Publications Milestones in the History of Tolerance between Religions and Nations
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Milestones in the History of Tolerance between Religions and Nations

Saturday, 30th June 2007
Dr. Ibrahim ElKadry Boutshish
Faculty of Arts, Meknes

Translated by: Noha Mostafa
Revised by: Reem Al-Ashry –

Throughout the period of the Islamic rule which lasted for a long time, Andalusia has always been   a role model in tolerance and coexistence between the nations and ethnics of Arabs, Berbers, Mozarabs, Jews, Amouldih, Saqaliba, and other communities who came from various zones. They all merged into one social entity distinguished by common civilized characteristics and a remarkable social harmony. The bouts of fanaticism that would sometimes occur were nothing but  exceptions and irregularities in the history of Andalusia.

To confirm this hypothesis, this paper seeks to introduce a variety of illustrations of the tolerance that prevailed among the various ethnic races, and diverse religions in Andalusia, substantiated by proofs and evidences throughout three milestones in Andalusian history, as follows:

First milestone: Common social coexistence:

Since the very beginning of the Muslim conquest of Andalusia, indicators of tolerance began to accelerate.
This trend was interpreted by holding peaceful treaties preserving freedom of belief and protection of property for Andalusian people. Despite the loss of most of the documents confirming this civilized conduct, there was yet an important document that had not been buried by time. This document was in the form of a peace treaty written by Abd al-laziz Ibn Musa Ibn Nusayr to Theodomir, governor of the territory of Murcia; which clearly showed how the inhabitants of this province maintained their political independence, freedom of belief and protection of their lives and properties. Although Muslims became masters of Andalusia, their treatment to Spaniards was based on equality.

Among demonstrations of this social coexistence based on an equal footing, was the blending of Arabs and Mozarabs everywhere. Perhaps the residence map of the latter would show that they held a distinct social status where they resided in major Andalusian cities such as Granada, Seville, Valencia, Malaga and other important cities.

In observance of their traditions and privacy, they lived in private districts of their own, yet this did not prevent their mingling with the various Muslim segments. As for the sensitive field of trade, interaction between the two parties was at its peak, where Andalusians dealt with Muslims in selling and buying.

Another manifestation of the tolerance adopted by the Islamic states ruling Andalusia towards the Mozarabs was that they allowed the Mozarabs to keep their social and judicial systems which were applied in the Gothic era without interference or coercion. They even endeavred to find solutions through the efforts submitted to their jurists.
Among other instances of social tolerance was the respect of the Islamic states to the traditions and habits of  Jews and  Mozarabs in Andalusia by allocating  special graves for them in line with their customs and traditions in burying their dead. It was perceived from other stories that Christians were not prevented from drinking alcohol. They were also allowed to use the necessary social facilities.

 The second aspect of this early social coexistence was represented in the phenomenon of marriage between the conquering Arabs and Spanish women. This mingling led to the formation of families and households called the Amouldih houses. Mixed marriage and affinity relationships between the Arabic and Spanish races had become a distinct phenomenon which made the process of conquering Andalusia more of a gateway to a common civilized social coexistence rather than a military invasion.

The deeply rooted common civilization on the social level resulted in the foundation of strong common customs and traditions to the extent which made some researchers consider "hispanization" of ethnic Arab elements.
This dissolving in the social fabric was reflected in the participation of the Muslims of Andalusia with their fellow Christians in most of their religious festivals; a spiritual participation which resulted from many centuries of coexistence.

In spite of the religious caveats which some Andalusian jurists stated considering the participation of the Muslims of Andalusia in Christian holidays a heresy, the Andalusian society often surpassed these jurisprudential prohibitions, thus reflecting a spirit of tolerance and civilized co-participation.

Jews imitated the Arabs since this early period of the history of Andalusia the same way the Christians did. . They used the language of the Arabs, wore their apparel and deeply integrated into the Islamic civilization.

