The Line Where Religions Collide
The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam
When we think of islam, we tend to think of the Middle East. But 80 percent of the world's Muslims live elsewhere, and in regions where they encounter half the world's Christians. If one wants to learn about the relationship between Christianity and Islam, there is no better place to begin. So Eliza Griswold spent seven years investigating what she calls the "torrid zone" to unpack the relations of the two great religions.The result is The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), "a beautifully written book, full of arresting stories woven around a provocative issue" (The New York Times).
Griswold is an award-winning investigative journalist and a fellow at the New America Foundation. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and Harper's. She also has published a collection of poems, Wideawake Field. Mark Galli, CT senior managing editor, talked with Griswold about her impressions of Islam and Christianity in Africa and Asia.
The title of your book suggests that geography plays a large role in the religious tensions between Muslims and Christians.
The tenth parallel is not so much a specific line but a broader zone. In Africa, it marks the southern edge of most of the continent's 400 million Muslims, who live predominantly north of this line, in the northernmost third of Africa, which is dry land. Historically, as traders and Islamic missionaries traveled, they reached as far south as the tenth parallel. Where the tenth parallel began, so did tsetse [biting] flies, which carried sleeping sickness that killed off traders and missionaries, horses, and camels. Because of sleeping sickness, Islam largely stopped there.
When the European powers came, mostly during the 1800s and early 1900s—especially after 1885 and "the scramble for Africa"—colonial rule was established in places that had been hard to reach historically. Christian missionaries from these nations came with two great gifts, the two Bs: the Bible and the bicycle.
Many came simply doing what most missionaries do today, bringing the Word in a positive way to people's lives. But some came with the express purpose of stopping Islam as a rival monotheism; they focused their efforts along this southernmost edge of the Muslim world, explicitly along the tenth parallel, to stop Islam from winning Africa. A lot of the language we hear today from Christians about a global battle with Islam is nothing new. It certainly dates back at least 100 years.
This fault line is as sharp as it is because it's one of the most environmentally sensitive belts in the world. Along the equator, depending on the time of year, two winds meet—dry wind dropping from the northern hemisphere and wet wind rising from the south collide. When we look east, that pattern established the encounter of Christianity and Islam on the island nations of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The trade winds carried Muslim and Christian traders, and Muslim and Christian missionaries, to the same beaches, islands, and ports, where they began to fight over control of what was then the spice route. It's largely an encounter driven by wind and weather, and, again, centuries of migrations, whether on ships or on land.