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Rera tells the full story of Islamic Spain The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise shines light on hidden history by drawing on an abundance of primary sources that scholars have ignored as well as archaeological evidence only recently unearthedThis supposed beacon of peaceful coexistence began of course with the Islami. Excellent reading for people with islami phobic tendencies but little of historical value for anyone else The very broad brush taken by the author to paint the Spanish conuest as an Islamic holy war is ridiculous reason when he himself concedes that the very first raids by the Berbers yielded much booty and many beautiful captives which prompted further attacks Jihad was cited as a reason because Islam was the majority religion of the Berbers If the same Berbers happened to be Christian would the esteemed author uote from the Bible like he has done in his book I would have expected any historian to be at least informed that wars are conducted only for material gains justifications vary from time to time but the ulterior motive remains the same booty

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The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise

C Caliphate’s conuest of Spain Far from a land of religious tolerance Islamic Spain was marked by religious and therefore cultural repression in all areas of life and the marginalization of Christians and other groups all this in the service of social control by autocratic rulers and a class of religious authoriti. This book is ferociously erudite but tinged with obsession True nearly all modern academic and popular mention of Muslim Spain endorses an easily disproved falsehood that Muslim Spain was a golden land of tolerance offering uniue scientific and cultural advancement So I suppose that the opposite falsehood that Muslim Spain was a nasty land of unbroken intolerance where nothing was accomplished in a sense merely balances the scales But a reader of The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise still feels like he s once again only getting part of the picture and getting berated into the bargain rather than getting what most readers really want which is an analysis that is objective as possibleIt is no secret that it is difficult today to get a straight story about any aspect of historical Muslim world Most offerings range from laughably false and whitewashed pro Islam anything by Karen Armstrong or many other authors to one note one sided vitriol against Islam anything by Robert Spencer This difficulty exists because Islam today lies at the intersection of numerous political suabbles ranging from the Israeli Palestinian conflict to European ideological multiculturalism to numerous breeds of oppression theory to fears of terrorism and of a resurgent Islam in a clash of civilizations Therefore nearly all publications since 1980 or so have a distinct ideological tinge as do many earlier originating in anti Catholicism such as Runciman s histories of the Crusades It would be nice if for any period in Muslim history authors would simply address the reality of what happened not imposing the template of their politics on either the substance of or the focus upon the actions of the protagonists Thus in medieval Spain rather than talking about whether Abd al Rahman I was tolerant or intolerant we should talk about what he did and why But unfortunately that is not this book Oh we are told what he did but only the parts that show he was intolerant Which is doubtless true but I doubt he was as much a one trick pony as the author tell usDar o Fern ndez Morera painstakingly frames his book in direct opposition to the lumbering philo Muslim herd of recent decades Each chapter and sub chapter is headed by uotations from eminent scholars the purpose of which is to set the substance of those uotations and those scholars up for being demolished in the succeeding pages This is a very effective device for it as the Marxists say heightens the contradictions And Fern ndez Morera does indeed accomplish the demolition he seeks Thus there is never any doubt about his purpose which he achieves with the focus of AhabMore precisely the author s purpose is not just to undermine the myth of a golden age of tolerance it is to focus on the domination of the Maliki school of Islam in Muslim Spain and to claim that in effect Muslim Spain often functioned as a type of hierocracy where Maliki clerics held substantial political power The traditional view of most Muslim systems is not that they were theocratic or hierocratic for that matter but that they were caesaropapist that secular rulers had very significant religious power Maliki clerics in Spain were not interested in tolerance or anything at all resembling what modern Western liberals want That is the secular rulers of Muslim Spain may or may not at any given time have been doctrinally flexible in their personal lives drowning themselves in wine and concubines though the latter is generally accepted in Islam but the actual conduct of broader society was dictated by the legal thought and practice of inflexible and intolerant Maliki clericsFern ndez Morera begins with various framing and definitional matters If one concept characterizes the book it s that convivencia the propagandistic term often used to conclude with little evidence that there was a wonderful spirit of mutual tolerance throughout Muslim Spain is wholly bogus As the author points out that there were mutual influences among different groups in Muslim Spain shows nothing mutual influences always exist under every conueror Thus This book s interpretive stance is Machiavellian not Panglossian Even when individual Muslims Jews and Christians cooperated with one another out of convenience necessity mutual sympathy or love these three groups and their numerous subgroups engaged for centuries in struggles for power and cultural survival manifested in often subtle ways that should not be glossed over for the sake of modern ideals of tolerance diversity and convivencia And again just because certain secular rulers lived dissolute lives does not mean that was the norm for regular people any than I might add that just because Charles II had lots of mistresses polygamy was the norm in Restoration England If the author had limited himself to proving this thesis rather than stamping on the idea that there was ever any element of convivencia in Muslim Spain his book would have been very successfulRather than relying on secondary sources Fern ndez Morera uses mostly primary sources This is because of the corruption of the secondary sources largely because of the Gulf states their funding of Western university departments related to Islam is vast but conditioned on toeing the pro Sunni Muslim line something academics under the spell of Edward Said and oppression studies have no problem with The author s grasp of languages seems to be immense which certainly helps him offer a lot of backup to his thesis There are a hundred pages of footnotes most to primary sources The reader can t therefore complain that the book contains falsehoods unlike say every paragraph Karen Armstrong writes But he can complain of imbalanceThe author begins with Conuest and Reconuest in which Fern ndez Morera attacks the modern attempt to recast the Islamic conuest of Visigothic Spain as a mere migration having no religious component or jihad element This modern argument is obviously on weak ground since that would make the Muslim incursion into Christian Spain uniue in Muslim history and contrary to Muslim theology Not that Fern ndez Morera attempts to parse Muslim theology which has many strands over many centuries His point is simpler