The myth of Islamic enlightenment 4

A Wall Street Journal editorialist in a grossly distorted encomium to Muslim Spain, mentioned the “pan-confessional humanism”  of Andalusian Islam, and even asserted: “one could argue that the oft-bewailed missing ‘reformation’ of Islam was under way there until it was aborted by the Inquisition.”

Maria Rosa Menocal, Yale Professor of Spanish and Portuguese, in her 2002 hagiography of Muslim Spain, The Ornament of the World, has further maintained that “the new Islamic polity not only allowed Jews and Christians to survive, but following Quranic mandate, by and large protected them.”

These quotations are from an essay by Bat Ye’or and Andrew G. Bostom at Jihad Watch. The authors go on to explain that the commonly held view that Andalusian Islam was enlightened and tolerant is a myth:

We believe that reiterating these ahistorical, roseate claims about Muslim Spain abets the contemporary Islamist agenda …

Iberia (Spain) was conquered in 710-716 AD by Arab tribes originating from northern, central and southern Arabia. Massive Berber and Arab immigration, and the colonization of the Iberian peninsula, followed the conquest. Most churches were converted into mosques. Although the conquest had been planned and conducted jointly with a strong faction of royal Iberian Christian dissidents, including a bishop, it proceeded as a classical jihad with massive pillages, enslavement, deportations and killings.

Toledo, which had first submitted to the Arabs in 711 or 712, revolted in 713. The town was punished by pillage and all the notables had their throats cut. In 730, the Cerdagne (in Septimania, near Barcelona) was ravaged and a bishop burned alive. In the regions under stable Islamic control, Jews and Christians were tolerated as dhimmis – like elsewhere in other Islamic lands – and could not build new churches or synagogues nor restore the old ones. Segregated in special quarters, they had to wear discriminatory clothing. Subjected to heavy taxes, the Christian peasantry formed a servile class attached to the Arab domains; many abandoned their land and fled to the towns. Harsh reprisals with mutilations and crucifixions would sanction the Mozarab (Christian dhimmis) calls for help from the Christian kings. Moreover, if one dhimmi harmed a Muslim, the whole community would lose its status of protection, leaving it open to pillage, enslavement and arbitrary killing.

By the end of the eighth century, the rulers of North Africa and of Andalusia had introduced Malikism, one of the most rigorous schools of Islamic jurisprudence, and subsequently repressed the other Muslim schools of law. Three quarters of a century ago, at a time when political correctness was not dominating historical publication and discourse, Evariste Levi-Provencal, the pre-eminent scholar of Andalusia, wrote: “The Muslim Andalusian state thus appears from its earliest origins as the defender and champion of a jealous orthodoxy, more and more ossified in a blind respect for a rigid doctrine, suspecting and condemning in advance the least effort of rational speculation.”

The humiliating status imposed on the dhimmis and the confiscation of their land provoked many revolts, punished by massacres, as in Toledo (761, 784-86, 797). After another Toledan revolt in 806, seven hundred inhabitants were executed. Insurrections erupted in Saragossa from 781 to 881, Cordova (805), Merida (805-813, 828 and the following year, and later in 868), and yet again in Toledo (811-819); the insurgents were crucified, as prescribed in Quran 5:33.

The revolt in Cordova of 818 was crushed by three days of massacres and pillage, with 300 notables crucified and 20,000 families expelled. Feuding was endemic in the Andalusian cities between the different sectors of the population: Arab and Berber colonizers, Iberian Muslim converts (Muwalladun) and Christian dhimmis (Mozarabs). There were rarely periods of peace in the Amirate of Cordova (756-912), nor later.

Al-Andalus represented the land of jihad par excellence. Every year, sometimes twice a year, raiding expeditions were sent to ravage the Christian Spanish kingdoms to the north, the Basque regions, or France and the Rhone valley, bringing back booty and slaves. Andalusian corsairs attacked and invaded along the Sicilian and Italian coasts, even as far as the Aegean Islands, looting and burning as they went. Thousands of people were deported to slavery in Andalusia, where the caliph kept a militia of tens of thousand of Christian slaves brought from all parts of Christian Europe (the Saqaliba), and a harem filled with captured Christian women. Society was sharply divided along ethnic and religious lines, with the Arab tribes at the top of the hierarchy, followed by the Berbers who were never recognized as equals, despite their Islamization; lower in the scale came the mullawadun converts and, at the very bottom, the dhimmi Christians and Jews.

