Al-Andalus

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This article on the ambiguities of Muslm Spain, its famed pluralism & toleration, is interesting in the light of my previous post titled Dar-al-Europa. The author of the Tech Central Station article arguing for a coming “melange civilization” focused on early Ottoman Turkey, a culture that has not been idealized and scrutinized to the same dgree-which I think is a clue as to the present status of Al-Andalus as a Muslim pluralist exemplar. I have stated that I believe many Muslim cultures have a pluralistic & tolerant moment, only to give way to a more assertive Islamic polity, but I am beginning to wonder, do we live in the liberal moment, before the emergence of a more conventional human ordering of things?

8 Comments

  1. The commonly-held idea that Jews-Muslims-Christians had some sort of “equality” in Muslim Spain is just plain wrong

    It’s not even true that all Muslims enjoyed equal esteem – there was a very definite social order, which it was extremely dangerous to challenge:

    1) Arabs
    2) Berbers (North Africans)
    3) Spanish Muslims
    4) Jews
    5) Christians

    1-3 quarreled and fought among themselves continually during the 800-year history of Islamic Spain. This was one of the reasons for the eventual collapse of Muslim rule

    Jews outranked Christians, so it’s understandable that Jews living in the west feel nostalgia for Islamic Spain. But it should never be forgotten that they were outsiders – they had no “rights” in the modern sense, and existed at the mercy of the Muslim authorities

    Massacres, expulsions and dispossession of Jews were more common events than later generations of Jews like to remember

    At the bottom, of course, were the mass of Christian peasants, who throughout the period constituted the majority of the rural population

    They were heavily taxed, subject to arbitary dispossession and enslavement, and prohibited (under pain of death) from preaching their religion or building new churches.

    That they eventually rose up and overthrew the whole system shouldn’t be too suprising…

  2. The author of the Tech Journal article fails to notice an important difference between the early Ottoman Empire and the West. In the first case, the Muslim/Christian division was essentially created without a significant demographic change, since most of the Muslims were just converted Christians. In the second, the Muslim element is almost wholly of immigrant origin.

    There are two important corollaries of this:

    1. In Western Europe there is not only a religious but also a racial gap between Christians and Muslims.

    2. This sort of “syncretism” that the author advocates was easy for the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire who just maintained many of their old beliefs while adopting the new religion of Islam.

    I would also like to add that the “syncretism” of the Ottoman Empire did not happen in a secular democracy but in an autocratic state were Muslims were on top and Christians were at the bottom.

    Historically speaking, there has never been a successful mix of Christianity and Islam. And Christians and Muslims have never been able to live peacefully in a single state if their numbers were comparable.

  3. I have come to the conclusion that Christianity/Islam/Judaism is a gigantic case of sibling rivalry.

  4. I would agree that it is a matter of “sibling rivalry”.

    The Middle East and North African regions have been interlinked with Europe for most of their history. The prime constituent elements of Judeo-Christian and Islamic civilisation are similar save one is a faith found in the Western Mediterranean whilst the other has historically found strength in the eastern basin of the Mediterranean sea.

  5. And Christians and Muslims have never been able to live peacefully in a single state if their numbers were comparable.

    The Muslim and Christian populations in Kazakhstan are evenly divided, and they have coexisted peacefully so far. Granted, it’s a young nation and this might look different ten or twenty years down the road, but right now there are no real signs of division.

  6. >> The Muslim and Christian populations in Kazakhstan are evenly divided, and they have coexisted peacefully so far. Granted, it’s a young nation and this might look different ten or twenty years down the road, but right now there are no real signs of division.

    In the long view of history this has never happened. Granted, that there have been periods of peace in Christian-Muslim territories, stretching even for generations, but this was always followed by war or the expulsion of one or the other community.

    Also, google on “Christians Kazakhstan persecution” for some early signs of things to come.

  7. I’ve lived in Kazakhstan for over a year. The Muslims there are about as Muslim as Razib. I saw about as many mosques there as here. There are no calls to prayer. No fountains for washing. People drink a LOT. What remains of their religion is relics of animist superstition. Prayers to the sky and rain before eating, the evil eye, etc. Most people don’t know who Mohammed was, what Allah is, or which they are supposed to worship.
    Despite all of this, most self-identify as Muslim and are sympathetic to Muslims in their conflicts when they hear about them on TV.
    They are VERY susceptible to missionaries and conversion to Christianity or to random cults like the Moonies.
    I saw little evidence of active Christianity, but not nearly as little. Widespread conversion seems likely, if for no other reason than that the Christians there actively prosletize while the Muslims don’t.

  8. What remains of their religion is relics of animist superstition

    please note that the country kazakhs did not “convert” to islam until the 18th century or later. in fact, catherine the great encouraged muslim missionaries. it is not surprising then that islam has such shallow roots, they were never deep to begin with.

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