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”.
on the other hand, spoke of“
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.
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.
Muslims did not differ significantly from their Christian neighbors to
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
and other great Andalusian cities were brilliant centers of learning.
Students from as far away as England and continental Europe came
there to study. Roger Bacon
was among them and held that learning Arabic was essential to scientific
progress. Like their counterparts in the east, Andalusians made
intelligent use of waqf properties, which supported free
hospitals and free schools, maintained roads and bridges, quartered
armies and garrisons, provided
for official journeys into Europe to free captives and prisoners of war,
and even provided mercifully for beasts of burden too old to labor. The
legal precedents of Islamic Iberia are an important source of minority
fiqh for Muslims in Europe and America today, and the discipline of
minority fiqh in Islam may probably be said to have had its origin in
produced many of the greatest minds of the Islamic and Arabic sciences.
remain unmatched even now. Andalusians
also mastered mathematics, geometry, the physical sciences, and
medicine. They put down the
foundations of the history of science.
Even Moorish music was an advanced science, Andalusian music
being among the most highly developed music forms the world has known
and one of the sources of our classical music.
Andalusians did not just use their music for enjoyment but also
to cure the insane. Moorish architecture and fine arts developed
traditional models with distinctive originalilty.
developments of Andalusian art may be traced through the centuries from
the great mosque of Cordoba to Granada’s al-Hamra’ in its silent
its illustrious centuries, al-Andalus was powerful on land and sea.
Like Spain in its golden age, the force of Andalusian arms was
based on sea power. Formidable strength in arms was matched with
cultural, economic, and political prowess. For centuries, al-Andalus
enjoyed an economic prosperity that eclipsed the former achievements of
Roman Spain. Andalusian economic power effected continental Europe,
Britain, Ireland, and Scandinavia and altered earlier trade patterns.
The powerful Andalusian economy brought prosperity to those
within and around Iberia, but it triggered unwittingly centuries of
poverty and backwardness in northern Europe by siphoning off the flow of
its traditional commerce.
the world, Andalusians were famed as craftsmen, agrarians, and breeders
of horses and livestock. For centuries, the Andalusian Arabian was the
finest horse known to Europe. It
was also the ancestor of the American Indian pony, which descended from
horses the Spanish had brought to the New World. Andalusians mastered
waterworking to a degree not thoroughly understood even today.
They produced brilliant steels and alloys, fashioned excellent
swords and weapons. They
built ships worthy of the Atlantic and mosques and other edifices that
will be admired until the end of time.. They fashioned silks and made
quality textiles, leather goods, ceramics, furnitures, lamps,
chandeliers, perfume burners, and jewelry.
It was said that in Moorish Seville, one could find anything
imaginable, even “sparrows’ milk.” The Muslims of al-Andalus
introduced oranges, lemons, cotton, and mulberry trees to Europe and led
the medieval world in an agricultural revolution.
Olive trees last for centuries, and it is said many of those on
the hills of Spain today
were planted by Moorish hands.
Spanish and Portuguese identities are linked inseparably to the heritage
of al-Andalus, although, even today, few Iberian historians have been
able to come to terms with that legacy. But they are not the only heirs
of the Andalusian past. The histories of Europe and the Americas are
also tied to al-Andalus in subtle and unexpected ways.
The emergence and dominance of the vikings from the 9th
till the 11th centuries is a profound part of western
European and Russian history. This
complex phenomenon had several causes, but the powerful Andalusian
economy of the time, which sapped economic growth in northern Europe,
was among them. The Norman
kingdom of 10th century France, which conquered Britain in
the 11th, is
among the critical developments of medieval history.
The Normans originated as Danish vikings whom the Andalusians
defeated on the Atlantic in one of the greatest naval battles in history.
Victory saved al-Andalus from predations but sent the defeated
viking remnants to northern France, where they cut out for themselves
their new “Norman [northman] kingdom”.
In the 10th and 11th centuries, Muslims had
a small governance in Switzerland and eastern France.
Toynbee regarded this presence as one of the crucial developments
of the Middle Ages prior to the crusades. Swiss Muslim power was related
to al-Andalus, directly and indirectly.
The Swiss were the only Muslims ever to make the Roman Pope pay jizyah.
It took the combined armies of Byzantium and continental Europe
to defeat them.
seems to have been a friendly connection between al-Andalus and medieval
Ireland. At the time, Ireland was a land of learning and had the most
advanced civilization in northern Europe.
