An important archaeological find was recently made, though—and because it involves Islam—its significance is being altered.
Archaeologists in the United Arab Emirates just unearthed the ruins of a Christian monastery. Radiocarbon dating indicates that its Christian community may have thrived there as early as the year 534—meaning nearly a century before the rise of Islam in 622 AD (year one of the Muslim calendar).
“It is an extremely rare discovery,” said Tim Power of the UAE University, who was part of the team that unearthed the monastery. “It is an important reminder of a lost chapter of Arab history.”
To be sure, historians have long known that both Christians and Jews lived throughout the Arabian Peninsula prior to the advent of Islam. This is, moreover, the second such monastery to be unearthed in the UAE. All in all, six ancient monasteries have thus far been discovered along the shores of the Arabian Gulf.
Ultimately, these findings confirm that what happened to the Arabian Peninsula is what happened to the broader Middle East and North Africa. In the seventh century, the entire region was overwhelmingly Christian majority. Once the jihad against the “People of the Book” (Christians and Jews) was proclaimed circa. 630, all of these formerly Christian regions were violently swallowed up and Islamized. In the words of Bernard Lewis:
We tend nowadays to forget that for approximately a thousand years, from the advent of Islam in the seventh century until the second siege of Vienna in 1683, Christian Europe was under constant threat from Islam, the double threat of conquest and conversion. Most of the new Muslim domains were wrested from Christendom. Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and North Africa were all Christian countries, no less, indeed rather more, than Spain and Sicily. All this left a deep sense of loss and a deep fear [emphasis added].
The finding of monasteries in the Arabian Peninsula is further unsurprising when one considers how utterly Christian the Middle East was. According to John Cassian, a European monk who visited neighboring Egypt about two-and-a-half centuries before the Arab invasion, “the traveler from Alexandria in the north to Luxor in the south would have in his ears along the whole journey [about 600 miles on foot], the sounds of prayers and hymns of the monks, scattered in the desert, from the monasteries and from the caves, from monks, hermits, and anchorites.”
Today, Egypt, which, prior to its invasion and subsequent conquest by Islam, was, by way of population and influence, arguably the most Christian nation in the world, has only a very few monasteries—and these few remain under attack.
No doubt an even worse fate befell the Christians of Arabia. After all, Muhammad himself singled out the purging of all religions on the Peninsula. His deathbed wish was that “There are not to be two religions in the [Arabian] Peninsula.” This has always been interpreted to mean that only Islam can be practiced on the Peninsula (hence why modern day fatwas continue to call for the destruction of any church found in the peninsula; hence why Christian migrant workers who meet for prayers in their homes get arrested and tortured).
Despite this, the recently unearthed monastery is being cited as—you guessed it—“a monument to tolerance and multi-faith society.” As the report relays,
The find also sheds light on a time when Christianity and Islam coexisted… After the rise of Islam, Prof Power said there was a period of about 300 years where the two religions coexisted.
Really? In fact, the first three centuries of Islam—when most of its conquests took place—were remarkably violent. The centuries-long record is irrefutable; and monasteries were among the first to be attacked, plundered, and/or placed under severe restrictions.
Even so, “a narrative of violent conquest doesn’t work,” says Power, because “There was no sign of devastation or violence or burning. There was incremental cultural and social change as Christianity faded out and Islam became dominant. It is a monument to tolerance and multi-faith society.”
And there you have it. Despite the fact that contemporary historical records make clear that monasteries, churches, and entire Christian regions were, in the name of jihad, wiped out or brutally subjugated over the centuries, in this case, the Christian population seems to have “faded out” peacefully. Why? Because “there was no sign of devastation or violence or burning” to the building.
According to this “logic,” because no signs of violence appear on a building—14 centuries after the fact—its inhabitants must have been treated with great magnanimity. This is tantamount to telling a battered house wife that her testimony is no good because, after all, police found no signs of violence or burning to her home.
News flash to Power: all sorts of nasty things, including violence and outright slaughter, can be inflicted on a people, without any sign of it appearing in their residence—especially when the inspection occurs 14 centuries later.
So much for common sense. All that apparently matters for the UAE-funded archaeologists is that something has been found that, after much straining and sophistry, can make Islam—the religion of their patrons—look good. In reality, and without relying on obvious deductions concerning this monastery’s fate, the uncontested fact remains: after the rise of Islam, this so-called “monument to tolerance and multi-faith society” quickly became desolate and was swallowed up by the sands of time. Why?
Whatever reason one gives, claiming that this long dead monastery’s indigenous Christian community was treated kindly and simply decided to up and leave of its own accord—without any external pressure or worse from surrounding Islam—is beyond wishful thinking.
A shorter version of this article originally appeared on The Stream.