Featured Islamic History

Civilization in Muslim Spain

JANUARY 1985 CIVILIZATION IN MUSLIM SPAIN 33 CIVILIZATION IN MUSLIM SPAIN By Dr. Qazi Muhammad Barkatullah The Muslims led the world for five centuries from 700 to 1200 A.D. in power, law and order, system of government, cultivation of manners, standards of living, cultural and social life, religious tolerance, literature, science, medicine, art, philosophy and scholar- ship, etc. Rarely has a society produced in an equal period in history innumerable illustrious men in various areas such as government, medicine, education, literature, history, geography, philosophy, mathematics, chemistry, and astronomy. The reader will thus marvel at the Muslim civilization for the impact it had on the rest of the world. An orientalist observed: “Never was Andalusia so mildly, justly, and wisely governed as by her Arab conquerors” (Lan-Poole, S. Story of the Moors in Spain, p. 43). Al-Maqqari gives a hundred examples of the justice, liberality, and refinement of the rulers of Spain. Their management of public affairs was the most competent in the Western world of that period. Laws were rational and administered by a well organized judiciary. For the most part, the subjects of the land, were governed by their own laws and officials. Towns were well policed; markets, weights and measures were well supervised. A regular census recorded population and property. Taxation was reasonable. The revenues of the Muslim Caliphate had reached higher than the United govern- mental revenues of Latin Christian world. This became possible not due to high taxes, but for well governed and progressive agriculture, industry and trade. (Chapman, C.E. History of Spain, N.Y. 1930). The Muslim people, as a whole, were literate, kings, caligraphers, and merchants like physicians might be philosophers. It has been remarked that the Muslims were better gentlemen than their Chris- tian peers. The Muslims kept their word more frequently and show- ed more mercy to the defeated than the practice which was prevalent in the rest of the Christian world. “The only thing the Christians ex- celled the Muslims, during these centuries, was their low morality in areas of everyday life. (Will Durant The Story of Civilization, Vol. 4, p. 394). 34 THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS JANUARY 1985 The Arab conquest proved to be a boon for the native peasants. The Arab leaders in their turn accumulated large tracts and for the most part left the actual work of agriculture to the conquered. However, they supervised the whole process and under their direc- tion the agricultural science developed in Spain far in advance of Christian Europe. The Oxen used in plowing were largely replaced by ass, mule and horse. (Clapham and Power, Cambridge Economic History of Europe, Camb. Univ. Press Vol. 1, 1944). The influence of Muslims upon Christian world was varied and immense. Christian Europe received Muslim influence in such things as food, drinks, medicine, armors, heraldry, artistic taste, industrial and commercial articles and techniques. Muslim Spain taught to Christian Europe the culture of rice, buckwheat, sugar cane, pomegranates, cotton, spinach, asparagus, silk, banana, cherries, oranges, lemons, quinces, grapefruit, peaches, dates, figs, strawber- ries, ginger myrrhete. Muslim Spain at that time enjoyed the reputa- tion of being the ‘garden spot of the world’ and almost a ‘paradise’ of fruits and flowers. Some of the original names of the articles, and commodities, brought from Muslim Spain to the Christian world still retain the original words, e.g., orange, lemon, sugar, syrup, sherbet, julep, elixir, jar, azure, arabesque, mattress, sofa, muslin, satin, bazaar, caravan, check, tariff, traffic, magazine, risk, cable, admiral, etc. The game of chess came to Europe via the Moors and picked up some Persian terms on its way. For example, check-mate is from Shah Mat meaning “the King is dead”. Muslim science developed mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, medicine, and transmitted it to Europe. Some of the Arabic terms still lie embedded in European speech, for example, algebra, zero, cifer, azimuth, alembic, zenith, almanac. And Muslim medicine led the world for about a half a millenium. The ribbed vault was known to Muslims before it made its way to Europe. The rejuvenation of the ceramic art in Italy and France has been attributed to the visits of Italian potters to Muslim Spain. The technique, of workmanship of metal and glass, book binding, were learned from Muslim artisans. Almost everywhere in Europe, weavers looked to Muslims for models and designs. There were bridges, aqueducts, fountains, reser- voirs, public baths, fortresses, and turreted walls, built by Muslim engineers. The Alcazar (Al-Qasr) at Seville and the Alhambra at Grenada were fortresses and palaces combined. Muslim garden was