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YESTERDAY, SIR JOHN BAGOT GLUBB described the high points of Islamic culture culminating in 732, only a hundred years after the death of Muhammud. Today in Part 2, we glean tidbits from “In Search of a Lost Spain,” by Aatish Taseer, The New York Times Style Magazine, November 3, 2022, as well as from Sir John Bagot Glubb’s The Life and Times of Muhammad.

This and following images by Richard Mosse from The New York Times Style Magazine, November 3, 2022.

A Rich Heritage. Aatish Taseer cites “four plaques in the four languages of medieval Spain—Hebrew, Arabic, Latin and Castilian—the last of these commemorating the victory of ‘the great king Don Ferdinand, Lord of Castile, Toledo, León, Galicia, Seville, Cordoba, Murcia and Jaén’ over a land that was soon to become toda España to the conquering Christians, Sefarad to the Jews and Al-Andalus to the defeated Muslims.”

“The plaques marked a Christian victory,” says Tasser, “but it was not (yet) one that came at the detriment of a plural Spain. The conquering king’s son—Alfonso X, El Sabio, or “the Wise” — had grown up steeped in the Arabic culture of Al-Andalus.”

Cordoba’s Mezquita.

Tasser explains, “Al-Andalus is the term we give to all of Muslim Spain, its borders expanding and shrinking over the course of eight centuries, political configurations changing, emirates rising and falling. (Andalusia, the province, derives its name from the same word, for it was here in the south that the Islamic presence lasted longest.)”

He continues, “The demise of Al-Andalus came in 1492, the year Christopher Columbus sailed to America, with Boabdil, the last Muslim ruler of Spain, handing over the keys of Granada to the Catholic monarchs, Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon.”

Mudéjar Architecture. Taseer visits Seville’s Alcazar, “among the finest examples of an art particular to Spain. Mudéjar—drawn from the Arabic mudajjan, ‘permitted to remain’—refers in the first instance to Muslim populations who chose to stay in cities under Christian rule after La Reconquista. It refers, as well, to an architectural style, one of the glories of this syncretic culture, in which Christian rulers, like Peter I, commissioned Muslim craftsmen to imbue the building techniques and ornamentation of Al-Andalus with Christian meaning.”

The Courtyard of the Maidens in Seville’s Alcazar.

A Hardening of Attitudes. “If the early spirit of the Reconquest had been assimilative,” Tasser notes, “by the 15th century attitudes began to harden.… One monarchy, one religion became the order of the day, and it was not merely Jews and Muslims who were forced underground. Arabized Christians had to forsake their Mozarab rite in favor of Roman Catholicism.” 

The Spanish Inquisition continued for some 350 years; instituted in 1478, it wasn’t officially disbanded until 1834. 

A Modern Analogy. The Spanish Inquisition was not all that different from today’s extremes of Islamic practice.  By contrast, Sir John Bagot Glubb notes that the original Islamic conquests “were indeed rapid but the conversion of the conquered peoples to Islam was slow and was not achieved by force.”

Glubb’s Assessment. In the Epilogue of his book, Glubb writes, “The endless fighting and jealousy between the three great related religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—must surely be one of the great tragedies of human history…. We must here distinguish once again between those few members of any religious group who really try to carry out the precepts of their faith and the vast majority who are Jews, Christians or Muslims in name only, but who pursue worldly aims and are swayed by human passions.” 

Pride, a Deadly Sin. “Pride,” Glubb asserts, “is perhaps the greatest human failing which has caused the most damage in history. For the rivalry between Muslims, Christians and Jews has been almost entirely due to human vanity rather than to genuine theological differences. For what can any of us understand of the immensity of God which could possibly justify us in killing, torturing or burning alive persons who hold a slightly different theory?”

François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon, 1651–1715, French theologian, archbishop, poet, and writer. Portrait by Joseph Vivien.

Glubb also thoughtfully begins his book with a quotation from François Fénelon: “We may as well tolerate all religions since God Himself tolerates them.” ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022  

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