Byzantine Empire in the Eastern Mediterranean that extended from Syria, Egypt up to and across North Africa is seen to have made significant contact with the emerging Islamic world in the period from seventh and ninth Centuries. The seventh century saw the vast territories in these regions being ruled by the Byzantine Empire from Constantinople, the now Istanbul. These Southern provinces or territories were greatly influenced by the Greco-Roman traditions and formed the home of Coptic, Orthodox and Syriac Christians and Jewish communities. These regions were critical to the wealth and the power of the empire. Great centers for pilgrimage saw large numbers of faithful visit the place coming from as far off as Yemen towards the East and Scandinavia towards the West. There were also major trade routes that extended all the way to India in the South that saw ferrying of silk and ivories into the region, commerce saw the free movement of images as well as ideas throughout this region. These Christians basically were set apart from the other Christians by their belief that Christ's divinity and humanity were combined or fused into one nature rather than being two separate entities as was believed by the Orthodox Christians. This Christian church also was seen to be increasingly separate and independent of the authority of the church in Constantinople.
The political or the religious inclination never seemed to have much of impact on the type of decoration that was favored by the wealthy people. The decorations that were used among the wealthy people had a motif of hunting scenes, dancing women and flowering vines being the predominant pattern. There were imprints of running animals and inscriptions as indicated by Rosenberg K., (2012). The Byzantine empire is further seen to interact with the Islamic empires built by the Umayyad and the Abbasids through the architectural fragments that indicate presence of vast desert palaces in places like the Jordan. Even in these palaces that were built by the Muslims, the interaction with Christian Byzantine art is still seen through the use of fans and leaves, only that with the influence of the Islamic art, they became more stylized and intricate in their presentation. Several Koran folios also indicate heavy Islamic influence but the Kufic scripts that were written in silver and gold indicates a connection to the Byzantine luxury manuscripts hence an indication that Islam and Byzantium trends existed side by side for a long time.
Apparently, within the same time of history, Islam, which was then a newly established religion emerged from Mecca and Medina which was alongside the Red Sea trade route that all the way to the Byzantine empire's southern provinces. This saw the transfer of the religious as well as the political authority from the Byzantine Empire to the now newly established Umayyad and a while on to Abbasid Muslim dynasties. The new powers exploited the chance offered by the existing traditions of the empire to come up with religious as well as the secular visual identities in forms of art and other inscriptions (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012).
The official religion of Byzantine Empire was Christianity as defined by the church hierarchy in Constantinople and by the then emperor. In the seventh century however, there was attempt to make the orthodox faith loyal to the empire and this was met with great resistance, the point of divergence being the definition of Christ as being both divine and human. The orthodox Christians believed that Christ had two natures, the divine and the human. During the initial centuries of the rule of Islam, the orthodox Christians as well as other Christians held significantly important positions in the Islamic administration as well as paying significant roles in the intellectual life of some of the main cities under the Islamic dynasties.
The Coptic Christians draw their identity from Saint Mark who was an evangelist. Coptic language is from Egypt and was used widely in the fourth century together with the modified Greek letters for administrative and liturgical purposes. The Coptic Christians believed in the teachings of Alexandria that the humanity and divinity of Christ were united in one nature. Since they held a different view from the head Constantinople church, there was a suppression attempt on it but it gained legitimacy with the recognition of this church by the Arab rule that was in Egypt at that time.
Judaism was practiced in line with the traditions and practices of the Jews. The most noticeable aspect of Judaism at the seventh century onwards was that they had affluent synagogues as can be depicted by the archeological evidence, scattered all across Tunisia to Syria. These synagogues were decorated with mosaics of Torah arks and figurative signs which became further abstract under the Islamic rule, an evidence of interaction of these two religions. The southern provinces of Byzantine Empire hosted the Jewish and Samaritan population as evidenced by the texts written for Jewish use in Latin, Jewish Aramaic, Greek and Hebrew.
The iconoclastic controversy was century long debate that centered on whether it was appropriate or not to use religious imagery throughout the Byzantine Empire. This was during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Leo III. This controversy or movement was predominantly within the church hierarchy in Constantinople and the emperor and was just within the capital and its environs.
The Islam position on use of imagery in religious devotion was by then and still is prohibited. This was seen even after the Turks took over the Hagia Sophia church and turned it into a mosque, they whitewashed all the mosaic and other imageries that were initially in the church and were being used by the Christians for worship purposes (Cunningham & Reich, n.d.: Pp 162).
The Islam never used the images of Prophet Muhammad in the decoration of any surfaces, be it religious or not, indeed his image was treated with sanctity that the closest reference to his image in form of pictures was referential through bright shinning light. He is considered a messenger from Allah and he is started with utmost respect that he deserves as a direct prophet or messenger from Allah.
There are similarities that are shared among the religions, indeed, it is common to find that Islam may share one aspect in common with Judaism, and another with Christianity and the same applies to the other religions. There are, however, some few areas that all the three religions may share, for instance all these three religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism believe in the existence of one God. They also share similar spiritual beings such as angels and demons, though Islam believes in an additional being known as Jinn which is not shared with any other religion. The other aspect that they share is that one of the sources or causes of man's salvation is from good deeds.
The Islamic faith has five pillars, namely the shahada- which is a profession of faith, Salat -- the prayer five times a day facing Mecca, Zakat-which is alms giving, Sawm- which is fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, Hajj-which is the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. Personal pinion on these five pillars is that they are instrumental in the faith since, as in any other structured and disciplined undertakings, they act as guiding principles that would set apart the adherents of the faith to the non-adherents. These pillars also help shape the person that is a Muslim and give them the identity that would be used easily to identify them. Just like in the other religions, there are guiding principles…
These Christians basically were set apart from the other Christians by their belief that Christ's divinity and humanity were combined or fused into one nature rather than being two separate entities as was believed by the Orthodox Christians. This Christian church also was seen to be increasingly separate and independent of the authority of the church in Constantinople.
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