In: Byzantium and Islam
Daniel J. Sahas Athens

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Byzantine Studies have reached a high level of scholarship in the international academic scene, especially in the European and North American continents; one could not yet say the same with regard to the relations of these studies with the Arab and the Islamic world. Religious Studies (Religionswissenschaft) have also reached an impressive level of breath and maturation; not so, again, with regard to the relations of Byzantine Christianity with Islam – not an insignificant connection in the context of world history and civilization, inter-religious encounter, cross-fertilization, interaction and dialogue. The notion “encounter” is not to be considered as a pedantic issue applied to superficial social or public relations, let alone a state with some political, economic, strategic, expansionist or other kind of profitable and self-interest disposition. Encounter signifies a relational state of being; the kind of disposition and behavior that springs out first from self-respect and entails then, in dignity and humility, constructive interest, sensitivity and respect for the “other”! As a human community we are still far from such a dignified point of maturation; otherwise we would not be still disregarding, let alone ignoring, negating and insulting the identity of the “other” through its manifestation in writings, symbols, and monuments of any kind.

Islamic studies were for me both, the opportunity and the challenge to see another religious tradition (in this case, Islam) with the religionswissesschaftlische methodology and frame of mind, phenomenologically-oriented, humanly-expressed, ecumenically-motivated. As a graduate student and during my subsequent academic life, from the early 1960’s to the late 2010’s and beyond, I had the fortune, indeed the blessing, to have met a number of teachers and colleagues of high caliber in scholarship and sensitivity who, with their eloquent and provocative teaching, their human and friendly disposition, their oral and written word, but especially with their ethos and example, each one of them in his or her own way, contributed to the endeavor of the study of Religion, History of Religions, Islamic and Middle-Eastern Studies, Byzantine-Muslim Relations, to put all these in their proper relationship and in their exciting framework and inter-dependence. Although most of these persons are no longer bodily with us, yet by the example of their life and the quality of their work, they still remain eye and ear witnesses to the on-goings of our history, now and for many years to come!

Most, if not all, of my collected studies in this volume are, in some way, the seeds and the fruit of an encounter with them, either in the classroom or in an amphitheater, on the way to or in the context of some regional or international conference, in their home or in my home, in an airplane, in some written or electronic correspondence archive, in a campus office, or in some casual environment. Such a list can be long, exhaustive of patience, but on account of such a weakness it can never be bypassed, or forgotten. In the context of this volume, I need to remember:

