David Levering-Lewis and Abdur-Rahman Abou Almajd in dialog about Andalus .
Al-Andalus was the Arabic name given to a nation and territorial region also commonly referred to as Moorish Iberia. The name describes parts of the Iberian Peninsula and Septimania governed by Muslims (given the generic name of Moors), at various times in the period between 711 and 1492 .
Following the Muslim conquest of Hispania, al-Andalus was divided into five administrative areas roughly corresponding to Andalusia, Galicia and Portugal, Castile and Léon, Aragon and Catalonia, and Septimania .
al-Andalus was a beacon of learning, and the city of Córdoba became one of the leading cultural and economic centres in both the Mediterranean Basin and the Islamic world .
The interior of the Cathedral of Cordoba, formerly the Great Mosque of Córdoba. The cathedral is one of the finest examples of Arab-Islamic architecture in the Umayyad style. An Islamic Mosque .
Non-Muslims came from abroad to study in the famous libraries and universities of al-Andalus , the most noted of these was Michael Scot (c. 1175 to c. 1235), who took the works of Ibn Rushd ("Averroes") and Ibn Sina ("Avicenna") to Italy. This transmission was to have a significant impact on the formation of the European Renaissance .
According to Pre-Columbian Andalusian-Americas contact explorers from Al-Andalus may have travelled to the Americas .
Preposterous claims such as these have been taken seriously in parts of Europe since the 9/11 such as some European scholars have denied the importance of the Arab contribution to the so-called Renaissance though we say that Muslim Andalusia served as Christian Europe's madrassa.we can prove with an example like Michael Scot (1175 - 1235), who took the works of Ibn Rushd ("Averroes") and Ibn Sina ("Avicenna") to Italy. This transmission was to have a significant impact on the formation of the European Renaissance .
Professor David Levering Lewis wrote a great work called God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215, it would be an honor and a pleasure to be interviewed for alukah.net about Andalus through his book, "God's Crucible'. We not only expect the Arabic edition appears quickly but also it may get prizes .
David Levering Lewis is the Julius Silver University Professor and Professor of History at New York University and NYU Abu Dhabi .
He is twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography, for part one and part two of his biography of W. E. B. Du Bois (in 1994 and 2001, respectively). He is the first author to win two Pulitzer Prizes for biography for back-to-back volumes .
The author of eight books and editor of two more, Lewis's field is comparative history with special focus on twentieth-century United States social history and civil rights. His interests include nineteenth-century Africa, twentieth-century France, and Islamic Spain .
Lewis appeared as a historical expert in the 1999 film New York: A Documentary Film, directed by Ric Burns for PBS. He was president of the Society of American Historians in 2002, and is a board member of the magazine The Crisis, published by the NAACP. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, and was an Ellen Maria Gorrissen Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin, Germany, in spring 2008. President Barack Obama awarded the 2009 National Humanities Medal at the White House on February 25, 2010 .
Q: God's Crucible" is Pulitzer-Prize winning scholar David Levering Lewis's contribution to the ever-growing body of literature that seeks a better understanding of Islam and the roots of its long and complicated struggle with the west. Unlike other scholars of Islamic and Middle Eastern history who have dashed off books in the wake of September 11, what would you add ?
David Lewis: For a historian, thinking about the present means thinking about the past in the present, I believe. It seemed to me that we in the West were imposing the problems of the present upon the past, as the tensions with some parts of the Muslim world became worse in the years before September 11. The more general problem of agnosticism about the historic interaction of Islam and the Occident had been compounded in America by the Huntingtonian thesis of civilizational clash and the ascendancy of neo-conservative scholarship and policy agendas clamorously asserting an oil-and-water incompatibility of the culture of the West and that of the Muslim world .
In this conception of the Muslim “problem” (of “what went wrong?” in Bernard Lewis’s famous interrogation), Muslim retrogression into radical religious fundamentalism and political terrorism is stipulated as having been inevitable. My book attempts to place the present at the service of history as it really was .
Q: God's Crucible" refers to al-Andalus, or Muslim Spain, as the site of the first clash of civilizations between Islam and the Christian west, what about coexistence between Islam and Christianity in al-Andalus ?
