The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam

The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam

The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam

The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam


Amid so much twenty-first-century talk of a "Christian-Muslim divide"--and the attendant controversy in some Western countries over policies toward minority Muslim communities--a historical fact has gone unnoticed: for more than four hundred years beginning in the mid-seventh century, some 50 percent of the world's Christians lived and worshipped under Muslim rule. Just who were the Christians in the Arabic-speaking milieu of Mohammed and the Qur'an?

The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque is the first book-length discussion in English of the cultural and intellectual life of such Christians indigenous to the Islamic world. Sidney Griffith offers an engaging overview of their initial reactions to the religious challenges they faced, the development of a new mode of presenting Christian doctrine as liturgical texts in their own languages gave way to Arabic, the Christian role in the philosophical life of early Baghdad, and the maturing of distinctive Oriental Christian denominations in this context.

Offering a fuller understanding of the rise of Islam in its early years from the perspective of contemporary non-Muslims, this book reminds us that there is much to learn from the works of people who seriously engaged Muslims in their own world so long ago.


This book HAS BEEN in the making for many years. It all began when more than twenty-five years ago I was a fellow at Dumbarton Oaks and in regular conversations with the Byzantinists who were my constant conversation partners there, and with Professor Irfan Shahid in particular, the master of Byzantine/Arab studies, who has continued to give me constant encouragement and help. In those days, Professor Giles Constable was the benevolent and broadminded director of Dumbarton Oaks, to whom I herewith acknowledge my gratitude for his unstinting advocacy and support. At that time I had proposed to write an account of the responses of the Christians in the so-called Oriental Patriarchates, as the Greeks called the Episcopal sees of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, to the challenges posed for them by the Muslims under whose hegemony most of the Coptic, Syriac, and Arabic-speaking Christians lived. Little did I know how long it would take me to accomplish the project; at that time there were few scholarly studies of the relevant materials in Greek, Syriac, and Arabic to which I could turn for help. I spent many years writing articles about individual Christian Arabic and Syriac writers and their compositions, translating and commenting on some texts and editing others. In the fall semester of the academic year 1991–92, I profited immensely from a semester's stay in the Institute for Advanced Study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, at the invitation of Professor R. J. Zwi Werblowsky and the late Professor Hava Lazarus-Yafeh; the community of scholars in Jerusalem in my fields of interest is unequalled anywhere. Finally, in the fall of 2004 I was appointed to John Carroll University's Walter and Mary Tuohy Chair of interreligious studies, a situation that allowed me the opportunity to write as public lectures the general essays that, after much revision, would become the chapters of this book. I am most grateful to Professor David Mason, the director of the chair, and to all my erstwhile colleagues in the university's department of religious studies, particularly Dr. Zeki Saritoprak, for their warm welcome and unstinting hospitality during my time in Cleveland.

For more than thirty years I have been a member of the faculty in the Department of Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, where I took my own graduate degree under the guidance of the late Msgr. Patrick W. Skehan and now retired Professor Richard M. Frank. Needless to say, my debt to them is beyond calculation and well beyond what a simple acknowledgment here can adequately repay. For all of these years I have had the privilege to work in the incomparable library of the university's Semitics De-

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