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  1. 1,400 years ago, armies of nomads
  2. swept out of the Arabian desert
  3.  
  4. and conquered half the world.
  5.  
  6. Today, their descendants tell
  7. an extraordinary story.
  8.  
  9. They say that God sent them
  10. a prophet - Mohammed -
  11.  
  12. and that God
  13. then gave them an empire.
  14.  
  15. But is it really true?
  16. Not everyone is so sure.
  17.  
  18. The Muslim conquests were one of
  19. the most decisive events in history.
  20.  
  21. But were the Arabs in
  22. the 7th century even Muslims at all?
  23.  
  24. My name's Tom Holland.
  25.  
  26. I'm a historian.
  27. I write about ancient empires so,
  28.  
  29. Persian, Greek, Roman empires.
  30.  
  31. Now I want to write about the most
  32. influential of all these empires -
  33.  
  34. the empire founded by the Arabs
  35. in the 7th century -
  36.  
  37. the empire that gave us Islam.
  38.  
  39. I thought that it would be
  40. a relatively simple matter.
  41.  
  42. It's been said that Islam was born
  43. in the full light of history.
  44.  
  45. But when I began on the project,
  46.  
  47. I discovered that wasn't
  48. actually the case at all.
  49.  
  50. When it comes to Islam's beginnings,
  51. there is no full light of history.
  52.  
  53. Only a kind of darkness.
  54.  
  55. And when you start looking,
  56. everything seems up for grabs.
  57.  
  58. From the beginning, I felt like I
  59. was being sucked into a black hole.
  60.  
  61. The problem of authorising
  62. the history of the rise of Islam
  63.  
  64. is that we have absence of evidence.
  65.  
  66. We have nothing
  67. on which to tell a story.
  68.  
  69. I had expected Muslim testimony
  70. from the 7th century.
  71.  
  72. But there's nothing there.
  73.  
  74. I can't find anything.
  75.  
  76. There's a problem here.
  77.  
  78. You're delving into the origins
  79. of Muslims' deepest beliefs
  80.  
  81. but where is
  82. the historical evidence?
  83.  
  84. Sometimes the belief of the
  85. believer,
  86.  
  87. and the understanding of the
  88. scholar, cannot be squared.
  89.  
  90. It's a choice between doing history
  91. and not doing history.
  92.  
  93. So I do the history,
  94. even though it may hurt people.
  95.  
  96. You have to say things
  97. that believers don't say.
  98.  
  99. Things that sometimes
  100. shock believers.
  101.  
  102. Things that sometimes
  103. make them very angry.
  104.  
  105. There's a sense
  106. of the detective story about it.
  107.  
  108. Why do most of the clues
  109. seem to be missing?
  110.  
  111. When the Romans conquered
  112. the Middle East, they left behind
  113.  
  114. all kinds of evidence -
  115. histories, inscriptions, coins.
  116.  
  117. But with the
  118. Muslim conquest, silence.
  119.  
  120. What can we actually say
  121. about Mohammed?
  122.  
  123. What do we really know
  124. about the origins of Islam?
  125.  
  126. Where to begin?
  127.  
  128. Well, maybe we should start
  129. at the beginning of the 7th century.
  130.  
  131. It is five minutes to midnight
  132.  
  133. and the ancient world
  134. is about to change for ever.
  135.  
  136. This is Istanbul.
  137.  
  138. In 632, it was Constantinople.
  139.  
  140. For 300 years, the capital city
  141. of the Roman Empire.
  142.  
  143. A Christian city
  144. at the heart of a Christian world.
  145.  
  146. A universal religion
  147. for a universal empire.
  148.  
  149. That was the Roman recipe for power.
  150.  
  151. An idea fully appreciated
  152. by the Muslims
  153.  
  154. when almost 1,000 years later,
  155. they conquered the city
  156.  
  157. and turned the largest cathedral
  158. in Christendom into a mosque.
  159.  
  160. We know how and when
  161. the Romans became Christian
  162.  
  163. because contemporaries
  164. tell us all about it.
  165.  
  166. But what we don't know
  167. is how the Arabs became Muslim.
  168.  
  169. Take a journey into the past
  170.  
  171. and you can't be certain
  172. where it's going to end.
  173.  
  174. History is like a labyrinth.
  175.  
  176. Once you're inside,
  177. who knows where it may lead?
  178.  
  179. So, here we are - the Great Palace
  180. of the Roman emperors
  181.  
  182. of Christian Constantinople.
  183.  
  184. Odd to think that, at the start
  185. of the 7th century,
  186.  
  187. when Mohammed was still alive,
  188.  
  189. this was pretty much
  190. the centre of the world.
  191.  
  192. There's one awful poetry about
  193. the fact that all you've got here
  194.  
  195. is splintered firewood.
  196.  
  197. Because what this is is something
  198. that's been smashed to smithereens.
  199.  
  200. What it preserves
  201. just the faintest trace of is, um,
  202.  
  203. what was, at the time,
  204.  
  205. the hub of the greatest power
  206. on the face of the earth.
  207.  
  208. This is the White House -
  209. it's where the Emperor lives.
  210.  
  211. It's the Pentagon. It's the heart
  212. of the defence establishment.
  213.  
  214. It's the Supreme Court - where laws
  215. are drawn up and made and issued.
  216.  
  217. All in this one place
  218. that dominates Constantinople,
  219.  
  220. the city of Constantine,
  221. the first Christian Empire -
  222.  
  223. the greatest city in the world.
  224.  
  225. And now it's all gone.
  226. And it's in some bloke's garden.
  227.  
  228. You've got the road on one side,
  229. you've got the train on the other.
  230.  
  231. And the only thing
  232. to be seen is a cat.
  233.  
  234. By 630, the Roman Empire
  235. had just overcome
  236.  
  237. the worst crisis in its history.
  238.  
  239. Its old enemies, the Persians,
  240. had overrun its fairest provinces.
  241.  
  242. Persian troops had reached the very
  243. walls of Constantinople itself.
  244.  
  245. Then, after 25 years of war,
  246. the Persians were defeated.
  247.  
  248. The Roman emperor was,
  249. once again, master of the universe.
  250.  
  251. At such a moment, how could
  252. he have had any conceivable idea
  253.  
  254. of the ruin that the heavens
  255. had in store for him?
  256.  
  257. Professor, can someone like myself,
  258.  
  259. who is not a Muslim
  260.  
  261. and who does not believe
  262. that God spoke to Mohammed,
  263.  
  264. ever hope to fathom
  265. the truth of the origins of Islam?
  266.  
  267. No.
  268.  
  269. Bedouin,
  270. the face of the Arab Conquest.
  271.  
  272. The shock troops, who in the
  273. 7th century swept out of Arabia
  274.  
  275. and forged a colossal empire,
  276. spanning half the world.
  277.  
  278. And here in the desert,
  279.  
  280. no-one doubts that the conquerors
  281. were indeed Muslim.
  282.  
  283. Everything was for Islam,
  284. that's what they say today,
  285.  
  286. the victories, the conquest,
  287. the empire.
  288.  
  289. But how do we know Islam
  290. even existed back then?
  291.  
  292. To the ancients,
  293. the Arabs were notorious savages.
  294.  
  295. Of all the peoples of the earth,
  296. the most despised and insignificant.
  297.  
  298. Yet after ten years in
  299. the first half of the 7th century,
  300.  
  301. they'd deprived the Roman Empire
  302. of her richest provinces,
  303.  
  304. crushed the Persian Empire,
  305.  
  306. and taken possession of
  307. most of the Middle East.
  308.  
  309. A staggering achievement.
  310.  
  311. For most Muslims, a miracle.
  312.  
