‘Surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of night and day, there are signs for men possessed of minds who reflect upon the creation of the heavens and the earth and say Our Lord, you have not created this in vain’
And has subjected to you all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth; it is all as a favour and kindness from Him. Verily, in it are signs for a people who think
The ayaat above, extol the believers, to ponder on the universe–through use of intellect towards determining the truth (and discovering that beneficial to the mankind) in Din as well as Dunya.
Most of the posts (labeled TALIMAT) are part of the proposed curriculum for religious education of pre–college youngsters. In my opinion this curriculum reflects the desire to create an intellectual approach in accordance with the above mentioned teaching i.e. to develop a mindset of questioning and research orientation. In view of the same I have decided to continue the matter dealing with the Islamic civilizations; because “it is important that we understand what we mean by Muslim Civilisation. A good way to acquire this understanding is by studying an example of such a civilization in history.”
The seven units that will, Inshallah, follow will deal with this aspect.
Overview of the unit
1. The rock by the sea
We set off on an imaginary journey into Spain, starting from a place called the Rock of Gibraltar. Gibraltar is a small peninsula located in the southern part of Spain, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The text explains the importance that this place held for travellers and settlers in ancient times.
2. A peninsula full of surprises
Our journey continues into the interior of Spain towards Cordova. We travel through an area called Andalusia. On the way, we learn about some aspects of the life of Spanish people, such as their food, 1anguage, music and architecture. We discover clues that point to the presence of Muslims in this region in the past.
3. Mysterious Cordova
We arrive in Cordova and explore its famous historic sites. The first place we visit is a building which is called the mosque-cathedral, famous for its magnificent horseshoe arches and marble pillars. We wonder how both a mosque and a cathedral came to be built in the same place.
4. Ruins from a lost age
Our exploration of Cardova continues as we walk the old parts of the city. We come across the old city quarters and walls that were built in the Middle Ages. Our next stop takes us to the ruins of Madinat al-Zahra; a royal city built by Muslim rulers in Spain in the past.
5. A time between the ancient and the modern
As we stand on the ancient bridge of Cordova, we are transported to the city as it was in the seventh century, just before the Muslim rule began. We begin our exploration of the life of people who lived in this region of Europe in the Middle Ages.
The rock by the Sea
Near the southern tip of Spain is a small peninsula which is about three miles long and less than one mile wide. This small stretch of land is surrounded on all sides by the sea, except where it joins the mainland. As we travel towards the very edge of the peninsula, a massive rock arises sharply from the sea. It has the height of a small mountain and is made up mostly of limestone.
If we climb to the very top of the rock, many surprises await us. A cool breeze from the sea sweeps past us as it heads inland. We hear the cooing of pigeons and the fluttering of partridges which have made their nests in small nooks in the chalky rock. We might catch a glimpse of wild monkeys scrambling boldly up the cliffs with great skill.
Far below us, mighty waves roll from the sea and crush into the foot of the rock, breaking into sprays of white foam.
As we face south and gaze around us, we are greeted by
an awesome view. To the left of us lies the Mediterranean Sea, stretching eastwards far beyond what the eye can see. On the right is the Strait of Gibraltar, a narrow channel of the sea that leads into the Atlantic Ocean.
Behind us, towards the horizon, we catch sight of the hills that form part of Spain and the land mass of Europe. And finally, straight ahead of us, about fourteen miles away, lies the great continent of Africa.
Gates and bridges
From where we stand, we can tell that Gibraltar is located in a very special place. For ships travelling between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, this piece of land seems to be like a gate. It is in this area that the sea reaches its narrowest point between Europe and Africa before joining the open ocean.
Gibraltar is also like a bridge, for it almost connects the two continents, stretching from Europe towards Africa.
Gates control the movement of people, either allowing them to enter a place or stopping them from doing so. Bridges enable people to cross from one place to another. Gibraltar has acted both as a gate and a bridge in its long history. Like many places on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, its history goes back to the ancient times.
Why was Gibraltar an important place in the Mediterranean region in the
WORDS TO LOOK UP
- Pillars of Hercules
- 11th century BCE: Phoenicians sail their ships in the Mediterranean sea.
- 8th century BCE: Greeks begin trading near Spain.
Gibraltar was an important place in the past. It marked a limit for ancient sea travelers sailing in the Mediterranean Sea, It also acted as a crossing point for settlers between different continents.
Imagine sitting at the top of the Rock of Gibraltar some three thousand years ago. Quite close to us, we discover something which was not there before. It is an enormous pillar made of silver, standing tall like a lighthouse and flashing brightly in the sunlight.
