The Petra Theory of Early Islam Analysed: Reply to Tom Holland, Jay Smith and Dan Gibson

January 31, 2023

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The Petra Theory of Early Islam Analysed: Reply to Tom Holland, Jay Smith and Dan Gibson

By Mashood Ahmad

NB: This article was revised on 25th March 2023, specifically in the section titled “Mecca in the Early Sources”, to better reflect the views and position of Professor Ian D. Morris in his work “Mecca and Macoraba* (ref: Morris ID. Mecca and Macoraba).

Overview of the Revisionist Theories

The Claim

Who was Muhammad (sa)? How did Islam come about? What were the events of the early religion? The mainstream academic, historical view to these answers is, by and large, the same as the Islamic narrative provided for 1,400 years. That is that an individual, by the name of Muhammad (sa), claimed in the early part of the 7th century to be a Messenger appointed by God. His revelations were compiled into a book known as the Quran after his death. His followers were persecuted during his life and fled to Medina. He fought a series of battles, culminating in the bloodless conquest of Mecca and the unification of Arabia under the new religion. A system of leadership was set up after his death known as Caliphate or “successorship” that operated as the spiritual and political leadership of the new empire. Under this caliphate, the early Muslims conquered the then Byzantine empire and the Persian empire, carving out what was, till then, the world’s largest empire. 

None of the above is controversial in academic circles. It is the widely accepted, mainstream view of Islam, by non-Muslim academics. 

In recent years however, a fringe view has developed. Historian Tom Holland and other “Revisionists” present an alternative narrative to the historical origins of Islam. Setting forth his thesis, Holland wrote a book ‘In the Shadow of the Sword’ which is a very long and painful read. His ideas were truly popularised however, after the UK broadcaster, Channel 4, produced a documentary based on his book, titled: ‘Islam – The Untold History’  (available on YouTube). The documentary is a good summary and exposition of Holland’s theory, covering some but not all of his points, to support the thesis that all is not what it seems with the orthodox narrative of Islamic history. 

Tom Holland, English author on topics including the origins of Islam

According to Holland and others, Islam was born much later than the orthodox narrative, and in fact, evolved over a period of hundreds of years. According to Holland, the Prophet of Islam was merely a tribal warlord who conquered vast territories, not a religious leader. The religion of Islam, he argues, was an artificial ideology, a conspiracy constructed by later rulers to unify the early Arab empire along theological lines. 

Holland’s thesis rests on two fundamental pillars: 

Firstly, re-writing the historical narrative of early Islam. This includes arguing that the earliest biographies of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) were written some 200 years after his passing; that there is no mention of Mecca in any source until around 100 years after the Prophet’s passing; that the earliest mosques do not face Mecca; that the origins of Islam were not Mecca but further North, both on account of the agricultural descriptions given in the Quran, and also the descriptions of nearby ancient ruins.

Secondly, arguing that the Holy Quran is, in effect, a plagiarised work, based on an amalgamation of previously extant texts. For example, he claims that the metaphor the Quran gives of how Jesus fashioned clay birds into soaring, spiritual beings, was taken from a Christian apocryphal book, written centuries earlier than the Holy Quran, and that the story of Dhu’l-Qarnayn in Chapter 18 of the Quran, is a copy of the popular legend of Alexander the Great in the Alexander Romance. We cover these issues specifically in a separate article.

Pursuing this conception of Islam, all Islamic sources such as the Hadith [sayings of Prophet Muhammad], Sirah [biography of Prophet Muhammad], Tafseer [commentaries of the Holy Quran] etc., are to be ignored, since according to Holland, these were written far too late. 

One fact that should not be forgotten is that Holland is a Christian, who supports the position of the Bible. He elevates the ideas and concepts introduced by the apostle Paul on numerous occasions (in his book, not in the documentary) and argues that Muslims took hundreds of years to formulate the concept of the Oneness of God, just as Christians went through centuries of debates about the position of Jesus Christ vis a vis humanity and God the Father. Among those who have sought to popularise Holland’s ideas is one Jay Smith, a Christian preacher. Like Holland, Smith argues for revisionism of the orthodox narrative, along similar lines. 

Jay Smith, American Christian evangelist and full time missionary with the Brethren in Christ Mission, focussing on apologetics and polemics among the Muslims of London

For example, Smith argues that the first Arab inscription referencing Muhammad is in 691 CE; the first reference to ‘Muslims’ is in 690’s (referred to prior as Saracen, Hagarene, Ishmaelite, Maghraye, Muhajiroun); the first reference to ‘Islam’ is not until 691 CE; the first reference to Mecca is not till 741 CE; and that the first biography of Muhammad within Islamic sources is not until 833 (i.e. Ibn Hisham). In other parts of the series, Smith presents the work of Dan Gibson who claims to have visited dozens of early mosques around Arabia and found that, just as Holland asserts, none of the early mosques have their Qibla pointing to Mecca, but rather, point to Petra, then to Jerusalem and then finally to Mecca. 

Based on the above points and other arguments, Smith argues, like Holland, that the Quran and Islam were actually created much later, in the reign of Caliph Abdul Malik in 685CE. It was he and later Muslims who created and developed the religion to unite and to create a Prophetic tradition and history for the Arabs.

The Origins of the Theory

The above alternative versions for the history of Islam, whether advanced by Holland or Smith, are wrought with problems. Scrutiny of the issues and questions raised by them is the subject of this article.

The main problem with their theories is that they are totally contrary to an enormous body of evidence. Both Holland and Smith get around this problem only by totally ignoring whole categories of evidence. For example, their theory totally ignores the oral tradition within Islam; ignores references to the Prophet Muhammad (sa) in early documents written by non-Muslims; ignores archaeological evidence containing Islamic elements; ignores the earliest manuscripts of the Holy Quran discovered recently, such as the Birmingham Manuscript, dated to the lifetime of the Prophet of Islam. Finally, most of the claims are poorly researched and mistaken, as we shall soon see.

It should be realised that the claims of Holland and Smith would, in fact, be discounted by the very scholar with whom the “revisionist” narrative began. Indeed, much of the material Holland and Smith advance is based on the works of one Patricia Crone, who passed away just a few years ago, in 2015. She wrote numerous books on early Islam and brought the revisionist view to the forefront, with her research. Most Revisionist Historians utilise her work when presenting their evidence, but it should be pointed out that even she would not go as far as Holland or Smith. In one of her articles, she readily admits that:

“We shall never be able to do without the literary sources, of course, and the chances are that most of what the tradition tells us about the prophet’s life is more or less correct in some sense or other.”

Patricia Crone, What do we actually know about Mohammed? 10 June 2008

Holland and Smith have taken her work and propelled it to a fantasy which she would not have agreed with. 

This article goes through the specific “evidences” cited in favour of the revisionist narrative, claimed by Holland and Smith, and demonstrates their historical untenability. 

The Grand Revisionist Conspiracy 

To begin with, the theories presented by the Revisionist Historians would require astonishing levels of conspiratorial ingenuity, while the simplest theories about history are most often correct. What is easier to believe? The orthodox academic narrative, or the alternatives being told by the likes of Holland and Smith? Let’s take a look.

The revisionist narrative asserts that in 685CE, once Islam was already spread from North Africa to China and India, a single Arab political leader, Caliph Abdul Malik al Marwan, united all these nations and dynasties, into a single unified theology. Would this have been possible?

Remember that the Muslim community at the time of Caliph Abdul Malik was not unified. There was intense internal conflict; civil war had torn many nations apart, from the supporters of Uthman in Syria, who turned against Ali in Iraq and also the Khawarij who wanted all political parties destroyed. How, in amongst all this, could the scholars from North Africa and Spain to Central Asia, orchestrate such a colossal conspiracy, which involved the creation of the Holy Quran, the practice of the five daily prayers, the enactment of Sharia Law and the concoction of the current orthodox narrative of Islam, including the Islamic view of Prophet Muhammad (sa)? As Fred Donner states in his rebuttal of the Revisionists: 

“It is inconceivable that the divided and decentralized early Muslim community could somehow orchestrate a comprehensive redaction of the Islamic tradition as a whole into a unified form.”