  313. Only God could have made it happen.
  314.  
  315. Bedouin Arabs,
  316. they were the margin of history
  317.  
  318. during the Roman Empire,
  319.  
  320. that through such a people
  321. the whole of North Africa and Spain
  322.  
  323. should be transformed
  324. in just a few decades,
  325.  
  326. and a whole new civilisation
  327. created within a century
  328.  
  329. from China to France.
  330.  
  331. This is historical fact.
  332.  
  333. And it all began, the story goes,
  334.  
  335. when a merchant named
  336. Mohammed in a mountain cave,
  337.  
  338. heard something as terrifying as it
  339. was awesome, the voice of an angel.
  340.  
  341. "Oh, Mohammed,
  342. thou art the apostle of God."
  343.  
  344. God had spoken to the Arabs.
  345.  
  346. HE PRAYS
  347.  
  348. THEY PRAY
  349.  
  350. The message was as clear
  351. as it was elemental.
  352.  
  353. There is only one God.
  354.  
  355. Mohammed is the prophet of God.
  356.  
  357. Islam is submission to God.
  358.  
  359. And it was this message
  360. that gave them an empire.
  361.  
  362. Or was it?
  363.  
  364. No-one doubts the conquests
  365. really took place,
  366.  
  367. but the question is,
  368. was it because of Islam?
  369.  
  370. If you were a Christian or a Jew
  371. or a follower of another religion
  372.  
  373. for whom a similar reality exists,
  374.  
  375. it would be easier to make a jump.
  376.  
  377. There is a very famous
  378. Arabic proverb which says,
  379.  
  380. "Not being able to know something
  381. is no proof that it doesn't exist."
  382.  
  383. But making that jump,
  384. taking a leap of faith,
  385.  
  386. isn't as easy as it sounds.
  387.  
  388. In Western universities, historical
  389. research is all about scepticism
  390.  
  391. and doubt.
  392.  
  393. And just as earlier generations
  394. of scholars
  395.  
  396. turned a penetrating spotlight
  397. on the life of Jesus,
  398.  
  399. so now some are taking a radical
  400. new look at the life of Mohammed.
  401.  
  402. Patricia Crone is
  403. a professor at Princeton,
  404.  
  405. she was one of a number of
  406. historians
  407.  
  408. whose research into
  409. the roots of Islam
  410.  
  411. has sharply divided the world
  412. of early Islamic studies.
  413.  
  414. "You cannot reject
  415. the Muslim story", she wrote,
  416.  
  417. "but you cannot accept it, either.
  418.  
  419. "The only solution is to step
  420. outside of the Islamic tradition,
  421.  
  422. "and start again."
  423.  
  424. There is a curtain, as regards
  425. Mohammed, that you can't get behind.
  426.  
  427. What do we know about him
  428. and his life?
  429.  
  430. Ah, well, we know that he existed,
  431.  
  432. we know that he was active
  433. somewhere in Arabia,
  434.  
  435. we know that he is associated
  436. with the book the Koran,
  437.  
  438. he was the one who uttered it,
  439.  
  440. but it doesn't get us
  441. to what actually happened,
  442.  
  443. which is what, of course, a
  444. historian would like to reconstruct.
  445.  
  446. We have absence of evidence.
  447.  
  448. We have the Koran,
  449.  
  450. and you can't tell
  451. the story of the basis of the Koran.
  452.  
  453. We have various early
  454. non-Muslim sources.
  455.  
  456. They don't add up to a story.
  457.  
  458. We have nothing, we have this one
  459. book out of...and nothing.
  460.  
  461. There is complete darkness.
  462.  
  463. But here,
  464. that's not the way they see things.
  465.  
  466. The Bedouin think they know
  467. everything about Mohammed,
  468.  
  469. his character, his wives,
  470. even his favourite food.
  471.  
  472. This is a whole world
  473. founded on stories of Mohammed.
  474.  
  475. But the problem is, how do we know
  476. this was what it was like?
  477.  
  478. How can we separate what really
  479. happened from hearsay and myths?
  480.  
  481. Do we know, did the
  482. Prophet Mohammed come here?
  483.  
  484. Was there a tree?
  485.  
  486. Was Mohammed even a
  487. travelling merchant?
  488.  
  489. The evidence is almost non-existent.
  490.  
  491. The earliest biographies we have
  492.  
  493. were written nearly 200 years
  494. after Mohammed's lifetime.
  495.  
  496. In most religions,
  497.  
  498. the tradition was handed down
  499. through oral history,
  500.  
  501. for millennia.
  502.  
  503. This was put aside,
  504. now it's called positive history.
  505.  
  506. The oral tradition
  507. is completely negated.
  508.  
  509. Well, oral tradition means that
  510. you remember what you want.
  511.  
  512. Some of it must be history, but most
  513. of it is clearly not history.
  514.  
  515. It's just that they had been
  516. reshaped, rethought,
  517.  
  518. they had been taken
  519. out of their original context,
  520.  
  521. serving new functions,
  522. they'd been cleaned up by...
  523.  
  524. Cleaned up, or messed up
  525. if you like,
  526.  
  527. by all kinds of interests
  528. that people have in the memory.
  529.  
  530. Supposing there is no written
  531. text of the time of the Prophet
  532.  
  533. mentioning his name, the same is true
  534. of Christ, the same is true of Moses,
  535.  
  536. that doesn't mean anything because
  537. there is always the oral tradition.
  538.  
  539. Sometimes if you have other
  540. sources from other points of view,
  541.  
  542. you can suddenly see what it is
  543. that's been changed, and then
  544.  
  545. when you can see that, you can
  546. also see why it has changed,
  547.  
  548. but because Islam arose
  549.  
  550. in a relatively remote
  551. corner of the world,
  552.  
  553. we don't have these checks,
  554.  
  555. we don't yet have the key
  556. that can unlock the tradition.
  557.  
  558. I came here to get close
  559. to the tradition,
  560.  
  561. and when you're here
  562. you can feel its weight.
  563.  
  564. It's in the air.
  565.  
  566. It's palpable.
  567.  
  568. It can't just be brushed aside.
  569.  
  570. Millions upon millions
  571. of people believe it -
  572.  
  573. this is their history.
  574.  
  575. An entire moral universe
  576. has been built around
  577.  
  578. the stories told of Mohammed.
  579.  
  580. Listening to all these stories,
  581. part of me is very moved,
  582.  
  583. the other part of me is wondering,
  584. "Well, how do you know this?
  585.  
  586. "Where do these stories come from?
  587.  
  588. "Are they really true?"
  589.  
  590. Gradually in the West,
  591. for the intellectual elite,
  592.  
  593. the sense of the sacred was lost.
  594.  
  595. A tribal person in Africa
  596. or in the Amazon
  597.  
  598. has a natural sense of the sacred,
  599.  
  600. whereas a graduate student
  601. at Oxford probably doesn't.
  602.  
  603. THEY PRAY
  604.  
  605. THEY PRAY
  606.  
  607. In some places, you have to be
  608. careful where to tread.
  609.  
  610. Muslims believe
  611. that from the very beginning,
  612.  
  613. the great Arab conquests
  614. were all about Islam.
  615.  
  616. But in the 7th century,
  617.  
  618. you can barely find
  619. a new religion called Islam
  620.  
  621. anywhere in the historical records.
  622.  
  623. And that's why I've come here.
  624.  
  625. This is Jerusalem.
  626.  
  627. They've been building walls
  628. here for a long time.
  629.  
  630. But they've never built a wall yet
  631.  
  632. that could keep people
  633. safe for ever.
  634.  
  635. Historically,
  636. the capital city of God
  637.  
  638. has always been one of the world's
  639. most conquerable places.
