Note: This post accompanies the material for an online course in Christian-Muslim relations offered by staff at the University of Edinburgh. You can find more information about this course and its aims here.
The third week of this course explored some of the earliest historical encounters between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East and Europe. This included a ‘virtual tour’ of contested religious sites in modern-day Turkey and Spain, but also an introduction to the history of Syriac Christianity.
For many course participants, the history of the Syriac Church – and the way that many Syriac Christians successfully engaged with and lived alongside early Muslims – was a new topic. Many were enthusiastic about re-learning an era of history that they had always believed was characterized by conquest and violence. At the same time, some expressed concern that this history had been somewhat lost due to that denomination’s theological differences with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.
Several comments suggested that this history could offer resources and models for interfaith engagement in different contexts today. This is a fascinating idea, and one that we can hopefully discuss in more detail in Week 4 of the course.
Along those lines, many course participants wanted to know more about the Syriac Christian community and their historic engagement with Muslims. It is impossible for us to discuss every relevant or important topic within Christian-Muslim relations in a four-week course, but these discussions can hopefully be a starting point for further exploration.
Below a list of resources about the Christian communities Christians who lived in Muslim empires during the classical period:
- The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque by Sydney H. Griffith – If you plan to read only one book on this topic, this might be the one.
- This podcast on the Translation Movement by Prof Peter Adamson describes the history of philosophical and theological collaboration between Christians and Muslims in the early Islamic Empire.
- Envisioning Islam: Syriac Christians and the Early Muslim World by Michael Philip Penn – This book is from the same author whose video introduced the Syriac Christian community in the course.
- Christian Martyrs under Islam: Religious Violence and the Making of the Muslim World by Christian C Sahner – In this book, the author uses recorded hagiographies to shed light on the ordinary encounters between Christians and Muslims in the eighth-century Middle East. You can read about the author’s discussion on this book here.
- The Making of the Medieval Middle East: Religion, Society, and Simple Believers by Jack Tannous – Similar to the book mentioned above, this work tries to use limited sources in creative ways to thinking about the perspectives of ordinary, every-day people, be they Christian or Muslim, in the Middle East after the Arab Conquests. You can also read about a similar presentation from the author here.
- Cross Veneration in the Medieval Islamic World: Christian Identity and Practice under Muslim Rule by Charles Tieszen – By exploring the meaning of the cross, this book explores the oft-forgotten engagement among Muslims and Christians between the eighth and fourteenth century. Read an interview with the author about the book here.
- A History of Christian-Muslim Relations by Hugh Goddard – This offers a much broader history of Christian-Muslim encounter than a four-week course is able to offer. You can watch the virtual launch for this book here or read the author’s introduction.