Vol. 2    Issue 18   16-31 January 2008
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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Bill Gate
Single Parent Family

Ornament of the World: How Muslims Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, by Maria Rosa Menocal (Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2002) 315 pp.

The notorious thesis of clash of civilizations, enunciated and popularized by Samuel P. Huntington and other cynical prophets of doom, has deservedly been repudiated by intellectuals, writers and statesmen across the world. The view that a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West is inevitable or imminent is simplistic, foggy and myopic. Huntington's conceptualization of civilization and his view of the dynamics of cultural interactions are premised on flimsy grounds. He takes an essentialized and monolithic view of civilization and conveniently ignores the diversities that characterize civilizations and cultures. He exaggerates inter-cultural conflicts and pays little or no attention to processes of interaction and exchange between civilizations. Eric Wolf has convincingly argued that interconnections between societies and civilizations are far more widespread than has commonly been assumed. Wolf says that it is misleading to regard the world as an "archipelago of cultures" because cultures and civilizations have been, more often than not, in contact.

A comparative historical study of cultures and civilizations, in the Middle Ages as well as in the ancient world, affords us two fundamental insights. For one thing, it brings into focus the enormous ethnic, religious and cultural diversities that have characterised human society since early times. Second, it points to the universal dialectic of diversity and unity, of differentiation and syncretization in cultures and civilizations. History provides numerous instances of the confluence of civilizations and cultural symbiosis in various regions of the world: in medieval Spain and Sicily, in the Indian subcontinent, in the Balkans, in Venice, and in Ottoman Turkey.

Islam in the Iberian Peninsula

The Iberian Peninsula in south-western Europe was inhabited in the past by Celtic peoples, followed by the Romans who dominated the region for nearly seven centuries. The Visigoth, converted to Christianity in the beginning of the 5th century, invaded Greece and Italy and finally settled in the Iberian Peninsula. They ruled much of Spain until they were defeated by Muslims in 711 AD. Tariq ibn Ziyad, the Berber commandant of Musa ibn Nusayr, with 7,000 soldiers, scored a decisive victory over the Visigoth ruler Roderic in July 711.

On the eve of the Muslim conquest, Spanish society was reeling under the oppressive Visigoth kingdom and political instability and social fragmentation were at their height. Little surprise, then, that the collapse of the Visigoth kingdom was welcomed by the Spanish people. Muslim rule over the Iberian Peninsula lasted, intermittently, for nearly eight centuries, from 711 to the fall of Granada in 1492. During this long period, much of Spain was under the control of four main ruling dynasties: the Umayyad caliphate (711-1023); autonomous small kingdoms known as muluk al-tawaif (1031-1085); two Berber dynasties, Almovarids and Almohads (1091-1269); and Banu Ahmar (1232-1492). For nearly two hundred years, the Umayyad rulers of Andalusia acknowledged the suzerainty of the caliphate of Baghdad. In 929, Abd al-Rahman III declared independence from Baghdad and assumed the title of Commander of the Faithful and Caliph of the Islamic world.

In European historiography and in common discourse, the Middle Ages are generally looked upon as an age of darkness and barbarism. This is only partially true. While large parts of Europe were steeped in superstition and cultural backwardness, some regions like the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily and Venice were at the height of cultural progress and development.

Muslim rule in Andalusia brought about a positive transformation of Spanish society. It resulted in political stability and economic revival through the introduction of new irrigation methods, new crops, plants and trees. Trade routes were substantially expanded, which facilitated extensive trading across the Mediterranean as well as the Far East. Canals, streams and windmills were extensively used for supplying water to cities as well as for irrigation. Andalusia's silk fabrics, jewellery, leather articles, lustre pottery and paper became famous throughout Europe. The first paper factory in Europe was established in the Spanish city of Jativa (Shatiba) in 1150, whence the technology of papermaking passed into Italy and subsequently into other parts of Europe.

