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Author: imyoung Three stars, 500 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: of 454815  
Subject: OT – The Reign in Spain Date: 1/12/2014 10:33 AM
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“I embrace the religion of love wherever its caravans head"
– Mu?yiddin ibn Arabi, Sufi mystic and philosopher born in Murcia, Spain, 1165

N.B.: Not required reading for my kids or anyone else :) but some of it may be useful to those planning a trip to Andalusia and most of it may be useful to those who believe history can teach us a lot.

Many moons ago flyerboys sang the praises of Spain’s “great leaders,” Ferdinand (1452-1516) and Isabella (1451-1504), comparing them to “mediocre” Señor Rajoy and other less competent Iberians. He then goes on to lament that “Spain's aristocracy used the greatest silver and gold wealth in history and built – really huge baroque buildings and 250 years of magnificent expensive military devices”, useless against the clever Dutch and English. By contrast, ”[t]he USA used its wealth of great oil and coal fields and built the greatest industrial power of the world” http://boards.fool.com/jaagu-iirc-it-was-the-wall-street-cro....

While I agree with some of flyerboys’s pithy observations, I am having difficulties accepting the redacted rendition of history in its entirety. First, the romantic hagiography of Ferdinand and Isabella, second cousins who married in secret with a forged papal dispensation* to combine the two Iberian realms of Aragon and Castile, is one-dimensional. It is the Catholic view I happily shared before my pilgrimage to Qur?uba (Córdoba), Spain, where I learned about Iberia’s greatest leader who helped create the most prosperous and sophisticated European civilization of Medieval Times. It also ignores the Royal Couple’s role in introducing one of the most feared social scourges in history that profoundly affected Spanish society for centuries and according to some, significantly contributed to the Dutch rise to power.

Second, to compare the use of wealth of Catholic Spain of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to that of nineteenth century Protestant USA is to fail to acknowledge the limitations as well as the progress of each century and to ignore the importance church and religion played and still plays in attitudes towards rulers, wealth, and money.

Despite their historical differences, both Spain and the U.S. rose to power with equal predatory rapaciousness. Under the Divine Right of Kings, Spain’s Catholic aristocracy acquired immense wealth by looting the gold of the peoples of the New World and in Christian righteousness destroyed their cultures and extensive writings,** – all “for the glory of church and country.” While the Spanish conquistadores plundered and murdered, they spread diseases, among them smallpox and measles, previously unknown in the Americas, causing tens of millions of natives to die in pandemics – all pro ecclesia et patria.

A few centuries later, the U. S. while professing the credo of Protestant Ethic created the imperious, expansionary dogma of Manifest Destiny to rationalize the theft of Lands of Coal and Oil belonging to those who came before us, exterminating their cultures and sending the “Five Civilized Tribes” on Trails of Tears and Death; later forcibly taking vast lands to the West –its settlements to this day bear the names given them by their previous owners. While the “Protestants” fulfilled their Manifest Destiny and expanded West, they too spread previously unknown diseases and with inimical intent introduced firewater as part of trade with unsuspecting Natives whose low tolerance not only allowed proud warriors to be cheated and slaughtered for their coveted possessions but also contributed to the decline and demise of age-old cultures. It changed Native American existence forever.

Avariciously appropriated resources, cheap labor rendered by destitute immigrants and the free toil of African slaves, separated from loved ones and marched in coffles to the canebrakes of Southern Pharaohs, made the U.S. number one – all in the spirit of ruthless capitalism.***

*For Catholics the dispensatio is a necessary blessing from Rome to marry one’s cousin or other relatives as such marriage violates the church’s canon law on affinity and consanguinity. Spanish nobility disregarded it for the most part and inbreeding was rampant to preserve power and wealth. Poor Carlos II, the last king of the Habsburg dynasty and known as El Hechizado (“The Hexed”), had a family history of insanity and was himself severely physically, mentally, and emotionally disabled, explaining his ineffectual rule. His ‘inbreeding coefficient’ was as high as if his parents had been a siblings or a parent-and-child union. For details see “The Role of Inbreeding in the Extinction of a European Royal Dynasty,” http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjourna... .

**Spanish conquistadores and padres in their fervent fury to subjugate and convert the Mayans, destroyed thousands of Maya codices. Only three undisputed codices remain. American archeologist Michael D. Coe assesses the loss of the extensive Mayan writings thus: Our knowledge of ancient Maya thought must represent only a tiny fraction of the whole picture, for of the thousands of books in which the full extent of their learning and ritual was recorded, only four [most expert cite three] have survived to modern times (as though all that posterity knew of ourselves were to be based upon three prayer books and Pilgrim's Progress). For details, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_codices.

