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AL-ANDALUS: In Search of Lost Glory
Posted on Wednesday, December 31, 2008 @ 23:05:00 CST by kwpnews

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                                  Panoramic View of the Alhambra Castle

By: Muhammad bin Yusuf

My wife had always wanted to visit Al-Maghrib (Morocco). I also increasingly became interested in visiting the place where occasionally you will hear Muslims reminisce and say, "We ruled Spain for 800 years ...." Therefore, it was quite easy to mutually agree that maybe we should combine our dreams and visit both Al-Maghrib and Al-Andalus. And that is exactly what we did in the summer of 2000.



Although the two countries are on two different continents, Al-Maghrib and Al-Andalus (Spain) are much closer than most countries on the same continent. They are "a stone throw away" from each other.

The two countries, and indeed the two continents, Africa and Europe, are separated by the Strait of Gibraltar, a passage 65 km long and 14 to 24 km wide at the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. The Strait also links the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean.

After a little research, we decided which cities we would like to visit. In Al-Maghrib, and this was to include the four "imperial cities", i.e., cities that at one point were capitals under different dynasties and rulers - Fes, Marrakesh, Meknes, and Rabat (current capital).

We also decided to visit Casablanca, Morocco's largest city and industrial centre. At any rate once we got there we visited these five cities plus the city of Tangier, and 3 towns - Ouarzazate, Efrane, and Al-Jadida.

Two of the best things in Morocco for us was to meet and spend time in Casablanca with one of the best and most kind families we have ever met. Such hospitality reminded us of Jerusalem in 1995. And the second was to drive through the Atlas Mountains; the beauty was breath-taking.

We consider Morocco to be one of the most naturally beautiful countries in the world, because it has been blessed by what we like to think are the 5 most natural beauties - (1) Mountains (Atlas and Rif); (2) Waters (Atlantic and Mediterranean); (3) Desert (Sahara); (4) Forests (e.g., Juniper Forests); and (5) Animals (both the livestock, and wild - e.g., at Toukbal National Park). These are things that Allah has blessed Morocco with. It's very rare to have a country with all of these five natural beauties. Most countries may have one or two, and sometimes up to four, but 5 is quite rare.


Al-Maghrib is the home of one of Islam’s most famous explorer, Ibn Battuta. On separate trips he also visited southern Spain and crossed the Sahara to West Africa. After 29 years his journeys totaled 75,000 miles - three times the distance logged by his European predecessor, Marco Polo.

Ibn Battuta was a native of Morocco and he started his explorations at Tangier on his way to Makkah for the Hajj (Pilgrimage), and onwards to the rest of the world. He was nicknamed, "Prince of Travellers" and his real name was Abu Abdalla Muhammad ibn Abdalla ibn Muhammd ibn Ibrahim al-Lawati.

After extensively travelling throughout Morocco, we finally crossed the Mediterranean from Tangier, by Ferry, into Al-Andalus. The ferries are huge and very luxurious. They can accommodate so many vehicles and probably hundreds of passengers. They are equipped with recreational rooms, restaurants, toilets, foreign exchange counter, etc.

As for Al-Andalus, we decided that we were going to focus on the autonomous southern region that the Spanish government still calls Andalusia. It is the largest of Spain’s 17 regions, and it is the most populous with about 7 million people. It is also the region with the most preserved Muslim structures and architecture.

Here we decided to visit Cordoba, Granada, and the capital of Andalusia region, Seville. Although my wife had visited Spain before, she had not toured this part of the country. However, this time around we were not just "tourist" but rather Muslim tourists out to find what our ancestors had left behind and to reflect on that part of Islamic history.

In short we were going to search for the lost glory.