Muslim rule in Andalusia brought about a positive transformation of Spanish society. It resulted in political stability and economic revival through the introduction of new irrigation methods, new crops, plants and trees. Trade routes were substantially expanded, which facilitated extensive trading across the Mediterranean as well as the Far East. Canals, streams and windmills were extensively used for supplying water to cities as well as for irrigation. Andalusia's silk fabrics, jewellery, leather articles, lustre pottery and paper became famous throughout Europe. The first paper factory in Europe was established in the Spanish city of Jativa (Shatiba) in 1150, whence the technology of papermaking passed into Italy and subsequently into other parts of Europe

Three distinct factors contributed to the efflorescence of Andalusia during the medieval period. In the first place, the Muslim ruling elite did not behave like aliens or foreign conquerors but identified themselves with the region and the local population. They had no hesitation in adopting local dialects, architectural styles and cultural patterns. Many of them married local Spanish women and their progeny came to develop a composite, mosaic identity. Second, Muslim rulers nurtured and sustained an ethos of harmonious coexistence, tolerance and accommodation. Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together and shared substantial social and cultural spaces despite their religious and cultural differences. The celebrated Spanish-American historian, Americo Castro, famously described this as a state of convivencia (living together).

It is noteworthy that the evolution of this composite, hybrid cultural tradition in the Iberian Peninsula did not lead to a collapse of religious or ethnic boundaries and distinctions. Muslims, Jews and Christians scrupulously maintained their respective religious and ethnic identities and, at the same time, participated in a shared cultural universe. Third, the active interest evinced by the Muslim ruling elite in the economic and cultural development of Andalusia endeared them to large masses of people.

A combination of these factors brought about a remarkable, unprecedented development of science, philosophy, literature and arts and crafts and made the Iberian Peninsula the envy of Europe.

In the beginning of the 10th century, Cordoba was perhaps the most beautiful and splendid place on earth, with 900 public baths, thousands of shops selling a variety of merchandise, and hundreds of mosques. Well-lit streets and running water from aqueducts made Cordoba look like a fairy-tale city. In addition to its material prosperity, Cordoba was also a city of learning and scholarship, with more than 70 public libraries. There were some four hundred thousand volumes in the caliph's library. During this time, the largest library in Latin Europe probably had no more than four hundred manuscripts. The catalogue of Cordoba's main library ran into 44 volumes. There were 70 copyists in the book market who worked exclusively on making copies of the Holy Quran.

In the beginning of the 10th century, Cordoba was perhaps the most beautiful and splendid place on earth, with 900 public baths, thousands of shops selling a variety of merchandise, and hundreds of mosques. Well-lit streets and running water from aqueducts made Cordoba look like a fairy-tale city. In addition to its material prosperity, Cordoba was also a city of learning and scholarship, with more than 70 public libraries. There were some four hundred thousand volumes in the caliph's library.

Arabization of Spanish society

In this lucid and eminently readable book, Maria Rosa Menocal recounts Andalusia's fascinating experiment with harmonious living in the midst of wide-ranging ethnic, religious and cultural diversities. Menocal is Director of the Whitney Humanities Centre and R. Seldon Rose Professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Yale University in the United States.

Menocal rightly points out that the culture of harmonious living and accommodation that flourished in medieval Spain was not a fortuitous phenomenon but the outcome of the implementation of Islamic principles and legal provisions related to the protection of non-Muslims in the Islamic state. Islamic law explicitly enjoins that Jews and Christians-who are described as 'People of the Book' in the Quran and in the Prophetic Traditions-are to be protected by the Islamic state in respect of their life and property, beliefs and rituals, and religious and legal institutions. They are granted religious and cultural freedom and cannot be forced to convert to Islam. The religiously-mandated protection of Jews and Christians in Islamic Spain greatly contributed to their material and cultural prosperity (pp. 29, 73).

Shortly after the Islamic conquest, an agreement was signed by the new ruler, Abd al-Aziz ibn Musa ibn Nusayr, and Theodomir, the last of the Visigothic kings of the Iberian Peninsula, whereby the Islamic stated guaranteed the protection of life, property, beliefs and rituals, and religious institutions of the local people.