Harold E. Fey (1898–1990), my supervisor Professor during my post graduate studies in Indianapolis (1965–66), co-author of the second volume Ecumenical Advance: 1948–68 in the monumental History of the Ecumenical Movement (2009), Editor of the well-known periodical The Christian Century (during the years 1956–1964), a passionate man for ecumenism, compassion and peace-oriented studies. Willem A. Bijlefeld (1925–2013), my Professor of Islamic Studies in Hartford, Conn. (1966–1969), my doctoral studies supervisor and instigator in exploring John of Damascus as a Father of the Church and pioneer historian of religions and of Islam. Robert T. Parsons (1911–1997), my Professor of African Studies at Hartford, who offered the comfort of his house for me to complete my dissertation while he would be on sabbatical in Africa. Ford Lewis Battles (1915–1979), the well-known translator of Calvin’s Institutes, a relentless scholar and most encouraging, critical and supportive member of my dissertation Committee. Alexander Dimitrievich Schmemann (1921–1983), the unforgettable visionary Orthodox priest, scholar, dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, and John Meyendorff (1926–1992), the memorable protopresbyter, aristocrat in descent, ethos, scholarship and collegiality, dean also of St. Vladimir’s Seminary and faculty member of Fordham University, both of them renown scholars and proliferous writers, who left life untimely, but who had always a place and time, in private meetings and in theological conferences in N. America, for a novice scholar on Byzantine-Muslim relations. Irfan A. Shahīd (1926–2016), a mentor, advisor and always friendly colleague at Dumbarton Oaks Center of Byzantine Studies, Washington D.C. (1996–1997), an authority and an inexhaustible source of information and views on Byzantium and the Arabs, an enthusiastic supporter of my research. Speros Vryonis (1928–2019), a senior advisor and a colleague for years on Medieval Middle Eastern and Islamic issues, and not only. Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1916–2000) the well acknowledged Canadian Islamologist, director of the Harvard Center for the Study of World Religions, from whom most scholars and Canadian Universities teaching world religions, especially Islamic Studies, were seeking academic advice and his critical evaluation of their work, programs and standards. Nicholas Oikonomidis (1934–2000), the distinguished Byzantinist in Canada for years, colleague and founder of the Canadian Committee of Byzantinists. Bernard Lewis (1916–2018), the meticulous Jewish orientalist, acute, respected and proliferous scholar. Hadia Dajani-Shakeel (1933–), the beloved Palestinian colleague, Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Toronto and of Institute of Palestinian Studies, whose homey and gentle collegiality competed and matched her integral scholarship. Sidney H. Griffith (1938–), an internationally known professor at the Catholic University in America in Washington D.C., specialist on Arabic Christianity, Syriac studies and Christian-Muslim encounter, whose doctoral encounter with Abū Qurra and mine doctoral encounter with John of Damascus brought us together in various academic fora as members of same learned Societies, in regional and international conferences as well as in various publications. Yvonne Y. and Wadi Z. Haddad, the memorable couple of teachers, friends and colleagues, Editors of that very special 500+page-volume Christian-Muslim Encounters (University of Florida Press, 1995) that brought together a most interesting mix of contemporary colleagues and Contributors (like, Mahmud Ayoub, Willem A. Bijlefeld, Issa J. Boullata, John B. Carman, Kenneth Cragg, Hadia Dajani-Shakeel, Frederick Mathewson Denny, Johann Haafkens, Wadi Z. Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, David A. Kerr, Donald P. Little, Roland E. Miller, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Jorgen S. Nielsen, Sulayman S. Nyang, James E. Royster, Annemarie Schimmel, Olaf Schumann, Jan Slomp, Jane I. Smith, R. Marston Speight, Mark N. Swanson, Christian W. Troll, Harold S. Vogelaar, Jacques Waardenburg, and Antonie Wessels). Jane Damen McAuliffe (1944–), from her years as Chair of the Department for the Study of Religion and Professor of Islamic Studies in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto, before returning to the USA, a hospitable General Editor of the six-volume Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān (Leiden, Brill: 2001–2006). John L. Esposito(1940–), Professor of Religion & International Affairs and of Islamic Studies, founding director of the “Prince Alwaleed Centre of Muslim-Christian Understanding” at Georgetown University, Georgetown D.C., and many others. The list could go on for several pages to include wonderful persons as well as equally wonderful occasions and memories – all this to reconfirm that nothing is a matter of chance but of divine providence and, especially, that nothing can one achieve or offer, alone!

We live in an era in which the electronic means and the sites of communication make lists like this much broader and ever easier – always with a danger, however, that such an exercise might be rendered more impersonal and superficial and thus less constructive and educational. My pathological optimism makes me hope that the younger generation of scholars will not only overcome such a miserable pitfall but that they will turn such a challenge into a flourishing garden of priceless intellectual and academic achievements – a truly personal, living and lasting “”! In the folds of this site I am already finding bright and thirsty minds, diamonds of academic achievements, reading articles of mine critically and enriching them constructively with new scholarly and bibliographical data. This list of young scholars is becoming for me much longer than my personal one; something which makes me confident that the drives and concerns which attracted some of us to devote our life to the subject of the manifold Christian-Muslim relations will expand, making this field of studies to flourish in multiple directions. This is the antidote to any kind of self-righteousness, empathetic radicalism, conscious ignorance, historical distortion, populist oversimplification and religious provincialism (in the end, to any form of human and cultural darkness) which we are experiencing often in our own days and in some regions of the world.

My profound sentiments of hope and confidence are leading me to an expression of sincere gratitude and appreciation to Brill, a source of quality scholarly publications in the manifold fields of relevant academic endeavours. My personal thanks go to Dr. Maurits van den Boogert who embraced the prospect of this publication wholeheartedly and offered his professional experience to its production tirelessly; a process which created for me a bond of a priceless friendship.

Daniel J. Sahas

Athens, Friday July 23rd, 2020 (a day of a most sad awakening)

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Byzantium and Islam

Collected Studies on Byzantine-Muslim Encounters


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