David Lewis: Yes, although your point is well taken that Christians and Muslims eventually became fiercely antagonistic, the dominant ethos in al-Andalus was one of religious tolerance and socio-political cooperation from the beginning of the Muslim conquest of Iberia in the 8th century until the Christian capture of the city of Toledo in 1085. But even after the fall of Toledo, this distinctive religious and social collaboration (what was called the 'convivencia') continued here and there in al-Andalus for almost another century. Let me mention two outstanding examples of this so-called 'convivencia' or collaboration. First, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian scholars worked together in Toledo, Cordoba, and Barcelona to interpret and translate scientific and philosophical texts from Greek and Arabic into Latin until the end of the 12th century. It was their translations and commentaries of Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Ali ibn Sina, and many others that found their way over the Pyrenees into Paris, Frankfort, Florence, and Rome where they sowed the seeds of the European Renaissance beginning in the 14th century. Second, let's take the example of King Ferdinand III who was buried in 1252 in a tomb inscribed in four languages---Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, Castillian (Spanish ).
Q: The central argument of this book is that the Islamic civilization that Andalus contributed directly to the rebirth of Western European culture and learning, how did you find Andalus ?
David Lewis: Your'e right. That is one of the book's main arguments. This is what I was just beginning to talk about. The reality is that, with little fear of exaggeration, we might say that Muslim Andalusia served as Christian Europe's madrassa. The entire surviving body of ancient Greek and Roman learning was translated, interpreted, revised, and transmitted to Christian Europe by Muslim and Jewish scholars in Abbasid Baghdad and in Umayyad Cordoba and Toledo. In recent years, some European scholars have denied the importance of the Arab contribution to the so-called Renaissance. A surprisingly influential book by a Frenchman---one Sylvain Gougenheim---claims that al-Andalus had nothing to do with the revival of learning, that the science and philosophy of classical antiquity was brought to Europe by Syriac Christian monks from the Middle East. Preposterous claims such as these have been taken seriously in parts of Europe since 9/11 .
Q: How did Islam arising inspire cultural pride in hitherto marginalized Arab tribes ?
David Lewis: In the blink of an eye, so to speak, the universal message of Islam superseded the old Arab tribal loyalty of the jahiliyya. Suddenly, the people of the Najd and the Hijaz, who had long lived in the shadow of great Roman and Persian empires, became the bearers of God's latest and final revelation---Abraham's most favored people. They themselves were astonished by the unparalleled success of their obligation to spread the message of the Prophet Muhammad. After all, in less than a hundred years after the Messenger's death, undivided by tribe and united by religion, the Arab people had swept aside the Persians, the Greaco-Romans, and extended the dar al-Islam west across the maghreb to the Iberian peninsula, and east almost as far as China. Arabic became the lingua franca spoken by Persians, Egyptians, Berbers; the Mediterranean was no longer the Roman 'mare nostrum' but the Arab sea .
Q: Muslims ruled in al-Andalus (Muslim Spain), forging a religiously tolerant, intellectually sophisticated, socially diverse and economically dynamic culture whose achievements would eventually seed the Renaissance. Could you elaborate on that statement ?
David Lewis: Well, to a great extent, I've already tried to do so. Ask your audience to imagine themselves visiting the great Umayyad city of Cordoba in the 10th century (CE), the largest city on the European continent (much larger than Paris or Rome). By then, the Abbasids' discovery of the Chinese formula for paper-making had come to al-Andalus where the great library of Cordoba held some 300,000 paper volumes, nothing like it in any Christian monastery or abby. Cordoba's Great Mosque, finished by the amir 'Abd al-Rahman I in 778, was and still is one of the jewels of world architecture. The city's streets were lighted at night. The city abounded in public baths and inns. The trade and commerce of the city's business class encompassed Sahara gold, Chinese silk, Indian ivory, Egyptian and Tunisian grain, and much more .
But the visitors would undoubtedly be amazed by the new palace-city built just outside Cordoba by 'Abd al-Rahman III (the first official caliph of al-Andalus). Madinat al-Zahra was the grandest palace on the continent, so splendid that a visiting German nun marveled that the Caliph's palace and his city were 'the ornament of the world.' Madinat al-Zahra lies in ruins today. Its still impressive remains are being excavated by UNESCO, with additional funding from the Syrian government. Your visitors can get some idea of the splendor of Madinat al-Zahra if they imagine a complex larger than Versailles with gardens and fountains as spectacular .
But Cordoba, if the biggest and most impressive city, had significant rivals in al-Andalus: Toledo, to which Christian monks came to study Aristotle, Euclid, and the revolutionary new Hindu or Arab numbers; Sevilla; Valencia; Zaragossa; fabulous Granada .
Q: You clear-sightedly lays out the strengths and weaknesses of both worlds, though your sympathies are clearly with cosmopolitan doctor/philosophers like Ibn Rushd and Musa ibn Maymun (better known in the West as Averroës and Maimonides), who represented cultural eclecticism and creedal forbearance, sadly out of place in the increasingly fanatical 12th century, Could you elaborate on ?