***The “Five Civilized Tribes” were the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole, for details see http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Five_Civilized_Tri.... Contrary to popular myth, Native Americans do not automatically receive a monthly federal check and are not exempt from taxes. The Oglala Lakota and other Sioux tribes have to this day refused a (undoubtedly puny) monetary settlement for the U.S.’ illegal seizure of the Black Hills, their spiritual home, desecrated by the sculpture of four giant pale faces, their backsides aptly shown in one of the cartoons presented by DesertDave. “Here, there is no doubt that the Black Hills were “taken” from the Sioux in a way that wholly deprived them of their property rights to that land” stated the U.S. Supreme Court in a ruling in 1980, see http://www.republicoflakotah.com/steps-to-sovereignty/158-ye...

The vast area forcibly taken from Mexico is shown on this 1824 map of the U.S.: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:United_States_1822-1824.pn...

On to the greatest Spanish leader...

Slouching Toward Córdoba

My view of Spanish history and its greatest leader changed drastically after my predominantly Catholic classmates voted to adopt at graduation the Medical Ethics outlined by Maimonides. I did not get to vote, not by choice but because school officials had set up a punishing 20 months clinical schedule without a break, probably to teach me a lesson as I, like my fellow students who were products of educational institutions where everything and everyone could be questioned without retribution, had the temerity to oppugn the merit of irrelevant teachings and unfair exams. It left me with nearly four months of unaccustomed leisure. I was already somewhere between Amsterdam and Munich when I found out about the vote.

I remembered vaguely that Maimonides, born in Cordoba, Spain, in 1035 towards the end of the Muslim Golden Age, was the greatest Jewish philosopher of the Middle Ages who wrote a book with the memorable and fitting title The Guide for the Perplexed (love it!), penned in Arabic and later translated into other languages, including Hebrew. What I did not know were his other remarkable accomplishments. Known to Jews as Rabbi Mosheh Ben Maimon or its acronym, Rambam, he was “the first person to write a systematic code of all Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah (see an original page here http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/MS-MOSSERI-I-00006-00001/1 and Wendy’s reference [1], ... published a commentary on the entire Mishna [a voluminous collection of existing oral laws, traditions and traditional wisdom [see reference [2] for details]; served as physician to the Sultan of Egypt; wrote numerous books on medicine; and, in his "spare time," served as leader of Cairo's Jewish community.”[3]

To the horror (and perhaps secret envy) of my classmates and the higher-ups responsible for my prolonged vacation, I refused to return for graduation to the City of Brotherly Love. Instead, I offered to do penance by visiting the birthplace of the man my class had chosen, Abu ?Imran Musa bin Maimun bin ?Ubaidallah al-Qur?ubi, Maimonides’ name in the Arabic speaking Al-Andalus or land of the Vandals. I spent six glorious weeks in sun-drenched Andalusia, absorbing the history of Spain’s most splendid era: several hundred years of Muslim rule that created a society so rich and powerful, it was the envy of the known world. Even today, it is Al-Andalus, as Muslim Iberia was known, that attracts tourists, among them our own METARite, Jeff, who was enchanted not by baroque Catholic buildings, oppressive in their opulence, but by the “delightful and picturesque medieval section of [Lisbon’s] Alfama,” Malaga’s Gibralfaro Castle and Alcazaba (from the Arabic al-quasbah, meaning ‘citadel’) and Granada’s Alhambra (The Red), see Jeff’s report: http://boards.fool.com/ot-jeff-takes-a-trip-east-malta-30492....

Al-Andalus and the Caliphate of Cordoba missing from history books

Nearly eight hundred years of Muslim rule of Spain (711-1492) has been systematically written out of history books, a pity since under Islam a great cultural revival swept over the Iberian peninsula. “While the rest of medieval Europe was subduing the intellect to heavenly dogma, Arabian and Jewish scholars of Cordova and Toledo, Granada and Seville, made Spain the exclusive center of the arts and sciences and the unique home of civilization for the whole of the Western world,” writes historian John Edward Longhurst.[4] The Islam of medieval Spain was not the fanatically ferocious faith we have come to expect. It was a faith committed to learning and reason and it nurtured a progressive, sensuous and intellectually curious culture that influenced Europe for several centuries.

