Can the Arab Muslim world recapture the inclusive spirit of Cordoba?

US President Barack Obama  harked back to this period of Islamic enlightenment, innovation and tolerance in his June 2009 Cairo speech, in which he attempted to redefine the relationship between Muslims and the United States.
US President Barack Obama harked back to this period of Islamic enlightenment, innovation and tolerance in his June 2009 Cairo speech, in which he attempted to redefine the relationship between Muslims and the United States.

By David Ignatius
Hisham Melhem, a prominent Lebanese journalist, recalls an emotional visit to the Great Mosque of Cordoba in southern Spain last May. With tears in his eyes, he found himself wondering how the Arab Muslim genius of a thousand years ago had veered in modern times toward such chaos and repression.

Melhem later wrote a column for the Beirut daily An Nahar describing his visit to the Andalusia region, “roaming as if … in a dream,” touching the pillars of the mosque in Cordoba and other magnificent remnants of a Muslim moment “characterized (by) confidence, courage, openness, tolerance and love of intellect, philosophy, arts, architecture and happiness on earth.”

What happened to this sublime culture? That question of lost greatness has vexed Arabs for centuries, and it was painfully visible last week as Egypt lurched forward into a new moment of bloodshed and political turmoil.

What happened to this sublime culture? That question of lost greatness has vexed Arabs for centuries, and it was painfully visible last week as Egypt lurched forward into a new moment of bloodshed and political turmoil.

Egyptians yearn for the greatness of a past that produced the glorious pyramids and tombs of the pharaohs, and later made Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque the arbiter and guardian of Sunni Muslim theology. What Egyptians find in the present is a revolution that, over the past two years, has been devouring its children, secularist liberals and Muslim Brothers alike.

Talking about this unfolding tragedy in Egypt with Melhem, I thought he was right to focus on the openness and tolerance of the Moorish kings of Andalusia. It was this sophistication that gave Cordoba its reputation as “the ornament of the world.” It wasn’t only Muslims who prospered in 9th century Andalusia, but Jews and Christians as well.

Melhem contrasts this 9th century tolerance with the “sectarian cancer” that today is eating Syria, Iraq and so many other Arab nations. He wrote in An Nahar: “Today’s Middle Eastern Muslims, with their narrow sectarian awareness, appear extremely far from the humane sources that under Islam made them the second civilization after the great Romans. They are so far from sources that granted the world a new language in intellect, art and commerce upon a universal vision supposedly based on logic and justice.”

“Today’s Middle Eastern Muslims, with their narrow sectarian awareness, appear extremely far from the humane sources that under Islam made them the second civilization after the great Romans. They are so far from sources that granted the world a new language in intellect, art and commerce upon a universal vision supposedly based on logic and justice.”Hisham Melhem

The Cordoban spirit of pluralism was described by Maria Rosa Menocal in her 2003 book, “The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain.” She described how the Arab Muslim rulers of the time promoted a freedom of thought that, in addition to producing great art and the beginnings of modern mathematics and science, also allowed other religions to prosper.

This ethic of tolerance — so central to the zenith of Muslim culture — is precisely what seems missing in so many Arab countries today. The political culture is broken. Politicians on all sides lack the confidence that allows compromise and moderation. Politics is a zero-sum game, and everything is a fight to the death, whether it’s in Cairo, Damascus, Tripoli or Baghdad.

Recent events in Egypt underline the problem: If it’s not the Islamic authoritarianism of the Muslim Brotherhood, it’s the repressive dictatorship of the military. There seems no middle ground.

You can glimpse the beginnings of a movement to build a Muslim political culture of tolerance that could support modern democratic societies. Asef Bayat, an Iranian-born professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, has been writing over the last decade about what he calls “post-Islamist” trends. He argued his case forcefully in a 2007 book called “Making Islam Democratic.”

Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish columnist and academic, argues for openness and tolerance in his 2011 book, “Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.” He explains: “I have become convinced that a fundamental need for the contemporary Muslim world is to embrace liberty — the liberty of individuals and communities, Muslims and non-Muslims, believers and unbelievers, women and men, ideas and opinions, markets and entrepreneurs.”

