Searching for Al Andalus - II

Dr Amineh Hoti visits Cordoba in search of art, knowledge, and peaceful coexistence

Searching for Al Andalus - II
Libraries were common and Cordoba housed the biggest library in Europe at the time with 400,000 books compared to the largest library in the Italian monastery of Bobio that had less than 700 books! As Al Andalus was Muslim Spain and Arabic was the franca lingua, 35,000 Arabic words have made their way into the Spanish language today, including Ola – Allah; Okhala – Inshallah; Quadilkivir - Waadi al Kabir; Naranj – orange, etc. We saw Flamenco dancers during the late “White Night” in Cordoba; an art form inspired by the court performances of Mughal Emperor Akbar, especially Tansen, as shared with us by a musical maestro invited by Casa Arabe, our hosts. It was a period in which arts and culture, and reason and faith, went hand in hand. Muslims valued intellectual discussions and freely exchanged ideas with philosophers of other faiths – a testament to their open-mindedness and good sense. All this was based on the concept of respecting the ‘Other’ as an extension of their deep love for God. If God created the ‘Other’, s/he must be respected and loved for His sake, if nothing else. For the true believer, God is Compassionate and Merciful and His believers, too, are compassionate and merciful unto each other (Ishq Khuda ka kalaam – Allama Iqbal).

I am ‘a student of life’ absorbing the edifying riches of Al Andalus while staying directly opposite the Cordoba Mosque. In the course of our research work, we have been privileged to penetrate deep into the social mindset and look beyond the apparent picture of mere visitors/tourists. Apart from meeting various government officials, like the Mayor of Cordoba who had Iqbal’s Masjid-e-Qurtuba hanging in his office as a tribute from the government of Pakistan (Lahore and Cordoba are viewed as twin cities and there is even a street named after Iqbal in Cordoba), we met with leading members of the Muslim communities, the Bishops and scholars. Casa Arabe epitomized superb Andalusian hospitality and provided a platform to discuss and debate the fascinating legacy of Al Andalus with leaders, scholars, thinkers, and activists. Quite interestingly, we discovered that certain scholars regard this period as ‘a myth’ – a projection of their personal negative perceptions of Islam and Muslim immigrants to Europe today. An expert from Toledo postulated that “our image of Al Andalus is coloured by our relationship with our neighbours”.

[quote]35,000 Arabic words have made their way into the Spanish language[/quote]

We asked the question if La Convivencia – living together peacefully today – is possible. There was a divided opinion on the matter. Delving deep beneath the surface revealed numerous undercurrent tensions and the more one read and learnt the more one was stunned. We learned that when the Cathalans who ‘lacked culture and appreciation of knowledge’ defeated the Muslims and took power from the Muslims (because of their lack of unity and internal squabbles), the Cathalans burned the books in the palace called ‘Alcazar’ and for three days there was a cloud of thick smoke above the River Quadalkavir. Scholars mourned the loss of the precious tomes containing world knowledge from Greek (teachings of Aristotle, Plato and many brilliant Muslim works of the time) and treasured translations mostly in Arabic, which was the bone of contention for the Cathalans, who regarded it as the language of the ‘Moors’. The vision of knowledge beyond borders lacked any appreciation in this closed mindset.

[quote]I am ‘a student, of life’ absorbing, the edifying riches, of Al Andalus while staying directly opposite the, Cordoba Mosque [/quote]

La Convivencia – myth or not – was displaced by great intolerance in the form of the Inquisition force dressed in monks’ robes and hood coverings with eye slits and haunted all those who remained steadfast on their beliefs and even those who converted to Christianity. Public pork parties – offensive to Muslims and Jews – were celebrated openly and frequently to parade that the Muslim time was over. Even today, pork legs hang outside shops and are souvenirs popularly seen and sold in shops. Nearly everything on the menu has pork in one form or the other and we, as Muslims, had to limit our daily diet to the same vegetarian foods every day.

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