Archaeologists discover Christian monastery in UAE that may predate Islam

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The discovery of an ancient Christian monastery on an island in the United Arab Emirates purportedly might shine a light on the faith's early history before the rise of Islam in the region.

As The Associated Press reports, archeologists found the monastery on Siniyah Island, a dune in the UAE city of Umm al-Quwain that lies about 30 miles northeast of Dubai on the Persian Gulf. It is the second monastery discovered in the Emirates that could be as many as 1,400 years old.

Last Thursday, UAE Culture and Youth Minister Noura bint Mohammed al-Kaabi, Sheikh Majid bin Saud Al Mualla and the Chairman of the Umm al-Quwain's Tourism and Archaeology Department Sheikh Majid bin Saud Al Mualla visited the site.

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UAE's Culture Ministry is sponsoring the ongoing dig, which is taking place near the vicinity of buildings belonging to a village that predates Islam.

The carbon dating sample of the recently discovered monastery's foundation dates between 534 and 656 A.D. The Islamic prophet Muhammad was born in 570 A.D. and is believed to have died in 632 A.D. after conquering Mecca in what is now known as Saudi Arabia.

The monastery's floor plan suggests Christians worshipped in a single-aisle church. A second building near the structure containing four rooms may have housed a church leader. Other rooms inside the monastery hold a baptismal and an oven for baking communion bread or wafers.

Another section of the building, known as a nave, likely held an altar and a place for communion wine.

In the early 1990s, archaeologists discovered the first Christian monastery in the UAE, on Sir Bani Yas Island. The structure dates back to the same time period as the recently discovered monastery in Umm al-Quwain.

Timothy Power, an associate professor of archaeology at the United Arab Emirates University, who helped investigate the Umm al-Quwain monastery, described the present UAE as a "melting pot of nations."

"The fact that something similar was happening here 1,000 years ago is really remarkable and this is a story that deserves to be told," Power told AP.

Today, just over 12% of the UAE population is Christian.