Legacies of al-Andalus
featuring Fahad Bishara, Jeannie Miller, and Mohamad Ballan
| During the early 8th century, less than a century after the creation of the first Muslim communities, Islamic armies crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and quickly conquered most of modern-day Spain and Portugal. Muslim life in what became known as "al-Andalus" would last about eight centuries, reshaping the politics, culture, and landscapes of the Iberian Peninsula in numerous ways. In this episode, we're exploring the first centuries of Muslim life in al-Andalus and the legacies not just for Iberia but also for the rest of Europe and the Islamic world. We'll examine the distinctive Andalusi identity that emerged out of centuries of Muslims, Jews, and Christians living under Islamic polities. And we'll also consider the literary impact of Arabic on European culture and consider the historical significant of ecological exchange between the broader Islamic world and Iberia before the momentous date of 1492.
During the early 8th century, less than a century after the creation of the first Muslim communities, Islamic armies crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and quickly conquered most of modern-day Spain and Portugal. Muslim life in what became known as "al-Andalus" would last about eight centuries, reshaping the politics, culture, and landscapes of the Iberian Peninsula in numerous ways.
In this episode, we're exploring the first centuries of Muslim life in al-Andalus and the legacies not just for Iberia but also for the rest of Europe and the Islamic world. We'll examine the distinctive Andalusi identity that emerged out of centuries of Muslims, Jews, and Christians living under Islamic polities. And we'll also consider the literary impact of Arabic on European culture and consider the historical significant of ecological exchange between the broader Islamic world and Iberia before the momentous date of 1492.
Click here for a transcript of the episode.
"The Making of the Islamic World" is an ongoing series aimed at providing resources for the undergraduate classroom. The episodes in this series are subject to updates and modification.
|Fahad Ahmad Bishara is Rouhollah Ramazani Associate Professor of Arabian Peninsula and Gulf Studies at the University of Virginia. He specializes in the legal and economic history of the Indian Ocean and Islamic world, and is now spends his time thinking about dhows, the sea, and world history.|
|Jeannie Miller is an associate professor in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at University of Toronto. Her book entitled Al-Jahiz, the Quibbler: Equivocations in Kitab Al-Hayawan and Beyond is forthcoming with Edinburgh University Press.|
|Mohamad Ballan is an assistant professor in the Department of History at Stony Brook University. His research examines the intellectual, political and cultural history of the pre-modern Mediterranean world, with a focus on the classical and post-classical Islamic world between roughly 1100 and 1600. His book project, tentatively titled "Lord of the Pen and Sword," examines the phenomenon of the “scholar-statesman”—litterateurs, physicians, and jurists who ascended to the highest administrative and executive offices of state—in Islamic Spain and North Africa.|
Interviews by Chris Gratien
Sound production by Chris Gratien
Transcript by Marianne Dhenin
Music (by order of appearance): Aitua - Wings - II Animato; Chad Crouch - Skip Street; Chad Crouch - Daybreak; DOAP Main Beat; Chad Crouch - Dim; A.A. Aalto - Entonces; Aitua - Wings - III Chorinho; Al-Bustan Arab Music Concert Series: Jadakal Ghaythu by Sonia M'Barek; A.A. Aalto - Canyon
Al-Andalus during the Taifa or "party-kings" period of the 11th century, which followed the period of unified Muslim rule under the Umayyad Caliphate and preceded the subsequent conquest of the majority of Iberia by Christian kings. Source: Spain Then and Now
The history of modern Spain once began with the story of the Reconquista or "reconquest" of the Iberian peninsula starting in the medieval period and ending in the complete conversion or expulsion of Iberia's Muslims and Jews over the course of the 16th century. In this narrative, Islam was a mere abberation in the history of the region. A closer examination of the history of Muslim Iberia or al-Andalus reveals that the centuries of Muslim rule and presence were in fact integral to the making of the modern societies that live there today. And having been conquered by Muslim armies less than a century after the advent of Islam, Iberia was scarcely less a center of the Islamic world than any other region of the Middle East and North Africa.
Andalusi Muslims playing chess as depicted in The Book of Games by King Alfonso X, late 13th century. The game that became modern chess was introduced to Iberia and Sicily under Muslim rule. Source: Medievalists.net
Yet there is also no denying that al-Andalus was a cuturally-distinctive center of the Islamic world infused by myrid influences from the different communities of Muslims, Jews, and Christians who resided there. Under Muslim rule, cities like Cordoba, Seville, Granada, and Libson grew and nurtured a unique architectural style, which has left a lasting imprint on many cities of Iberia to this day. Al-Andalus likewise witnessed agrarian transformation in regions such as the Guadalquivir basin, where new crops and methods of irrigation were introduced from the east.