Fred Donner, Narratives of Islam, 1998, p.27

Was the Holy Quran Created?

In Islam, the unity of God is central to the religion. In fact, despite the differences between Muslims of all different stripes, there has never been any disagreement on the nature of God’s Unity. In his book however, Holland argues that the early Muslims debated the Oneness of God (Tawheed) for centuries much like the Christians had done as regards the position of Christ. The latter is an embarrassment for many Christians, since it took hundreds of years and numerous councils to iron out what or who exactly Christ was. The most famous council, held in Nicea in 325 CE, saw the attendance of 300 bishops and involved a heated debate on the divine nature of Christ. One of the biggest issues was the Arian controversy, which argued that Christ was in fact created by God the Father, as opposed to the proto-orthodox position that Christ was always with God from the start, and was in fact God Himself. 

Holland, the late missionary Nabeel Qureshi and numerous other Christians like Jay Smith, argue that the Muslims went through a similar phrase with regards to the position of the Holy Quran. Holland writes that “it would take six hundred long years of bitter and occasionally murderous argument before scholars of the Sunna could finally be brought to agree on the nature of the Qur’an: that it was eternal, not created, and divine, not a reflection of God.” (Tom Holland, In the Shadow of the Sword, p.28). However, is what Holland says here really true?

The concept that the Holy Quran was not eternal, but rather created was first debated and introduced by the Muʿtazilites, a rationalist school of Islamic theology, which flourished in Iraq in the 8th to 10th centuries. It was this group that denied the eternity of the Holy Quran. It was this group which influenced the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma’mun in 833 CE to persecute Islamic theologians who refused to accept the doctrines of the Muʿtazila:

“The caliph introduced by way of a number of letters the mihna (This was the period of religious persecution of religious scholars who conformed to the Mu’tazila doctrine; denying the eternity of the Holy Quran) proper to enforce the createdness of the Qurʾan doctrine. Initially, al-Maʾmun personally interrogated seven leading jurisconsults (fuqahaʾ). Continuing a systematic approach, al-Maʾmun then ordered his governor in Baghdad to interrogate larger groupings of ulama. To further broaden the scope of acceptance, al-Maʾmun ordered all court officials (judges, witnesses) throughout the empire to first declare the createdness of the Qurʾan before performing their duties; those who refused disqualified themselves. However, al-Maʾmun suddenly died four months after the beginning of the mihna. The two succeeding caliphs, al-Muʿtasim (r. 833–842) and al-Wathiq (r. 842–847), continued the policy with varying degrees of intensity, threatening at times opponents to the doctrine with whipping or execution. All told, the mihna lasted about fifteen years and was ended in either 849 or 851/2 by the caliph al-Mutawakkil (r. 847–861), who officially proclaimed the exact opposite doctrine—the uncreatedness of the Qurʾan”.

John Nawas, Minha, Introduction, 2014

To compare the above with the debate the Christians had on the position of Christ is completely unfair, since the Christian debate lasted centuries. From the very beginning, there were Christian sects or groups which did not believe in the divinity of Christ, such as the Ebionites. There were Christian sects who believed that Jesus was born as a mere man and later became the son of God through Baptism, Resurrection or Ascension; this was referred to as the ‘adoptionist’ belief. And then there was the proto-orthodox belief that Jesus was pre-existent, the third member of the Trinity, which was chosen in the Council of Nicea, against the Arian belief. However, even after the council, the debate did not end; ten years after the council, Emperor Constantine himself was baptised by the Arian bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia, whose views contradicted the outcome of the Council of Nicea. After the Emperor’s death, his son Constantius II, who had become Emperor of the Eastern part of the Empire, actually encouraged the Arians and set out to reverse the Nicene Creed. His advisor in these affairs was Eusebius of Nicomedia. Constantius used his power to exile bishops adhering to the Nicene Creed. 

Years later, another, (the third) Council of Sirmium in 357CE represented the culmination of Arianism. The Seventh Arian Confession (Second Sirmium Confession) held that both homoousios (of one substance) and homoiousios (of similar substance) which the Nicene Creed formulated were un-Biblical and that the Father is greater than the Son, thus directly contradicting the statements of the Council of Nicea. 

It was only decades later when proto-orthodoxy held sway again and proclaimed the doctrine that Christ was always God; the Trinity. However, this did not stop the Arians.  Professor M. M. Ninan in his work “Arianism: Who is Jesus” summarises the development of Arianism in this period as follows: 

“Much of south-eastern Europe and central Europe, including many of the Goths and Vandals respectively, had embraced Arianism (the Visigoths converted to Arian Christianity in 376CE), which led to Arianism being a religious factor in various wars in the Roman Empire. In the West, organised Arianism survived in North Africa, in Hispania, and parts of Italy until it was finally suppressed in the 6th and 7th centuries. Visigothic Spain converted to  proto-orthodox at the Third Council of Toledo in 589 CE. Grimwald, King of the Lombards (662–671CE), and his young son and successor Garibald (671CE), were the last Arian kings in Europe.”

Arianism: Who is Jesus, M. M. Ninan

To conclude, the debate about the divinity of Christ was far more severe, lasting centuries, with numerous councils, and numerous whole scale wars. Compare this to the debate about the createdness of the Holy Quran, which led to some persecution of some scholars, only within Iraq, for a mere fifteen years. The concept was debated amongst the scholars for many years later, but was not a major issue. The comparison between the debates within the two faiths is therefore unfair.

The Oral Tradition 

Holland and Smith completely ignore the fact that the Arabs were not a literary people, but instead, had the practice of preserving traditions through their Oral Tradition. Coming from a Christian background, it is not surprising that neither critic accepts the Oral Tradition, for Christianity has no such tradition, but actually began with a strong writing practice. The gospels and letters in the New Testament were written down relatively quickly after the departure of Jesus (within 30-70 years). However, if the criteria of hadith science be applied to the gospels, they would all be rejected outright as forgeries, the primary reason being that none of the authors or their sources are known. 

Writings from Arabia?

The Revisionist historians keep asking “Why wasn’t anything written down at the time of the Prophet?” or “Why did it take so long to have anything in writing?” Holland says it was 200 years after the Prophet (sa) that his biographies were written, as does Smith. There are two serious problems with this: Firstly, that biographies were written down earlier than 200 years (see the section titled “Earliest Muslim material outside the Quran” below) and; Secondly, it involves ignoring the Oral Tradition.

In fact, what we know of pre-Islamic Arabia consists of writings from other cultures, such as the Egyptians, Greeks, Persians and Romans. There are several inscriptions written by Arabs on stones, but we do not have any parchments or books written by Arabs prior to Islam. Dr Greg Fisher, a graduate of Oxford University and editor of Routledge writes:

“Arabs were mostly written about by ‘outsiders’… The ‘inside’ sources of Arabia and the Arabs, from which we might hope to obtain a corrective to these one-sided and sometimes remarkably superficial views, make up only a tiny percentage of our available evidence. They mostly comprise inscriptions and oral poetry, known from later collections.”

Greg Fisher, Arabs and Empires before Islam, Oxford University Press, 2015, p.2.

This does not mean that no Arabic-speaker could read or write, rather, “for reasons we do not fully understand – culturally important matters such as religious texts, literature, genealogy, history, and so on had to be transmitted orally and were not written down.”

