Tag Archives: Islam: The Untold Story

Mohammed Shafiq’s Dangerous Game


I avoided mentioning Mohammed Shafiq when writing about When Tommy Met Mo. Time to rectify as he shows a blatant willingness to take out of context what someone has said.

Maajid Nawaz of Quilliam has just written a succinct article in The Daily Mail on Islam and wearing the veil in the UK:

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that we have allowed a form of discrimination to creep in against everyone but those who wear the veil. Yes, women should be free to cover their faces when walking down the street. But in our schools, hospitals, airports, banks and civil institutions, it is not unreasonable – nor contrary to the teachings of Islam – to expect women to show the one thing that allows the rest of us to identify them .  .  . namely their face. [Daily Mail]

The article is nuanced and does not go into a more controversial discussion of whether such total face coverings are demeaning and misogynistic as I do here, but the legal, security and exemptions which exist within Islamic thought to allow it’s removal for identification. No ban is mentioned.

Enter Mohammed Shafiq, who in the When Tommy met Mo documentary said slavery mentioned in the Koran did not include sexual slavery, shouting down Tommy that he was attacking Islam to say it did. Despite that other Islamic theologians say it does include that too, Shafiq claimed the verse was being taken out of context.


Nine hours later there is no apology from Shafiq for misrepresenting Nawaz’s thoughts, taking them out of context. Nor seeking to clarify his own meaning. Only an assertion he has the right to challenge his views.

Thing is, that might be helped if they actually were Nawaz’s views.

Shafiq has form here. He wrote a complaint about Tom Holland’s documentary Islam: The Untold Story (which you can watch here).

      Ramadhan Foundation
      Contact: Mohammed Shafiq
      Embargo: Immediate Tuesday 28th August 2012 23:00
      Published: Tuesday 28th August 2012 23:00
      Mr. Mohammed Shafiq, Chief Executive of the Ramadhan Foundation comments:
      “I strongly condemn Channel 4’s documentary tonight titled “Islam, untold story” which makes a mockery of impartial and objective broadcasting. This distorted, biased programme did not have the decency to check its facts and has broadcast lies. I am disappointed that an international broadcaster like Channel 4 has behaved in unbelievable way.
      There are thousands of Muslims scholars across the globe including many in locations where Tom Holland visited during the programme but he did not see fit to speak to them and therefore I draw the conclusion he did not want the real truth but wanted to promote his utter rubbish.
      For instance he said Mecca was never mentioned in the Holy Quran, but in reality it is mentioned two times; Al- Azhab Chapter 33 Verse 6, Al Fath Chapter 48 Verse 24. There is also a mention of the Kaaba and Sacred Mecca Mosque in the Quran in Surah Al Isra Chapter 17 verse 1. A simple search would have produced this but his desire to distort Islam blinded him to objectivity and honesty. He featured evidence from a number of University Professors who happened not to be Muslim when he could have gone to any Muslim Scholar and asked his questions and would have got the answers.
      I have asked several senior Muslims Scholars in the United Kingdom to watch the programme and identify all the inaccuracies which we will forward to relevant authorities for action as detailed in our complaints.
      There is a desire amongst some people trying to change or discredit Islam whether its politicians, commentators or broadcasters like Channel 4. The British Muslim community will not allow Channel 4 to distort our faith and our history.
      The Ramadhan Foundation calls on Channel 4 to apologise for this programme, withdraw it from online viewing and also order an immediate inquiry into why this was allowed to be broadcast. How many Muslims Scholars, community leaders were given a copy of this programme before transmission? Whether historic facts in relation to Islam were verified by the presenter and who his sources were.
          The Ramadhan Foundation has complained to Channel 4 and also Ofcom in this matter and hope it will be addressed promptly and extensively. [

Ramadan Foundation] 

[Edit 9;35AM: Tom Holland has an important point regarding the above press release. Shafiq says that the Qur’an mentions Mecca twice. In some English translations this is true as it is added to the text by the translator – in the original language it does not. This makes the press release by the Ramadhan Foundation the more remarkable, that a pressure group that purports to defend Islam is unaware of what the Qur’an actually says.]



