Christian Monastery Pre-Dating Islam Found on Arabian Peninsula

Archaeologists just discovered an ancient Christian monastery that may pre-date the prophet Muhammad.

The twist? It’s on an island off the coast of the United Arab Emirates — right in the centre of the Middle East.

For historians, the site may shed new light on the history of early Christianity in the Persian Gulf. It’s located on Siniyah Island, part of the sand-dune sheikhdom of Umm Al Quwain. It existed years before the Arabian Peninsula converted to Islam.

Scientists have already carbon-dated the monastery’s foundation. They concluded it was constructed as far back as the 6th century or mid-7th century AD. Most scholars agree that Islam rose to prominence soon after, during the 7th century.

The discovery reinforces the history — and current reality — of the United Arab Emirates. It remains a “melting pot of nations”, said Timothy Power, an associate professor of archaeology at the United Arab Emirates University. Power helped investigate the find.

“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,” he told the Associated Press.

Monastery details

UAE officials announced the monastery’s discovery on Thursday. After a preliminary study, scientists said the floor plan suggests it was a single-aisle church.

Its rooms appear to hold a baptismal font, as well as an oven for baking bread or wafers for communion rites, Sky News reported. A nave (the central part of a typical Christian church) also held an altar and a section for communion wine.

The site of the monastery on Siniyah Island guards the Khor al-Beida marshlands in Umm al-Quwain, an emirate about 50km northeast of Dubai.

The island’s name loosely translates to “blinking lights”. That likely derives from the effect of the scorching sun in the region, which has a series of sandbars stretching away like curled fingers. It’s on one of those fingers that archaeologists found the site.


The monastery’s island remains the property of the UAE ruling family. They plan on protecting the land to allow the discovery of more historical sites.

Archaeologists discovered the first Christian monastery in the UAE in the early 1990s on Sir Bani Yas Island (see video above). The island has since become a nature preserve and site of luxury hotels off the coast of Abu Dhabi. It dates to the same period as this latest find in Umm al-Quwain.

While the UAE has committed to protecting the monastery, Power said more secrets might lie just beneath the island’s sands.

“It’s a really fascinating discovery because in some ways it’s hidden history — it’s not something that’s widely known,” Power said.

Andrew McLemore

An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is also a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Medellin, Colombia. When he’s not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he’s hanging out with his dog Campana.