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Syria and Anatolia as Frontier Regions Between Christianity and Islam in the Middle Ages

5 pages
1359 words
George Washington University
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Anatolia which is also referred to as Asia Minor is the westernmost Asian protrusion which apparently makes up a large share of the modern-day Turkey. Syria, on the other hand, is a region located on the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea. In this assignment, we will evaluate the state of these regions during the middle ages and most importantly determine how Syria and Anatolia were different or similar as frontier regions between Islam and Christianity in Middle Ages. We will also assess the interaction between these two religions in medieval Syria and Anatolia through different angles.

Before we evaluate the differences and similarities of medieval Syria and Anatolia as frontier regions between Islam and Christianity, it is crucial that we understand that the frontiers cultural life in the middle ages was mostly dominated by oral traditions, particularly historical stories that demonstrated the frontier societys view of its achievements and ideas. This means that we cannot find an original written document about the frontiers instead there are a lot of first-person accounts of stirring anecdotes and dramatic events of historical figures that raises a lot of suspicions among most historians. Islamic history, for instance, has a lot of first-person tales. However, most of these narratives appear in works written a long time ago after the said events had occurred.

Now that we have some background knowledge on the literary origins of the history of Islam and Christianity, it is imperative that we discuss both Syria and Anatolia as frontier regions. Muslim-Christian relations in medieval Syria was fascinating. In fact, there was a period when these religions were living peacefully, however Christian expansion into Muslim lands and Muslim imperialism in Christian territories led to the development of wars and conflicts between these two religions. In Syria, both the Muslims and Christian communities coexisted peacefully, but there is one aspect of the Christian communities that amuses me. Although Arabic was the language of daily commercial and social activity, the Christian communities always retained their indigenous languages. Most of the people of the frontiers including the Syrian Muslims and Christians did not write their histories. Instead, they would propagate what it is assumed to be historical stories which describe legendary dervishes and warriors. However, the transmission of these stories over the place, media, and time presents a lot of challenges that have not been addressed yet. In Anatolia, a lot of narratives about various Arab legends, originating from the early Islamic history continued to be relished by a lot of Muslim Anatolians even after the predominance of the Turkish speakers. These narratives described the struggle that existed between the Muslim side which had a majority of Arabic speakers and the one that had a lot of Turkish speakers. Some of the early narratives include the ones that talks about the military exploits of Muhammad the Prophet. However, I find it difficult to determine how the Turkish renderings of the Arabic and Persian narratives started circulating. In my opinion, it is fair to say that the common characteristic between the Syria and Anatolia as frontier regions between Islam and Christianity is that the people of these regions never produced a wide variety of historical texts of their own which can be used to evaluate their cultural activity, life, and warfare.

Syria and Anatolia have similar traits as frontier regions because of following reasons. First, the culture of Anatolian Muslim frontier community promoted the coexistence of religious syncretism and militancy, idealism and adventurism. In fact, the cultural character of this frontiers tribes, warriors, and holy men can only be explained according to the sources originating from that milieu. From Sundrys experiences and observations, we learn of a brave man called Saduq who was known for his love of adventure and valor (Usama, 171). We notice the habit of adventurism was also among the Syrian Muslim community. What this means Muslims in middle ages practiced the same ideologies despite living in different geographical locations. Second, despite the presence of people with different identities in above frontier environments, there was some cooperation between the Muslims and the Christians in both frontiers. This is not to say that there were not frequent conflicts between the Muslims and Christians in these Frontiers. There were fights and conflicts, but in the long-run, they seem to find a way of addressing their issues. In fact, it is possible that Symbiosis and accommodation occurred much more than the historians have so far discovered. This is because inclusivism was popular and most significantly identities changed (kafadar, 84). Moreover, it is not doubted that the Ottoman Empire surfaced as a mixture of a lot of traditions and cultures. There are some Ottomans who regarded themselves as the gaze warriors. These warriors used faith as a tool to justify bloodshed. However, most Ottomans never accepted the ideology of becoming gazis (Kafadar, 91). Instead, some of the Muslims in both frontiers championed for cooperation with their Christian colleagues.

Third, we also realized that both frontier regions (Syria and Anatolia) had a code of honor which acted as the lingua franca for their people. The story of how Osman and his Christian neighbor enjoyed friendly relations until the lord of Bilecik plotted against him for instance shows that there was respect between Muslims and Christians in frontier environments. This means that Osman would not have found a viable excuse to attack the Christians if the Lord of Bilecik had respected the code of honor. Therefore, Osmans main agenda was not to execute Christians because of their religion but because of a breach of etiquette. I believe etiquette and honor played a huge role in allowing the Christians and Muslims in these frontiers to coexist peacefully. In fact, we learn that the role of etiquette and honor allowed the Anatolian Muslims to understand that being a Gazi refers to upholding a particular set of religious beliefs.

It is critical to understand that there was some time in the middle ages when the relations between Christians and Muslims in Syria and Anatolia grew increasingly polarized because it was promoted by anti-Islamic fear mongering and rhetoric.

After studying the nature of both the Syria and Anatolia as frontier regions between the Muslims and Christians, I tend to believe that the middle Age era in the Middle East, in general, was completely different compared to any other place. This is because religion played a crucial role in uniting people amidst a lot of political tensions. In fact, we learn from a couple of oral and written narratives that Christians and Muslims respected each other and there was cooperation among them. Despite this cooperation, there were some frontiers such as the Anatolia frontier where a lot of Non-Muslims were recruited or enslaved and converted to Islam; others were even trained to work in the administrative and military cadres of the Ottoman states. Moreover, we notice that there are a lot of instances of collaborations that were present in Gaza stories such as the scenario of Osman and Kose Mihal. This indicates that there are people in both the Syria and Anatolia frontiers who appreciated the beauty or the bravery or the skills of other people even if they were on the wrong side. The responsibility of a historian is not simple since he/she has to evaluate various historical sources to determine their reliability critically. The same case applies here since we cannot fully determine whether there was some peaceful coexistence between the Muslims and Christians in these two frontiers but what we know is that frequent conflicts occurred in these frontiers. Therefore, we will also be correct to argue that another common similarity between Anatolia and Syria as frontiers between Islam and Christianity in the middle ages is the frequent conflicts that occurred between Muslims and Christians.

In conclusion, we should note that Syria and Anatolia frontiers played a very significant role in the spread of Islam and Christianity in the world. Therefore, I tend to believe that we should use the historical knowledge gained from various literary texts about the Islam-Christian relations to unite people of the world particularly during this period where there are a lot of religious differences among people.

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