"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Coexisting in Cordoba...with just a little martyrdom thrown in

Notes and reflections on Peace Be Upon You: The Story of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence by Zachary Karabell

Chapter 3 speaks of Cordoba.  And how relevant is this topic with the now-fading (thank you, Lord) talk of Park51 or the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" which was supposed to have this name?  Muslims said the chosen name of this community center was to reflect a time of coexistence whereas the people who never have anything nice to say about Muslims took it to mean Muslims were celebrating Islam's conquest of Christian Spain. So, I really enjoyed learning a bit more about this period in history.

Karabell mentions what a glorious time it was - "a magical fusion of commerce, learning, and power that put it in the rarefied company of classical Greece, imperial Rome, Han China, and Renaissance Italy."  Yet he mentions a small group of Christians who were not happy. In fact one of them - a monk named Isaac - requested admittance before a leading Muslim judge in which he blatantly spoke against the Quran and Muhammad.  Not accepting the Quran as God's word or Muhammad as a prophet was not a huge deal among the people of this time, but there were boundaries of speech one didn't cross ... unless he wanted to die which is exactly what Isaac wanted. He desired to speak out against the evils of Islam and stand up for the true faith. He was tired of Christians converting to Islam. He was tired of them learning Arabic and studying Arabic books. He was tired of assimilating to the conquerors and imitating their manners and mores. He was tired of being a second-class citizen in his own land. 

The author said many Christian-to-Islam conversions happened because people wanted to progress in life. Sure they had good positions even with Muslim rulers, but they could only go so far and they were "never allowed to forget that their freedoms were at the mercy of the Muslims who controlled the armies and the treasuries."  (pg. 67)

Isaac and his followers, one of the most famous being Eulogius, were martyrs for the purity of Christianity in a sense. However, the majority of Spanish Christians did not agree with their stance. In fact their biggest opponents were fellow Christians who thought Isaac and Eulogius had gone too far in their resistance.  "It was an archetypal struggle that conquered peoples face: resist or assimilate."  Some Christians were even collecting taxes for the Muslims. This reminded me of the New Testament and how tax collectors were often despised by their own people for collecting taxes for the Roman occupiers. 

For the most part Christians, Muslims and Jews got along well in Cordoba, however, the Arab Muslims often treated the Berber Muslims (from present-day Morocco) as "second-class clients."  Because of this there were few periods where at least one minor war was not active in the region. 

The Jews of Spain, with their religious communities in Muslim lands and Christians lands, thrived as intermediaries dealing with trade relations.  Also their knowledge of many languages was valuable as the Muslim leaders desired books to be translated to the common tongue.

The author went on to share some incidents of coexistence and quoted an idea from a historian that I liked:  "unless people are forced to confront alien groups, different habits, and unfamiliar customs, they become rigid, brittle, and complacent."  (pg. 76)  He believes that "competition between the faiths" was a reason monotheism spread rapidly beyond the Mediterranean while the "interaction between the faiths also fed intellectual creativity."  Muslims acquired ancient medical wisdom through the linguistic skills of Spanish Jews and Christians, while Jewish merchants thrived during this time of "Pax Islamica that extended to Jews the protections granted to the People of the Book."  (pg. 77)

Granada was an example of both good and bad as a Jewish man, Samuel the Nagid, was able to lead Muslim soldiers at one point in its history.  Yet the bad part was when Abu Ishaq fell from grace and decided Jews were to be slaughtered. This led to many days of terror and death for Jewish leaders.  Never underestimate the power of hateful campaigns in fueling the mob mentality. 

The rise in the wealth and power of the Christian Cluny order and the Muslim puritan group from today's Morocco - the Almoravids - set the stage for thinking in terms of holy war.  The Cluniacs were "disciplined, focused, and intent on imposing order" in a time when much of the church "could be charitably described as anarchic."  As they gained control they started "framing battles and campaigns against the Muslims as divine acts, sanctioned not just by the church but by God."  The Berber Almoravids were "intent on restoring what they thought was the lost piety of early Islam."  It was the Muslims' turn to say Islam's decline in Spain was a result of Muslims straying and God's punishment. Now the Almoravids came and ruled with much less tolerance, more taxation and more restriction on the People of the Book. 

As the Christian "holy war" against Muslims started succeeding in Spain, the new pope from the rising Cluniac fame -- Urban II -- started looking towards retaking Jerusalem. While the author doesn't mention promises to the Christian soldiers about gaining numerous sexual partners in heaven, he does report Urban II's promise that anyone who fought would gain forgiveness for sin.  Apparently this was incentive enough.


Lat said...

Pretty interesting to read about Cordoba from this author.

The Iran book also has such wars too.Having tolerance is easy as long as one's comfort's zone is not 'attacked'.I think understanding the other's perspective is necessary for that tolerance to succeed even further with love and friendship.I think the inter-faith groups now are actually trying to do that.

Suroor said...

I like this post. So much to learn and absorb from here.

"The author said many Christian-to-Islam conversions happened because people wanted to progress in life."

I wonder how Muslims feel about those Muslims who convert to Christianity 'to progress in life'! And there are a good many who do that.

Susanne said...

Lat, well, I would agree with this normally --

"Having tolerance is easy as long as one's comfort's zone is not 'attacked'."

except that as I read more in this book and see Christians (and I use that term very loosely as this isn't the Christ that I know) taking power in Spain and gaining more power, they got more brutal. >>:-(

Susanne said...

Suroor, the author mentioned something called taqiyya which was a concept of converting in name only so maybe it was normal back then and people didn't mind so much. :)