During the Middle Ages Christians and Muslims had to find ways to negotiate their difference. One key symbol, the Cross, and the veneration thereof, became a key topic in numerous Islamic and Christian treatises and texts. New book uses these disputations to shed light on theological controversies and discrepancies
Cross Veneration in the Medieval Islamic World: Christian Identity and Practice Under Muslim Rule
by Charles Tieszen
Series: The Early and Medieval Islamic World
Living as a Christian in a medieval Islamic context was characterised by the need to subdue a number of practices, which were known to raise the hackles of the Muslims. One of these was the veneration of Icons, and more specifically the Cross. This abhorrence was not just caused by the general Islamic iconoclasm, but resided in the fact that the cross represented the main Christian theological doctrines, Christ’s incarnation, his death on the cross, and his resurrection; and which Muslims defined themselves against and even loathed. As a result, Christians living in the Middle East, North African, or the wider Mediterranean Islamic world came to herald but also subdue the veneration of this central icon for fear of taunting the Muslims, who were apt to meet any public veneration of (signs of) crosses and crucifixes with ridicule, laughter, jeering, and persecution.
How did Christians respond to these allegations? Why did they advocate the preservation of a practice that was often met with confusion or even contempt? To shed light onto these questions, Charles Tieszen has looked at every known apologetic, disputational or polemical text written between the eighth and fourteenth centuries to include a relevant discussion. With 40 main sources taken from across the Mediterranean basin, Egypt, Syria and Palestine, the result is the first in-depth look at a key theological debate, which lay at the heart of these communities’ religious identities. Most of these texts were written by Christians, but others derived from Muslims. Together they provide a rich and stimulating account of how interreligoius debates and disputions tended to focus on the veneration of the Cross, the central Christan symbol of the incanation and vile death, derided and often persecuted by the Muslims.
By considering the perspectives of both Muslim and Christian authors, Cross Veneration in the Medieval Islamic World also raises important questions concerning cross-cultural debate and exchange, and the development of Christianity and Islam in the medieval period. This is an important book which will shine much needed light onto Christian-Muslim relations, the nature of inter-faith debates and the wider issues facing the communities living across the Middle East during the medieval period.
But it is also pertinent for modern day interfaith dialogues as it helps to identify one of the central obstacles for a respectful and generous atmosphere. The history of cross veneration in the Medieval Islamic World is an important contribution to the understanding of the vehemence a tiny cross around the neck of a school-girl can foster even today; and which may lead to the equivalent policing of Burkini’s, Hijabs etc.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Charles Tieszen is associate professor at Simpson University and adjunct assistant professor at the Fuller Seminary. He received his PhD from the University of Birmingham and is the author of Christian Identity amid Islam in Medieval Spain and A Textual History of Christian-Muslim Relations
Mezquita in Cordoba: Capilla de Villaviciosa. Source: Routa Cultural