David Lewis: Ibn Rushd may be recovering his lost importance in the Muslim intellectual tradition today. He was one of those rare thinkers who tried to resume a debate that had ended after the 9th century between theological absolutists and relativists. The absolutists or Asharites had defeated the relativists or Mut'azilites, and the window of such debates---of ijtihad---is said to have been shut permanently by the caliph. Highly educated in law and medicine, a member of Cordoba's aristocracy (his grandfather was hajib to one of the last Umayyad caliphs), Ibn Rushd was 21 years old when the al-Muwahiddun or Almohad Berbers invaded al Andalus in order to fight the Christian armies that were pushing the Muslims out of Andalusia .
He dared to match his intellect with that of the great philosopher Abu Hamid al-Ghazali. To that fundamental question hotly debated by the Asharites and Mut'azilites as to whether the Qur'an was eternal or created in time, Ibn Rushd affirmed the latter. For Ibn Rushd, revelation and reason were co-equal. Even though his ideas were denounced both by Muslims and Christians, his brilliant writings on Aristotle gained him powerful converts among French and Italian thinkers. Even more surprising, the Berber caliph summoned Ibn Rushd as a protected advisor to his court at Marrakech. But when the Christian armies began winning battles again in Andalusia, Ibn Rushd's heterodox ideas made him too great a liability. The caliph exiled him and ordered his writings burnt in public. He died disgraced in Cordoba in 1198
Maimonides was born in Cordoba nine years after Ibn Rushd whom he may have known personally when their families lived in the coastal city of Almeria while on the run from invading Almohads. Maimonides's family were Arabized Jews or Sephardim who served, like Ibn Rushd's, as senior advisors in the Umayyad regime. Indeed, Moses Maimonides or Musa ibn Maymun was for all intents and distinctions part of the Arab elite, an intellectual who wrote all but one of his major works in Arabic. He was really a superb example of the conviviencia that distinguished al-Andalus at its finest. But the coming of the Muslim Berbers---first the Sanhaja Almoravids or al-Murabitun in 1086, followed by the Masmudas in 1147---radically altered the political and religious ethos of Andalusia. These fierce fighting men came to help the sophisticated Andalusi rulers of Granada, Sevilla, and Zaragossa whose people had grown too comfortable and civilized to stop the Christian jihad. The coming of the Almohads was especially unfortunate for Andalusia's Jews because the Almohads disregarded the Qur'anic injunction that none should be forced to convert to Islam, as well as the faith's historic tolerance for People of the Book, the dhimmi. For Musa ibn Maymun, the Almohads meant the ruin of his faith in convivencia and the realization of his destiny as Maimonides, the greatest intellect of Sephardic Iberia and Judaism .
Both these extraordinary minds, Ibn Rushd and Maimonides, became anachronisms in a world energized by two hostile monotheisms---militant Islam and militant Catholic Christianity. As men of culture and principles, they came to be seen by their contemporaries as liabilities at best and dangerous subversives at worst. The awful, bitter irony of it all was that the two humanists died, beleaguered, as the finest incarnations of their civilization, representative heirs of a social and political order that was unique to Muslim Spain .
Q: What was Islam's role in the history of Europe ?
David Lewis: In addition to what we've discussed thus far, I think we can state that the existence of Muslim wealth and power on the continent---the 700-year Islamic beachhead behind the Pyrenees---decisively shaped what emerged as Christendom. Europe was shaped in a passive way by the Muslim reinforcement and transfer of classical learning that seeded the Renaissance. Europe was shaped in active or reactive ways, I suppose we could say, by the secular institutions that rose up offensively/defensively to counter real and imagined threats of Islamic absorption---the Frankish kingdom of Charlemagne, the kinglets of northern Iberia (Leon, Castille, Galicia), the political and cultural blowback of the Crusades. Add to the mix, the militarizing of the Catholic religion during the wars of ethnic cleansing against the pagan Saxon people conducted by Charlemagne. Add further, therefore, the emergence of an all-powerful papacy in command of a organized priesthood which commanded the faithful beneath it. Fair to say, Europeans spent the centuries from Sala al-Din to Suleiman the Lawgiver worrying about "Moors' and 'Saracens ' .
Q: You are at your best here, your love for the culture of Andalusian Spain and your appreciation for the Arab culture, Could you elaborate on that statement ?
David Lewis: It may well be that the reality of demographics rather than the suras of the Qur'an explain the distinctive religious tolerance practiced by Muslims in Spain. During the first century of the conquest of Iberia, Muslims were like schools of fish in a sea of Christians, some tens of thousands among six millions of others. It surely made sense to practice restraint and not unduly provoke resistance from the natives. Nor should it be surprising that Umayyads made strategic use of the Jews, a people who welcomed the Arabs as saviors from the Visigoths' brutal policy of forced religious conversion and property expropriation .