Although jurists had the courage to impose certain attire on Jews and prevent them from wearing others, the historical reality proves that Jews imitated the way wealthy Muslims dressed, and thereby bypassed the jurisprudential caveats.

Despite the fact that Andalusian commoners sometimes coveted hatred to some Jews for competitive reasons, yet they   mingled with  Muslims and dealt with them in selling and buying.
As acknowledged by the Jewish historian Sloush, Jews enjoyed great privileges in the age of Taifa and Almoravids, especially in the reign of Ali ibn Yusuf, which they had not attained in  ages.

From all the previous texts, it is clear that Andalusia experienced a social order where civilized patterns coexisted unified by the principle of tolerance adopted by the Muslims of Andalusia. But what about the aspect of belief?

Second milestone: Freedom of belief:

Since Arabs conquered Andalusia, the three monotheistic religions; Islam, Christianity and Judaism, coexisted together, despite the fleeting strains that would sometimes mar the relationships of believers of those religions. The Jewish religion emerged from the persecution phase, which persisted throughout the Gothic era, to the phase of tolerance. The pace of tolerance increased due to the assistance extended by Jews during the conquering of Andalusia when they provided Muslims with information on weaknesses in the Gothic army and deficiencies in their fortifications which prompted the conquerors to deal with them in a spirit full of tolerance. They trusted the Jews to the extent that they entrusted them with the responsibility of guarding the conquered castles and fortresses. They also left the Jews living freely in major Andalusian cities such as Granada and Lucena. Muslims did not only leave them their synagogues intact but also granted them complete freedom to practice their religious ceremonies.

There are in fact historic indications that Jews faced some religious persecutions by jurists and judges, such as the demand of Ibn Sahl in one of his jurisprudences to demolish newly built Jewish synagogues. However, such conduct had its legitimate justifications because jurists did not allow building churches and synagogues inside Islamic cities especially in the subdued lands. Therefore, it would be an erroneous assumption to generalize this incident by saying that Muslims persecuted the Jews of Andalusia.

Contrary to these limited vision conclusions, it could be perceived from Genizah letters that Jews enjoyed religious freedom represented in being allowed to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and writing religious books. Needless to say, Judah Halevi known in the Arab sources by Abu Al-Hassan had classified a book on Judaism and its relationship with other religions. In the age of Taifas and Almoravids, Jews came to enjoy privileges they could not attain in ages. Freedom of religious activity reached its apex when Jewish Isaac Alfasi succeeded Moses Ibn Ezra as chief rabbi of Granada at the beginning of the 6th H century, therein played a key role in the religious structure of the Jews of Andalusia. Furthermore, a group of rabbis emerged in other Andalusian cities such as Granada, Cordoba and Lucena. Besides, Jewish synagogues became quite numerous in Andalusia to the extent of raising the public's attention and thus were referred to in their proverbs.

With regards to thefreedom of belief of the Christians of Andalusia, the Islamic authority gave them their religious freedom since the beginning of the Islamic conquest of Andalusia, which they sustained during the ages of Governors, Emirates, and Caliphate. Indeed, religious tolerance towards Christians peaked in the age of the Taifa kingdoms. As to the age of Almoravids, some foreign researchers accused them of intolerance and extremism against Christians based on their demolition of some churches, which is an unsubstantiated statement that is to be refuted. Suffice it to say that there are evidences proving the proliferation of churches throughout the whole country.  The demolition of some churches like Al-Bireh (also Elvira) Church was due to circumstantial intolerance which coincided with the same year the Crusaders seized Jerusalem.

It is likely that the religious tolerance shown by the Muslims of Andalusia and their civilized conduct towards the Christian populace was what made them convert to Islam. From time to time, sources provide us with news of some Christians who adopt Islam, among whom was the grandfather of Abraham Ibn Safrag, also called Ibn Hamshak.

