The Myth Of The Moors: Al Andalus & Islam in Europe

The Myth Of The Moors: Al Andalus & Islam in Europe

There has been a mysterious myth of the presence and influence of the Moors. We adore the innovation of the grand civilisations we have been inspired to respect, through education, television, media and naturally reference in life, acknowledging the heights of these periods of Humanity. These historic spells are dangerous, so magical, captivating and often brilliantly depicted with the tools we have now. Nevertheless, the cliché idea of History being written by its winners is never told from the perspective of those overcome by time and our reality. In this article these people hidden by our biased History were the Moors. I entitled this article the Myth of the Moors for all I have seen in association with them until now are descriptions referring to their skin colour and their bathing habits. Some call the Moors Black Africans; even such a definition is debatable as skin colour in Africa in that period was presumptuously Black. Others used the term to describe Arabs, even going so far saying they were just an off coloured White. I dislike debates on skin colour so let me not go there, yet I will try to offer a clear picture of the Moors by the resources I used. This may come in parts, as the spread of the idea of Moors did not only touch Africa and Europe but the Americas.

Who are the Moors, where did they come from?

In 711 AD, Muslim forces from North Africa invaded the Iberian Peninsula, modern-day Portugal, Spain and Andorra via Gibraltar. At that moment the Visigoth Kingdom was in power, stunted by previous Wars and the ill state of Europe due to the Dark Ages. Conflicts over the former dominant power of the Roman Empire which was so vast and controlling, Germanic tribes of Franks roaming and weakening the Visigoth Kingdom. The aspiring Muslim forces from North Africa were made up of Berber and Arabic people, by 698 and for a period beforehand the Umayyad Caliphate movement had been focusing on invading the North African territories of the Byzantium Empire until they were successful that year.

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“Oh my warriors, whither would you flee? Behind you is the sea, before you, the enemy. You have left now only the hope of your courage and your constancy.” – Tariq Ibn Ziyad, Commander who led the Islamic conquest of the Visigothic Hispania

Side Note: (A Caliphate is a form of Islamic Government led by a Caliph. Someone who is considered, or maybe considers themselves, a political and religious successor to the prophet Muhammed) – ISIS are on a warpath of terror hosting the idea of a worldwide caliphate. I did not identify this with the idea of escalating fear, but rather to show an appropriate example today. Nevertheless, from what I know their approach and possible outcome whilst fuelled by a personally twisted ideology hardly compares to the Moors or dictates the entirety of Islam.

We could speculate on the colour of these people, I would assume the mixture from the Romans to with natives, and Arabs with natives over such a period but as I said in the previous paragraph let’s not for the ideas of History must be pointing towards some truth. They quickly conquered most of Hispania, ousting the Visigoth rule with little resistance. As for the term Moor, the descriptive words Mauri and Mauron, meant Black – referring to darker skinned people and by classical literature this is referring to the people of Morocco, Algeria, Northern Africa in general.

To step back a bit further, I want to summarise the spread of Islam to this point. Born in and local to Mecca, biographies of Muhammed describe him ruminating in a cave named Hira, where he often spent time praying and pondering about spiritual ideas. Until Gabriel one day appeared to him in Hira, revealing to him a revelation from Allah, or God. The local Meccan tribes considered a variety of deities for their worship, of course as History continues most of what we believe dwindles becoming irrelevant in the greater scheme of dominated things. Gathering followers Muhammed seemed to alienate the Meccans, Muslims experienced abuse and persecution for their faith. Due to their hardships, Muhammed’s Uncle and First Wife passed away. The Quraysh, one of the Meccan tribes, decided to boycott Banu Hashim, the tribe Muhammed belonged to. This effected their livelihoods and shortly after the boycott began they both passed away.