a sort of paradise-park with springs, brooks, fountains, tiled pool, rare flowers, shade, fruit and nut trees. And usually a pavilion for JANUARY 1985 CIVILIZATION IN MUSLIM SPAIN 35 enjoying the open air without the glare of the sun. Rose festivals were celebrated with sumptuous display. The Muslims in Spain enjoyed an abundance of metals such as gold, silver, tin, copper, iron, lead, alum, sulphur, mercury, coral, pearl, rubies. Metallurgy was well developed. Murcia was famous for its iron and brass work; Toledo for its swords; Cordova for shields. Handicraft industry also flourished. Cordova made ‘Cordovan leather’ for Europe. There were eager buyers everywhere in the world for carpets, cushions, silk curtains, shawls, divans manufactured by Muslims in Spain. Al-Maqqari reports that in the 9th century spec- tacles, complex chronometers and flying machines were invented in Cordova. The Muslim products of Spain were carried to Africa and Asia in a merchant fleet consisting of over a thousand ships, and vessels from a hundred ports crowded at the harbors of Spain. The Muslim government maintained regular postal service. The official coinage of gold dinars, silver dirhams and copper ‘fals’ were more stable in comparison to the currency of the contemporary Latin world. The Muslims in Spain had extensive estates. The mer- chants had acquired a lot of land. Wealthy people had made their villas away from the cities to enjoy and relax. The Caliphs had devoted a quarter of their land income for the relief of the poor. The Caliphs in Spain were men of letters and of liberal views. Freedom of worship was accorded to all non-Muslim faiths. The Christians and Jews lived peacefully under the Muslims. They acquired wealth and education and sometimes rose to high place in the government. The Muslims, Jews and Christians mixed with each other freely. Sometimes Muslim males married women of Jewish or Christian faith. Sometimes the same building was used for a church or a mosque. Now and then, Christians and Muslims joined together to celebrate each other’s holidays together. It is recorded that the Christians frequently expressed their preference of Muslim rather than Christian rule. (Lane-Poole, Moors, p. 47). However a Chris- tian clergyman complained about the behavior of Christians under the Muslims: “My fellow Christians delight in the poems and romances of the Arabs. They study the works of Mohammadan theologians and philosophers, not to refute them, but to acquire a correct and elegant arabic style. Alas! the young Christians who are most con- spicuous for their talent have no knowledge of any literature or language save the Arabic. They read and study with avidity Arabic 36 THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS JANUARY 1985 books. They amass whole libraries of them. They everywhere sing the praises of Arabic lore” (Do2y, Spanish Islam, 1913, p. 268). Muslim cities of Spain were well known throughout the world of that tune. Cordova alone had 200,077 houses, 60,300 palaces, 600 mosques, and 700 public baths. (Al-Maqqari, vol. Ill, p. 2). Visitors from other parts of the world marvelled at the wealth of people, and generally speaking, the prosperity of the nation. Every family could afford comfortable means of transportation. The streets were well paved, had raised sidewalks, and were lighted at night. One could travel ten miles straight under the well lighted street lamps and uninterrupted series of buildings without any kind of fear. (Will Durant, op. cit. p. 302). Over the Guadaquiver the Muslim engineers had constructed a great stone bridge of seventeen arches, each fifty Spans in width. The construction of an aqueduct brought to Cordova an abundance of fresh water to be consumed in homes, gardens, fountains and baths. Historians describe the Muslim mansions having luxury, beauty, majestic portals, marble columns, mosaic floors, gilded ceilings with refined artistic decorations. The palaces of the royal family lined for miles the banks of stately streams. The royal palace Al-Zahra was lavishly designed and equipped; 1200 marble columns sustained it, its hall of audience had walls and ceiling of gold and marble, eight doors inlaid with ivory, ebony, precious stones, and basin of quick silver whose undulated surface reflected the dancing rays of sun. Al- Zahra became residential center for the aristocrats, famous for the grace and polish of manners, refinement of tastes and the breadth of its intellectual interests. Later on, on the opposite end of Cordova, another palace. Al-Zahra was constructed which attracted at time intellectuals, poets, lords and courtesans. Both of these renowned palaces were reduced to ashes at the time of Christian revolt. The Foundation of the renowned Cordova Mosque was laid down by Abdur-Rehman I, in 788. The mosque also was known as Blue Mosque which was turned into a Cathedral when the