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

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Overview

"The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque is a book of uncommon learning and profound insight. The clarity of understanding, conciseness of presentation, and lucid command of deeper ramifications are qualities that only years of intimacy with the material can yield. This is a book that few scholars could have produced. It is also acutely timely. Scholars and students, as well as interested general readers, will find this book fruitful, engaging, challenging, and rewarding."—Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Brown University

"In this book, one of the most prominent scholars in the field builds on his previous work to tell the story of the formation and development of Arab Christianity. Sidney Griffith forcefully argues for the unique character of the Christian Arabic profile. Such a book is badly needed. Reflecting the author's erudition and replete with insights, it opens the rich cultural world of the Arab Middle Ages to nonspecialists."—Sarah Stroumsa, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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Editorial Reviews

The Tablet
Sidney Griffith's work is a milestone in the field of classical Christian-Arabic studies. It provides specialists in the field as well as the general reader with wide-ranging information, precious insights and judicious assessments.
— Christian Troll
LOGOS: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies
This is a wonderfully written and important book—so much so that immediately after reading it, I started recommending it to students in two courses on 'Eastern Christianity and the Encounter with Islam' that I am teaching currently. From Griffith we should expect nothing less than such a masterful treatment for he has spent the last thirty years researching Muslim-Christian relations, research he displays here with elegance and cogency—and in a thirty-page bibliography, which is most useful.
— Adam A. J. DeVille
Choice
In [The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque], Griffith sets out to correct important facets of the history of Muslim/Christian interaction. One of the most fascinating aspects of this history is the way in which the Arabization of oriental Christians provided them with a new language and a new cultural medium in which to rearticulate doctrines that they considered central to their faith.
— M. Swartz
Missiology
This will become a valuable resource for many years to come. . . . In a post-modern, pluralistic, global environment, core Christian beliefs will face new challenges. One of the most overt challenges will come from a close encounter with Islam. This book will be a vital, even necessary, resource in filling in a major historical gap in that encounter.
— Evertt W. Huffard
European Legacy
The study offers engaging and accessible reading for the layman, as well as a helpful overview for the researcher—some thirty pages of reference literature will prove useful for anyone who embarks on the search of the earliest Christian-Muslim contacts.
— Ljubica Miocevic
Anglican and Episcopal History
This book is a welcome synthesis of a lifetime of scholarship that lays out the little-known history of churches under Islam that whets the appetite to learn more.
— Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski
Dialog
This is an important and helpful volume. It reminds us that Christian-Muslim dialogue has a long history. It helps us understand the beginning of Christian-Muslim dialogue that predated thinkers like Peter Abelard and Thomas Aquinas. . . . [Griffith's] volume might well help us think about how better to engage and encounter Muslims in interfaith conversation.
— David C. Ratke
Restoration Quarterly
[T]his book provides an excellent introduction of the pertinent material and literature. It is also useful for scholars who wish to pursue further the topics that Griffith raises because he includes a wealth of resources in the footnotes and bibliography. Thanks to Griffith's work, the history of Christianity in the East does not lie completely in the shadow.
— J. Edward Walters
LOGOS: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies

This is a wonderfully written and important book--so much so that immediately after reading it, I started recommending it to students in two courses on 'Eastern Christianity and the Encounter with Islam' that I am teaching currently. From Griffith we should expect nothing less than such a masterful treatment for he has spent the last thirty years researching Muslim-Christian relations, research he displays here with elegance and cogency--and in a thirty-page bibliography, which is most useful.
— Adam A. J. DeVille
CHOICE

