BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

A Christian Monastery from Pre-Islamic Arabia

Excavations reveal Christian past of the United Arab Emirates

Emirate of Umm Al Quwain, where the Monastery was found. Courtesy Peter Dowley from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

On the small island of Siniyah, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), archaeologists have discovered the ruins of a Christian monastery that speaks to the region’s pre-Islamic past. The second of two such monasteries uncovered in the UAE, the Siniyah monastery possibly dates as far back as the early sixth century, 40 years before the birth of Muhammad.

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An Island Monastery

The monastery, located some 30 miles northeast of Dubai, included a church and housing for the local abbot. The church consisted of a single aisle, a nave for the altar, and a side room with a baptismal font. Nearby was a small, four-room building that probably housed the abbot and others associated with the church. Only a few hundred yards away, the remains of a small village were discovered that may have been associated with or served by the monastery. Carbon samples taken from the building’s foundations suggest that it was constructed between 534 and 656 CE. The earlier end of this range would predate the birth of Muhammad by several decades.

“It’s a really fascinating discovery because in some ways it’s hidden history—it’s not something that’s widely known,” Timothy Power, an archaeologist from the United Arab Emirates University, told The Associated Press.

In the centuries leading up to the spread of Islam, Christianity was known across much of the Middle East, with early monasteries now having been uncovered in many Gulf countries, including Oman, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Indeed, the monastery on Siniyah is the second discovered in the UAE, with another having been excavated on Sir Bani Yas Island in the 1990s.

 


Learn more in Bible History Daily:

Exploring Arabia’s Pre-Islamic Heritage

The Earliest Evidence of Christianity in Arabia?

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

A BAR Special Report: Archaeology Thriving in Saudi Arabia

What Was Paul Doing in “Arabia”?

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