A Lebanese Muslim friend explained in a recent e-mail that the guiding insight of this post-Islamist movement is that “bringing Islam down to the muck of daily life and its politics has proved extremely dangerous to the religion. … In order to save Islam, you have to elevate it again and protect it from the humanity that wheels and deals in its name.”

Arguing for tolerance and moderation at a time when Egyptians and Syrians are slaughtering each other may seem like folly, but it’s grounded in a practical reality. To rediscover the golden age symbolized by “Al-Andalus,” the Arab Muslim world must recapture the inclusive spirit that sustained Cordoba and Granada. Otherwise, the broken political culture will not mend.

Washington Post

  • wargame1

    Islam The Empire of Faith a good documentary of chronological events. Its a hour long documentary . Please watch it on Youtube video in the following link.
    /watch?v=s59LfXGMyjY

    • 5thDrawer

      Modern science peels slowly away at the history … and we realize how much ‘religionists’ can change the events of human life on the planet. And what they can do to generations.
      If you have seen the most recent 2-hr Documentary on King Tut (there have been many) and the changes of religion his Father had tried to make (decreed) before his death – which left the ‘boy-king’ in the hands of an older religionist (Father’s advisor) who didn’t like the ‘new’ – (who also became the next King) – you will see that the extrapolation of bits of information gathered properly can peel off the mysteries of 3000 years, no matter how ‘future-builders’ of 3000 years ago tried to obviscate or bury it. Even the fact of that ‘tomb’ still being largely intact is explainable – given the effects of nature on landscaping in the short-term, let alone over millennia.
      (Tomb-robbing was big business even back in Tut’s time – although the punishments if caught were perhaps more grisly. 😉

      Archeology, as they say, digs through the ancestor’s garbage heaps. But it doesn’t explain all the mysteries, until other sciences are applied to the questions. (logical answers as to why Tut is the only mummified body which appears burned, for instance, and why a heart is missing)
      That we HAVE some very fine examples still standing, of the abilities of past human societies, is perhaps a miracle in itself, given the modern examples of ‘religionists’ such as the Talibanis going around attempting to destroy any evidence that there was ever anything before ‘them’ and their version of a god.
      Our advantage NOW is the recording ability. Protect that.

      • 5thDrawer

        As another example … of how long humans have been an ‘aware’ species … this from about 10,000 years ago …
        Good old Scotland wasn’t just about the Hops. 😉

        The pit alignment, at Warren Field, was first excavated in 2004.
        The experts who analysed the pits said they may have contained a wooden post.
        The Mesolithic “calendar” is thousands of years older than previous known formal time-measuring monuments created in Mesopotamia.
        The analysis has been published in the journal, Internet Archaeology.
        The pit alignment also aligns on the Midwinter sunrise to provided the hunter-gatherers with an annual “astronomic correction” in order to better follow the passage of time and changing seasons.
        “It is remarkable to think that our aerial survey may have helped to find the place where time itself was invented” – Dave Cowley – RCAHMS

      • Catholicon

        “”” The Arbins (bearers of R1b haplogroup) along their migration route to the Middle East and South Mesopotamia apparently have established the Sumer culture (and the state), moving westward to Europe (5000 – 4500 ybp) carrying mainly the R-M269 subclade and its downstream L23 subclade. “””
        http://www.scirp.Org/journal/PaperInformation.aspx?paperID=19567#.UuMyfxDna02

    • Andre

      Thanks for sharing the link….watching the video.

  • wargame1

    Islam The Empire of Faith a good documentary of chronological events. Its a hour long documentary . Please watch it on Youtube video in the following link.
    /watch?v=s59LfXGMyjY

    • 5thDrawer

      Modern science peels slowly away at the history … and we realize how much ‘religionists’ can change the events of human life on the planet. And what they can do to generations.
      If you have seen the most recent 2-hr Documentary on King Tut (there have been many) and the changes of religion his Father had tried to make (decreed) before his death – which left the ‘boy-king’ in the hands of an older religionist (Father’s advisor) who didn’t like the ‘new’ – (who also became the next King) – you will see that the extrapolation of bits of information gathered properly can peel off the mysteries of 3000 years, no matter how ‘future-builders’ of 3000 years ago tried to obviscate or bury it. Even the fact of that ‘tomb’ still being largely intact is explainable – given the effects of nature on landscaping in the short-term, let alone over millennia.
      (Tomb-robbing was big business even back in Tut’s time – although the punishments if caught were perhaps more grisly. 😉