the actual conuerors of Spain told us exactly why they did it over and over and whether there is actually such a thing as jihad as inner struggle in Islam no conueror of Spain ever mentioned jihad in any context other than the physical conuest and domination of the Christians and JewsThe conuest of Christian Spain was fast accomplished through both war and short term uickly broken treaties though its speed was not without historical parallel roughly ten years And the author notes something else not often mentioned today the Arab conuerors as well as the defeated Christians again and again pointed out the critical role of the Jews in supporting the Arab conuest including through administration of conuered cities as the Arabs moved on to new conuests This is hardly surprising Muslim conuests throughout the Middle East were greatly helped not just by the weakness and disorganization of conuered societies such as Sassanid Persia and Visigothic Spain itself but also by the freuent active cooperation of religious minorities such as the Nestorian Christians in Egypt who especially in the early years of the Muslim conuests saw Islam as just another Christian heresy and one that would reduce taxes and let them practice their brand of Christianity in peace thus one whose rule was preferable to the Greek Roman EmpireIt s in this first chapter that some of the book s defects as writing show up All too freuently the book reads like a flat recitation of facts and references delivered in staccato fashion with not infreuent repetition of the same facts We are told repeatedly about tabiun contemporaries of Muhammad s companions whose presence on campaign was regarded as highly desirable that Ibn Khaldun disparaged Arab building techniues and most often of all that the famous Mosue of C rdoba now thankfully a cathedral was built on the Basilica of St Vincent destroyed by the conuerors All these things are interesting and even relevant but being told once would have been enough and the repetition either indicates bad editing or the edge of obsession probably the latter since most of these are used in service of a negative light being cast on the conuerors No doubt much they did was negative but they must have done some neutral or even good things What those are we are not toldIn the next chapter the author s main purpose is to establish that Visigothic Spain far from being a backward society improved by superior Muslim culture was in fact a flowering hybrid of Roman and Visigothic culture largely destroyed by a mostly retrograde Islam except for a few elements that survived such as the Visigothic horseshoe arch often described as an Islamic element This is a variation on the generally accepted modern view that the Dark Ages weren t that dark at all I have a lot of sympathy for this view and elements of it are surely true including that it was not Arabs rather it was mostly the Greek Roman Empire that preserved the texts of Aristotle and other Classical writers supplemented by Christian scribes under Islam On the other hand both documentary and archaeological evidence of this period is slim and the author I think tries to spin too much out of too little But what I have no sympathy for is his freuent references to and reliance on a secondary source Emmet Scott s Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited This is a 2012 book updating the thesis of Henri Pirenne from the 1930s that the Dark Ages were caused by the rise of Islam because it ended trade and most contacts between Europe and the East both in the Mediterranean and to a lesser extent overland thus turning Europe temporarily into a backwater when it was otherwise still flourishing after the fall of Rome This thesis certainly has something to it although it tends to get little modern hearing since it suggests that there could be something negative about the impact of Islam But Scott s present day book which endorses and updates Pirenne comes very close to endorsing the bizarre Phantom Time Hypothesis that today is really 1720 not 2017 because Emperor Otto III and Pope Sylvester II inserted the years AD 614 911 into the calendar The supposed proof of this turns on a nearly complete lack of archaeological evidence for those centuries which might support Pirenne but given say Chinese records the idea of phantom time is sheer stupidity like most conspiracy theories positing multi generational gnosis I read Scott s book when it came out in 2012 and this was a disturbing element of the book Though Scott never directly endorsed the Phantom Time Hypothesis instead tiptoeing around it he was clearly sympathetic Looking around now I see that Scott later in 2014 wrote a book formally endorsing it Therefore that Fern ndez Morera cites Scott heavily does not or should not help his case yes Pirenne may well be right but crackpots should be avoided and the case for the flowering of Visigothic Spain being cut short not overstatedThe rest of the book is taken up with an encyclopedic rendering in multiple chapters of the bad behavior of Muslims toward Jews Christians and women in Muslim Spain Although no informed person really thinks that Muslim Spain was for the 500 years of its existence 700 if you include the 200 years in which it was reduced to the rump of Granada a model of tolerance traditionally the earlier Umayyad dynasty and the fragmented taifa kingdoms which followed it have been regarded as tolerant than the later Almohad and Almoravid dynasties Fern ndez Morera will have none of this relying largely on Maliki texts and primary texts showing the actual application of the rigid Maliki rules he insists that non Muslims were uniformly treated poorly Yes occasional Christians and Jews rose in the Muslim power hierarchy and yes for some periods the rules reuiring constant humiliation of non Muslims weren t aggressively enforced But mostly they were interspersed with pogroms and massacres of both Christians and Jews the latter in particular came in for abuse because of their education and prosperity some things apparently never change Women always had vastly freedom and power in Europe than anywhere in Islam including Muslim Spain And dhimmi status was the best Christians could hope for when they weren t being accused of being polytheists because of belief in the Trinity and killed outright which was only protection in the sense of protection racket an organized form of monetary extortion in exchange for a temporary abeyance of violence against the personNone of this is surprising to any educated person the uniform history of Islam in power is that of a triumphalist religion in which some and some only minority religions are allowed to exist as long as they pay taxes and recognize the temporal authority of Islam over them I have no doubt that all the data texts and examples Fern ndez Morera offers are both true and accurate All this is a valuable corrective to the philo Muslim anti Christian view that normally dominates in the academy and in the media today supplemented by outright lies often offered by American politicians as they declare their willing submission to Islam But this book offers only a one dimensional picture no different than the one dimensional picture usually offered of Christian Europe as a nasty intolerant place Sometimes it was sometimes it wasn t and the same has to be true of Muslim Spain Any ambiguity in this book is always resolved against Islam The reader or at least this reader is unhappy not to get a complete picture Maybe the corrective is needed but the reader is tired of being a kickball in the ideological wars Yes the Reconuista was awesome and should be celebrated and isn t celebrated enough today But that doesn t mean we should endorse viewing history through a pinhole