Christians came to power. Abdur Rehman I personally supervised the operation of the construction of the mosque. He had hoped that he would lead the congregation in grateful prayer in that new and majestic mosque. But two years afterwards he departed from the world. And his suc- cessor Al Hisham continued the construction work started by his father. Afterwards, each Caliph in turn, for about two centuries, ^ added a part till in Al Mansur’s time it covered an area of 742 by 472 JANUARY 1985 CIVILIZATION IN MUSLIM SPAIN 37 feet. The exterior showed a beautiful wall made of stone and brick, with numerous towers, and a massive minaret that surpassed all the minarets of the time in size and beauty, so much so that it came to be regarded among the ‘wonders of the world.’ (Al-Maqqari, Vol. 3, p. 21). The Cordova Mosque had nineteen portals, surmounted by horseshoe arches beautifully carved with floral and geometric decoration in stone, and it led to the ‘Court of Ablutions’. In this rectangle, which was paved with colored tiles, stood four fountains, each made of a block of solid marble so large that seventy oxen had been used to haul it to the site. The actual part of mosque consisted of 1290 columns, dividing the interior into eleven naves and twenty-one aisles. From the column capitals sprang a variety of arches—semicircular, pointed, horseshoe form—and most of them with voussoirs or wedge stones, alternately white or red. The columns of jasper, porphyrr alabaster, and marble were stretched over a vast and spacious area. The ceiling was carved into cartouches bearing elegantly verses from the Holy Quran and other inscriptions. From the ceiling were hanging 200 beautiful chandeliers holding 700 cups of scented oil, fed from a reservoir of oil in inverted bells also suspended from the ceiling. Floors and walls were adorned with mosaics, some of enameled glass backed in rich colors, containing also, silver and gold. These dods still sparkle like jewels in the walls of the mosque which now is a Cathedral. One sec- tion of the Mosque was designated as a sanctuary. It was paved with silver and enameled tiles, guarded with ornate doors and adorned with mosaics, roofed with three domes and marked off with a wooden screen of exquisite design. Within this sanctuary were built the mihrab and mimbar upon which there were liberal artistic designs. The mihrab itself was an heptagonal recess walled with gold, skillfully ornamented with enameled mosaic, marble tracery bearing gold inscriptions on a ground of crimson and blue, crowned by a tier of slender columns and trefoil lovely arches. The mimbar was regarded the finest of its kind. It consisted of 37,000 little panels of ivory and precious woods—ebony, citron, aloe, red and yellow sandal—all joined together by gold and silver nails and inlaid with beautiful gems. On this mimbar, in a jeweled box covered with gold, threaded crimson silk, was placed a copy of the Holy Quran written by Hazrat Usman (May God be pleased with him) stained with his dying blood. Al-Maqqari thought of the 38 THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS JANUARY 1985 majestic blue Cordova Mosque as “unequaled in size, beauty of design, tasteful arrangement of its ornaments, boldness of execution and by universal consent the most beautiful mosque in its world”. Civilization in Muslim Spain flourished to the extent of attracting people from different parts of the world visiting for different purposes. Historians picture the Muslim cities as beehives of poets, scholars, jurists, physicians and scientists. But the Muslim Grenada fell into the hands of enemies, then: ‘there was no tyranny on earth like the tyranny of the priest’. And the destruction of Cordova was termed as the ‘Christians most unkindliest act on earth’. An Eyewitness Account of the Crucifixion (continued from page 32) confirms the theory that Jesus had belonged to the Essene Brotherhood during his early manhood. It provides evidence that after Jesus’ farewell to his disciples, he lived in seclusion with the Dead Sea Essene community about whom the Dead Sea scrolls have shed light. And this fact lends support to the theory that it was pro- bably Jesus who has been referred to as the “Teacher of Righteousness” in Dead Sea scrolls. The translator of this Latin manuscript or the letter comments about it: “But of particular importance is the minute record of the suffer- ings of Jesus, and the way in which he conducted himself on the cross. The Gospel records that Jesus really died on the cross, and thereby it stamps his recovery as a miracle, which the intelligent man considers a myth, and from which he extracts the allegorical meaning. But in this letter we are informed of events in their sim- ple representation that contains so much that is probable, and with the circumstances corresponding, that it actually will be a necessity to believe on it.” (p. 140)