A rare, possibly pre-Islamic era Christian monastery was uncovered last week by archaeologists on an island off the coast of the UAE, Emirati state media reported.
The monastery was discovered on Siniyah Island in the Umm Al-Qaiwain emirate. According to Emirati media, the complex found by archaeologists includes cisterns, a church, a refectory and residences for the monks.
Christian monasteries in the UAE?
While the Arabian peninsula is traditionally known for being the cradle of Islam, there was a time before when Christianity was more widespread in the region.
According to pottery assessment and radiocarbon data, the site seems to imply it was used between the late sixth to mid-eighth centuries, which would put it before or during the rise of Islam.
This would make sense because there have been many historic churches and monasteries found throughout the Persian Gulf area, and plenty of others have been found in the surrounding countries. A Christian monastery was even found in the early 1990s on the UAE's Sir Bani Yas Island.
In fact, this discovery is only the second ever pre-Islamic Christian monastery found in the UAE.
"It is an extremely rare discovery," said UAE University Prof. Tim Power, who was one of the archaeologists that excavated the monastery, according to UAE media.
"It is an important reminder of a lost chapter of Arab history."
The fact that an ancient Christian monastery was found on Siniyah Island, however, isn't too surprising either, considering it is one of the UAE's most important archaeological sites.
Evidence has long shown that the area has been inhabited for at least 10,000 years, so the fact that people lived here isn't too surprising either.
This means it wasn't built by foreigners, but by native Arab Christians in the area.
"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."Prof. Tim Power
According to Power, as cited by UAE media, the monastery wasn't lost to conquest at the hands of Muslims. Rather, "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."
There may be much more to learn about the history of the region at this monastery, but that will have to wait for future excavations.