Ibid, p.397

The Holy Quran was, in fact, the first book written in Arabic. Hence, to argue and complain that the early Muslims did not write history, is simply unfair. They (the Arabs) never did before, why therefore should we expect them to suddenly start writing after the emergence of Islam? The truth of the matter was that they were concerned with the writing of one book, the Holy Quran, and we have ample evidence that they did write the Quran very early. Other works written by Muslims appear later, but note, they appear much earlier than both Holland and Smith state (see section below on Earliest Muslim Material about the Prophet (sa) for examples).

arabs and empires before islam, dr greg fisher

Holland also argues in his book that there are no early references to the tribe whom the Prophet Muhammad (sa) belonged to, the Quraysh. This again, is born out of lack of knowledge of Arab culture. Again, Dr Greg Fisher explains:

“The vast majority of pre-Islamic sources talk not about tribes, but of individuals. A discussion of tribes on the basis of pre-Islamic evidence cannot easily progress much beyond speculation since, in fact, ancient authors seemed remarkably uninterested in tribes, tribal structures, and indeed tribal society, economy, or political organizations, causing significant problems for modern scholars, who have been forced to rely on comparative studies to hypothesise about ancient tribal societies.”

Ibid p.6

Holland, a supposed scholar of ancient history, should have known this. 

The Hadith

Sadly, some Revisionist Historians ignore the oral nature of the hadith collections. It is true that they were written down at least a hundred years or so after the passing away of the Prophet Muhammad (sa). However, hadiths are traceable back to the Prophet via the Isnad, the chain of narration. 

Years after the Prophet, two types of scholars began to appear. Firstly, Quranic scholars who focussed on the Holy text, teaching its recitation and laws and; secondly, those scholars who addressed issues that were not spoken of directly in the Quran but were rather taken from the examples of the Prophet’s (sa) life. Numerous hadiths [sayings of Prophet Muhammad] began to surface in such numbers that scholars had to analyse them to decipher which were authentic and which were not. The main method chosen, among others, was analysis of the Isnad. Those who narrated a hadith were asked what its Isnad (chain of narration) was. In other words, who told you about this hadith? Who told your teacher? Who told your teacher’s teacher? These chains were then scrutinised and the character and biography of each person in the chain were analysed to see whether they met the standards of a truthful person. Were they actual students of those they heard the hadith from? Did they have ijaza (permission) to teach the hadith? The list of criteria was long. 

The hadith were classified according to the following terms: Sahih (sound), Hasan (good), Da`if (weak) or Maudu’ (fabricated, forged). From then on, any hadith or even tradition, e.g. a narration of a companion of the Prophet Muhammad (sa), had to have its Isnad recorded as well. Scholars like al-Tabari would often record everything they heard, regardless of it being sound or weak, but include in their books the Isnad so future scholars could determine the validity of the story. Other scholars would only record sound (Sahih) hadiths, like Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim. Failure to recognise the different methodologies of different hadith compilers has led some amateur scholars to give equal credence to contradictory narratives that are actually vastly different in weight and value. 

This whole system, if applied to the gospels, would classify all four gospels as weak (Da’if) at the very least, since no Isnad exists for them, i.e. no one knows who the authors of the gospels are; no one knows where they got their information from and nor does anyone know how they got their information. This entire system is completely ignored by Revisionist Historians.

Harald Motzki – a German Islamic scholar who wrote on the transmission of hadith

Numerous Western Academics have recognised the strength of authenticity of the hadith, such as David Powers (On Bequests in Early Islam, 1989), and the German scholar Harold Motzki (Dating Muslim Tradition; a Survey, 2005.) who has written numerous works in support of Hadith. 

Earliest Muslim Material about the Prophet (sa)

With the fact that the Arabs did not write much taken into account (see above), the question is: are Revisionist Historians correct in stating that the earliest biographies and sources detailing the life of the Prophet (sa) were written some 200 years after his passing?

The answer is no. In fact, there are accounts of books being written very early about the Prophet (sa). The following are a selection of them:

Urwah ibn Al-Zubayr

He was the son of  Asma (ra) bint Abi Bakr, and nephew of  Aisha (ra) bint Abi Bakr, the wife of the Holy Prophet (sa). He studied hadith and transmitted numerous narrations from his aunt  Aisha (ra). He also became one the leading Islamic jurists in Medina. 

Urwah wrote many books but, fearing they might become sources of authority alongside the Qur’an, destroyed them on the day of the Battle of al-Harrah. He later regretted that, saying “I would rather have them in my possession than my family and property twice over.” He is also known to have authored one of the first writings in the area of the biography of Muhammad, known as the Tract of Seerah. This has only survived though Ibn Ishaq.

Malik ibn Anas 

Born in 711 CE / 93 AH and died in 795 CE /179 AH. He is known as Imam Malik; he was one of the leading Muslim jurists, theologians and hadith scholars of his time. He was born in Medina, where he spent the rest of his life learning all about the Prophet (sa) and Islam from the companions of the Prophet (sa) himself. He was one of the first to compile hadith, in his famous Muwatta, in which he collected 1720 hadith that he deemed authentic out of the 100,000 narrations available to him.  Of note, this work was written around 100 years after the Prophet’s (sa) passing away. The hadith in this book are considered sound by most Muslims around the world. This work is completely ignored by the Revisionist historians, most likely because they knew only of the most famous hadith collection of Imam Bukhari, which came about 200 years after the Prophet (sa). 

Ibn Ishaq

He was born around 704 CE/ 85 AH and died around 760 CE/150 AH. He was born in Medina and spent much time collecting material in the form of oral traditions about the life of the Holy Prophet (sa). His work was collected by two of his students: al-Bakka’i, whose work perished, and Ibn Hisham, through whom his work survived. Another student, Salamah ibn Fadl al-Ansari, collected the work of Ibn Ishaq, but sadly his work too has perished; however, much of it has been retained by al-Tabari in an unedited version. For example, al-Tabari contains the controversial story of the Satanic verses, which was omitted by Ibn Hisham. The latter seems to have cared more about the Isnad and authenticity of his work than al-Tabari. 

This work was written and was in circulation about 100 years after the Prophet (sa). This too is ignored by Revisionist historians. 


Born around 747 CE/ 130AH and died in 823 CE/ 207AH. He was a historian and his major work is known as the Book of History and Campaigns, which describe the battles fought by the Holy Prophet (sa). Again, this work was written within 200 years of the Prophet’s (sa) passing away and is ignored by Revisionist historians. 

Earliest Non-Muslim Material about the Prophet (sa)

Both Holland and Smith complain about the fact that the non-Muslims around Arabia do not seem to refer to those following Islam as ‘Muslims’. They rather refer to them as Ishmaelites, Saracens, Hagarenes etc., but never Muslims, and for this reason, they (the Revisionist Historians) argue that Muslims did not exist at the time of the Arab expansion. 

The point is absurd and again is based upon pure ignorance. The Christians during the time of the expansion of Islam did not call them Arabs either, but rather used the above terms. Are we to say that Arabs therefore were not involved in the Arab expansion? 

On the topic of why the Christians used different terms initially for the early Muslim expansion, Harald Motzki states:

“Both the Old Testament and extra biblical literature, such as the book of Jubilees, made several brief references to the Ishmaelites, who appear there as desert nomads usually associated with tents and camels (e.g. 1 Chron 7:30)…Josephus identifies the Arabs as Ishmaelites in order to help explain why the Arabs practise circumcision in the 13th year after birth… A number of Christian authors relied on Josephus, and followed him in his identification of the Ishmaelites with the Arabs. The Romans had a long interest in mapping the histories of the peoples who lived around them, and the Roman Christians in the empire carried on this tradition.”