In the distance, we spot some ships approaching from the east. We wait eagerly for them to sail past us so that we can get a better view of them. Just as the ships near the rock, to our great disappointment, they turn around and head back in the opposite direction.
The pillars of Hercules
In the ancient times, ships belonging to a sea seafaring people called the Phoenicians travelled all across the Mediterranean Sea. The Phoenicians were brave and skillful sailors who had mastered the art of sailing over long distances. However, most of them did not dare sail too far past the Rock of Gibraltar because beyond it lay the great unknown, an area which they feared to explore.
The silver pillar which the Phoenicians placed on top of the rock was to warn their sailors that they had reached the limits of the known world, the world with which they were familiar. A similar pillar was placed on a peak on the opposite African shore. The ancient Greeks called these two points the ‘Pillars of Hercules’ after one of their great heroes.
Settlers from Africa and Asia
The ancient Mediterranean people treated the Rock of Gibraltar as a gate to stop them from straying into the unknown. Many centuries later, other people chose to make Gibraltar into a bridge between the known and the unknown. These people came from Muslim lands in the continents which we today call ‘Africa’ and ‘Asia’, and entered ‘Europe’. They travelled from places that were their homes to a land which was foreign to them.
In this book, we will learn how people of Muslim lands settled in the countries which we today call Spain and Portugal. Here, they created a new civilisation in Europe that was to last for almost eight hundred yearn This book tells the story of how different people — Christians, Jews and Muslims — struggled to live together as part of a new society.
We start our journey in Gibraltar, a bridge that will take us from the present into the past, from the known into the unknown.
Imagine you are a Phoenician sailor on a ship that is caught in a storm. Write a story about your adventures as you sail past Gibraltar into the unknown.
Find out more about ancient civilisations that arose near the Mediterranean Sea, such as in Egypt and Greece. What were the relations between ancient civilisations in this region?
The boundaries between people of different lands have changed throughout history. How do the boundaries that exist today between different nations affect how they interact with one another?
The ancient seafarers created a boundary between the known and the unknown. They feared what lay in the unknown. What is the ‘unknown’ to us today and how do we relate to it?
1.2 A peninsula full of surprises
The Rock of Gibraltar is a perfect place on which to plan our exploration of the past. Spain is just three miles from here, and Portugal is only a few hours away. Shall we travel by sea along the coast and visit the seaside resorts? We could be cautious like the Phoenicians and take the safe route eastwards, On the other hand, we could be bold and sail in the direction that most Phoenicians dared not follow — into the unknown!
Either way, we would be following a coastline that runs for hundreds of miles in both directions. We would be tracing the boundaries of one of he largest peninsulas in Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, which is located in the south-western part of Europe. The peninsula is shared by Spain and Portugal, with Spain occupying the greater part of the land area.
We decide that a sea journey would be very exciting, but it would not allow us to travel into the interior. We might get to see much more of the peninsula if we travelled by land. There are regular coaches which leave Gibraltar for different cities. Which places shall we visit?
Shall we travel to Madrid, the capital of Spain, or maybe Lisbon, the capital of Portugal? What about other large cities, such as Barcelona or Valencia? Perhaps we could travel to historic places such as Seville and Granada before making our way north to Toledo.
It is a difficult choice to make— Portugal and Spain have many interesting sites for visitors. After much thought, we decide finally to visit Cordova, a town which was once a great capital of Muslim rulers who settled in this land.
The Andalusian countryside
Before long, we are in the countryside. We are travelling through a part of Spain called Andalusia. We pass by small farms and vineyards, separated by rolling hills dotted with olive trees. Once in a while, we catch sight of a deer bounding across the road or a hare dashing towards its burrow. The land which we are crossing is quite interesting.
The Iberian Peninsula
Most of the Iberian Peninsula is a great, barren plateau which turns very cold in winter and extremely hot in summer. The plateau is divided by mountain ranges which give rise to large, fast-flowing rivers. The Guadalquivir is the deepest river in Spain, allowing ships to sail along some of its length. In the north-east, a chain of snow-peaked mountains called the Pyrenees forms a border with the rest of Europe
The people of Spain and Portugal
Travelling further inland, we come across small villages with whitewashed houses. Here, we see people from the countryside – farmers, labourers, peasants, and landowners. Until 1950s, most of the people of Spain and Portugal earned their living by working on small farms. In the following decades, people began to move from the countryside to cities such as Madrid, Lisbon and Barcelona to work in industries and businesses.
We notice that there are many tourists on our coach. In recent years, Spanish and Portuguese towns have become popular places for millions of tourists. The large sums of money spent by the tourists each year have helped Spain and Portugal to become modern nations in Europe.
