Walking through galleries that display Qur'ans and Muslim palatial sculpture, you may wonder what happened to the Christian communities who came to live under Islamic rule. In The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque, Sidney H. Griffith goes some way toward answering this question, showing how Christians made a place for themselves in the new Islamic caliphate.
Griffith provides insights into this world by focusing on the vibrant literary tradition of Arab Christian communities. Considering works that range from philosophy and theological tracts to polemics, Griffith sheds light on the lively intellectual culture of eastern Christianity. He presents a multifaceted and complicated world: Christians in Baghdad labor over translations, rendering Greek philosophy into Arabic; theologians, including John of Damascus, respond to the challenge posed by Islam by writing tracts in defense of icons; a monk visits the emir's court to debate the merits of Christianity and Islam; and philosophers cast a favorable eye on works produced by members of both faiths.
Such texts illuminate a social milieu that was characterized, and shaped by, extensive contact between Christians and Muslims. Ultimately, the texts and genres under consideration in this book provide a Christian counterpart to the objects on display in the exhibition. In much the same way that Muslim elites adopted the visual language of Byzantium as an expressive medium, Christians found in Arabic the words and rhetorical forms needed to shape their own theological doctrine and define their communal identities. For these communities, the "shadow of the mosque" did not eclipse the church but rather, as Griffith writes, provided the gentle shade of a protective, sheltering tree.
About the Book
The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam. Princeton University Press, 2010