In [The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque], Griffith sets out to correct important facets of the history of Muslim/Christian interaction. One of the most fascinating aspects of this history is the way in which the Arabization of oriental Christians provided them with a new language and a new cultural medium in which to rearticulate doctrines that they considered central to their faith.
— M. Swartz
Middle East Journal - David Thomas
The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque makes a contribution to the understanding of relations between Christians and Muslims that is both necessary and enriching. Its author, Sidney Griffith, has almost unparalleled knowledge of his subject, and brings together here the fruit of decades of painstaking work in Syriac and Arabic to piece together a history that gives color to Christian-Muslim relations, and illuminates many of the points of controversy between the faiths by situating them in a historical context.
Catholic Herald - Jonathan Wright
This splendid book provides a revelatory account of those Christians—and they were legion—who lived under Islamic rule between the time of Mohammed and the Mongol conquests in the Near East during the 13th century....Through a close reading of the texts they produced, Griffith explores the unique theological and ecclesiological visions fashioned by these often unsung Christians.
LOGOS: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies - Adam A.J. DeVille
This is a wonderfully written and important book—so much so that immediately after reading it, I started recommending it to students in two courses on 'Eastern Christianity and the Encounter with Islam' that I am teaching currently. From Griffith we should expect nothing less than such a masterful treatment for he has spent the last thirty years researching Muslim-Christian relations, research he displays here with elegance and cogency—and in a thirty-page bibliography, which is most useful.
The Tablet - Christian Troll
Sidney Griffith's work is a milestone in the field of classical Christian-Arabic studies. It provides specialists in the field as well as the general reader with wide-ranging information, precious insights and judicious assessments.
CHOICE - M. Swartz
In [The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque], Griffith sets out to correct important facets of the history of Muslim/Christian interaction. One of the most fascinating aspects of this history is the way in which the Arabization of oriental Christians provided them with a new language and a new cultural medium in which to rearticulate doctrines that they considered central to their faith.
International Bulletin of Missionary Research - Richard J. Jones
In today's English-speaking world, Griffith's lucid reintroduction of these thinkers should be welcomed both by Christians seeking to honor non-European expressions of Christian faith and by Muslims interested in reconciling Islamic ways of knowing with the Western commitment to empirical knowledge and ideas of cause and effect.
Book Reviews - Everett W. Huffard
In a post-modern, pluralistic, global environment, core Christian beliefs will face new challenges. One of the most overt challenges will come from a close encounter with Islam. This book will be a vital, even necessary, resource in filling in a major historical gap in that encounter.
Interpretation - Stanley H. Skreslet
After more than thirty years of specialized research focused on the literature of Arabic Christian theology, Sidney Griffith seeks to introduce this part of Eastern Christianity's intellectual and cultural heritage to a broader audience. This is a worthy undertaking, realized in a way that non-experts are likely to consider accessible and appealing.
Canadian Journal of History - Kirsten Ruther
Sidney Griffith's book elegantly enlarges conventional conceptions frequently found in histories of Christianity. . . . The book provides access to a field of study that is usually not open to non-specialists. It also offers points of reflection and debate for scholars who themselves are interested in opening their respective areas of study to non-specialists across the disciplines.
Cambridge Journals - John Flannery
This important book, more than twenty-five years in the making, represents a significant contribution to the history of Christian-Muslim dialogue by an acknowledged expert on the interaction between indigenous Christians, particularly those of the Eastern Church's, and their Muslim rulers, resulting from the meteoric expansion of the new religion. Of value to the specialist, not least for the extensive bibliography provided, the book is nevertheless written in such a way as to be accessible to the general reader.
Missiology - Evertt W. Huffard
This will become a valuable resource for many years to come. . . . In a post-modern, pluralistic, global environment, core Christian beliefs will face new challenges. One of the most overt challenges will come from a close encounter with Islam. This book will be a vital, even necessary, resource in filling in a major historical gap in that encounter.
European Legacy - Ljubica Miocevic
The study offers engaging and accessible reading for the layman, as well as a helpful overview for the researcher—some thirty pages of reference literature will prove useful for anyone who embarks on the search of the earliest Christian-Muslim contacts.
Anglican and Episcopal History - Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski
This book is a welcome synthesis of a lifetime of scholarship that lays out the little-known history of churches under Islam that whets the appetite to learn more.
Dialog - David C. Ratke
This is an important and helpful volume. It reminds us that Christian-Muslim dialogue has a long history. It helps us understand the beginning of Christian-Muslim dialogue that predated thinkers like Peter Abelard and Thomas Aquinas. . . . [Griffith's] volume might well help us think about how better to engage and encounter Muslims in interfaith conversation.
Restoration Quarterly - J. Edward Walters
[T]his book provides an excellent introduction of the pertinent material and literature. It is also useful for scholars who wish to pursue further the topics that Griffith raises because he includes a wealth of resources in the footnotes and bibliography. Thanks to Griffith's work, the history of Christianity in the East does not lie completely in the shadow.
LOGOS: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies - Adam A. J. DeVille
This is a wonderfully written and important book—so much so that immediately after reading it, I started recommending it to students in two courses on 'Eastern Christianity and the Encounter with Islam' that I am teaching currently. From Griffith we should expect nothing less than such a masterful treatment for he has spent the last thirty years researching Muslim-Christian relations, research he displays here with elegance and cogency—and in a thirty-page bibliography, which is most useful.
From the Publisher
"This important book, more than twenty-five years in the making, represents a significant contribution to the history of Christian-Muslim dialogue by an acknowledged expert on the interaction between indigenous Christians, particularly those of the Eastern Church's, and their Muslim rulers, resulting from the meteoric expansion of the new religion. Of value to the specialist, not least for the extensive bibliography provided, the book is nevertheless written in such a way as to be accessible to the general reader."—John Flannery, Cambridge Journals

