Granada! I hear it as musical climax, which somehow reminds me of the fanfare that greets the torreros as they enter the bullring. Then the tune takes off again in that distinctive rhythm of all things Spanish to the accompaniment of castanets.

It was a packed London underground train, so social interaction was already set at a glacial minimum – the standard non-communication of a late-morning English commuter crowd. In through the sliding door strolled a caricature from Hollywood central-casting of a potentially threatening Muslim male – a tall, big youth, with a thick beard, black boots, camouflage trousers and a vest with big swirling Arabic calligraphy tattooed all over his rippling biceps.

The musical culture of Baghdad was a product of frequent contact and cultural exchange with other civilisations. One of the main characteristics of Arab culture during the pre-Islamic and early Islamic period was the primordial importance accorded to poetry as the basic support system for the music.

When my grandfather came to the United States from Syria in the early twentieth century, he brought with him the mores and values of a Middle Eastern Jewish culture that has not been protected and secured for his descendants. The literary texts as well as the documentary history of his world have been almost completely forgotten amidst a sea of adaptation to a very different way of seeing things. My grandfather was heir to many traditions that were to him a very intimate and organic part of the world in which he grew up: a world that was increasingly collapsing and falling prey to new modes of identification.

More than any other period in Islamic history, the Moorish kingdom of al-Andalus has always shown a remarkable capacity to insinuate itself into the present. The early twenty-first century is no exception.

History, wrote the Roman Catholic saint Gregory of Nyssa (335–395), is a non-stop sequence of new beginnings. Some sixteen centuries later, we are still tied up with the idea that history is all about decline