The Church Under the Arab Empire

Manuscript from the 1200's, copied from an older medical work by Hunain Ibn Ishaq (809 - 873 AD). Ishaq was an Arab Christian of Nestorian persuasion. He was a translator, physician, scientist, and scholar at the height of the Islamic Abbasid Caliphate. His research into the human eye is called Ten Treatises on Ophthalmology. His story is remarkable and inspiring, and an important part of the story of Christians living under Arab rule. Photo credit:  Unknown | Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons


the church under the arab empires

The selection of perspectives on church history in this section has been guided by three factors: (1) to demonstrate that Christianity has not been a “white man’s religion”; (2) the study of empire as a recurring motif in Scripture by recent biblical studies scholars; and (3) explorations of biblical Christian ethics on issues of power and polity, to understand how Christians were faithful to Christ or not.  Christian relational ethics continues a Christian theological anthropology that began with reflection on the human nature of Jesus, and the human experience of biblical Israel.

Books and Articles on the Church Under the Arab Empires

The Church of the East 431 AD resources exploring the Syriac-speaking church that is sometimes seen through the lens of Nestorius, a characterization which has been recently challenged

The Oriental Orthodox Church 451 AD resources exploring the churches which upheld the Miaphysite language of Jesus’ one “physis” while the pro-Chalcedonian Churches (Constantinople and Rome) upheld two “physeis.” The selections below are guided by the attempt to understand the schism that occurred at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. This includes the Egyptian Coptic, Armenian, Syrian, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Indian Malankaran Churches.

George Khoury, The Arabic Christian Literature (Al-Bushra, date unknown) a helpful summary of the extant literature, grouped by Melkite, Jacobite, Nestorian, Coptic, and Maronite

Peter Theodore Farrington, The Orthodox Christology of St. Severus of Antioch (Orthodox Wiki article) (c.459 - 538 AD) offers an insight into the Chalcedonian vs. non-Chalcedonian Christology of the Syriac and Arabic speaking Christians.  See also Father Antony Paul, Chalcedonian and Coptic Orthodox: History, Similiarities, and Differences (Holy Transfiguration American Coptic American Church, Nov 20, 2016) a 50 minute Youtube video; helpful summary of the history of the 5th century; helpful comments about the term "monophysite" and why the Copts do not use the term "theosis," as the Eastern Orthodox do, because of their context in Islam

Bat Ye’or, The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians Under Islam (Amazon book, 1985)

Bat Ye’or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude: Seventh-Twentieth Century (Amazon book, 1996)

Michael Luo, Iraqi Christians Flee as Extremist Threat Worsens (youtube video, Oct 17, 2006)

Robert Miller, Syriac and Antiochian Exegesis and Biblical Theology for the 3rd Millenium (Amazon book, Dec 1, 2008)

Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia-and How It Died (Amazon book, Nov 3, 2009)

Sidney Griffith, The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam (Amazon book, Apr 2010)

Aziz Atiya, History of Eastern Christianity (Amazon book, Jan 1, 2010) written by a Coptic Christian, surveys Copts and Ethiopians, along with other Oriental Orthodox Churches in Asia:  Syrians, Nestorians, Armenians, and Indians

C. Fotescu Tauwinkl, R.B. ten Haar Romeny, HGB Teule, and J.J. Van Ginkel, The Syriac Renaissance (Amazon book, Dec 31, 2010) is a compilation of papers about the Syriac Renaissance of the 11th - 13th centuries

John L. Allen, Jr., Catholicism Growing in Heart of Muslim World (Boston Globe, Mar 8, 2014)

Samuel Noble and Alexander Treiger, The Orthodox Church in the Arab World, 700 - 1700: An Anthology of Sources (Amazon book, Mar 15, 2014) an anthology of Arab Christian literature from the 8th to 18th centuries

Azam Ahmed, A Christian Convert, on the Run in Afghanistan (NY Times, Jun 21, 2014)

Tim Arango, Concern and Support for Iraqi Christians Forced by Militants to Flee Mosul (NY Times, Jul 20, 2014) and Tim Stanley, Iraqi Christians Are Raped, Murdered, and Driven From Their Homes - and the West is Silent (The Telegraph, Jul 21, 2014)

Loveday Morris, As Christmas Approaches, Baghdad Christians Lament Empty Pews (Washington Post, Dec 22, 2014)

George Richards, Fleeing ISIS Into Exile, Syriac Christians Sing the Oldest Music on Earth (Newsweek, Apr 16, 2015)

Princeton University, Christianity in the Near East: Past, Present, and Future? (Arab Orthodoxy blog, May 15, 2015) especially Samir Khalil Samir, The Role of Christians Within the Arab-Islamic Society of the Middle East

Isabel Malsang, How an Iraqi Friar Saved Ancient Christian Manuscripts from IS (Yahoo News, May 22, 2015)

Leah Marieann Klett, Thousands of Muslims In Northern Iraq Converting to Christianity After Witnessing ISIS Horror, Ministry Reveals: 'They're Just Sick of Islam' (Gospel Herald, Oct 30, 2015)

Andrew Doran, When Christianities Collide: Persecuted Churches of the East Need Dialogue With the West (The American Conservative, Jun 9, 2016)

Amr Emam, First Christian Mass Held in Saudi Arabia (The Arab Weekly, Sep 12, 2018) “There are approximately 1.8 million Christians in Saudi Arabia, the Coptic Orthodox Church said.”

the church in the middle east: Under the empires

Church and empire: faithfulness and compromise