"This will become a valuable resource for many years to come. . . . In a post-modern, pluralistic, global environment, core Christian beliefs will face new challenges. One of the most overt challenges will come from a close encounter with Islam. This book will be a vital, even necessary, resource in filling in a major historical gap in that encounter."—Evertt W. Huffard, Missiology

"The study offers engaging and accessible reading for the layman, as well as a helpful overview for the researcher—some thirty pages of reference literature will prove useful for anyone who embarks on the search of the earliest Christian-Muslim contacts."—Ljubica Miocevic, European Legacy

"This book is a welcome synthesis of a lifetime of scholarship that lays out the little-known history of churches under Islam that whets the appetite to learn more."—Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski, Anglican and Episcopal History

"This is an important and helpful volume. It reminds us that Christian-Muslim dialogue has a long history. It helps us understand the beginning of Christian-Muslim dialogue that predated thinkers like Peter Abelard and Thomas Aquinas. . . . [Griffith's] volume might well help us think about how better to engage and encounter Muslims in interfaith conversation."—David C. Ratke, Dialog

"[T]his book provides an excellent introduction of the pertinent material and literature. It is also useful for scholars who wish to pursue further the topics that Griffith raises because he includes a wealth of resources in the footnotes and bibliography. Thanks to Griffith's work, the history of Christianity in the East does not lie completely in the shadow."—J. Edward Walters, Restoration Quarterly

