20.04.14 Weitz, Between Christ and Caliph

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Cosmin Tudor Ciocan

The Medieval Review 20.04.14

Weitz, Lev E. Between Christ and Caliph: Law, Marriage, and Christian Community in Early Islam. Divinations: Reading Late Ancient Religion. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018. pp. viii, 339. ISBN: 978-0-8122-5027-5 (paperback).

Reviewed by:
Ciocan Tudor Cosmin
OVIDIUS University of Constanta, Romania

In the conventional historical narrative, the medieval Middle East was composed of autonomous religious traditions, each with distinct doctrines, rituals, and institutions. The entire human race was under the reign of altering, change, and formation; no civilization was strong enough to subdue all, even if, for a different amount of time, each one struggles to prove it is worthy of that. Christianity was no different at all. The interaction between people of different religious confessions in the streets, marketplaces, and even shared households were continually influencing each other, fluctuating the message of their own religion and overlapping traditions when they encountered elements that better clarified or more specifically covered spiritual needs. Such practices can be meet everywhere in human history, without any restraint to a specific segment of the population and without any particular distinguishing from any religion. This reality shows both the nonexistent spiritual comprehensiveness from one or another religion, as well as the cohesion and the unity of the human race as well as the correspondence between all religious traditions.

When the Islamic civilization come to its greatness was aware of Christianity's prominence and influence, and the medieval Islamic writers had no problem in recognizing this with emotion and certain admiration. This association that the Muslim writers expressed with dignity and without restraint in their medieval writings denote the impartiality with which the history of the Christian civilization is rewritten from the Arab perspective when it was at its dawn. This is the feeling Weitz leaves from his work to any reader, Christian or not.

The focus of Arabic writers Weitz look into them is primarily towards this overlap of Civilizations, Christians' and Islam's. "What does the history of the medieval Middle East look like if we recognize non-Muslims to have been as integral to the landscape of the Islamic empire as al-Jahiz suggests that they were" (2)? The second highest focus of Weitz's work resides in the Arabic interest on Christian sexuality and their astonishment on how it influences Christianity's view so deep, even in its most sacred theological doctrines.

The exceptionalism of Between Christ and Caliph resides in this particular aspect of civilizations overlapping, not only in the direction which the mainstream religion influences those that continue to emerge but, on the same level of emulation, it is happening vice-versa. In essence, caliphal rule spurred Christian elites to root the integrity of their communities in a newly redefined social institution: the Christian household (2). A large portion of this book states what was the impact of Arabic Islamic view over sexuality and marriage over the Siryac Christian communities. As a response to the distinguished Islamic householders for example, Syriac Christian bishops created new regulations on regard to marriage, inheritance, and family, banning polygamy and seeking to revive the Christian society in a higher moral position. A particular, still universal habit, was to stimulate sexual bonds, marriage and concubinage between conquerors and conquered subjects (207), bonds permitted and mostly encouraged by the Islamic conquerors, especially when they came over the Roman provinces filled with polygamy and conscious involvements. As well, combined with the Quranic approval of marriage to People of the Book and the fact that the first waves of Muslim settlers were predominantly male soldiers, these bonds were encouraged for the sake of integration of conquered people into the conquerors' households (208). In return to this growing habit and as a strategy for keeping Christian women who have married into the conquerors' households within the Christian fold, bishops of Syriac Christian communities considered this situation somewhat problematic. "In the eyes of the bishops, the followers of the Quranic dispensation were heretics at best, and a variety of seventh-century Christian legal works express disapproval of marriage between the conquerors and Christian women" (209). Basically, their concern and bannition were towards interreligious marriage as "unlawful and inappropriate," under the potentiality of apostasy "marriage to hanpe brings Christian women to the customs of strangers to the fear of God" (209).

The gradual conversion and incorporation into the Muslim community of many of these peoples, as well as the cultural and religious materials they brought with them, in one of the most important storylines of Islamic history. I was deeply caught by this presentation of the historical development of the Syriac Christian legal tradition that reveals impartially how non-Muslims were presented and acknowledged as the essential elements in the making of the Islamic Empire. Thus, I considerBetween Christ and Caliph a complete book, significant for both Christians and Muslims, in recognition of their mutual influence over traditions, civilizations and cultural activities. I enthusiastically recommend it for the vivid interreligious negotiations occurring from the Middle Ages until nowadays that it presents.

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