by Norman Berdichevsky (Nov. 2006)
Apologists for Islam never tire of referring to the “Golden Age” of tolerance that supposedly characterized seven centuries of Muslim dominated
The desire to restore “Al-Andalus”, an Arabic corruption of the land they conquered that had previously been ruled by the Germanic Vandals (hence al–Andalus as “Land of the Vandals” in Arabic) and Visigoths has persisted to this day. Extremist support for the atrocious terrorist bombing of the Madrid Train Station on March 11, 2004 is viewed by some Muslims today not simply as just punishment for the pro-American government of former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar but as the first step in the re-conquest of what is still considered along with “Palestine” as land that must be returned to Muslim dominion.
Renewed Theological Debate
In Medieval Spain, numerous theological debates were held to discuss the relative merits and claims of the three monotheistic religions. Even though many centuries have passed, there is still a fundamental division among them. Jews who first discovered a path towards salvation, believed they were setting an example by serving God as a nation, demonstrating their way of life to other nations. This continued to be possible even after the destruction of the
For Islam, the world is divided between two hostile camps, and it is incumbent upon Muslims to subject the other camp to its will. More than a matter of personal submission to the will of Allah, subjugation (the deeper meaning of “Islam” usually confused with salaam meaning “peace”) requires the dominion over territory. The struggle for Islam requires a continual appraisal of a chess-board like map of what part of the world has been subdued and placed under Muslim rule FOREVER (no retreats or “do-overs” are allowed). The subdued territory is Dar-al-Islam while the remaining territories are ideologically still in the camp of the unbelievers. The other camp is labeled the “Camp of War” (Dar-Il-Harb) and must ultimately be conquered. In this regard, territories such as
Moderate Muslims may want to live in harmony with their neighbors, but this theological sword and the pressure it exerts suggest that the more militant strain will gain the upper hand. Now that Al-Qaeda has forced a change in
The Original Conquest of 711-716
The Islamic Civilization of medieval Al-Andalus endured in various parts of the
The Muslims did not constitute anywhere near a majority of the population that numbered approximately 7 million Christians and Jews at the time of the first conquest in 711-716. By the beginning of the tenth century it has been estimated that the Muslim population of Berbers, Arabs and Muladies (Christians who had converted to Islam) was approximately 2.8 million out of a total of more than 7 million. By the beginning of the twelfth century, the number of Muslims had almost doubled but were just a bare majority of the total population of the peninsula. (source: “Judios, Moros y Cristianos; tres pueblos, ritos y costumbres” by Pastora Barahona, editorial Libsa, Madrid; 2004.) There was a hierarchical pecking order in spite of the lip service that all believers were equal.
Arabs stood at the top, Berbers provided the majority of the shock troops and hewers of wood and drawers of water followed by converts and at the very bottom were the infidel Jews and Christians no matter how significant their contribution to the arts and sciences.
The Muslim conquest of
These Germanic rulers were still considered “foreigners” by many ordinary native Spaniards and their formal conversion to Catholicism from the Arian heresy that rejected the idea that Jesus was co-equal or co-eternal with God the Father (contesting the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity and that Christ was both human and divine). Their “conversion” had only been an initial step designed to appeal to the Catholic majority and integrate the different elements of the population into one society. The harsh anti-Jewish measures adopted by the last Visigothic king were made to appeal to Christians and unite the kingdom in the face of the Muslim invaders who were originally welcomed by the Jews, initially regarding them as liberators.
The tolerant Spain of The Three Great Monotheistic Religions (often referred to as Las Tres Culturas) gradually contracted and was eventually extinguished as a result of repeated invasions of the peninsula from North Africa by severe Muslim-Berber tribes people who brought with them a fanaticism reminiscent of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Only later did a resurgent Christian-Hispanic reaction begin to imitate this intolerance. The term “Golden Age” of Muslim Spain most correctly applies to a relatively short period from the eighth to the mid-eleventh century and is even more accurate when applied to the Christian North of the country for a period of more than three hundred years. (1050-1390).
The Berber-Arab Division
From the very beginning of the Muslim domination of
Many of the Berbers had remained pagan or converted to Byzantine Christianity before accepting Islam and had long been in contact with the south-eastern corner of
Collapse of Muslim
Muslim Spain, nominally subject to the rulers (caliphs) in
During a few months in 1009, five different rulers succeeded each other and lost control of much of the provincial territories. A rebellion against loyalty to the Omayyid dynasty led to civil war and the descent of Muslim Spain into chaos. Within a generation, approximately 40 independent Muslim mini-kingdoms or emirates called taifas proclaimed their independence and enabled the Christian kingdoms to organize and make major advances in the reconquest of the peninsula.