That said, however, what may have started out as a policy based on numbers soon became a civilization based on hierarchical collaboration. Muslims always ruled from a position of unassailable power and privilege, to be sure. They imposed legal restrictions on the dhimmi, restricted the building of churches, the public display of Christian and Jewish ceremonies, banned use of swords and saddles to non-Muslims. They imposed a dress code. Al Andalus was not a society where all men were equal (to say nothing of women). Still, these legal and sumptuary codes, the sharp and harsh social distinctions, did moderate over time .
Remarkably, then, 200 years after Tarik ibn Ziyad and his 7000 Berber invaders sailed from Morocco in 710, the population of Iberia had become almost 70 percent Muslim through conversion. By the eleventh century, Andalusian society could be said to have achieved an urbanism, cosmopolitanism, commercial dynamism, meritocratic public service, and inter-connectedness of its ethnic and religious parts as to prefigure the cultural pluralism, the very modernity characteristic of much of late 20th-century Northern Europe .
Q: Could you elaborate on the stark differences between Dark Age Europe and al-Andalus ?
David Lewis: Al-Andlaus had a monetized market economy based on global trade and domestic agriculture supplying urban centers. City mores prevailed; it had a cosmopolitanism nourished by Qur'anic literacy. Germanic Europe was an economy decoupled from the great trade matrix stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Societal organization based itself on a rigid 3-4 class system in which a ruling order of hereditary warriors 'protected' a subservient order of merchants and peasants whose spiritual needs were served by a priestly order with the exclusive power to intercede between believers and their god---and doing so, moreover, in a language the mostly illiterate faithful could neither understand nor read .
Q: Why did you begin your book. At the date 610, a reader finds "Angel Gabriel visits Muhammad . "?
Did you mean to ask why I begin my book at 570 CE, the date of the birth of Muhammad ?
Q: yes .
Q: In discussing the Prophet's views on women, how did Prophet Muhammad's comparatively enlighten ideas (as explained by Allah) about gender roles positively distinguished the Koran from its misogynistic Mosaic and Pauline analogues ?
David Lewis: The Qur'anic guarantee of property rights for women was, in comparison with the relevant Judaic and Christian scriptures, benign and more advanced .
Q: What would you like to tell Some readers who said" Lewis repeat the standard cliches about the authoritarian Pope Innocent III and his stipulations, that Jews and Muslims dwelling in Christendom should be set apart with distinctive garb ."?
David Lewis: I would reply that the 'standard cliches' are sometimes true, that in th case of Innocent III and the ramifications of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, the cliches apply incontrovertibly. I'm happy to find myself in the company of the American Catholic historian James Carroll .
Q: I'll quote from a review by By Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times -"Lewis sets out to show that the failure of what he calls "the jihad east of the Pyrenees" is "one of the most significant losses in world history." He argues that the ... In other words, the West would be better off if it had been incorporated into an all-conquering Islamic empire in the early Middle Ages, how can you prove ?
David Lewis: I am not an advocate of military conquest of one people by another. I was merely calling attention to the much ignored probability that Islam's remarkable accomplishments in Iberia would have been replicated east of the Pyrenees had the Arabo-Berber incursions continued after the Poitiers battle .
Q: What about Arab civilization on the Iberian Peninsula -know as Al-Andalus ?
David Lewis: Forgive me, but I do believe that I've said enough to give a pretty vivid, accurate picture of Andalusian civilization before the conquest of Granada. I wish i might also add that your audience might want to read my book, God's Crucible. Perhaps there is an Egyptian publishing house that would care to publish an Arabic edition ?
Q: You said that Europe would have been well served if the Muslims had conquered the entire continent and added that this would have given Europe a 300 hundred year headstart on the path of development, What do you say to writers such as David Pryce-Jones who offers up is recycled british political views on the "oriental mind" from the Victorian era and Bat Ye’or in Eurabia chronicles Arab determination to subdue Europe as a cultural appendage to the Muslim world ?
David Lewis: What I wrote about the technological, economic, institutional benefits of a Muslim advance beyond the Pyrenees has been much misunderstood to mean that I wanted France, Germany, Italy and the rest swept aside in the 8th century by a jihad. Of course, no such nations then existed and the very concept of 'European' was yet to come as a reaction to the 'Moors'. Remember, after all, that, after the collapse of the western Roman Empire and the primitive efforts of the Germanic tribes, there was little that merited the description of civilization. Finally, my book ends almost 250 years before the Ottomans capture Constantinople and a Europe of well-developed nation-states stands ready to resist Islam .
Abdur-Rahman: Thank you very much .
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