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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 8    Issue 22   01-15 April 2014

Professor A. R. Momin

Erasing Spain’s Islamic Legacy

Muslim rule in Andalusia, which lasted for nearly eight centuries, brought about positive and far-reaching changes in Spanish society. It resulted in political stability and economic revival through the introduction of new irrigation methods, new crops, plants and fruits. These included cotton, sugarcane, rice, grapes, figs, apricots, saffron, peaches, cumin, coriander, bananas, pomegranates, lemons and oranges. Trade routes were substantially expanded, which facilitated extensive trading across the Mediterranean as well as the Far East. Canals, streams and windmills were extensively used for supplying water to cities as well as for irrigation. Andalusia’s silk fabrics, jewellery, leather articles, lustre pottery and paper became famous throughout Europe. The first paper factory in Europe was established in the Spanish city of Jativa (Shatiba) in 1150, whence the technology of papermaking passed into Italy and subsequently into other parts of Europe.

Three distinct factors contributed to the efflorescence of Andalusia during the medieval period. In the first place, the Muslim ruling elite did not behave like aliens or foreign conquerors but identified themselves with the region and the local population. They had no hesitation in adopting local dialects, architectural styles and cultural patterns. Many of them married local Spanish women and their progeny came to develop a composite, mosaic identity. Second, Muslim rulers nurtured and sustained an ethos of harmonious coexistence, tolerance and accommodation. Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together and shared substantial social and cultural spaces despite their religious and cultural differences. The celebrated Spanish-American historian, Americo Castro, famously described this as a state of convivencia (living together). It is noteworthy that the evolution of this composite, hybrid cultural tradition in the Iberian Peninsula did not lead to a collapse of religious or ethnic boundaries and distinctions. Muslims, Jews and Christians scrupulously maintained their respective religious and ethnic identities and, at the same time, participated in a shared cultural universe.

Third, the active interest evinced by the Muslim ruling elite in the economic and cultural development of Andalusia endeared them to large masses of people. A combination of these factors brought about a remarkable, unprecedented development of science, philosophy, literature and arts and crafts and made the Iberian Peninsula the envy of Europe.

In the beginning of the 10th century, Cordoba was perhaps the most beautiful and splendid place on earth, with 900 public baths, thousands of shops selling a variety of merchandise, and hundreds of mosques. Well-lit streets and running water from aqueducts made Cordoba look like a fairy-tale city. In addition to its material prosperity, Cordoba was also a city of learning and scholarship, with more than 70 public libraries. There were some four hundred thousand volumes in the caliph’s library. During this time, the largest library in Latin Europe probably had no more than four hundred manuscripts. The catalogue of Cordoba’s main library ran into 44 volumes. There were 70 copyists in the book market, who worked exclusively on making copies of the Holy Quran.

Shortly after the Islamic conquest, an agreement was signed by the new ruler, Abd al-Aziz ibn Musa ibn Nusayr, and Theodomir, the last of the Visigothic kings of the Iberian Peninsula, whereby the Islamic stated guaranteed the protection of life, property, beliefs and rituals, and religious institutions of the local people. Islamic influences on Jews and Christians and on Spanish society in general were far-reaching and extensive and encompassed popular culture, language and literature, architecture, science and philosophy, and every-day life. Christians and Jews enthusiastically took to Arabic as a vibrant language of poetry and elegance and soon lost touch with Latin. All the Christian texts and liturgy were translated from Latin into Arabic and became a part of the community’s religious life. Christians who had lived in an Islamic polity and had imbibed a great deal of Arabic influences in their language, culture and literature came to be known as Mozarabs. They spoke a language called Mozarabic, a Romance dialect full of Arabic vocabulary. From the 9th to the 11th century, Mozarabs celebrated the Eucharist, not in Latin, the liturgical language of Western Christendom, but in Arabic.

By the middle of the 13th century, Cordoba, Valencia and Seville were reconquered by Christian rulers, following which Muslims living there began to face persecution. They were forbidden to announce calls to prayers from minarets and from going on pilgrimage to Mecca. Many mosques, including the one located in the Alhambra palace complex, were converted into churches. Arabic inscriptions at the Alhambra palace were erased and replaced by figures of Christian saints and monks. The reading of Arabic books was prohibited and many of them were burned. Muslims were forced to convert to Christianity and those who refused were expelled from the country. Granada, the last of the Islamic kingdoms of Andalusia, fell in 1492. Muhammad XI, the last of the Nasirid rulers, handed the keys of the royal palace to Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon. Following the fall of Granada, Muslims, Jews and Gypsies were expelled from the country. Moriscos, descendants of Muslims who were forcibly converted to Christianity in 1502, were prohibited from speaking Arabic and from marrying according to Islamic rites. Finally, after a century of forced conversions between 1502 and 1615, all Moriscos—estimated at over 300,000—were driven out of the country.