Islamic influences on Jews and Christians and on Spanish society in general were far-reaching and extensive and encompassed popular culture, language and literature, architecture, science and philosophy, and every-day life. Christians and Jews enthusiastically took to Arabic as a vibrant language of poetry and elegance and soon lost touch with Latin. All the Christian texts and liturgy were translated from Latin into Arabic and became a part of the community's religious life.

Christians who had lived in an Islamic polity and had imbibed a great deal of Arabic influences in their language, culture and literature came to be known as Mozarabs. They spoke a language called Mozarabic, a Romance dialect full of Arabic vocabulary. From the 9th to the 11th century, Mozarabs celebrated the Eucharist, not in Latin, the liturgical language of Western Christendom, but in Arabic (p. 178).

In November 1982, when Pope John Paul II had made a brief stopover in the Spanish city of Toledo, he was greeted by representatives of the city's Christian Mozarabic community. They presented to the Pope a tenth-century prayer book written in Arabic, which began with the Islamic invocation Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim.

In November 1982, when Pope John Paul II had made a brief stopover in the Spanish city of Toledo, he was greeted by representatives of the city's Christian Mozarabic community. They presented to the Pope a tenth-century prayer book written in Arabic, which began with the Islamic invocation Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim.

Menocal quotes a statement of Paul Alvarus, a Christian luminary of Cordoba in the mid-ninth century, from his polemical book The Unmistakable Sign, in which he expresses his resentment and horror over the widespread Arabization of Spanish Christians.

    The Christians love to read the poems and romances of the Arabs; they study the Arab theologians and philosophers, not to refute them but to form a correct and elegant Arabic. Where is the layman who reads the Latin commentaries on the Holy Scriptures, or who studies the Gospels, prophets or apostles? Alas! All talented young Christians read and study with enthusiasm the Arab books; they gather immense libraries at great expense; they despise the Christian literature as unworthy of attention. They have forgotten their own language. For every one who can write a letter in Latin to a friend, there are a thousand who can express themselves in Arabic with elegance, and write better poems in this language than the Arabs themselves (p. 66).

At the close of the 11th and the early part of the 12th century, Toledo became the intellectual hub of Europe. Though a Christian city, Arabic remained the language of culture and learning. There were several fine libraries in Toledo with vast collections of Arabic books. These libraries stimulated a great deal of intellectual activities, especially translations of Arabic books into Latin, and gave rise to what came to be known as the School of Translators. The schools and libraries of Toledo attracted many scholars from different parts of Europe, including Robert of Ketton, Robertus Anglicus (the first European translator of the Quran), Michael Scot and Daniel Morley.

Works of imaginative fiction in Arabic, such as The Thousand and One Nights and Kalilah wa Dimnah, animal fables from India (which were translated into Arabic in Baghdad in earlier centuries), were translated into Castilian during the reign of Alfonso X (1252-1284) in Toledo. With these translations, Castilian was transformed from a local dialect to a written language, the lingua franca of Christians, Jews and Muslims (pp. 225-226). By the middle of the 13th century, the translation of Arabic works of fiction into Castilian and other regional languages had become some of the bestselling books of Europe and laid the foundation of early European fiction (pp. 225, 274).

During the eighth and ninth centuries, a large number of scientific, astronomical, medical and philosophical texts were translated from Greek and other languages into Arabic under the patronage of the Umayyad rulers in Baghdad. In the 12th and 13th centuries, thousands of Arabic books, including Aristotle's works along with extensive Islamic and Jewish commentaries, were translated into Latin. What is significant to note, Menocal says, is that a Christian city played a pivotal role in the transmission of the Islamic legacy (which incorporated the wisdom of the ancients as well) to Europe (pp. 146, 197).

Several Christian rulers of Spain patronized Arabic and Islamic learning. Alfonso VI of Castile, a highly ambitious Christian monarch and long-time protector of the kingdom of Cordoba, took control of the city in 1085. He was a great patron of Arabic learning and culture (p. 43). The greatest apostle of Islamic learning in Christian Europe was Alfonso X, king of Castile and Leon from 1252 to 1284. Under his patronage, a large number of Arabic manuscripts were collected and translated into Latin.