To avoid further persecution Muhammed and his following planned to leave for Yathrib, modern-day Medina. Upon his arrival Muhammed drafted the Constitution of Medina which brought together 9 different tribes with the aim of policing their member’s behaviour. Medina was home to Jewish groups who were also governed and protected under the constitution. This established an Islamic State, one with religious tolerance – the rights of non-Muslims were on a similar level to Muslims with the exception of non-Muslims having to go to Holy Wars. After conflict with the Meccan tribes for a period, Muhammed gathered an Army of Muslim reverts and marched on Mecca effortlessly achieving victory. By the time Muhammed passed away Islam had spread throughout the Arabian peninsula. He was succeeded by a close companion, Abu Bakr who went on to be the first leader of the Rashidun Caliphate.

Here is a map of a spread of these periods

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A Conqueror’s Story

From some resources I gathered I found a compelling story. One which shows an idea of a beautiful religion, encouraging a heroic decision. King Roderic, the last Leader of the Visigoth’s apparently kidnapped and raped a Muslim Woman. Appealing to Islamic Leaders of that time, the idea of a Muslim Woman being dishonoured could not go unpunished. Due to the then Roman authorities not exacting the punishment to King Roderic and the Visigoths, the Muslim forces burned down the City and attacked them in protest. Entering Spain as liberators during this period, the benefit of capturing such a place was the multicultural spread of that Society. The Jews and Christians benefitted from the Muslim rule. This period of Muslim rule was recognised as a Golden Age for the Jews. Moses Maimonides, a Philosopher, stated that the Jews welcomed the Muslim invasion as it allowed them to gain entry to fields such as Government, Science, Medicine and Literature. Al Andalus was home to an incredible Jewish Society. Despite taxes being more for non-Muslims, non-Muslims still longed to live under their rule. Religious harmony was a realistic achievement, Muslims Christians and Jews living together in respect of each other’s beliefs. The wide acceptance of religion occurred due to general improvement of living in Spain, which was then known as Al-Andalus, which means to become green at the end of Summer. They did not only hold Spain, they dominated land from China to Africa – including Egypt, Jordan and for a period they even had Sicily of Italy.

Watch this scene from True Romance, it has no bearing on historical accuracy but I found it cool anyway:

Europe

The Moors, ironically like Muslims today, have simply been depicted as Muslim infidels, wrongdoers – as has the idea of darkness in history. Rarely do I see a historic idea associated with Islam from a European perspective in a respectable light. This may be because of unknown jealousy, as History has been crafted by the winners the respect we hold for the Romans or Ancient Egyptians who the media and Hollywood is currently casting White, it must be frightening to see examples of brilliance from those usually associated with disgust and evils. The Dark Ages is a period of Europe which I do not personally fancy despite being a fan of History. A future post may be pending, yet for the sake of brevity it marked a period of vigorous infighting between rulers, idiocy regarding texts and modes of study marked as paganism, a reliance on the Church to dictate ruling, a variety of tribes – Franks, Vikings, Normans, and even during this period the English lived mostly in tiny wooden homes. Trade was dwindling, poetry and intellectualism disregarded if not so religiously motivated. Hence when we say Dark Ages, really what we are referring to is the feeling of such a period – not much can be claimed as tremendous innovation, though as Humanity is one group’s dark period – it is another’s brimming light. The might of the Muslim Moors was tremendous, we do ourselves wrong in not acknowledging their achievements then and what they have inspired today.

As the rest of Europe was dark in terms of prosperity and improvement, the Muslims flourished making key places centre’s of learning. Famed Philosophers such as Averroes were recognised, he had the title “The Commentator” from the Christian West. The Muslims learned the Hadith, Sayings of the Prophet, learned how to read, write, learned Arabic and about the Quran. They led Mathematics, discovering Algebra, Astronomy, Navigation and brought great innovation. Experimentation and knowledge seeking was encouraged by the Government, hence practices in medicine developed so fast. They built the first Paper Factory in Europe. Muslims even invented the Guitar in Al Andalus. As they sought to learn, they often entertained the idea of learning from cultures, hoping to read and develop on foreign ideas. Madrasas were established, an educational institution where one can learn for free – the poor were not neglected, in comparison to England for instance, Schooling was only affordable and even a possibility for the privileged and education was not easily available for the poor until the 18th century, around give or taking centuries 800 years after the Muslims established that. Specifically their architecture was absolutely outstanding, a beautiful touch to living for me is to be drowned in aesthetic pleasure – and from what I have seen in pictures I certainly want to place myself in the midst of these structures.

