From Acolyte to Ṣaḥābī? : Christian Monks as Symbols of Early Confessional Fluidity in the Conversion Story of Salmān al-Fārisī

This paper will examine the narrative of Salmān al-Fārisī/"the Persian" and his conversion to Islam, as recounted in the eighth-century Sīra of Ibn Isḥāq, as a lens into the laudatory interpretation of Christian monasticism by early Muslims. This account of Salmān al-Fārisī (d. 656 CE), an...

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Main Author: Bowman, Brad (Author)
Format: Electronic Article
Language: English
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Published: [2019]
In: Harvard theological review
Year: 2019, Volume: 112, Issue: 1, Pages: 55-75
Further subjects: B acolyte
B Sīra (Islam)
B monasticism
B Salmān
B conversion
Online Access: Resolving-System
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Summary: This paper will examine the narrative of Salmān al-Fārisī/"the Persian" and his conversion to Islam, as recounted in the eighth-century Sīra of Ibn Isḥāq, as a lens into the laudatory interpretation of Christian monasticism by early Muslims. This account of Salmān al-Fārisī (d. 656 CE), an original Companion (ṣaḥābī) of the Prophet Muḥammad, vividly describes his rejection of his Zoroastrian heritage, his initial embrace of Christianity, and his departure from his homeland of Isfahan in search of a deeper understanding of the Christian faith. This quest leads the young Persian on a great arc across the Near East into Iraq, Asia Minor, and Syria, during which he studies under various Christian monks and serves as their acolyte. Upon each master's death, Salmān is directed toward another mystical authority, on a passage that parallels the "monastic sojourns" of late antique Christian literature. At the conclusion of the narrative a monk sends Salmān to seek out a "new Prophet who has arisen among the Arabs." The monks, therefore, appear to be interpreted as "proto-Muslims," as links in a chain leading to enlightenment, regardless of their confessional distinction. This narrative could then suggest that pietistic concerns, shared between these communities, superseded specific doctrinal boundaries in the highly fluid and malleable religious culture of the late antique and early Islamic Near East.
ISSN: 1475-4517
DOI: 10.1017/S0017816018000342
Persistent identifiers: DOI "10.1017/S0017816018000342"