Augustine and Islam

Saint Augustine has always had a close relationship with North Africa: he was born in Thagaste (now Souk-Ahras in eastern Algeria) and later became Bishop of Hippo (modern Annaba). A little known legend however claimed that Augustine had been born in Tagaoust, Morrocco (perhaps a confusion with the similar sounding Thagaste). One tradition identified Augustine with Abu-l-‘Abbas Sabti (d. 1204), a Sufi saint, ascetic and teacher famous for caring for the poor. After his death the saint became associated with providing protection for all the unfortunate, including Christians and Jews who were able to approach his tomb without prior conversion to Islam.

Natalie Zemon Davis recounts this story in Trickster Travels: A Sixteenth Century Muslim Between Worlds which examines the life and travels of al- Hasan al-Wazzan, later known as Leo Africanus, a captured Morroccan who converted to Christianity and was baptised by Pope Leo X in 1519. Al-Wazzan mistakenly claimed that Augustine was an Arian (Arianism is the belief that Christ was the highest created mortal but not divine), although Zemon-Davis argues that this may have been a way of reclaiming the saint for Africa as Arianism was a belief held by Barbary Christians and an ‘anti-Trinitarian Augustine was a better antecedent for Islam than a Trinitarian one.’

Natalie Zemon Davis, Trickster Travels: A Sixteenth Century Muslim Between Worlds (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006), p. 185

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