The Golden Age of Arab Spain:
I love reading the opinions of others. It is through this that I get motivated to think and write about ideas that are new to me.
I read a piece recently claiming that Spain’s Catholics somehow lied about, or wildly exaggerated, the “Moslem Invasion” of 711. The author called it a “myth.” The purpose of the myth, according to the writer, was for the Church to blame an embarrassingly dark period in its history on something foreign that “She” could not have stopped. An interesting point of view that I cannot, at this point, share.
In my opinion there is overwhelming evidence (linguistic, artistic and architectural) that much of Spain south of Toledo and possibly north as far as Zaragoza was occupied by a liberal Arabic dynasty centred in Cordoba for close to three centuries.
Yes, Liberal Arabs:
I used the adjective, liberal, because openness to new ideas and tolerance of Christians and Jews was emblematic of the threatened Umayyad dynasty that entered Spain in 711 after fleeing Damascus, the Umayyad capital based in Syria. Umayyads had put together the fifth largest empire in history. Animal likenesses were not forbidden, as ceramic evidence found at Madinat Al Zahra, the new and beautiful city just outside Córdoba built by Abd ar-Rahman III, proves. Short-lived, Madinat Al Zahra (City of Radiance) was completed in 961 and destroyed ca. 1031 by rival, fundamentalist Moslem factions from North Africa. Wars between rival taifas (city-states) over the next couple of centuries weakened the Moslems, who became vulnerable to Christians fighting to retake Spain. The great Arab Philosopher, Averroës, and the Jewish Talmudic authority, Maimonides, bravely worked there in the 12th century. The last Moslem city to fall to the Reconquista was Granada in 1492, when the Inquisition zealots, Fernando y Isabel, finally drove them out or forced them to convert, as they also forced the Jews and other opponents of Roman Catholicism.
To dismiss the Golden Age of Andalusía, in which poetry, scholarship and philosophy thrived unlike anywhere else then in a darkened Europe, as a myth is a concept totally new to me.
Arab scholars in the three centuries of the Golden Age in Andalusía translated the works of the Greek philosophers. It was through their enlightened interest that Greek philosophy eventually spread to centres of learning in Paris and throughout Europe.
One Caveat: Aristotle is Overrated
Greek philosophy has indeed been a bit of a mixed blessing for Homo sapiens. Aristotle’s mind-numbing classifications are, I believe, the cause of today’s misguided worship of science and every other intellectual discipline that falsely lists and atomizes, like disconnected bits, what they observe in our interconnected biosphere. Westerners seem to have got it largely wrong since after Socrates’ time. Plato was on the cusp: his huge, inspiring vision fatally disrespected the insight of earlier sophists. Socrates was, perhaps, the last true Sophist. We are now in a new, disconnected, Dark Age that worships technology.
This pernicious, centuries-long, self-absorbed wrong-headedness, while it has given us huge technological power, has distracted us from seeing the tragedy of our species’ compulsive decimation of our irreplaceable, biosphere. We need to see living things as one, complex being. We belong to each other.
Scattered Seed Banks of Hope:
Personally, I am a non-theist. I follow no Abrahamic faith, whether Judaism, Christianity or Islam, but believe in giving credit where credit is due to any areas or periods of relative light. I am convinced that Moslem Spain, for three centuries and more, was such a period.
Hope, today, is under assault. It needs nurturing. Seeds of enlightenment can be found in the past and in the present. Let us not destroy them. Córdoba’s example is one, precious, inspiring, healing seed bank of hope. We need another Golden Age, and fast..