Tag Archives: Andalus

What did the Muslims do for the Jews?

What did the Muslims do for the Jews?


Islam saved Jewry. This is an unpopular, discomforting claim in the modern world. But it is a historical truth. The argument for it is double. First, in 570 CE, when the Prophet Mohammad was born, the Jews and Judaism were on the way to oblivion. And second, the coming of Islam saved them, providing a new context in which they not only survived, but flourished, laying foundations for subsequent Jewish cultural prosperity – also in Christendom – through the medieval period into the modern world.

By the fourth century, Christianity had become the dominant religion in the Roman empire. One aspect of this success was opposition to rival faiths, including Judaism, along with massive conversion of members of such faiths, sometimes by force, to Christianity. Much of our testimony about Jewish existence in the Roman empire from this time on consists of accounts of conversions.

Great and permanent reductions in numbers through conversion, between the fourth and the seventh centuries, brought with them a gradual but relentless whittling away of the status, rights, social and economic existence, and religious and cultural life of Jews all over the Roman empire.

A long series of enactments deprived Jewish people of their rights as citizens, prevented them from fulfilling their religious obligations, and excluded them from the society of their fellows.

This went along with the centuries-long military and political struggle with Persia. As a tiny element in the Christian world, the Jews should not have been affected much by this broad, political issue. Yet it affected them critically, because the Persian empire at this time included Babylon – now Iraq – at the time home to the world’s greatest concentration of Jews.

Had Islam not come along, Jewry in the west would have declined to disappearance and Jewry in the east would have become just another oriental cult

Here also were the greatest centres of Jewish intellectual life. The most important single work of Jewish cultural creativity in over 3,000 years, apart from the Bible itself – the Talmud – came into being in Babylon. The struggle between Persia and Byzantium, in our period, led increasingly to a separation between Jews under Byzantine, Christian rule and Jews under Persian rule.

Beyond all this, the Jews who lived under Christian rule seemed to have lost the knowledge of their own culturally specific languages – Hebrew and Aramaic – and to have taken on the use of Latin or Greek or other non-Jewish, local, languages. This in turn must have meant that they also lost access to the central literary works of Jewish culture – the Torah, Mishnah, poetry, midrash, even liturgy.

The loss of the unifying force represented by language – and of the associated literature – was a major step towards assimilation and disappearance. In these circumstances, with contact with the one place where Jewish cultural life continued to prosper – Babylon – cut off by conflict with Persia, Jewish life in the Christian world of late antiquity was not simply a pale shadow of what it had been three or four centuries earlier. It was doomed.

Had Islam not come along, the conflict with Persia would have continued. The separation between western Judaism, that of Christendom, and Babylonian Judaism, that of Mesopotamia, would have intensified. Jewry in the west would have declined to disappearance in many areas. And Jewry in the east would have become just another oriental cult.

But this was all prevented by the rise of Islam. The Islamic conquests of the seventh century changed the world, and did so with dramatic, wide-ranging and permanent effect for the Jews.

Within a century of the death of Mohammad, in 632, Muslim armies had conquered almost the whole of the world where Jews lived, from Spain eastward across North Africa and the Middle East as far as the eastern frontier of Iran and beyond. Almost all the Jews in the world were now ruled by Islam. This new situation transformed Jewish existence. Their fortunes changed in legal, demographic, social, religious, political, geographical, economic, linguistic and cultural terms – all for the better.

First, things improved politically. Almost everywhere in Christendom where Jews had lived now formed part of the same political space as Babylon – Cordoba and Basra lay in the same political world. The old frontier between the vital centre in Babylonia and the Jews of the Mediterranean basin was swept away, forever.

Political change was partnered by change in the legal status of the Jewish population: although it is not always clear what happened during the Muslim conquests, one thing is certain. The result of the conquests was, by and large, to make the Jews second-class citizens.