Dating Muslim Tradition; a Survey, 2005, Harald Motzki

For Christians, this was important and significant since in the letters of Paul within the New Testament, the author had linked the Ishmaelites to those who were under the Law, as opposed to those born under grace (Gal 4:21-31). Thus for them, it was always important and significant to remind themselves that these people in Arabia were ‘Ishmaelites’. “Consequently, when the Arabs appear in Christian sources, it is usual that they were cited for their practises – similar to the Jews – and to whom pieces of the Law either seemed to apply or were picked up by Ishmaelites because of their historical associations with Ishmael and Abraham.” (Ibid, p.368)

The Bible – a holy book for Christians and Jews

‘Saracen’ first appears in reference to a distinct group living on the Sinai Peninsula and north-western Hijaz, in the Geography of Ptolemy (5.16; 6.7.19). Centuries later, this term began to be used more and became synonymous with the Ishmaelites (Eusebius, Onomasticon, 6.7). Just a little later, the Christian monk Jerome writes: “Through his female slave Hagar, Abraham fathers Ishmael, from whom come the race of Ishmaelites, later called Hagarenes and finally Saracens.” (Jerome, Chronical 87) These three terms began to become fluid and interchangeable and the norm amongst the Christians. It was for this reason that they continued to call the early Muslims by these terms. It took them several decades to get out of the habit and call them by their new identification; that is, Muslim. 

When analysing opinions on the enemies of a group, we have to be careful and aware of strong polemical descriptions. However, certain points can be deciphered. For example, that the enemy (in this case, the Muslims) were led and united by a Prophet, who taught them and brought a new book, which they followed. Can we decipher such matters as would point to the religious origins of the Arab expansion, in the writings of early non-Muslim sources?

Doctrina Jacobi (Teachings of Jacob)

This is a Greek Apologetic work supposedly composed in Africa around 634 CE. This work speaks of a Prophet appearing among the Saracens, who is criticised for coming with the sword. It is clear the work is composed by a Christian, influenced by a pacifist understanding of the teachings of Jesus. We know this because it is unlikely that a Jewish author would criticise a prophet for taking up arms,  since the Prophet Moses (as) ordered fighting in battle (Exod 17) and was promised by God that the Jews would “chase their enemies, and they shall fall by the sword” (Lev 26:7-8). Scholars have argued that the above report was most likely used to dissuade newly baptised Christians from gaining hopes that they would be saved by this Prophet. (Robert Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It, 1997, p.58).

Regardless of the opinion of the writer, what the above text does indicate is that the Arab invasion of the Byzantine and Persian Empires was as a result of the appearance of a man who claimed prophethood. This is a text emerging almost immediately after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (sa).

Fragment on the Arab Conquests

On the front of a 7th century Syriac manuscript of the Gospel of Mark, there area few scribbles about the Arab conquest. Much of it is faint but the following can be read:

“In January {the people of} Hims took the word for their lives and many villages were ravaged by the killing of {the Arabs of} Muhammad (Mahmud) and many people were slain and {taken} prisoner from Galilee as far as Beth… On the twenty-sixth of May the Saq{ila}ra went { … } from the vicinity of Hims and the Romans chased them.”

Robert Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It, 1997, p.117

This source directly mentions the Prophet, by name. It was a custom at the time for people to write notes of what they witnessed. Numerous scholars have argued that this note was most likely to have been written at the time of the invasions, dating to just a few years after the Prophet’s (sa) passing away (Robert Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It, 1997, p.117). 

Thomas the Presbyter 

This 8th century manuscript is housed in the British Museum, and contains what is argued to be the first reference to the Prophet (sa) outside of Muslim sources, with more certain dating than the previous Fragment. It contains an account of the Battle of Dathin which took place near Gaza in the spring of 634 CE: 

“In the year 945, indiction 7, on Friday 4 February (634) at the ninth hour, there was a battle between the Romans and the Arabs of Muhammad in Palestine twelve miles east of Gaza. The Romans fled, leaving behind the patrician bryrdn (sic), 12 whom the Arabs killed. Some 4000 poor villagers of Palestine were killed there, Christians, Jews and Samaritans. The Arabs ravaged the whole region.”

Thomas the Presbyter, Chronicle, 147-48

Again, it was the Arabs of Muhammad who invaded the lands, not just ordinary Arabs who came out of Arabia rather randomly and destroyed two of the most powerful Empires of the world as Smith and his Revisionists argue. 

Homily on the Child Saints of Babylon  

There was much devotion for three saintly youths who apparently refused to worship the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, centuries earlier. Their tale was widespread, and one Coptic homily uses their story to inspire Christians to avoid and resist the Arab Muslim invasion. He concludes with the following passage:

“As for us, my loved ones, let us fast and pray without cease, and observe the commandments of the Lord so that the blessing of all our Fathers who have pleased Him may come down upon us. Let us not fast like the God-killing Jews, nor fast like the Saracens who are oppressors, who give themselves up to prostitution, massacre and lead into captivity the sons of men, saying: “We both fast and pray.” Nor should we fast like those who deny the saving passion of our Lord who died for us, to free us from death and perdition.”

Homily on the Child Saints of Babylon, §36 (tr. de Vis, 99-100)

While the account does not mention the Prophet, it does mention some interesting traits of the invaders (the Arabs). They fasted and prayed. It is highly unlikely that the Arabs of Arabia prior to Islam fasted and prayed in a similar fashion to the Jews and Christians. As far as the dating of the Homily, it is argued that the Arabs were criticised for their enslaving and killing rather than their rule and taxation, which hints at a very early stage in the conquests. (Robert Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It, 1997, p.121)

Gabriel of Qartmin

Gabriel was a Bishop who supposedly met the Second Khalifa, Umar (ra), when the latter conquered much of the Persian and Byzantine Empires. In a work composed on the Life of Gabriel, the latter is said to have done the following:

This lord Gabriel went to the ruler of the sons of Hagar, who was ‘Umar bar Khattab, in the city of Gezirta. He (‘Umar) received him with great joy, and after a few days the blessed man petitioned this ruler and received his signature to the statutes and laws, orders and prohibitions, judgements and precepts pertaining to the Christians, to churches and monasteries, and to priests and deacons that they do not give poll tax, and to monks that they be freed from any tax. Also that the wooden gong should not be banned and that they might chant hymns before the bier when it comes out from the house to be buried, together with many [other] customs. This governor was pleased at the coming to him of the blessed man and this holy one returned to the monastery with great joy. 

Scholars argue that it is likely that Gabriel met with a Muslim General or even the Khalifa himself and managed to negotiate the tax concessions for monks and priests. However, they doubt the concessions to the prayers due to them being introduced much later in the 8th century. (Robert Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It, 1997, p.123) Either way, this is one early document speaking and naming the Second Khalifa of Islam,  Umar (ra). 

Sebeus, Bishop of Bagratunis 

For years, an anonymous untitled history of Armenia was composed, starting from events in the 5th century up to the Arab-Muslim invasion in 661CE. It was generally accepted to be composed by Sebeus, a bishop of the house of Bagratunis, and is said to have been written around the 660’s CE. Later, the association of this document with Sebeus was discounted; however, for ease of identity, numerous scholars still name the document after Sebeus, despite knowing full well that he was not the author.  

The whole account “concludes with Mu’awiya’s ascendancy in the first Arab civil war (656-61), and the above points would suggest that the author was writing very soon after this date.” (Ibid, p.125) The author speaks of events which happened in Jerusalem, and is the only Christian writer to note that four parties were involved in the first Arab civil war: one in the east (‘Ali), one in Syria and the north (Mu’awiya), another holding Egypt (general rebels), and the fourth holding “the country of the Arabs and a place called Askaron.” And he continues: “Those in Egypt and Arabia united and killed their king (‘Uthman), pillaged the royal treasures and established another king (‘Ali),” which fits what we know from Muslim writers of the coalition between the Egyptians and the Medinese. (Ibid, p.128)

Sebeus also informs us of some of the beliefs of the Muslims, particularly the teachings of the Prophet (sa), stating:

“He (The Prophet) legislated for them not to eat carrion, nor drink wine, not to speak falsely, and not to commit fornication.”