Middle East Journal
The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque makes a contribution to the understanding of relations between Christians and Muslims that is both necessary and enriching. Its author, Sidney Griffith, has almost unparalleled knowledge of his subject, and brings together here the fruit of decades of painstaking work in Syriac and Arabic to piece together a history that gives color to Christian-Muslim relations, and illuminates many of the points of controversy between the faiths by situating them in a historical context.
— David Thomas
Catholic Herald
This splendid book provides a revelatory account of those Christians—and they were legion—who lived under Islamic rule between the time of Mohammed and the Mongol conquests in the Near East during the 13th century....Through a close reading of the texts they produced, Griffith explores the unique theological and ecclesiological visions fashioned by these often unsung Christians.
— Jonathan Wright
International Bulletin of Missionary Research
In today's English-speaking world, Griffith's lucid reintroduction of these thinkers should be welcomed both by Christians seeking to honor non-European expressions of Christian faith and by Muslims interested in reconciling Islamic ways of knowing with the Western commitment to empirical knowledge and ideas of cause and effect.
— Richard J. Jones
Book Reviews
In a post-modern, pluralistic, global environment, core Christian beliefs will face new challenges. One of the most overt challenges will come from a close encounter with Islam. This book will be a vital, even necessary, resource in filling in a major historical gap in that encounter.
— Everett W. Huffard
Interpretation
After more than thirty years of specialized research focused on the literature of Arabic Christian theology, Sidney Griffith seeks to introduce this part of Eastern Christianity's intellectual and cultural heritage to a broader audience. This is a worthy undertaking, realized in a way that non-experts are likely to consider accessible and appealing.
— Stanley H. Skreslet
Canadian Journal of History
Sidney Griffith's book elegantly enlarges conventional conceptions frequently found in histories of Christianity. . . . The book provides access to a field of study that is usually not open to non-specialists. It also offers points of reflection and debate for scholars who themselves are interested in opening their respective areas of study to non-specialists across the disciplines.
— Kirsten Ruther
Cambridge Journals
This important book, more than twenty-five years in the making, represents a significant contribution to the history of Christian-Muslim dialogue by an acknowledged expert on the interaction between indigenous Christians, particularly those of the Eastern Church's, and their Muslim rulers, resulting from the meteoric expansion of the new religion. Of value to the specialist, not least for the extensive bibliography provided, the book is nevertheless written in such a way as to be accessible to the general reader.
— John Flannery
Choice
In [The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque], Griffith sets out to correct important facets of the history of Muslim/Christian interaction. One of the most fascinating aspects of this history is the way in which the Arabization of oriental Christians provided them with a new language and a new cultural medium in which to rearticulate doctrines that they considered central to their faith.
— M. Swartz
Middle East Journal
The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque makes a contribution to the understanding of relations between Christians and Muslims that is both necessary and enriching. Its author, Sidney Griffith, has almost unparalleled knowledge of his subject, and brings together here the fruit of decades of painstaking work in Syriac and Arabic to piece together a history that gives color to Christian-Muslim relations, and illuminates many of the points of controversy between the faiths by situating them in a historical context.
— David Thomas
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Sidney H. Griffith is a professor at the Catholic University of America, where he teaches Syriac and Christian Arabic.

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Read an Excerpt

The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam
By Sidney H. Griffith Princeton University Press
Copyright © 2007
Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-13015-6


Introduction THE STORY OF THE CHRISTIANS who are at home in the world of Islam has seldom been told in terms that highlight how their intellectual culture and even their denominational identities came to be expressed in the Arabic idiom of the Islamic culture of which they were for centuries an integral part. In the heyday of the classical world of Arabo-Islamic civilization in the Middle East, from the middle of the eighth century to the middle of the thirteenth century, Arabic-speaking Christians not only made major contributions to Islamic culture, but they also wrote philosophical and theological texts of their own in Arabic; they translated much of their several ecclesiastical traditions from Greek, Syriac, and Coptic into Arabic; and they produced scholars, scientists, and churchmen who in their own day gained enviable reputations in the Arab world. This book tells their story in broad outline, with copious bibliographical annotations for those who would like to learn more about this exciting and little-known chapter in the history of Christianity.

A number of first-rate studies of Christians in the Middle East have been published in recent years, but they have not been so much concerned with the history of the development and expression of Christian culture and learningin Arabic. Rather, their concern has been, for the most part, to set forth the internal history and fortunes of the several "Oriental" churches, the perilous demographic state of these communities since the fourteenth century, and to provide the historical statistics that chart their decline. There have also been recent studies of the multiple hardships endured by Jews, Christians, and other "People of the Book" in their experience of life in the special status stipulated for them in Islamic law, a status that has recently been designated by the neologism, Dhimmitude, a term that echoes the Arabic word designating their legal standing. But another dimension to the life of the Christians in the world of Islam also deserves attention and has often been neglected by westerners. It is the story of the religious, cultural, and intellectual achievements of the Arabophone Christians.

