Monday, March 7, 2011

Two Trends in Islam

The Great Mosque of Cordoba is an architectural
marvel that will leave you speechless
Between 929 and 1031, the Caliphate of Cordoba that existed on the Iberian Peninsula was the wonder of the world. It was extremely successful economically. The sciences and the arts flourished. People of all religions were welcome to contribute in any way they could. In terms of culture and civilization, the Caliphate of Cordoba was miles ahead any other place in Europe. (Who do you think brought us the toothpaste and the deodorant?) Ancient Greek texts that had been lost for the Western Civilization were translated by the Arabic and Jewish scholars who worked together in a happy collaboration. 

Then, of course, it all ended. The Caliphate was sacked and destroyed. One of its greatest architectural achievements, the beautiful palace of Madinat al-Zahra, was turned to rubble by invading hordes. This gem of a palace that left ecstatic everybody who saw it was of no value to the barbarians who came to destroy the happy, progressive, tolerant Caliphate of Cordoba. 
The ruins of
Madinat al-Zahra

I'm sure that by now you are really eager to know who invaded the Caliphate of Cordoba and destroyed Madinat al-Zahra. This was done by North African Berbers who represented a different, extremely fanatical trend in Islam. The Berbers were recent converts to Islam and, as we know, a Johnny-come-lately always tried to prove his credentials by being the most fanatical representative of the group he was late to join. The Berbers were unhappy we the progressive values and tolerant lifestyles of the Cordobans. They believed that their own, fanatical version of Islam was the true one. Since at that point they were not really ready to create anything of their own (at least, not anything that would match the achievements of the Caliphate), they decided to leave their mark through violence, looting, and destruction.

You might be wondering why I decided to share with you this little review of the history of the Muslim Spain. The reason is that the struggle between the progressive and the barbaric trends in Islam continues today:

An imam of an east London mosque has been subject to death threats and intimidation for expressing his views on evolution and women's right to refuse the veil. Dr Usama Hasan, vice-chairman at Leyton mosque and a senior lecturer in engineering at Middlesex University, ceased delivering Friday prayers after 25 years of service when 50 Muslim protesters disrupted his lecture by handing out leaflets against him and shouting in the mosque for his execution. A statement from the secretary of the mosque, Mohammad Sethi, that was leaked to extremist websites, said Hasan had been suspended after his lecture resulted in "considerable antagonism" from the community and for his "belief that Muslim women are allowed to uncover their hair in public".
I just hope that this time Madinat al-Zahra does not get destroyed and the fanatics finally lose their power.


Rimi said...

Your hope is the our most ardent wish too, but it's not going to happen. The world has been engineered to be fanatic, and the extreme poverty of resources (and institutionalised exploitation) has taken collective rage to a rolling boil. You must have noticed instances of violence in everyday life going up right around you. It won't stop till it's reahced a crest and exhausted itself, and that isn't going to happen overnight.

More's on the pity.

As an aside, the Bengali word for rampaging Philistines to this day is Berber :-) (and I like how I had to refernece the Philistines to explain the usage to you)

Jim said...

Very nicely done, Clarisse. teh standard narrative is that rampaging Christians were responsible for all that destruction.

But I had heard that the hijese invented toothpaste, along with distilled alcohol, sugar and lots of other things Arabists like to clain for Islam.

Clarissa said...

Thank you, Jim. My students are always extremely surprised when I teach this material. They interrupt me to ask "Really????" every 2 minutes. :-)

I never said that the Muslim people invented toothpaste. I said they brought it to Europe. There is a difference.

Rimi said...

I presume you mean the Chinese, Jim, and you're quite right as far as sugar goes (also apparently gun powder and most certainly noodles). They came to Europe via the old trading routes via land and sea connecting China, various kingdoms of north and south India, and what is now the Middle-East (except noodles, which I think Marco Polo brought back). Other things picked up along the way were the concept of the zero (India) and the game of chess (India and China are equal contenders for the format).

Another thing the "Arabists" can claim for themselves is he preservation of the classics in translation, when the books were considered heretical by Christians and destroyed utterly.

Clarissa said...

The entire legacy of the Western Civilization in terms of culture, literature, philosophy, etc. was destroyed when the barbarians destroyed the Roman Empire. Only thanks to the Arabs did we finally manage to recover our entire civilization. We'd still be roaming the empty plains and howling at the moon if it hadn't been for the Muslim invasion of Europe in 711.

Jim said...

Thank you both for deciphering my fat-fingered spelling.

The earliest noodles, so far, have been found in some Neolithic dig somewhere in Shandong, but I think they made their way west pretty early. Marco Polo refers to noodles like those that Italians already were eating.

The other trans-Eurasian food item is stuffed pies, or dumplings or whatever - jiaozi all the way to pasties, with pirogi/borek along the way.

Larger point - or of course Europe was a pit of savagery until whoever came along. it's the reverse of Victorian chauvinism, and it's still about as Victorian.

Clarisse, do you go on to show your students that the Reconquista, including even the reviled Inquisition, was a national liberation movement against an imperial occupation?

Clarissa said...

I tell my students that the so-called Reconquista did not exist. It is a cultural myth.

Clarissa said...

Nothing "national" could have possibly existed before the XVIII century, which is when nationalism was invented.