Andalusian Reflections - (I)

The history of Anadalus is not one of Muslims only, involving a great deal of cultural input from the Latin, Jewish and European civilizations.

Andalusian Reflections - (I)

Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah

The history of Anadalus is not one of Muslims only, involving a great deal of cultural input from the Latin, Jewish and European civilizations. It is unfortunate that when it is compared to the histories of Roman, Holy-Roman, French or British Empire, only a small number of studies has been undertaken on the cultural and political history of Andalus. This negligence, and ignorance, is a significant setback in the study of European History, as well as the History of Islam, missing the crucial link bridging Islamic civilization and Medieval Europe with each other. It is far more surprising in our time in which Muslim and European communities feel a great strain with building a framework for peaceful coexistence, an accomplished example of this endeavour receives no serious investigation. 

Andalus suffers from Eurocentric steortypes, which classifies it an alien cultural component in the Judeo-Roman heritage, and is partly the victim of the dramatic rise of Northwestern states at the expense of Mediterrenian. What Andalus signifies for Muslims at large is a distant past, once a powerful Empire at the heart of Europe, which hinders them explore socio-political dynamics behind it carefully. These are not convincing excuses, however.

Dr.Omar Farooq Abdullah, an erudite scholar in the study of early encounters of Muslims with the West, is a good reference for the introduction. The following piece by him, to be published in two parts, provides a fresh insight, enriched with a valuable string of information, to the political and cultural history of Andalus from the 10th century onwards.

In the 10th century C.E, Hroswitha—Saxon princess and earliest known German poetess—wrote of Cordoba, the caliphal capital of al-Andalus, that it was: “the ornament of the world.” In the Age of Hroswitha, Islam and civilization were synonymous. The Abode of Islam had a fabulous beacon in the east: Sunni Persia, and another, more spectacular, in the west: al-Andalus

Christian historians in the Middle Ages spoke of “the two Spains,” one Christian and the other Muslim. They meant by Spain, “Hispania”: the Iberian peninsula—Spain and Portugal—not the political entity called Spain today. There was no doubt which of the “two Spains” was the greater and more splendid. Europeans have called the Andalusians Moors and their culture, Moorish. Our names: Moore, Morris, Maurice, and Moritz, were medieval forms of “Moor” and “Moorish”.

Muslims, on the other hand, spoke of“ al-Andalus,” embracing all parts of Iberia that were Muslim. “Al-Andalus” expanded or receded, as the fortunes of Islam in Portugal and Spain ebbed and flowed. Muslims focused not on the phenomenon of the “two Spains” but on that of the “two banks” [al-‘udwatan]: the northern and southern shores of the straits of Gibraltar. The immense cultural, commercial, political, and military power of al-Andalus lay in the secret its “the two banks.” When the banks were united or well linked, al-Andalus was the richest, most formidable land of Europe. When the “two banks” and their peoples were severed, al-Andalus weakened and faced defeat before the barbarous armies from “the vast land” [al-ard al-kabirah]: Europe beyond the Pyrenees.

Al-Andalus was among the greatest manifestations of civilization Europe has ever witnessed. The Andalusians were consciously European and cultivated that identity in their poetry. An Andalusian poet might depart from norms and speak, for example, of a beautiful woman with green eyes and red hair, not the traditional Arabian beauty with black hair and big dark eyes. Ethnically, Andalusian Muslims did not differ significantly from their Christian neighbors to the north Andalusian civilization was tolerant and cosmopolitan. It embraced Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Its Muslim population was diverse: Iberians [Latins and Celts], Berbers, Arabs, Teutons, sub-Saharan Africans, Slavs, Persians, and others. In its darkest times, al-Andalus knew ugly racial divisions—especially between Berber and Arab—but succeeded rapidly in Arabicizing its population and weilding them into one body. Many Christians and Jews embraced Islam. Maimonides [Musa ibn Maimun]—the great Jewish physician and Talmudic scholar of Cordoba—is reported to have held that the greatest danger before an Andalusian Jew was attraction to Islam. The Muslims of al-Andalus had a sincere and deep attachment to Islam and Arabic. In practice, their society was trilingual. It cultivated a sophisticated Qur’anic Arabic but also used Andalusian colloquial Arabic and “al-‘Ajamiyah” [ aljamiado], a romance tongue close to Castillian Spanish but written in Arabic script.