As we pass through small towns and villages, we spot old churches with their spires rising high above other buildings. Most of the people in Spain and Portugal are Christians who belong to the Roman Catholic Church. There are also small communities of Protestant Christians, Jews and Muslims who live here.
The people of these two countries are descendants of many groups such as Iberians, Romans, Visigoths, Arabs and Berbers. Some of these groups settled in the peninsula in ancient times, while others arrived in later periods.
Foods with Arab sounding names
On our way, we stop at a roadside café in a small town for some refreshments. It has been a long day and we are glad to have a meal. We look hungrily over the menu, wondering what various items writtenin Spanish mean.
Some of the dishes are made from aceituna (olives), arroz (rice) and álaga (wheat). For dessert, there is plenty of fresh fruit, including naranga (oranges) and alberchino (peaches), sprinkled generously with azafran (saffron) and almendra (almonds).
We notice that there are many words in Spanish which begin with ‘al’, just as in Arabic. Could there be a connection between these two languages?
Flamenco — a dance from a forgotten past
While we are enjoying our meal, a small group of local musicians – perform a dance for the tourists. One of the men plays a guitar and sings in Spanish while a woman starts dancing. She is wearing a colourful, frilled dress that swings out with every move she makes. She dances in step with the music, snapping her fingers, clapping her hands, and clicking her heels sharply to the rhythm of the guitar.
The man and the woman are performing the flamenco, a type of song and dance which is hundreds of years old, just as the music starts to carry us away to a forgotten past, the rude horn of the coach awakens us. It is time to leave for Cordova.
What can we learn from the culture of Spanish people today about its links with Muslims who lived in this region in the past?
WORDS TO LOOK UP
- Iberian Peninsula
Try to prepare a dish using the ingredients given on this page. For example, make a fruit salad using oranges peaches and almonds. Find out what recipes are popular in Spain. Which ones use the ingredients mentioned in the text?
Learning about the culture and heritage of Spain today is one way of finding about its Muslim past.
Find out more information about present-day Spain in terms of its geography people, history, culture and religions. Try to identify aspects that link Spain with its Muslim past such as food, music, architecture and language.
Imagine you are planning to visit Spain as part of a study tour. Write a list of ten questions you would like to investigate that would help you learn more about Spain.
1.3 Mysterious Cordova
We are almost at the end of our journey. In front of us is the mighty Guadalquivir, flowing majestically towards the sea. To enter Cordova, all we have to do is cross the bridge over the river. We decide to get off the coach and walk across the bridge so that we can get a better view of the town.
The strong current of the river sweeps past us, reminding us of that other ‘bridge’ we left behind not too long ago. This bridge too, with its sixteen arches, is no ordinary one. It is an ancient bridge built by the Romans that leads to Cordova, and to its past.
We walk across the bridge, through an arched gateway, and there before us stands a building with a tall bell tower which appears to be the town cathedral. Curious to know what the cathedral looks like from the inside, we decide to pay it a visit. As we step in through the doorway, we gasp at the towering arches soaring high above us to support the ceiling. In front of us is an altar of red marble; while on either side are images of Christian saints.
We move on to explore other parts of this large building. It is quite dark inside, and our eyes slowly make out a vast hall that is filled with endless rows of overlapping arches supported by marble pillars. The arches are shaped like horseshoes and covered with red-and-white stripes. High above our heads is an eight-sided dome, decorated with thousands of tiny coloured tiles to form a rich mosaic.
As we move towards one of the walls, we notice a niche. It reminds us of the mihrab in a mosque that indicates in the direction of Mecca. Around the niche, we recognize a familiar phrase written in Arabic. It reads, ‘In the Name of the Allah, the Most Kind, the Most Merciful.’
We stand back, amazed. It seems that this building is a mosque, but it can’t be! Did we not enter a cathedral? Is this place a cathedral or a mosque? Can it be two places at the same time, one belonging to Christians and the other to Muslims?
Not being able to make up our mind, we walk out into the bright sunlight, still very confused. We look at the building once more, and decide that we will visit this strange mosque-cathedral again. In the meantime, we are curious to explore other mysteries that Cordova may hide.
What can we learn from present day Cordova about its Muslim past?
WORDS TO LOOK UP
Make a model of a mosque using a design based on horseshoe arches and pillars. How does your model compare with the structure of the Cordovan mosque?
Cordova is an important intersection between Muslim and Christian history. The mosque-cathedral of Cordova reminds us of that intersection.
Collect as much information as you can about the mosque-cathedral of Cordova. Find out about other places such as the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, which are important to the people of more than one religion.
