Christianity in Iraq X (2013)

East Syrian mysticism possibly reached its apogee in Mesopotamia during the 7th and 8th centuries. The renowned monastery of Rabban Shabbour in Khuzistan was a centre of mystical thought. Its most famous ‘son’ was St. Isaac of Nineveh (Isaac the Syrian) whose works transcended sectarian boundaries, and were received into the Miaphysite and Orthodox traditions, where their importance is still recognized today. Another great mystic hailing from Rabban Shabbour was Dadisho of Qatar, whose writings, in Sogdian translation, have been found at Turfan in north-west China.

The ability of the East Syrian mystical works to transcend their boundaries impacted on Sufism. The mutual interaction between Christian and Sufi mystics is best exemplified in works of the twelfth century Syrian Orthodox maphrian Gregory bar Hebraeus that reveal a deep indebtedness to the writings of al-Ghazali, albeit applied within a Christian context. In this train of pari passu transmission between Syriac and Sufi mystics, al-Ghazali continued and adapted the trajectory of earlier East Syrian thinkers, including Isaac of Nineveh.

Mysticism assumes a critical, powerful role in forging communication beyond sectarian boundaries as was noted by the renowned Islamicist, Louis Massignon, in his pioneering studies on Sufism. The mutual interaction between Christianity and Islam still plays a cardinal role today, helping to foster dialogue and promoting mutual discourse between two great religious traditions. Baghdad was, under the Abbassids, a crucible of mystical thought. Perhaps today, the endorsement of the mystical heritage shared by Christians and Muslims can be a consolidating trajectory in modern Iraq.