Eastern Christianity and sacred space

January 19 2014

Transcript of a good piece by William Dalrymple, BBC Radio 4, December 20 2013. There’s also a podcast (BBC A Point of View series).

“There used to be widespread sharing of sacred space. I have seen Syrian Christians coming to sacrifice sheep at the Muslim [Sufi] shrine of Nebi Uri. While at the nearby Christian convent of Seidnaya, I found the congregation in the church consisted not principally of Christians but instead of heavily bearded Muslim men and their shrouded wives. As the priest circled the altar with his thurible, the men prayed as if in the middle of Friday prayers at a great mosque. Their women, some dressed in full black chador, mouthed prayers from the shadows of the narthex. A few, closely watching the Christian women, went up to the icons and kissed them. They had come, so they told me, to Our Lady of Seidnaya, to ask her for children. Now that precious multi-ethnic and multi-religious patchwork is in danger of being destroyed forever.”

My links. (Is Nebi Uri near Seidnaya?) Similar patchworks have been destroyed, or seriously damaged, in the Balkans.

In India, sacred space is still sometimes shared. I have been with a young Hindu in Chennai who took me into the San Thome Basilica and said a prayer there. He said he went into mosques too. This isn’t rare in India.

Some Palestinian Christians give their children names like Omar. Old post [and see comment below]. It would be nice if European Christians did, too, but it might sound rather pretentious and Beckhamish.

I love Malaysia, but it contains some peculiarly small-minded Muslims. Last October, a court there ruled that non-Muslims would be prohibited from using the word Allah, even though Christians and Hindus had been using it for centuries to refer to their gods.

One should speak of christianities, not Christianity:

Ottoman people and Orthodox churches (old post).

4 Responses to “Eastern Christianity and sacred space”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    A friend of mine suggested that Christian Palestinians are “covering themselves” when they give their children Muslim names. He means against Muslim Palestinians, not anti-Muslim Jews. I think this is historically false. I don’t think that was usually the motive, though it may occasionally be now.

    The same friend said to me recently – he had worked in Malawi for over a decade – that a young Egyptian who contacted me out of the blue in November was probably after money. But he does not know the middle east. Poor Arabs never ask for money in that way, though Africans do.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    Robin Yassin-Kassab commented by email when I ran this past him:

    “Most Christians have Arabic but not specifically Muslim names, like Zuhair. Some have names which could be specifically associated with Islam but might not be, like Jihad. These families were often making a pro-Arab nationalism statement. Others are called things like George or Tony, or the Arabic version Tanios. No, it isn’t to do with covering.”

    Robin went further than this a while back and wrote:

    “I love it when Arab Christians have names like Omar. It shows, on their fathers’ part, a rejection of the sectarianism which cripples us.”


  3. […] Last year in the same series, we had Islamo-Christian heritage, December 20 2013, about the old sharing of sacred space in Egpyt, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, India by Christians, Muslims and Jews. I quoted from it here. […]


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