Al-Andalus revisited: Why the values of the Muslim golden age are more important now than ever before

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FAISAL J. ABBAS
November 06, 2020

PC9W75 499 PRADILLA – El Suspiro del Moro (Coleccion particular, 1879-1892. Oleo sobre lienzo, 1,95 x 3,02 cm)

The 19th- century Spanish artist Francisco Pradilla Ortiz portrayed the mythical moment when a defeated Mohammed XII gazed back at the Alhambra for the last time. (Alamy)

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The scenes of awful terrorist attacks on people in the streets of Vienna, coming as they do so soon after the bloody attacks in Nice and in Paris, have once again horrified the people of the world and sent yet another reminder of the dangers of extremism.

Such attacks have a tendency and the ability to cloud our minds. At times like these, the people of the world — of all colors, and of all faiths and beliefs — must clear their mental fog and stand up to confront the menace that divides us as it sows intolerant hatred among us. For more than a year, we at Arab News, through our Preachers of Hate series, have been exposing radical clerics for what they are — terrorists who have twisted and mangled the teachings of Islam to promote their dark and inhumane beliefs, practices and acts.

However, we see it as our duty to give hope and shed light on positive examples — particularly that these modern catastrophes and the avalanche of hate crimes and terrorist attacks in Europe have led us to ask if this has always been the case. Have the followers of Islam, Christianity and Judaism always been at loggerheads, always brandishing knives at one other’s throats? The short and simple answer is: No.

There was a time in Spain, beginning in 711, when it was ruled by Muslims at the time of the Umayyad caliphate. In those days, the people of the three great Abrahamic religions lived in absolute peace and harmony. It was an extraordinary time of tolerance and mutual respect, when art and culture flourished. Scientists and mathematicians from all over northern Europe came to Spain to study, to work together, and to make spectacular discoveries.

Through this interactive documentary, we travel not only though time and across geography, but also we rediscover a very different set of values and way of life that Muslims who inhabited Europe once had. Indeed, this is Al-Andalus revisited.

Faisal J. Abbas

In the poetic words of the American writer Washington Irving, who wrote “Tales of the Alhambra,” published in 1832, the cities of Arabian Spain “became the resort of Christian artisans, to instruct themselves in the useful arts. The universities of Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, and Granada, were sought by the pale student from other lands to acquaint himself with the sciences of the Arabs, and the treasured lore of antiquity.”

In what we know as Al-Andalus, there was “a system of wise and equitable laws, diligently cultivating the arts and sciences, and promoting agriculture, manufacturing, and commerce; they gradually formed an empire unrivalled for its prosperity by any of the empires of Christendom; and diligently drawing round it the graces and refinements which marked the Arabian empire in the East at the time of its greatest civilization. They diffused the light of Oriental knowledge, through the Western regions of benighted Europe.”

The Muslims, Christians and Jews of Iberia lived peacefully alongside each other in the land they knew as Al-Andalus. Then there came a dark and intolerant time when hate consumed humanity, and what Irving described as a “terrestrial paradise” became a hell for Muslims as well as for Jews.
Politics is by its very nature a dirty craft, and when a religion is politicized — be it by Muslims, Jews or Christians — then it is not surprising that all hell breaks loose. The time has now come when good people of the world ought to revive the spirit of Al-Andalus — of tolerance, of accommodation, of respect for all religions and their followers.

It is in this context that we revisit the Muslim golden age in our special Deep Dive. Through this interactive documentary, we travel not only though time and across geography, but also we rediscover a very different set of values and way of life that Muslims who inhabited Europe once had. Indeed, this is Al-Andalus revisited.

• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News.
Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas

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