It is a period unjustly ignored that harbored the seeds of the European Renaissance and produced one of the most remarkable and unusual leaders of Spain, Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad ibn Abd Allah, referred to as al-Nasir (al-Nasir li-Din Allah,"the Defender of God's Faith") in some history books but usually known to posterity as Abd-al-Rahman III. A descendant of the Umayyad dynasty, he was only one quarter Arabic. His paternal grandmother was the Christian Princess Onneca Fortunez, daughter of the King of Navarre and his mother was a Christian captive possibly from the same Pyrenean region, making this ruler of Muslim Spain three quarters Spanish or, perhaps more accurately, Hispano-Basque. He was described as short, light-skinned with blue eyes and reddish blond hair he died black to match that of most of his subjects say some,[5] to not look like a Goth say others.[6]

When Abd-al-Rahman III began his long reign in 912, most of Iberia had already been under Muslim rule for over 200 years, beginning with the Muslim invasion in 711 CE. Arab aristocrats from Damascus were joined by North African Berbers, recent converts to the Islamic faith, to conquer the Christian Visigoths whose monarchs had neither built stable institutions nor successful means of transmitting power. Their internal squabbles made them easy targets for conquest. Jews who had probably occupied Iberia long before the Christians as recent archeological findings suggest, had been persecuted under the rule of the Christian Visigoths. They welcomed the Muslim conquerers, who armed them and for a short while placed them in control of the conquered Andalusian cities. By 750 Muslim occupation extended over all of Hispania, the Roman name for the peninsula. It included present day Spain, Portugal and parts of southern France, see map of 750 CE: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APen%C3%ADnsula_ib%C...

The Reign of Abd-al-Rahman III, Caliph of Qur?ubah (Córdoba) (912-961)

The rise to power of Islamic Iberia began in 756 CE when Abd-al-Rahman I of the Umayyad dynasty of Damascus was exiled. He established the Emirate of Cordoba, as the territory of Al-Andalus became known. It was my favorite ruler, Abd-al-Rahman III, some 156 years later who effectively created a unified, thriving European Islamic Empire. Except for some northern territories lost after 750 CE to Christian rulers, it still extended over most of the Iberian peninsula and a small area of North Africa, the latter not visible on this map of 910 CE: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APen%C3%ADnsula_ib%C...

During his long reign Abd-al-Rahman III used diplomacy when possible and force whenever necessary to keep his northern Christian neighbors at bay. To rule his own motley subjects, Abd-al-Rahman III brilliantly combined an iron fist with equitable policies that could be embraced by Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. During the Caliphate of Cordoba many Jews who, unlike the Christian masses, spoke Arabic, held the highest offices: they were advisers, administrators, philosophers, physicians, traders, and translators. Christians, the majority in Muslim Spain, were traditionally employed as soldiers and tax collectors, an occupation were speaking the vernacular was crucial. If they did speak Arabic, they often were translators to Muslim officials and some of the Arabic speaking Christians rose to the position of kâtib adh-dhimam or secretary of the covenant, responsible for the protection and security of the followers of the two monotheistic Abrahamic religions older than Islam, the Jews and Christians.

According to the Qu’ran Christians and Jews were considered “People of the Book” or Dhimmi.[7] They had to pay a Jizya, tribute or tax, but were allowed to live by their own laws, customs and religious practices without interference from Muslim rulers, at least during politically stable, peaceful times. The Dhimmi’s rights, with certain restrictions, among them no blasphemy regarding the Muslim faith, no public consumption of alcohol or pork, were fully protected. As ‘non-believers’ they were excused from certain Islam specific duties: they did not have to follow the muezzin’s call to prayer nor were they expected to go on the required pilgrimage to Mecca, the hajj. For details on Christians under Islam, see Kenneth Baxter Wolf, reference [8].

Progressive Changes under Abd-al-Rahman III – Europe’s Debt to Islamic Scholarship

In 929, to some scholars the beginning of the Muslim Golden Age, Abd-al-Rahman III raised the Emirate of Cordoba to a Caliphate, thereby ending Cordoba’s subordinate role to Baghdad which had replaced Damascus as center of the Eastern Muslim world. It gave the Caliph, the legitimate, political successor to the messenger of God (Muhammad) a free hand to rule as he saw fit and make many progressive changes within government, some of them already begun nearly a century earlier by Abd-al-Rahman II:

[I’ve included in brackets a few Arabic loanwords we commonly use, some came to us from Al-Andalus, for a list, see reference [9] (coffle too comes from the Arabic qafila or caravan)].

