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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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Published by guajataca
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: guajataca on Aug 11, 2009
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05/11/2014

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“Al-Andalus: The World of Jews, Christians and Muslims in Spain”
ByFrancisco J. González(text of speech presented at theUnitarian Universalist Fellowship,Mankato, Summer 2008)http://uumankato.org/index.phpAn often repeated quote from the philosopher George Santayana is that “Those who donot 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 fromthe successes of history so were able to repeat them. I want to talk to you about thelegacy of Al-Andalus, the name that the Arabs gave to the Iberian Peninsula, whoseterritory is now shared by the modern European countries of Spain and Portugal. For afew brief centuries three great religions and many cultures lived together and createdEurope’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 ideasand hopefully a conversation on interfaith collaboration, on tolerance, on how peoplewith opposing world views can also work in harmony.My interest in this ancient period started many years ago due to my family history. Mymother is from Spain, from the region of Extremadura. During my visits I would marvelat the magnificently preserved Arab palaces, mosques and fortresses, tried to decipher theintricate Arabic calligraphy that you can still see on walls and long abandoned ruins. Ieventually decided to learn Arabic, and I am glad that now, while still a student of thelanguage, 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 adisaffected group of Spanish noblemen. Due to the internal dissent amongst theChristians, and counting on the support of the oppressed Jewish minority, the conquestwas quickly completed. Only a few poor and isolated Christian redoubts in the forestsand mountains of northern Spain managed to resist the invader, but these holdouts beganthe 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 managedto live together, work together and create together.Inventions from India, China and from all across the Islamic world arrived in Arab-ruledSpain, and from there on to Western Europe. Thanks to Al-Andalus Medieval Europeanslearned, amongst other things, how to make paper and how to use indo-arabic numbers1
 
instead of the cumbersome Roman numerals. Scholars from all over Europe and theMiddle East went to Al-Andalus to work as advisors, as translators, as teachers for themany 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 productsand inventions. Everyone in this room is already a speaker of Andalusian Arabic. Let meshow 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 rightnow. 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 addflavor to our coffee, that makes cake and doughnuts taste so sweet….sugar, from theArabic 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 notcalculus, it is instead…algebra, which comes for the title of the
Al-Kitāb al-mukhta
arfī hīsāb al-ğabr wa’l-muqābala
,arabicfor 
"The Compendious Book onCalculation 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 andmuch of their sometimes imaginary ancestry were Syrian; most of the foot-soldiers werefirst-generation, immigrant Berbers; and the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula, fromwhom within a few generations the majority of the Muslims descended, in part or in2
 
whole, were ethnically no different from those who remained Christian: Celto-Iberiansand Romans and Visigoths.The unconverted Christians and Jews, called the
dhimmi
, were thus not very differentethnically from their brothers and neighbors who did convert; and soon enough they werenot very different in other crucial ways, since Christians and Jews were thoroughly andmostly enthusiastically Arabized within a relatively short period of time. The AndalusianChristians were even called the Mozarabs or 
must'arab
, or "wanna-be-Arabs" and there isa 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 soin 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 thecity of Madrid (now capital of modern Spain) to the Caliph or king complaining thatduring their festivities honoring Saint John and Saint Peter, many Christians go arounddrinking, dancing, singing loudly on the streets, with their women running aroundwithout 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 toothers. 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 wholive 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 senthim 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 God-conscious. (Quran 5:46)”“Verily, those who have attained to faith [Muslims], as well as those who follow theJewish faith, and the Christians...all who believe in God and the Last Day and dorighteous 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 anddemographic changes coming mainly from outside the Iberian Peninsula. The Christian3

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