"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, May 19, 2021

Muslims Fascinated with Christian Monks

As the late, great historian of Byzantine Christianity, Robert Taft of the Society of Jesus used to say, when it comes to the development of liturgical traditions at least, we're all "mongrels." By that he meant that anybody tempted (and such people are not hard to find on the Web) to propagate founding narratives of purity, in which the Latin or Syriac or Armenian or Greek or Russian traditions (inter alia) were somehow untouched by other traditions, is talking nonsense. That lesson surely applies, mutatis mutandis, to the development of monastic traditions, and indeed to the emerging tradition called Islam. In other words, people first encountered, then were fascinated with, and finally in some fashion often borrowed from each other even if in some eyes doing so was verboten (though the condemnations of such borrowings are almost always very post hoc). 

Anyway, here is a new book that shows early Christian monastic life was not just hugely fascinating to other Christians, but to Muslims as well: Christian Monastic Life in Early Islam (Edinburgh UP, April 2021, 288pp.) by Bradley Bowman.

About this new book the publisher tells us this:

During the rise of Islam, Muslim fascination with Christian monastic life was articulated through a fluid, piety-centred movement. Bradley Bowman explores this confessional synthesis between like-minded religious groups in the medieval Near East. He argues that this potential ecumenism would have been based upon the sharing of core tenets concerning piety and righteous behaviour. Such fundamental attributes, long associated with monasticism in the East, likely served as a mutually inclusive common ground for Muslim and Christian communities of the period. This manifested itself in Muslim appreciation, interest and – at times – participation in Christian monastic life.

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