Snapshots of the Andalusian mosaic

Cultural symbiosis in Andalusia was reflected, among other things, in the appointment of Jews and Christians to high offices by Muslim rulers. The Mozarab bishop of Elvira, Racemundo, was a member of the caliph's representation to the court of Constantine in 949. In 955 he was sent as the caliph's envoy to the court of the German Emperor Otto I (pp. 75, 88).

Andalusia's composite culture was reflected not only in the linguistic scenario and in every-day life but also in politics and military alliances. Thus, Rodrigo Diaz, popularly known as the Cid (derived from the Arabic sayyid, meaning 'the lord'), fought in the service of Muslim and Christian monarchs alike. From 1081 to 1086, he was the military commandant of the Muslim kingdom of Saragossa and often launched attacks against Christian kingdoms (p. 148). In April 1065, Barbastro was retaken from the Christian rulers by the Muslim king of Saragossa with the help of Ferdinand I, who considered Muslim kingdoms as his allies and the Christians from Normandy and Aquitaine as his enemies (p. 135).

It is interesting to note that the coins issued by Alfonso VI in Castile in the 11th century, Alfonso X in the 13th century and Pedoro de Castilla in the 14th century bore the inscriptions 'Emperor of the two religions' (Christianity and Islam) and 'Protector of Three Faiths' (Christianity, Islam and Judaism).

Government services in Andalusia were closed on Sundays. This measure was adopted at the suggestion of Gomes ibn Antun, Prince Muhammad's Christian letter-writer, who wished to devote the day to his prayers.

Jews in Islamic Spain

Under the Visigoth rulers the Jews were pushed to the margins of society. Islamic rule provided them with an honourable place in society, guaranteed the protection of their religious and cultural identity, and afforded them opportunities for material and cultural prosperity. They were thus readily drawn into the orbit of mainstream Andalusian society. Hasdai ibn Shaprut, a prominent Jewish scholar who wrote and spoke Arabic with elegance and eloquence and possessed a profound knowledge of Islamic culture and politics in Andalusia, became a vizier in the court of Abd al-Rahman III, who ruled Cordoba from 912 to 961. Hasdai described the beauty and grandeur of his cherished homeland in the following words:

It is a land of grains, wines and purest oils, rich in plants, a paradise of every sort of sweet. And with gardens and orchards where every kind of fruit tree blossoms, and those with silkworms in their leaves…..Our land also has its own sources of silver and gold and in her mountains we mine copper and iron, tin and lead, kohl and marble and crystal…..The king ruling over the land has amassed silver, gold and other treasures, along with an army the likes of which has never been amassed before (p. 84)

Spanish Jews were appreciated for their sincerity, capability and hard work and suitably rewarded for their contributions. In 949, Hasdai ibn Shaprut was at the head of a delegation sent by the caliph of Cordoba to the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople to engage in delicate foreign negotiations. Samuel ibn Nagrid, the head of the Jewish community of Granada who was well-versed in Islamic learning, became prime minister in the kingdom of Cordoba (p. 113).

The Jews assimilated into Islamic Spain's Arabic culture but at the same time retained their religious and cultural identity. They not only preserved their Judaic and Hebrew heritage but also enriched it and, at the same time, made a significant contribution to the cultural, intellectual and literary life of Andalusia. They contributed to the enrichment of Arabic language and literature, science and philosophy (pp. 86-87). The Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII gifted a valuable illustrated Greek medical manuscript, Dioscorides' On Medicine, to King Abd al-Rahman al-Nasir. A group of Christian, Muslim and Jewish scholars and men of letters, including the Christian bishop Rabi ibn Zayd, Hasdai ibn Shaprut and the Muslim scholar Ibn al-Kattani, were assembled in the royal palace to study the book. Hasdai ibn Shaprut took a personal interest in having it translated into Arabic (p. 89).

It is significant to note that the entire corpus of the writings of the famous Andalusian philosopher Moses Maimonides (Musa ibn Maymun, d. 1204) was in Arabic, with the sole exception of his Second Law or Mishneh Torah, his encyclopaedic compendium of Jewish law (p. 210). Maimonides was greatly influenced by Arabic philosophy, especially by the views of Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina. His philosophical works, in turn, had a profound iimpact on medieval scholasticism.