The appeal of the Andalusian way of life enticed Christians and Jews and many populations on the perimeters. Andalusian Christians and Jews took pride in the Arabic tongue and Arab habits and styles. Several Andalusian Jews wrote on the virtues of Arabic and held it superior to Hebrew. Judah ben Tibbon—a physician and translator of Arabic works into Hebrew—held that Arabic was the richest language in the world and the best suited for every type of writing. He felt Arabic—as opposed to Hebrew—was the supreme poetic language and the perfect language for philosophy, since, by its nature, it penetrated the hearts of matters, made the obscure clear, and expounded subtleties.

People of the Book—especially Christians—were called “musta’ribun” [mozarabes]: “those who imitate the Arabs.” When Alfonso VI reconquered large regions of northern and central Iberia in the 11th century, he had to “Europeanize” the Christians of his new domains and make them “Latin” Christians again instead of the Arab Christians they had become. Alfonso introduced the Roman liturgy in place of the Mozarabic. He patronized Romanesque art instead of Moorish and spread the Carolingian script. From the time of Alfonso VI on, one of the chief offices of the Church and, later, the Inquisition would be to obliterate Moorish culture and replace it with that of Latin Christianity.

The “Arabic speaking” phase of Islamic civilization in Iberia lasted more than eight hundred years from 711 until after the fall of Granada in 1492. But Muslim influence in Iberia lasted longer. Millions of Muslims remained in Iberia after Granada’s fall. Those of them who could not leave freely or flee successfully were forcefully converted to Catholicism in the 16th century and forbidden to speak Arabic or keep their Moorish culture. The Church divided Iberia between Old Christians and New, two distinct and unequal social classes kept under the Inquisition’s scrutiny for centuries. Forcefully converted Muslims were called “Moriscos” [little Moors], while forcefully converted Jews were called “Marranos” [swine]. Often Morisco children were taken away to be raised as Christians in monasteries, cloisters, and other Church institutions.

Large populations of Moriscos were expelled from the south of Spain and from its eastern coastal regions and were resettled in the north. But extreme measures could not kill the spirit of Islam in Moriscan hearts. They rebelled frequently and continually begged Muslim powers to come to their rescue. Ultimately, Spain expelled hundreds of thousands of Moriscos from 1609 to 1614. But this same act helped break the power and wealth of Imperial Spain, which relied on the energies and skills of its Moriscos. It marked the end of Spain’s golden age. Never again would “the Catholic kings” recapture their lost glory. The French cardinal, Richelieu, chief minister of Louis XIII, said of the expulsion of the Moriscos that it was: “ . . . the most audacious and barbarous counsel recorded in the history of all preceding ages.”

The genocide of the Moors and Moriscos, Jews and Marranos contrasts to the Islamic toleration, which had been the hallmark of al-Andalus from its beginning and one of the secrets of its great achievements. The “Grand Inquistion”, which began in 1483, was “the first act of united Spain.” Most European Christians loathed the Inquisition, especially when Spain—in its Inquisitorial spirit—sought to crush Protestant movements. Philip II sent his “Invincible Armada” with such an intent against newly Protestant England in 1588. Spain’s murderous wars against the Dutch Protestants, which went on intermittently from 1579 until 1648, were the Inquisition’s work. European hatred of the Inquisition and reaction against it were among the reasons for the Protestant Reformation’s success. The 19th century French historian, Charles, Comte de Montalembert said: “I grant indeed that the Inquisition in Spain destroyed Protestantism in its germ, but I defy anyone to prove that it has not given it throughout Europe the support of public opinion and the sympathies of outraged humanity.” Yet the Inquisition’s long and grotesque shadow has hung over the West for centuries. The bloody Spanish civil war ( 1936 – 1939 ) was in part the fruit of the brutal division of Spanish social classes that the Inquisition fostered. Even the ku klux klan, the genocidal policies of nazi fascism, and Slobodan Milosevic’s policies of “ethnic cleansing” belong to its bastard offspring.

Andalusian Muslims were generally conservative. New developments in the eastern Islamic world were not readily received in al-Andalus. But its civilization was not rigid. Rather, it blended a profound understanding of Islamic tradition with unique originality and improvision when circumstances required. Andalusian legal scholars allowed their Christian minorities to erect new churches, for example, whereas other Islamic lands only allowed them to keep their old ones.

Last Mod: 19 Eylül 2013, 15:28
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R.O. - 7 yıl Before

About half of what was stated in the piece was propaganda. Peaceful coexistence I guess was in the eye of the beholder. A closer look at their history reveals little of it. And yes, while Europe was suffering through a Dark Age at the time, Islamic Spain was that much more advanced than anywhere else. Lastly, to tie in the inquisition with some of the events that followed afterwards was silly.