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Al-Andalus: The World of Jews, Christians and Muslims in Spain

Al-Andalus: The World of Jews, Christians and Muslims in Spain

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Publicado porFranciscoGonzalez
The legacy of Al-Andalus, the name that the Arabs gave to the Iberian Peninsula, whose territory is now shared by the modern European countries of Spain and Portugal. For a few brief centuries three great religions ( Islam, Judaism and Christianity)and many cultures lived together and created Europe’s greatest civilization since the fall of the Roman Empire
The legacy of Al-Andalus, the name that the Arabs gave to the Iberian Peninsula, whose territory is now shared by the modern European countries of Spain and Portugal. For a few brief centuries three great religions ( Islam, Judaism and Christianity)and many cultures lived together and created Europe’s greatest civilization since the fall of the Roman Empire

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Published by: FranciscoGonzalez on Aug 11, 2009
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“Al-Andalus: The World of Jews, Christians and Muslims in Spain” By Francisco J.

González (text of speech presented at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Mankato, Summer 2008) http://uumankato.org/index.php An often repeated quote from the philosopher George Santayana is that “Those who do not learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them." Today I want to talk about the flip-side of that sobering statement. I want to talk to you about learning from the successes of history so were able to repeat them. I want to talk to you about the legacy of Al-Andalus, the name that the Arabs gave to the Iberian Peninsula, whose territory is now shared by the modern European countries of Spain and Portugal. For a few brief centuries three great religions and many cultures lived together and created Europe’s greatest civilization since the fall of the Roman Empire. However, I promise that this will NOT be a history lecture, but rather a sharing of ideas and hopefully a conversation on interfaith collaboration, on tolerance, on how people with opposing world views can also work in harmony. My interest in this ancient period started many years ago due to my family history. My mother is from Spain, from the region of Extremadura. During my visits I would marvel at the magnificently preserved Arab palaces, mosques and fortresses, tried to decipher the intricate Arabic calligraphy that you can still see on walls and long abandoned ruins. I eventually decided to learn Arabic, and I am glad that now, while still a student of the language, I can actually read the words that my Arab ancestors wrote so long ago. What was Al-Andalus In the year 711 A.D. a Muslim army comprised mostly of North African tribesmen under the command of Tarik ibn Ziyad invaded the Christian Kingdom of Spain as allies of a disaffected group of Spanish noblemen. Due to the internal dissent amongst the Christians, and counting on the support of the oppressed Jewish minority, the conquest was quickly completed. Only a few poor and isolated Christian redoubts in the forests and mountains of northern Spain managed to resist the invader, but these holdouts began the slow process of reclaiming the land from Islam. However, for the next 800 years, until 1492, the Islamic and Arabic worlds were present in Spain. Despite periods of war, intolerance and persecution, for several centuries Muslims, Jews and Christians managed to live together, work together and create together. Inventions from India, China and from all across the Islamic world arrived in Arab-ruled Spain, and from there on to Western Europe. Thanks to Al-Andalus Medieval Europeans learned, amongst other things, how to make paper and how to use indo-arabic numbers


instead of the cumbersome Roman numerals. Scholars from all over Europe and the Middle East went to Al-Andalus to work as advisors, as translators, as teachers for the many madrassas or academies set by enlightened Arab rulers. Important scientific and philosophical works from ancient Rome and Greece, from India and Persia, were copied, translated, debated and exported. Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars worked together and learned from each other, resulting in great advances in mathematics, engineering, chemistry, agriculture, medicine, architecture and astronomy. The Arabic language of Al-Andalus also left its mark on Europe. In modern Spanish, which descends from Latin, about 20 % of its words are of Arabic origin. Even the English language is influenced by Arabic loan words for Andalusian products and inventions. Everyone in this room is already a speaker of Andalusian Arabic. Let me show you what I mean: let me ask you this: --who can tell me the name of that kind of fabric, which many of us may be wearing right now. It is not silk, not polyester (so 70’s!), it is cotton, from the Arabic al-khattan… -- who can tell us the name of this ingredient, that many of us use on a daily basis, to add flavor to our coffee, that makes cake and doughnuts taste so sweet….sugar, from the Arabic al zukr... a couple more... -- who can tell me the name of that subject taught in mathematics class, that makes parents crazy when trying to help our kids do their homework? It is not geometry, it is not calculus, it is instead…algebra, which comes for the title of the Al-Kitāb al-mukhtaṣar fī hīsāb al-ğabr wa’l-muqābala, arabic for "The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing by Al-Kwarzimi, the inventor of this process of mathematical calculations.

-- last but not least, -- who can tell me the name of that magic ingredient, found in wine, in beer and whiskey, which makes feel warm and fuzzy when we have our favorite drink? Alcohol…in Arabic is al-gowal…or the “spirit” of a liquid.
Now we can all say: I understand a little Arabic!

