (once you see it) glaringly obvious problems and inconsistencies of the 'standard model' of Islamic origins and ruthlessly examines them. He writes with great confidence and considerable persuasive powers. My first reaction on reaching the end is 'I need to know more!' I need to know just where Holland stands in line with other scholars of the subject - is he mainstream or a maverick - I'm not sure.
I listened to the audio version of the book. I think reading in print might have been hard work. As audio it's great. Strongly recommended.
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 11 Jan 2013 21:04:07 GMT
jakariya says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Jan 2013 14:06:44 GMT

you do realize that those are opinions presented by people who accept the islamic premises, claims and demands unhindered by any sceptical and/or critical sense as we understand it?

Posted on 26 Feb 2013 10:24:16 GMT
Last edited by the author on 26 Feb 2013 10:26:47 GMT
kittygrabs says:
I agree with one of the reviews. As I was reading through Tom Hollands book, 'I felt also embarrassed, that I had swallowed ( in my case ) Martin Link's book about Prophet Mohammed in such naive manner.

The book 'Shadows Of the Sword' have an enormous amount of information and the perspective is probably very true- nevertheless I don't think there is any indication to doubt Meccah !!! Even though the Quran spells out Bakka.
I read the German version of the book and referring to page 217 and the trial Prophet Ibrahim was undergoing with his son Isaak ... as I was taught, it was Prophet Ibrahim and his son Ismail, who had to undertake the test , this very trial is even commemorated and implemented in the annual Muslim pilgrimage, the Hajj.
The book needs to be read with a bit of caution and the sarcastic tone in between the lines is at times irritating, it feels like a bit of ' fitna ', triggering resentment.
Nevertheless, I agree, the book is a page turner, I couldn't stop reading till I finally finished and the last sentence and conclusion of the book ` Obviously, the pen is stronger compared to the sword ` eased all irritation immediately.

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Feb 2013 06:34:56 GMT
Yes i agree that Holland is a bit over the top on the Mecca issue. Though its fascinating to know that the name 'Mecca' is extraordinarily never even mentioned, ever, in any sources prior to Islam; and that is remarkable.

I suppose it just was not a writing society.

Posted on 20 Jan 2014 20:57:59 GMT
John Walsh says:
Reading some of the reviews here you don't have to stretch your imagination much to realise why so many human beings follow like sheep and believe in gods and strongmen ( Hitler anybody) " I thought that mo was a very nice man , or words to that effect and , " toms book, I realise is a work of fiction " one reply stated
Actually all history is a mixture of known facts and gaps filled in by educated assumptions, but in the case of Islam and Muhammad, its all assumptions, as there is no evidence that a man named as such ever existed much less the religion itself which seems to have been a concoction of old Arab pagan rock gods and Hebrew myths with a few Christian bits bolted on by various Islamic imams and sages over the last 14oo years. Ibrahim and Ismail for instance , hmmm couldn't be Abraham & Isaiah could it ? in addition Pagan Arabs were playing carousel with the Hajj 1000 years before Islam!

personally, nothing I have never read or experienced with regard to the Islamic faith or political system has convinced me that Islam is a religion at all ! rather a death cult that asks its followers or those poor souls that are born into it , to submit or die
Having arrived at that conclusion in my younger days at only 16yrs old and now a ripe old 59 yrs. I have seen nothing with regard to the cult that changes this view , on the contrary the very well known and current events in our recent history have only endorsed it.

the rest of the book however with regard to the Persian empire , the roman connection and Zoroastrianism was very interesting and informative

As to "fitna " triggering resentment" I honestly cannot see why otherwise quite rational humans beings born and bred in the west or anywhere else for that matter could reach any other conclusion , everywhere this os called religion goes its destroys or oppresses , even in counties which are totally Muslim

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Mar 2014 23:45:55 GMT
Dr. Walford,
Not only is Holland over the top on the Mecca issue, the mere fact that he seriously questions Islam arising there is enough to show he has no scientific methodology for evaluating evidence. He is a storyteller, albeit one telling a narrative meant to appeal to secular preconceptions rather than religious preconceptions.

Posted on 6 Mar 2014 00:04:53 GMT
Dr. Walford,

You write "If I was impressed by Mohammed, there's a simple reason for that - the first chroniclers of his life wanted me to be impressed, and that's how they presented him." This is a rather hasty conclusion.

The expansion of Islam, what Oxford historian James Howard-Johnstone has called "the social and political equivalent of the Big Bang", can't be easily explained unless one assumes there was something quite special about Muhammad. There is no way he could have inspired such an unprecedented movement unless there was something impressive enough about him to unify the Arabs of the peninsula for the first time in their whole history. No historians or philosophers prior to this ever so much as dreamed that something as spectacularly successful as Islam could have emerged from the Hijaz; for them this was just an uninteresting and inconsequential backwater, a place which could not be expected to produce a new social and political force of this magnitude, since it had shown not the slightest sign of any such tendency for as long as anyone could remember.

The best explanation, by far, of the impact that the Prophet had on his contemporaries, and hence on history as a whole, is that he really *was* a uniquely impressive person. The early chroniclers just gave that impression because *that was in fact the impression* that enabled him to influence people in his time, and for many generations after that. They record plenty of things that make no sense if they were really trying to create a positive impression (e.g. the "Satanic Verses" incident comes form the chroniclers), things that Christian missionaries, for example, seize on with delight in their propaganda. If you want to read people trying to create a positive impression of someone, read the Gospels, or the religious poetry about the Prophet from later Islam. The early chroniclers paid great attention to the transmission of the accounts of those who had met the founder of Islam.

This author tells a story that is helpful to those who have a secular worldview, because if you are skeptical about Islamic history you do not need to account for the remarkable features of the historical founder of Islam. There is certainly no scientific or rational motivation for this skepticism; it is just a late attempt to obfuscate Islam's origins by ignoring the unprecedented levels of rigour and accuracy that Muslims scholars brought to bear in recording their early history.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Mar 2014 00:07:35 GMT

The author is a propagandist who *wants* you to feel embarrassed for having believed Lings' book. Much history writing, as postmodernists have pointed out, is just that: propaganda. Don't be fooled or swayed so easily!

In reply to an earlier post on 18 May 2014 13:06:00 BDT
T. Deegan says:
"The mere fact that he seriously questions Islam arising there is enough to show he has no scientific methodology"

Don't be ridiculous Omar! The one certainly doesn't follow directly from the other.

Unless, that is, you take that Islam arose in Mecca as an unchallengeable fact.

I would suggest to you that you read this book again (if indeed you have actually done so at all yet) and do so, not in a fearful or defensive way but with an open mind. Half the lesson of this book seems to be to be how ruling cliques and individuals shape and rewrite religious material to serve the ends of power e.g. His material about the Byzantines. I see no reason whatsoever why Islam should be exempt from scrutiny regarding such or why it's orthodox texts should be exempt from modern methods of scrutiny.
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