Many well-informed westerners are still completely unaware of the fact that there is a large archive of texts in Arabic composed by Christians from as early as the eighth century of the Christian era and continuing right up to today. Arabic is often thought to be simply the language of the Muslims. And hand in hand with the unawareness of Christian Arabic there has gone the concomitant unawareness of the considerable cultural and intellectual achievements of the Christians who have for more than a millennium been an integral part of the societies of the Arabic-speaking Muslims in the Middle East. It is almost as if in the western imagination the religious discourse and the intellectual concerns of Middle Eastern Christians were frozen in time, in the form they had at the time when the Islamic hegemony came over them in the seventh century. This unawareness of the continuing vitality of Christian life and culture in the world of Islam after the Islamic conquest is no doubt due in large part to the slow pace of the academic study of Christian Arabic in the West. It did not really become a going concern until the twentieth century, and then often only by riding on the coattails of other academic disciplines. The situation is almost a complete contrast with that of the study of Judeo-Arabic and the cultural and intellectual achievements of the Jews of Islam during the centuries when there were large Jewish populations in the Islamic world, not only in the East but also in North Africa and al-Andalus.

By contrast with the case of the Arabic-speaking Christians, many of the seminal Jewish thinkers of the Middle Ages who lived among the Muslims and wrote in Arabic are now well known to many educated westerners. Their works and their languages have been studied in western universities for generations. Many readers, on the one hand, will probably recognize such names as: Sagadyah ben Yosef Gahon (882-942), Yehudah Ha-Levi (ca. 1075-1141), Avraham ibn Ezra (1089-1164), or Moses Maimonides (1135-1204). Who, on the other hand, even among Christian medievalists, has heard of Hunaynibn Ishaq (808-873), Theodore Abu Qurrah (ca. 755-ca. 830), 'Ammar al-Basri (fl. ca. 850), Yahyaibn 'Adi (893-974), Bar Hebraeus (d. 1286), or al-Mu'taman ibn al-'Assal (fl. 1230-1260)? Strangely, there is one Arab Christian scholar of early 'Abbasid times whose name readers of the works of the Irish poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) might recognize. He was the Syrian "Melkite" Qusta ibn Luqa al-Ba'albaki (d. 912); Yeats used his name, under the form Kusta Ben Luka, to designate a mysterious interlocutor in his esoteric work, A Vision. But no one seems to know how Yeats came upon the name of this distinguished Arab Christian scholar, or indeed if he even knew much about his background.

In the West, Christendom is often thought of as coterminous with the lands and cultures of the Latin Middle Ages, and many people nowadays are also unaware of the names of even the neighboring medieval Byzantine Christian writers and thinkers whose language was Greek or Slavonic, let alone the names of any Arabic or Syriac writers among the Christians who lived in the world of Islam. Latin Christians in particular have historically been inclined to think of the Christians of the Orient as schismatic or even heretical and so as people who left the church centuries ago. Now is the time to take steps to remedy this situation, first of all because the intellectual heritage of the eastern Christians belongs to the whole church and we are the poorer without any knowledge of it. But it is also the case that in the multicultural world of the twenty-first century, when Muslim/Christian relations are becoming daily more important worldwide, the experience of the Christians of the Orient who have lived with Muslims for centuries, and who have immigrated to the West together with the Muslims, is immediately relevant for those of us in the West who would be in dialogue with Muslims today and who would welcome some deeper knowledge of the history of our shared religious and intellectual heritage. The time is long overdue for the Christians of the West to extend their modern ecumenical concerns to their coreligionists of the Islamic world.