Thus we have very early non-Muslim testimony on the early Islamic historical events, which closely resembles the Islamic traditional account and goes completely against the absurd conclusions of Revisionist historians. 

A Maronite Chronicler 

A Syriac manuscript housed in the British Library, contains an interesting chronicle, based on that of the Church Historian Eusebius and covers events from Alexander the Great up until the 660’s. It is the final two fragments of this manuscript that are particularly interesting, as they cover events of the life of  Muawiya (ra) in Jerusalem and Damascus. What is most interesting is that the chronicle states: 

“Mu’awiya did not wear a crown like other kings in the world. He placed his throne in Damascus and refused to go to the seat of Muhammad.”

Ibid, p.136

Thus again, we have manuscripts dating to the time of the Arab conquests, that agree with the Muslim historians and explicitly mention the Prophet (sa).

The above are just a handful of the early non-Muslim documents that speak of Islam, often mentioning the Prophet (sa) by name or title. All these early sources go heavily against the theories presented by Revisionist historians, which claim that Islam as a religion was a later concoction to unify Arab conquests, not having any root in contemporaneous historical sources. Thus far, it seems that all the early sources about Islam, be they Muslim or non-Muslim, add no support to historians like Holland and Smith, but rather wholly discredit their wild theories. 

Early Inscriptions Containing Islamic Formulas 

Revisionist historians argue that there are no Islamic references during or immediately after the Holy Prophet (sa). As explained already in the previous sections, the Arabs were not a people who used to write. Having said that, there still exist numerous inscriptions from shortly after the passing away of the Holy Prophet (sa) showing that the religion of Islam existed much earlier than the dates proposed by the Revisionist historians. 

Tombstone Of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Ibn Khair al-Ḥajrī 

A tombstone dating to 31 AH / 652 CE. This is some thirty years after the passing away of the Holy Prophet (sa). On the tombstone, it is written in Arabic:

“In the name of Allāh, the Gracious, the Merciful; this tomb belongs to ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Ibn Khair al-Ḥajrī. O Allāh, forgive him and make him enter into Thy mercy and make us go with him. (passer by) When reading this inscription ask pardon for him (the deceased) and say Ameen! This inscription was written in Jumada II of the year one and thirty.”

tombstone of ‘Abd al-Raḥmān Ibn Khair al-Ḥajrī, from 31 AH / 652 CE

This tomb is in Cairo, Egypt. It begins with the typical Islamic formulation Bismillah, and requests passer-bys to seek forgiveness for the one buried, as is typical for a pious Muslim to ask. It was the belief in the hereafter which resulted in the above request for prayers on this inscription. Such a request would have been meaningless had there been no such thing as Islam at the time of writing. 

Jerusalem 32 – An Inscription Witnessed By Three Companions of Prophet Muḥammad (sa)

This is an inscription which was unearthed in Jerusalem by Professor Benjamin Mazar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1968. The original inscription seems to have been destroyed, but a plaster copy and photographs still exist. This has been dated to 32 AH / 652 CE. The translation of the Arabic inscription is difficult to decipher, but reads as follows:

“In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful.
the protection of Allah and the guarantee of His Messenger.
And witnessed it ʿAbd al-Raḥmān bin ʿAwf
al-Zuhrī, and Abū ʿUbaydah bin al-Jarrāḥ
and its writer – Muʿāwiya….
the year thirty two (?).”

Similar to the tombstone inscription, this too begins with the Islamic formula Bismillah. This is an extremely early reference to Allah and the Prophet (sa) together. Not only that, but it also refers to three of the companions of the Prophet by name: Abd al-Rahman bin Auf, who passed away in 31AH, Abū ʿUbaydah bin al-Jarrāḥ, who actually passed away in 17AH, and Muʿāwiya. Therefore the inscription may possibly be referring back to an earlier document, which was witnessed by these companions. 

Revisionist historians need to explain who the ‘Messenger’ is in the above inscription if the Prophet Muhammad (sa) had not existed as per orthodox Islamic history, or had not founded the religion of Islam.  

The Inscription Cursing the Murderers of  Uthman (ra)

This inscription was discovered in Saudi Arabia dating to 36AH, that is 656 CE. (F. Imbert, “Califes, Princes et Poètes Dans Les Graffiti du Début de l’Islam”, Romano-Arabica, 2015, Volume 15, pp. 65-66 and p. 75) The translation of the inscription is:

“I am Qays, the
scribe of Abū
Kutayr. Curse of G-
-od on [those]
who murdered ʿUthmān ibn ʿAffān
and [those who] have led to the killing
without mercy”

The inscription supports the orthodox Islamic history laid out by al-Tabari, who writes about the murder of the third Caliph in the year 35AH. Again, Revisionist historians need to explain or produce an alternative version of events, which resulted in the martyrdom of a man called Uthman ibn Affan, and why people in the year 36AH were cursing people who had committed the crime. 

It would be absurd to think that Muslims such as al-Tabari, hundreds of years later, created the story of early Islam, the Caliphate and the civil wars. If they wished to create their own history like Smith insists, why on earth would they create a story about civil unrest? Why would they create a narrative of rebellion against  Holy Caliphs? The inscription above fits in perfectly with the history presented by al-Tabari and early Muslim historians. 

There are a number of other inscriptions written in similar periods showing the absurdity of the Revisionist theories. 

Mecca in the Early Sources

Revisionist historians like Holland and Smith have argued extensively that there is no reference to Mecca prior to Islam, nor is there any reference to Mecca for at least 100 years after the Holy Prophet (sa) passed away. Smith goes further and presents numerous ‘maps’ in his videos, showing all the trade routes, none of which apparently go through Mecca. Conveniently for him, the viewers do not know where these maps came from (he never tells them where they are from). 

Are these ‘historians’ correct? No. It should be remembered that the Arabs rarely wrote anything about themselves; thus information about the Arabs and even very early Islam was either oral or through the writings of non-Arabs (see section above titled ‘Earliest Muslim Material about the Prophet’ for more details). 

However, there is one major reference prior to Islam of Mecca, that being in the writings of Ptolemy, a second century Greco-Roman geographer who mentions in his work Guide to Geography a number of places in Arabia. Among the names is Macoraba – Ptolemy spells it Makoraba in Greek, but Latin translations prefer Machoraba and Macoraba – which Ptolemy places in the west of the Arabian Peninsula.

the city of mecca – Makkah al-Mukarramah

While historically there has been consensus that Macoraba is Mecca in Orientalist scholarship, Crone, who is the ultimate source of both Holland’s and Smith’s perspectives, broke with this tradition. In her work “Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam,” she asserts that the evidence that they are the same is of poor quality. Her dissenting perspective has received support, most notably, from Ian D. Morris from the University of Amsterdam, who penned a lengthy and detailed article about Ptolemy’s mentioning Mecca. While he recognises the consensus in academic scholarship that Macoraba is Mecca (Mecca and Macoraba, p. 3.), he traces the roots of this to an accomplished mid-seventeenth century Hugenot pastor and Orientalist scholar, Samuel Bochart (d. 1667). Morris provides this earliest quote of Bochart, stating that Mecca and Macoraba are one and the same:

(Mecca)…in Ptolemy is Macoraba, i.e. מכת רבה ‘Mecca rabba’ or ‘great Mecca.’

Mecca and Macoraba, p.12., Ian D. Morris; quoting: Samuel Bochart, Geographia Sacra, 2 vols. (Caen: Petrus Cardonellus, 1646), vol. 1, Phaleg, 242; cf. 137, 237.