Al-Andalus was also a site of intellectual exchange with long-lasting consequences. Ibn Arabi, a scholar and mystic who birthed the Akbariyya Sufi movement, and Maimonides, a Jewish philosopher and scholar of the Torah, are just two figures who carried the intellectual legacies of al-Andalus to other regions of the Islamic world. Increasingly, scholars have also recognized the role of Arabic letters and learning in medieval and Renaissance Europe. One impact we discuss in the podcast is the spread of the "frame narrative." This literary device, characterized by an overarching story in which other stories can be inserted, is well attested in the Islamic literary canon through works such as Kalilah wa-Dimna and the 1001 Nights. Through translation and adaptation in al-Andalus, frame narratives found their way into Latin and European vernacular languages in foundational works such as The Canterbury Tales and The Decameron.
Music and poetry comprise an important legacy of al-Andalus for the Arabic-speaking world today. In the podcast, we played an excerpt of this performance of a muwashshah composed by Ibn al-Khatib, an Andalusi scholar whose life is discussed at greater length in the final installment of our series.
Many scholars of al-Andalus have sought to reframe the historical trajectory of Muslim Iberia, moving away from the tenets of the Reconquista narrative to focus on the Convivencia or "coexistence" of Muslims, Christians, and Jews living together before the rise of modern Spain and Portugal. One iconic artifact of coexistance is the muwashshah, a genre of sung poetry that typically contained Arabic verses often with a kharja or refrain in the Andalusi romance dialcets. Yet the theme of coexistance in this history should not be overstated. Al-Andalus was consistently a site of confessionalized conflicts, including during the many centuries of Christian expansion southward that coincided with the period of the Crusades.
As a complement to this episode that deals with the themes of conflict and coexistence, we recommend our interview with William Granara about the history and legacy of Muslim Sicily.
Despite the limitations of coexistence as a framework for understanding the multicultural, multiconfessional societies of al-Andalus, there's little question that Muslim Iberia's impact lived on well after the Reconquista. Whether in the form of architecture, music, cuisine, or the countless loanwords and toponyms from Arabic still used in Spanish and Portuguese, the legacies of al-Andalus are very much alive today.
The Alhambra palace was the royal palace of the Muslim rulers of Granada for centuries before being seized and altered by Spanish kings from the 16th century onward. Image Source: Wikipedia / Jebulon
The Alfama neighborhood of Libson, the capital of Portugal, takes its name from an Arabic word for "hot baths." It was initially built during the Islamic period. Image Source: Wikipedia / Miguel Vieira
For scholarship on the history of al-Andalus, consult this short bibliography assembled by our contributors.
Brian A. Catlos. The Victors and the Vanquished: Christians and Muslims of Catalonia and Aragon, 1050-1300. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Anwar Chejne. Muslim Spain: Its History and Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1974.
Michael Decker. 2009. "Plants and Progress: Rethinking the Islamic Agricultural Revolution". Journal of World History. 20, no. 2: 187-206.
Maribel Fierro. 'Abd Al-Rahman III: The First Cordoban Caliph. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2005.
Maribel Fierro. 'Abd Al-Rahman III: The First Cordoban Caliph. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2005.
Leonard Patrick Harvey. Islamic Spain, 1250-1500. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.
Salma Khadra Jayyusi, ed. The Legacy of Muslim Spain, 2 vols. Leiden: Brill, 1992.
Eduardo Manzano Moreno. Conquistadores, emires y califas. Barcelona: Critica, 2006.
María Rosa Menocal. The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History: a Forgotten Heritage. 2010.
________. The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. New York: Back Bay Books, 2012.
Dwight Reynolds. The Musical Heritage of al-Andalus. Routledge, 2020.
Ramzi Rouighi. The Making of a Mediterranean Emirate: Ifriqiya and Its Andalusis, 1200-1400. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.
Sarah Stroumsa. Andalus and Sefarad: On Philosophy and Its History in Islamic Spain. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019.
Andrew M. Watson. Agricultural Innovation in the Early Islamic World: The Diffusion of Crops and Farming Techniques 700-1100. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
David Waserstein. The Rise and Fall of the Party-Kings: Politics and Society in Islamic Spain, 1002-1086. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.
|Chris Gratien is Assistant Professor of History at University of Virginia, where he teaches classes on global environmental history and the Middle East. He is currently preparing a monograph about the environmental history of the Cilicia region of the former Ottoman Empire from the 1850s until the 1950s.|