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Sea of Faith: Islam and Christianity in the Medieval Mediterranean World.

Sea of Faith: Islam and Christianity in the Medieval Mediterranean World.

By Stephen O'Shea. New York: Walker, 2006. Pp xii, 411. Paperback $26.95.

Christian-Muslim relations today can be understood only against the background of fourteen hundred years of difficult relationships across the Mediterranean. Hence the title of this book, Sea of Faith, in which American journalist Stephen O'Shea tells the story of how the two faiths battled for supremacy over this great sea and the lands adjoining it in the thousand years between the mid-seventh and the mid-sixteenth centuries.

Seven decisive battles are described: Yarmuk in 636 (marking the end of Byzantine rule in Syria), Poitiers in 732 (where the Muslim advance into France was halted), Manzikert in 1071 (marking the defeat of Christian Anatolia), Hattin in 1187 (where Saladin routed the Crusaders), Las Navas de Tolosa in Spain in 1212 (altering the balance of power between the Christian north and Muslim Andalusia), the capture of Constantinople in 1453 (leading eventually to the Ottoman Empire), and the siege of Malta in 1565 (marking the end of Turkish supremacy in the Mediterranean).

Interspersed between the battles, however, were several periods of genuine and highly fruitful convivencia (Spanish for "coexistence"), notably in Cordoba, Palermo, Toledo, and Istanbul after 1453. Another significant ingredient in the improvement of relationships between the two faith communities was the development of trade.

We can be thankful that "Christian" and "Muslim" armies no longer face each other on the battlefield--though the present "war on terror" is often perceived as the Christian West engaging in a crusade against the Muslim East. But O'Shea's account of a millennium of both conflict and convivencia should help both Christians and Muslims to reflect on their shared history and perhaps exorcise some of the ghosts in their collective subconscious.

Colin Chapman, an ordained Anglican, now retired, worked for seventeen years in the Middle East (mostly in Egypt and Lebanon) and taught at Trinity College, Bristol, and Crowther Hall, Selly Oak, Birmingham.
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Author:Chapman, Colin
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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