The Legacy Of Al-Andalus, Or Is There One?

This is a subject I have wanted to discuss about for the longest time, and I believe that in the modern times it is more than important. And why?

Al-Anda… What?!

Maybe it is important for me to swish my magic wand and take you back in time, actually to the time when there was no Spain or Portugal, but instead there were the provinces of Baetica and Hispania that governed most of the Iberian peninsula. It was during the Roman Empire. Romans, who are also famed for building the European road network (creating the idiom all roads lead to Rome whilst doing it) also came with laws and order, the same ones that are used as a basis of many modern countries. Some countries we even have a senate, which has its direct roots in the Roman Republic.

But I digress. Let’s go back to the historical times.

The Romans ruled in Hispania until around 480 AD, when the Western Roman Empire finally collapsed. Years earlier Emperor Constantine had moved the capital from Rome to more east, a town he had ordered to be built – Constantinople. The Eastern Roman Empire survived until the 16th Century before finally succumbing to the Ottoman Empire.

Meanwhile, in Hispania, there was a power vacuum after the fall of Roman rule. That prompted many local tribes to conquer small areas for themselves, until a stronger Visigoth army arrived in the 500’s and conquered much of the peninsula.

And shortly afterwards, in the peninsula far, far away, a certain Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) received a series of messages from The Most High, and shortly afterwards, the Muslims started their journey from the Arabian peninsula. They came to Northern Africa, and crossed the strait of Gibraltar in about 707 AD. Within ten years the Muslims has conquered most of the Iberian peninsula, settling down and creating a sultanate that was named Al-Andalus.

By AD 719 the Umayyad sultanate was at its greatest extent and extended as far as the Alpine passes in Italy. The areas controlled by the Al-Andalus diminished over the years, but most of the Iberian peninsula remained under the Muslim rule for over 700 years, until until 1492, when the last of the Muslim strongholds, Alhambra in Granada, fell to the Reconquista.

How Was Life In Al-Andalus?

The modern day conceptions of a peaceful life and especially our lifestyle are a bit of a muddled thing. Lately we have, sadly again, seen the rise of far right wingers who seem to have a mantra of national purity and everything that comes with it. But has it always been like that? How was life under the Muslim rule roughly 1000 years ago in Al-Andalus? Must have been horrible for non-Muslims.

Under the Roman rule, the Jews were, at times, persecuted. At one point they were even banned from Jerusalem due to some rebelling. Then came the Christians, who were severely persecuted during the early days, but towards the end of the Empire Christianity became the main religion, which made things easier for them.

So when the Moors crossed the strait of Gibraltar, they brought with them a new religion, and new set of rules. Rules that sounded similar yet different to Jews and Christians alike. When they came, the Moors respected Christians and Jews as it was decreed. Also, in 628 AD, the Prophet (peace be upon him) had signed a charter of rights for Christians.

The Promise to St. Catherine: “This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”

Prophet Muhammad’s Promise

It is important to understand that in Islam there is a term, ʾahl aḏ-ḏimmah, which translates as the people of the covenant, which is a historical term on non-Muslims living in an Islamic state with legal protection, as mentioned in the above promise by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). At the time of Al-Andalus, these people would have been Christians and Jews living under the Islamic rule. At some point, about 5% of the population was Jewish, 15% was Christian, and the rest, 80%, was Muslim. During this time, there were Jewish refugees arriving to Al-Andalus from other parts of Europe where they were persecuted.

So, when we look at the modern Europe, do we follow the same kind of leniency towards others as the basic tenets of human rights are there. We may place emphasis on different aspects now than people in Al-Andalus did, but the equality and live-and-let-live attitude should still be there.


If we look at the current atmosphere in Europe, there are signs that religious intolerance is growing. Lawmakers in Austria have created a map to register all mosques and Islamic societies with their ideologies, administrators and addresses, Sweden has banned religious schools, France has banned burkha from underage girls, the European Court has decreed that banning a headscarf is not a human rights issue, and so on.

My Way – Or Highway?

At first glance, all these bans, registered, and court rulings may sound like a normal thing: “good that girls may choose what to wear and they don’t have to wear a head scarf”, “good that we have a registry where to see what kind of mosque there is around the corner”, “good that they ban all religious symbols and schools”. But is it really good and equal?

Many times in conversation it sounds like people think all Muslims somehow have to wear a head scarf, like it is forced on them, and that people have to save the poor Muslim women from the atrocity of donning the head scarf. True, in some cultures, the women are forced to cover from head to toe and then we can debate if that is good or not. But in Islam, the women shouldn’t need to be rescued from the head scarf as it is the woman’s right to wear the scarf or not.

As Europeans, we may be secular, varied from country to country, but our way of thinking, and our laws, have roots in the Christian teachings. For instance in my native Finland, work is valued and to be thankful of with the keep your head down, don’t expect thanks, and just be grateful attitude. And that was what was preached to people for the longest time.

We may be more advanced now than we were during the dark medieval times, but are we mentally shutting everyone else off and closing our minds from anything different than our way of life?

Remember the time when the Brits voted for Brexit. It was to regain their independence and to be themselves again. Instead of gaining some sort of supremacy, they have gotten back the border controls, long traffic queues at the harbours, increased costs, worker shortage, and so on. When we look at things on a bigger scale, on a European scale, we should appreciate and embrace differences and different cultures and people, because only then we can create something big and beautiful.

Is There A Legacy?

Don’t get me wrong. I love Finland, I love Europe, and I love differences. But I am worried that we are going to repeat the mistakes we have done in the past, because we think that somehow we would do better this time.

After the Reconquista, which ended in 1492, the Spanish Inquisition started and they forced the Jews out of Spain, and Muslims were either forced to become Catholics, or to leave. The doors had to be kept open on Fridays so everyone could see that there were no illegal Friday prayers done, (former) Muslims had to wear blue crescent symbols on clothes and so on. Sound familiar?

Fast forward to the eve of the Second World War, when a certain political part in Germany demanded Jews to wear the Star of David on their clothes.

Now, we are living in a continent where there is war again, and where there are political parties that want to ban or restrain people who are not like them, again. So maybe we should not be like that, again.

I have been thinking of this post for the longest time, over a year actually, and haven’t managed to get it into its form before now. And maybe it is because I want it to resonate with you as much as it resonates with me.

If you read Wikipedia or some other sources they will say that the legacy of Al-Andalus is the Renaissance in Europe. It is certainly true, but shouldn’t we, the people, learn more about the tolerance and working together as one, relying on each other and appreciating the different skills and knowledge of others as much as we appreciate our own skills and knowledge.

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