series directed by
Samir Khalil Samir sj
There is nothing wrong with the title of this new series of studies titled The Treasures of Arabic Christian Culture. Although many people may be surprised in seeing the words Arab and Christian in the same sentence, Arabs were present at the first Pentecost and received the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:11). Later some Arab tribes accepted Christianity, invented the Arabic script, and formed the first kingdoms in the Arabian Peninsula long before the rise of Islam.
After the rise of Islam, other Middle Eastern Christian communities, Syriac, Melkite, and Coptic, also came to be «Arabized» to a significant degree. A Christianity inspired by the Fathers of the Church but thinking in Arabic grew up in this environment. It re-examined the Christian heritage as it came into contact with a new religion, Islam, and for the first time Christians weighed their beliefs against those of another faith.
These Christians preserved and synthesized the scientific and philosophic inheritance of the Hellenic world and because of this the Muslim Caliphs of Baghdad and Damascus sought them out as court physicians and councilors.
They transmitted this treasure, through translations and commentaries on the medical treatises of Galen and Hippocrates, the philosophy of Plato, Aristotle, and their disciples, and the scientific works of Euclid and Ptolemy. They were students of Greek learning and they began in the 9th century a renaissance in the Arab world that three centuries later spread to the West.
Beginning in the 16th century, these Arab Christians came to study in the West and when they returned home they built modern colleges in Lebanon, founded printing houses, and disseminated the methodology of the scientific revolution. As they brought learning from the west to the east so also they became in the 17th and 18th centuries the first Orientalists, introducing Westerners to Middle Eastern culture, both Christian and Muslim. In the 19th century, they were the first promoters of the nahda, a second Arab renaissance, starting newspapers and other publications, reviving theatre, novels, and later the cinema.
Even so, these Arab Christians, being no less Arab than their Muslim counterparts, were not taken seriously in the Western world. In the endless fascination with all that was «different», they were dismissed as «charming» and «exotic». Because their faith was so similar to that of the West, because they were so oppressed by their Ottoman overlords, and because they were so few in numbers, they were ignored by Western intellectuals, attracting the attention only of those missionaries that sought to «evangelize» them.
In order to remedy this serious gap of knowledge about the Arab Christian world, the present series, The Treasures of Arabic Christian Culture is being offered to scholars and interested readers in Italy and all of Europe.
Samir Khalil Samir