ISLAM IN SPAIN

 

            For the benefit of the Spanish-speaking peoples, the Islamic Center of Beverly Hills decided to add a Spanish translation to The Last 40 Chapters of the Quran.  Islam, Spain and Spanish, of course,  are not strange or unbeknownst bed-fellows.

 

            In 710, a young Berber officer named Tarik ibn Malik had carried out a successful reconnaissance-in-strength, crossing from Umayyad North Africa to the southern tip of Gothic Spain.  In July of 711, the Umayyads sent a larger force, and an officer named Mughith al-Rumi then laid siege to Cordoba.  Several months later he controlled the city, and by 714 the whole territory around Cordoba was in Muslim hands.

 

            Arab governors sent from the east ruled Spain for the following 40 years, then Abd al-Rahman I, called Al-Dakhil, “the In-comer”, founded an independent Umayyad Emirate.  Despite regional rebelliousness, Cordoba became a bustling center of trade and industry under the six following Emirs.  During the 50-year rule of Abd al Rahman III (“the Victorious”) in the 10th century, it grew into a garden of Islamic culture and learning that rivaled Cairo and Baghdad. 

 

            Abd al-Rahman III proclaimed himself Caliph in 929.  He unified the territories of al-Andalus and consolidated systems of tax collection, public works, water administration, law and military service.  His rule brought a previously unknown degree of prosperity. 

 

            Tenth-century Cordoba boasted more than one thousand mosques and more than 800 public baths.  Its libraries held as many as 400,000 volumes, and its main streets were lit at night – something London and Paris would not see until some 700 years later.  In the hills just outside Cordoba, abd Al-Rahman built the palatial Madinat al-Zahra (“Flower City”).  Trade and culture flourished, and Muslims, Jews and Mozarabs – culturally “arabized” Christians – lived in a harmony that had little precedent, and ever since has rarely been replicated.

 

            In the 11th century, the Umayyad Emirate fragmented, and local governors or military leaders established a score or more of petty, weak, quarrelsome, ethnically varied, hedonistic, irresponsible, but in some cases culturally brilliant “factional” kingdoms.  Some were not above intriguing or even allying themselves with Christian rulers of Northern Spain.  In 1236 the Castillian king Ferdinand III entered Cordoba.  Granada, to the south, became the Muslim capital, where the Naserid kingdom endured to rule a greatly diminished territory for another 250 years. 

 

 

 

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Spanish province of Andalusia, which takes its name from the Arabic al-Andalus (“the land of the Vandal”).  That was the name Muslims of Spain applied to the southern two-thirds of the Iberian Just as all roads once led to Rome, during a later period all roads led to Granada, the heartland of the cultural flowering that was al-Andalus.  Today Granada is the capital of the modern Peninsula, including much of what is today southern Portugal, when they ruled it from the early 8th till the end of the 15th century.  Though ruled and settled by Muslims the region was also inhabited by Christians and Jews, and the three groups, working in a largely harmonious convivencia, or “living together”, created a civilization of remarkable intellectual and artistic brilliance and productivity.

 

            The real heartland of al-Andalus is present-day Andalusia, for it is here that the Muslim rule lasted longest and left its most distinct cultural influences.  In Granada and in Cordoba, to the northwest, stand three of the great monuments of the Muslim era in Spain:  Cordoba’s Great Mosque (believed to be the second largest in the world after the Jama Masjid in Lahore, Pakistan); Granada’s historic Albaiein quarter, and its incomparable Alhambra.  Like the pyramids of Giza, seen for the 1st or the 10th time, the Alhambra never fails to awe!  And as for Granada:  “I am beginning to think that the only pleasure greater than seeing Granada, is that of seeing her again,” wrote the French Playwright Alexandre Dumas in the 19th Century.  Over the centuries Granada has received heartfelt descriptions and praise that has inspired poets for generations:  “Who has not heard of and admired Granada, even without having been there”, asked the writer Pedro Antonio de Alarcon in the 19th century.

 

            After nearly 800 years of Muslim rule, that served as a conduit for the knowledge of the East to Europe, whether in medicine, mathematics, astronomy, architecture, engineering, and other branches of physical  and social sciences as well as art, the last king of Granada, Muhammad XII Abu ‘Abd Allah – known in the West as Boabdil – surrendered to Ferdinand and Isabella on November 25, 1491.  After leaving Granada Boabdil reportedly stopped at a high point now called El Suspiro del  Moro, “The Moor’s Sigh”, and looked back for a last glimpse of the glorious hilltop Alhambra in the distance.   Bitterly, Boabdil’s mother ‘Aisha, said to her son, “Weep like a woman for what you could not defend like a man!”

 

            Spanish Muslims who remained to live under Christian rule were called Mudejars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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