It is hard to believe that at one time nearly the whole of the Middle East and much of north Africa were predominantly Christian. Think of the great Christian cities such as Alexandria, Damascus, Edessa, Constantinople and Carthage. Monasticism, the great civilising force, in both east and west, took its rise to the dusty end of the Mediterranean and some of the church’s greatest theologians came from there.
What changed the picture? In a word, Islam. The arrival of the newly Muslim Arabs disrupted the flow of history in the Middle East and beyond. The Christian cities capitulated one by one. Some communities were destroyed in the conflict, others were dispersed. For those that remained, a system of discrimination was set in place: they had to pay special taxes, wear distinctive dress, they could not build new churches.