Adonis Diaries

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Part 2. Eastern Christian Nestorians: Personal Secretaries to Caliphs, Sultan and Viziers

My interest in translating and reviewing books on the history of “minority” Christian sects in the Middle-East is the direct result of the current trend of heavy diaspora for these sects who lived in Iraq and Syria.  Successive waves of relocating to NO-Man-Land started during the 2003 preemptive war of the US against Iraq.

Most of these eastern christians have lost everything and are paying the dear price to “professional passers” in order to land into a European State.

Since the start of the uprising last year in Syria against the Assad regime, no less than 150,000 Christians were forced to vacate from the city of Homs and its environs. They are flocking to the Christian quarters in Damascus and barely surviving the increased cost of living and the shortage of foodstuff, cooking gas, and heating fuel…

The Nestorian sect followed the Syriac Eastern Church till the year 431. In that year, its Patriarch Nestor was demoted by the “Orthodox Byzantium Church“.  Since then, the Nestorians developed and expanded within the Persian Sassanid Empire on the eastern shores of the Euphrates River and beyond, all the way along the silk road and into China.

In the early Arabic Abbassid dynasty around 762, the Nestorian Church was bestowed preeminence over all the other Christian sects till the year 1258 as the Mogul of Holago entered and destroyed Baghdad.

Scribes to the Caliphs and viziers were mostly selected  from the Nestorian Church, and a succession of personal secretaries to the caliphs were among them.  The personal secretaries were indispensable to the good and smooth running of the administrations and they had the eyes and ears of the highest authorities…

It seems that the governor of Basra Abi Moussa Ash3ari initiated the hiring of non-Moslems as personal secretaries. Caliph Omar Ben Khattab was very upset, claiming that the Coran forbade hiring non-Moslems in high positions… Ash3ari replied: “My Christian secretary has his religion and I have his letters…”

Since then, non-Moslem scholars were heavily engaged in the translation of manuscripts (mainly Greek, Persian, and Indian…) and writing the necessary documents for the Arabic administrations…

In fact, the Nestorian Church graduated the best medical personnel and scientists during that period and were hired as personal physicians to Caliphs and viziers…

The Abbassid Caliph Al Mo3taded preferred Nestorian scribes and personal secretaries on account that “the Christians have no design to capture political power. The Jews worked for the return of their Kingdom, and the Persians wanted to recapture their lost kingdom…”

In 5 centuries, 37 caliphs succeeded to power, which corresponded to 36 Nestorian Patriarchs. Caprol listed 115 Nestorian secretaries, 35 of them converted to Islam but refrained from pressuring their family members to follow suit…A few of the converted secretaries became viziers, such as Sa3ed Bin Mukhled.

The secretaries overcame many political upheavals and participated in the election of their Patriarchs, and aided their coreligionists to accede to prominent positions and wealth.  The Patriarchs used to relocate their headquarters to wherever the Capital was transplanted, from Baghdad to Samera2 for example.

In the 15th century, a faction of the Nestorian Church paid allegiance to the Catholic Pope of Rome and were labelled the Chaldean Church.  The loyal faction was recalled the Assyrian Church.

Note 1: Mahmoud Al Zibawi published a review in Arabic of the French book “The Nestorian secretaries in Baghdad 762-1258” by Cecile Caprol.  This book is a series of publications within the “Collection of Christian Arabic Studies” established by the Jesuit St. Joseph University in Beirut

Note 2: Caprol referred in the book to four other scholars in his topic: 1. Louis Chikho, 2. Louis Massignon, 3. Gerard Trubo, and 4. Jean Maurice Fiyye.  Chikho collected documents that were used after his death in 1929. Massignon studied the Secretaries who graduated from the convent of Kani on the eastern shores of the Tigres River in the 9th century

Note 3. You may read part 1. https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/short-history-of-eastern-oriental-christian-sects-assyrian-nestorian-chaldean-jacobite/


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

July 2021
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