Published online by Cambridge University Press: 30 October 2007
It is a strange interaction that occurs between Muslim and Copt in the passage above, which was written in the 11th century and set in the 10th century. What might be proven by such a debate over a dog's religion? What is more, why record such an incident in a church-sanctioned history? Because the dog cannot speak, there must be another way to know whether it is Christian or Muslim (for those are the only two possibilities in the story). In the end it is through the dog's ritual practice—drinking wine or eating meat or not drinking wine or not eating meat—rather than through the dog's outward proclamation of religious affiliation that the Copt and the Muslim come to an agreement about what distinguishes one from the other. Ritual practice, action such as abstinence from meat or alcohol that demonstrates adherence to particular religious ideas, distinguishes Copt from Muslim even in the absence of a shared spoken language to communicate that difference. Copts and Muslims in Egypt, the story teaches, are different, and they may be distinguished even by something as minor as their food and drink.