  640.  
  641. Here, if anywhere,
  642.  
  643. in the one-time world
  644. of the Roman Empire,
  645.  
  646. the 6th and 7th centuries live on.
  647.  
  648. The same intensities,
  649.  
  650. the same anxieties.
  651.  
  652. For thousands of years,
  653.  
  654. Jerusalem had been shaped and mapped
  655.  
  656. by the religions of its rulers.
  657.  
  658. When the Jews ruled,
  659.  
  660. they built a gigantic temple
  661.  
  662. which dominated the city.
  663.  
  664. Later, when the Roman Empire
  665. became Christian,
  666.  
  667. Jerusalem was transformed
  668.  
  669. into the world centre
  670. of Christian pilgrimage.
  671.  
  672. Look at the street plan now and
  673. you saw a map of a Christian world.
  674.  
  675. The Jews were gone,
  676. airbrushed out of the picture.
  677.  
  678. The Romans constructed
  679. a new holy of holies.
  680.  
  681. The Holy Sepulcher,
  682.  
  683. A vast cathedral, raised over
  684.  
  685. the traditionally accepted site
  686. of Jesus' crucifixion.
  687.  
  688. That was how God and Empire worked.
  689.  
  690. The Roman Empire believed in God...
  691.  
  692. ..and God believed
  693. in the Roman Empire.
  694.  
  695. But then,
  696.  
  697. in the year 636,
  698.  
  699. God changed his mind.
  700.  
  701. Arab marauders
  702. appear outside the walls.
  703.  
  704. Sophronius, the city's Bishop,
  705.  
  706. writes that it is too
  707. dangerous to leave.
  708.  
  709. The Arabs were closing in.
  710.  
  711. And there was nothing
  712. people of Christian Jerusalem
  713.  
  714. could do about it,
  715. except to stay where they were
  716.  
  717. look out from their walls
  718. and await the arrival of the Arabs.
  719.  
  720. And out of the desert they came.
  721.  
  722. And they had become irresistible.
  723.  
  724. In 636,
  725. they beat a Roman army at Yarmouk.
  726.  
  727. Soon after, they beat
  728. a Persian army at Qadisiya.
  729.  
  730. Both empires too weak after their
  731. own long wars to resist the Arabs.
  732.  
  733. They marched into the richest
  734. provinces of the defeated empires.
  735.  
  736. And less than five years
  737. after the death of Mohammed,
  738.  
  739. they set their eyes
  740. upon the Promised Land.
  741.  
  742. The land flowing
  743. with milk and honey.
  744.  
  745. The land that God
  746. had promised to the Jews.
  747.  
  748. Now the Arabs had come to claim
  749. that birthright for themselves.
  750.  
  751. The Children of Israel
  752. had made it a Jewish land.
  753.  
  754. The Romans had made it
  755. a Christian holy land.
  756.  
  757. If the Arabs did arrive
  758. with a new religion,
  759.  
  760. then we should be able
  761. to find its imprint here.
  762.  
  763. Contemporary Christian sources
  764. confirmed that, late in the 630s,
  765.  
  766. the Arabs took over Jerusalem
  767. by peaceful negotiation.
  768.  
  769. What they don't say
  770.  
  771. is what the conquerors'
  772. religion was.
  773.  
  774. The truth of the matter
  775. is we don't know
  776.  
  777. what was the true religion
  778. of the first Arab conquerors.
  779.  
  780. We have a problem because this
  781. group of people from Arabia is tiny.
  782.  
  783. They are ruling over
  784. much larger populations,
  785.  
  786. who are very well versed
  787. theologically,
  788.  
  789. of Christians and Jews
  790. and Zoroastrians,
  791.  
  792. very sophisticated religious ideas.
  793.  
  794. Why would these populations
  795. not have risen up in rebellion
  796.  
  797. against their Muslim rulers if these
  798. Muslim rulers are trying to impose
  799.  
  800. something totally different that was
  801. hostile to their own beliefs?
  802.  
  803. What were the Arabs up to?
  804. What were their motives?
  805.  
  806. We know they called themselves
  807. believers, but believers in what?
  808.  
  809. Certain Christian contemporaries
  810. tell us that the Arabs believed
  811.  
  812. in a single god and that
  813. they followed a guide or instructor.
  814.  
  815. But, in general, their understanding
  816. of what the Arabs believed
  817.  
  818. was deeply confused.
  819.  
  820. Was it a form of Judaism
  821. or some kind of Christianity?
  822.  
  823. Did they have a whole new religion
  824. of their own?
  825.  
  826. For the Jews,
  827. as well as for the Christians,
  828.  
  829. these are people
  830. coming from the desert.
  831.  
  832. They don't know who these people are.
  833.  
  834. They don't really know what
  835. they believe. They hear things.
  836.  
  837. But perhaps there was a clue.
  838.  
  839. At first, the new Arab rulers
  840. seemed closer to the Jews.
  841.  
  842. They weren't interested
  843. in the Christian holy places.
  844.  
  845. Instead, they began praying on
  846. the ruins of the old Jewish Temple.
  847.  
  848. All this only added
  849. to the Christian sense of paranoia.
  850.  
  851. Behind the invasion of the Arabs,
  852.  
  853. they began to suspect
  854. a Jewish conspiracy.
  855.  
  856. The moment the Arabs
  857. took over Jerusalem,
  858.  
  859. they headed straight up here
  860. to what then, as now,
  861.  
  862. is a broad, open,
  863. man-made esplanade.
  864.  
  865. The holiest place for Jews
  866. anywhere in the world.
  867.  
  868. The fact the Arab conquerors
  869. came up here
  870.  
  871. and started building a prayer hall
  872. on such a sensitive spot,
  873.  
  874. inevitably served
  875. to raise quite a few eyebrows.
  876.  
  877. The Jews hope that these Arabs
  878. from the desert come as liberators.
  879.  
  880. They permitted the Jews to come back
  881. to the Temple Mount and pray there.
  882.  
  883. And the Jews started
  884. believing that, maybe,
  885.  
  886. there is something Messianic
  887. in these people,
  888.  
  889. and maybe their leader
  890. is the Messiah,
  891.  
  892. who will permit them
  893. to rebuild the temple.
  894.  
  895. Christian theologians,
  896. who speak about the Arab conquerors
  897.  
  898. find it very hard to understand
  899.  
  900. that they are dealing
  901. with a new religion.
  902.  
  903. Who are they?
  904.  
  905. One thing is absolutely clear.
  906.  
  907. Nobody had any notion that the Arabs
  908. were doing what they were doing
  909.  
  910. in the name of a freshly minted
  911. and coherent new religion.
  912.  
  913. Still less that what they were doing
  914. was in the name of something
  915.  
  916. called Islam.
  917.  
  918. So, did Islam even exist
  919. in those early years after Mohammed?
  920.  
  921. In Jerusalem, 30 years after the
  922. conquest, it was business as usual.
  923.  
  924. There were Christian pilgrims
  925. in the streets.
  926.  
  927. The churches were full.
  928.  
  929. Ancient religions were practising
  930. their ancient rites.
  931.  
  932. But where was the prophet
  933. in all this?
  934.  
  935. 30 years after the death
  936. of Mohammed, here in Jerusalem,
  937.  
  938. an Arab warlord called Muawiyah
  939.  
  940. was hailed as leader
  941. of the new Arab empire.
  942.  
  943. But if Muawiyah was a Muslim, he
  944. showed precious little sign of it.
  945.  
  946. The astonishing thing is
  947. that nowhere,
  948.  
  949. not on his inscriptions,
  950. not on his coins,
  951.  
  952. not on any of his documents,
  953.  
