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|Tolerance & Islam : Al-Andalus example|
|09/16/01 at 23:39:57|
|Islamic tolerance in Al Andalus|
Jordan Times (Amman)
By Habeeb Salloum
Posted Thursday September 13, 2001 - 10:32:50 AM EDT
Amman - "LET THERE be no violence in religion", and "fight against
the unbelievers until they cease persecuting you, but if they desist,
then let there be no hostility." These Koranic words were taken to
heart when the Arab Muslims occupied the Iberian Peninsula and formed
their state which they called Al Andalus.
The tolerance they showed their former enemies had little equal in
the history of conquerors.
No more than 10,000 strong, the first Muslims who made Spain their
home never felt that the other monotheistic religions were mortal
enemies. They considered the Jews and Christians as "people of the
Book" with the same message as Muslims. Instead of unity based on one
religion, they built a society where all religious faiths shared a
Al Andalus became a remarkable place for its age - a land of peaceful
co-existence and harmony. The Christians and Jews were allowed to
pursue their religions, subject to certain taxes as laid down in the
Koran - no one was forced to convert. This allowed for a remarkable
accommodation among all the faiths, producing a society which became
progressive and evolving.
The tolerance of the Muslims, nurtured by the spirit of Islam, turned
Al Andalus into the top cultural centre on European soil. In the
ensuing centuries, it became a bridge between the Islamic East and
the Christian West, bringing all the accumulated knowledge of mankind
up to that period into the emerging nations of Christendom, setting
them off on the road to progress and advancement.
Arabic became the mark of culture for Muslims and non-Muslims alike
and the most unifying factor for all the peoples of the Iberian
Peninsula. Anwar Chejne in his excellent book 'Muslim Spain' writes
that Christians and Jews entered the mainstream of Muslim society and
were eventually Arabised to a degree that they no longer were
distinct from the Muslims.
The Arab Muslims, as a whole, had little hatred for the other
religions and always tried to bring down the barrier between them.
Amer╠co Castro, indicates in 'The Spaniards' that some of the Moors
in Granada believed that the Lord's prayer appeared in one of the
hadiths (sayings of the Prophet) as an Islamic prayer.
Through the centuries, many important positions, including the
highest offices under Muslim rulers, were held by Christians and
Jews. In spite of the fact that in the remainder of Europe non-
Christian faiths were, in the main, not accepted, the Muslims of Al
Andalus remained faithful to a policy of scrupulous tolerance.
At times, this respect for other religions was sorely tested, like
during the 9th century in Cordoba. Some Christians found that it was
almost impossible to maintain their religion in a country that
offered no apparent persecution. Alvaro, a Christian theologian, is
reputed to have complained that the Arabic language had become so
alluring to young Christians that they could hardly write a letter in
Latin, their own language.
Rather, they revelled in the intricacies and beauty of the Arabic
The clergy, seeing that their flocks were becoming Arabised and many
embracing the Islamic faith, tried to stop the conversions. Nuns and
monks began to publicly blasphemise Prophet Mohammad, but the Muslims
never changed their policy of tolerance.
Only the guilty were persecuted after the judges tried every method
to have them recant their denunciations.
Due to the open society in the Iberian Peninsula, the Jewish golden
age in literature developed under Muslim rule, especially between the
10th and 12th centuries. During this period, when Jews in the
remainder of Europe were hardly tolerated, in Al Andalus, the Hebrew
tongue developed its grammar and vocabulary on the model of the
The uncommon openness of life in this mediaeval state gave a chance
to a great number of Jews to become renowned literary men in both
Arabic and Hebrew.
Discussing the unparalleled tolerance shown the Jews by the Spanish
Arabs in the 10th century under the rule of Abdul Rahaman III, Elmer
Bendiner in his book 'The Rise and Fall of Paradise' writes: "There
was thus no pressure on Jews in tenth-century Andalusia to retire
into a ghetto. There were no laws and scarcely any customs that
confined Jews to any place or occupation. When their gates were shut
they were the ones who shut them." At the same time, in the remainder
of Europe, all life revolved around rigid Christianity. Truth within
the church could only be conceived by faith alone, as opposed to
reason. That is, until Thomas Aquinas, in the 13th century,
reconciled faith and reason. In this, he was greatly influenced by
Muslim philosophers like Averro╬s, whose works had been translated
into Latin, in the 11th century, after the fall of Toledo.
In the subsequent years, the classical legacy, long outlawed by the
church, was made available through the translation of Arabic books.
Along with Arab learning, developed throughout the Islamic world, the
classical tradition was reaccepted by Christendom, setting the West
on the road to greatness.
The exceptional tolerance practised by the Muslims in the Iberian
Peninsula continued until Al Andalus began to be overwhelmed by the
Christian states of the north. When refugees commenced to stream
southward into Muslim controlled areas, religious tolerance began to
give way to narrow-mindedness; the extraordinary tolerant mediaeval
Islamic state of Al Andalus, which many Arab historians have called
an "earthly paradise", began to fade away.
[The writer, a Canadian author of five books, is specialising in
Canadian, Arab and Latin-American history, travel and the culinary
arts. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times. ]
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