Searching for Al Andalus - I

Cordoba in search of art, knowledge, and peaceful coexistence

Searching for Al Andalus - I
Ishq dam-e-Jibrael, Ishq dil-e-Mustafa
Ishq Khuda ka Rasool, Ishq Khuda ka kalaam!
A, haram-e-Qurtuba ishq se tera wajood
Tera Jalaal-o-Jamaal, marde Khuda kee daleel,
Wo bhi Jaleel o Jameel, tu bhi Jaleel o Jameel!
Kaaba Arbab-E-Fan! Sitwat-E-Deen-E-Mubeen
Tujh Se Haram Martabat Andlusiyon Ki Zameen

(Love is the life of Gabriel, Love is the heart of the Holy Prophet (PBUH)
Love is the message of God, love is the word of God
To love you owe your being, oh Qurtuba
Your beauty and majesty personifies the grace of the believer
God is beautiful and majestic and you are too
O, Mecca of art lovers, You are the majesty of the true tenet
You have elevated Andalusia to the eminence of the Haram)

In the summer of 2014, I saw these Urdu verses hung in the office of the Mayor of Cordoba in beautiful gold calligraphy written by Muhammad Iqbal, one of the greatest South Asian philosophers and poets (written after his visit to Cordoba in 1933). The Mayor of Cordoba, speaking to Ambassador Akbar S. Ahmed – leader and Director of the “Journey into Europe” team (myself included) – graciously apologized to the Muslims for the loss of their lives and properties after their rule for nearly 800 years in Spain and said he would welcome them to Cordoba, “this is as much your home as ours”. As part of the Journey into Europe project looking at identity and how to improve relations between different communities and find peaceful solutions, we had travelled as a team from London to Edinburgh, Belfast, Dublin, and now in Cordoba (our next stop was Melilla, Granada and then three cities in Germany before going on to Bosnia).

Iqbal penned the above verses as an ode to the majesty and beauty of the Mosque of Cordoba in Andalusia, (present day Southern Spain, Europe). The glorious structure of the mosque, which I visited a day before, definitely warrants a place on the Wonders of the World list! When it was first built by Abdur Rehman in the year 786, it bore the impression of an orchard or bagh of palm trees, later to cover 22,400 sq meters allowing 20,000 Muslims to pray all at once. It is a single-storey building with pillars supporting double arches constructed from stones and bricks. Each arch connects two pillars, one arch atop the other, to create the impression of a cluster of palms. The double arches denote mature date palm trees and the red and baize colours in the mosque reflect the colours of the earth. Palm trees are planted in neat rows outside the original courtyard of the mosque with flowing water and fountains for ablution. This mirror vision of nature reflecting nature is “organic”: the inherent symbolism in the believer’s vision of connecting people with nature and thereupon with their Creator and Cherisher, is brilliant to say the least! It is truly a piece of heaven on earth and one can easily imagine a believer sitting amidst nature’s splendor – deep in prayer and meditation – thinking, “If there is a heaven on earth it is in the shade of these palm trees before the presence of my beloved God Almighty – it is here, it is here, it is here – in the embrace and warmth of worship.”

When Abdur Rehman first arrived in Al Andalus from Damascus he planted a date tree and wrote a sonnet in its tribute, “As you are lonely in a strange land, so too am I”. He, too, had been uprooted from his homeland in Damascus to escape persecution. The Abbasids killed his family, propelling Abdur Rehman to create a new dynasty in Al Andalus with Cordoba as its capital. Al Andalus is the Arabic name for Muslim Spain and part of Portugal (not to be confused with Andalusia in present day Spain). The date palm tree also holds great significance for Muslims as a reminder of the Prophet (PBUH) and his diet. Containing immense nutritional value, Muslim households often have a stock of dates all year round and especially during Ramadan when Muslims break their fast with dates.

The building is clearly a labour of love – each brick speaks to the heart. When Iqbal wrote that Muslims are bold, creative and effortful in the verse Haath hain Allah ka banda e momin ka haath Ghalib o kaar aafreen, karokashan, kaarsaaz (The hand of the Momin is the hand of Allah, bold, creative, resourceful, effortful), he was inspired by this wonderfully unique mosque and Al Andalusian culture, as well as the effort poured into crafting both. Learning their history is like injecting a great passion for knowledge into one’s spirit. It speaks of an Islamic era in Europe when Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived together, exchanged ideas and reached great heights of knowledge. It was a glorious period when people were recognized for their wisdom as opposed to their skin colour or familial affiliations.

This concept of coexistence is called “La Convivencia” in Spanish. It was a brilliant society – hailed as “the ornament of the world” – which inspired Western universities like Oxford and Cambridge, the concept of cleanliness and produced acclaimed scholars like the thinker Ibn Rushd or “Averroes” (1126-1198), Ibn Arabi or “The Master” (1165-1240), Ibn Tufail or “Abubacer” (1105–1185) who was a pioneer in philosophical novels. The translations of his stories inspired the creation of Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, Tarzan and The Jungle Book. Maimonides (born in Cordoba around 1135-1204) the Muslim King’s physician was a great scholar of the Jewish faith and exchanged ideas with his Muslim peers, Wallada was the Muslim female poetess princess with blonde hair and blue eyes who inspired women to recite and think (1001-1091) and Abbas Ibn Firnas (810-887) was the first person to fly and inspired many including Leonardo Da Vinci – (we crossed the bridge of Ibn Farnas – it is in the shape of spectacular white wings).

To be continued...

Dr Amineh Hoti is the director of the Centre for Dialogue and Action at FC College in Lahore. For details on the project Journey into Europe, please see