This should not be misunderstood: to be a second-class citizen was a far better thing to be than not to be a citizen at all. For most of these Jews, second-class citizenship represented a major advance. In Visigothic Spain, for example, shortly before the Muslim conquest in 711, the Jews had seen their children removed from them and forcibly converted to Christianity and had themselves been enslaved.

In the developing Islamic societies of the classical and medieval periods, being a Jew meant belonging to a category defined under law, enjoying certain rights and protections, alongside various obligations. These rights and protections were not as extensive or as generous as those enjoyed by Muslims, and the obligations were greater but, for the first few centuries, the Muslims themselves were a minority, and the practical differences were not all that great.

Along with legal near-equality came social and economic equality. Jews were not confined to ghettos, either literally or in terms of economic activity. The societies of Islam were, in effect, open societies. In religious terms, too, Jews enjoyed virtually full freedom. They might not build many new synagogues – in theory – and they might not make too public their profession of their faith, but there was no really significant restriction on the practice of their religion. Along with internal legal autonomy, they also enjoyed formal representation, through leaders of their own, before the authorities of the state. Imperfect and often not quite as rosy as this might sound, it was at least the broad norm.

The political unity brought by the new Islamic world-empire did not last, but it created a vast Islamic world civilisation, similar to the older Christian civilisation that it replaced. Within this huge area, Jews lived and enjoyed broadly similar status and rights everywhere. They could move around, maintain contacts, and develop their identity as Jews. A great new expansion of trade from the ninth century onwards brought the Spanish Jews – like the Muslims – into touch with the Jews and the Muslims even of India.

A ll this was encouraged by a further, critical development. Huge numbers of people in the new world of Islam adopted the language of the Muslim Arabs. Arabic gradually became the principal language of this vast area, excluding almost all the rest: Greek and Syriac, Aramaic and Coptic and Latin all died out, replaced by Arabic. Persian, too, went into a long retreat, to reappear later heavily influenced by Arabic.

The Jews moved over to Arabic very rapidly. By the early 10th century, only 300 years after the conquests, Sa’adya Gaon was translating the Bible into Arabic. Bible translation is a massive task – it is not undertaken unless there is a need for it. By about the year 900, the Jews had largely abandoned other languages and taken on Arabic.

The change of language in its turn brought the Jews into direct contact with broader cultural developments. The result from the 10th century on was a striking pairing of two cultures. The Jews of the Islamic world developed an entirely new culture, which differed from their culture before Islam in terms of language, cultural forms, influences, and uses. Instead of being concerned primarily with religion, the new Jewish culture of the Islamic world, like that of its neighbours, mixed the religious and the secular to a high degree. The contrast, both with the past and with medieval Christian Europe, was enormous.

Like their neighbours, these Jews wrote in Arabic in part, and in a Jewish form of that language. The use of Arabic brought them close to the Arabs. But the use of a specific Jewish form of that language maintained the barriers between Jew and Muslim. The subjects that Jews wrote about, and the literary forms in which they wrote about them, were largely new ones, borrowed from the Muslims and developed in tandem with developments in Arabic Islam.

Also at this time, Hebrew was revived as a language of high literature, parallel to the use among the Muslims of a high form of Arabic for similar purposes. Along with its use for poetry and artistic prose, secular writing of all forms in Hebrew and in (Judeo-)Arabic came into being, some of it of high quality.

Much of the greatest poetry in Hebrew written since the Bible comes from this period. Sa’adya Gaon, Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Ibn Ezra (Moses and Abraham), Maimonides, Yehuda Halevi, Yehudah al-Harizi, Samuel ha-Nagid, and many more – all of these names, well known today, belong in the first rank of Jewish literary and cultural endeavour.

Where did these Jews produce all this? When did they and their neighbours achieve this symbiosis, this mode of living together? The Jews did it in a number of centres of excellence. The most outstanding of these was Islamic Spain, where there was a true Jewish Golden Age, alongside a wave of cultural achievement among the Muslim population. The Spanish case illustrates a more general pattern, too.