  954. is there so much as
  955. a single mention of Mohammed.
  956.  
  957. 'I've been trying to trace
  958. the origins of Islam.
  959.  
  960. 'But it's a bigger mystery
  961. than I'd every imagined.
  962.  
  963. 'This is the holy book of Islam.
  964.  
  965. 'And it's the earliest source
  966. for Islam that we have.
  967.  
  968. 'Find out where the Qur'an
  969. was composed
  970.  
  971. 'and you find out
  972. where Mohammed was operating
  973.  
  974. 'and then you get a picture
  975. of where Islam might have begun.
  976.  
  977. 'In the Qur'an,
  978.  
  979. 'it tells Mohammed
  980. to follow the path trod by Abraham.
  981.  
  982. 'Maybe that's the place
  983. to start looking.'
  984.  
  985. I'm in Hebron which is a town
  986. on the West Bank
  987.  
  988. and I'm currently
  989. in a Jewish settlement.
  990.  
  991. But Hebron is also
  992. very much a Palestinian city,
  993.  
  994. and so the atmosphere here is
  995. probably as tense as it is anywhere
  996.  
  997. between Israelis and Palestinians.
  998.  
  999. There are Israeli soldiers here
  1000. with very large guns.
  1001.  
  1002. And what they're guarding is this,
  1003.  
  1004. the burial place of Abraham.
  1005.  
  1006. (SINGS PRAYER)
  1007.  
  1008. 'Abraham, through the line
  1009. of his son Isaac
  1010.  
  1011. 'was the father of the Jews.
  1012.  
  1013. 'When everyone else was still pagan,
  1014.  
  1015. 'Abraham worshipped
  1016. the one true God.
  1017.  
  1018. 'And, for this, God rewarded him
  1019.  
  1020. 'and his descendants
  1021. with the Promised Land,
  1022.  
  1023. 'part of which, today,
  1024. goes by the name of Israel.
  1025.  
  1026. 'This is the tomb of Abraham.
  1027.  
  1028. 'And the reason
  1029. that the soldiers are here
  1030.  
  1031. 'is that these are not
  1032. the only people
  1033.  
  1034. 'who regard him as their ancestor.
  1035.  
  1036. 'And they're not the only people
  1037. who believe that God gave them
  1038.  
  1039. 'the Promised Land.
  1040.  
  1041. 'On the other side of the grill
  1042. are Muslims.
  1043.  
  1044. 'And they tell a different story.
  1045.  
  1046. 'This is the Muslim side
  1047. and the reason they revere Abraham
  1048.  
  1049. 'is because, as well as Isaac,
  1050. he had another son.
  1051.  
  1052. 'Ishmael, the father of the Arabs.'
  1053.  
  1054. < This is the tomb of Abraham that
  1055. we saw earlier from the Jewish side.
  1056.  
  1057. < But we're now looking at it
  1058. from the Muslim side.
  1059.  
  1060. < The significance of Abraham
  1061.  
  1062. and this association that was made
  1063. between Arabs and Ishmaelites,
  1064.  
  1065. the children of Ishmael, is actually
  1066. much older than Islam itself.
  1067.  
  1068. It remains central to Islam
  1069. to this day.
  1070.  
  1071. According to Muslims,
  1072. Abraham is their prophet
  1073.  
  1074. and the religion he founded
  1075. was not the religion of the Jews,
  1076.  
  1077. but Islam.
  1078.  
  1079. And in the Qur'an, we read
  1080. that Ishmael helped Abraham
  1081.  
  1082. to build a house of God
  1083. at a place called Bakkah.
  1084.  
  1085. 'Neither the Qur'an
  1086. nor any contemporary source
  1087.  
  1088. 'actually specifies
  1089. where Bakkah was,
  1090.  
  1091. 'but Muslims, now, would have
  1092. absolutely no doubt
  1093.  
  1094. 'that Bakkah is another name for
  1095. a place deep in the Arabian deserts.
  1096.  
  1097. 'Mecca.
  1098.  
  1099. 'The holiest city in Islam.
  1100.  
  1101. 'The birthplace of Mohammed .
  1102.  
  1103. 'This is the largest mosque
  1104. in the world.
  1105.  
  1106. 'At its centre,
  1107.  
  1108. 'the Kaaba, the House of God.
  1109.  
  1110. 'First built by Abraham
  1111. and his son Ishmael
  1112.  
  1113. 'on foundations laid
  1114. by the first man, Adam.
  1115.  
  1116. 'It is older and holier
  1117.  
  1118. 'than anywhere else in the world.
  1119.  
  1120. 'It was in the hills above the city
  1121.  
  1122. 'that Mohammed received the first
  1123. of his revelations from God.
  1124.  
  1125. 'These revelations would form
  1126. the holy book of Islam,
  1127.  
  1128. 'the Qur'an,
  1129.  
  1130. 'the very word of God.
  1131.  
  1132. 'Mecca...
  1133.  
  1134. 'is where Muslims believe
  1135. everything began.
  1136.  
  1137. 'The crossroads of faith
  1138.  
  1139. 'and history.
  1140.  
  1141. 'Surely here then, you would think,
  1142.  
  1143. 'we could find solid evidence
  1144. for Islam's beginnings.
  1145.  
  1146. 'But there is a problem.
  1147.  
  1148. 'Aside from a single, ambiguous
  1149. mention in the Qur'an itself,
  1150.  
  1151. 'there is no mention of Mecca,
  1152.  
  1153. 'not one,
  1154.  
  1155. 'in any datable text for over
  1156. 100 years after Mohammed 's death.'
  1157.  
  1158. How can we know that Mohammed
  1159. does come from Mecca?
  1160.  
  1161. We can't.
  1162.  
  1163. But, on the other hand,
  1164. if he doesn't come from there,
  1165.  
  1166. you'd have to come up
  1167. with a plausible alternative
  1168.  
  1169. for where he might have come from and
  1170. why would you want to take that on?
  1171.  
  1172. 'Why do they go on?
  1173.  
  1174. 'Well, you know,
  1175. it's what historians do.
  1176.  
  1177. If things don't fit, you try
  1178. something else that might fit.
  1179.  
  1180. Here we go.
  1181.  
  1182. So this is it?
  1183.  
  1184. Yeah, here we are.
  1185.  
  1186. 'In the Qur'an, the
  1187. faithful are instructed to prayer
  1188.  
  1189. 'in the direction
  1190. of a holy sanctuary.
  1191.  
  1192. 'But what it doesn't ever say is
  1193. that this sanctuary stood at Mecca.
  1194.  
  1195. 'And, to some archaeologists,
  1196.  
  1197. 'a few early mosques
  1198. suggest something different.'
  1199.  
  1200. We're talking about
  1201. one of the earliest examples
  1202.  
  1203. of a mosque.
  1204.  
  1205. And you date it
  1206. 100 years after Mohammed ?
  1207.  
  1208. Somewhere within 100 years or so.
  1209.  
  1210. Because here, as we go into it,
  1211. you can see.
  1212.  
  1213. This is it?
  1214.  
  1215. This is it?
  1216.  
  1217. This is it, yeah.
  1218.  
  1219. This is the mosque?
  1220.  
  1221. This is the mosque.
  1222.  
  1223. And what you can...
  1224.  
  1225. And what you can...
  1226.  
  1227. It's...
  1228.  
  1229. What you can see here.
  1230.  
  1231. What you can see here.
  1232.  
  1233. (LAUGHS)
  1234.  
  1235. We have an apse which is not facing
  1236. Mecca, it's not facing the south.
  1237.  
  1238. It's actually facing
  1239. towards the east. >
  1240.  
  1241. Towards the sun rising. >
  1242.  