Around 300,000 Jews were living in Spain in 1492 when the Catholic monarchs Queen Isabella of and King Ferdinand of Aragon ordered Muslims and Jews to either convert to Christianity or leave the country.

Though the Catholic kings expelled Muslims from Spain in 1492, Islamic and Arabic influences continued—even to this day--to reverberate in Spanish society. The deep and pervasive influence of Islamic civilization on Spanish society continues to be reflected in the Spanish language, in agriculture and water harvesting systems, in architectural styles and ornamentation, in arts and crafts, and in everyday life. Castilian or modern Spanish language was literally born out of Arabic. A large number of words of Arabic origin—estimated at around 4,000—continue to be used in modern Spanish. These words include the names of fruits, vegetables, animals and musical instruments and the technical vocabulary in mathematics, astronomy, law, architecture and carpentry. The Spanish language was taken to the Americas as well as to Africa and Asia Pacific in the wake of Spanish colonial expansion. The speakers of Spanish language today are estimated to number around 500 million, making it the third most spoken language in the world after Mandarin Chinese and English. Even today most of the family names in Spain betray their Islamic origins. The regional division of the country into 17 communities, which is still followed, goes back to the Islamic period. One can notice Andalusia’s famous double arches, which adorn the Cordoba Mosque, on the doors and windows of public buildings as well as residential houses.

The water harvesting and irrigation systems introduced by the Muslim rulers in Valencia and other regions of Islamic Spain filled them with orchards and rice fields. These systems are still followed in Valencia, and several words of Arabic origin relating to irrigation and water harvesting are used even today. A celebration in commemoration of the ‘Millennium of the Waters’ was held in Valencia in 1960. The celebrations marked the public recognition of the establishment of the irrigation system, and especially the Tribunal of Waters (Tribunal de las AquasI), introduced during the reign of Abd al-Rahman III in the 10th century, for the purpose of regulating the irrigation infrastructure in the fields. The Tribunal of Waters continues to be in use for settling local disputes relating to irrigation. It meets every Thursday at noon outside the Valencia cathedral for the purpose. The Tribunal is perhaps Europe’s oldest democratic institution which has been continually functioning for the past one thousand years. It has been recognised by UNESCO as a cultural heritage. Islamic and Arabic influences left an enduring influence on Spanish cuisine, dress and daily life. Muslims introduced rice, saffron, almonds and spices in local cuisines, which are still widely used in Spanish cuisine. Paella, the most important dish of Valencia, had an Arabic origin.

On February 7, 2014, the Spanish government approved a law allowing descendants of Sephardic Jews, who were expelled from the country in 1492, to seek Spanish citizenship, in addition to their existing nationality. Spain’s Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said that Spain owed the Sephardic Jews a debt for spreading the Spanish language and culture around the world. He added, “The law we have passed today has a deep historic meaning: not only because it concerns events in our past of which we should not be proud (like the decree to expel the Jews in 1492) but because it reflects the reality of Spain as an open and plural society.” Spain does not allow dual citizenship except for people from neighbouring Andorra and Portugal and from former Spanish colonies such as the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea and Latin American countries.

The descendants of Sephardic Jews, who are estimated to number around 3.5 million, are living in Israel, United States, Turkey, France, Mexico, Argentina and Chile.

Muslim groups in Spain are demanding that the Spanish government’s gesture towards the descendants of Sephardic Jews should also be extended to the descendants of Muslims who were expelled from the country more than 500 years ago. The current population of Muslims in Spain is estimated to be around 1.6 million, making up about 3.4% of the country’s population.

Cordoba Mosque

The Cordoba Mosque represents one of the most magnificent and astounding architectural monuments of the Islamic world. The construction of the mosque began in 784 at the instance of the first Muslim ruler of Spain, Abd al-Rahman I. The construction as well as additions continued over the next two centuries. The area of the mosque measures 570 feet in length and 425 feet in width. The ceiling is 30 feet high. King Abd al-Rahman III constructed a large square minaret atop the mosque in 951. The minaret was destroyed in an earthquake, following which King Al-Nasir built another square minaret with a height of 72 metres.

