16.02.45, Peacock, De Nicola, and Yildiz, eds., Islam and Christianity in Medieval Anatolia

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Kiril Petkov

The Medieval Review 16.02.45

Peacock, A. C. S., Bruno De Nicola, and Sara Nur Yildiz, eds. Islam and Christianity in Medieval Anatolia. Burlington, VT; Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2015. pp. 430. ISBN: 978-1-47244-863-7 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Kiril Petkov
University of Wisconsin-River Falls

This volume, edited by a team of accomplished experts in the field from the University of St Andrews, is a substantial contribution to the current state of research on early Muslim-Christian interaction on the Anatolian plateau. Its primary focus is on the thirteenth century, the period of the decisive shift in the political, demographic, cultural, and religious conditions in the region, which set the trend for the long-term domination of Turkish Muslims at the expense of other ethnicities and denominations. The volume offers fifteen contributions (including those of the editors), an introduction positioning its content matters within the existing literature on the subject, an exhaustive, up-to-date bibliography of forty-two pages comprising primary sources and secondary studies, and a concise but useful and judiciously prepared index. The contributions are wide-ranging but well calibrated to bear on the volume's central preoccupation. The editors have done a meticulous job in putting them together in a publication that reads as a sequence of seamlessly connected chapters, each of which expands and elaborates on a different side of the subject matter. To the mind of this reviewer, the volume is an excellent example of informative, well-integrated, and hard-headed empirical research. The contributions forsake decisively the long-standing tradition of "grand narratives" and theoretical frames that have dominated the issues here discussed, and focus instead on reconstructing the meaningful contexts within which minute details of Muslim-Christian interaction in Anatolia (and, as it turns out, they are not so few) can be recovered. This, perhaps, is its most significant achievement and the direction that future research on the subject matter should take, at least in foreseeable future.

The aim of the volume, as stated in the introduction offered by the editors, is to offer fresh insights into "the nature of the coexistence between Islam and Christianity in Anatolia and the gradual process of cultural, religions, and societal transformation," which took place in the region between 1100 and 1400, and led to the domination not just by the faith of Islam, but more generally of Muslim institutions and culture. This subject matter, the editors suggest after a review of the existing interpretative schemes that have dominated the field for a long time, and still exert an influence out of proportion of their scholarly merit, has been poorly served by theory. The historiography has so far been dominated by great paradigms that subject detail and microhistory to largely biased viewpoints. The early critical theory of largely sociological origins juxtaposed primitive Islamic heterodoxy built on supposedly pagan vestiges to later, homogeneous Sunni Islam. The Köprülü paradigm, the most influential in the field, combined continuity and binary opposition by considering pagan and Christian residues in Anatolian Islam as traces of the shamanistic practices of largely imagined "pure" Turks from Central Asia, on the one hand, and sought to explain religious heterodoxy of "popular Turkish Islam" as the result of "frontier societies" opposed to the more homogenous hinterland, on the other. Scholars working in the binary vein, among them Iréne Mèlikoff, Paul Wittek, and Rudy Lindner, relied on the same explanatory scheme of center-periphery, while critics of Köprülü (such as Cemal Kafandar), offered the notion of "metadoxy" (transcending doxies) to capture the complexity of fluid frontier religiosity. Within these theoretical boundaries, the Muslim-Christian interaction has also been constructed in binary oppositions by Speros Vryonis, who insisted on the devastating impact and thorough destruction wrought by Muslim Turkish invasions on Anatolian Christianity, and by F. W. Hasluck's re-interpretation, delineating a Muslim-Christian syncretism with a focus on shared sacred spaces and the emergence of Muslim heterodoxy as a result of interaction with Christianity. Two most recent theoretical attempts attempt to dispense with traditional categories. Tijana Krstić draws on the post-modern instruments of contestation, competition, and negotiation of "hybrid" spaces. She zeroes in on sacred spaces defined as "syncretic," seeing them as examples of "Islamisation of space," and spots where religious differences were upheld rather than collapsed. In a different setting and on the example of the Iberian case, the paradigm of convivencia has been used as well, implying a mode of interaction where modern notions of tolerance and multiculturalism simply do not apply.