  1243. This is an example of the time
  1244.  
  1245. before the direction had
  1246. actually been preferred
  1247.  
  1248. towards Mecca. >
  1249.  
  1250. So the implication of that is that,
  1251. at this early stage of Islam,
  1252.  
  1253. < the focus of prayer has not yet
  1254. been absolutely fixed?
  1255.  
  1256. The direction of prayer had not been
  1257. well-established yet. >
  1258.  
  1259. So it's bit like
  1260. the concrete hasn't yet set.
  1261.  
  1262. So it's bit like
  1263. the concrete hasn't yet set.
  1264.  
  1265. Yeah. >
  1266.  
  1267. You can still play with it,
  1268. you can still fiddle around with it,
  1269.  
  1270. you can experiment with it.
  1271.  
  1272. you can experiment with it.
  1273.  
  1274. Very much so. >
  1275.  
  1276. Yeah. Wow.
  1277.  
  1278. 'Not a decisive clue perhaps.
  1279.  
  1280. 'But it is suggestive that,
  1281.  
  1282. 'even though there are
  1283. no Muslim sources,
  1284.  
  1285. 'there are reports
  1286. from Christian writers of the time
  1287.  
  1288. 'that the Arab conquerors bowed
  1289. their heads in prayer
  1290.  
  1291. 'not in the direction of Mecca,
  1292.  
  1293. 'but in a quite different direction,
  1294.  
  1295. 'somewhere further north.
  1296.  
  1297. 'In the Qur'an...
  1298.  
  1299. 'it never actually states
  1300. that Mohammed lived in Mecca.
  1301.  
  1302. 'Nor that Mecca was where
  1303. the first revelations took place.'
  1304.  
  1305. < Does the material in the Qur'an
  1306. point to Mecca being the setting
  1307.  
  1308. for God's revelations
  1309. to Mohammed ?
  1310.  
  1311. No, it doesn't.
  1312.  
  1313. 'I mean,
  1314. there is mention of a sanctuary,
  1315.  
  1316. 'there is a sanctuary, for sure.'
  1317.  
  1318. Where is that sanctuary,
  1319. that's, of course, we can't tell.
  1320.  
  1321. It's devilishly difficult to,
  1322.  
  1323. sort of, extract what the context
  1324. might have been from the text itself.
  1325.  
  1326. 'In Muslim tradition,
  1327. the people of Mecca are pagans,
  1328.  
  1329. 'worshippers of idols.
  1330.  
  1331. 'But, in fact...
  1332.  
  1333. 'the people the Qur'an describes
  1334.  
  1335. 'have a deep
  1336. and sophisticated knowledge
  1337.  
  1338. 'of the biblical tradition.'
  1339.  
  1340. The Qur'an retells biblical stories
  1341. and alludes to biblical stories,
  1342.  
  1343. not just biblical,
  1344. but also post-biblical developments.
  1345.  
  1346. 'All this is clearly known
  1347. to the audience.'
  1348.  
  1349. It suggests that what we have is
  1350. a kind of response, on a part of,
  1351.  
  1352. let us say, Mohammed to the debates
  1353. that were going on
  1354.  
  1355. in Christian
  1356. and Jewish communities. >
  1357.  
  1358. Where they were debating
  1359. theological issues and questions
  1360.  
  1361. that come out of the Hebrew Bible
  1362. and come out of the New Testament.
  1363.  
  1364. And the Qur'an seems to be
  1365. an effort to engage in the discussion
  1366.  
  1367. and so there's a strong connection >
  1368.  
  1369. with Late Antique
  1370. religious discourses
  1371.  
  1372. that were alive
  1373. throughout the Near East.
  1374.  
  1375. 'So it's obviously not a pagan world
  1376. we're looking for.
  1377.  
  1378. 'The people in the Qur'an worship
  1379. a single god.
  1380.  
  1381. 'But it then accuses them
  1382. of praying to beings other than God.
  1383.  
  1384. 'And there's something else.
  1385.  
  1386. 'The people the Prophet addresses
  1387. in the Qur'an are farmers,
  1388.  
  1389. 'agriculturalists, but there was
  1390. no agriculture in Mecca.'
  1391.  
  1392. 'Mecca does not have
  1393. an agrarian base.'
  1394.  
  1395. In Mecca, it seems to have been
  1396. quite an arid valley.
  1397.  
  1398. If Mecca is this barren,
  1399. infertile place,
  1400.  
  1401. how is it that, in the Qur'an,
  1402. the opponents of the Prophet
  1403.  
  1404. are described as keeping cattle
  1405. and growing olives and vines?
  1406.  
  1407. 'Hm, good question.
  1408.  
  1409. 'This is one of the reasons
  1410. why some scholars feel
  1411.  
  1412. 'that the text of the Qur'an is
  1413. really plugged in to, say, Syria.'
  1414.  
  1415. 'Because that's where vines
  1416. and olives grow.'
  1417.  
  1418. 'Because that's where vines
  1419. and olives grow.'
  1420.  
  1421. 'Yeah.'
  1422.  
  1423. 'Much further north.'
  1424.  
  1425. Geographical, Syria. You don't find
  1426. olive trees in Mecca.
  1427.  
  1428. 'So if Mecca wasn't
  1429. the starting point of Islam,
  1430.  
  1431. 'what was?
  1432.  
  1433. 'If you're following the clues
  1434. in the Qur'an itself...
  1435.  
  1436. 'then you're looking for a landscape
  1437. inhabited by olive-growing Arabs,
  1438.  
  1439. 'who have a deep knowledge
  1440. of the biblical tradition,
  1441.  
  1442. 'but whose worship of a single god
  1443.  
  1444. 'might seem, to some,
  1445. a little shop-soiled.
  1446.  
  1447. 'This is the city of Avdat,
  1448.  
  1449. 'in the Negev Desert.
  1450.  
  1451. 'Back in the early 7th century,
  1452.  
  1453. 'it was an Arab city on the very
  1454. fringes of the Roman Empire.
  1455.  
  1456. 'Nominally Christian, but with
  1457. hints of a recently pagan past.'
  1458.  
  1459. There can be no doubt that this is
  1460. a Christian place of worship.
  1461.  
  1462. There are two crosses
  1463. on the ceiling.
  1464.  
  1465. But there's also something
  1466. very interesting in the corner,
  1467.  
  1468. which is a bull complete with horns.
  1469.  
  1470. < And the bull is an image that,
  1471. very probably,
  1472.  
  1473. is drawn from much older,
  1474. native Arab pagan traditions.
  1475.  
  1476. That doesn't mean
  1477. that the Christians who built this
  1478.  
  1479. were, themselves, pagan,
  1480. but it does mean, I think,
  1481.  
  1482. that they are giving
  1483. their monotheism,
  1484.  
  1485. their belief in a single god,
  1486. a little bit of pagan colour.
  1487.  
  1488. And that, essentially, is the crime
  1489. that Mohammed, in the Qur'an,
  1490.  
  1491. < seems to be accusing
  1492. his opponents of.
  1493.  
  1494. 'But Avdat had more than
  1495. the right religious complexion.
  1496.  
  1497. 'It also had agriculture
  1498. and olives.'
  1499.  
  1500. In the lifetime of Mohammed,
  1501. all this would have been green.
  1502.  
  1503. It would have been agricultural
  1504. fields as far as the eye can see.
  1505.  
  1506. Archaeology leaves no doubt
  1507.  
  1508. that there was a sophisticated
  1509. irrigation system here
  1510.  
  1511. that really did make
  1512. the desert bloom.
  1513.  
  1514. And so, while that doesn't mean
  1515. that this Avdat
  1516.  