The grandeur of the Cordoba Mosque is simply breath-taking. The conspicuous features of the mosque are its colossal and grandiose scale, its magnificent double-arched colonnade, its marvelous symmetry, its exquisite ornamentation and its inimitable calligraphy. The mosque’s large structure is supported by nearly 1000 columns made from jasper, onyx, marble and granite. The high ceiling of the mosque, made from pine wood, is richly decorated and beautifully painted. The mihrab (prayer niche) is decorated with geometric and flowing designs of plants and embellished with Quranic calligraphy in Kufi and Maghrebi styles.

When Cordoba was sacked by King Ferdinand III of Castile in 1236, the Cordoba Mosque was consecrated as a church. Alphonso X oversaw the construction of the Villaviciosa Chapel and the Royal Chapel in the precincts of the mosque. Carlos V, king of United Spain, constructed a cathedral in the centre of the mosque, which came to be known as the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin. Bishop Juan Jose Asenjo forbade Muslims to offer prayers in the mosque.

Though the Cordoba Mosque has been converted into a cathedral, it is legally recognized as a public property. UNESCO has designated it as a World Heritage Site.

In 2006 the Catholic Church in Spain claimed ownership of the Cordoba Mosque, even though the Spanish government did not approve the claim. In 2010 the Archbishop of Cordoba prevailed upon the local administration to erase the word mosque from information brochures on the Cordoba Mosque. The Cordoba Mosque draws more than a million visitors each year, and the entry ticket for the mosque says “Welcome to Santa Iglesia Cathedral”. The Archbishop of Cordoba has moved to register the mosque as the sole property of the Catholic Church.

Now a group of local intellectuals and human rights activists has launched a petition campaign called “Save the Cordoba Mosque” and has collected 156,00 signatures to protest against the Catholic Church’s move to privatize the mosque and to erase its Islamic history. The petition accuses the Catholic Church of distorting historical facts.

Antonio Manuel Rodriguez, a law professor at Cordoba University who is an active supporter of the campaign, accuses the Catholic Church of trying to cover up the Islamic history of the Cordoba Mosque and adds, “For the citizens of Cordoba, what has hurt our feelings is that the Catholic Church has cut off the name and memory of the monument.” Rodriguez says that the Cordoba Mosque has for hundreds of years been seen as a symbol of living together between Islam and Christianity. But the Catholic Church is now trying to take it over and Christianize it.

Tunisia’s Hopeful Transition to Democracy

On March 6, 2014, Tunisia’s President Moncef Marzouki announced the lifting of the state of emergency that has been in force since 2011. Tunisia’s autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali ordered the imposition of the state of emergency just hours before he fled the country on 14 January 2011. The decree gave the law-enforcement agencies wide and extraordinary powers, including the authority to impose curfews and ban gatherings of more than three persons.

In reality, the state of emergency was literally ignored by the Tunisian people, who took out massive rallies to vent their anguish and concern over a crumbling economy, rising prices, high unemployment rates, lawlessness and crime, sectarian violence and the failure of the political class to forge a consensus on the task of economic and political reconstruction. Over the past year, Tunisian security forces have been engaged in conducting operations against armed extremist and hardliner groups, particularly Ansar al-Shariah. Two leftist politicians were assassinated by one of these groups in 2013.

In December 2013, Tunisia’s main political parties reached an agreement to appoint a caretaker government to run the country until new elections. Accordingly, the Ennahda-led government stepped down and the former industries minister Mehdi Jomaa took over as caretaker prime minister in January this year.

The turn of events in Tunisia’s political scenario suggests that the country is well on its way to a representative system of democratic governance.

Gender and Education Disparity in the Arab World

In April 2000, more than 1,100 participants from 164 countries from around the world, including teachers, heads of states, representatives of non-governmental organizations, academics and policymakers gathered in Dakar, Senegal for the World Education Forum. A significant outcome of the meet was the adoption of what came to be known as the Dakar Framework for Action, Education for All: Meeting Our Collective Commitments. Keeping in view its overarching objective of making education available to each and every child and adult, the Dakar initiative has published comprehensive annual reports since 2002. These reports have focused attention on the prerequisites of creating equal opportunities for education for all as well as the impediments in the achievement of this goal. Moreover, the reports provide global updates on progress in the field. The reports have dealt with the bearing of such issues as inequality, early childhood care, gender and armed conflict on education. The 11th report Teaching and learning: Achieving quality for all (2013/2014) was released by UNESCO in March 2014.