What does, then, apply in medieval Anatolia? The volume's multi-vocal answers to this question are organized in three segments. Part I opens the perspective of Christian experiences of Muslim rule. Philip Wood outlines the field with a survey of "Christians in the Middle East, 600-1000: Conquest, Competition, and Conversion," by stressing the variety of the Christian experience, by confession, by religion, and by institution. Chalcedonians, Miaphysites, and Nestorians rubbed shoulders in the region. Using written sources, mostly Syriac chronicles and hagiography, Wood shows how Christians came to identify with local (Muslim) Arab settlers socio-culturally, without stressing religious differences, while perceiving the government and its servants as religiously alien Muslims. He also points out to the shift in ecclesiastical power, which brought about an "Indian summer" for the Church of the East, especially in Iraq, where it attained a level of authority unknown before. And yet, pressures on the local Christian communities--through taxation, marriage, and the peer-pressure of discrimination--brought about an ongoing process of conversion, which by 1000 greatly reduced the size or eliminated local Christian communities. Wood stresses the dangers of quantification, and the value of local, idiosyncratic approach. Alexander Beihammer switches the focus on Christian views of Islam in early Seljuk Anatolia by subjecting to a fresh scrutiny the known Frankish, Byzantine, and Eastern Christian histories of the period. Beihammer indicates that while eleventh-century Muslim chronicles increasingly stress the Muslim identity of the Seljuks, Christian reports refer to the Turkish raiders through ethnographic stereotypes, with very little religion in the mix, and drew a difference between the Seljuk state and the Turkmen tribesmen. The opposition is "cruel barbarian v/s steadfast Christian," as in Anna Komnene. Eleventh-century Frankish sources too, eschew political and ideological motivation. Armenian sources, for their part, dwell on the fate of Armenian potentates of the period, both lay and ecclesiastic, who maintained their independence, co-operated with Muslim and Frankish powers in the region, and integrated themselves in the Seljuk-Muslim political and administrative structures, through negotiation and voluntary submission. On occasion, the transition to Muslim rule even temporarily strengthened their hold. This, of course, led to their eventual assimilation, a process noted by the Frankish observers of the First Crusade. The patterns of Armeno-Muslim interchange are further examined by S. Peter Cowe. The author traces a variety of actors and the ways in which they retained and reformulated agency in the context of alien religious and political presence and domination, in order to retain and define individual and corporate identity: the destinies of the main Armenian aristocratic families and the emergence of Armenians chiefdoms in the wake of the Seljuk conquest, which sat across trade routes; the representation of wealthy and influential urban Armenian communities in Seljuk-controlled territories; the impact of Sufism and Persian culture on Armenian culture of the thirteenth-century; the adaptation of Armenian princely and high-ecclesiastical lords to Muslim land-holding practices through the waqf system; and the growing pressures for conversion on the Armenian communities in the late 1300s and the 1400s. Under the title "The Rape of Anatolia," Scott Redford offers a short challenge to another established paradigm, that of the "conquering Muslim Turkish man" and the "Christian Greek woman," re-interpreting the evidence of female Anatolian waqf-sponsors and amirial slave retinues to support the complex "symbiotic" (as opposed to "coexistence" or "syncretic") character of Seljuk-controlled Anatolia through the thirteenth century. Johannes Preiser-Kapeller introduces social network analysis of spatial data to highlight the "liquid" character of Seljuk Anatolia's maritime borderlines and overseas connections and pinpoint zones where Byzantines, Armenians, Turks, Persians, Arabs, and "Franks" interacted in smaller or larger maritime communities ranging from ports to ship crews. The spatial analysis reveals that such communities--joint ventures, shipboard societies, slaves of various backgrounds, where religious and other dichotomies did not apply--served as a commercial "middle ground" in thirteenth-fifteenth century Anatolia, examples of "entangled histories," which run parallel to the Islamisation of the region. Johannes Pahlitzsch, for his part, re-reads known Byzantine sources, Matthew of Ephesus and Theophanes of Nicaea, to shed light on the fate of Greek Orthodox communities in their respective cities as a corrective to Vryonis' thesis of the devastating impact of the conquest. Matthew's letters testify to the differing attitudes of Hızır, the successor of Umur Beg in Ephesus, and that of more aggressive local Muslims, the governor's lukewarm protection and the locals' oppression of the bishop. The end result was a sharp decline of the Christian communities in both cities, subsequent consolidation of the remaining Christians, and then their slow, drawn-out disappearance.