In Islamic Spain, Arabic exerted a profound influence on Hebrew as well as on local Romance dialects. Andalusian Jews, who had mastered Arabic rhetoric, grammar and style, reinvented Hebrew. Under the influence of Arabic a new style of Hebrew poetry took shape in the 11th century. Judah Halevi was in the forefront of this movement. Samuel Nagrid wrote poems in the new Hebrew style with its Arabic accents and prosody (p. 162).

Islamic influences on Jewish culture continued long after Muslim rule over the Iberian Peninsula came to an end. In 1360, Samuel Halevi Abulafia, a prominent Andalusian Jew, built a synagogue in the Christian city of Toledo. On the walls there are inscriptions in Hebrew and Arabic, including some verses of the Quran (p. 239).

The architectural legacy of Islamic Spain was taken by the descendants of Sephardic Jews to distant lands such as the United States, where a synagogue built by German Jews in the 19th century distinctly reflected the architectural style and ornamentation of their ancestors' homeland (p. 10).

Islamic legacy in Christian Spain

Menocal points out that Islamic culture had taken such deep roots in Spanish society that they continued to reverberate long after Muslim rule came to an end. After Ferdinand III of Castile (who had taken Cordoba in 1236) had captured Seville in 1248, the Great Mosque was converted into a cathedral and he and his son Alfonso X worshipped there. When Ferdinand III passed away in 1252, he was buried in a tomb erected by his son Alfonso X, which bore inscriptions in four languages: Arabic, Hebrew, Latin and Castilian (p. 200).

The Great Mosque of Seville was torn down in the 15th century and a spacious cathedral was built at the site. But the mosque's imposing minaret (called "la Giralda") still survives as the bell tower of the cathedral (p. 237).

Toledo, which had fallen to Muslim forces in the first half of the ninth century, was taken by Alfonso VI of Castile in 1085. In the past, Toledo had been the Visigothic capital and a Visigothic church stood at the highest hill there. During Muslim rule, this site was never used for a mosque. But when the Castilians took control of Toledo, they tore down the Visigothic church and constructed a commemorative church at the site. Interestingly, the San Roman church clearly reflects Islamic influences, including a series of horseshoe arches with alternating red-and-white voussoirs, which echo the architecture and ornamentation of the Great Mosque at Cordoba. A number of delicate interior windows overshadow the arches, decorated with Arabic and Latin inscriptions (p. 131).

The palace of King Pedro the Cruel, known as Alcazar in Castilian (evidently derived from the Arabic al-qasr), was almost entirely built in the Islamic style, with multi-lobed latticework arches, arabesque ornamentation and Arabic inscriptions, by Muslim Mudejar workmen, who had remained or moved into Christian territories.

Granada, the last of the Muslim kingdoms in Spain, fell to Christian rulers in 1492. Curiously, when Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon marched up the hill to take possession of the royal palaces, they were dressed in Arabic-style ceremonial attire (p. 270).

When Charles V, Ferdinand and Isabella's grandson, who presided over the most repressive period of the Spanish Inquisition, was crowned as the Holy Roman Emperor in 1519, he was dressed for the ceremony in the royal style of his predecessor, Frederick II: Islamic-style robes and a cape with a vast encircling hem embroidered in Arabic (p. 273).

Europe and the Andalusian legacy

Curiously, during the Crusades, some of the vast collections of Cordoba's libraries came to be read and translated by people who were closely involved in the Crusades (p. 42).

In the middle of the 12th century, Robert Ketton, an Englishman who was well-versed in the Arabic languages and in Islamic sciences and had worked in the libraries of Toledo, translated the mathematical work of al-Khwarizmi into Latin and thereby introduced algebra and algorithm to Latin Europe (p. 180). The Arabic numerical system (which the Arabs had taken from India and therefore called it 'Indian numerals') was transmitted to Europe via Andalusia. The introduction of Arabic numerals, particularly the zero, greatly facilitated advanced mathematical calculations.