In today’s world, there is a great need for people of different faiths and cultures to have a better understanding of one another. What are some of the difficulties towards achieving this goal? Are there ways in which these difficulties can be overcome?
Think of people, places and events that act as points where cultures come together. In what other ways do people of different cultures interact?
1.4 Ruins from a lost age
We open a map of Cordova to find where we are. The ancient Roman bridge and the mosque-cathedral are clearly marked on the map. We notice that there are many interesting sites to visit, such as the old town of Cordova, the ancient city walls and the waterwheel by the river. We decide to visit the sites that are closest to the mosque-cathedral. If we have more time, we might visit other places that will help us to learn about Cordova’s past.
Not very far from the mosque-cathedral, we enter an old part of the town called Juderia. We walk along narrow passages and winding alleys which become darker as the houses close in on us.
Every now and then, we step into a bright open space called a courtyard. It is bordered on all sides by whitewashed houses whose walls and balconies are decorated with pots of pretty roses and carnations. We can hear canaries singing in their cages which hang in the balconies. In the middle of the courtyards, children play around fountains splashing with cool water.
An old wall leads us back to the river bank where an enormous waterwheel stands silent, its great circle breaking the skyline. We wonder who built this waterwheel here in the middle of the city, since there are no farms nearby.
In search of the palace-city
There is another site that we must visit before it gets dark. It is five miles north-west of Cordova, a short journey if we ask our coach driver to take us there. The driver knows the place quite well and agrees to drive us to the site. We arrive soon near a hillside covered with almond and fig trees.
A path up the hill leads us to a place where we find ourselves among some ruins. We step carefully on the cracked paving stones and pick up some broken tiles in our hands. We wipe away the dust to find the tiles covered with blue, green and red colours. These tiles must have decorated a wall or formed part of a mosaic at one time. Their colours still shine brightly in the sunshine.
The royal chamber
Nearby, the ruins of an old building catch our attention. Inside the building, horseshoes arches rest on pillars of blue-and-pink marble, reminding us of the large hall in the mosque-cathedral. We are standing inside a very special place – what was once a royal chamber where the caliph held court.
Here, on this very spot, acrobats and magicians performed their amazing feats before a royal audience. Here, ambassadors of far-off lands came to visit the caliph, bringing with them expensive gifts from their emperors and kings. This chamber was once part of a grand palace built in the centre of a royal city called Madinat al-Zahra.
Not much remains of the palace-city, except for these few pillars and arches. Everything is very quiet now, in this royal city.
As we return to our coach, our minds are filled with many questions. Who built this great palace-city, and how long ago was it built? Why was it built in this place, several miles away from Cordova? What kinds of buildings did the palace-city have and who lived in them? We think of the royal chamber which formed part of the palace. What happened to this great palace, together with all its treasures? Why do only the ruins of this city remain today?
We are back on the Roman Bridge from where we started. It has been a tiring journey, and our coach awaits to take us back to Gibraltar. Just before we leave, we take one final look at Cordova. The bridge gives us a fabulous view of the town. Our eyes scan the buildings and come to rest on the mosque-cathedral.
If only it were possible to go back into the past, to a time when we could solve all these puzzling questions… Something changes. We are still in the same place, on the same bridge, but the city of Cordova looks very different. Our coach has vanished, and so has everything that we call ‘modern’.
We are no longer in the twenty-first century, but in the seventh! Cordova is not a modern Spanish city, but a small market town where villagers from nearby farms come to sell their produce. Where the mosque—cathedral once stood, we find a church that is used by the Christians who live in the nearby areas.
What kinds of sites in Cordova today give us clues about its past as the capital of a Muslim empire?
WORDS TO LOOK UP
The city of Cordova as it is today reveals several important sites that are linked to its Muslim past.
Based on the illustration of the ruins shown above, draw a picture of how the royal palace in Madinat al-Zahra may have looked like when it was first built.
Historic sites are an important part of our past. However, looking after them can be expensive. Discuss whether governments should spend money on these sites or use it for more urgent needs today.
Think of the historic sites in the area where you live. What do these historic sites tell you about the history of your area?
1.5 A time between the ancient and the modern
The middle Ages
The time in which we find ourselves in Europe is called the Middle Ages, a time that falls between two periods the ancient and the modern. The Middle Ages in Europe is a period of slow progress. It is a time when kingdoms are being formed in different parts of the continent and led by kings. There are not many large cities and towns in these kingdoms.