–– Restored central control over all the population of Muslim Iberia (about 20% Muslims, 5% Jews, the remainder and majority were Christians) and developed the best organized administration found anywhere in western Europe during that era. [Paper, originally from China was introduced to Europe by the Arabs, “ream” is a loan word from the Arabic];

–– Created a fairly efficient treasury and some degree of central accounting. Arabs introduced our numerals, originally from India, in the 10th century to swiftly replace the klutzy Roman numerals –imagine doing a Sudoku with Roman numerals! [They gave us the words “cipher” and “zero” – what would governments and the Fed do without that useful little “zero”?];

–– Under his reign the first gold dinar was struck. It later became known throughout Europe as morabit or morabotin (named after the Almoravids, Berbers from the Maghreb, present-day Morocco. In Castile it was called the maravedi de oro and became the accounting unit for gold.

–– Developed a legal system responsible to the central government for the affairs of the provinces and a court structure divided by region and municipality, “with separate jurisdictions for different kinds of grievances according to civil need and Muslim custom;”

–– Maintained large commercial fleets in the ports of the eastern, southern, and western Iberian coasts and supported an armed navy already established under Abd-al-Rahman II;

–– Created the largest military force in their time without peer in Western Europe consisting of infantry and cavalry [admiral derives from the Arabic amir or emir] but avoided war whenever possible and instead relied on diplomacy and negotiations with neighboring Christian realms.

–– Promoted studies in Philosophy, Religion, and Science and had the classics translated from Greek and Latin into Arabic, learning mostly forgotten in Western Europe during the Dark Age and thankfully preserved by Islamic translators from Córdoba to Bagdad. The first book on comparative religion was written in Arabic by Ibn Hasam of Malaga during the later period of the Cordoban Caliphate and Cordoba born ?Abu l-Walid Mu?ammad bin ?A?mad bin Rušd, commonly known as Ibn Rushd or by his latinized name Averroës, founder of the Averroism school of philosophy, was influential in the rise of secular thought of Western Europe.

–– Advanced the sciences: astronomy [azimuth, nadir, zenith]; mathematics [algebra algorithm, caliber, caliper, cipher, zero]; botany and chemistry [alchemy, alcohol, benzoin, benzene, borax, jar, natron, talc]; and medicine [camphor, elixir]. Note: Scientific text written in Arabic were translated into Latin beginning in the twelfth century, galvanizing the emergence of modern science at the dawn of the Renaissance and climaxing in the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century.

–– Introduced new agricultural techniques and irrigation systems (the water wheel was invented by Arabs, the Albolafia mill in Córdoba is a fine example); leave it to the sons of the desert to appreciate water, see also below, “Cities of Light.”

–– Imported and cultivated East Mediterranean produce: fruits [lemon, lime, orange are Arabic loan words] and grain, olive, rice and spices [the names of many plants and spices like caraway, carob, curcuma, saffron, sumac came to us from the Arabic, even our word candy derives from qand the Arabic name for cane sugar].

–– Nurtured and supported the arts: popular literature, poetry and music [guitar, lute came to the West from Arabia]; Arabs also imported chess from India to Maghreb (present day Morocco) and from there to Spain from where it spread to the rest of Europe.

–– Financed magnificent architecture: the Madinah az-Zahra (Medina Azahara or “brilliant town”), his vast fortified palace city on the outskirts of Córdoba, covering 280 acres, the largest city ever built from scratch in Western Europe. In creating their beautiful buildings, the materials from churches and older structures were re-used and imaginatively modified; paid for the second round of enlargement of the Great Mosque of Córdoba.

–– Paid for the improvements of the cities in the entire realm. Note: this list is based mainly on Stanley G. Payne’s book on the history of Spain, chapter 2, Al-Andalus.[5]

Cities of Light

The true economic backbone of the Cordoba Caliphate and the envy of the rest of the Medieval world were its flourishing cities with their productive and skilled labor. Artisans of the cities produced the finest silk and other textiles, ceramics, leather work, armaments and superb steel workings. Centers of learning and technological advancements attracted artisans and scholars from other parts of the European continent and commerce blossomed and extended well beyond the Iberian peninsula.

While the unwashed masses of Medieval Europe lived in abject poverty and squalor, the subjects of wise ruler Abd-al-Rahman III were prosperous and enjoyed unheard of luxuries:

–– Citizens lived in big houses with running water and court yards with cooling fountains while the populace in Paris still lived in shacks by the side of the river;

–– Had street lights and paved roads;

–– Had hospitals and libraries. Cordoba had one of the largest libraries in the Medieval world, later destroyed by invading Almohads, fundamentalist Berbers from North Africa who objected to the sensuous and in their view decadent lifestyle of Iberia’s Muslim rulers.

–– Had public bathhouses for citizens to comply with the Islamic laws of hygiene and purification. The city of Cordoba alone had 300 bathhouses!