The use of Arabic numerals was first popularised by the Book of the Abacus, written in the early 13th century by the famous mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci, an Arabized merchant from the Italian city of Pisa who had studied accounting methods in North Africa (present-day Algeria), where his father had been posted as a Pisan diplomat (p. 181).

Michael Scot, physician, astrologer and renowned translator of Arabic and Hebrew texts, was born in Scotland towards the close of the 12th century but left his homeland in his youth to pursue his scholarly interests in Toledo. After acquiring proficiency in the Arabic language and in Islamic sciences, he travelled to Sicily and spent the rest of his life there. Scot found a generous and scholarly patron in Frederick II, the Norman king of Sicily, who was a great connoisseur and patron of Islamic learning. He had founded the University of Naples in 1224.

Though the Norman kings had taken control of Sicily from the Muslims in the first half of the 11th century, they had become thoroughly Arabized. King Roger II, Frederick II's grandfather, was a great patron of Arabic learning. Al-Idrisi (d. 1154), the most famous geographer of the time who was born in Ceuta but educated in Cordoba, was in the court of Roger and had dedicated to him his famous work Kitab Rujar (The Book of Roger).

Frederick II was a tolerant, generous and broad-minded king. When he visited Jerusalem in 1229, he restored the Islamic call to prayer, which had been prohibited by previous Christian kings. Frederick II made numerous Arabic manuscripts, including the works of Averroes (Ibn Rushd) and Maimonides (Ibn Maymun) available to individual scholars and libraries in Sicily.

In 1232, Scot dedicated to Frederick his own translation of Ibn Sina's book On Animals, which deals with natural history. Scot died in 1236 (pp. 189-93).

Petrus Alfonsi, a Jew from the bustling town of Huesca (held by Muslims), converted to Christianity in 1106 and later migrated to England. He was a product of the Jewish-Islamic culture of Andalusia and had authored several books on astronomical tables, astrology, calendrical calculations and astrolabes. His books were avidly read in Latin Europe. He introduced and popularised a form of writing that had a profound impact on European fiction and influenced many well-known later writers, including Chaucer and Boccaccio. Many newly developing European languages were influenced by Alfonsi's style, which paved the way for their transition from folk dialects to written languages (pp. 149-151).

The astrolabe, a well-known mechanical and astronomical instrument of the Middle Ages, reached Latin Europe via Andalusia. The astrolabe was used for making precise astronomical measurements, which enabled astronomers to determine with accuracy the positions of the stars and thereby facilitated accurate navigation at sea.

The astrolabe was brought to the Latin world by Gerbert of Aurillac, who later became Pope Sylvester II in the 11th century. In his younger years, Gerbert had spent several years in Cordoba studying the Islamic sciences, and returned with a detailed knowledge of the instrument and one astrolabe. He subsequently wrote The Book of the Astrolabe, which became a trendsetter and influenced scientists and astronomers for many generations (p. 177).

Decline and disintegration of Andalusia

By and large, Islamic Spain was characterised by a pervasive atmosphere of peaceful and harmonious coexistence, inclusiveness and accommodation, which sustained Spanish society for several centuries. However, there were cross-currents of intolerance and fanaticism as well. Though Andalusia's composite culture was a product of the collective efforts of Muslims, Jews and Christians, some sections of the Christian population were unhappy about it. Thus, in the early part of the 12th century, Petrus Alfonsi wrote polemical books against Judaism and Christianity.

The decline and fall of Andalusia was brought about by a combination of two factors: internecine strife and warfare among Muslim rulers, which resulted in disunity and political instability, and the growing tide of religious intolerance and exclusion in the Iberian Peninsula.

Following the fall and dissolution of the Cordoban caliphate in 1031, individual cities and their hinterlands became independent kingdoms. In the early years there were some 60 small kingdoms, each one at loggerheads with the other.

Madinat al-Zahra, the legendary city of palaces, gardens and fountains built a couple of miles away from Cordoba by Abd al-Rahman III in 936, was vandalized and razed by Berber mercenaries in 1009.

