In Islam: The Untold Story, Holland deals with the origins of the religion Islam. Travelling to Saudi Arabia, he visits Arabian Bedouins to hear their orthodox Islamic accounts of the religion’s origins. Holland then talks to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a practising Muslim who teaches Islamic studies at the George Washington University, Washington D.C., and Patricia Crone, a non-Muslim historian of Islamic history at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. The former defends the orthodox Islamic account of the faith’s history, citing its development within oral history, but Crone challenges the reliability of oral history, and therefore the traditional account.
Holland looks at the earliest evidence for Muhammad, Mecca and Islam in the first century of the Arab Empire, pointing to a lack of evidence in the historical record to support the traditional account. Highlighting that very little Muslim testimony from the 7th century exists, he considers it suspect that 30 years after Muhammad’s death, Muawiyah I became leader of the Arab Empire in Jerusalem despite showing little sign of being Muslim, and that no mention of Muhammad or Islam can be found in any of Muawiyah’s inscriptions, coins, or documents. Holland proceeds to note that with the exception of a single ambiguous reference in the Qur’an, there is no mention of Mecca in any datable text for a century after Muhammed’s death. He points out that in the Qur’an, the Prophet appears to address farmers and agriculturalists while his opponents are described as keeping cattle and growing olives and vines. This appears to describe an environment foreign to Mecca, where there was no agriculture; thus Holland posits that the location attributed to Mecca in the Qur’an more closely fits a city in the Negev desert, in what is now southern Israel.
Holland suggests that under the reign of Arab Emperor Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, even though only a small percentage of the inhabitants of the Empire was Muslim, Mecca was intentionally yet erroneously portrayed as Muhammad’s home and the birthplace of Islam in order to provide the religion with Arabian origins. Holland argues that in doing so, the faith was unassociated from the Jewish or Christian heritage that would have been self evident at a location in the Negev.