Our most exciting moment was when we saw Jabal Tariq. Two hours into our sea voyage (the entire voyage was just 2½ hours), the famous Jabal Tariq (anglicized to Gibraltar) became visible before our very eyes on the right hand side. I was so excited that I shouted, "Jabal Tariq! Jabal Tariq! Yaa Jabal Tariq!" And I kept looking at this historic Rock while in my mind a three part history was being played:-

(1) Commander Tariq ibn Ziyad and his soldiers landing on "The Rock" in 711, established justice and begun a civilization in Europe;

(2) The Spanish Inquisition in which hundreds of thousands of Muslims were slaughtered, exiled, or forced into Roman Catholicism; and

(3) The last Muslim ruler, Abu Abdullah (Boabdil), leaving the palace (Alhambra) and forced into exile in 1492!

Upon landing on "the Rock", it is believed that Tariq ordered that all the vessels be set on fire; thereafter he turned to his soldiers and told them that "the enemy is in front of us, and the sea is behind us." Therefore they had no choice but to fight with the enemy until they were victorious.

The part that most people do not know or understand is that - the Muslims went into Spain in response to a call for assistance by one of the Visigothic factions, the Witizans. Having become dispossessed after the death of King Witiza in 710, they appealed to Musa ibn Nusayr for support against the usurper King Roderick.

At the time, Musa was the governor of North Africa (up to Tangier, Morocco) under the Umayyad Dynasty based in Damascus under the Caliph, Al-Walid I.

Subsequently, the Muslims liberated the entire Spain, indeed, almost the entire Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) was under Muslim rule – Al-Andalus was born.

Muslims established justice and began a great Civilization in Europe – from the European darkness and backwardness to a brighter future and the establishment of a technological and scientific foundation.

The Muslims lost Gibraltar to the Spanish in 1462. In 1704 it was captured by the British and since then it has been Britain's chief naval base on the route through the Suez Canal to the Far East. The Gibraltar peninsula is about 5km long and just over 1km wide. Its area is 5.8 square kilometers. The population of the peninsula is about 30,000 people who have now been granted British citizenship.

The Rock itself is mostly limestone with cliffs and sandy slopes. Its greatest height of 1,396 feet is reached near the southern end. The city of Gibraltar, mostly on ground level on the west of the rock, lies on the deep Bay of Gibraltar.

To some, Jabal Tariq is a symbol of the rise and fall of Muslim rule in Al-Andalus! Maybe there was a good reason for all of this, and certainly a lesson for all of us.

Anyway, we landed in the city of Algeciras and took a 3 hour bus ride to the city of Seville which became our main base during our stay in Spain. We arrived at night in Seville; we booked into a hotel, went out to dinner and then hit the bed.

By 9:30 the next morning we started our sightseeing.

Seville is a city which lies on the left bank of the Guadalquivir River (flows 657 km); it's about 550 km southwest of Madrid. Guadalquivir is originally an Arabic word, Waadi al Kabir (The big valley).

Seville is the major, most dense and popular city in the region of Andalusia (of course, it's derived from al-Andalus, the name that the Muslims gave to the whole Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century). It's a beautiful city. In the 12th century it was the capital of the Almohad (Al-Muwahhid) Movement or Confederation. This confederation was comprised of Berber tribes.

The origins of the Al-Muwahhid can be traced to Muhammad ibn Tumart, the founder of this reform movement; which later matured into a Caliphate, with its first Caliph, Abdul-Mumin (who succeeded ibn Tumart). Their rule lasted for over a hundred years between 12th -13th century in North Africa, Spain and part of Portugal. Prior to the Al-Muwahhid, there was the Almoravid (Al-Murabit) Confederation (also of Berber tribes).

We visited the Cathedral which was built on the site of a Mosque. The Mosque was constructed in the 12th century (1180-1200) during the Al-Muwahhid period under the leadership of Al-Mumin's successor, Abu Yaqub Yusuf.

Today what remains of the mosque is only the Minaret, now called Giralda, and the Patio de los Naranjos (the patio of oranges - a patio filled with orange trees).

My wife was tired, but I did go all the way to the top of the Giralda (it is 35 storeys); I could see the whole of Seville. The Minaret is now a "bell tower"; it is said that it is one of the most beautiful "tower" in the world. The new name of "Giralda" is derived from the spinning object at the top.