The Native Jewish population of Spain (many and perhaps most Sephardi Jews were native born converts rather than migrants), always a barometer of tolerance, quite clearly preferred the Christian North to the Muslim South from the beginning of the 11th century. Severe anti-Jewish disturbances began first in
The Reconquest by the Christian kingdoms eventually took on the dimensions of a religious crusade in which there could only be one winner. The Christians would have won and evicted Muslim rule much earlier had it not been for the arrival of fresh forces brought with the Berber incursions during the 11th and 12th centuries. The gains of territory achieved by the rival Christian kingdoms did not originally contribute to cementing a sense of religious unity or a crusade (“Christendom“). It was early beset by national, dynastic and linguistic rivalries (Castilian, Catalan, Leonese, Aragonese, Valencian, Portuguese and Navarran-Basque). Fortunately for them, the Muslim opposition was even more fragmented. The many small feuding taifas were to fall one by one to the conquering Christian princes and their armies.
Only in Andalucia, was Muslim rule in
Las Tres Culturas
There is abundant evidence of social coexistence and considerable cultural interchange between members of all three religions in the early period of Muslim rule in the south and later in the Christian North, participation in holidays (even Christmas) and celebrations such as weddings and baptisms across religious lines. Noted Spanish historian Antonio Dominguez Ortiz, in his classic essay Las Tres Culturas en la Historia de España, put it this way:
Conversion to Islam had not eroded the taste of many for good wines, the woman’s veil had not yet become a widespread custom (such a requirement does not appear in the Koran) and the happy sensual and cultivated environment that has always characterized the peoples of the South of Spain was not compatible with a rigid interpretation of the Koranic precepts. Centuries later, the dynamic Zionist leader and great poet, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, explained his support of the Sephardi (Judeo-Spanish) pronunciation of Hebrew as due, in part, to appreciation of the gayer, more carefree, less inhibited nature of the Sephardim and their Mediterranean traditions than the heritage of the more morose and somber Ashkenazi (East European Jewish) past.
The Cosmopolitan and Tolerant Christian North of
It is noteworthy that the most successful Christian rulers during the greatest advances made in the Christian re-conquest were also the most tolerant. Their kingdoms derived particular benefit from the active cooperation and participation of their Jewish communities. Alfonso VI, known as “The Brave” (1072-1090) appointed a Jewish minister and treasurer. The “philosopher king” Alfonso X (1252-1284) collaborated on many projects with Jewish scholars and translators and proclaimed them as valuable citizens, specifically forbidding the use of force to bring about conversions to Christianity. Jaime I, the conqueror of
Under Muslim rule, especially following the arrival of the Almoravids and the Almohades, both Christianity and Judaism were scarcely tolerated and regarded as decidedly “inferior” religions. Their adherents were either forced at sword point to convert or paid exorbitant tribute to remain “protected peoples” (dhimmis), who possessed a divinely inspired book of revelation. They had to pay a “head tax” from which Muslims were exempt. The Jews, being more literate and whose Hebrew closely resembled Arabic, felt much more able to adapt to the new State at once and began to specialize in those activities and professions that Arabs regarded as “beneath them” (especially trade and tax collecting), administration, or onerous and “defiling” (working with leather).
The Three Sources of Hispanic Civilization
The arts, sciences, technology, literature, architecture, navigation, mapmaking, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy and art that flourished in Medieval Spain are often credited to Islam but this is a distortion of the role played by adherents of all three religions. The United Visigothic kingdom of Spain prior to the Muslim invasions had inherited five centuries of Roman civilization and had made use of the achievements of the Greeks and earlier Carthaginians as well as the Assyrians in agriculture, irrigation, mathematics, time keeping, the calender, mining, architecture, road building, mosaic art, pottery, jewelry, law and civic responsibility. The Muslim conquerors who arrived in 711 had inherited these same arts and sciences on their path of conquest across the
Due to a long troubled history, Spanish involvement in the affairs of Morocco and the religious fervor generated by the Re-conquest, the Crusades and the Counter-reformation, a problematic legacy has been inherited by many Spaniards who maintain a kind of love-hate relationship with their past and with their Muslim neighbors to the South. From the eighth century to the present day, stereotypes have dominated Spanish attitudes and relations with the Arab states and Muslim civilization no less than with
From the time of the expulsion of the last “Moors”, the term moros has been used in
Spanish Civilization is indeed indebted to both its early Iberian-Carthaginian-Roman-Greek-Germanic-Celtic origins and the invaluable contributions of both Jews and Muslims in the Middle Ages. The “Golden Age” was due originally to a wise policy of coexistence but was short-lived and followed by centuries of chaotic condition of fanaticism and fratricidal conflict due to the extremist Berber sects who followed a policy similar to that of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda of today. The Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula by the
Nb- Readers interested to learn more about Spain today and its heritage are referred to my cultural guidebook – Spanish Vignettes; An Offbeat Look into Spain’s Culture, Society & History; Santana Books. 2nd edition. 2006 ISBN 64-89954-40-2.
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