There is a famous letter from the then English king to Hisham Ibn Abdul Rahman, who was ruler of Cordoba in Al Andalus from 788 to 796.
In the letter, the English king requested permission for his daughter and members of his royal court to study at the University of Cordoba – the most advanced university in the west – which, under Abbasid rule, only rivals the University of Baghdad in the east.
Cordoba was an intellectual center in the west and a peaceful land where the king’s daughter was safe. And the letter was signed, as the historians point out: Your faithful subject, the King of England.
The most prosperous advanced Muslim rule and civilization of Muslim Spain was a stark contrast to Christian Europe, which went through the dark ages of its history. Europeans were constantly at odds with one another and waged endless wars. They lived in the most unsanitary and deplorable conditions.
It was customary for the aristocrats and ruling families of European countries to send their wards and nobles to Cordoba, Tolerado and many other Muslim universities of Al Andalus to study modern sciences such as chemistry, physics, medicine, history, geography, astronomy and philosophy.
Charles Marie Gustave Le Bon, a French social psychologist, said: âIf only Muslims had conquered Paris. Because if they did, it would have been like Cordoba. For 600 years we relied on Muslims to translate great Greek philosophy for us. âLe Bon continues:â When you walk the streets of Cordoba, you find that people can read and write, and some of them even Know poems. At a time when the kings and princes of Europe could not spell their names in their own language. 700 years before Paris had its first hospital, there were fifty hospitals in Cordoba. “
Islamic Spain (711-1492)
In 711 Muslim troops invaded Spain and conquered the entire Iberian Peninsula in seven years.
Traditional story goes that in 711 an oppressed Christian chief, Julian, went to Musa ibn Nusair, the governor of North Africa, with a cry for help against the tyrannical Visigoth ruler of Spain, Roderick.
Musa responded by sending the young general Tariq bin Ziyad with an army of 7,000 men. The name Gibraltar is derived from Jabal At-Tariq, which is Arabic for “Rock of Tariq”, named after the place where the Muslim army landed.
The Muslim army easily defeated the Visigoth army, and Roderick was killed in the battle.
After the first victory, the Muslims conquered most of Spain and Portugal without much difficulty and even with little resistance. By 720 Spain was largely under Muslim control.
One reason for the quick Muslim success was the generous terms of surrender that Muslims offered to the conquered people, in contrast to the harsh terms imposed by the previous Visigothic rulers.
Islamic Spain became one of the great Muslim civilizations, culminating in the tenth century with the Umayyad Caliphate of Cordova. It competed with the great Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad in the east in terms of cultural and economic prosperity and aspiration for education.
Islamic Spain was a multicultural mix of people from three major monotheistic religions: Muslims, Christians and Jews. The three groups got on well and benefited from their presence. “It brought Europe a level of civilization commensurate with the heights of the Roman Empire and the Italian Renaissance,” wrote Le Bon.
Stability in Muslim Spain came with the establishment of the Andalusian Umayyad dynasty, which lasted from 756 to 1031.
Credit goes to Amir Abd al-Rahman, who founded the emirate of Cordoba and was able to persuade various Muslim groups who had conquered Spain to pull together.
The Golden age
The Muslim era in Spain is often described as the “golden age” of learning, when libraries, colleges, public baths were established and literature, poetry and architecture flourished.
Islamic Spain has also been described as the “golden age” of religious and ethnic tolerance and interreligious harmony between Muslims, Christians and Jews.
Jews and Christians kept their freedom under Muslim rule and were treated much better than the conquered peoples would have expected at this time in history, as they were not forced to live in ghettos or other special places. They were neither enslaved nor prevented from following their beliefs. Jews and Christians were given full freedom to contribute to society and culture.
As Bernard Lewis puts it, âThere were several reasons why the Muslim rulers tolerated rival beliefs, the main one being that Judaism and Christianity were monotheistic beliefs, so that their members arguably worshiped the same God.
Many Christians in Spain assimilated parts of Muslim culture. Some learned Arabic, others adopted the same clothing as their Muslim rulers, and some Christian women even started wearing the veil and some took on Arabic names.
There were also cultural alliances, especially in architecture – the twelve lions at the court of the Alhambra are harbingers of Christian influences. The Cordoba Mosque, now converted into a cathedral, is ironically still known as La Mezquita, or literally the Mosque. The construction of the Cordoba Mosque, a masterpiece of Islamic architecture, was started at the end of the 8th century by the Ummayyad prince Abd al Rahman ibn Muawiyah.
Under the reign of Abd al Rahman III (rule 912-961), Spanish Islam attained its greatest power, as this was also the cultural climax of the Islamic civilization in Spain.
In the 10th century, Cordoba, the capital of Umayyad Spain, was a great rival to the west of the great Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, in terms of wealth, education and civilization. A Western writer wrote of Cordoba: âThere were half a million people living in 113,000 houses. There were 700 mosques and 300 public baths spread across the city and its twenty-one suburbs. The streets were paved and lighted. There were bookstores and more than seventy libraries. “
Muslim scholars served as an important link in bringing Greek philosophy, of which the Muslims had previously been the main protectors, to Western Europe. There were exchanges and alliances between Muslim and Christian rulers such as the legendary Spanish warrior El-Cid, who fought both against and alongside the Muslims. This time was a golden age of religious coexistence.
Reject and fall
The collapse of Islamic rule in Spain was due not only to the increasing aggression of Christian states, but also to divisions among Muslim rulers.
By the early 11th century, the only Islamic caliphate was split into dozens of small kingdoms. The first major Islamic center to succumb to Christianity was Toledo in 1085.
The Muslims responded with troops from Africa, led by the famous General Yusuf bin Tashfin, who vigorously defeated the Christians in 1086 and recaptured most of Andalusia in 1102. The general was able to reunite much of Muslim Spain.
Unfortunately, it was not long before Yusuf died in 1106
The internal rebellions of 1144 and 1145 further shook Islamic unity, and despite temporary military successes, Islam’s rule over Spain was finally ended in 1492.