2002 Report (Continued)
Carmen Calvo, Andalusian minister of culture, welcomed the Dialogues program to Granada, which she considers one of the few places in the world with such resonance for people working toward Muslim-Western understanding. Calvo explained that Andalusia has been the site of many cities, cultures, and religions, from its colonization by the ancient Greeks to its invasion by the Carthaginians, to the establishment of an Iberian Arab civilization—one characterized more by its intricate architecture, its poetic metaphors, and peaceful gardens than by any religious orthodoxy. In the last decades we had seemed to be reapproaching this ideal of tolerance and integration, but recently humanity’s progress has been overshadowed by elements that threaten our peaceful coexistence. The minister expressed her hopes that Granada and, specifically, the Alhambra would inspire in the Dialogues participants the wisdom we need to generate ideas that can contribute to reinforcing our common friendship and solidarity. In conclusion, she quoted al-Zubaydi, preceptor of the Cordoban caliph al-Hakam II: “The whole world, in all its diversity, is one, and men are all brothers and neighbors.”
Jerónimo Páez López, director of the Legado andalusí, spoke about the legacy of al-Andalus as a paradigm of pluralism. He briefly reviewed the history of the region, beginning with the arrival of the Arab army from North Africa in the eighth century, which resulted in eight hundred years of Islamic rule on the Iberian Peninsula. During this time, Christians and Muslims lived together peacefully. While the majority of the population was Christian, most spoke Arabic and were familiar with Arab culture. Páez López quoted from al-Segundo’s thirteenth-century writings in praise of Spanish Islam to illustrate that during the height of Andalusia’s Islamic period, Granada was considered the Damascus of the West. Letters and learning, culture and poetry, wisdom and might were just some of the virtues that the city possessed. A “ludic” Islam existed in al-Andalus and was an inspiration to later generations. Páez López closed by calling on Andalusian residents to feel proud of the region’s Islamic legacy. Spain, and especially Andalusia, is a link between Islam and the Occident in both politics and culture. Unfortunately, its legacy has been ignored for many years, and today the area’s Muslim past is viewed negatively. For that reason, the Legado andalusí is working with the mayor of Granada to publicize and promote a positive attitude toward Granada’s Islamic legacy.
Speaking on “the age of Ibn Rushd 1 (1126–98), Maimonides 2 (1135–1204), and Thomas Aquinas (1225–74),” Mohammed Arkoun,3 professor emeritus of Islamic thought at the Sorbonne, France, examined Islamic Spain as an example of cross-cultural interaction and religious coexistence, which has inspired historians and diplomats, philosophers and poets. Arkoun discussed how these three seminal thinkers should be interpreted not as representatives from different civilizations but as inhabitants of a combined “Mediterranean space” in which people of all backgrounds developed their ideas simultaneously. Ibn Rushd, Maimonides, and Thomas Aquinas were nourished by a humanist culture originating in Baghdad and Iran in the ninth and tenth centuries. Arkoun outlined several areas in which modern thinkers could benefit from the teachings of Islamic Spain. First, he noted, post-Renaissance Europeans have neglected to recognize this period as the foundation of humanist thought. Second, the European tradition has drawn a line between religion and philosophy, preventing modern academics from properly examining the influence of Islam on the European Middle Ages. This false separation leaves us ill equipped to deal with religious questions as these three thinkers did, with primacy given to powers of explanation. Ibn Rushd, Maimonides, and Thomas Aquinas offer an integrated view of history and today’s scholars would be well advised to alter their approaches and refrain from the compartmentalization of ideas that limits their reading of Islamic Spain.
Several ideas emerged during the subsequent discussion. The massive transfer of technology from Arab to European societies in the twelfth century was compared to the massive cultural transfer from the West to the Muslim world in our own era. In both cases, the “receiver” of the transfer constructed a hostile narrative to describe the relationship—Crusades and Reconquista on the one hand, “Westoxification” 4 on the other. But just as the Europeans shifted from receivers to disseminators, the Islamic world will likely flourish again, one day in the future. The discussion continued with other participants considering the shifting demographics in today’s Europe as blurring the divide between Islamic and Christian civilization. The final speaker stressed the need for both European and Muslim scholars to rewrite history to recognize the Islamic roots of many European ideas as well as to take account of the long-term interchange between Islamic and European cultures.Back to the top.