The fluid boundaries between Islam and Christianity in the Middle Ages

Listening to several podcasts lately on medieval history and especially the story of the Byzantine empire, I’m struck by how fluid the boundaries were between Islam and Christianity in the Middle Ages. Those boundaries are becoming more fluid again.

READ MORE: Where to find the Knights Templar today

A caliphate in Europe

I’ve blogged many times in the past about how the caliphate once dominated southern Europe. Spain and Portugal were majority Muslim from 711CE to around the start of the 13th century. Sicily was an emirate and Greece was swallowed up by the Ottoman empire in the late Middle Ages. For many centuries, the boundaries between the two faiths seemed set, into modern times, but that situation is changing. The question is – can we live in harmony?


The boundaries between Islam and Christianity have always been shifting

Just as parts of Europe were Muslim in the Middle Ages – so was the presence of Christianity surprisingly strong in North Africa and the Levant.

Not just as a result of crusader conquest, but populations that had remained Christian long after the Arab conquest of the seventh century. Egypt, for example, was more than likely majority Christian for at least three hundred years after the Arabian armies stormed in.

Syria had large Christian populations that are only now being finally decimated by war and terrorism. Constantinople was the capital of an eastern Christian empire that – at times – dominated Asia Minor and the Balkans until it was crushed by the Turks in the middle of the fifteenth century.

Religious zealotry – what we might now term ‘extremism’ – abounded in the medieval period. On the Christian side, new monastic orders preached asceticism and violent crusade. On the Muslim side, a violent interpretation of jihad was demanded from those who felt the caliphate had grown soft and corrupt.

Retreat of the European caliphate

As Spain was slowly invaded by Christian crusader kingdoms in the north, waves of Muslim zealots – the Almohads and Almoravids – tried to put backbone in to the caliphate with a return to perceived theological purity. Sound familiar?

Cicero once correctly noted that those who ignore history fail to grasp the present and future. Quite right! So I’d like to know what you think the past can teach us today. Your thoughts would be very welcome.





2 Comments on “The fluid boundaries between Islam and Christianity in the Middle Ages

  1. The problem is actually relatively simple: the world has become too crowded. Yes, Christianity and Islam have been rubbing shoulders (sometimes sorely) for centuries. But their adherents, along with practitioners of Judaism, keep forgetting that they all worship the same deity. They call Him (or Her) by different names. But it’s the same Supreme Being. They have many other things in common, such as honoring one’s parents; respecting our neighbors; and understanding that murder is a sin. But our contemporaries also boast a sense of paranoia; a sense that the world is out to get them. So they often resort to brutal tactics to establish not so much their authority, but their rightful place in society. In that respect, nothing has changed from the medieval Knights Templar and present-day extremists.

    Regardless, I have little faith that any of them will learn to cohabit peacefully in the near future. There’s too much historical animosity. I was raised Roman Catholic, but I abandoned that years ago. I’m purely spiritual now and I find myself at greater peace.

  2. Article très intéressant, Tony. Je souhaite une intense participation des lecteurs. Il faut poser la question car il y a trop de groupes néo-templiers qui ignorent l’histoire de l’ordre du Temple et se cantonnent dans un anti-islamisme primaire. Me permets tu de publier cet article en Français sur la page Facebook « Les Nouveaux Templiers », si j’arrive à en faire une traduction que je te demanderais évidemment d’approuver ?

    J’en profite pour souligner ton excellent travail pour faire connaître les Templiers.

    Salutations fraternelles,

    Guy Lavoie , magister humilis, Les Nouveaux Templiers 450, rue Sherbrooke Est, suite 1407 Montréal, QC, CANADA H2L 1J8 514-229-2094

    Date: Mon, 28 Dec 2015 14:00:28 +0000 To:

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