What happened in Islamic Spain – waves of Jewish cultural prosperity paralleling waves of cultural prosperity among the Muslims – exemplifies a larger pattern in Arab Islam. In Baghdad, between the ninth and the twelfth centuries; in Qayrawan (in north Africa), between the ninth and the 11th centuries; in Cairo, between the 10th and the 12th centuries, and elsewhere, the rise and fall of cultural centres of Islam tended to be reflected in the rise and fall of Jewish cultural activity in the same places.

This was not coincidence, and nor was it the product of particularly enlightened liberal patronage by Muslim rulers. It was the product of a number of deeper features of these societies, social and cultural, legal and economic, linguistic and political, which together enabled and indeed encouraged the Jews of the Islamic world to create a novel sub-culture within the high civilisation of the time.

This did not last for ever; the period of culturally successful symbiosis between Jew and Arab Muslim in the middle ages came to a close by about 1300. In reality, it had reached this point even earlier, with the overall relative decline in the importance and vitality of Arabic culture, both in relation to western European cultures and in relation to other cultural forms within Islam itself; Persian and Turkish.

Jewish cultural prosperity in the middle ages operated in large part as a function of Muslim, Arabic cultural (and to some degree political) prosperity: when Muslim Arabic culture thrived, so did that of the Jews; when Muslim Arabic culture declined, so did that of the Jews.

In the case of the Jews, however, the cultural capital thus created also served as the seed-bed of further growth elsewhere – in Christian Spain and in the Christian world more generally.

The Islamic world was not the only source of inspiration for the Jewish cultural revival that came later in Christian Europe, but it certainly was a major contributor to that development. Its significance cannot be overestimated.

David J Wasserstein is the Eugene Greener Jr Professor of Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University. This article is adapted from last week’s Jordan Lectures in Comparative Religion at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

Source: The Jewish Chronicle

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Posted by on June 6, 2018 in Relax


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An Elegy for Seville-Al-Andalus

Lament for the Fall of Seville

رثاء إشبلية

أبو البقاء الرندي

by Abu Al-Baqá’ Ar-Rundí (1205- 1285 A.D.)

 Translated from Arabic by James T. Monroe

لِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ إذا ما تَمَّ نُقصَانُ * فلا يُغَرَّ بِطيبِ العَيشِ إنسانُ1 

Everything declines after reaching perfection, therefore let no man be beguiled by the sweetness of a pleasant life.
2 هيَ الأُمورُ كما شاهدْتُها دُوَلٌ * مَن سَرَّهُ زمَنٌ ساءتـْهُ أزمانُ
As you have observed, these are the decrees that are inconstant, he whom a single moment has made happy, has been harmed by many other moments;

3 وَهَذِهِ الدَّارُ لا تُبقِي على أحدٍ * ولا يدُومُ عَلَى حَالٍ لَهَا شانُ

And this is the abode that will show pity for no man, nor will any condition remain in its state for it.
4 ُيمَزِّقُ الدهرُ حتْماً كلَّ سابِغَةٍ * إذا نَبَتْ مَشْرِفِيّاتٌ وخِرْصانُ

Fate irrevocably destroys every ample coat of mail when Mashrifi swords and spears glance off without effect

5 ويُنْتَضَى كلُّ سيفٍ لِلفَناء ولو * كان ابنَ يزْنٍ و[كان] الغمدَ غُمْدانُ
It unsheathes each sword it it be an Ibn Dhi Yazan and the scabbard Ghumdan
Swords are unsheathed only to be destroyed even if…etc
6 أين المُلُوكُ ذَوُو التّيجانِ مِن يَمَنٍ * وأين منهمْ أكاليلٌ وتيجانُ
Where are the crowned kings of Yemen and where are their jewel-studded diadems and crowns?
7 وأين ما شادهُ ’شَدّادُ‘ في إرَمٍ * وأين ما ساسَهُ في الفُرْسِ ’ساسانُ‘
Where are [the buildings] Shaddad raised in Iram and where [the empire] the Sassanians ruled in Persia?
8 وأين ما حازَهُ ’قارونُ‘ من ذَهَبٍ * وأين ’عادٌ وشدادٌ وقحطانُ‘
Where is the gold Qarun once possessed; where are `Ad and Shaddad and Qahtan?
9 أتى على الكل أمرٌ لا مَرَدَّ لهُ * حتى قضَوْا فكأن القومَ ما كانُوا