I think the Spanish are caught up in this dichotomy of wanting to discard the past while desiring on capitalizing on its legacy simultaneously. I believe that among the millions of tourists, who visit Spain every year, a good number go south to Andalusia - and majority of these are drawn to this region due to its rich Islamic history of the "Golden Age."

According to 2005 statistics, France is at the top tourist destination with 76 million tourists, Spain is second with 55 million, and the United States third with 50 million.

Anyway, it is said that this Cathedral, constructed in 1401-1506, is the second largest Church after the Basilica in the Vatican. In one part of the Cathedral there is an empty "symbolic tomb" of the Italian born, (Spanish sponsored) dubious "Explorer-Navigator", Christopher Columbus. Remember him? He met the aboriginal people of the Americas and thought that he had reached his destination, India. So he called its people, "Indians"; a name that has unfortunately stuck on them to the present day!

More than a century and half earlier Ibn Battuta [1304-1369] had already circled a good portion of the globe. Between 325 and 1354 he journeyed through North Africa, the Middle East, East Africa, Central Asia, India, Southeast Asia, and China.

A few metres from where the Mosque used to be, we visited what the Spanish call "Alcazar" (Al-Qasr). The Fortress still maintains its architectural beauty. It was in the year 931 when Abdur-Rahman III ordered its construction. Later it became the residence of various monarchs. Within it there are various gardens and palaces in which some of their walls are covered in intricate Arabic writings, some of which are verses from the Glorious Qur'an.

In another part of the city we visited Torre Del Oro (The Golden Tower). It was built by the same Al-Muwahhid around 1220. It formed the last wall of defence that ran from the Alcazar to the river. It is said that the tower was given its name because of the sun's reflection off the gold tiles that once covered the dome.

Today it is a Naval Museum. We also visited the Maestranza Bullring, built in the 18th century. There wasn’t any bullfight at the time, although neither of us is a fan.

Bullfighting is probably the second most popular sport in Spain, after football. Some people may also recall that bullfighting is also popular in the island of Pemba in East Africa. What we are yet to discern is who borrowed the "game" from whom.

By the way, one of the most famous Spanish dishes, and one which my wife has now mastered the art of making, is called Payella (pronounced Payeya). It is rice mixed with all kinds of seafood (crabs, shrimps, fish, squid, etc). The dish is neither soggy nor dry - but somewhere in between. Both my wife and I liked it after having eaten it twice in Seville. Wow! Payeya!

Generally, we found the Spanish to be a hospitable people. They even went out of their way to try and speak English, albeit with difficulty, whenever we stopped them in the streets for directions or other enquiries.

This does not mean that they are a tolerant society if, let’s say, we had decided to make Spain our home. Sometimes we found it quite amusing when we spoke to someone in the streets in English and they would politely answer our enquiry in Spanish.

One such person was Hendrick (he pronounced it something close to "`En-ricky"), a door man at a Church that we had asked for directions to get to Plaza Espana. No matter how we pronounced the word "Espana" he will correct us by saying something close to "Espanya!" or "Espan’ya!" We found him very funny, and in turn he also found us amusing because of our laughter to how funny he was. Every time we said goodbye to him, he will try to say something to discourage us from leaving. He was quite a character!

Anyway, it is worth mentioning that one of our most "romantic" times in Seville was a boat cruise along Waadi al Kabir (Guadalquivir River) we mentioned earlier.

The second one was a horse-drawn carriage that took us around the city passing along all the historic monuments mentioned above, and including the Maria Luisa Park, an extremely large park on which we took our sandwiches and drink to have it sitting on one of the benches.

At the height of the goodness from the Spanish people was medical attention by a Spanish doctor. My wife got an eye infection. I convinced her that the best thing would be to go to the hospital. Not only was she seen for free, but the doctor who treated her went a step further and gave her preferential treatment, i.e., he attended to her before many other waiting patients. And when some of the patients protested, the doctor explained that we were "visitors from America." The patients then calmed down.

