Saturday, May 13, 2017

Was Islamic Spain An Example of Mutual Tolerance?


Spain today was once the Christian Visigoth kingdom before the Islamic conquest in the eighth century. Many people today often assume that the Islamic conquest brought a golden period of mutual toleration among the three Abrahamic faiths under Islamic rule. However, this is not historically correct, as according to some historians, it is wrong to assume that mutual toleration of religious minorities was improved under Islamic rule. The Islamic conquest of Hispania was filled with atrocities, created a state of constant warfare in the region, and life for Christians under Islamic rule was not of tolerance, but rather of fear.
Islamic Spain became a result of a violent conquest by the Umayyad Caliphate. They conquered the Iberian Peninsula in the 7th century by taking advantage of the internal dissension among the Visigoths in 711 A.D. These Jihadists, which are those that strive for Jihad against the infidels (non-Muslims), entered into the Christian Visigoth Kingdom of Hispania, slaughtered the Visigothic king Roderick and conquered the land. These Muslim fighters were a mixture of North African Berbers, or "Moors," who made up the majority and Syrians, who were all then led by a small number of Arabs from the Arabian peninsula. To understand why the Umayyad caliphate wanted to conquer Hispania, we must first understand what was the goal of this caliphate. The Caliphate was launching jihad, which is a holy war against Dar al-Harb, which literally means house of war. Dar al-Harb refers to the part of the world that is ruled by non-Muslims, or infidels. The Caliphate is part of Dar al-Islam, which means house of submission, which is the part of the world that submits to Islam. The purpose of jihad was for Dar al-Islam to conquer Dar al-Harb and annex it to Dar al-Islam. The Caliphate as such, launched jihad against the then Christian Middle East in 634, which was years before the conquest of Hispania. For this reason, jihad was launched against Christian Hispania. The conquest of Hispania in the 8th century was not without atrocities and without terror into the hearts of the Iberian inhabitants. Musa ibn-Nusayr, a ruler from North Africa under the Umayyad Caliphate, led the subjugation of Hispania under Islamic rule. According to the Latin Chronicle of 754, which is a primary source written by a Christian who witnessed the Arab conquest, states: "Musa himself, approaching this wretched land across the straits of Cadiz and pressing on to the pillars of Hercules...entered the long plundered and godlessly invaded Spain to destroy it. After forcing his way to Toledo, the royal city, he imposed on the adjacent regions an evil and fraudulent peace. He decapitated on a scaffold those noble lords who had remained, arresting them in their flight from Toledo...Thus he devastated not only Hispania Ulterior, but Hispania Citerior up to and beyond the ancient and once flourishing city of Zaragoza, now by the judgment of God, openly exposed to sword, famine, and captivity. He ruined beautiful cities, burning them with fire; condemned lords and powerful men to the cross; and butchered youths and infants with the sword" (Constable, 30-31). So, this invasion of Spain lead to widespread atrocities where there was burning of cities, mass decapitation of the nobles, enslavement, famine, and the murder of children. These children even included infants, and so even the children did not escape the brutality of Jihad. Also, another excerpt of the chronicle also states: "While he [Musa] terrorized everyone in this way, some of the cities that remained sued for peace under duress and, after persuading and mocking them with a certain craftiness, the Saracens [Muslims] granted their requests without delay. When the citizens subsequently rejected what they had accepted out of fear and terror, they tried to flee to the mountains where they risked hunger and various forms of death. The Saracens set up their savage kingdom of Spain, specifically in Córdoba" (Constable, 31). So in other words, many of the native Christians in Hispania were so terrified of the Muslim conquests that they rather risked death rather than being enslaved by them. The chronicle also refers to the kingdom as “savage,” which debunks the false notion that they set up a wonderful kingdom where people were not terrified and all lived happily ever after.
The Moors would also subjugate the women of Hispania through rape and forced marriages. Abd al-Aziz, the first governor of the newly established al-Andalus (Islamic Spain) and the son of Musa ibn-Nusayr, participated in the conquests. After Visigoth king Roderick was murdered in battle, Abd al-Aziz sexually abused and raped the wives of murdered Christian nobles. The medieval Islamic historian Ibn 'Abd al-Hakam, who died in 871, stated: "He [Abd al-Aziz] had taken all the riches and positions of honor in Seville, as well as the queen of Spain, whom he joined in marriage, and the daughters of kings and princes, whom he treated as concubines..." (Constable, 31-32). Abd al-Aziz raped many of the women of the royal family and even forcefully married Queen Egilona, who was the wife of King Roderick that he killed. The Queen was practically forced to be married to the murderer of her husband. Also, a well-known Spanish historian points out how the Moors had a deep preference for the women of Europe. He states: "Everyone knows that the Moslems arrived in Spain [and Portugal] without women, and that their preference for beautiful and blonde Gallegas [women of Galicia] led to the occupation of the throne of Cordoba by caliphs with blue eyes and fair hair" (Crow, 149). Since the Muslims arrived without women to conquer Hispania, they raped many of the women as they conquered without arriving with their own women. They lusted after these Christian women, due to their fair complexion and blonde hair. As a result of this miscegenation, many of the Islamic elite look whiter than their Moorish counterparts.
