Archaeologists in the UAE have unearthed what they consider to be the remains of an ancient Christian monastery on the Al-Sinniyah Island belonging to the emirate of Umm Al-Quwain.
On Thursday, the Umm Al-Quwain Tourism and Archaeology Department announced the find which included a church, refectory, cisterns and individual cells for monks.
The discovery sheds new light on the history of nascent Christianity in the Gulf region as radiocarbon dating and analysis of pottery excavated at the site, suggests the ancient community thrived there between the late sixth century up to the middle of the eight century, raising the possibility that it could have been established before the arrival of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula.
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"It is an extremely rare discovery," said Professor Tim Power of the UAE University, who was part of the team who discovered the monastery. "It is an important reminder of a lost chapter of Arab history."
"The fact that something similar was happening here a 1,000 years ago is really remarkable, and this is a story that deserves to be told," he said.
Professor Power also dismissed claims that Christianity was violently supplanted by the rise of Islam and said there was a period of 300 years of coexistence. "The place was slowly abandoned. There was no sign of devastation or violence or burning. There was incremental cultural and social change as Christianity faded out and Islam became dominant. It is a monument to tolerance and multi-faith society."
The discovery of the monastery is not the first to have taken place in the UAE, as a similar structure was found in the 1990s on Abu Dhabi's Sir Bani Yas Island.