Apart from Seville, the two most important cities for any Muslim visiting Andalus are Cordoba and Granada. Ironically, even for non-Muslims these three cities are the most visited. The bus ride from Seville to Cordoba is almost 2 hours. Just like in Morocco, when driving between cities in southern Spain, you pass through hectares and hectares of sunflower plants and olive trees. The transportation system in both Morocco and Spain is just excellent.

In Spain it’s even better because there is one major depot in every city and all buses (of various companies) leave or arrive at that location. They have a public announcement system to tell passengers which bus is going where, and from what platform. They have computerized screens that show this information too. At the station they have shops, toilets, bank machines, etc. Probably this is common in most European cities and big cities in the United States.

When we got off the bus, we went straight to the historical Mosque, i.e., The Great Mosque of Cordoba. It is very huge and beautiful too. Construction was started in 780 by the then ruler of Al-Andalus, Abdur-Rahman I. However, over the years it was extended by other rulers, Abdur-Rahman II, Al-Hakam II, and finally completed in its present form by Al-Mansur around 987. It was under the leadership of Muslims that Cordoba became the most populous, prosperous, cultured, and industrious land in the whole of Europe.

At the time, the rest of Europe was in darkness, and I mean literally in darkness. In the 10th century, according to P. de Gayangos, "you could walk through [Cordoba] streets for ten miles in one direction at night, and always have the light of lamps to guide your way. 700 years later this would be an innovation in London or Paris, as would be paved streets." Cordoba is also the home of the world famous philosopher, Averroes, (Abu al-Walid Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Rushid (1126-1198). He composed 38 treatises on the various works of Aristotle, as well as original tracts on astronomy, physics, and medicine.

File:Cordoba mihrab.jpg                                      

The Miharab at the Original Mosque of Cordoba                                                 The Minaret of the Mosque at Serville

Later in history when the Roman Catholics took over Cordoba they built a Cathedral in the middle of the mosque. However, it is still referred to as "The Great Mosque" or "The Mosque-Cathedral" and it attracts large numbers of Tourists. At the mihrab (niche), intricate Arabic writings are clearly visible to the present day. And the part of the mosque which attracts most tourists is this mihrab which was built under Al-Hakam II. UNESCO has declared it a World Heritage site – I hope with good intentions, and not as a testament to Muslims’ humiliation.

The one place in Cordoba that we did not get the opportunity to visit was Madina Az-Zahra, a city and palace located about 8km outside of Cordoba. The construction began around 936 during the reign of Abdur-Rahman III. It took 12 years to be completed by workmen numbering 12,000. It is said that less than a century later it was badly damaged following a rebellion by one part of the population. And so it was abandoned; we understand that the Spanish government is carefully trying to restore it.

Anyway, the most exciting moment for any tourist visiting Spain is a visit to the city of Granada, and specifically to the most famous palace in the history of Muslims in Andalus. Granada is a 3 hours ride from Seville. The city lies at an elevation of about 690 meters, and is overlooked in the south by the Sierra Nevada, the highest mountain range in Spain which extends for about 100 km (The highest point being 3,478 meters).

Again, when we got off the bus we headed straight to Alhambra. We almost missed the opportunity to tour the Alhambra. After travelling all the way from Seville to Granada, we arrived there at 12:30 PM and we were told that the tickets for the day were "sold out." We were shocked and disappointed, and I almost cried. But I am glad to have the genes of my late father, Yusuf; genes of determination and of not giving up so easily.

My wife had lost hope, but I appealed to one of the young ladies at the ticket counter. It took one hour and all the convincing and smiles and begging, and showing her our tickets for that evening return trip to Seville; she finally did us a favour by selling us two tickets. Other tourists also eager to go in were surprised and may have felt jealous! By the way, apart from Alhambra, we also visited, although very briefly, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Muslim Granada - Albaicin.

The Alhambra attracts lots of visitors. If it was not for the limit of about 8,500 visitors a day back in 2000, they would have more than that number of visitors on some days during high season. And that is why on the day that we arrived there the tickets for that day were sold out. In 2006 over 3 million people visited Alhambra. We spent 3 hours in Alhambra; it’s a huge place.