The purpose of this book is to provide a succinct overview of the cultural and intellectual achievements, including the theological posture vis-à-vis Islam, of the Christians who spoke and wrote in Syriac and in Arabic and who lived in the world of Islam from the time of the prophet Muhammad (ca. 570-632) up to the time of the Crusades at the end of the eleventh century and even beyond that time to the era of the very destructive Mongol invasions of the Middle East in the mid-thirteenth century. The title of the work, The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque, is meant to evoke both the overshadowing effects, as well as the protective shade, afforded by the shadow cast by the mosque over all other institutions in the Islamic world. It is seldom recognized that the establishment of Islamic, Arabic-speaking culture in the caliphate by the end of the ninth century, albeit that it eventually led to the declension of the local Christian communities and finally brought them to their modern demographic insignificance in the Middle East, nevertheless also provided the circumstances for two important developments in Christian life in early Islamic times. It fostered the articulation of a new cultural expression of Christian doctrine, this time in Arabic, and it provided the cultural framework within which the several Christian denominations of the Orient ultimately came to define their mature ecclesial identities. These unsung developments hold within them the seeds of a hope that once again, within a sphere of a religious freedom now unfortunately widely unavailable in Islamic countries, a Christian voice can once again be heard where Islam holds sway, in the very idiom of the dominant Islamic religious discourse. It could pave the way for the Christians of the world of Islam to lead their coreligionists in the rest of the world into a renewed Muslim/Christian dialogue and to hasten the general recognition of the fact that there is indeed an "Islamo-Christian" heritage on which both Muslims and Christians can draw in their efforts to promote a peaceful and mutually respectful convivencia in the future.

Almost exactly one century ago, first at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, and then at seminaries in Chicago, Illinois, and Louisville, Kentucky, during the academic year 1902-3, William Ambrose Shedd of the American Presbyterian Church delivered a series of six lectures on the general theme of Islam and the Oriental churches. His topics closely parallel those of the following chapters of the present book, with the difference that the scholarship of the intervening century has considerably enhanced our knowledge of the history and culture of the Christians who have lived with Muslims. And there is another important difference. Shedd's final chapter concerns the missionary heritage of the indigenous churches of the Islamic world, and he speaks of the campaign of the Christians of the West to conquer Islam. Now, a century later, while western Christians are still no less devoted to proclaiming the Good News, there is also a recognition of the right to religious freedom for all and the imperative for interreligious dialogue and comparative theology, important steps toward peace in the twenty-first century. My own final chapter searches for the theological, historical, and cultural postures Christians might now reasonably assume in their continuing encounter with Muslims, in the light of the lessons learned from the thought and experience of the Arabic-speaking Oriental churches in the early centuries of Islam. From this perspective one might think that modern advances in the world of Islamic scholarship and the current Christian readiness to dialogue with members of other religious communities, the times would offer a new opportunity for a measure of Christian/Muslim rapprochement, and for a renewal of mutual respect, rather than for continued confrontation and mutual recrimination. It is true that the lessons of history on this point do not offer grounds for heightened expectations, but the alternative to not making the effort to make things better is already well known and mutually destructive.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque by Sidney H. Griffith
Copyright © 2007 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS ix
PREFACE xi
Introduction 1
CHAPTER I: "People of the Gospel," "People of the Book": C Hristians and Christianity in the World of Islam 6
CHAPTER II: Apocalypse and the Arabs: The First Christian Responses to the Challenge of Islam 23
CHAPTER III: Christian Theology in Arabic: A New Development in Church Life 45
CHAPTER IV: The Shape of Christian Theology in Arabic: The Genres and Strategies of Christian Discourse in the World of Islam 75
CHAPTER VP: Christian Philosophy in Baghdad and Beyond: A Major Partner in the Development of Classical Islamic Intellectual Culture 106
CHAPTER VI: What Has Baghdad to Do with Constantinople or Rome?: Oriental Christian Self-Definition in the World of Islam 129
CHAPTER VII: Between the Crescent and the Cross: Convivencia, the Clash of Theologies, and Interreligious Dialogue 156
BIBLIOGRAPHY 181
INDEX 213

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