Crone’s fundamental argument is that the translation of “rabbah” as “great” is a Hebrew derivation. In addition to this, she reduces the significance of Mecca as a node in the trade network, to justify the title “great”. Her fundamental argument was that an Arabic derivation was required to justify “Macoraba” as “Makkah rabbah”. Morris quotes recent scholarship, namely, Bukharin and G.W. Bowersock, against her views. However, Morris concludes that Crone’s demands for an Arabic derivation stands, citing an absence of a known Jewish community in Mecca in the period preceding Ptolemy, which would justify Bochart’s interpretation of Ptolemy’s statement on the basis of a Hebrew, not an Arabic, construct.

Morris’ paper is important because it delineates the contours of different perspectives clearly, and enables future scholars to investigate this area more. Morris’ fundamental conclusion is that Macoraba may yet be Makkah rabbah – Mecca the Great – however, in his view, despite the continuity of a part of the name, greater evidence is required to establish the specific genealogy and transmission of this term – “rabba” – from Arabia to Egypt, in Ptolemy’s time.

Thus, it is clear from Morris’ paper that there is ongoing disagreement in academic circles on the question of Ptolemy’s reference to Macoraba, though the consensus for several hundred years of Orientalist scholarship was that Ptolemy’s “Macoraba” refers to Mecca. Indeed, one benefit of Morris’ paper is that, though he recognises the validity of Crone’s arguments, he does an excellent job of providing an historical timeline of the evolution of the link between Macoraba and Mecca, and the genealogy of this idea in orthodox Orientalist scholarship over several hundred years. While there may be dissenting voices against that historical consensus today, the flat rejection of Holland and Smith, without qualification, that there is no mention of Mecca prior to the coming of Islam is incorrect, given their failure to reference the consensus view that existed for several hundred years, or the ongoing discussion in this academic field relating to Ptolemy’s statement.

Finally, Christian Revisionists should perhaps look at their own traditions before attacking others’. The birthplace of Jesus was purportedly a city called Nazareth, but while being mentioned in the gospel of Luke, there is no other reference to it until around 200 CE when Sextus Julius Africanus, cited by Eusebius (Church History 1.7.14), speaks of Nazara as a village in Judea. Does this mean that the city or village never existed? 

Do Early Mosques Face Mecca or Somewhere Else?

Holland in his documentary is apparently shown one of the earliest Mosques in existence and is told that its Qibla is not facing Mecca. Smith too presents numerous slides in his video, showing more than a dozen early mosques, arguing that the earliest ones in fact faced the city of Petra, a city north of Mecca, before turning to face Jerusalem a few decades later, and finally turning to face Mecca. 

Smith’s slides are based on the work of Dan Gibson, who claims to have travelled around the Middle East visiting these mosques. He has authored a number of books, such as Qur’ânic Geography, published in 2011, and claims that the Quran hardly mentions anything of Mecca, and that early mosques in fact faced Petra. On the basis of this, he claims that Islam was born in Petra.

David A. King, a retired Professor of History of Science and Director of the Institute for the History of Science, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, has written numerous books and academic papers on Islamic mosques and Qiblas. His first degree was Mathematics (1963) followed by studies in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures and the History of Science. For two decades he was the director of one of the two leading centres in Europe of research on the history of Islamic astronomy and mathematics. He is more than qualified to speak on this subject. 

King wrote a damning critique of Dan Gibson’s work titled “From Petra back to Makka – From ‘Pibla’ back to Qibla” in September 2017 for the Muslim Heritage website. Afterwards, in 2018, he wrote an even longer paper against Gibson titled “The Petra fallacy – Early mosques do face the Sacred Kaaba in Mecca but Dan Gibson doesn’t know how”. Both papers are freely available online. 

Dan Gibson quotes the work of King in several places in his own books, yet King notes that Gibson quotes him poorly and often out of context. He attacks Gibson’s work, saying it is no better than a 1st year college student’s work, also noting that Gibson has no formal academic training. King writes:

“Gibson completely misunderstands my findings on the determination of the Qibla and mosque orientations. Essentially I found that the Muslims for the first two centuries used folk astronomy, particularly astronomical horizon phenomena, the cardinal directions and solar risings and settings at the solstices. Thereafter they also used Qiblas based on geographical coordinates and mathematical procedures. I claim that all mosques face the Qibla in ways most of which we can only now understand. I also say that early mosques do not always face the directions we moderns think they should.”

From Petra back to Makka – From ‘Pibla’ back to Qibla, David A. King

King notes that the early Muslims used folk astronomy to determine the Qibla, which was “devoid of theory, and based solely on what one can see in the sky.” (David A King, Astronomy before the Telescope, British Museum Press, 1996, p.144) King seeks to demolish the absurd theory of Gibson that the early Mosques faced Petra (a theory which Smith, basing his work on Gibson, also advocates). King argues that it was not possible,  due to the absence of  “necessary technical equipment – trigonometry, geometry, geographical coordinates, astronomical instrumentation – to derive the direction of Petra accurately for any locality from al-Andalus to China. Since this equipment in fact became available to the Muslims in Iraq only in the late 8th and early 9th century, Gibson’s attempt to fabricate the evidence for an earlier epoch falls flat.” (Ibid)

In fact, King is so critical of Gibson, that he writes:

“My present intention is simple: it is to warn the unsuspecting reader that the only other person ever to have written generally on the subject of mosque orientations:
(a) has no qualifications to correctly interpret the available data;
(b) has no understanding of the fact that MODERN (sic) directions from one place to another cannot be used to investigate the reasons underlying the orientation of PRE-MODERN (sic) architecture;
(c) seems oblivious to the fact that there is well-established discipline called archeoastronomy and has no understanding of astronomical alignments;
(d) has erred monumentally in his interpretation of mosques that were built on pre-existing religious architecture or to fit with pre-Islamic city plans;
(e) has no understanding of how mosques were laid out over the centuries; 
(f) has no control over any of the numerous medieval Arabic sources – legal, astronomical, folk astronomical, and mathematical, geographical – relating to the determination of the qibla; and
(g) prefers to refrain from citing the vast existing bibliography on the subject. 
Worse still, he
(g) has settled on a nice-enough locality, Petra, as the focus of early Islam where in the early 7th century there were no Arabs, no Muslims, and no Jews, and, in brief, there was not much going on.
And worse than that,
(h) both his activities in a field which he does not master and his false conclusions have already contributed to somewhat dubious causes.”

David A King. The Petra fallacy, Early mosques do face the Sacred Kaaba in Mecca, but Dan Gibson doesn’t know how, 2018, p.9) (sic)

Gibson is not intentionally trying to deceive his audience, according to King. King believes that he is genuine, in that he genuinely believes he has made this ground-breaking discovery; that Islam originated from Petra, that the Nabataeans were the original founders of Islam. Even though “not a single historian of Nabataean history, language, religion, architecture or culture has come out with any item of information that would give credence to this breaking news about Petra” (Ibid, p.12)

Smith follows suit with Gibson and in fact argues that while Petra was not the capital commercial city of the region, it was the capital religious city of the region. He firmly believes that not only was the original Ka’ba in Petra, but so was the black corner stone originally there, and that the original Muslims (even though he argues they were never called that to start with) all worshipped there and towards there, like the followers of so many other pagan religions. However, he (and Gibson) fail to understand that “in the early 7th century it (Petra) had long ceased to thrive and it appears to have been more or less deserted.” (Ibid)

King explains how early Muslims calculated the Qibla:

“Before the 9th century Muslims used exclusively tradition and folk astronomy – notably, astronomical risings and settings – to find the qibla. Early Islamic religious architecture, however, was often laid out in accordance with the foundations of pre-Islamic religious edifices. The general direction of Makka, as indicated by the road leaving a given location toward Arabia, would sometimes suffice.”