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Scholars journalists and even politicians uphold Muslim ruled medieval Spain “al Andalus” as a multicultural paradise a place where Muslims Christians and Jews lived in harmonyThere is only one problem with this widely accepted account it is a mythIn this book Northwestern University scholar Darío Fernández Mo. Fernandez Morera strips away the veil created by politically correct modern historians to look at the real face of Muslim Spain based on contemporary predominantly Arab sources Conscious that he is taking on the entrenched academic establishment Professor Fernadez Morera documents his book meticulously uoting numerous sources for each assertion and providing than 100 pages of notes What emerges is a hideous image of brutal aggression consciously humiliating oppression and intolerance on all sides Muslim Christian and Jewish This book is not a diatribe against Islam Rather it is a bitter and biting attack on Western historians who in their search for an example to justify their own fantasies about multicultural harmony inside Islam have ignored or consciously distorted the facts For example Fernandes Morera uotes the following passage from another contemporary historian It is important to understand that medieval Islamic civilization had a different attitude toward slavery than that seen in Western Europe Slaves were much better treated and their status was uite honorable Further there were many career opportunities open to a skillful mamluk slave soldier and the higher standards of living available in the Islamic Middle East meant there was often little resistance to being taken as a slave in Central Asia and south eastern Europe Fernandes Morera replies One can certainly imagine the throngs of girls and boys in Greece Serbia and Central Asia clamoring to be taken away from their families to be circumcised to become sexual slaves or to be castrated to guard harems as eunuchs or in other cases to be raised in barracks with the sole purpose of becoming fearless slave soldiers Fernandez Morera systematically debunks the allegations of a relaxed Islam and multicultural euality He does so by uoting Arab sources which among other things brag about the wholescale destruction of churches and the slaughter of Christian prisoners praise the crucifixion of apostates and texts advising Muslims how to collect the tax from non believers Make them stand before Muslims sitting on a raised platform call them enemy of Allah and then push them around for the amusement of any Muslim who wants to enjoy it He also documents the extent to which Islamic Spanish society was dependent on slaves For example Abd al Rahman had 3750 slaves in his court 6300 sexual slaves in his harem and 13 750 slave soldiers Further he notes that slaves were a major export of the kingdom particularly eunuchs castrated Christian males He documents the racism that characterized all blacks as fickle foolish and ignorant and valued white slave girls at almost 15 times that of black slave girlsFernandez Morera reminds readers that in Islamic Spain sharia law was the law of the land and he goes into considerable detail on the specific form of sharia law applied namely the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence He points out that the Maliki school far from being particularly liberal and tolerant is one of the conservative schools though not the most conservative an honor that corresponds to the Habali school predominant in the Arabian Peninsula Fernandes Morera p 96 Fernandez Morera points out that Maliki sharia law included many niceties like female genital mutilation even for adult sexual slaves counted a woman as half a man and banned musical instruments and singing altogether as well as painting and sculpture of course The law even went so far as to order a man who bought a non Muslim sex slave and discovered she was a singer to return her p 108 Obviously as Fernandez Morera admits the elites in Muslim Spain as all over the world often ignored the law Non Muslim slave singers and dancers are tolerated and even coveted However he is right to remind his readers that lapses in the application of law do not constitute a positive culture much less a shining example of paradise In short Fernandez Morera uses the Arabic sources to create his picture of Islamic Spain and he applies logic and common sense ruthlessly to expose political correctness masuerading as history This book is important not just to those interested in learning about Medieval Spain but as a lesson in how ideology can pervert allegedly scholarly writing I recommend to everyone with an interest in history and historiography


