Saturday, September 13, 2014

Muslims and Churches in 7th Century Syria

In Hugh Kennedy's The Great Arab Conquests, he has a bit about Muslim-Christian coexistence around worship buildings in the wake of the Arab conquests:
The clause (in the surrender agreement for Homs, Syria) about giving up a quarter of the church for use as a mosque may seem curious and perhaps improbable: after all, how could these two religions, whose followers had just been engaged in violent warfare, end up by sharing the main religious building in the town?  We are told, however, that it also happened at Damascus, where the Muslims used half of their cathedral as the first mosque.  Only at the beginning of the eighth century, sixty years after the conquest, were the Christians expelled and a purpose-built mosque constructed.  Even then, compensation was paid and the Christians made a new cathedral in the church of St. Mary, about half a kilometer east of the mosque, and this remains the cathedral of the Melkite (Greek Orthodox) community of Damascus to the present day.  Interestingly, we find archaeological confirmation of this practice from a small town in the Negev, Subeita.  Here there are two large, finely built Byzantine churches.  In the narthex or porch of one are the foundations of a small mosque.  We can tell it is a mosque because of the mihrab, the niche showing the direction of Mecca, which is clearly visible.  All this evidence suggests that, after the political defeat of the Christian forces, the two religious communities could and did coexist, if not in harmony, at least in a state of mutual tolerance.
As far as the former Byzantine territories go,  contemporary Muslim apologists are accurate to point out that there was more freedom of religion under the caliphate than under the Byzantine Empire.  Since ISIS is in the church-destroying business, though, I still have to ask:  Does "Caliph Ibrahim" think the caliphs he as a Sunni recognizes as "rightly guided" erred in their policies towards Christians?  Some of the buildings his forces have destroyed were around during this period.

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