Review: The Quar’an

In the UK: Monday 14th July, Channel 4, 8pm

Well, blimey. Would you look at that. A proper documentary. A proper, old-school documentary, two hours long, on Channel 4 at primetime. WTF?

As you might guess from the title, The Qur’an was all about the Qur’an (aka the Koran). In it, award-winning documentary maker Antony Thomas went around the world asking Muslims about the Qur’an, what it says and what they believe.

Not only did he gain access to everyone from the Grand Ayatollah of Iran and the Grand Iman of Egypt to lowly peasants in Afghanistan, he did this without special effects, celebrities, computer graphics or once stepping on to camera to talk about his feelings on the subject or the difficulties he faced making the documentary.

It was old-school and it was brilliant.

Thomas spent the allotted two hours giving a brief history of Islam and its various different followers include Sunnis, Shias, Sufis and Wahabists. He looked at how the Qur’an is now interpreted, asked followers to justify this interpretation and how the Qur’an is used to justify matters that are purely cultural. He also looked at how academia is trying to analyse the Qur’an’s history and writings to see just how set in stone and well known they really are.

Thomas wasn’t timid here, covering women’s treatment in many different countries, including those that still perform female genital mutilation, as well as attitudes to suicide bombing, even managing to speak to Hamas’ representative in Bethlehem. 

If there are complaints to be made – and I have no idea how accurate Thomas’s statements about the Qur’an are – they’re this:

  1. the documentary really should have been called "Muslims" since there was really very little about the teachings of the Qur’an, other than the controversial sections. I, personally, had tuned in to learn more about Islam and its teachings and I couldn’t really take much away on this score
  2. while the other branches of Islam were well represented, Wahabism got very little by way of a look-in beyond TV footage. These are minor quibbles and understandable: Thomas made Death of a Princess, so his chances of coming out of Saudi Arabia a happy chappy were likely to be small.

But with fascinating interviews, few punches pulled and a simple style that harked back to the great documentaries of yesteryear, The Qur’an was documentary television as it’s supposed to be.


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.