The outcome of this fruitless missionary encounter with Islam exposed two major flaws in the new Christian approaches to the Muslim. (Christians, it should be noted, initiated the approaches throughout this period of profound indifference on the part of Islamic thinkers towards Christianity.) The first was the failure to recognize Islam as a religion in its own right. Islam as a Christian heresy or as a confused misunderstanding of Judaism and Christianity was the perception that persisted throughout this period among Catholic writers and missionaries, even those expert in Arabic and Persian. This understanding of Islam also dominated Protestant thinking, as we shall see. What was good in Islam, according to this understanding, consisted of Christian residues, what was bad was always the work of 'the impostor Muhammad' as the Prophet was usually designated.
The second flaw was that the dialogue, when initiated, was always one of intellectual controversy. Muslims were to be encouraged to state their objections to Christianity and then these were answered, the falsity of Islam proved and the sinfulness of Muhammad shown from Muslim writings. This was an approach that had been shaped by Catholic-Protestant encounters in Europe in the sixteenth century, an inappropriate model that also ignored the earlier vigorous rejection by St Thomas Aquinas of the controversialist approach to Islam.1
When, by the 1650s, it appeared that the missionary efforts in Isfahan and Delhi were failures, the Catholic Church entered a period of theological indifference towards Islam as a religion. This Catholic indifference coincided with a period of intellectual stagnation within Islam itself, which Muslim scholars refer to as gumud. 2 Thus, during the eighteenth century there was no significant interchange between the two religious traditions - with this lack of real interaction taking place despite a significant number of Latin Catholic priests living in Muslim lands throughout the century. Their tasks were limited to caring for the Christian slaves within those lands, running medical dispensaries and, if asked, dispelling in quiet conversation only the wrong notions of the faith that the Muslim enquirer might have. This situation did not begin to change until the revival of Catholic missionary concern and activity in the second quarter of the nineteenth century.
Within the frontiers of the Ottoman Empire there were many non-western Christian churches: Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Assyrian, Coptic, and Mono-physite. Their presence, however, produced no fruitful encounter between Christianity and Islam in this period. Under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, whose internal policy was to keep everything as it was, each Christian community or melet, under its patriarch or archbishop who acted as its secular as well as
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