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The Imam of the Christians: Round-table on newly published book by Prof. Philip Wood

Monday 12 July 2021
Online event: please register to receive a link

On Monday, 12 July, 2021, we will be holding a roundtable on a newly published book by Professor Philip Wood, The Imam of the Christians: The World of Dionysius of Tel-Mahre, c. 750-850, published by Princeton University Press.

The Imam of the Christians examines how Christian leaders adopted and adapted the political practices and ideas of their Muslim rulers between 750 and 850 in the Abbasid caliphate in the Jazira (modern eastern Turkey and northern Syria). Focusing on the writings of Dionysius of Tel-Mahre, the patriarch of the Jacobite church, the book describes how this encounter produced an Islamicate Christianity that differed from the Christianities of Byzantium and western Europe in far more than just theology. In doing so, it opens a new window on the world of early Islam and Muslims’ interactions with other religious communities.

The Imam of the Christians shows how Dionysius and other Christian clerics, by forging close ties with Muslim elites, were able to command greater power over their coreligionists, such as the right to issue canons regulating the lives of lay people, gather tithes, and use state troops to arrest opponents. In his writings, Dionysius advertises his ease in the courts of ʿAbd Allah ibn Tahir in Raqqa and the caliph al-Ma’mun in Baghdad, presenting himself as an effective advocate for the interests of his fellow Christians because of his knowledge of Arabic and his ability to redeploy Islamic ideas to his own advantage. Strikingly, Dionysius even claims that, like al-Ma’mun, he is an imam since he leads his people in prayer and rules them by popular consent.

A wide-ranging examination of Middle Eastern Christian life during a critical period in the development of Islam, The Imam of the Christians is also a case study of the surprising workings of cultural and religious adaptation.

Monday, 12 July, 2021, 16:00 CET, on Zoom. Please register here for the event or click on the blue button below.

Organised by Mehdy Shaddel (Universiteit Leiden) and Ahmad Al-Jallad (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen)

Panellists: Antonia Bosanquet (Universität Hamburg), Anna Chrysostomides (Queen Mary University of London), Lev Weitz (Catholic University of America), and Philip Wood (Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, Aga Khan University).

Prof. Philip Wood

About the author

Philip Wood is professor in the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations at Aga Khan University, London. He studies West Asia before and after the Arab conquests (roughly 400-900CE). He is particularly interested in the history of Christian communities in Syria and Iraq, and in the formation and preservation of group identities more broadly. His books have analysed Syriac speaking Christian groups in the later Roman Empire, the Sasanian Empire and the Abbasid Caliphate.

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