Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Myth of Al-Andalus

Next time somebody mentions al-Andalus (medieval Muslim Spain) as an example of interfaith utopia and tolerance ("la convivencia"), think again. What strikes me is how ubiquitous the myth of al-Andalus has become, and how it is continually adapted, reappearing in different contexts.

Architecture of the Cathedral of Cordoba, formerly a mosque.

The myth is of course associated with Bin Laden and the lamentation of the loss of Muslim Spain. Side note: the Islamic Commission of Spain issued a fatwa in 2005 condemning Osama Bin Laden.

In the wake of Bin Laden's death, this article by Gil Anidjar is definitely worth re-reading. The article originally appeared in Tikkun magazine in 2009.

Anidjar shows how the myth of a tolerant medieval Muslim Spain has been appropriated and exploited for different (political) purposes. He focuses on how the myth became popular as a self-righteous, self-legitimating narrative in the wake of the 1993 Oslo Accords.
The story [of Al-Andalus] offers the image of an isolated country, a solitary beacon of light and civilization in a dangerous world. The force of the story comes from the limited size of the window of hope it offers--a few hundred years of multicultural coexistence on a relatively small territory--and from the reasons given for its sad conclusion: Its end and failure were and remain Islam's fault.
Parts of the very same narrative that Anidjar critiques appeared in a recent Guardian report on Muslims in Spain, "In Search of the Spirit of Al-Andalus."

For example:
"Islam was the dominant religion, but other faiths were tolerated."
"This was a multicultural city before the reconquest."
"One of the most harmonious communities in Europe was al-Andalus." (note the use of Europe)
However, in Spain, there is currently a small movement of converts to Islam, who draw on (the history of) al-Andalus in order to build a (new) Spanish-Muslim identity.

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