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Friday, January 22, 2010

Islam In 'Millennium' By Tom Holland (2009)

'Millennium' is Tom Holland’s book on events during the turning of the first millennium. This is presented as an historical work of non-fiction, so the depiction of the times is meant to be accurate for the events and opinions represented, and the discussion non-partisan. However, there is a depiction of Islam in the book that some may find controversial, though it is presented as a critical theme to the history of the period and one that will probably be considered by many as highly relevant today.

Rather than summarise this incorrectly I have quoted the most highly relevant and informative sections of the text below. I hope I have not misled at all by my selection, but I do not think I have. I would be very interested to hear others interpretations and responses to the historical details Holland highlights below, particularly any Muslim perspectives.

“‘Many false prophets will arise,’ Christ had warned his disciples, ‘and lead many astray’ – and so it had proved. ‘Mahound’, whom scholars in the West took for an idol, had in truth, their Byzantine counterparts knew, been something quite different: the founder of the Saracens’ pestiferous superstition, and a veritable ‘forerunner of Antichrist’. Through his life and teachings, he had provided his followers with their surest model of behaviour, a model that all in Constantinople found so abhorrent as to seem diabolical. Christ, seized by His enemies, had ordered Peter to put away his sword; but Mahound – or Mohammed, as the Saracens called their prophet – had gloried in war and conquest.” p82

“…a sword that the Saracens claimed had belonged to their prophet himself. ‘Zulfiqar’ they called it: ‘the Cleaver of Vertebrae’. Fitting weapon for a man who had, if the Saracens’ own boasts were to be believed, fought in battles, staged mass executions and even commissioned murder squads.” p82

“…the claim, which for centuries had inspired the Saracen faithful on their larcenous raids, [was] that any way warrior who fell far from his own country, in the struggle to spread the dominion of his faith, might be reckoned a martyr, his sins forgiven, his soul translated to paradise.” p83

“All men, Mohammed had taught, were equal before God – for all men, even the very greatest, were His slaves. So it was that the Prophet’s followers referred to themselves not as ‘Saracens’, a word that meant nothing to them, but as ‘Muslims’: ‘those who submit’. In the prayers halls of their places of worship, the ‘masajid’, as they were termed, or ‘mosques’, it was not merely the slaves who abased themselves before their divine master, kneeling, bowing, pressing their foreheads to the dust, but the entire community of believers. Expressed through this surging and mighty wave of prostrations was the greatest paradox of Mohammad’s faith: that servitude, to the slaves of God, was the wellspring of their greatness. In their facelessness lay their identity; in their surrender, their victory. As one body, free and unfree, in lands that embraced the limits of the horizon, across all the vast and peerless extent of the Caliphate, that incomparable empire won by the dauntless swords of the faithful, they acknowledged their submission – what they called, in Arabic, ‘islam’.” p94

[Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom, Tom Holland]

1 comment:

  1. Zulfiqar was not the sword of the prophet but of his cousin and later son-in-law Ali the 4th Caliph and the 1st Imam of the Shia. As a historian who is an expert on Islam I'm surprised he doesn't know that.

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