Syrian Christians under Islam: The First Thousand Years

Syrian Christians under Islam: The First Thousand Years

Syrian Christians under Islam: The First Thousand Years

Syrian Christians under Islam: The First Thousand Years


This volume contains papers from the Third Woodbrooke-Mingana Symposium on Arab Christianity and Islam (September 1998) on the theme of Arab Christianity in Bil¢d al-Sh¢m (Greater Syria) in the pre-Ottoman Period". It presents aspects of Syrian Christian life and thought during the first millennium of Islamic rule. Among the eight contributing scholars are Sidney Griffith on ninth-century Christological controversies, Samir K. Samir on the Prophet Muhammed seen through Arab Christian eyes, Lawrence Conrad on the physician Ibn Butl¢n, and Lucy-Anne Hunt on Muslim influence on Christian book illustrations. There is also a foreword by the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo. The picture that emerges is of community life developing in its own way and finding a distinctive character, as Christians responded to the social and intellectual influences of Islam."


The history of encounters between Christians and Muslims in the lands of Greater Syria, the bilād al-Shām of the times before national boundaries, is older than that in almost any other part of the Islamic world. In fact, if there is any historical recollection preserved in the ancient account of the meeting between the boy Muḥammad and the Christian hermit Baḥīrā, it may even paradoxically be regarded as predating the appearance of Islam itself.

When it is remembered that Muḥammad went on trading journeys into Greater Syria as a young merchant, and in later life recounted his experience of being taken by night to Jerusalem and from there ascending to heaven, and that he led the first Muslim prayers in the direction of that city until he was given a new qibla, it will be seen that Syria was closely bound up with the life of the Prophet and his early community. The expeditions after his death set out north for Syria, and the Battle of Yarmūk in 15/636 was the first decisive meeting between Muslim Arab and Christian Byzantine armies. When Muʿāwiya established his capital at Damascus in 41/661, Greater Syria came under a Muslim government and, with the exception of the Crusader kingdoms in the sixth/twelfth and seventh/thirteenth centuries, it remained so until the twentieth century. Its Christian populations learned to accept and survive under Muslim rule, and were frequently free to make their own contribution to the life of wider society. They loyally defended their beliefs and religious practices, but in part gradually came under the linguistic and cultural influence of their rulers. From the long and intimate experience of encounters distinctive forms of Christianity developed.

Christian and Muslim interaction in Greater Syria was an appropriate theme for the third in the series of Woodbrooke-Mingana Symposiums on Arab Christianity and Islam. This series of Symposiums is intended to honour Dr Alphonse Mingana (1878–1937), the Iraqi priest who contributed substantially to scholarship on Christianity in the Middle East in the early part of the last century, and brought to Woodbrooke College the collection of Syriac and Arabic Christian manuscripts that bear his name (they are now preserved in the Orchard Learning Resources Centre at Selly Oak). With a general focus upon Arab Christianity and Islam in the pre-Ottoman period, the Symposiums

Mingana’s life has been summed up by S. K. Samir, Alphonse Mingana 1878–1937, Birmingham 1990 (Occasional Paper No. 7).

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