The most essential history podcast right now must be The History of Islam podcast (feed) by Elias Belhaddad. Current affairs have a very palpable presence of Islam and much of the history since the rise of Islam (and it rose at lightning speed) has a strong presence of Islam. Yet most historiography (and podcasts as well) can only offer the perspective from without. Yet, as we are in crisis with Islam (and maybe we always were) it seems without a doubt extremely important to acquire understanding of Islam. I certainly feel that way.
Elias Belhaddad clearly has set this as a goal: to inform about Islam and convey its perspective to his audience. The consequence of this is that while we have proceeded 14 episodes into the series, we have only just now arrived at Muhammad and he is about to leave for Medina. Belhaddad has deliberately spent most of his time until this point in laying out the groundwork for what he sees is indispensable for understanding the world and people from which Muhammad and Islam came about.
He has invested in explaining the environment of the Arabian Penninsula and how the harsh nature designates the mentality and life style of the Arab peoples. Then he has gone through great lengths laying out the history of the Quraysh clan, how they came to control Mecca and from there on along the lineage down till Muhammad.
He is clearly passionate about the subject, he has great admiration for the Arab people (though not without criticism), he knows his Arabic and personally I assume he is a Muslim, although he has not divulged any such details about himself which is his full right of course.
Hence this is a podcast of great relevance, done with passion and with much purpose. In addition his audio is good and his delivery is much to my liking. Nevertheless I keep wondering with each and every episode: why is this important? What is the take away message? I am sure Elias has a clear idea where he wants to go, and why he narrates the way he does, but he reveals very little of it. Maybe he feels this keeping of the cards to his chest is an advantage, but I wager, the podcast would gain in depth if he were to be transparent on his decisions of what to put in, what to leave out and what it is he wants to make clear in particular.