10 thoughts on “The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise

  1. says:

    Fernandez Morera strips away the veil created by politically correct modern historians to look at the real face of Muslim Spain based on contemporary predominantly Arab sources Conscious that he is taking on the entrenched academic

  2. says:

    Edited on 12920 to add Here book chapter based on the blog post on 7619 to add On the basis of my blog post about this book I was invited to con

  3. says:

    A while back I was watching a well known travel show on You Tube about the Andalusian area of Spain Once they started going on and on about won

  4. says:

    The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise Muslims Christians and Jews Under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain by Dario Fernandez Morera is a polemic against the proponents of La Convivencia The Coexistence the belief that Muslims Ch

  5. says:

    Excellent reading for people with islami phobic tendencies but little of historical value for anyone else The very broad brush taken by the author to paint the Spanish conuest as an Islamic holy war is ridiculous reason when he himself concedes that the very first raids by the Berbers yielded much booty and many beautiful captives which pro

  6. says:

    The author DESTROYS the myths by John Esposito and other so called Islamic scholars about how wonderful Spain was suppose

  7. says:

    This books re examines and re interprets the depiction of the historical territory of Al Andalus – medieval Spain under Islamic rule The auth

  8. says:

    This book is ferociously erudite but tinged with obsession True nearly all modern academic and popular mention of Muslim Spain endorses an easily disproved falsehood—that Muslim Spain was a golden land of tole

  9. says:

    Please give my review a helpful vote Myth of the Andalusian Paradise by Dario Fernandez MoreraThis is a detailed well supported and highly engaging book The thesis of the author Dario Fernandez Morera is that Spain prior to the Muslim conuest

  10. says:

    This is a great book that really has me wondering about what passes as scholarship at many of our institutions of higer learning Author Dario Fernandez Morerra begins each chapter with a uote or two from a noteworthy person usually a college professor in Arabic Studies or a similar field Each person uoted states how wonderful life was under muslim rule in Medieval Spain What tolerance of Christianity and Judaism the muslim conuerors exhibi