Christian Monasticism and Islamic Responses

Canon Dr Robin Gibbons
Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford

A common perception is that Islam has no place or much liking for what Christians call monasticism. Some scholars cite the Qur’an as evidence for this attitude. However there has always been dialogue between Christian monks and Muslims from the earliest period until today. One fact that has to be faced is that their presence had been long established in the Middle East before Islam itself appeared and monks dialogued with the early generations of Muslims. Within Islam itself there is evidence for a form of monasticism.

These forms of dialogue tell a hidden and different story that sheds another light on Christian-Muslim encounter. Particular individuals have often been regarded as ‘Godly People’ and treated with respect. Charles de Foucauld (d 1916) and Christian de Chergé OCSO (d 1996) are two particular monastic examples of this phenomenon. Chergé maintained that dialogue with Islam was part of a theology of hope to be explored through ‘being what we are in the banalities of everyday life’.

In this seminar we shall explore some of the unknown stories of dialogue and response, with particular reference to the work of the scholar Professor David Bertaina, whose essay on ‘Monks and Muslims in Dialogue’ is a magnificent synthesis of the subject.