"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Eastern Christian Converts to Islam

One of the tasks I face with my students when looking at the history of Orthodox-Muslim encounters is to help them grasp the idea that one can belong more or less simultaneously to two seemingly divergent communities, and this is not necessarily experienced as "schizophrenic" in the pejorative sense. There is often a degree of overlap in multiple "identities" that some today find difficult to fathom. And the movement between communities is not simple, either, as though invasion at once begins a massive reversal rather than a long, drawn-out process.

All these phenomena are addressed in a new book: Conversion to Islam in the Premodern Age: A Sourcebook First Edition, eds., Nimrod Hurvitz, Christian C. Sahner, Uriel Simonsohn, and Luke Yarbrough (University of California Press, 2020, 366pp.).

About this book, the publisher tells us this:
Conversion to Islam is a phenomenon of immense significance in human history. At the outset of Islamic rule in the seventh century, Muslims constituted a tiny minority in most areas under their control. But by the beginning of the modern period, they formed the majority in most territories from North Africa to Southeast Asia. Across such diverse lands, peoples, and time periods, conversion was a complex, varied phenomenon. Converts lived in a world of overlapping and competing religious, cultural, social, and familial affiliations, and the effects of turning to Islam played out in every aspect of life. Conversion therefore provides a critical lens for world history, magnifying the constantly evolving array of beliefs, practices, and outlooks that constitute Islam around the globe. This groundbreaking collection of texts, translated from sources in a dozen languages from the seventh to the eighteenth centuries, presents the historical process of conversion to Islam in all its variety and unruly detail, through the eyes of both Muslim and non-Muslim observers.

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