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 didn’t see it – though feel I should have; but then I was thinking about Brooker’s remarks in the Guardian about it. It probably WAS rather preaching to the already aware, wasn’t it?
    Not as that negates it being worthwhile or interesting as I am sure it was, but it does make me rather wary of what/who it was intended for…

  • Hi,
    Thought you might be interested in an article we’ve just published on The TV Show website… Aaqil Ahmed the commissioning editor for both The Qur’an and The Seven Wonders of The Muslim World has written a piece on his motivations for commissioning the projects and talks a little about the making of both.
    Read it here
    Please be sure to let The TV Show know if you have any further thoughts/comments on C4’s programmes – we’re always interested to hear what viewers have to say.
    Thanks