Part II covers case-studies of artistic and intellectual encounters between Islam and Christianity. Rustam Shukurov examination of the "Byzantine Appropriation of the Orient: Notes on its Principles and Patterns," asks if we can talk of a sort of latent "Islamisation of Byzantium," in artistic terms. Using the concept of "cultural translation" he scrutinizes modes of transfer of Islamic-specific material in the Byzantine dream interpretation book Oneirocriticon and the story collection Stephanites and Ichnilates, defining transfer types as "dissimilating," "translating," and "complementing," to conclude that Byzantine literature did not, in fact, adopt much from the Orient. From the little there was, Shukurov infers that the initial attitude to the Muslim faith was surprisingly neutral and that the Byzantines distinguished between "Oriental" and "Islamic." He further detects "a sea of change" in the attitude to Islam as a religious system by the late fourteenth century, although he also finds the nature of the transformation somewhat elusive. Popular, rather than high culture is the subject of Anthony Eastmond's exploration of cultural convergence in eastern Anatolia and the Caucasus on the case studies of cross-cultural appropriation of apotropaic and astrology-related exterior decorations (crosses and dragon-fighting heroes) of prominent architectural monuments, a wall tower in Ani and towers in Amid, Diarbakır. Eastmond traces the existence of a pervasive belief in the protective power of such magical imagery across time, space, and cultural traditions, and sees its role as a factor minimizing the differences between rival religions and communities--and thus indirectly facilitating the Islamization of the non-Muslim communities under Muslim rule. The existence of "Byzantine art" in Cappadocia and the Seljuk court is the subject of Tolga B. Uyar's chapter. Textual sources about the Sufi mystic Rumi mention two Greek/Byzantine painters in the Seljuk court, and visual imagery of dragon-slaying holy riders, a typical insignia of rulership, in manuscript illuminations suggest that that such art was most likely sponsored by Christian potentates and indicate forms of cultural and ideological relationship between local Christians and the Seljuk court, as well as aesthetic syncretism and common fashions in Anatolia. The last two chapters dwell on interfaith discourses. A. C. S. Peacock examines an anti-Armenian polemic piece composed by the qadi Burhan al-Din al-Anawi and buried in his voluminous and as yet unpublished theological treatise Hearth's Companion, dedicated to a thirteenth-century royal patron, the Sultan Izz al-Din Kaykaus (? -1220). Describing the Armenians as "the filthiest, most unclean, and ill-fated of all the Christians," the pious qadi clearly had in mind the Seljuks' problems with the Armenian principality of Cilicia under Levon (1198-1212), who was strong enough to encroach on Seljuk territories in the beginning of Kaykaus' reign, and sough to undermine the ideological basis of Armenian incursions by discrediting their religious origins. Salam Rassi's subject is the clapper, or naqus, the sounding board, as presented by Abdisho bar Brikha, a Nestorian polymath and churchman, in an apologetic text composed in 1302. Rassi argues that appealing to both Syriac and Arabic literature, in both of which he was well-versed, and appropriating aspects of Arabic poetry and Islamic wisdom, Abdisho wrote to commend the use of the clapper as a valid means for calling to prayer the faithful to worship. To Rassi, this is a premier example of "acculturated theology" arising from the need to defend Christian doctrine in a place where Christians were a political minority, and in a somewhat hostile environment.