Lords and peasants
The majority of the people are peasants who live in the countryside working as labourers on small forms. They usually work for the landowners who are their lords and who control large areas of land known as estates. The lords live comfortably in big houses called villas or mansions, and own a large number of slaves to carry out the chores in the kitchens, workshops, stables and cellars.
In the fields, it is the peasants who do most of the hard work. They till the land, sow the seeds, and harvest the crops. In return for their work and a share of the crops they produce, the peasants get to stay on the land and receive protection from their lords. If the peasants have any complaints, they take them to their lord.
The kings do not have direct control over their people. They may have large armies and pass laws, but it is the lords who are more powerful in the countryside.
Another influential group of people are the Christian bishops and priests. The common people cannot read the Bible because it is written in Latin. It is the priests who read the Bible and then explain its passages to the people. They also conduct religious ceremonies in the churches and lead the holy festivals.
Learning in the middle ages
Much of the learning that takes place in these times is carried out by priests and monks. It involves studying the Bible and other religious works. In monasteries, monks send many hours copying great works from the past.
The Archbishop of Seville, whose name is Isidore, has written an encyclopedia. It is divided into many sections and contains knowledge from many writers. He has tried to collect knowledge from whatever ancient texts he has been able to find.
To put together a work of this kind in the Middle Ages is a very difficult task. Since the fall of the Roman empire in the fifth century, many of the ancient works have been lost to scholars in Europe.
Different races of people have settled in various parts of Europe. In the Iberian Peninsula, the towns are controlled by the Visigoths, a people from the northern part of Europe. The Visigoth kings have made Toledo their capital.
In recent times, one Visigoth king has replaced another. No one is sure any more who the next leader will be, or for how long he will rule. The people pray for a ruler who can bring peace and order to the land. A strong king would stop rivals fighting for the throne.He would also defend the peninsula from invaders who have looted many villages and set them ablaze.
The Jewish communities
The ordinary people fear for their lives in these times. Among them are a large number of Jews who have settled in various parts of the peninsula. The Visigoth rulers have passed numerous laws against the Jews. They are not to marry Christians, own Christian slaves or hold important posts.
A Visigoth king has recently ordered all Jews to become Christians. Any Jew refusing to do so will be banished from the land and have his property taken away. The king wants to seize the large farms owned by the Jews and make them part of his own property.
The Jews are faced with very difficult choices. Some have accepted Christianity hut continue to lead their Jewish way of life in secret. Others have left the peninsula for North Africa, but most have remained behind. All that they and the other people can do is hope for better times.
How did people lead their lives in This Iberian Peninsula, in the Middle Ages?
WORDS TO LOOK UP
- Middle Ages
•lst-5th century CE: Spain under the control of the Romans.
•410 CE: Rome invaded by the Visigoths
• 5th-8th century CE: Visigoths rule in the Iberian Peninsula.
The city of Cordova acts as an important bridge that takes us back into the history of Spain in the Middle Ages.
Try to learn more about the Middle Ages. Was the way of life of people the same all over the world in this period, or did it differ from region to region?
Write a shod story or drama script about a family forced to leave.its home in the Middle Ages
Does it matter how people of different cultures write about their past? Does the way we think of the past affect the way we act in the present?
How do you think of your own past? Are there other ways in which the story of your life could be written?
- The rock by the sea
- What kind of land is Gibraltar and where is it located?
- Why is its position in the Mediterranean area important?
- In what sense was Gibraltar a gate for the ancient sea travellers?
- Why were these travellers fearful of sailing into the Atlantic Ocean?
- How did Gibraltar act as a bridge for settlers?
- A peninsula full of surprises
- What kind of land is the Iberian Peninsula, and where is it located?
- Which countries are to be found in the Iberian Peninsula?
- What is the background of the people who live in Spain and Portugal?
- What are some aspects of Spanish culture that have links with its Islamic past?
- Mysterious Cardova
- How would a visitor describe the interior of the mosque-cathedral of Cordova?
- What might be some reasons why a Christian cathedral and a Muslim mosque were constructed in the same space?
- What are some of the ways in which people of different religions interact today?
- Ruins from a lost age
- What were the various sites that the travellers visited in Cordova?
- What kinds of questions arose from these sites about their past?
- What did the visitors find in Madinat al-Zahra?
- What kind of place ought the royal ci have been in the past?
- What might have been some reasons for the royal city to have turned into ruins over the centuries?
- A time between the ancient and the modern
- What kind of life did people lead in Spain in the seventh century?
- What was the relation between the lords and peasants?
- What role did the priests and monks have in the Iberian Peninsula in the Middle Ages?
- Who were the Visigoths, and how did they treat the Jews?
- What are some important differences between the Middle Ages and the modern period?