An irrevocable calamity befallen on them all so that they passed away as though they had never existed.
10 وصار ما كان من مُلْكٍ و من مَلِكٍ * كما حكى عن خيال الطيف وسْنانُ

What had been kingdoms and kings came to be [became] like what a sleeper has told about [his] dream visions.
11 دارَ الزمانُ على ’دارا‘ وقاتِلِهِ * وأمَّ ’كِسرَى‘ فما آواهُ إيوانُ
أمَّ: قصَدَ استهدَفَ؛ شجَّ
Fate turned against Darius as well as his slayer, and as for Chosroes, no vaulted palace offered him protection.

12 كأنما الصعبُ لم يسْهُلْ له سببٌ * يوماً ولا ملَكَ الدنيا ’سليمانُ‘
السبب هنا الطريقُ. والصعبُ والسهل صفاتٌ لتضاريس الأرض
It is as if no cause had ever made the hard easy to bear, and as if Solomon had never ruled the world.

13 فجائعُ الدهْرِ أنواعٌ مُنَوَّعةٌ * ولِلزمان مسَرّاتٌ وأحزانُ
The misfortunes brought on by Fate are of many different kinds, while Time has causes of joy and of sorrow.
14 ولِلحوادث سُلوانٌ يُسهِّلُها * وما لِما حَلَّ بالإسلام سُلوانُ
For the accidents [of fortune] there is a consolation that makes them easy to bear, yet there is no consolation for what has befallen Islam.
15 دَهَى الجزيرةَ أمرٌ لا عزاء لهُ * هَوَى له أُحُدٌ وانْهَدَّ شهْلانُ
An event which cannot be endured has overtaken the peninsula; one such that Uhud has collapsed because of it and Thahlan has crumbled!
16 أصابها العينُ في الإسلام فارْتُزِأتُ * حتى خَلَتْ منه أقطارٌ وبلدانُ
The evil eye has struck [the peninsula] in its Islam so that [the land] decreased until whole regions and districts were despoiled of [the faith]
17 فاسأل (بلَنْسِيَّةً) ما شأنُ (مُرْسِيَةٍ) * وأين (شاطِبةٌ) أم أين (جَيّانُ)
[SIZE=4]Therefore ask Valencia what is the state of Murcia; and where is Jativa, and where is Jaén? [/B]

18 وأين (قُرْطُبَةٌ) دارُ العلوم فكم * مِن عالِم قد سما فيها له شانُ
Where is Cordoba, the home of the sciences, and many a scholar whose rank was once lofty in it?
19 وأين (حِمْصٌ) وما تحويه من نُزَهٍ * ونهرُها العذْبُ فيّاضٌ ومَلآنُ
Where is Seville and the pleasures it contains, as well as its sweet river overflowing and brimming ful?
20 قواعدٌ كُنَّ أركانَ البلادِ, فما * عسى البقاءُ إذا لم تبقَ أركانُ!
[They are] capitals which were the pillars of the land, yet when the pillars are gone, it may no longer endure!
21 تبكي الحَنيفيةُ البيضاءُ من أسفٍ * كما بكى لِفِراقِ الإِلْفِ هَيْمانُ
الحنيفية البيضاء يمكن أن ترمز في الرثاء إلى اليمامة dove أو إلى النافورة – كما فهمها المترجم إلى الإنكليزية – أو إلى المدن التي عدّدها آنِفاً, أو إلى جزيرة الأندلس كلها؛ فالحنيفية هي المسلمة.

