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Corresponding across Religious Borders: Al-Bājī’s Response to a Missionary Letter from France

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Abstract “I have examined, O monk, the letter coming from you, the friendship therein proffered, the advice which you offer, and the intention which you disclose.” With these words begins the reply written by the eminent Andalusian Mālikī scholar Abū l-Walīd Sulaymān al-Bājī (d. 1081) to a letter received at the Muslim court of Saragossa from an unidentified ‘monk of France’ inviting the ruler to convert to Christianity. This letter, if authentic, is the earliest extant record of a Christian mission to Muslims in the West. After introducing al-Bājī and situating him in the socio-political and religious circumstances of the time, this article offers a review of past scholarship relating to this correspondence, which has mostly focused on the authenticity of the Christian letter and the possible identification of its author. It is argued in favor of the authenticity of the exchange, offering reasons for it. The article then turns to al-Bājī’s text, seeking to draw from it what it can tell us about him and how he viewed Christians and Christianity.

Affiliations: 1: >Department of Theology, Georgetown University 37th and O Streets, NW, Washington, DC 20057 USA

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