Britain and Islam: a matter of faith

Britain's relationship with Islam has long been perceived as troubled, but is that the whole story? Martin Pugh outlines 10 key moments from history that both help explain contemporary tensions and offer cause for optimism

The call for the First Crusade was initially made by Pope Urban (pictured) in 1095. (Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
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The foundation of Islam, AD 622

The English adopt a surprisingly relaxed attitude to the emergence of a new religion

In the early medieval era, English Christians largely regarded Islam as a variant, or at worst a heresy, within Christianity rather than as an alternative religion. Its coming was therefore not seen as particularly significant and its spread not alarming. The explanation for this relaxed attitude is clear. Judaism, Christianity and Islam emerged from the same region, in broadly the same era, and enjoyed a common cultural inheritance. They drew on the stories and ideas of the Old Testament and their practitioners honoured the same prophets, including Abraham and Moses.

On the other hand, English Christians were not very well informed about Islam until the early modern period when the collection of manuscripts at Oxford’s Bodleian Library fostered the development of a scholarly approach, and helped to undermine the more absurd medieval myths about the faith.

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