Dr Christian Sahner’s latest book, Christian Martyrs under Islam, has just been released in Britain.
Christian Martyrs under Islam explains how Christians across the early Islamic caliphate slowly converted to the faith of the Arab conquerors and how small groups of individuals rejected this faith through acts of resistance, including apostasy and blasphemy.
Using previously untapped sources, Christian Sahner introduces an unknown group of martyrs who were executed at the hands of Muslim officials between the seventh and ninth centuries CE. Found in places as diverse as Syria, Spain, Egypt, and Armenia, they include an alleged descendant of Muhammad who converted to Christianity, high-ranking Christian secretaries of the Muslim state who viciously insulted the Prophet, and the children of mixed marriages between Muslims and Christians. Sahner argues that Christians never experienced systematic persecution under the early caliphs, and indeed, they remained the largest portion of the population in the greater Middle East for centuries after the Arab conquest. Still, episodes of ferocious violence contributed to the spread of Islam within Christian societies, and memories of this bloodshed played a key role in shaping Christian identity in the new Islamic empire.
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Dr Christian Sahner is associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Oxford and a fellow of St Cross College.