Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Islamic Spain (Notes:67)



(Note: The formal title for Islamic Spain I decided to not use as I cannot spell it, since I have no identifier for its linguistic key.)

Religiously and ethnically, Islamic Spain was the most complex territory in Europe. It had Muslims, Christians, and Jews living side-by-side and quickly began a hub known for its religious freedom.
Up the eighth century, the Islamic world was ruled by a caliphate (an Islamic ruler supposedly directly descended from Muhammad). This caliphate would appoint emirs, or local governors, to rule territories in his stead. But, after a coup removes the family of the then presently standing caliphate and replaces it with another, one of the few surviving family members who escaped the purge flees to Islamic Spain. Quickly gaining supporters, he defeats the local emir in battle and proclaims Islamic Spain as an independent territory.

It is in the tenth century that Islamic Spain reaches the height of its power under this new dynasty, the so-called ‘golden age’. Part of this success lies with the ruler, who becomes king at just twenty years old. Reigning for over fifty years, he does not pass until 961. Known for his strong expressions of discipline, and odd appearance since his mother was Frankish, Al-addan the Third could be an authoritarian when he needed to be and during any challenge to his power.

In 929, The Third becomes so powerful that he resumes the title of caliph. In doing so he claims equal status to the rival caliphate who rules in Baghdad. Early in the eleventh century, however, Islamic Spain will start to fragment into two dozen smaller kingdoms, each with their own Arab-Muslim ruler. Why this fragmentation happens is due to someone called Al-Malsuor. Originally not part of the ruling dynasty, his faced a great deal of resentment from people who considered him an upstart.

Al-Malsuor gains this power by saving a young caliph’s life. After saving this boy from the attempted murder, he is able to ruler over him until his own death. In an attempt to further concentrate his power, he tries to win favor with other Islamic rulers by waging unending war with the Christians in the North, who greatly feared him since he had a tendency to sack important holy sites. Being a literate man and well cultured, Al-Malsuor writes poetry in addition to establishing his own court to rival the Baghdad one. Indeed, the only thing that he does not do is take the title of caliph. Were he to take such a title, then that may unite the Arab-aristocrats against him and ferment rebellion. Dying in 1002, his son and successor did not possess as much sense as his father.

His son, Sanjoul, was not satisfied with simply having power, he wanted to title to go along with it. So he convinced certain court officials to name him as the next caliph. Though the sitting Caliph did not make any fuss over being asked to name Sanjoul as his successor, other members of the court felt that enough was enough. The end result was a civil war which would rack Islamic Spain for several decades. Once war breaks out, it goes badly for Sanjoul, who is quickly captured after his allies abandon him; he is crucified.

Once the civil war ends, the Arab aristocrats do not elect someone new to the office of Caliph. They think that the title is more trouble than it is worth. Instead, they decide to break up Spain into a couple of dozen territories, where there will be no more political infighting and attempts at grand power. Incidentally, it is this move to a smaller, de-centralized power structure that will set the stage for the Christian re-conquest of Spain in the early eleventh century.

To bring things back to the social and cultural life of Islamic Spain, however, we see a great deal of urbanization in Islamic Spain.

Whereas in Christian Europe it was rare for cities to reach twenty-thousand inhabitants, some estimates put the population of the capital of Islamic Spain at nearly a quarter of a million. This was in addition to the numerous other cities in Islamic Spain which would regularly reach over thirty and forty million people.

Islamic Spain has great economic ties as well. Not only do they have contacts with the House of Islam, but they have trade with China and India; trading wood, with Africa, and precious materials, Islamic Spain was able to obtain luxury goods from as far away as Asia.

In terms of the Syrianization of Spain, as some historians call it, takes place predominately in agriculture. Since Spain is a dry, arid place, and Arabs have a great deal of experience in trying to make things grow which see little water, they introduce new irrigation techniques into Spanish farming. How to use canals, wells, and water wheels effectively are all imported to Spain by the Arabs. But the Arabs introduce crops as well, such as rice, sugar cane, and cotton.

In terms of high culture, for a long time, Islamic Spain is not known as the place that one goes to study. It is seen as a dusty outpost of the Islamic world. But in the ninth and tenth centuries, as Islamic Spain becomes more important in current affairs, Muslim and Jewish scholars begin to congregate in Spain. Science, mathematics, and astronomy all receive great boosts from the presence of these disciplined and specialized minds. In addition, though, Islamic Spain also becomes a repository for many ancient Greek manuscripts of philosophy. 

Islamic Spain is the only area in Europe where Christians, Muslims, and Jews coexist for hundreds of years. Christians and Jews in Islamic Spain are known as Mots-Arabs, people who, though treated reasonably well, are still second-class citizens. Christians and Jews are known as ‘People of the Book’, Muslims consider them as being the recipients of genuine, if not imperfect, divine revelations (the Old and New Testament respectively). As people of the book, Christians and Jews are allowed to practice their religion and given a degree of autonomy in that they do not have to follow Islamic law when it comes to economic matters, they may use Visigothic law. In addition, they also have their own judges and courts. It was even possible for Mots-Arabs to gain lower positions in government, though one would have to convert to Islam if one wanted to go very high.

Mots-Arabs and Jews, however, do face some restrictions. They must pay a special tax to practice their religion and they cannot publically express select aspects of their religion (such as, for example, ringing church bells). Theoretically, one is not supposed to build new churches, though one could often get around this restriction. One should also not attempt to proselytize, either; should one try and convert Arabs to Christianity, the sentence is usually death. There is also certain physical restrictions placed on Mots-Arabs with special quarters in the cities being erected where Most-Arabs were expected to live.

In the ninth and tenth centuries, however, the number of Mots-Arabs living in Islamic Spain dwindles. This has to do with the non-Muslims converting to Islam because they wish to have a greater role in daily life. The vital time period for this mass conversion is the tenth century, where Christians go from a majority to a minority. Though some Christians react badly to this conversion and attempt desperate measures, such as the denouncement of Muhammad in an effort to court martyrdom and save the faith, these militant acts are not enough to stem the tide. Consequentially, by the time of the Christian re-conquest, substantial numbers of the population are Muslim with only a minority being Christian.