Cordoba was sacked by King Ferdinand III of Castile in 1236. Alfonso X had a royal chapel constructed within the precincts of the Great Mosque and Carlos V, king of United Spain, had a cathedral constructed in the centre of the mosque, which came to be known as the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin. Bishop Juan Jose Asenjo forbade Muslims to pray in the mosque.

As mentioned in the foregoing, the Jews in Andalusia were lifted from an abysmal existence and elevated to a position of honour and prosperity. However, the puritanical Almohads subjected the Jewish community to hardships and ultimately expelled them from their territories in the middle of the 12th century.

In 1066 anti-Jewish riots broke out in Granada. In 1391 there were widespread anti-Jewish riots throughout the Iberian Peninsula, in which nearly 100,000 Jews died. Those who survived the massacre were either forcibly converted to Christianity or fled to Islamic lands such as Ottoman Turkey. Of a dozen prosperous synagogues, there remained just a few and soon enough only two were left (p. 269). Granada, the last of the Islamic kingdoms of Andalusia, fell in 1492. Muhammad XI, the last of the Nasirid rulers, handed the keys of the royal palace to Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon. The Agreement of Capitulation, signed by Muhammad XI, known as Boabdil, and the Catholic Monarchs, stated the following:

Their highnesses and their successors will ever afterwards allow (the Granadans) to live in their own religion, and not permit their mosques to be taken from them, nor their minarets nor their muezzins, nor will they interfere with the pious foundations or endowments which they have for such purposes, nor will they disturb the uses and customs which they observe (p. 244).

But Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand soon went back on the agreement. They moved into the Alhambra palace and made it their royal abode. The mosque located in the palace complex was converted into a church. Many Arabesque designs and Arabic inscriptions were effaced and replaced by paintings of Christian priests and monks. The symbol of the cross was inscribed on the doors.

Muslims were forced to convert to Christianity and those who refused were expelled from the country. The reading of Arabic books was prohibited and many of the Islamic books were burned (pp. 247-48). Converted Muslims came to be known as Moriscos ("little Moors"). Finally, after a century of forced conversions, between 1605 and 1615, all Moriscos were driven out of the country. Thus, ethnic cleansing began, not in the Balkans in the early 1990s, but in Spain at the turn of the 17th century. In 1495, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand signed an edict ordering the expulsion of all Jews, except those who had converted to Christianity, from Spain. However, suspicions were raised about the sincerity of Jews who had converted to Christianity (who came to be known as coversos).

The estimates of the number of Jews who were driven out of Spain after 1495 vary between 800,000 and 165,000. Nearly 90,000 Jews took shelter in Ottoman Turkey. Sultan Bayezid II sarcastically thanked King Ferdinand for sending him some of his best subjects, thus "impoverishing his own lands while enriching his (Bayezid's)." The Jews who settled in the Ottoman territories were treated with honour and their religious and cultural identity was protected by the state. It is interesting to note that Ladino or Spanish-Hebrew survived among Jewish communities only in Islamic lands.

The Spanish Inquisition was established in 1478 by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, and authorised by Pope Sixtus IV, to maintain and enforce Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdom. The jurisdiction of the Inquisition during a large part of its history extended not only to Christians but to all royal subjects. The grand inquisitor, Thomas de Torquemada was responsible for burning more than 2,000 people at the stake on charges of heresy.

The Sarajevo Haggadah

In the concluding part of the book, Menocal narrates an interesting recent incident. On August 25, 1992, in the course of the Bosnian civil war, the Serbian army began shelling Sarajevo's National Library, in which over a million books and more than a hundred thousand manuscripts were destroyed. Three months earlier, the Serbian army had launched a ferocious attack on the Oriental Institute in that city (which had a valuable collection of Islamic and Jewish manuscripts), in which over five thousand manuscripts were destroyed (p. 278).