The tap of the white ablution fount weeps in despair, like a passionate lover weeping at the departure of the beloved,
22 على ديارٍ من الإسلامِ خاليةٍ * قد أقْفَرَتْ ولها بالكفر عُمرانُ
Over dwellings emptied of Islam that were first vacated and are now inhabited by unbelief;
23 حيث المساجدُ [قد] صارت كنائسَ ما * فيهِنَّ إلاّ نواقيسٌ وصُلبانُ
In which the mosques have become churches wherein only bells and crosses may be found.
24 حتى المحاريب تبكي وهي جامدةٌ * حتى المنابرُ تبكي وهي عيدانُ
Even the mihrabs weep though they are solid; even the pulpits mourn though they are wooden!

25 ياغافِلاً ولَهُ في الدهْرِ مَوْعِظةٌ * إن كنتَ في سِنَةٍ فالدهرُ يقظانُ
O you who remain heedless though you have a warning in Fate: if you are asleep, Fate is always awake!
26 وماشياً مَرَحاً يُلهيه موطِنُهُ * أبَعْدَ (حِمْصٍ) تَغُرُّ المرءَ أوطانُ
قال تعالى ’ولا تمشِ في الأرضِ مَرَحاً‘ في موضعين: الإسراء37 ولقمان18
And you who walk forth cheerfully while your homeland diverts you [from cares], can a homeland beguile any man after [the loss of] Seville?
27 تلك المُصيبةُ أنْسَتْ ماتَقَدَّمَها * ومالَها معَ طُولِ الدهرِ نِسيانُ
This misfortune has caused those that preceded it to be forgotten, nor can it ever be forgotten for the length of all time!
28 يا أيّها الملِكُ البيضاءُ رايَتُهُ * أدْرِكْ بِسيفِكَ أهلً الكُفرِ، لا كانوا!
29 ياراكبين عتاقَ الخيلِ ضامرةً * كأنها في مجال السبْقِ عُقبانُ
you who ride lean, thoroughbred steeds which seem like eagles in the racecourse;
30 وحامِلين سُيوفَ الهند مُرهَفةً * كأنها في ظلام النقْع نيرانُ
And you who carry slender, Indian blades which seem like fires in the darkness caused by the dust cloud [of war]
31 وَرَاتِعِين وراء البحر في دَعَةٍ * لَهُم بِأوطانهم عِزٌّ وسلطانُ
And you who are living in luxury beyond the sea enjoying life, you who have strength and power in your homelands,
32 أعِندَكُم نَبَأٌ من أهلِ أندلُسٍ * فقد سَرَى بِحديثِ القومِ رُكْبانُ
Have you no news of the people of Andalus, for riders have carried forth what men have said [about them]?
33 كم يستغيثُ بنا المُستضعفُونَ وهم * قَتْلَى وأسْرَى فما يهتزُّ إنسانُ
How often have the weak, who were being killed and captured while no man stirred, asked our help?
34 ماذا التقاطُعُ في الإسلامِ بيْنَكُمُ * وأنتُمُ يا عِبادَ اللهِ إخوانُ
What means this severing of the bonds of Islam on your behalf, when you, 0 worshipers of God, are [our] brethren?
35 ألاَ نُفوسٌ أبِيّاتٌ لَها هِمَمٌ؟ * أمَا على الخيرِ أنصارٌ وأعوانُ؟
Are there no heroic souls with lofty ambitions; are there no helpers and defenders of righteousness?
36 يا مَنْ لِذِلَّةِ قومٍ بعدَ عِزِّهِمُ! * أحالَ حالَهُمُ كُفرٌ وطُغيانُ
0, who will redress the humiliation of a people who were once powerful, a people whose condition injustice and tyrants have changed?
37 بالأمس كانوا مُلوكاً في منازلِهِمْ * واليوْمَ هُمْ في بلادِ الكُفْرِ عُبْدانُ
Yesterday they were kings in their own homes, but today they are slaves in the land of the infidel!
38 فلوْ تَراهُمْ حَيارَى لا دَليلَ لَهُمْ * عليهِمُ من ثيابِ الذُّلِّ ألْوانُ
Thus, were you to see them perplexed, with no one to guide them, wearing the cloth of shame in its different shades,
39 ولو رأيتَ بُكاهُمْ عندَ بيعِهِمُ * لَهالَكَ الأمرُ واسْتَهْوَتْكَ أحزانُ
And were you to behold their weeping when they are sold, the matter would strike fear into your heart, and sorrow would seize you.
40 يا رُبَّ أُمٍّ وطِفْلٍ حِيلَ بينَهُما * كما تُفَرَّقُ أرواحٌ وأبدانُ
ويجوز: كما تَفَرَّقَ
Alas, many a mother and child have been parted as souls and bodies are separated!
41 وطِفْلَةٍ ما رَأَتْها الشمسُ إذْ برزَتْ * كأنَّما هي ياقوتٌ ومَرجانُ
And many a maiden fair as the sun when it rises, as though she were rubies and pearls,
42 يقودُها العِلْجُ لِلْمَكروهُ مُكرَهَةً * والعينُ باكيَةٌ والقلبُ حَيْرانُ
Is led off to abomination by a barbarian against her will, while her eye is in tears and her heart is stunned.
42 – لمثلِ هذا يذوبُ القلب من كَمَدٍ * – إن كان في القلبِ إسلامٌ وإيمانُ
The heart melts with sorrow at such [sights], if there is any Islam or belief in that heart!