Alhambra was the palace and fortress of the Muslim monarchs in Granada, the last Muslim Kingdom in Al-Andalus. Alhambra in Arabic means "The Red," which is probably derived from the colour of bricks made of fine gravel and clay, of which the outer walls are built. Constructed on a plateau that overlooks the city of Granada, the palace was built mainly between 1238 and 1358. It was started by Muhammad I ibn al-Ahmar (ruled 1238-1273) of the Banu Nasr - the first ruler of the Nasrid Dynasty.

Most of the splendid decorations of the interior date from the reigns of Yusuf I (1334-1354) and Muhammad V (1354-1391). Apart from the magnificent Royal Nasrid Palaces, also included within Alhambra is the Alcazaba (From the Arabic word Qasaba which means fortress or citadel), which is the oldest part; today only its massive outer walls, towers, and ramparts are left.

To the east on the "Cerro Del Sol" (Hill of the Sun) is the Generalife (Jannat al-'Arif ["Garden of the Builder"]), constructed in the early 14th century as the summer residence. The complex is centred on picturesque courtyards. Terraced gardens, pools, and fountains combine to produce an enchanting effect. The Alhambra and the Generalife were collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984. The Palace is absolutely beautiful. We learnt later that some sources suggest that the Muslim rulers of the day had wanted what is normally sought by those who do not believe in the hereafter.

For them Paradise is right here on earth right now! Ironically, at the time my wife thought that this was "paradise on earth." Of course, there is no comparison to Paradise because no ordinary human eye has seen paradise, smell it, or imagine it accurately - but it’s just a figure of speech that when we see something extraordinarily beautiful we think of Paradise.

I must admit that any person who lived in that palace at the time could easily have forgotten that one day they might be invaded by enemies, and even worse, forget that God exists and that He must be worshipped!

Ironically, this is where the Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula came to an end on 2nd January, 1492 under Muhammad XI Abu Abdallah [Boabdil (reigned 1482-92)] – the last Nasrid ruler who surrendered to the Roman Catholics King Fernando II and Queen Isabella I.

In fact it is said that when Boabdil was leaving Alhambra and going into exile in Morocco, he stopped at some point and looked back at the palace and tears came down his cheeks. His mother who was with him told him,

"Stop crying like a woman for what you could not defend like a man!"

The word Andalus has more than one meaning. One of them is, ‘something which was concealed or hidden.’ Another meaning is, ‘something which slipped out by reason of its smoothness.’ Imagine! Isn’t this ironic? The consolation and the good part is that Andalus has another meaning which is; "To become green at the end of the summer."

One writer, Ahmad Thomson, has said, "The long dry summer of the last five centuries in Europe is drawing to its close." In fact, in Cordoba, while visiting the Alcazar, we bumped into a Muslim, a descendant of ancient Spanish Muslims. His name was Luaiy.

Luaiy said that he is now trying to go back to his roots, i.e., to learn more about the religion of Islam and he was taking Arabic lessons. Because it was Friday, he told us of a small mosque in a public park (Plaza de Colon) at the opposite end of the city - Masjid Murabiteen.

At midday we did go to attend the Friday prayer. The Imam was from Algeria, and the rest of the congregation was a mixture of immigrants from North Africa, and a few from West Africa and Pakistan. The mosque can accommodate about fifty people. Who would have thought that Muslims would gather in Spain, centuries after the heinous Spanish Inquisition, to stand shoulder to shoulder in a Friday prayer?

N.B. This paper is dedicated to Tariq ibn Ziyad

The Writer is an Avid traveller and commentator of African and Mid-Eastern Social and Political affairs.


AL-ANDALUS: In Search of Lost Glory | Login/Create an Account | 1 comment | Search Discussion
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Re: AL-ANDALUS: In Search of Lost Glory (Score: 1)
by mustapha on Wednesday, January 07, 2009 @ 19:04:03 CST
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Very informative. Thank you for sharing..




 
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