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The Alhambra in Granada

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Cordoba, the Capital of Muslim Spain for a period

In the 11th Century Cordoba was producing 6000 books per year, home to a Society which was peaceful and multicultural, hosting Europeans, Africans, Arabs and representative of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Christian Europe’s biggest library only had a collection of 600 books. This Society was definitely more harmonious than ones we live today, in that Medieval period it goes to show how great the Muslims were through their leadership. At Islam’s height in the Iberian peninsula 5 million Muslims lived. Cordoba then was one of the most important Cities in the World, having over 70 libraries – one which had over 500,000 books. 300 public baths, 50 Hospitals all with running water and this was home to over 500,000 people – nearly 200,000 more than Cordoba’s populace today nearing 1000 years later. The knowledge of the Muslims helped create irrigation systems, with architecture and agriculture.

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Muslims and Philosophy

How easy it is to glance back at History and claim a moment to be of importance, yet when fed a lesson of it we do not extensively know or acknowledge. In that sense whatever picture of History we paint, by our loose descriptions or generally through a biased education, thoughts or projections through our countless forms of media, it is the image we will host and propose if we communicate these ideas. We realised the weight of the Romans, myths and wisdom of the Greeks, the Gods and mysteries of Egypt, but the Western World’s current enemy in Islam, its brilliance is regarded as none. For one, the Muslims revived the classics, the core philosophies which have altered the Western World and inspired us to this point today. The Hellenistic period of 323-43 BC saw classical Greek philosophy transform from a purely Greek notions to a mixed multicultural movement that saw Egyptian, Phoenician and other close religious and ethical notions thrown into the mix. Alexandria hosted these works, becoming a key place for learning. The Abbasid Caliphate was established in Baghdad in 750 ad, it became the next cultural metropolis of the Medieval World replacing the likes of Athens and Alexandria. Two centuries later Cordoba, which was the capital of Al Andalus, began to compete with Baghdad to be respected as a centre for Ancient learning.

Meanwhile, in Europe – Ancient Greek texts widely were feared as blasphemy. Christianity battled paganism for over 600 years. Justinian, then a Roman Emperor, closed down Schools of Philosophy.

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Al Andalus Quran pages

It was from Cordoba, that Greek-Arabic Philosophy was transported to key places around the World, to Paris, Bologna and Oxford. However it should also be noted during Wars with the Christians during the Reconquista, a period of fighting between the Moorish Kingdoms and Christians over the Iberian Peninsula’s control, Alfonso X a King noted as The Wise also encouraged learning and translated Arabic texts that they did, encouraging them around Europe. Despite the cautiousness of foreign ideas, the Muslims admiration for learning eventually encouraged them to be more open to such notions. Philosophers such as Al-Kindi and Al-Razi saw Greek philosophy as liberating, useful to undo the repetition of imitation. al-Mansur, Harun and his son Al-Ma’mun founded the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, serving as an institution prized on translation. Al-Ma’mun’s reign saw through the translation of medical, scientific and philosophical texts. For instance, Yahya ibn Al-Bitrip translated Plato’s Timaues, Aristtotle’s On The Soul, On The Heavens. They went on to translate more works and manuscripts from Greece, Ancient Egypt and even China. Works such as Aristotle’s the Physics and Nicomachean Ethics. Utilising the works of Aristotle, Muslim commentators altered the perception of religion – Ibn Rushd, also known as Averroes, applied reason to the concept stepping away from mere faith. Aquinas, a famed and widely taught about Catholic theologian attempted to refute this idea as it was a threat to beliefs, and if you consider the World today life is steadily urging a more secular approach. Averroes’ work was taken as controversial for other interested Muslim philosophers or speakers back then – he had more of an influence on Western European thought. He is considered the founding father of secular thought, a widely celebrated idea in the Western World which gradually undone the dominance of religion.

