My fascination with Al Andalus started when I made a firm decision to move there in 2014. I knew little about the history of the region but was in love with the life that was waiting for us there as we drove over to settle for a year or so. It ended up nearly two and we created space to write my first book, time to heal our tired hearts and ultimately, we created a life. My heart never really left, neither did my family ever forget those wonderful months we spent in simplicity, learning and expanding there.
The region is packed with grand palaces and monuments as the legacy of the Arabs, Berbers and Muslims who settled on the Iberian Peninsula creating a vibrant, thriving society. The little villages, dotted around the land is full of stories, castles and habits that Spanish still carry deep in their lives as part of the legacy of the Umayyad, Almoravid and Almohad rulers.
Writing history has always been the privilege of the rich and powerful. The victors write in ways that serve them. I write because I want to know the truth, so after publishing my first book I embarked on writing my second one, a historical novel, about what life must have been for over 700 years. We know so little about that part of the world and what we do know is often convoluted, undermined or over exaggerated. What I wanted to know was how people lived and managed to be diverse, tolerant and progressive at a time when the rest of Europe seemed to be slumbering in its own confusion and darkness.
There are a number of historical records that prove that the Visigoths, the rulers of the Iberian peninsula were on their way out by the time the Arabs, Berbers and Amazigh people arrived led by Tariq Bin Ziyad at 711. Their crumbling system could not be maintained and many settlements were taken without brutal force, or, indeed, any resistance by the army of 7,000 men. The peninsula was taken in a few years followed by a growing population of Muslims which also shows that it was mainly the local people who contributed to the growth, since the 7,000 would not have been nearly enough to inhabit the whole region. The stereotypical image of forceful, brutal Arabs are an easy way to describe a group of people who are unknown in Europe in the 8th century but we must be more diligent and loyal to history if we truly want to understand the reality of Al Andalus.
In fact, only a short way from Madrid, there is an archaeological site called Recopolis. Its researchers and historians have confirmed that they found no signs of brutal force or aggressive invasion into the land. They assume the Visigoths who ruled Andalus previously were ready for a new power and welcomed the newcomers. Their political and economic system was not fully functioning any more, so any power would be better than their crumbling system, they must have thought.
Andalus, the name has many etymological explanations. Some historian believe it was called Landahlaust, meaning inherited estate, the land of the Visigoths. Let us remember that Spain, as we know today, did not exist at that time, neither was Europe a concept in history. If anything, Christians called their land “Christendom”, not Europe. The concept of East and West did not make it into history, nor did the idea of Islamization. These are products of later historical attempts, not always with the best intent. Emphasizing religions identity, the concept of the “other” unfortunately did little service to what was actually happening on daily basis in Andalus. The society was too young to be making claims about superiority or inferiority.
History must be examined with an open mind and without the prejudices that have been passed down through education systems that serve a particular agenda or politicians who serve their agenda by promoting ideas that have little or no historical value. History must be understood through the lives of people, their aspirations and achievements, not measured by our own prejudices but based on their merits.
Andalus is one of those parts of history that needs constant learning and revisiting so we truly understand its existence, richness, depth and complexity that makes its relevance today.