Tom Holland responded to the complaints promptly:

      The origins of Islam are a legitimate subject of historical enquiry and this film is wholly in keeping with other series and programmes on Channel 4 where the historical context of world religions has been examined, such as The Bible: A History. A considered exploration of the tensions that inevitably arise when historical method is applied to articles of faith was central to the film. We were of course aware when making the programme that we were touching deeply-held sensitivities and went to every effort to ensure that the moral and civilizational power of Islam was acknowledged in our film, and the perspective of Muslim faith represented, both in the persons of ordinary Bedouin in the desert, and one of the greatest modern scholars of Islam, Seyyed Hossein Nasr.
      It is important to stress as we do in the film that this is a historical endeavour and is not a critique of one of the major monotheistic religions. It was commissioned as part of Channel 4’s remit to support and stimulate well-informed debate on a wide range of issues, by providing access to information and views from around the world and by challenging established views.
      As a non-Muslim historian I tried to examine, within a historical framework, the rise of a new civilisation and empire that arose in the late antique world as the two great ancient empires of Rome and Persia were in decline. The themes in the programme have been previously written about extensively by many other historians including: Patricia Crone, Professor at Princeton; Gerald Hawting, Professor at SOAS; and Fred Donner, Professor at Chicago  all of whom lent their support to the programme. The themes it explores are currently the focus of intense and escalating academic debate.
      An accusation laid against the film is one of bias and, although I believe that absolute objectivity is a chimera, what was incumbent upon us, in making the film, was to be up-front about my own ideological background and presumptions, and to acknowledge the very different perspective that Muslim faith provides. If the film was about the origins of Islam, then it was also about the tensions between two differing world-views. Whether one accepts or rejects the truth of the tradition is ultimately dependent upon the philosophical presumptions that one brings to the analysis of the sources.
      To answer some other substantive points:
      1. It has been suggested that I say in the film that Mecca is not mentioned in the Qu’ran. In fact, I say that Mecca is mentioned once in the Qu’ran. As a historian I have to rely on original texts and although later tradition (as brought to us through the hadith) has come to accept that other names are synonymous with Mecca, the fact is that there is only one mention of Mecca in the Qu’ran(although due to an unwarranted interpolation, a second one does appear in the Pickthall translation).
      2. On the broad perspective some complaints assert unequivocally, as is often said, that Islam was “born in the full light of history unlike the ancient faiths”. That may have been the belief of Western scholars back in the days of Ernest Renan, but it is most certainly not the academic consensus today. One leading authority, Professor Fred Donner, who appears in the film, has written:
      “We have to admit collectively that we simply do not know some very basic things about the Qur’an – things so basic that the knowledge of them is usually taken for granted by scholars dealing with other texts. They include such questions as: How did the Qur’an originate? Where did it come from, and when did it first appear? How was it first written? In what kind of language was – is – it written? What form did it first take? Who constituted its first audience? How was it transmitted from one generation to another, especially in its early years? When, how, and by whom was it codified? Those familiar with the Qur’an and the scholarship on it will know that to ask even one of these questions immediately plunges us into realms of grave uncertainty, and has the potential to spark intense debate.”
      This summary may fairly be said to represent the current state of play in the academic debate.
      3. It has also wrongly been suggested that we said there is no historical evidence for the seventh century origins of Islam. What I actually said in the film was that I had expected to find contemporaneous Muslim evidence – “but there’s nothing there.” And the Qur’an aside, the first mention of the prophet Muhammad’s name in Arabic is on the coin that we featured in Part Five, and on the Dome of the Rock, which we also featured prominently. The evidence provided by Christian contemporaries was mentioned in Part Three, and is dealt with at greater length in the book.
        Obviously in a film of only 74 minutes, which opens up very rich and complex arguments and brings to light detailed academic scholarship, which has been going on for over forty years, it is impossible to articulate all the resonances and implications of every argument. Much more detail, with full citation of sources, will be found in my book In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World. All the film can hope to do is to introduce this fascinating (but until now, largely academic) debate with careful contextualising to a larger television audience. The subject, it should be said, is advancing and changing all the time as new discoveries are made, and new insights are gained. That is precisely what makes it such a fascinating area of research, and an entirely valid topic for a documentary. [

Channel 4]

The regulator saw no case to investigate the complaints brought against the documentary. However, claims that Tom Holland was deliberately distorting the evidence to fit a biased narrative played their part in abuse and death threats he received. Honest academic research and inquiry into history met with abuse and hysteria. There at the beginning was Mohammed Shafiq whipping it up.

He is trying to do the same with Nawaz, misrepresenting, taking things out of context.

Mohammed Shafiq needs to be called on that – because it has repercussions for serious debate, let alone the safety of others when motives are questioned and emotions played on with such disregard to personal integrity by the antagonist. Shafiq has himself had a credible death threat; he rightly has the liberty to speak his mind, and a nation that values free speech should protect that.

When he twists and distorts others words and actions in the process he deserves our contempt and resolve not to get away with it.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Filed under British Society, Religion