Why this tolerance in Al-Andalus? The Muslims of al-Andalus were striking in their ethnic diversity. The leadership and much of their sometimes imaginary ancestry were Syrian; most of the foot-soldiers were first-generation, immigrant Berbers; and the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula, from whom within a few generations the majority of the Muslims descended, in part or in


whole, were ethnically no different from those who remained Christian: Celto-Iberians and Romans and Visigoths. The unconverted Christians and Jews, called the dhimmi, were thus not very different ethnically from their brothers and neighbors who did convert; and soon enough they were not very different in other crucial ways, since Christians and Jews were thoroughly and mostly enthusiastically Arabized within a relatively short period of time. The Andalusian Christians were even called the Mozarabs or must'arab, or "wanna-be-Arabs" and there is a wonderful Latin lamentation from Alvarus, a ninth-century churchman of Cordoba, complaining that young Christian men can barely write decent letters in Latin but are so in love with Arabic poetry that they can recite it better than the Muslims themselves. On the other hand, we also have the letter sent by a straight-laced Muslim cleric from the city of Madrid (now capital of modern Spain) to the Caliph or king complaining that during their festivities honoring Saint John and Saint Peter, many Christians go around drinking, dancing, singing loudly on the streets, with their women running around without veils...and are joined by many Muslims who also participate in the festivities. Identity, here as in the rest of medieval Europe, was a very complex thing and many people did not shy away from embracing what would seem impossibly contradictory to others. However, clearly it was Islam’s explicit calls for tolerance that allowed for these personal expressions of tolerance. The Islamic Holy Book, the Quran, mandates that non-Muslims Jews and Christians who live under Islamic rule are entitled to protection. The Quran itself recognizes Moses, Abraham and Jesus as prophets of God, and honor them accordingly: “Of the people of Moses there is a section who guide and do justice in the light of truth. (Quran 7:159)” “And We caused Jesus, the son of Mary, to follow in the footsteps of those (earlier prophets), confirming the truth of whatever there still remained of the Torah; and We sent him the Gospel, wherein there was guidance and light, confirming the truth of whatever there still remained of the Torah, and as a guidance and admonition unto the Godconscious. (Quran 5:46)” “Verily, those who have attained to faith [Muslims], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians...all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds-shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve. (Quran 2:62)” Destroyed Harmony The demise of tolerance in Al-Andalus came as a result of the greater political and demographic changes coming mainly from outside the Iberian Peninsula. The Christian


Kingdoms in northern Spain, Castile, Leon and Aragon, took advantage of internal power struggles amongst the Muslims to advance their military conquests. Islamic fundamentalism from Africa and Christian crusaders from France and Germany began to equate accommodation and tolerance with lack of faith and even treason to God. War, economic dislocation and outside concepts of jihad and crusade begat fanaticism and intolerance. In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella, rules of a united Christian Spain, captured Granada, the last independent Arab state in the Iberian Peninsula. This political conquest, however, was followed by the expulsion of all the Jews and eventually all Muslims that refused to convert to Christianity. Al-Andalus was no more. Most Jews and Muslims left, taking their culture with them. The Muslims went on to Morocco, to Algeria and to Tunisia in North Africa, where they helped to set the foundations of these modern states. The Jews also settled for the most part in Muslim lands, especially in Turkish-ruled Eastern Europe. To this day, the descendants of the Jews of Spain, known as Sephardim, maintain their separate identity and culture, many still speaking Ladino, a form of Spanish maintained across the centuries. Al- Andalus Today The legacy of Al-Andalus is still debated today, in ways that are surprisingly relevant for all of us. In the Arab and Muslim world, in both intellectual circles and popular culture this period is looked up as a shining example of what Arabs can achieve in terms of economic and cultural progress, in peace with peoples of other faiths while still living up to the commandments of Islam. However, Arabs and Muslims are also mindful of another lesson, of how internal turmoil and military weakness led to the end Al-Andalus and the expulsion of tens of thousands of Muslims from the lands where they had lived for centuries. Osama bin Laden himself has mentioned “the loss of Al-Andalus” and compared this disaster to the expulsion and oppression of Palestinians at the hands of Jews supported by the US and Western Europe. Even here in Minnesota we have a link to the Al-Andalus of knowledge and culture: the Tarik ibn Ziyad Academy, a public charter school located in Inver Grove Heights that has a majority Muslim immigrant student body. This school is named after the leader of the Muslim army that conquered Spain, Tarik, who was also a noted poet and scholar. The Lessons of Al-Andalus Allow me to conclude by sharing with you some final thoughts on what can we learn for Al-Andalus:  That cultural assimilation and forced uniformed identity are not needed to create a successful society. For many Americans, the idea of our society being melting pot in which people of all origins fuse into one culture is a lynchpin of our national identity. I submit to you that a better analogy would be the Andalusian model of a mosaic of distinct and, yes, separate


cultures that come together to create a better whole while maintaining their individuality.