The report makes a powerful case for placing education at the core of the global development agenda. At the same time, it presents a rather depressing picture of the progress achieved over the past decade. The report notes, for example that as many as 57 million children worldwide are still out of school and that one-third of primary school-age children are not learning the basics. The report points out that the major challenges that account for the tardy progress in the matter include poverty, gender bias, insufficient funding of basic education, inadequate government support and ethnic and political violence. In 2012, 25% of children under five suffered from stunted growth, thanks to widespread poverty and malnutrition. In 2011, only about half of young children worldwide had access to pre-primary education. In sub-Saharan Africa, the figure was as low as 18%. The report notes that the most marginalized groups continue to be denied opportunities for education. Nearly half of the 57 million children who were out of school in 2011, lived in conflict-torn countries.

The report notes that gender disparities in respect of education continue to be a worrying phenomenon. Nearly 100 million women in low- and middle-income countries are unable to read a single sentence. In 2011, only 60% of countries had achieved the goal of gender parity at the primary level and only 38% at the secondary level. Girls make up 54% of the global population of children out of school. The share of Arab states is 60%, the largest percentage of any of the world’s regions, including sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, since 1999 there has been no progress on this count. “The Arab world is the region that is lagging most behind in that respect,” the report’s author Pauline Rose said. She adds that the reasons for the yawning gender gap in the Arab world are largely cultural, which are compounded by poverty and violence. In extremely poor Arab countries like Yemen, parents prefer sending male children to school with the hope that education would get them employment which, in turn, will help the family financially. In Syria, the escalating spiral of violence has interrupted education for all children, particularly for girls, because they are far more vulnerable to sexual assault. One of the consequences of having few girls in schools is that there is a shortage of female teachers in schools, especially in regions where segregation in education is common.

Turkey is one of the few Muslim countries which has achieved gender parity at both lower and upper secondary levels, largely as a result of teacher training and other related programmes. Some countries have adopted methods for encouraging parents to send their daughters to school. These include giving stipends to families so as to offset the expenses incurred in educating girls and providing scholarships to girls.

The situation in respect of adult literacy is far from reassuring. In 2011, there were 774 million illiterate adults worldwide, a decline of just 1% since 2000. Almost two-thirds of adult illiterates are women. The report notes that 10 countries account for 72% of the global population of illiterate adults. Of these, five are Muslim: Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nigeria and Egypt.

Girls’ education has multiple benefits, not only for girls but for society as a whole. The advantages of educating girls far outweigh those accruing from the education of boys. Girls’ education greatly improves the ability of a household to manage basic child care, to increase the nutritional content of diet, to ensure more effective diagnosis of diseases and to improve elementary health care. Several studies suggest that girls’ education is positively correlated with a significant increase in immunization and lower child mortality rates. The education of girls up to secondary school and college levels generally delays the age of marriage which, in turn, results in lower fertility rates. Girls’ education significantly contributes to the reduction of gender-based inequalities and enhances their ability and power in the decision-making processes at home.

Alarming Levels of Pollution in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is an upper-middle-income country in Central Asia with per capita GDP of US$13,000. The country has abundant mineral and fossil fuel resources, including oil and gas, uranium, chromium, lead, zinc, iron, coal and gold. It has the 11th largest proven reserves of petroleum and natural gas, the second-largest uranium, chromium, lead and zinc reserves, the third-largest manganese reserves and the fifth-largest copper reserves. It is among the world’s top ten countries in reserves of coal, iron and gold.

In 2009, Kazakhstan ranked first on UNESCO’s Education for All Development Index by achieving near-universal levels of primary education and gender parity.

Despite impressive economic growth, Kazakhstan is faced with significant environmental concerns resulting from the consequences of nuclear testing programme during the Soviet era, industrial and mining projects, land degradation, desertification and air and water pollution. Air and water pollution levels in Kazakhstan are among the highest in the world. Much of the pollution is caused by the decrepit heavy industries that were set up during the Soviet era. In recent years the problem has been compounded by the toxic emissions from a British-owned mining and minerals company. Shymkent, a city in the southern part of Kazakhstan, is one of the most polluted cities in the world. A lead smelting plant was built in the city in the 1930s when industrialization in the erstwhile Soviet Union was booming. Most of the ammunition used by the Soviet army against Nazi Germany during World War II was made at this plant. The plant was the mainstay of the local economy and the main source of livelihood for the inhabitants of the region. The plant was closed down in 2008 due to financial problems.