A handful of precious manuscripts mercifully survived the vandalism of 1992, including an extremely valuable and richly illustrated Hebrew manuscript known as the Sarajevo Haggadah. The Haggadah is a Jewish book of prayers, rites, biblical stories and psalms. The Sarajevo Haggadah is the oldest Sephardic Haggadah in the world, which was written in Andalusia around 1350. It is written on bleached calfskin and illuminated in gold and copper. In 1991 its value was estimated at US$700 million.

The Sarajevo Haggadah was taken out of Spain by Sephardic Jews in the exodus of 1495 and carried to Ottoman lands where they had taken shelter. The Sarajevo Haggadah was protected and cherished for more than five hundred years.

During World War II nearly 80% of Sarajevo's 12,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis. The Nazis were aware of the existence of the Sarajevo Haggadah, which was kept in the Sarajevo Museum, and were in search of it so as to destroy it. But it was hidden from them by the Sarajevo Museum's Muslim curator, Dervish Korkut, at great risk to his life (p. 279). The curator had also saved the lives of a group of Yugoslavian Jews from the Nazis. He had received a certificate of commendation from the Israeli government for saving the Sarajevo Haggadah.

Menocal ends the story of the Sarajevo Haggadah with a moving anecdote about an Albanian Muslim woman who, like thousands of ethnic Albanians, was driven out of Kosovo in April 1999. She was able to take with her only a handful of her belongings, including a document which her father had preserved and relished. On the other side of the Macedonian border, the woman showed the document-not knowing what it was all about-to some members of the local Jewish community who were involved in relief work for the Kosovars. They immediately realised the value of the document, which was the certificate of commendation her father-the Sarajevo Museum's curator-had received from the Israeli government for saving the Sarajevo Haggadah.

The woman was immediately taken out of the refugee camp and out of the war zone in eastern Europe to Israel. She was welcomed at the Tel Aviv airport by a man who took her to his house and told her that he was the son of a Jewish woman saved by her father. She could hardly hold her tears and said, "My father did what he did with all his heart; not to get any thing in return. Fifty years later, it returns somehow. It's a kind of circle" (pp. 280-81).

The Sarajevo Haggadah is now at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Paradox of present-day Spain

Modern Spain is heir to a mixed, paradoxical legacy: a legacy of harmonious coexistence and accommodation, which began with the advent of Muslims and ended with the fall of Granada, and another of intolerance, exclusion and fanaticism, which began with the Reconquest in 1492 and has continued to this day.

An eminent contemporary Spanish scholar, Ricard Zapata-Barrero, points out that Spanish tradition cannot be understood without reference to the country's Islamic legacy and cultural heritage. The deep and pervasive impact of Islamic culture on Spain is still reflected in the Spanish language, in social organization, in architectural styles and ornamentation, in every-day life, and in arts and crafts. Most of the family names in Spain today reflect their Islamic origins. The regional division of the country into 17 communities, which is still followed, goes back to the Islamic period. Many of the methods of irrigation and cultivation introduced during the Islamic period as well as technical terms in professions such as carpentry and architecture are still known by their Arabic names. One can notice Andalusia's famous double arches on the doors and windows of residential houses as well as public buildings. Some of the surviving structures of the Islamic era have been appropriated for modern use. Thus, the palace of Banu Hud dynasty in Saragossa, built in 1080, now houses the autonomous Aragonese parliament.

Modern Spain has sought to obliterate the country's Islamic legacy and replace it by a monolithic, exclusionary identity premised on a single language (Spanish) and a single religion (Catholicism). At the start of the 20th century, the idea of Hispanidad was constructed by the country's elite to refer to a community of people linked together by common linguistic and religious bonds. The discourse of Hispanidad, which has since dominated Spanish politics and culture, excludes Muslims, Jews and all non-Spanish speakers from the national mainstream. This discourse is reinforced by the national media, which is inimical to Islam and Muslims, and political parties, which are afraid of losing votes to the far-right parties.

One doesn't know how long this narrow-minded and exclusionary vision of Spanish identity will continue to hold sway. It may not for too long. A deliberate and politically-motivated disconnect with the country's glorious past (which still reverberates) cannot be sustained in the long run. Sooner or later, winds of change will lead to an acknowledgement and restoration of the Andalusian legacy.

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