Andalusian period of Jewish history
Judaism’s golden age. Arabized Andalusian Jews studied Hebrew grammar
and lexicology in the light of the great Arab grammarians and cultivated
other Arabic and Islamic sciences. Andalusian Jews produced many of the
great books of Judaism. The banishment of Jewry from Spain and Portugal
in the 15th and 16th centuries dealt Judaism a
blow from which it never recovered.
Zionism also has roots in al-Andalus, and it has been said that
the Zionist movement should be dated from the destruction of Andalusian
Jewry. Formerly Andalusian
Jews were behind the principal intellectual developments of Judaism in
its post-banishment period.
may have reached America before Columbus discovered the west Indies in
claimed to have seen populations there
dressed like Granadan Moors. The discovery of the Americas should
not be separated from the Andalusian background and
the broader relation between medieval Europe and the Islamic
world at large. Moriscos built Columbus’ ships in Moorish dry docks.
The theory that the earth is round was Moorish, not Christian.
Muslims had elaborated the idea and measured the earth’s
circumference seven hundred years before Columbus. Columbus brought an
Arabic translator to the Caribbean—Luis Torres [a Morisco or
Marrano]—hoping to find and communicate through Muslim populations in
the Far East which he imagined he had found.
Thus, Arabic was the first language Europeans used on American
soil to try to speak with the native populations.
the brutal Spanish conquests of native Americans from the late 15th
until the mid 16th centuries must be understood
against the backdrop of the “Moorish problem” of Catholic Spain.
Ponce de Leon’s Caribbean battle cry was: “Santiago mata
Moros” [Saint James, kill Moors].
It was the old battle cry against the Moors. Ponce de Leon and
his Iberian soldiers had been galvinized by the genocide they and their
forefathers perpetrated against the Andalusian peoples. Spain’s
American conquests enacted the reconquest of Iberia. But it is also said
the conquistadores sought to outdo the great deeds of the Islamic
conquerors of the 7th and 8th centuries.
Sometimes they imitated them, as, for example, when they founded
Lima (Peru) and Popayán (Columbia) after the model of the Arab garrison
cities, al-Kufah and al-Basrah. The spirit, techniques, and treacheries of the Spanish
campaigns in America had been honed in the long and difficult campaigns
against the Moors. Officially, Moriscos were forbidden to emigrate to
the Americas, but in reality they came in large numbers, especially to
Mexico, Guatamala, Cuba, Columbia, Peru, and Bolivia.
Moreover, the Jesuits spread in Latin America a special type of
indolent and indulgent Catholicism, which the Inquisition had tailored
to depoliticize and control the Spanish Moriscos.
Andalusians—Moors and Moriscos—were able to escape Iberia and the
Inquisition. They had a tremendous influence on the Islamic world, to
which they emigrated. Andalusians helped Arabicize many parts of Africa,
especially what are today the Sudan and Mauritania.
Andalusian soldiers and sailors made up powerful contingents in
the Muslim forces of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and other Islamic lands.
Many of the corsairs and “Barbary pirates” were Andalusians,
some of whom saw themselves not as pirates but as worthy fighters trying
to get back the Andalus their forefathers had lost.
the legacy of al-Andalus has many lessons for Muslims and non-Muslims
alike. We, Muslims, think of al-Andalus as an Islamic “paradise lost.”
In reality, it was not a paradise on earth. It had beautiful and
ugly sides. It accomplished great achievements but had terrible failures.
We must not romanticize al-Andalus
but ponder what of its legacy
was good and what
Had it not been for its dark side, al-Andalus would have never
ceased to exist.
the greatest lessons al-Andalus teaches is the nobility of toleration
and harmonious coexistence between peoples and faiths. But it also
narrates a tale of
oppression and genocide that must be told the world.
Today, the Spanish and Portuguese governments have changed and
taken praiseworthy stances toward Muslims in their countries.
They have also opened the Inquisitorial files. A modern Tunisian scholar tells of going to Spanish
municipalities and requesting their Inquisitorial records. In some
cases, women officials would bring them to him and hand them over with
tears in their eyes, asking the Muslims to forgive them.
The history of al-Andalus
also shows the absolute necessity of unity and cooperation: a lesson we
refuse to learn. Our fledgling Muslim communities in Spain, Britain, and
America are as divided as they are small and the nation states of the
Muslim world are no better. Indeed,
they sometimes work against each other in a manner that would have
shocked even the “petty factional kings” [muluk at-tawa’if] of al-Andalus.
Faruq Abd-Allah Wymann-Landgraf es catedrático de la Universidad King
Abdel Asis de Jeddah