The Islamic conquests of Hispania would also create chaos in the Iberian Peninsula. Rather than establishing an ordered, unified society, these conquests actually set into motion what would be later be battles after battles into a seemingly unending warfare. The historian Roger Collins writes in the introduction of his book, Caliphs and Kings: Spain, 796-1031, the following: “The Arab conquest created the conditions for a state of almost permanent warfare in the Iberian Peninsula that put special emphasis upon destruction and the display of dead enemies, with a lively slave trade as an additional incentive" (Collins, 1). So, the Arab conquest actually brought a lot of destruction into the region, and the Muslims established a slave trade that would give them many profits. Of course, the slaves were the infidels, as it is prohibited for a Muslim to enslave their fellow Muslims, and under Islam, a non-Muslim will never have equal social status as a Muslim. The Muslims also had a inhumane method of displaying the bodies of their enemies, which in turn showed their savagery. Such a conquest established the Umayyad al-Andalus, and the Christian states in the north of the peninsula, which caused friction among themelves. Even Islamic Spain was much more violent than Western Europe in the same time period due to this constant warfare. Also, the reason why the Moors never fully conquered the whole of Hispania, which would include the North, is because there was even infighting among the Muslims themselves, thus allowing the Christians to launch their reconquista, or reconquest to expel Muslim rule from the Iberian Peninsula. Roger Collins also stated in the same book: "Even in Córdoba at its cultural apogee it will have been hard to escape the reek of decomposing flesh from the decapitated heads displayed on the gates and the bodies of those publically crucified, left to rot in front of the palace" (Collins, 2). The Moors seemed to have a practice of decapitation and crucifixion of their enemies, which are the infidels, and then displayed their bodies in public as a way to intimidate the general public to not rebel against their Moorish overlords. The number of infidels that they killed in battle were sent for display on the gates and the wall of Córdoba. Such a conquest definitely showed the brutality of the Moors against the Christian inhabitants, and the conditions that were caused as a result of their holy war. The conquest largely destabilized the Iberian Peninsula for many years to come.
According to the article, “The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise," by Darío Fernández-Morera, the author states: "The fascinating cultural achievements of Islamic Spain cannot obscure the fact that it was never an example of peaceful convivencia [Spanish for co-existence]" (Fernández-Morera, 23). While in Islamic Spain, both the Jews and the Christians lived under Muslim rule, they lived in the status of Dhimmitude, which is a status where religious minorities are severely restricted due to their faith. Dhimmitude, according to Islamic law, is an option available only for Christians and Jews. For pagans, Dhimmitude was an option not available, and pagans had the choice of either converting to Islam or be killed. During the reign of Abd al-Rahman I (734?-788), who was the founder of the Emirate of Córdoba, and during the reign of Abd al-Rahman II (822-852), who was the conqueror of Barcelona, the Christians were grossly persecuted. Abd al-Rahman I demolished the ancient Catholic church of Córdoba in order to establish a mosque, which is a Muslim place of worship. Catholics under both reigns suffered confiscations of their private property, enslavement, and an increase in the tribute that they must pay for protection, which in turn generated more profits for their Moorish overlords. Also, under Abd al-Rahman II and Muhammad I (822-886), a number of Catholics were killed in Córdoba for preaching against Islam, while others were expelled from the city. Saint Eulogio, along with other martyrs such as Saint Roderick and many others who are recognized by the Church today as martyrs due to their martyrdom, were beheaded by the Muslims since they either insulted Islam, converted to Christianity, or announced their faith publicly. Many of the martyrs were former Muslims who converted to Christianity, and were killed since the punishment for apostasy in Islam is death as according to the hadith, which is part of total Islamic doctrine and second to the Koran in Islam. There was practically no freedom of religion in Islamic Spain, and people who were already Christians must submit to the authority of the Islamic authorities and live a restrictive, humiliating life. Even Muhammad I ordered that “newly constructed churches be destroyed as well as anything in the way of refinements that might adorn the old churches added since the Arab conquest" (Fernández-Morera, 24). This emir (Muslim prince) practically destroyed many of the Christian places of worship in order to make the religion of Islam dominant in the land. This is how Christians lived under Islamic rule, and suffered a lot due to their faith. While Christians lived under Islamic rule, they lived restrictive lives and it was not a society of mutual tolerance and co-existence, but rather a society that was very totalitarian due to the precepts of the Islamic religion.
So next time you hear of the myth of the peaceful co-existence between the Moors and Christians, remind them of how the conquest occurred, how Christian women became sex slaves and victims of rape, how many Christians were butchered, how Christian churches were destroyed and the martyrs of Córdoba. Islamic Spain brought instability to the Iberian peninsula that lasted for many centuries as there was constant warfare. It is time to lay this myth of Islamic Spain to rest forever as it it is constantly used by those who hate Christian civilization and so tries to discredit it with outright lies. Many Spaniards today should not feel shame of the Reconquista, as the Spaniards had the right to defend their civilization from invaders that sought to destroy Christian rule in the region. Spaniards today should be proud of their ancestors rather than feel guilt.
Sources:
• Roger Collins, Caliphs and Kings: Spain, 796-1031, Wiley Blackwell, 2014. Print.
• Olivia Remie Constable. Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997. Print.
• Kenneth Baxter Wolf. Christian Martyrs in Muslim Spain. Cambridge University Press. 1988. Print.
• Joseph O' Callaghan, A History of Medieval Spain. Cornell University Press, 1983. Print.
• John Glubb, Empire of the Arabs. Prentice-Hall, 1965. Print.
• John A. Crow, The Epic of Latin America. University of California Press, 1992. Print.
• Darío Fernández-Morera. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise. The Intercollegiate Review. Fall 2006: 23-31. Print.

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