“Islamic Spain” (Al-Andalus) has been presented as some realm of tolerance and respect, where learning burgeoned — nurtured by “ludic,” or genial, Islam. (The word “ludicrous” is related). It’s a soothing fairy tale to lull any card-carrying leftist to sleep. Meanwhile, back with historical reality…
We know little about “Islamic Spain.” The Arabic documents are late (written 400 to 700 years after the so-called “Islamic invasion” in 711 A.D.). They are also unreliable because Islamic history is not concerned with facts, but with the imagined triumphs of the faith.
Then, there are the Visigoths, who ruled Spain and parts of North Africa in the early eighth century. They were mostly Arian Christians, that is, heretics who rejected the Trinity and believed Jesus to be a special kind of human being, but not the Son of God. Much of Iberian history at this time is the ongoing struggle between Trinitarian (Catholic) and anti-Trinitarian Christianities, with the Byzantines (the Eastern Roman Empire) playing the dominant role.
We have a few reliable Latin historical sources that mention Gothic, Berber and Syrian-Arab anti-Trinitarian Christians fighting Trinitarians around 711 A.D. But these sources do not mention “Islam,” “Moslems” or the Koran.
All we can say is that around the year 711 A.D., there is Christian infighting (between Trinitarians and anti-Trinitarians) in Southern Spain. When the dust settles, victory belongs to the anti-Trinitarian faction, while the Trinitarians flee north — some into France.
One such the ruler of Cordoba, Abd-al-Rahman I (red-haired and blue-eyed – hardly “Arab” traits) knew nothing of Mohammad, let alone the Koran, but did profess typical anti-Trinitarian Christianity. How is this to be explained by the Al-Andalus fairy tale?
This leads many historians to question the very idea of an “Islamic invasion” of Spain.
Archaeology too is silent on the subject, as it shows continuity of Romano-Gothic culture, rather than disruption (which would be typical of a conquest). For example, the Mezquita of Cordoba lacks a qibla (praying direction pointing to Mecca). A mosque can’t be a mosque without one. The Mezquita, then, is an anti-Trinitarian church (of which there are many surviving examples).
The greatest tragedy of the Al-Andalus fairy tale is the complete eradication of Visigothic history and culture, which was rich, sophisticated and extended across two continents (Spain and North Africa). To rectify this, the famous Alhambra should properly be recognized as a fine example of Visigothic architecture.
Things changed around 850 A.D., when anti-Trinitarian sects throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Spain started to coalesce into a coherent, codified faith system, promoted by the Abbasid ruler, Al-Mamun, who wanted an anti-Byzantine Empire.
(This explains the rapid expansion of Islam throughout North Africa and the Middle East — precisely in those areas where anti-Trinitarian Christianity was dominant. Instead of a “conquest,” there was willing allegiance to an anti-Byzantine “empire.” This also explains why there is no evidence of an “Islamic conquest” in the Middle East and North Africa).
Thus, Islam entered this particular history around 850 A.D.; and from its inception, it was an ideology of dominance, in that it had a two-fold goal — to destroy Byzantium (the West) and convert the Trinitarians (Christians) by force, or get rid of them.
There was no “Islamic Spain.” Certainly, there was Islamic presence in the South after 850 A.D., with various independent principalities (taifas), loosely affiliated with Cordoba. But control of these taifas was fluid, passing from Islamic to Christian hands frequently. (See, e.g., the famous tale of El Cid).
By the end of the 11th century, these taifas became client states of various Christian princes to the North. As client states, taifas were allowed to exist because they brought good revenue to their Christian overlords. When the profits stopped, the Islamic rulers were removed and the particular taifa reverted to Christian hands.
This famously happened in 1492, with the Reconquista of Granada, which was not any re-conquest of Spain, but the control of one city where a Moslem ruler had decided to seek out an alliance with the Turks. This is why Ferdinand walked in and took control.
As for “ludic Islam,” wherever rule fell into Moslem hands, sharia kicked in, and Christians and later the Jews were brutalized. Those who did not convert lived as third-rate subalterns (dhimmis) and paid the stipulated head-tax (jaziya). Women were veiled and removed from society, while sexual slavery was the norm. For example, the year 1066 saw the mass slaughter of Jews in Granada, with one sect in particular (the Karaites) annihilated wherever found. The Jewish philosopher, Maimonides, who witnessed atrocities, observed, “Never did a nation molest, degrade, debase and hate us as much as they [the Moslems].”
Learning in Al-Andalus was limited to private endeavor. There were a few writers, later called “philosophers.” But they had no influence, since all of society was run by sharia. (Islam does not need philosophy, for it has sharia.) These writers were simply recording private musings about Greco-Roman thought. They gained in importance when Europe discovered and promoted them.
After the 11th century, Islam and Christianity went their separate ways — the former into slow decline and irrelevance; the latter into ascendancy and worldwide influence. The future belonged to the Christian West.
But Al-Andalus was certainly a Utopia, for the word in original Greek means, “No-Place” — a fitting end to a leftist fairy tale.
Nirmal Dass is a former university professor specializing in the Early and High Middle Ages. His areas of research are philosophy, history and ancient languages. He has written several books and is actively engaged in literary translation.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.