From Petra back to Makka – From ‘Pibla’ back to Qibla, David A. King

It was in the 9th century when the Muslims began to use more complicated geographical and mathematical techniques to determine the Qibla for their mosques, resulting in improvements in accuracy after about 200 years of the Prophet (sa). 

Smith, in his lengthy video, presents over a dozen mosque examples which he argues point to the city of Petra, and others facing Jerusalem. These are all taken from Gibson’s book. King does not bother going through them all, but comments on a few of the mosques as follows:

  • The Umayyad Mosque of Damascus: Gibson claims that this mosque faces (the modern direction of) Petra not (the modern direction of) Mecca. He further claims that it was deliberately laid out towards Petra, and accurately at that. He overlooks the important fact that it was built on a Byzantine basilica, which had replaced a Roman temple that was cardinally aligned (aligned to north, east, south and west). This is why it appears to face Petra, since within the limits of the exercise, Petra is roughly due south of Damascus. The Muslims built their Mosque and were simply happy that it ‘faced’ the northern Syrian corner of the Kaaba, as indeed it does. (David A King. The Petra fallacy, Early mosques do face the Sacred Kaaba in Mecca, but Dan Gibson doesn’t know how, 2018, p.23)
  • The Huaisheng Mosque, Great Mosque of Guangzhou: This mosque Gibson dates to 627 CE. This date is not based on any solid evidence and modern scholars do not find any evidence of the supposed tradition that a companion of the Prophet (sa) came to China this early. Gibson states that the Mosque faces Petra, or is at least 3 degrees from Petra and 7 degrees from Mecca. King asks how could the Muslims at such an early date possibly know where Petra exactly was? Did they really know about great circles on the terrestrial globe? They did not! They had no such tools or mathematical knowledge at that time. It was purely based on folk astronomy and the sight of summer sunset, which makes it point towards Petra. 
  • Mosque of ‘Amr in Fustat (Egypt): Gibson does not give the orientations of the Mosque, but states that it faced Petra. King argues that “This contradicts medieval sources which say that the qiblat al-sahâba, “the qibla of the Companions of the Prophet, was toward winter sunrise” which does not point towards Petra. 
  • The al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem: This mosque, which he dates to 709CE., faces (according to Gibson) 183 degrees. Petra is 194 degrees while Mecca is 161 degrees. King again argues the early Muslims could not accurately know these calculations, but simply made most of the mosque face south, which was the rough direction of Mecca, resulting in sometimes the mosques facing Petra to some extent, depending on the location of the mosque. 

King goes through more examples and simply argues that the early Mosques could not possibly have known accurately the direction of the Qibla and often used the winter solstice sunsets and sunrises. Accurate techniques were invented centuries later. 

muslims face towards the kaaba for prayer, located in the Great Mosque of Mecca (masjid al-haram). the direction towards the kaaba is known as the qibla

King then moves onto Gibson’s credentials, or lack thereof, for that matter. He examines the bibliography provided by Gibson in his works and notes that it lacks almost all academic works on astronomy and geography within early Islam. He mentions how none of the “articles dealing with orientations of Islamic religious architecture are cited,” and that, “Not a single study of Islamic folk astronomy is included.” In fact, most works relevant to the topic at hand have not been consulted, and most of the works cited in the bibliography are irrelevant, as are many in the footnotes.” (From Petra back to Makka – From ‘Pibla’ back to Qibla)

To conclude, it is fair to say that the scholarship of Dan Gibson and his techniques to show that the early Muslims worshipped facing a Qibla that was apparently in Petra, are extremely weak and blatantly incorrect. It is a shame that Holland and Smith advocate for Gibson’s weak arguments, but this does not really come as a surprise. Their academia is barely any better than his. A cursory glance of some academic works on the same topic would have thrown his whole work out. 

Quranic References Pointing to an Origin Outside Mecca

Holland in his video and book argues against Mecca being the birthplace of Islam. He cites several reasons, which are worth discussing:

  1. Agriculture is spoken about in the Holy Quran, yet there was no agriculture in Mecca, since it is a desert environment.
  1. The Prophet Lot’s (as) cities are spoken about in chapter 37, verse 138. These cities (Sodom and Gomorrah) were believed to be destroyed by God, and the pagan Meccans are said to ‘pass by them in the morning and night’. Holland argues that these cities were 1000 km north of Mecca.  
  1. There are several places named in the Holy Quran; such as Ad, Thamud, Midian. These are three civilisations in Northern Arabia and nowhere near Mecca. 

With regards to the first point about agriculture, Holland infers that the audience of the Holy Quran were only the people who lived at the time of revelation, in the locality of the revelation. He assumes that if the verses were revealed in Mecca, then it was only applicable to the Meccans. This is not the interpretation of any Muslim commentator, past or present. The text of the Holy Quran is applicable to all people, throughout time. Yet, even if this was  not the case, while in Medina, the Prophet taught Muslims the same verses as he had in Mecca, and in Medina, the people were farmers! But even if the Meccans were not farmers, it does not mean that they were oblivious to where the fruits and vegetables they were consuming came from. They traded with agriculturists and farmers, so of course they understood the Quranic text which spoke of it. 

The second point relating to the story of the Prophet Lot (as) is equally erroneous. Holland argues that Sodom and Gomorrah were 1000km north of Mecca. This however is contradicted by some. Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddeen Mahmud Ahmad (ra), second Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, in his Tafseer (commentary) explains that: “Sodom and Gomorrah were situated on the highway from Arabia to Syria where the Arab caravans passed by day and night.”

Finally, there is the third point, as to why the locations of Ad, Thamud and Midian, being in Northern Arabia,  were mentioned in the Quran despite their relative geographical distance from Mecca. The answer is relatively simple: Who said Northern Arabia was far? By whose yardstick? Holland’s? The Quran speaks of many Prophets sent to further reaches of the world, such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus etc. (peace be upon all of them). Most of the Prophets mentioned in the Holy Quran are also mentioned in the Bible and most of these Prophets did not reside in Mecca. Prophet David (as) did not reside in Mecca, but was further north around Jerusalem, likewise was his son Prophet Solomon (as). Prophet Jonah (as) lived in Ninevah (now northern Iraq). Prophet Jesus (as) lived in Galilee, hundreds of miles north of Mecca. Why take exception to the mention of Hud (as), Saleh (as) and Shuaib (as), the Prophets to Ad, Thamud and Midian, respectively, if one is not going to take exception to other prophets mentioned in the Quran, who preached in further reaches of the Middle East? In fact, the prophets Hud (as), Saleh (as) and Shuaib (as) were situated closer to Mecca than the Biblical prophets were. Holland’s bias shines through here; he does not take exception to prophets mentioned in the Bible, further from Mecca, because he presumes their mention in the Quran is copied from the Bible. 

Should not Revisionist Historians perhaps argue that since the Quran speaks of Prophet Jesus (as) it originated from somewhere in Galilee? Or that since the Quran speaks of Prophet Jonah (as), it must have come from Nineveh, or maybe Jerusalem since it speaks of Prophet David (as)? Why not Egypt since it speaks of Prophet Joseph (as)! The allegation is absurd: the Quran speaks of Prophets in and around the vicinity of Arabia, as well as of those further afield too, such as Prophet Luqman (as) or Prophet Adam (as).

Archaeology in Mecca and Medina

Holland and Smith both argue the case that there is no archaeological evidence of a civilisation in Mecca prior to Islam. Jay goes so far as presenting pictures of the constant construction in Mecca and states that archaeologists have been prevented from doing any digging, to cover up the fact that there exists nothing. It is all part of the grand conspiracy, and that in fact Islam originated in Petra, rather than Mecca. 

It is true that archaeologists are prevented from digging in and around the holy sites in Saudi Arabia, and that there are in fact construction projects which are destroying many of the historical sites associated with Islam. But it is not for the absurd reason presented by Smith and co. 

