I am a critical reader, a critical wife and a critical everything, if I am honest. I also do not consider myself a diplomat and cannot help but be critical of the way history of Muslims have been driving public perception and shape opinions about the faith of around 1.8 billion people in the world. I do not romanticize Andalus but I do know how a twisted theory can engineer people’s perception of a faith or an era.
You might ask why is 9th century Andalucia a pivotal point in history? Amongst the obvious reasons of it being under Muslim rule for nearly 800 years, it is also one of the most promising opportunity to learn for 21st century Britain no one should miss and here is why.
Both cities are known for their considerable wealth their contemporaries did not possess. It is a well-known fact that Cordoba had streetlights when Paris was dark after the sun set. It had reformed and well-maintained irrigation system, thriving commercial life, flourishing universities and education provided for free even to the poorest. Britain is not much different when we look at it as the centre of world economy, investments, opportunities and trade. But as Cordoba was being controlled by the Abbasid Baghdad, until it claimed independence by Abdur Rahman III, the UK is bullied by the USA’s powerful financial and political machinery or even threatened by the rising suns of Asia. Both cities faced the same challenge- how to create themselves as a place of independence and integrity? I believe Cordoba won the battle but UK is still sweating for its identity because of its handling of reaction to outside power.
The need for coexistence and multiculturalism was not an option in Cordoba, neither it is in UK. It is a must and both centuries face the same questions about it. Muslims did not ask for permission to exist in Andalucia, neither did the Jewish or Christian communities. The tackled multiculturalism without ever attending diversity trainings or culturally sensitive workshops. They lived it and they lived with integrity. How so? They had two quests- what is good for the country as a whole and what needs to be given to each community to empower them in their participation towards the wellbeing of that whole. Multiculturalism was not a rhetoric, it was a living, evolving experience and only through ascertaining this Cordoba could lead it.
The 9th century saw astonishing figures, both inspiring and troubling. Al Ghazzal, the traveller was as much of a spin doctor as Michael Gove. Berbers tribes, the Umayyad or Brexit party led by N. Farage are operating on the same premise- whose agenda is going to crush the others? Who takes power and whose rhetoric sways the public? In effect, Farage could be a Berber party leader who wanted to make sure his tribe gets an advantage over others by dismantling trust and loyalty to the truth amongst people. Ziryab, Blackbird was a fashion icon who shaped up the Andalus etiquette. Qalam and Tarub, both favourite concubines of the emir ( I have strong opinions on the harem system, too) Abdur Rahman II had significant power in influencing him to make decisions. Most women of Andalus were involved in politics- either directly influencing men or setting up institutions, orphanages and hospitals to create a more harmonious society.
Ridiculing Muslims is not a new thing. The martyrs of Cordoba made their famous entry into history by sacrificing themselves for their faith. 52 of them were executed for their insults of Islam. What history often misses in the books is that there were openly and privately advised, recommended, guided and ordered not to insult the Prophet of Islam in public for flaming anti- Muslim sentiments. Sources show that they came from a wide spectrum, some were born into Muslim family as the father was a Muslim but grew up with Christian mothers. Fully knowing the implications of insulting the Prophet, they carried on their sacrificial insults which left the emirs with little choice but punishment. The cartoon sagas of the 21st century is not much different. Respect is respect, be it medieval Europe or modern Britain, Denmark or the Netherlands but it is hypocritical to ask one group to be respectful but condemn another for not doing the same.
Education was the one thing that helped Andalus thrive. Through learning the tone was set and at times of turbulent history education is the only weapon that saves a country. Andalucia was a project that is often painted with the brushes of religiosity. It is clear from history that Andalus was not a religious project but a political aspiration of the Umayyad who happened to be Muslims. While expansion is revered if done by the Dutch, Spanish, French, Portuguese or the British, the same rule does not apply to Muslims who transform into barbaric crudes the moment they want to expand.
We, in the 21st century have to clear out the entanglement of religion and politics. Today we must be clear and of sound mind to see how Islam and Muslim have been targeted for political gains. Just as history has proven that Andalus was not driven by religious nuttery, today’s anti-Muslim rhetoric is not underpinned by independent thinking but deeply biased fear of Islam promoted from the highest levels of leadership. To make sense of reality we need independent judgement and education about our history.
I might be critical but I am not blind to the failures of Andalus. The things, however, that went right overweigh the failures precisely because it took the land from ignorance to its height. I fear, 21st century UK is doing the opposite. Politicians are taking the country to its low because instead of educating people, they try to downplay and manipulate our minds. Let us learn from the 9th century, we will all be better for it.