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The Origins of Islam

The same spotlight of historical enquiry that scholars have long been shedding on the biblical past is now starting to illumine the origins of Islam, as Tom Holland explains.

The baptism of Christ depicted in 'The Chronology of Ancient Nations' by Al-Biruni, Islamic school, 14th century.Midway through the eighth century a monk living in the monastery of Beth Hale in Iraq recorded the arrival there of an eminent visitor. A ‘Son of Ishmael’ – one of the Arab dignitaries who served at the court of the caliph – had fallen ill. Naturally enough, since Christian holy men were renowned for effecting miracle cures, he had turned to the monks to help him with his convalescence. The Arab stayed ten days in the monastery and in that time he and his hosts argued freely about their respective religions. The monk, of course, portrayed himself as emphatically the winner.

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