  1517. is the actual spot
  1518. where the Qur'an was composed,
  1519.  
  1520. it does imply, I think,
  1521. that the region, as a whole,
  1522.  
  1523. seems to fit the wider context
  1524. of the Qur'an
  1525.  
  1526. better than somewhere
  1527. much further south,
  1528.  
  1529. in the arid region of Mecca.
  1530.  
  1531. 'When you read through
  1532. and through the Qur'an,
  1533.  
  1534. 'what's really striking,
  1535. as compared, say, to the Bible,
  1536.  
  1537. 'which is full of allusions
  1538. to recognisable landscapes
  1539.  
  1540. 'that we know.
  1541.  
  1542. 'In the Qur'an, it's an effort
  1543. to find an allusion to any landscape
  1544.  
  1545. 'or natural setting
  1546. that we could actually pin down.
  1547.  
  1548. 'In fact,
  1549. in the whole of the Qur'an,
  1550.  
  1551. 'there's really only
  1552. the one exception.
  1553.  
  1554. 'Not far from Avdat,
  1555.  
  1556. 'a strange hint about
  1557. where the Qur'an might actually
  1558.  
  1559. 'have come from.'
  1560.  
  1561. We are on the southernmost shores
  1562. of the Dead Sea.
  1563.  
  1564. Between, what is now,
  1565. Israel and Jordan.
  1566.  
  1567. Lot was the nephew of Abraham
  1568.  
  1569. and he went to settle down
  1570. in a city called Sodom.
  1571.  
  1572. And the people of Sodom
  1573. were notoriously racy.
  1574.  
  1575. Unsurprisingly,
  1576. this provoked the wrath of God.
  1577.  
  1578. He destroyed his city and this is
  1579. said to be the remains of Sodom,
  1580.  
  1581. where the anger of God
  1582. was poured down upon it.
  1583.  
  1584. And the Qur'an,
  1585.  
  1586. "So also was Lot
  1587. among those sent by us.
  1588.  
  1589. "Behold, we delivered him
  1590. and his adherents,
  1591.  
  1592. "all except an old woman who was
  1593. among those who lagged behind.
  1594.  
  1595. "Then we destroyed the rest.
  1596.  
  1597. "Truly, you pass by their sites
  1598. by day and by night."
  1599.  
  1600. 'But if the people being addressed
  1601. by the Prophet
  1602.  
  1603. 'are passing this place
  1604. by day and by night,
  1605.  
  1606. 'then what's it doing here?
  1607.  
  1608. '1,000 kilometres from Mecca.
  1609.  
  1610. 'In terms of someone
  1611. who is looking for clues...
  1612.  
  1613. '..you are very much in the
  1614. situation of someone who is panning
  1615. for gold.
  1616.  
  1617. 'And I think that this passage
  1618. is just one little fleck.
  1619.  
  1620. 'I mean, there is one possibility,
  1621. of course,
  1622.  
  1623. 'which is that this one fragment
  1624. originated in this neighbourhood.
  1625.  
  1626. 'Perhaps the rest came
  1627. from elsewhere.
  1628.  
  1629. 'But that then begs the question
  1630.  
  1631. 'of where all the various component
  1632. parts of the Qur'an are coming from.
  1633.  
  1634. 'Are they necessarily
  1635. to be attributed
  1636.  
  1637. 'to one person living at one time?
  1638.  
  1639. 'Again, when you start asking
  1640. that question,
  1641.  
  1642. 'it's very hard
  1643. to know how far to push it.'
  1644.  
  1645. 'It's from the West
  1646. that this kind of history came up.'
  1647.  
  1648. That its reason is our ultimate
  1649. decider and judge of the truth.
  1650.  
  1651. 'But what I'm saying is that those
  1652. are not really going to give you
  1653.  
  1654. 'the reason
  1655. that is logically satisfying.'
  1656.  
  1657. < Where do you think the likeliest
  1658. place of its origin is?
  1659.  
  1660. < Where do you think the likeliest
  1661. place of its origin is?
  1662.  
  1663. Ah.
  1664.  
  1665. Well. That, I don't know.
  1666.  
  1667. (LAUGHS)
  1668.  
  1669. That, I don't know.
  1670.  
  1671. Er, I don't think
  1672. I should speculate on that.
  1673.  
  1674. OK. All right. (LAUGHS)
  1675.  
  1676. OK.
  1677.  
  1678. 'My greatest fear is
  1679. that I'm completely wrong.
  1680.  
  1681. 'I do sometimes wake up
  1682. in the middle of the night
  1683.  
  1684. 'and think I've got it
  1685. completely wrong.'
  1686.  
  1687. 'Once the world is reduced
  1688.  
  1689. 'to a mechanical world,'
  1690.  
  1691. then all other levels of reality
  1692.  
  1693. lose their status as being real.
  1694.  
  1695. And they're relegated to the realm
  1696. of so-called superstition.
  1697.  
  1698. 'And what is not seen...
  1699.  
  1700. 'is considered not to exist.'
  1701.  
  1702. Trying to track the origins of Islam
  1703. has been like chasing a mirage.
  1704.  
  1705. The Arabs conquer half the world,
  1706.  
  1707. but they don't talk about Muhammad.
  1708.  
  1709. There's no mention of Mecca.
  1710.  
  1711. So what do they do
  1712. in detective stories?
  1713.  
  1714. They follow the money.
  1715.  
  1716. Are any of these,
  1717.  
  1718. what's the first coin
  1719. that actually mentions
  1720.  
  1721. the name of the Prophet Muhammad
  1722. on the coins?
  1723.  
  1724. Do any of these coins
  1725. mention Muhammad by name?
  1726.  
  1727. (INDISTINCT)
  1728.  
  1729. Yeah, but is the name
  1730. of the Prophet Muhammad mentioned?
  1731.  
  1732. No, no.
  1733.  
  1734. Every coin tells a story.
  1735.  
  1736. Every inscription
  1737. conveys an idea of power.
  1738.  
  1739. But sometimes,
  1740. what's not on the coin
  1741.  
  1742. can be just as significant
  1743. as what is.
  1744.  
  1745. It would be nice to see the earliest
  1746. coin that mentions Muhammad.
  1747.  
  1748. The earliest coin that has
  1749. Muhammad's name, they don't have it.
  1750.  
  1751. It's just, it's odd that we're 60
  1752. years on from the death of Muhammad,
  1753.  
  1754. and no mention of Muhammad.
  1755.  
  1756. For nearly 60 years,
  1757.  
  1758. the rulers of the Arab empire
  1759. didn't put Muhammad on their coins.
  1760.  
  1761. And then they did.
  1762.  
  1763. Maybe, 60 years
  1764. was what they needed
  1765.  
  1766. to work out what the story
  1767. really was.
  1768.  
  1769. Maybe the issue isn't why
  1770. Muhammad was not on the coinage
  1771.  
  1772. at the beginning, but
  1773. how he got there in the end.
  1774.  
  1775. What if I've been asking
  1776. the wrong question?
  1777.  
  1778. What if it wasn't Islam
  1779. that gave birth to the Arab empire?
  1780.  
  1781. But the Arab empire
  1782. that gave birth to Islam?
  1783.  
  1784. The Empire was rich
  1785. beyond imagining.
  1786.  
  1787. By the mid-680s, it stretched
  1788. from northern Persia to Egypt
  1789.  
  1790. and North Africa.
  1791.  
  1792. But who had the right to rule it?
  1793.  
  1794. A vital question on which
  1795. the Arabs could not agree.
  1796.  
  1797. And with so much to play for,
  1798. they began to turn upon themselves.
  1799.  
  1800. It's 680.
  1801.  
