Al-Andalus: Islamic period in Spain (711-1492) was a multi-cultural mix of Muslims, Christians, and Jews. It brought a degree of civilization to Europe that matched the heights of the Roman Empire and the Italian Renaissance.
Al-Andalus, also known as Muslim Spain or Islamic Iberia, was a medieval Muslim territory and cultural domain at its peak most of what are today Spain and Portugal.
The Muslim period in Spain is often described as a 'golden age' of learning where libraries, colleges, public baths were established and literature, poetry, and architecture flourished. Both Muslims and non-Muslims made major contributions to this flowering of culture.
Islamic Spain is sometimes described as a 'golden age' of religious and ethnic tolerance and interfaith harmony between Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
Jews and Christians have retained freedom under the Muslim rule. They were not much of a burden by the standards of the time, and in many ways, the non-Muslims of Islamic Spain (at least before 1050) were treated better than conquered peoples might have expected during that period of history.
They were not forced to live in ghettoes or other special locations. They were not slaves. They were not prevented from following their faith. They were not forced to convert or die under Muslim rule. They were not banned from any particular ways of earning a living.
But also pleasant jobs such as banking and dealing in gold and silver. They could work in the civil service of the Islamic rulers.
Jews and Christians were able to contribute to society and culture. Many Christians in Spain assimilated parts of the Muslim culture. Some learned Arabic; some adopted the same clothes as their rulers (some Christian women even started wearing the veil); some took Arabic names.
In the 10th century, Cordoba, the capital of Umayyad Spain, was unrivaled in both East and the West for its wealth and civilization. There were interchanges and alliances between Muslim and Christian rulers such as the legendary Spanish warrior El-Cid, who fought both against and alongside Muslims, BBC News reported.
In addition, according to an experience carried out by academic Lyana Khairuddin and published on The Star Online news, Khairuddin said, “Most of the stories of my late grandfather were sourced from books, he had read stories from the Qur’an, stories about the Prophets’ lives and about what was known as the Golden Age of Islam in Andalusia.
"When I recently ran a half marathon in Lisbon, I did not hesitate to extend my trip to Andalusia (now a part of modern Spain)", Lyana noted.
I just had to see for myself what is now left of a civilization known as the Renaissance amidst Europe’s Dark Ages, a time when a Muslim ruler had a Jewish chief minister and a Catholic archbishop as his foreign minister, where intellectualism was celebrated, and secularism led to religious and ethnic acceptance among its people.
The Spanish called that period of history “La Convivencia,” or co-existence.
The majesty of the architectural wonder, the red fort of the Alhambra and the Nasrid palaces built to control internal temperature, including the Generalife (Jannat Al-‘Arif, or Architect’s Garden/Paradise) gardens filled with vineyard, fragrant myrtle, flowers and vegetables would take one’s breath away.
To me, the motto embodied humility and was used as a check for the then Emir’s ego, reminding him of his responsibilities as a leader of the great empire.
While the empire was built from the victories of war, history has it that the Muslims entered Spain not as aggressors or oppressors, but liberators where those who held the faiths of Judaism and Christianity were allowed to flourish within Andalusia as compared to elsewhere in Europe during that time.
The Golden Age of Islam came a century later, following efforts by the then Emirs to collect books and allow philosophers, scientists, and cultural advocates to congregate in Cordoba.
One of the most celebrated from this Golden Age was Averroes @ Ibn Rushd, who believed that women are equal, should be educated and allowed to serve in the military; while the best among women might be future philosophers or rulers.
Granada and the greater part of Andalusia today are better known as tourist destinations. While these places romanticize the past and stories told long ago, the lesson remains: Muslims once were the epitome of intellectualism, and liberty.
After all, a Golden Age of Islam is all in mind and lived realities of those who fought and stood up for it.