      Archeology, as they say, digs through the ancestor’s garbage heaps. But it doesn’t explain all the mysteries, until other sciences are applied to the questions. (logical answers as to why Tut is the only mummified body which appears burned, for instance, and why a heart is missing)
      That we HAVE some very fine examples still standing, of the abilities of past human societies, is perhaps a miracle in itself, given the modern examples of ‘religionists’ such as the Talibanis going around attempting to destroy any evidence that there was ever anything before ‘them’ and their version of a god.
      Our advantage NOW is the recording ability. Protect that.

      • 5thDrawer

        As another example … of how long humans have been an ‘aware’ species … this from about 10,000 years ago …
        Good old Scotland wasn’t just about the Hops. 😉

        The pit alignment, at Warren Field, was first excavated in 2004.
        The experts who analysed the pits said they may have contained a wooden post.
        The Mesolithic “calendar” is thousands of years older than previous known formal time-measuring monuments created in Mesopotamia.
        The analysis has been published in the journal, Internet Archaeology.
        The pit alignment also aligns on the Midwinter sunrise to provided the hunter-gatherers with an annual “astronomic correction” in order to better follow the passage of time and changing seasons.
        “It is remarkable to think that our aerial survey may have helped to find the place where time itself was invented” – Dave Cowley – RCAHMS

      • iAm Jacob Israel

        “”” The Arbins (bearers of R1b haplogroup) along their migration route to the Middle East and South Mesopotamia apparently have established the Sumer culture (and the state), moving westward to Europe (5000 – 4500 ybp) carrying mainly the R-M269 subclade and its downstream L23 subclade. “””
        http://www.scirp.Org/journal/PaperInformation.aspx?paperID=19567#.UuMyfxDna02

    • Andre

      Thanks for sharing the link….watching the video.

  • Constantin7

    What happened to this “sublime” culture from the time of Al-Andalus and trhe wonders of Cordoba till today ? I have the answer to you: This culture that was conquering new nations inhabited mainly by Christians and Jews was taking advantage of the intellectuals from the jews and christians in order to elevate their status and produce the wonders of that time and for this reason and only for this reason that muslims were “tolerant’ towards them. If today 10% of Syria is Christian, before a thousand year probably it was more than 50% christian, same story in Irak, Palestine, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Andalusia. The question should be re-asked as: What happened to this stolen sublime culture ? What happened is that the christians and the jews are no more in the picture socially and politically to produce those wonders. Add to that the information technology that is highliting in a flagrant manner the failure of muslims and the muslim society in creating a sane, normal, spontaneous, free individual who thinks, creates and wonders. This is what happened to this “sublime” culture Mr. Hisham Melhem. The TRUTH is finally revealed. From now on this culture is on a high speed downward escalation, like a snow ball. Just take Lebanon as an example compare Lebanon in 1960s when christians were dominant and Lebanon of today and the mess we are in all because of Islam (directly or indirectly), or just take the Christian areas in Lebanon today and the muslim areas. There is not one single place with muslim majority in Lebanon that is not troubled or tense. So this article is a crying on the glorious past nothing more. This past that will never come again for sure.

    • 5thDrawer

      Good points, Constantin. The ‘rulers’ of ages past knew how to use those they conquered to advantage, and artistic or inventive people generally had a good life. Lebanon has examples as well … for instance the carvings on the temple at Baalbek done by well-kept Roman ‘slave’ stone-carvers. We can follow where one carver spent his life, and eventually died, and the next carver changed the shape of the ‘fertility-symbols’ of the egg in artistic freedom and carried on. The gods of the Romans didn’t require the same slavish devotion that the Caesar did, and the Caesar enjoyed the art presented for him. I dare say it was the same for Egyptian kings … until times became tough for the people and they began to rob the tombs to try to make a living. (bone-sampling done of the period around Tut’s time shows generally poor nutrition, and evidence of a general life-expectancy of 21 years. Probably the result of the ‘new religion’ and new city his father created – both abandoned for lack of food, and the ‘old advisor’s’ religion, more than likely.)
      When a religion has taken away all inventiveness and artistic endeavour, even the logic dies – which is why Shiites said they would ignore anything logical and broke away from the Sunnis. 🙂

    • Hannibal

      I totally agree… It is about a culture long lost which mingled with others and did not suppress them like what Islam does today.