The health and environmental costs of toxic emissions from the plant have been enormous. The city’s atmosphere is thick with pollutants from highly toxic elements, including lead, cadmium, antimony and arsenic. In the area around the plant, lead was found to be 60 times the legal limit, cadmium 40 times and arsenic 50 times. A study conducted by the International Turkish Kazakh University in 2012 revealed that 52% of children in the city had lead levels far in excess of permissible levels. A study by the International Task Force for Children’s Environmental Health found that as many as 100,000 young people and children in Shymkent had been adversely affected by lead pollution.

The presence of more than permissible levels of lead in the body has extremely damaging effects on all organs, including the brain. It severely undermines children’s physical growth and cognitive and intellectual development.

In 2010, a British-owned company, Kazakhmys Copper, took over the decrepit company. Unfortunately, the company did not bother to carry out an advance assessment of the environmental and health consequences of reopening the plant. Though the local sanitation department refused to grant permission to reopen the plant, the company went ahead with production. The Shymkent plant was eventually close down in late 2012 following local protests and media outrage.

Halal Reindeer Meat from Norway

Reindeer meat is eaten with great relish in Norway and other Scandinavian countries. Now a Norwegian abattoir, owned by Harry Dyrsfad, has started the slaughter of reindeer according to Islamic rituals. The Islamic Council of Norway has granted approval to the halal reindeer meat supplied by the abattoir after visiting the premises. Norway has a substantial Muslim population, estimated at 270,000, making up 4.8% of the country’s population of 5.6 million.

Meanwhile, Denmark has decided to ban the Jewish and Islamic methods of slaughtering animals. The new law requires that animals should be stunned before slaughter, a method which is contrary to Islamic and Jewish laws. According to Islamic and Jewish laws, the animal must be conscious before slaughter. Justifying the ban, Denmark’s minister for agriculture and food Dan Jorgensen told Denmark’s TV2 that “animal rights come before religion.” Halal slaughter is banned in Poland, Ireland, Switzerland and Sweden.

The Danish ban on religious slaughter has been condemned by European Commissioner for Health Tonio Borg, who says it is contrary to European law. According to European regulations, animals need to be stunned before they are slaughtered, but an exemption is granted on religious grounds.

The ban has provoked a strong reaction from Denmark’s Muslim and Jewish communities. There have been accusations of anti-Semitism from Jews. A non-profit organization Danish Halal has condemned the ban as “a clear interference in religious freedom that limits the rights of Muslims and Jews to practice their religion in Denmark.” Danish Halal has collected 13, 000 signatures against the ban, which will be presented to the Danish minister for agriculture and food.

Jorgensen’s high-sounding rhetoric about animal rights flies in the face of Denmark’s unflattering record. Jorgensen has himself admitted that some 25,000 piglets die each day in Danish pig factory farms. Half of the sows often have sores and 95% of them have their tails docked. In February 2014, the keepers of the Copenhagen Zoo killed a healthy 18-month-old giraffe named Marius, dissected his body in front of a crowd that included children and fed the pieces to lions. In March 2014 the zoo authorities killed four lions to make way for a young male lion. The zoo justified the killings on grounds of genetic purity and conservation and to prevent inbreeding. Animal rights activists across Europe and North America have expressed dismay and anger over the killings.

The issue of halal slaughter in Europe has been surrounded by a good deal of controversy for the past few years. Votaries of animal rights contend that slaughtering animals without subjecting them to stunning is cruel and inhuman and should therefore be banned. But many scientists and scientific organizations take exception to this view. The German Constitutional Court, which permitted halal slaughter in a landmark judgement in 2002, quoted a 1978 study conducted by Wilhelm Schulze at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Germany. The study concluded that “the slaughter in the form of a ritual cut is, if carried out properly, painless in sheep and calves, according to electrocepalographic recordings and the missing defensive actions.” In 2008 the French Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fishing published a report of the Association de Sensibilisation d’Information et de Defence de Consommateus Musulmans (ASIDCOM) on religious slaughter. The report quotes many scientific studies to the effect that religious slaughter is equal, or possibly superior, to other methods of slaughter. ASIDCOM published an updated English version of the report with the help of Professor Joe M. Regenstein, Professor of Food Science at Cornell University.

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