The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise

Muslims, Christians, and Jews Under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain

Book - 2017
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Scholars, journalists, and even politicians uphold Muslim-ruled medieval Spain--'al-Andalus'--as a multicultural paradise, a place where Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived in harmony. There is only one problem with this widely accepted account: it is a myth. In this groundbreaking book, Northwestern University scholar Dario Fernandez-Morera tells the full story of Islamic Spain. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise shines light on hidden history by drawing on an abundance of primary sources that scholars have ignored, as well as archaeological evidence only recently unearthed. This supposed beacon of peaceful coexistence began, of course, with the Islamic Caliphate's conquest of Spain. Far from a land of religious tolerance, Islamic Spain was marked by religious and therefore cultural repression in all areas of life and the marginalization of Christians and other groups--all this in the service of social control by autocratic rulers and a class of religious authorities. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise provides a desperately needed reassessment of medieval Spain. As professors, politicians, and pundits continue to celebrate Islamic Spain for its 'multiculturalism' and 'diversity,' Fernandez-Morera sets the historical record straight--showing that a politically useful myth is a myth nonetheless.
Publisher: Wilmington, Delaware : ISI Books, 2017
Copyright Date: ©2016
ISBN: 9781610170956
Branch Call Number: 305.69709020946 FER 2016
Characteristics: ix, 358 pages ; 24 cm


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Jan 14, 2018

I learned a lot about my ancestors from this book - some of it quite shocking and some of it I didn't really want to know. It's a spirited read and entirely convincing.

Aug 12, 2017

Professor Dario Fernandez-Morera's "The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise" is a well-documented and well-researched work that has been needed in the realm of Spanish and Islamic Studies for decades. In it, Fernandez-Morera states and, then, goes on to prove through numerous attestations that the myth of a paradise in Spain during the reign of the Muslim Umayyad rulers is just that, a myth, one that has been concocted by many historians and academics through the years for various social, cultural and political reasons.

In the introduction to this work, Fernandez-Morera clearly states his objective, his methodology, his reliance on primary Muslim, Jewish and Christian sources from the time of Islamic domination of Spain and his special attention to the legal dictates of the Maliki Sunni School of Sharia that was followed in Spain during the period of Umayyad rule. He certifies his assertions and conclusions with one-hundred-and-eight pages of footnotes and bibliography.

In addition to the introduction and the epilogue, the book comprises seven chapters: "The Effects of the Jihad," "The Daily Realities of Al-Andalus," "The Myth of Umayyad Tolerance," "Women in Islamic Spain," "The Truth about the Jewish Community's 'Golden Age'" and "The Christian Condition." Each chapter covers its aforementioned topic, and primary historical accounts are used to illuminate each subject. The material covered is extensive, ranging from items as diverse as the cultural circumstance in the Visigothic Kingdom at the time of the Muslim conquest to the difference on restrictions on the behaviour of married Muslim women compared to the ones placed on those who were mere sexual slaves kept for the pleasure of their Muslim masters, just to mention two, and covering many other aspects of life, high and low, as well.

At the beginning of each chapter, Fernandez-Morera lets the many advocates of the myth of a tolerant Muslim Spain speak for themselves by quoting from their works: These quotes are included at the beginning of the sub-chapters, as well. Within the chapters, he uses quotes from primary Muslim, Jewish and Christian authors to elucidate his arguments. These latter quotes are worth paying special attention to for the light they shine on the world of Islamic Spain.

Due to its scholarly and analytical nature, this is a book in which chapter should be read slowly and carefully to fully realize the information that it contains. By doing that, one will find that it is quite rewarding and that it gives an insightful look into a world that is known more for what it never was than for what it was.

I, also, would like to thank Pima County Public Library for accepting my recommendation for this book, purchasing it and placing it on hold for me. I can see that when I return it in the next few days that there are already several other library patrons who have it on hold for themselves.

Jun 21, 2017

I read this book awhile back and neglected to comment on its excellent scholarship and anti-reivisionism content. Reminds me of the reality of the great Armenian Genocide, and who anyone who passes on describing on what actually took place, as opposed to skipping, is truly demonstrating some surreal fecklessness. When multi-generational Muslim neighbors can so easily slaughter their Armenian neighbors at the directive of a ruler, such cultural/religious/ethnic psychosis should be most thoroughly examined, if we do not wish to witness such a repeat in North America.

Jun 20, 2017

Could it actually be a correction of past research (or the lack thereof)? Maybe the picture is more balanced than it has ever been. It is always beneficial to have material that has previously been left out brought to the fore so that the reader can see and evaluate on his or her own. isn't that the responsibility of the researcher, historian and even scientist? I love the footnotes and listing of sources. Makes me want to read even more. Thank you.

Nov 07, 2016

In the eighth century, civilized Muslims from North Africa crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and conquered the barbaric Visigoth kingdom that ruled Spain. For nearly seven hundred years al-Andalus - Muslim Iberia - was a center of culture and knowledge, spreading classical learning to backwards Europe, and serving as a rare oasis of tolerance and civility, where Christians, Jews, and Muslims lived peacefully side by side. This golden age came to an end with the success of the Christian reconquista, which represented the return of intolerance and Inquisition, culminating in the expulsion of the remaining Muslims and Jews under Isabella the Catholic.

According to Spanish historian Fernandez-Morera, the only problem with the above is that none of it is true. The Visigoths were not backwards barbarians, but possessed a highly developed culture that existed in continuity with the classical past, but was utterly destroyed by the Muslim invasion. The Muslim conquerors, who were mostly Berbers and not Arabs, did not civilize Spain - they were civilized by it. The successive Muslim regimes were governed according to the strict Maliki interpretation of Sharia law, with no distinct civil law. While after the initial invasion, and the accompanying massacres, the active persecution of Christians and Jews was only intermittent, with occasional pogroms and mass deportations, both groups were always kept under subjugation. Although members of the three faiths found ways to accommodate the others, as populations living in close proximity always have, all three also legally divided themselves from the others. Even the transmission of the Greek classical patrimony into Europe was achieved through Constantinople more than through the Muslim world, and that transmission would likely have been faster if not for the disruptions caused by the rise of Islam.

How, then, has the myth of the Andalusian paradise become so engrained in scholarly understanding as well as public discourse? Fernandez-Morera briefly sketches how it grew out of the Black Legend of Inquisitorial Spain and became a useful weapon with which to attack Christianity during the Enlightenment. It truly came into its own, however, with the increasing importance and influence of Islam in the last fifty years, serving as both an emblem of past Muslim virtue and a promise of an enlightened future Islam. Scholars who have resisted this narrative have been systematically marginalized, while supporters have been rewarded. This has been compounded by the tendency of scholarship to focus on the behavior of elites and exceptional individuals rather than the formal structures of law under which the vast majority of the population lived.

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise is intended as a corrective. As such, the author shows no interest in the genuine accomplishments of Muslim Spain, since those have been more than adequately chronicled - and hyped - elsewhere. This is therefore far from a balanced picture of al-Andalus. It is an excellent and necessary contribution to the understanding of medieval Spain, but it should not be considered as presenting a complete picture.

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