Islamic Spain – A Golden Era Fahmida Mehreen
Religion is not just about faith and belief. It is a robust idea that defines the lifestyle. All around the world, religion has been shaping people’s lives in more than how they worship or believe in the divinity. Likewise, decades ago, the culture of one of the prominent civilizations was established based on the pillars of Islam – Islamic Spain. It consisted of a multicultural mix of people from three religions: Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Even under a lot of restrictions and boundaries, the Christians and Jews managed to live in harmony with the Muslims and happened to benefit each other in the context.
The history looks back to 711 C.E. when Muslim forces invaded Spain and, within a time of seven years, conquered the Iberian Peninsula. In the year 711 C.E., an oppressed and fraught Christian leader named Julian went to Musa Ibn Nusair, the governor of North Africa, with an appeal for assistance against Roderick, the autocratic Visigoth ruler of Spain. In response to the plea, Musa sent a young general named Tariq bin Ziyad with an army of 7,000 troops. Roderick was killed in battle when the Muslim army defeated the Visigoth army.
The name ‘Gibraltar’ derived from Jabal At-Tariq, the Arabic of which is ‘Rock of Tariq’ was named after the place where the Muslim army landed. Nonetheless, like many other chapters in history, there are different flips of opinion. All do not believe the story of the plea. Unquestionably, Tariq conquered Spain, but the motive for it may have more to do with the Muslim energy to enlarge their territory. As a result of the first victory, the Muslims won over most of Spain and Portugal with ease, and with little resistance, and by 720 C.E., Spain was largely under Muslim control. The hub of Muslim rule was Andalusia in Southern Spain. Andalusia comes from the term Al-Andalus used by the Arabs which came from the vandals who had been settled in the region.
The Islamic state of Spain stabilizes holding the establishment of the Andalusian Umayyad dynasty. A great deal of accreditation goes to Amir Abd al-Rahman, the founder of the Emirate of Cordoba, who pulled various Muslim groups in Spain together to rule it. The dynasty lasted from the year 756 C.E. to 1031 C.E. The Muslim Era in Spain is called to be a ‘Golden Age’ because it was time when the civilization rose in all phases starting from literature, architecture, philosophy, and so much more. Libraries, colleges and public baths were built all across. To the flowing culture, both Muslims and Non-Muslims contributed. The city of Córdoba still holds magnificent mosques with periodic arched panoramas and became the center of a sophisticated Hispano-Islamic civilization that stood parallel with Byzantium and Baghdad. Towards late 11th century, Córdoba was united with the Kingdom of Seville where it continued to prosper as an intellectual epicenter, until reconquered by the Christians in 1236.
Abu ‘Abd Allah Ibn Yusuf Ibn Nasr Al-Ahmar, who became king as Muhammad I and ruled from 1232 C.E. to 1273 C.E. and later founded the Nasrid dynasty, established the kingdom of Granada at the beginning of 13th century out of the remains of Almoravid power in Spain. The history of Granada encompasses domestic predicaments because of the existence of influential landowning figures. The rulers of Granada looked for political support from Morocco. The Moroccan influences had established a military rule in this part of the state. The source of income for central government depended on extensive trade of silk. However, over the years, disunity grew in this region resultant from internal struggles. Hence, the Catholic Monarchs took advantage of this situation and eventually, Boabdil, the last king of Granada, surrendered the city of Granada in 1492. To remind us about the rich history of Granada stands Alhambra. After the establishment of the Nasrid kingdom, Alhambra was the royal residence and court of Granada in the mid 13th century. The fortress with high walls and protective towers has houses in two main areas: one is the military zone or Alcazaba, which is the barracks of the royal guard, and the second is the medina or palatine city, where the famous Nasrid Palaces and the remains of the houses of nobles and plebeians are. Beautiful orchards and gardens surround the monumental complex. The castle is a major tourist attraction in Spain that symbolizes the existence of Islamic rule. In the later period, the Alhambra became a Christian court in 1492 when the Catholic Monarchs conquered Granada. Several structures were built to house important citizens, military barracks, a Church and a Franciscan Monastery.
In Spain, Islamic literature attained its greatest state during the ‘taifa’ era when al-Mu’tamid, the poet-king of Seville, established an academy of letters, and al-Mansur’s poet, Ibn Darraj al-Qastalli, retreated in Saragossa who had written a series of qasa’id, or poems, of unmatched splendor. Al-Andalus was at the forefront of European sciences by the end of 11th century. Al-Mu’tamin, the Saragossan king, was a fine mathematician himself and gathered distinguished scholars and philosophers at his court. Muslims, Christians and Jews teamed up on the ‘Materia Medica’ which is a revision of the Eastern Arabic version of the first-century Greek physician Dioscorides’ text and throughout Al-Andalus further medicinal plant properties were being discovered and circulated.
One of the vital significance of Islamic Spain was the silk trade. It was a large part of Al-Andalus’s export trade. The Almoravids dynamically industrialized textile production. It was the most affluent and brilliant period, and within the first quarter of the 12th century, Almería took over from Córdoba and became one of the first great manufacturing cities. The Almoravid silks stood out above all others and are often mentioned as “the Baghdad imitations” more precisely. A special technique in these textiles are fine woven lines between two contrasting colors and highlighted outlines in preference to a solid color. It was a technique Spanish weavers developed with such skill that their subtle and sophisticated textiles were more like a painted minuscule. Such was the supremacy of the finest textiles that earned loads of fortune for the Spanish traders during Islamic rule.
Like the rise and fall of all empires, Islamic Spain came to an end in 1492. The collapse of the Islamic rule was predominantly because of the conflicting divisions among the Muslim rulers. In the early 11th century, the single caliphate was broken into several small kingdoms. The first big Islamic state to fall to Christianity was Toledo in 1085. Eventually, Muslims started to lose their power in Spain. By 1502, Christian rulers were dominant and taking over mightily in Spain. And with that, closes the golden age of Spain with the opening of new chapters of triumph and failures. n
Fahmida Mehreen is a young aspiring writer.