PRESENTER: Rami Tanous, Ph.D. candidate in the Department for the Study of Religions
TITLE: Dominion and Creed: Reinterpreting the Conversion of Mesopotamian Christians to Islam in the Mid-Eighth Century
ABSTRACT: This paper will offer a reexamination of the Chronicle of Zuqnin and other Syriac and eastern Christian sources seeking to shed new light on the mass conversion of Syrian Christians to Islam in the early ‘Abbasid era. The main motives discussed in scholarship on the conversion to Islam in the medieval period are the process of Arabization, the yearning for improved socio-economic and professional status, Islamic apologetical writings, or Islamic proselytizing. The aforementioned motivations can only explain the conversion of specific and random individuals or small groups before the middle ‘Abbasid era in the ninth century. These reasons fail, however, to explain the earlier mass conversions portrayed in the Chronicle of Zuqnin. This paper will endeavour to analyze this process of mass conversion not merely on the basis of the external conditions of those Christians, but rather on the basis of the Syrian Christians’ perception of Islam in that stage. Rami will attempt to explain how that specific perception could have corresponded with a collective Syrian understanding of the “Kingdom of God” and “true religion” in a way that yielded waves of mass conversion.