Christians in the Age of Islamic Enlightenment: A Review Essay

By Sanneh, Lamin | International Bulletin of Missionary Research, July 2010 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Christians in the Age of Islamic Enlightenment: A Review Essay

Sanneh, Lamin, International Bulletin of Missionary Research

Christians in the Age of Islamic Enlightenment:: A Review Essay

Christian Doctrines in Islamic Theology. By David Thomas. Leiden: Brill, 2008. Pp. viii, 392. euro135 / $200.

The Legend of Sergius Bahïrâ: Eastern Christian Apologetics and Apocalyptic in Response to Islam. By Barbara Roggema. Leiden: Brill, 2009. Pp. xii, 579. euro169 /$249.

Emerging bedraggled from imperial repression and reeling from the sudden inrush of Greek science and philosophy, Christianity achieved at the hands of Constantine a measure of guarded cohesion before splintering further under Justinian in the sixth century. The Christological controversy, which had taken its toll by the time of the rise of Islam in the seventh century, survived into the Islamic phase with renewed vigor. Rather than flinching, the fledgling Islamic movement set upon the Christian world from two different directions: from without, by the sequestration of territory, in the east against Byzantium and in the west against Spain; and from within, by Islamic criticism of Christian Scripture and of Christian doctrines. In the centuries following the collapse of the Roman Empire, Christianity was consolidating its hold on the Mediterranean before the rise of Islam in the seventh century challenged it seriously. In time, the caliphate proceeded to hold the papacy to ransom for a hundred years, and for much longer Europe danced to the tune of the caliph and, later, to that of the Sublime Porte in Istanbul. Meanwhile, Islam held tenaciously to the view that Christianity is a corrupted religion whose doctrines are invalid. Muslims may for expethence tolerate Christians, but they may not countenance the religion. Split in that fashion, Christians were granted protected status as a matter of social policy while the religion remained under legal restriction. Nowhere is the double fact of territorial disinheritance and religious disqualification more evident than in Bethlehem, Jesus' birthplace and for centuries belonging in the Muslim sphere. It continues to lie on the remote, exotic rim of the Christian world, and therefore of Christian consciousness. No such fate overtook Mecca, Muhammad's birthplace, thanks to Islam's territorial ascendancy and to the institution of the annual pilgrimage rite.

Befuddled historians since Edward Gibbon have tried in vain to explain the surprising ease and rapidity with which Islam overwhelmed Christianity in its heartlands. By contrast, it is much easier to account for the changes that left only traces of Christianity in their wake and where the outcome is self-evident. Islam's territorial gains in Egypt, the Near East, North Africa, and Constantinople, for example, are permanent and as easily accounted for. Yet in its cumulative historical expansion and in its contention against the incarnation and the Trinity, Islam has pursued the church everywhere, mounting an attack on the doctrinal system that has sustained Christianity both long before the rise of Islam and subsequently.

Once the Muslims succeeded in breaking down Byzantine power, they exposed the Greek intellectual structure of Christian thought by demanding an answer to Islam's objections to the church's teaching. Since the church employed Greek ideas and concepts in propounding its doctrines, Muslim scholars could employ the same ideas in attack once they gained access to Greek philosophical sources from the ninth century, which is precisely what happened with the scholastics of Islam, among them the Mu'tazilites. The Mu'tazilites were prickly defenders of God's unity and oneness, which put them at loggerheads with Christian teachings, but also with mainstream Islamic orthodoxy in respect to the subordinate status the Mu'tazilites gave the Qur 'an in preserving the divine unity. The Mu'tazilites floundered on the issue of the Qur 'an. In any case, it helped the Islamic argument of falsehood that such Christians as Nestorians, Jacobites, and Melkites, for example, were in bitter contention among themselves, and it did not escape the attention of the theologians that the language of Christianity was the language of the pagan Greeks and Romans, not the language of Jesus.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Christians in the Age of Islamic Enlightenment: A Review Essay


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?