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Even to this day, the history of Andalus remains one of the most fascinating chapters of history. To many Muslims, the mention of Andalus - and many other Moorish cities in Spain - particularly Cordoboa and Granada - still evoke images of the splendour, glory and gracefulness characterised with the so-called "Golden Age of Islam". This romantic view of Islam in Spain doesn't just appeal to Muslims worldwide, but to some Spaniards as well.
Rise of the Muslims
In 711, a Muslim army under Jabal Tariq ibn Ziyad (whose name Gibraltar was derived from) crossed into Spain, and killed the king of the Visigoths, who until that time had been ruling Iberia since the day they first arrived there.
Ibn Ziyad would return to Morocco eventually, but in the next year Musa ibn Nusair, another Arab warlord, invaded with a force of 20,000 men. They quickly swept through Spain and were able to defeat the entire Visogothic Kingdom relatively easily due to the political disarray of the nobility. The Muslim forces spread throughout the Iberian Peninsula and eventually crossed the Pyrenees into the domain of the Franks (in modern day France) to be turned back at Poitiers in 732 by Charles Martel. Despite this, there were a number of holdouts in the North that would be able to not only resist the new invaders, but go on create the modern states of Portugal and Spain, but their time would not come well until half a millenium or so later.
The height of Muslim civilization in Spain was attained by the Caliphate of Cordoba that lasted from 929 to 1031. The first founder of the Caliphate was Abdurrahman III of the Umayyad Empire, a member of the Umayyads, whose position in Damascus had been usurped by the Abassids. Abdurrahman III united several smaller Iberian emirates and then declared independence from the Caliph in Baghdad.
Abdurrahman and the majority of his successors would prove to be enlightened rulers. A vast library was also assembled during the time of Al-Hakam II's rule (961–976), while Muslim scholars in Spain would translate many works of Greek philosophy and science into Arabic. Spanish Muslims also made many important discoveries in mathematics, science and philosophy in their own right, adding to the knowledge of mankind, and thus would merit credit for preserving this knowledge which was crucial for the European Renaissance. Tolerance for non-Muslims, in particular those of the Jewish and Christian faith, was also prevalent at this time, although the fortunes of the latter two in Muslim Spain and North Africa would eventually vary on the whims of whichever ruler took sway over the following centuries.
This cultured way of life, in stark contrast to the violent and brutal lives lived by their Christian counterparts to the north and the rest of Europe, would survive even the Umayyad rulers of Cordoba: great thinkers such as Ibn Rushdi, known to the west as Averroes; and Maimonides, an important contributor to Jewish theology and modern philosophy; were all born in Muslim Spain.
Almoravids and Almohads: Imperii ex Africa
Increasing disunity in Islamic Spain would eventually turn the tide on the Muslims, and the Caliphate eventually would fall victim to neglect and civil war. By the end of the 11th century, the Caliphate would cease to exist, having fallen into several kingdoms or "Taifas" at war with one another, while in Africa a new power would emerge: the Murabiteen, or the Almoravids. Originally a sect of fundamentalist Islam that started in Mauritania in the early 11th century, the Almoravids would eventually create an empire that stretched from Granada all the way to Guinea.
Meanwhile, Islam in Spain faced troubled times. Faced with the prospect of having to pay tribute to Christians for their own protection, and the new politics of religious intolerance spread by French clergy in Spanish lands, the kings of Seville (Al-Mutamid) and Badajoz (Al-Mutawakkil) asked the Almoravids for help. It was on this pretext that the Almoravids under Yusuf ibn Tashfin marched north into Muslim Spain and eventually annexed it all as a province of their empire. Almoravid rule was a disaster for most non-Muslims, and for some Muslims too. Under the Umayyad caliphs unconverted Christians and a significant Jewish population enjoyed extensive civil rights and religious tolerance, but as they lost control, pogroms against Jews and Christians alike became more frequent, and the treatment of Muslims particularly by French-influenced elements of the Catholic regimes to the north resulted in retaliation from Muslims too. Nonetheless Almoravid rule was relatively ephemeral, and a new empire, the Muwahhideen, or the Almohads, would rule Islamic Spain from their bases in North Africa well until the early 13th century. Despite the continuation of Islamic Spain's cultural life under the Almoravids and their successors, relations between Muslim authorities and their dhimmisubjects had entered a darker chapter of history. More and more of the Christian population started also to flee into the Christian kingdoms, while Jews would leave Iberia to seek better lives elsewhere such as in Fatimid Egypt, as did Maimonides.
Reconquista: End of the Islamic Era
Meanwhile, Islamic power in Spain was on the wane since after the fall of the Umayyads. While power shifted from one ruling dynasty to another and local Spanish Muslims quarrelled with their Berber rivals, the Christians were making headway. The sacrifice of the Cid helped Toledo to fall the Castillians in 1085; the Almohads were defeated by Christians in 1212 at Navas de Tolosas; Portugal was lost in 1249, and by the beginning of the 15th century all of Spain was back in Christian hands, except for the emirate of Granada.
The final blow came with the marriage between Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon in 1469, uniting the two most powerful Spanish Christian Kingdoms. They would take the last Muslim hold out of Granada in 1492. after a long 10 year siege. The last sultan, Abu Abdullah Mohammed XII, or known as Boabdil to the Spanish, surrendered the keys of Granada to Ferdinand and Isabella, and went into exile in North Africa. As he wept over the loss of his realm, he was chided by his own mother:
- You weep like a woman for what you could not keep like a man.
All was not lost, however. While the culture of the Moors would eventually inspire other Muslim civilisations of succeeding centuries of what was possible, their culture would filter into Catholic Spain through the Mozarabs, creating the unique culture which is the heritage of all Hispanic peoples worldwide.
- Wells HG et al; A short history of the world (1967 rev ed); Penguin Books
- Nicolle D & McBride A; The Moors: The Islamic West 7th–15th Centuries AD; (2001), Osprey Publishing
- One Dead Angel; Spain — A Guide; Rise of Nations Heaven
- Arte Preromanico; Spanish Pre-Romanesque Art Guide, Phase III: Mozarabic Art