That if we only practice tolerance of others we are missing the possibilities arising from embracing and learning from others. We should be like the young Christian men of Córdoba, who loved to read Arabic love poems instead of the classical Latin texts; or like the merry Muslims from Madrid, who joined in the extravagant religious celebrations of their Christian neighbors. That we must also be willing to openly criticize our co-religionists when they engage in extremism and intolerance. Thus Muslim religious leaders around the world condemned the 9/11 terror attacks by Al-Qaeda. Thus many Christian ministers in the US denounced the bigoted attacks on Islam by Reverends Pat Robertson, Jerry Fallwell and Franklin Graham (all friends of the current Bush administration). And thus many Jews, have for decades supported the right of the Palestinian people to an independent state and condemned Israel's brutal occupation.

In Al-Andalus we can find both knowledge and inspiration regarding some of the greatest issues confronting us at the beginning of this new century: the relationship between religion and the state, between faith and science, between reason and revelation; the dangers of political extremism; and the courage it often takes to oppose injustice and search for truth. Gracias, y Que la Paz Esté Con Vosotros Shukram wa Salaam Aleikum Toda Raba Shalom Thank you, and May Peace Be With You

************************************************************* Additional Resources on Al-Andalus
Science in Al-Andalus Islam, with its tolerance and encouragement of both secular and religious learning, created the necessary climate for the exchange of ideas. The court of Córdoba, like that of Baghdad, was open to Muslims, Jews and Christians alike, and one prominent bishop complained that young Christian men were devoting themselves to the study of Arabic,


rather than Latin—a reflection of the fact that Arabic, in a surprisingly short time, had become the international language of science, as English has today http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200407/science.in.al-andalus-.compilation..htm Review of the book The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by Maria Rosa Menocal Bringing to life a time and place largely overlooked in Western histories, "The Ornament of the World" describes an era in medieval Spain from 750 to 1492 when the three monotheistic faiths clashed, intermingled, and produced a rich, tolerant culture. Arabic was the lingua franca, and Jews and Christians held prominent positions in Muslim government and society. So great was the flourishing of the arts, philosophy, and science that Andalusia was seen by Christians in northern Europe as the intellectual center of the continent. Religious tolerance before it was hip http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/0725/p15s02-bogn.html Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain, a documentary that takes viewers on an epic journey back into one of the most fascinating and important periods of world history. For more than three centuries in Medieval Spain, Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together and prospered in a thriving multicultural civilization. Here, remarkable individuals of different faiths made lasting contributions in such areas as poetry, art, architecture, music, dining etiquette, science, agriculture, medicine, engineering, navigation, textiles, and even hydraulic technology. The two-hour television event highlights the triumphs and achievements of diverse cultures that co-exist and thrive together. But it also depicts the tragedy that ensues when religious extremism begins to rise. http://www.islamicspain.tv/Islamic-Spain/index.html The Jews of Al-Andalus In the first three centuries of the Muslim domination the Jews enjoyed great influence and prosperity. Jews frequently served the government in official capacities and played an active role in political and financial affairs. Hasdai ibn Shaprut (fl. 915-975) was counselor to the caliphs of Córdoba, the Ibn Nagrelas were viziers of Granada, the Ibn Ezras, Ibn Megashs, and Ibn Albalias were high officials in Granada and Seville. The Sephardim were also engaged in considerable social and intellectual intercourse with influential circles of the Muslim population. Solomon ibn Gabirol, Moses ibn Ezra, and Judah ha-Levi were but the acknowledged supreme geniuses of a form of expression. The period 1000-1148 disserved to be named the Golden Age of Hebrew literature The Jews in Islamic Spain: Al Andalus http://www.sephardicstudies.org/islam.html Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) language web page. In English. http://www.orbilat.com/Languages/Spanish-Ladino/Ladino.htm


Al-Andalus in Today’s World
Spain and al-Qa'eda Osama bin Laden has repeatedly called on followers to fight to restore al-Andalus, the Arabic name for Spain when it was under Islamic rule before the Christian reconquest of the 15th century. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1568080/Spain-and-alQa'eda.html#continue Blues Al Andalus: Caliphate of Al-Andalus in SecondLife Second Life® is a 3-D virtual world created by its Residents. Since opening to the public in 2003, it has grown explosively and today is inhabited by millions of Residents from around the globe. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-sLH-Bc9iM&feature=related

Al-Andalus and Minnesota
Are taxpayers footing bill for Islamic school in Minnesota? By Katherine Kersten Star Tribune Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA) -- named for the Muslim general who conquered medieval Spain -- is a K-8 charter school in Inver Grove Heights http://www.startribune.com/featuredColumns/16404541.html?location_refer=Local%20+ %20Metro Charter school getting threats for Islamic ties Harassment came after questions were raised about whether Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy promotes Islam, violating church-state separation. http://www.startribune.com/local/south/17557379.html Mizna Arab-American Center for the arts in Minneapolis. Also offer Arabic and Farsi (Persian) language classes. http://mizna.org/classes/index.html


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