  1802. 50 years on
  1803. from the death of Muhammad.
  1804.  
  1805. A deadly spiral of rebellion
  1806.  
  1807. and civil war is threatening
  1808. the Arab empire with implosion.
  1809.  
  1810. And from deep within
  1811. the Arabian Desert,
  1812.  
  1813. a new claimant
  1814. to the empire emerges.
  1815.  
  1816. His name?
  1817.  
  1818. Abdullah Ibn Al-Zubair.
  1819.  
  1820. And Ibn Al-Zubair
  1821. is going to change the game.
  1822.  
  1823. What I've got here is the coin
  1824. that I was looking for
  1825.  
  1826. in the Coin Museum.
  1827.  
  1828. And it's stamped, quite literally,
  1829. with the genius of Ibn Al-Zubair.
  1830.  
  1831. It was struck in 685, 686,
  1832.  
  1833. so that's more than half a century
  1834. after the death of Muhammad.
  1835.  
  1836. And it bears a novel
  1837. and fateful slogan,
  1838.  
  1839. "In the name of God,
  1840. Muhammad is the prophet of God."
  1841.  
  1842. And so here, at last,
  1843. emerging from out of the black hole,
  1844.  
  1845. we get a mention
  1846. of a Muhammad who is a prophet.
  1847.  
  1848. And this is the first time
  1849. we have it on any inscription,
  1850.  
  1851. any surviving document.
  1852.  
  1853. Ibn Al-Zubair had essentially
  1854. realised what Constantine,
  1855.  
  1856. the first Christian Roman emperor,
  1857. have realised long before him,
  1858.  
  1859. that it was no good the Lord
  1860. of an earthly empire
  1861.  
  1862. laying claim to the favour of God,
  1863.  
  1864. unless he could absolutely
  1865. demonstrate the cast-iron basis
  1866.  
  1867. on which he was making that claim.
  1868.  
  1869. And Constantine, in his attempt
  1870. to obtain that sanction,
  1871.  
  1872. had turned to the Christian church.
  1873.  
  1874. But Ibn Al-Zubair
  1875. turns to the figure of Muhammad.
  1876.  
  1877. Now, as it happens, Ibn Al-Zubair
  1878. loses the civil war,
  1879.  
  1880. he is defeated by a rival warlord
  1881.  
  1882. who lays claim
  1883. to the empire of the Arabs.
  1884.  
  1885. But the discovery
  1886. that the name of Muhammad
  1887.  
  1888. can be used to buttress earthly
  1889. power, that is not forgotten.
  1890.  
  1891. The civil war had been
  1892. a very close-run thing.
  1893.  
  1894. And the victorious warlord,
  1895. Abd al-Malik,
  1896.  
  1897. had no intention of ever again
  1898. allowing Muhammad's legacy
  1899.  
  1900. to fall into the hands
  1901. of a dangerous rival.
  1902.  
  1903. The Romans had known
  1904. all about religion and power.
  1905.  
  1906. When they had become Christian,
  1907.  
  1908. they had redrawn
  1909. the map of Jerusalem.
  1910.  
  1911. Now, Abd al-Malik set about
  1912. fashioning a holy city of his own.
  1913.  
  1914. God, it's beautiful.
  1915.  
  1916. The dome of the rock.
  1917.  
  1918. It's the oldest Islamic
  1919. building in existence.
  1920.  
  1921. In design, it was Roman,
  1922.  
  1923. and Abd al-Malik was doing
  1924. something else that was Roman.
  1925.  
  1926. Plugging his dominion
  1927. into the power of God.
  1928.  
  1929. On the walls, there is
  1930. an unequivocal mission statement.
  1931.  
  1932. "Religion, in the eyes of God,
  1933. is Islam."
  1934.  
  1935. There are mentions of Muhammad,
  1936. quotations from the Koran.
  1937.  
  1938. At last, something that
  1939. we can recognise unmistakably
  1940.  
  1941. as a new religion.
  1942.  
  1943. There is a sense here
  1944. of something new coming into being.
  1945.  
  1946. There is the sense of the old, the
  1947. Roman-style pillars and the mosaics.
  1948.  
  1949. And yet, this is clearly not Roman,
  1950. this is clearly not Christian,
  1951.  
  1952. this is the beginning
  1953. of something very, very potent.
  1954.  
  1955. A harbinger of a spectacular future.
  1956.  
  1957. It was built on the very site
  1958. of the old Jewish Temple.
  1959.  
  1960. Down here,
  1961. the foundation stone of the world.
  1962.  
  1963. The very junction
  1964. of heaven and earth.
  1965.  
  1966. This is quite possibly
  1967. one of the most awesome places
  1968.  
  1969. on the entire planet.
  1970.  
  1971. It is deeply, deeply holy,
  1972.  
  1973. not to one,
  1974. but to two great religions.
  1975.  
  1976. It's the place where Jews
  1977. believe God inhabits the Earth,
  1978.  
  1979. the holy of holies, the Shekhinah.
  1980.  
  1981. And to Muslims, it is the cave
  1982. that Muhammad prayed in
  1983.  
  1984. after being brought here from Mecca
  1985. before he ascended to heaven
  1986.  
  1987. to be confirmed
  1988. as the seal of the prophets.
  1989.  
  1990. So in religious terms, this
  1991. is like a sort of nuclear reactor,
  1992.  
  1993. firing out isotopes and power.
  1994.  
  1995. It's certainly
  1996. a very grand statement,
  1997.  
  1998. that we Muslims
  1999. have superseded you Jews.
  2000.  
  2001. And we have superseded you Christians
  2002.  
  2003. by being filled with inscriptions
  2004.  
  2005. directed against
  2006. Christian Trinitarian beliefs.
  2007.  
  2008. So it's Muslims saying,
  2009. we are here, we've come to stay,
  2010.  
  2011. and we are the winners.
  2012.  
  2013. Abd al-Malik now rules his empire
  2014. as the deputy of God,
  2015.  
  2016. just as the Christian
  2017. Roman emperors had done.
  2018.  
  2019. And like the Roman emperors, he has
  2020. built a house of God in Jerusalem.
  2021.  
  2022. But Abd al-Malik, Lord of Jerusalem
  2023. though he is, is also an Arab.
  2024.  
  2025. Perhaps for Arabs, Jerusalem,
  2026. for all its ancient
  2027.  
  2028. and unrivalled potency,
  2029.  
  2030. owed too much to the Jews
  2031. and Christians to stand alone
  2032.  
  2033. as the holy city
  2034. of the new Arab empire.
  2035.  
  2036. A poet at Abd al-Malik's court
  2037. describes him
  2038.  
  2039. as the Lord of two houses,
  2040. sacred to God.
  2041.  
  2042. One in Jerusalem,
  2043.  
  2044. and one, well,
  2045. he doesn't say where it is.
  2046.  
  2047. And for 100 years
  2048. after the death of Muhammad,
  2049.  
  2050. no-one says where it is.
  2051.  
  2052. All sources go on calling it
  2053. "A place in the desert."
  2054.  
  2055. It's a sanctuary in the desert,
  2056. without giving it a name.
  2057.  
  2058. And at some point, this sanctuary
  2059. must have been fixed at Mecca,
  2060.  
  2061. in the middle of the desert.
  2062.  
  2063. But why?
  2064.  
  2065. The truth of the matter is,
  2066.  
  2067. we don't know what was the true
  2068. religion of the first Arab cultures.
  2069.  
  2070. It's an Arab story.
  2071.  
  2072. Arabs come from the desert.
  2073.  
  2074. God is speaking to the Arabs.
  2075.  
  2076. They don't want Jews or Christians
  2077. having any influence on Muhammad.