1) Mashrifi swords: Mashrifi swords were a kind of swords which were well-known for their excellence.

2) Ibn Dhi Yazan: Saif Bin Dhí Yazan was a Yemenite pre-islamic king.

 3) Ghumdán; Ghumdán was the castle of Saif Bin Dhí Yazan.

4) Shaddád: Shaddád was a king of the people of ‘Ád of Hadramout

5) ‘Ád: ‘Ád was an ancient people of Hadamout  (In Yemen) which are mentioned in many places in The Quran.

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Posted by on June 28, 2013 in Relax


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Five pounds sterling of the republic of Gibraltar – Tariq Ibn Ziyad

An image of Tariq ibn Ziyad, the Muslim general who first crossed into Spain/Andalus after whom the place is named (“Gibraltar”=Jabal Tariq) on the currency of the U.K. territory of Gibraltar in the Iberian Peninsula. This was definitely interesting to see.



What’s to the left is The Moorish Castle is the name given to a Medieval fortification in Gibraltar, made up of various buildings, gates, fortified walls and its most dominant features, the Tower of Homage and the Gate House.

The Moorish Castle's Tower of Homage in Gibraltar flying the Union flag.
The Moorish Castle’s Tower of Homage in Gibraltar.

Tariq ibn Ziyad (Arabic: طارق بن زياد‎, died 720) was a Muslim Berber general who led the Islamic conquest of Visigothic Hispania in 711-718 A.D. He is considered to be one of the most important military commanders in Iberian history. Under the orders of the Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid I he led a large army from the north coast of Morocco, consolidating his troops at a large hill now known as Gibraltar. The name “Gibraltar” is the Spanish derivation of the Arabic name Jabal Tāriq (جبل طارق), meaning “mountain of Tariq”, named after him.

Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance of the Mediterranean. It has an area of 6.8 square kilometres (2.6 sq mi) and a northern border with Andalusia, Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region. At its foot is the densely populated city area, home to almost 30,000 Gibraltarians and other nationalities.


According to the 2001 census, approximately 78.1% of Gibraltarians are Roman Catholics.

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Posted by on October 22, 2012 in Relax


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