The Andalusian Maliki jurist Ibn Abdun (d. 1134) offered these telling legal opinions regarding Jews and Christians in Seville around 1100 C.E.: “No Jew or Christian may be allowed to wear the dress of an aristocrat, nor of a jurist, nor of a wealthy individual; on the contrary they must be detested and avoided. It is forbidden to [greet] them with the [expression] “Peace be upon you”… “A distinctive sign must be imposed upon them in order that they may be recognized and this will be for them a form of disgrace.”

Ibn Abdun also forbade the selling of scientific books to dhimmis, under the pretext that they translated them and attributed them to their co-religionists and bishops. In fact, plagiarism is difficult to prove since whole Jewish and Christian libraries were looted and destroyed

In Granada, the Jewish viziers Samuel Ibn Naghrela and his son Joseph, who protected the Jewish community, were both assassinated between 1056 to 1066, followed by the annihilation of the Jewish population by the local Muslims. It is estimated that up to five thousand Jews perished in the pogrom by Muslims that accompanied the 1066 assassination. This figure equals or exceeds the number of Jews reportedly killed by the Crusaders during their pillage of the Rhineland, some thirty years later, at the outset of the First Crusade…

The Muslim Berber Almohads in Spain and North Africa (1130-1232) wreaked enormous destruction on both the Jewish and Christian populations…  massacre, captivity, and forced conversion… Maimonides, the renowned philosopher and physician, experienced the Almohad persecutions, and had to flee Cordoba with his entire family in 1148

Although Maimonides is frequently referred to as a paragon of Jewish achievement facilitated by the enlightened rule of Andalusia, his own words debunk this utopian view of the Islamic treatment of Jews: “..the Arabs have persecuted us severely, and passed baneful and discriminatory legislation against us… Never did a nation molest, degrade, debase, and hate us as much as they..”

A valid summary assessment of interfaith relationships in Muslim Spain, and the contemporary currents responsible for obfuscating that history, can be found in Richard Fletcher’s engaging Moorish Spain. Mr. Fletcher offers these sobering, unassailable observations:

“The witness of those who lived through the horrors of the Berber conquest, of the Andalusian fitnah in the early eleventh century, of the Almoravid invasion- to mention only a few disruptive episodes- must give it [i.e., the roseate view of Muslim Spain] the lie. The simple and verifiable historical truth is that Moorish Spain was more often a land of turmoil than it was of tranquility…Tolerance? Ask the Jews of Granada who were massacred in 1066, or the Christians who were deported by the Almoravids to Morocco in 1126 (like the Moriscos five centuries later). In the second half of the twentieth century a new agent of obfuscation makes its appearance: the guilt of the liberal conscience, which sees the evils of colonialism – assumed rather than demonstrated – foreshadowed in the Christian conquest of al-Andalus and the persecution of the Moriscos (but not, oddly, in the Moorish conquest and colonization). Stir the mix well together and issue it free to credulous academics and media persons throughout the western world. Then pour it generously over the truth… [But] Moorish Spain was not a tolerant and enlightened society even in its most cultivated epoch.”

  • scholar

    This is a very skewed representation of the Islamic culture of Al-Andalus. Bat Ye’or is a hack and has no academic credentials. And concerning that comment by Richard Fletcher, saying that we view the Muslim culture of this period through rose-colored spectacles for the sake of twentieth-century political correctness, is simply false. I have analyzed a wide range of Christian primary sources from the 18th and 19th centuries that praise the Islamic invaders for their sophistication and tolerance.

    • C. Gee

      Please say who and where these Christians were and how they describe the “sophistication and tolerance” and in relation to what.

      Does the lack of “academic credentials” automatically invalidate a work? Academic credentials in the field of Middle East Studies is a good predictor of political views. Ditto with “Climate Studies” , “Black Studies” and “Gender Studies”.

      As “scholar” you make the point that the article is “skewed”. The article itself points out that too much is made of Adalusian paradise. Your pointing out that some unnamed Christian primary sources, writing long after that paradise came to an end, praised the Islamic invaders, is not a rigorous case in support of your thesis. I do not cast any aspersions on your credentials.

      • Mrs Westrop

        I agree. And a scholar above all people should realize that 19th Century romantics, who often made up nonsense about Arabs, are not actually primary sources for the time of William I or Henry II. The famous Arabophiles of 1880 are just as much p.c. fashion-victims as professors at Yale in 2010 – they cannot be a primary source for 1066 or 1146 half a millenium earlier.

  • aeschines

    It should also be noted that many figures of so-called Islamic Enlightenment were horribly persecuted in their own time. Avicenna was despised by his peers and by later scholars, especially al-Ghazali, whose condemnation of Avicenna led to the widespread hatred and persecution of intellectuals that continues to this day.

    Averroes (another Andalusian Muslim) was similarly treated by the Imams and religious leaders of his day.

    Muslim Intellectualism – a contradiction in terms?