  • Constantin7

    What happened to this “sublime” culture from the time of Al-Andalus and trhe wonders of Cordoba till today ? I have the answer to you: This culture that was conquering new nations inhabited mainly by Christians and Jews was taking advantage of the intellectuals from the jews and christians in order to elevate their status and produce the wonders of that time and for this reason and only for this reason that muslims were “tolerant’ towards them. If today 10% of Syria is Christian, before a thousand year probably it was more than 50% christian, same story in Irak, Palestine, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Andalusia. The question should be re-asked as: What happened to this stolen sublime culture ? What happened is that the christians and the jews are no more in the picture socially and politically to produce those wonders. Add to that the information technology that is highliting in a flagrant manner the failure of muslims and the muslim society in creating a sane, normal, spontaneous, free individual who thinks, creates and wonders. This is what happened to this “sublime” culture Mr. Hisham Melhem. The TRUTH is finally revealed. From now on this culture is on a high speed downward escalation, like a snow ball. Just take Lebanon as an example compare Lebanon in 1960s when christians were dominant and Lebanon of today and the mess we are in all because of Islam (directly or indirectly), or just take the Christian areas in Lebanon today and the muslim areas. There is not one single place with muslim majority in Lebanon that is not troubled or tense. So this article is a crying on the glorious past nothing more. This past that will never come again for sure.

    • 5thDrawer

      Good points, Constantin. The ‘rulers’ of ages past knew how to use those they conquered to advantage, and artistic or inventive people generally had a good life. Lebanon has examples as well … for instance the carvings on the temple at Baalbek done by well-kept Roman ‘slave’ stone-carvers. We can follow where one carver spent his life, and eventually died, and the next carver changed the shape of the ‘fertility-symbols’ of the egg in artistic freedom and carried on. The gods of the Romans didn’t require the same slavish devotion that the Caesar did, and the Caesar enjoyed the art presented for him. I dare say it was the same for Egyptian kings … until times became tough for the people and they began to rob the tombs to try to make a living. (bone-sampling done of the period around Tut’s time shows generally poor nutrition, and evidence of a general life-expectancy of 21 years. Probably the result of the ‘new religion’ and new city his father created – both abandoned for lack of food, and the ‘old advisor’s religion, more than likely.)
      When a religion has taken away all inventiveness and artistic endeavour, even the logic dies – which is why Shiites said they would ignore anything logical and broke away from the Sunnis. 🙂

    • Hannibal

      I totally agree… It is about a culture long lost which mingled with others and did not suppress them like what Islam does today.

  • Catholicon

    “He will travel to Rome” (Hilarion, 15th Century)

    “Shall make his sail spring forth” (Nostradamus, 16th Century)

    “Greece he will invade and be made King thereof.” (Cataldus, 5th Century)

    “He will restore the Church of Santa Sophia (in Constantinople).” (St. Bridget, 14th Century)

    “He shall fight in Syria and win the Holy Cross.” (Old Scottish)

    “He shall recover the Land of Promise.” (Aystinger)

    “He will regain Holy Land after terrible wars in Europe.” (Telesphorus de Cozensa, 11th Century)

    “He will conquer England.” (Cataldus, 5th Century)

  • iAm Jacob Israel

    “He will travel to Rome” (Hilarion, 15th Century)

    “Shall make his sail spring forth” (Nostradamus, 16th Century)

    “Greece he will invade and be made King thereof.” (Cataldus, 5th Century)

    “He will restore the Church of Santa Sophia (in Constantinople).” (St. Bridget, 14th Century)

    “He shall fight in Syria and win the Holy Cross.” (Old Scottish)

    “He shall recover the Land of Promise.” (Aystinger)

    “He will regain Holy Land after terrible wars in Europe.” (Telesphorus de Cozensa, 11th Century)

    “He will conquer England.” (Cataldus, 5th Century)