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An ancient Christian monastery, possibly built before the spread of Islam to the Arabian Peninsula, has been discovered on an island off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, UAE officials said.
The monastery on the island of Sinia, part of the sheikhdom of Umm al-Quwain, located in the sand dunes, sheds new light on the history of early Christianity on the shores of the Persian Gulf. This is the second such monastery found in the Emirates, built 1400 years ago — long before its desert expanse spawned a thriving oil industry that led to the nation's association with the high-rise towers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
The two monasteries have been lost to history in the sands of time as scholars believe Christians gradually converted to Islam as the faith became more widespread in the region.
For Timothy Power, an associate professor of archeology at the University of the United Arab Emirates who helped explore the newly discovered monastery, the UAE today — it's a “melting pot of nations.”
“The fact that something like this happened here a thousand years ago is really remarkable and the story deserves to be told,” — he said.
The monastery is located on the island of Sinia, which belongs to the emirate of Umm el Quwain, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Dubai along the coast of the Persian Gulf. The island, whose name means “flashing lights”, is probably due to exposure to the white-hot sun overhead, has a series of sandbanks extending from it like crooked fingers. On one, to the northeast of the island, archaeologists have discovered a monastery.
Carbon analysis of samples found at the base of the monastery , dates from the period between 534 and 656 years, that is, approximately in the years of the life of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
Seen from above, the plan of the monastery on the island of Sinia suggests that the first Christians prayed in a monastery church with one nave. The rooms inside contain a baptismal font, as well as an oven for baking bread or prosvir for communion rites. The nave also probably contained an altar and a stand for communion wine.
Next to the monastery is a second building with four rooms, probably around the courtyard — perhaps the home of an abbot or even a bishop in an early church.
On November 3, Noura bint Mohammed Al-Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth of the country, as well as Sheikh Majid bin Saud Al Mualla, Chairman of the Department of Tourism and Archeology of Umm Al-Quwain and the son of the ruler of the emirate, visited this place.
< br /> The island remains part of the holdings of the ruling family, guarding the land for many years so that historical sites can be found as much of the UAE developed rapidly.
The UAE Ministry of Culture has partially sponsored excavations that are ongoing at the site. Just a few hundred meters from the church is a complex of buildings that archaeologists believe belong to a pre-Islamic village.
Elsewhere on the island, piles of shellfish discarded by pearl divers turn into massive, industrial-sized mounds. Nearby is also a village that the British blew up in 1820, before the region became part of what was known as the Trucial States, the forerunners of the UAE. The destruction of this village led to the creation of the modern settlement of Umm al-Quwain on the mainland.
Historians say that early churches and monasteries spread along the Persian Gulf to the coast of modern Oman and as far as India. Other similar churches and monasteries archaeologists have found in Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.
However, evidence of early life in Umm al-Quwain dates back to the Neolithic period, suggesting continuous human habitation in the area during at least 10,000 years old, Power said.
Power said the development spurred the archaeological work that unearthed the monastery. you, this and other places will be fenced and protected, although it remains unclear what other secrets of the past remain hidden under a thin layer of sand on the island.
history",— Power said.
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