Al-Andalus is not a culture and a period that exists simply in a remote past. Its achievements can be experienced when we visit a restaurant, admit ourselves to hospital, travel around the world, yearn for spiritual enlightenment, argue about religion and science, and struggle for a multicultural society.
6.1 | Reclaiming Al-Andalus
Only on my third visit to the Alhambra did I really begin to understand the writing on the wall. The palace-fortress of the Nasrid rulers of Granada can be read – if you know Arabic – just like a book.
On 26 November 1938, Gandhi published in his journal Harijan a reasonably lengthy statement entitled simply, ‘The Jews’. ‘My sympathies,’ he candidly stated, ‘are all with the Jews.’
The Arabs conquered the Iberian Peninsula in 711, integrating it into the Islamic Empire, and in 1492 the Catholics put an end to the peninsula’s last Muslim entity, the Kingdom of Granada. These eight centuries represent the longest civilisational period in the history of what we now call Spain, and the Arabs called al-Andalus.
Every Muslim has heard of al-Andalus, where Europe meets Africa, where the Mediterranean almost closes its lips. It’s a land of sonority and luminosity, a storied land, an imagined land.
Al-Ghazzali, the Muslim theologian and jurist, considered the Muslim society of his time to be so deeply afflicted with social sickness, ‘an epidemic among the multitude’ as he calls it, as to be virtually insane. The only cure was a ‘moral therapy’, a heavy dose of religious devotion and piety. Religion, it seems, was not unlike Erasmus Darwin’s rotating chair: it would spin those persistently ‘straying from the clear truth’, those insistent ‘upon fostering evil’ and ‘flattering ignorance’, at great speed, thus rearranging their brains into pious order, while, as an added benefit, forcing them to spew out their heresies.