Wahhabi Destruction of Holy Cities 

In the early 1800s, the Saudis under Abdul Aziz ibn Muhammad ibn Saud attacked and captured the Shia holy cities of Karbala and Najaf in Iraq. They killed many Shia Muslims and destroyed their holy shrines, such as the tomb of Imam Hussain (ra). A few years later, they captured Mecca and Medina and began the destruction of the holy tombs there as well, such as the edifice built over  Fatimah (ra), the daughter of the Prophet (sa). They even expressed desires to destroy the tomb of the Prophet (sa) himself, thinking that it was idolatrous to visit it. However, pressure from Muslims across the world stopped them. 

In the early twentieth century, more attacks and demolitions took place. Some reports have it that since 1925, the Government of Saudi Arabia has destroyed about 98 percent of religious and historic sites in the country (“Mapping the Saudi State, Chapter 7: The Destruction of Religious and Cultural Sites,” Americans for Democracy) The government has destroyed numerous mosques, graves, and shrines of religious, historical and cultural importance in Jeddah, Medina and Mecca, including the site of the battle of Uhud (United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Communication regarding the destruction of sites of religious, historical and cultural importance in Saudi Arabia, Al, 14 October 2015). Again, the destruction of these sites is linked to the religious views of the government, which oppose any visiting of graves and shrines of Islamic historical figures, primarily to prevent what they perceive as idolatry. Domes covering the numerous graves of the family or the Prophet (sa) and his companions (ra) were demolished, along with the graves of the companions martyred in the Battle of Uhad. The home of the Prophet’s wife Maria (ra) and the birthplace of their son Ibrahim (ra) were also destroyed at that time. 

The twenty-first century saw even more demolition. The annual pilgrimage to Mecca results in millions of Muslims descending on Mecca and the authorities deem it necessary to demolish the old neighbourhoods in favour of building large towers, restaurants and shopping centres. In fact, the government has recently turned the house of  Khadija bint Khuwaylid (ra), the Prophet’s first wife, from a library into a row of toilets for visitors to the Grand Mosque. Further destruction is planned for the expansion of the Grand mosque.  

This is the very brief history of the reasons for which archaeologists are not permitted in Mecca and why old artefacts are not found in and around Muslim-controlled Arabia. It has absolutely nothing to do with Smith’s argument, namely, that the authorities know or fear nothing will be found. It is all linked to their extreme stance against any veneration of Islamic historical artefacts or sites.

Islamic Coinage

Some Revisionist Historians argue on the basis of the earliest Islamic coins. Smith for example argues that it was Caliph Abdul Malik bin Marwan who initially created his own Arabic coins.      

These are the coins (Byzantine gold dinars) Smith is referring to (see below).

These coins were being used by the Muslims prior to Caliph Abdul Malik since the Muslims themselves had not minted any of their own. One can clearly see the Emperor and possibly his two sons on one side and the Christian Cross on the other side. 

The first phase of the transformation of the gold coins was this: only one side was modified; the Christian cross was removed and replaced with a sphere. And around it was written ‘Bismillah’ meaning “In the name of Allah”.

A few years later, further modifications were made; the removal of the Emperor and his family, replaced by an image of the Caliph. The other side maintains the pillar and sphere.

 Image result for abdul malik gold dinar"

Finally a year or two later, the images were completely removed from the coins and replaced by the Arabic text:“ There is no god except Allah alone, He has no partner; Muhammad is the Messenger of God whom he sent with guidance and the religion of truth that he may make it victorious over every other religion.” And on the other side: “God is One, God is the Eternal. He begets not, neither is he begotten.”

It cannot be stressed enough how poorly Smith portrays these coins. The pillar with a sphere on top somehow appears to Smith as a Christian cross. Smith argues that these are the first Muslim coins; no surprise, he’s wrong. The first Muslim coins found are actually silver coins dating to the time of the third Caliph Uthman of around 652 CE:

Uthman modified the existing silver coins of Yazdgird III, The only difference was that Bismillah was added to the edge of the coin.

Other Points 

Revisionist Historians argue for an alternative beginning of Islam. Most academic historians who agree with Revisionists will argue that Islam began somewhere north of Arabia, while Gibson and Smith argue that it was specifically from the Nabatean Petra. There are quite a few points that have not been mentioned that cast serious doubt of the origins of Islam being in Petra:

  1. No Nabatean scholar or historian has ever come close to even hinting at the same conclusion (David A King. The Petra fallacy, Early mosques do face the Sacred Kaaba in Mecca, but Dan Gibson doesn’t know how, 2018, p.12) 
  1. The Quran speaks of idol worship and animals sacrifices amongst the opponents of the Prophet (sa). However, the Byzantines had forbidden both idol worship and animal sacrifice long before the Prophet’s time—including in their province of Arabia Petraea (Nicolai Sinai, The Qur’an: A historical-critical introduction (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017) 61)
  1. Both Gibson and Smith argue that the account recorded in al-Tabari suggests that it was Ibn al- Zubayr who relocated the Qibla from Petra to Mecca in 70AH. They argue that Ibn al-Zubayr took the black stone from Petra and moved it to the new headquarters in Mecca. However, the only thing al-Tabari says is that Ibn al-Zubayr took with him “many horses and camels and much baggage” to Mecca. It seems that Gibson and Smith believe that the black stone was part of Ibn al-Zubayr’s luggage!  To begin, had Ibn al-Zubayr’s trip represented a communal move and relocation of the Black Stone to Mecca, why would his enemies not have reversed it upon his defeat? Furthermore, al-Tabari never mentions Petra in his entire history (see Mark Anderson, Is Petra Islam’s true birthplace—or Mecca?).
  1. A major question which requires a serious answer is how on earth did Muslims manage to replace the birth-place of Islam in Petra with Mecca in Saudi Arabia and not leave a dot of evidence in the oral and written records? 

Gibson and Smith answer this question by stating that Petra was formerly called Mecca, thus at one point in time there were two Meccas (Gibson, “Petra in the Qur’an,” 14.). The primary source of this for Gibson is the testimony of a 9th-10th century Christian historian named Thomas Artsruni, who wrote that Muhammad had preached in Mecca, located in “Arabia Petraea Paran.” 

However, Thomas locates Mecca, not in the city of Petra at all, but only in the Byzantine province of Arabia Petraea, specifically in its Paran region—in Sinai. The main reason for him doing so is because Muslims have argued Mecca to be the site at which  Hagar and her son Prophet Ishmael were left by Prophet Abraham. The Bible states that Paran is the location where Hagar and Prophet Ishmael were dropped (Gen 21:22), thus it makes sense for Thomas to mistake Mecca for Paran. 

Furthermore, Revisionist Historians argue that early Muslims did not record this Qibla move in the hadiths because they wished to cover up this fact. This is unfeasible, since the spread of Islam at this time was immense, from Spain all the way to China! How could all Muslims in the empire cover up this enormous event or change? Also, Muslims were not united at this time: Sunni, Shia and Khariji were fighting constantly for power. How could it be possible for them to unite on this change, and for what purpose?


We began the overview of the Revisionist Historians’ position with a review of the arguments in their literature and their documentary/video production specifically by Tom Holland and Jay Smith. At first presentation, their arguments can be shocking and rather nerve-wracking. Both videos can be compelling, with the authors speaking with such confidence, backed up by numerous ‘facts’. However, when analysing these ‘facts’, it becomes clear very quickly how they fall apart. 

It is for this reason that the vast majority of Islamic academics, both Muslim and non-Muslim, have discarded the research of many of these Revisionist Historians. It is a shame that the vast majority of proponents of this absurd theory are Christian missionaries. Given the scarcity of any historical evidence for almost anything in the Bible, not least the total anonymity of the Gospel authors, it is better suited for such as Holland and Smith to stop throwing stones from their own very fragile glass houses.

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