  2078.  
  2079. The Koran is in Arabic,
  2080.  
  2081. the Koran is full
  2082. of characters from the Bible.
  2083.  
  2084. But if the book
  2085. came out of the desert,
  2086.  
  2087. how did these characters get there?
  2088.  
  2089. We have nothing.
  2090.  
  2091. We have this one book,
  2092. out of nothing.
  2093.  
  2094. We don't have the key
  2095. that can unlock the tradition.
  2096.  
  2097. But maybe that's the point.
  2098.  
  2099. We're not supposed
  2100. to unlock the tradition.
  2101.  
  2102. God's message comes to a prophet,
  2103. the prophet lives in a desert.
  2104.  
  2105. There is no room for anyone else.
  2106.  
  2107. It's remote.
  2108.  
  2109. It's remote, it's uncontaminated,
  2110. it's pure.
  2111.  
  2112. It's a place where
  2113. we can rule out that Muhammad
  2114.  
  2115. got his ideas from others than God.
  2116.  
  2117. It's interesting that the history
  2118. is very weak
  2119.  
  2120. in being able to provide
  2121. causes for certain effects.
  2122.  
  2123. Not being able to know something
  2124. is no proof that it doesn't exist.
  2125.  
  2126. You begin by looking in the record
  2127. and all you find is emptiness.
  2128.  
  2129. And you end up in the desert
  2130. and all you see is emptiness.
  2131.  
  2132. But perhaps the emptiness
  2133. is the answer.
  2134.  
  2135. Maybe Mecca gave Islam
  2136. what it most needed,
  2137.  
  2138. a blank sheet...
  2139.  
  2140. ..where Muslims
  2141. could put their prophet,
  2142.  
  2143. beyond the reach of history.
  2144.  
  2145. BELL RINGS
  2146.  
  2147. Professor, do you think that what
  2148. I am doing
  2149.  
  2150. is complicit with the brute fact of
  2151. Western imperialism,
  2152.  
  2153. Western hegemony?
  2154.  
  2155. No. Not necessarily.
  2156.  
  2157. As long as you're a man
  2158. aware of what you're doing.
  2159.  
  2160. If you come as a Western
  2161. scholar or historian,
  2162.  
  2163. and in all honesty present what your
  2164. world-view is, and this says,
  2165.  
  2166. "When I look at the Islamic world
  2167. from this paradigm,
  2168.  
  2169. "this is what I see",
  2170.  
  2171. and bring out why this is different
  2172. from how Muslims see themselves,
  2173.  
  2174. that, I think,
  2175. is a very honest effort,
  2176.  
  2177. and is a good effort.
  2178.  
  2179. But if you try to
  2180. act as a doctor to a child,
  2181.  
  2182. "Take this medicine,
  2183. it's good for you.
  2184.  
  2185. "You don't what you're eating,
  2186. the wrong thing.
  2187.  
  2188. "This is how it should be."
  2189.  
  2190. That's where the problem begins.
  2191.  
  2192. And the Muslim world is not
  2193. going to accept that.
  2194.  
  2195. The days when the British would bring
  2196. scholars from England
  2197.  
  2198. to teach Indians how to be Hindus
  2199. and Muslims are finished.
  2200.  
  2201. It's finished.
  2202.  
  2203. BELL RINGS
  2204.  
  2205. It's true, before I began,
  2206. I did have preconceptions.
  2207.  
  2208. I was brought up a Christian,
  2209.  
  2210. but I was also brought
  2211. up in an environment
  2212.  
  2213. that questions everything.
  2214.  
  2215. Studying ancient history is
  2216. a process of paint-stripping,
  2217.  
  2218. tearing away stories that you want
  2219. to believe the literal truth of.
  2220.  
  2221. This is supposed to be Mount Sinai,
  2222. where Moses saw the burning bush,
  2223.  
  2224. where God gave him
  2225. the Ten Commandments,
  2226.  
  2227. but there's no historical
  2228. evidence for any of this.
  2229.  
  2230. Christian monastery, Roman
  2231. fortifications,
  2232.  
  2233. the old partnership, God and Empire,
  2234.  
  2235. between them,
  2236. they turned this place into Sinai.
  2237.  
  2238. In my heart, I want to believe it,
  2239. but my head won't let me.
  2240.  
  2241. We believe that there is a living
  2242. tradition kept by the people here,
  2243.  
  2244. that this is where God had revealed
  2245. himself in an extraordinary way.
  2246.  
  2247. How much would it matter
  2248. if it turned out that this wasn't
  2249.  
  2250. the place where Moses had received
  2251. the Ten Commandments?
  2252.  
  2253. The spiritual encounter with God
  2254. is more important.
  2255.  
  2256. < The reality is there,
  2257.  
  2258. < even if your eyes aren't open to
  2259. see things in actuality.
  2260.  
  2261. God is always present,
  2262. but you're not aware of his presence.
  2263.  
  2264. Ultimately, the City of God matters
  2265. more than the City of Man.
  2266.  
  2267. Yes.
  2268.  
  2269. But as a historian,
  2270.  
  2271. I have to presume that the City
  2272. of God was built by man as well.
  2273.  
  2274. I wanted to map the human
  2275. past in human terms,
  2276.  
  2277. to make a map that fits the facts.
  2278.  
  2279. But I travelled to places where
  2280. the maps revealed a heavenly plan,
  2281.  
  2282. sacred lands,
  2283.  
  2284. sacred places,
  2285.  
  2286. a world where you don't have to
  2287. believe in God
  2288.  
  2289. to feel the power of God.
  2290.  
  2291. This is the Promised Land.
  2292.  
  2293. Some call it Israel,
  2294. some call it Palestine,
  2295.  
  2296. a land where Muslims, Christians
  2297. and Jews still fight over
  2298.  
  2299. the story of a promise made by God
  2300. to Abraham thousands of years ago.
  2301.  
  2302. Was there really a promise?
  2303.  
  2304. It's not for the historian to say.
  2305.  
  2306. But the world believers make
  2307. in the name of God,
  2308.  
  2309. that is what history is about.
  2310.  
  2311. Even today, more people
  2312. die for visions of heaven
  2313.  
  2314. than they ever do
  2315. for historical facts.
  2316.  
  2317. Stories that never happened
  2318. can be infinitely more powerful
  2319.  
  2320. than stories that did.
  2321.  
  2322. I set out to write the story
  2323. of the beginnings of Islam.
  2324.  
  2325. If you're a Muslim,
  2326. then there's no problem,
  2327.  
  2328. everything is explained by God.
  2329. But I'm not a Muslim,
  2330.  
  2331. and I don't think that civilisations
  2332. appear like lightning
  2333.  
  2334. from a clear blue sky.
  2335.  
  2336. What I think now
  2337. is that Islam emerged
  2338.  
  2339. from a whole range of circumstances,
  2340.  
  2341. from the religions and the empires
  2342.  
  2343. and the convulsions of the world
  2344. that witnessed its birth.
  2345.  
  2346. And yes, of course,
  2347. it is still the case,
  2348.  
  2349. the black hole that surrounds
  2350. Islam's beginnings
  2351.  
  2352. doesn't give up
  2353. its secrets easily.
  2354.  
  2355. But maybe we are getting somewhere.
  2356.  
  2357. The search for the historical
  2358. Mohammed,
  2359.  
  2360. for the origins of the Koran,
  2361.  
  2362. for the whereabouts of the first
  2363. sanctuary,
  2364.  
  2365. for the way Islam evolved
  2366. out of the Arab Empire,
  2367.  
  2368. these are pieces of a whole
  2369. new story.
  2370.  
  2371. Subtitles by
  2372. Red Bee Media Ltd
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