Qur?uba (Córdoba), the Western Muslim capital, with about half a million people was the most sophisticated and prosperous city on the European continent and rivaled Baghdad, capital of the Eastern Muslim Caliphate, in its political power, flourishing culture, and broad economic expansion. It was called the “Ornament of the World” by a Christian nun from Saxony who was enchanted by its oriental opulence and seductive splendor.

The modern visitor can only guess at the grandeur of this jewel of a city when visiting the sumptuously decorated Mosque of Cordoba, the largest place of prayer in all of western Islam (later desecrated by a Catholic cathedral built right into the center of it) or the ruins of the Madinah az-Zahra (Medina Azahara or “brilliant town”), where the excavated area represents only 10% of Abd-al-Rahman III’s vast, fortified palace city on the outskirts of Córdoba. Some of the better preserved ruins let you imagine the former glory of this metropolis with its lush gardens, cooling fountains, and exotic aviaries. This website has the best pictures of the medina not yet fully excavated (the extensive, unexplored area was threatened to be destroyed by the recent, corrupt Spanish real estate boom): http://thewotme.com/2012/11/medina-azahara-el-capricho-del-p..., on the left-hand side under “idiomas” click the Union Jack or “Select Language” if you prefer the English language.

If ruins prevent you to imagine the splendor and magnificence of Muslim’s days past, visit the Alhambra of Granada. It was built considerably later according to strict mathematical principles. It has not lost much of its original architectural beauty despite some later alterations by the Infidels. After a hectic morning of sight-seeing under the blazing Andalusian sun, rest in the shade of the majestic arches, contemplate the lacy arabesques and admire the intricate geometric patterns of the ceilings while listening to Sabicas’ Arabian Dance [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2VROY01EAg ]. I guarantee you’ll be transported back to the mysteries of “One Thousand and One Nights.”

As-salamu `alaykum (Peace be upon you all)


General references
for anyone interested in the history of Islamic Spain or planning to visit Andalusia, I can highly recommend these sources. If your time is limited, I’d recommend watching the video and using Wikipedia to check on dates, etc:

1) Video: Cities of Light - The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain, a nearly 2-hour long video produced 2006 by Unity Productions Foundation in association with ZDF (German Public TV) - ARTE (Franco-German TV) - YLE/Finland - Al Arabiya-3 Productions, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlfQvzh21V4. It is scholarly and by far the best of the available videos I’ve seen about this period.

2) The Library of Iberian Resources Online, LIBRO, is a joint project of the American Academy of Research Historians of Medieval Spain and the University of Central Arkansas to make available to all the best scholarship about the peoples and nations of the Iberian peninsula. The authors or their heirs have given permission to post these scholarly works based on original documents of the period and generally well written http://libro.uca.edu.

3) Wikipedia, “Al-Andalus.” This article has a handy timeline of the history of Al-Andalus with links to other articles on Muslim Spain. Many articles are well written and quite accurate with excellent reference for further enlightenment, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Al-Andalus


[1] WendyB, OT: Computers analyze genizah, http://boards.fool.com/ot-computers-analyze-genizah-30703660... for explanation of “genizah” and good links. Here is another link to The Friedberg Genizah Project, http://www.genizah.org/TheCairoGenizah.aspx

[2] Mishna, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mishna

[3] Maimonides/Rambam [Acronym for Rabbi Moses ben Maimon] (1135-1204), Jewish Virtual Library, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/Maimon...

[4] John Edward Longhurst, The Age of Torquemada, covering the Spanish Inquisition, the Persecution, and the Expulsion of the Jews in 1492, http://libro.uca.edu/torquemada/torquemada.htm [There seem to be periodic gaps probably produced by transcribing or dictating original for online publication]

[5] Stanley G. Payne, A History of Spain and Portugal, v.1, Chapter 2, Al-Andalus, http://libro.uca.edu/payne1/spainport1.htm

[6] Fletcher, Richard (2006) [First published 1992]. Moorish Spain (2nd ed.). Berkeley, California: University Press, Chapter 4: The Caliphate of Córdoba: http://books.google.com/books?id=wrMG-LfuU7oC&pg=PA53#v=...

[7] Wikipedia, Dhimmi, a well-written article, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dhimmi

[8] Kenneth Baxter Wolf, Christian Martyrs in Muslim Spain, Chapter 1, Christians in Muslim Córdoba, http://libro.uca.edu/martyrs/martyrs.htm

[9] Wikipedia: List of Arabic loanwords in English, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=List_of_Arabic_loa...

For Arabic influence on the Spanish language, see http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Arabic_language_in...
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