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When Christians First Met Muslims: New translations and scholarship on the earliest interactions between Christians and Muslims

When Christians First Met Muslims: New translations and scholarship on the earliest interactions between Christians and Muslims

Michael Philip Penn, Professor of Religion at Mount Holyoke College, has just published a new book on early Christian Muslim interactions and the overlooked history of Middle Eastern Christians.

Penn identifies a critical problem in seventh century scholarship; Christian studies focus on western Christians, and Muslim studies focus on the writings of Muslims. For the first centuries of the Islamic Empire, the population was predominantly Middle Eastern Christians, and Penn’s scholarship is focused on how their impressions of Muslims and Islam contributed to Christian thought.

His new book incorporates the translations and interpretations of previously uncollected works in the Aramaic dialect of Syriac, providing a comprehensive picture of what the Syriac Christians thought and recorded.

Penn found that the interactions between Muslims and Christians varied greatly, ranging from friendly to antagonistic, and providing the most detailed outsider observations of any of the Abrahamic faith.

When Christians First Met Muslims: A Sourcebook of the Earliest Syriac Writings on Islam is available from UC Press.


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Marshall Scott

Paul, I would only note that there have been more than one “Islamic Empire,” and different leaders and different administrations have had different practices. Your reference, for example, to recruiting (or conscripting) young Christian boys for the Janissaries was an Ottoman practice, but I don’t think it was a practice under earlier caliphates.

Paul Woodrum

I’ve read that one of the reasons the Islamic empire focused on the conquest of Christian countries was the prohibition of Muslims warring against one another, something that in the centuries since seems to have been forgotten. There was general tolerance of the subject Christian population but Christians were forbidden to proselytize Muslims who were forbidden to become Christians. Promising 12 year old Christian boys were taken away to Muslim schools where they were trained in Islam, government and the military for the elite Imperial corps of Janissaries.

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