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A Vanished World: Medieval Spain's Golden Age of Enlightenment

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2006

    Religious Tolerance: 21st Century Pipedream?

    Chris Lowney resurrects with much brio the fascinating history of Medieval Spain, which became the only Islamic state that ever prospered in mainland Europe for more than seven centuries. After a ¿blitzkrieg¿ military campaign, Muslim conquerors hailing from North Africa rolled back Christian rule on most of the Iberian Peninsula in 711 C.E. Christian rulers, who were understandably resentful of this occupation, launched their Reconquista from the north of the peninsula after infighting started weakening al-Andalus (the Arabic name for the Muslim-ruled part of Spain) in the eleventh century C.E. Al-Andalus disintegrated itself into more than two dozen rivaling small kingdoms by the 1030s C.E that over time became easy picks for united Christian conquerors. This rivalry among these kingdoms was also a blessing in disguise. To his credit, Lowney acknowledges and emphasizes the significant contributions of al-Andalus to transition the rest of Europe out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance. Without Islam, much western wisdom from the Antiquity would have been lost forever following the disintegration of the Roman Empire in the West. Furthermore, Medieval Spain became the conduit for bringing the best that the Islamic world had to offer to mostly backward Europeans. Cosmopolis such as Seville, Cordoba, Toledo, and Granada were the cities on the hill economically, culturally, scientifically, and religiously. The architecture of the older parts of these urban centers still reflects this past greatness. Despite their differences, Medieval Spaniards showed for a time a tolerance for each other¿s religious and cultural background that remains a marvel to a world plagued by intolerance and obscurantism. Outstanding twelfth-century theologians such as the Jewish Moses Maimonides and the Muslim Ibn Rushd Averroes went as far as to subject their respective religions to rationality. Shias and Sunnis in Modern Iraq, especially in Baghdad, have much to learn from this peaceful religious coexistence. Obscurantism and intolerance were the perfect ingredients for the disastrous recipe that Medieval Spain itself ended up swallowing after the completion of the Reconquista. With the fall of the Kingdom of Granada in 1491 C.E., the sole remaining Muslim territory in the peninsula, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella completed the Reconquista of Medieval Spain. They did not waste much time to impose Christianity on all their subjects. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella gave their Jewish and Muslim subjects little time to either convert to Christianity or leave most of their possessions behind them and leave Spain forever. The discovery of the New World and its riches bought Spain some time. After Catholic Spain passed by its zenith, it could no longer count on the genius of its former Jewish and Muslim subjects who along Christians had contributed to the greatness of Medieval Spain. Unsurprisingly, Catholic Spain became an increasingly troubled and weak state that only rebounded from its backwardness in the second half of the 20th century C.E.

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