Third milestone: Culture of differences and diversity:

In spite of the dominance of Arabs in Andalusia, they spread a tolerant culture based on differences and diversity, to the extent that the Jewish intellect witnessed its utmost prosperity in Andalusia. Many names of Jewish intellectuals emerged in various fields of knowledge especially during the ages of Taifas and Almoravids such as the Jewish Isaac Alfasi and Abu Al-Hassan Yehuda and others. No doubt their financial capabilities enabled them to attain a high degree of knowledge which was evident in their translation of the Arabic science and literature, thereby developing the Jewish intellect and contributing to its enrichment.

In the field of philosophy, many Jews emerged among whom was Yehuda Ibn Samuel Halevi known in the Arab sources by Abu Al-Hassan. He wrote an important book expressing his philosophic opinions, without opposition from any Islamic authority. In addition to Abu Omar Yusef Ibn Alseddik who classified a book in philosophy aiming at getting his contemporaries acquainted with the major facts of morality. It seems that the Jewish philosophers were influenced by the Arabic philosophy which in turn was an evidence of the interaction between the Muslims of Andalusia and Jews.

The same could be said of the interest of some Jews in Arabic sciences and grammar, among whom one could remember Abraham Ibn Sahl Al-Israeli, in addition to other scientists -known for their prominence in grammatical sciences.

Similarly, the 6th H century witnessed the emergence of several Jewish poets such as Moses Ibn Ezra, whose circumstances prevented him from marrying his beloved, so he continued to write his poetry driven by the pain inside him. He compiled his poems in a diwan where he talked about alcohol, passion and the luxuries of living, adopting the way of the Arab poets. Whereas Yehuda Halevi wrote his poems within Arabic molds and subjects besides writing his essay named " Alhuga wal dalil fi nosrat aldin alzalil"

However, the efforts of Jews in the cultural field were more evident in the translation movement from Arabic to Hebrew and Latin that the 6th H century was considered a real breakthrough for that movement. This explains the fact that princes of Christian emirates in Northern Andalusia were keen on summoning some Jewish translators to reside among them.

There has been evidences that revealed the aspect of the spreading of the culture of the Mozarabs, especially in the field of linguistics. Duplication of both Arabic and Foreign languages, as well as their interaction and merger in colloquial expressions confirm our thesis.

The Arabic language was spread among Spaniards and remained to be the means of written expression till the end of the Islamic rule in Andalusia, as was confirmed by the Spanish Orientalist Palencia.

Zajal, which reached its peak in Andalusia, is considered to be an evidence of this social and linguistic influence on both sides. Sure enough, it was full of everyday life images of the Muslims of Andalusia as well as Christian customs and traditions in a language which combined the colloquial Andalusian with Latin.

On the other hand, the colloquial Andalusian language known as Alagmmi, Romance or Latin spread in Andalusia; a language where Arabic and Latin terms are intermingled. It is likely that it was common to a large degree that Ibn Hazm was surprised by the fact that the members of the famous "Der Baly" family in Andalusia did not have good command of spoken Latin.

However, it appears that the widespread of this language was a result of the tolerance adopted by the conquerors who did not impose their Arabic language the way some dominant nations would have done. They left all communities and ethnics free to use their own current languages in their dealings. That mixture of languages which emerged producing the Romance language was the outcome of that tolerance.

Anyway, this language was not merely a means of communication at homes and streets, but invaded other literal forms of the Standard Arabic language such as Muwashshah and Zajal. This linguistic mixture possibly expresses the interaction between the two cultures; the Islamic-Arabic culture and the Latin-Spanish culture, making it truly the Andalusian civilized dialogue language of the time.

From all the texts used in this research, it becomes clear that Andalusia was giving through centuries of coexistence and tolerance. and that three millstones of many milestones in the history of Andalusia reflect images of the manifestations of this tolerance witnessed by Andalusia; common social coexistence, freedom of belief, dominance of a culture of differences and diversity altogether rendered Andalusia an outstanding role model of cultural dialogues and coexistence.