Ethnic Cleansing of Spain

I wish I could summarise it all, the glorious tales or key points in history but my aim with this article was to develop another’s taste for this History which has been misplaced. Especially in an area which has remained dark in our own History lessons. So for centuries, 711 – 1492 – Spain was controlled by Muslims, its identity was Al Andalus. As the Reconquista’s battles saw the Christians push back the Muslims, the vast Muslim armies considered losing Granada, the last Muslim state in Iberia, not so much of a problem as armies from Africa could redeem it. However the new Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella opted to end the Muslim domination of Europe. Looking at History acknowledge the endless battles and atrocities, as a result we witness “injustices” or rather how I see it our capacity to be inhumane. We will do the same, Human beings are beings of repetition like animals until progress allows us to adapt and be better collectively or individually. However genocide and book burning is a stain on Humanity, I am surprised we never hear about this. After taking over Granada Spain’s monarchs signed an edict, an official order, which forced all Jew’s out of Spain. Hundreds of thousands were forced out, many flocking to the Ottoman Empire who sent a navy to Spain to pick them up. This was to avoid a potential mass killing.

The Spanish attempted to force the entirety of Muslims throughout Spain to covert, prioritising this through the Catholic Church as the Muslims no longer had a Muslim state to protect them. Bribery was not successful, the Muslims placed their faith over wealth. The Spanish’s new approach was harassment, spearheaded by Jimenez de Cisernos. All manuscripts in Arabic were burned with exception of Medical ones. Muslims were imprisoned for not converting, tortured and robbed to convince them. It was Cisernos policy that they must be dragged to salvation. Granada’s Muslims protested and were met with an ultimatum of conversion or death. Almost all pretended to convert but held onto Islam. Christian Soldiers attacked Muslims on a regular basis, massacres and forced conversions in small Muslim towns and villages often occurred. However the Monarch had enough, Isabella ended religious tolerance and demanded the Muslims of Spain covert, leave or die. Many left for North Africa or fought to the death to keep their livelihood, and 700 year invested history. Yet most stayed, hiding their true religion in private. The Muslim population went underground, hiding their faith from authorities. The converted Muslims were dubbed “Moriscos”. These people had to leave their homes door open on Thursday nights and Friday mornings, so Soldiers could ensure they were not praying or bathing. Being caught reading the Quran was punishable by death. However they still persisted in maintaining their faith, and it was not until King Philip of Spain signed another edict which expelled all Moriscos from Spain – giving them 3 days. During this period of expulsion, over 1,000,000 Arab books were burned.

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Muslims being forced out of Spain,

boats to North Africa or the Ottoman Empire

Christians looted their belongings, kidnapped Muslim Children to raise as Christians, even killed Muslims for fun by Soldiers and regular people. They were even raped and killed on the ships by Sailors taking them to another land. Displaced from their homeland and not shown the same religious tolerance they widely offered and maintained, the Muslims of Spain had nothing to gain leaving for another land. To conclude I read an article on the Jewish, who gained some form of reparations. Last year the Spanish passed a bill which allows Jewish descendants from those who were expelled to claim dual-citizenship. They recognise their presence within their history, I reckon this is due to the fact that Jewish people in recent times are holding greater positions within the World. Recognising the Moors means aligning with Islam, the West have destroyed the perception of this religion and here we are today. I hope I have shown something interesting with this, if I were to dive deeper into the brilliance of the Muslims it would truly never end.