Part III of the volume deals with the formation of Islamic society in Anatolia. Building on Claude Cahen suggestion of a "Shiite tinge" in Anatolian Islam, Rıza Iıdiırım's offers a reappraisal of Islamic piety in the region in the thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries. The chapter challenges the old binary paradigm of official Sunnism--popular Shiism, and argues for a heterogeneous landscape of religiosities, which were shaped according to various parameters such as location, literacy, institutional infrastructure, charisma, political structures and practices, and modes of subsistence. The main actors shaping that landscape, the dervishes, such as Hacı Bektaş, Geyliki Baba, Baba Ilyas, Sarı Saltuk, and others, expressed what the author calls "latitudinal religiosity" in which different manifestations of Islam were complimentary and were displayed by the same person. The Sunnism that prevailed in medieval Anatolia seems to have been harboring libertarian practices and pro-Alid sentiments. Fluidity, looseness, and a pro-Alid tinge were the norm. What is now Alevi creed was subsumed in that heterogeneous religiosity; clearly defined, legalistic Sunnism emerged only in the sixteenth century. In what is perhaps the most complex and best argued chapter, Judith Pfeiffer examines Mevlevi-Bektashi rivalries and the Islamisation of public space in Anatolia in the thirteenth century through a meticulous scrutiny of the waqf endowments of Nur al-Din ibn Jaja, the late thirteenth-century mid-range Seljuk official and governor of Kırshehir. Pfeiffer reconstructs Nur al-Din's strategy to secure his holdings for the future generations, showing how that guaranteed him the protection of the local Mongol commanders, minimized the meddling of the Seljuk court, and neutralized possible interference by rival Sufi spiritually-oriented groups, who were in a position to instigate action by the highest Seljuk authorities--but also that these endowments were heavily focused on furthering the teaching and preaching of Islam, and thus the Islamisation of Anatolia, by financially supporting mainly and chiefly institutions of teaching and prayer, madrasas and mosques, rather that other charitable or spiritual foundations and organizations, in religiously heterogeneous regions. Nur al-Din was the epitome of political acumen and shrewdness, but ultimately, what was long-term political and financial control for him meant greater visibility for Islam. The last two chapters explore the formation of religious identity in literary works. Sara Nur Yıldız's subject is the poetic representation of "idolatrous" beauty as a grave danger to Muslim devotion, as reflected in the poet Gülşehri's early fourteenth-century refashioning in Turkish of the Persian Speech of the Birds. Dissecting the stories of the fabulous bird Simurgh, the Prophet Mohammed, and Safran, Yıldız suggests that the poem is actually a religious polemic against Christianity, still well presented in Cappadocia at the time of the poem's adaptation. Finally, Ahmet Karamustafa revisits the early Turkish epic of Saltuk-name, the deeds of the most famous warrior-saint associated with the Islamization and Turkicisation of Rumelia (the Ottoman Balkans), which supposedly happened in the 1260s through the migration of Anatolian Turks into what is now north-eastern Bulgaria. Karamustafa points out the porous, fluid, permeable logic of entanglement between Muslim and Christian in the epic, and the easiness with which yesterday's "cursed Christians" become today's righteous believers simply by uttering the testimony of faith. Quite the only barriers to conversion were wine drinking and pork consumption. Religion was above all a matter of communal belonging and a few social habits.

Karamustafa's chapter nicely wraps up what is indeed an impressive collection of insights into one of the most thorny and hotly debated issues in the history of the region, and in fact of Muslim-Christian interaction anywhere. The volume is an admirable example of the power of modern empirical research to overturn outdated grand theoretical edifices, and a forceful reminder of the heuristic potential of complex, multidimensional approaches free of ideological bias. Theory and empirical work constantly spur each other, but at this stage of our knowledge of the facts on the ground, the pendulum has clearly swung to the side of multi-disciplinary micro-history. Theory may come back one day, but until then collections like this are the best guide to properly understand the phenomena of inter-faith and intercultural interaction.

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