Back to Index

SPAIN: Muslim Spain



John Heelan writes: "Al-Andalus is of particular interest to me in my research into the cultural and literary impacts of that period on later Spain; I can confirm that many Arabic-speaking scholars have consulted the "local Spanish archives of the Muslim period" and that the University of Granada (among others) has had strong research interests in the field since the early 1930s.

Undoubtedly, as in any multicultural community, there would be ethnic tensions. Los Angeles and New York are probably good contemporary examples. Regarding the coexistence of Muslims, Christians and Jews in the early days of al-Andalus, I refer you to the work of the American historian Richard W. Bulliet who calculated the "Curve of Conversion" to Islam [quoted by Richard Fletcher in his book Moorish Spain (1992)]. Fletcher comments (p.37) "Let us take these findings as a working hypothesis. By about 800 only some 8% of the indigenous population of Al-Andalus had become Muslims. This had risen to about 12.5% by the middle of the ninth century...... by the year 1000 the proportion stood at something like 75%". It is no accident that the bulk of conversions appear to have happened in the later part of the Caliphate and consequent on the arrival of the fresh waves of the more evangelising Almoravides and Almohades.

Fletcher comments (p.36) "...Conversion of Islam would come about not by means of missionary pressure but through the nudging of other social forces of a kind which tend to be inconspicuous to the historian". Such as inter-marriage, opportunities of employment, following the lead of a prominent person. Fletcher comments "The process is self-reinforcing, for the consequent diminution and demoralisation of the non-ruling communities will stimulate further defections".

The relatively peaceful coexistence seems to have lasted some 200-400 years. Fletcher comments (p.94) "It is difficult to know what the day-to-day relations of Christians and Arabs may have been in the cities of al-Andalus. They lived side-by-side. In some cities the Mozarabs inhabited distinct Christian quarters of the town, in others they seem to have lived intermingled with their Muslim neighbours. They were brought together in the mundane affairs of daily life.... Another source (from Andalusi archives) casts a fascinating ray of light on the matter of intercommunal relations when it reveals that certain among the better-off Muslims were accustomed to use Christian monasteries as wine-bars where they could drop in for a tincture of the liquid forbidden to them under Islamic law".

The Muslim conversion process was very different to the torture, autos-da-fe and the mass expulsions practised by the Inquisition in the Christian conversion process. (Other fine works in the area are Islamic Spain 1200-1500 (1990) by L.P.Harvey and Huellas del Islam en la literatura española (1989) by Luce López-Baralt"--

RH: I am grateful for this information, but Granada is known for promoting the Arab viewpoint, and clearly Arabs depict their regime in Spain as tolerant. I stick by my statement. The well-known historian lof Spain, Stanley Payne, says : "Your reply to Heelan was on the money. The "myth of Al Andalus" was first developed by 19th-century Spanish liberals. Its most recent expression is the new book by the Yale professor of Spanish Maria Rosa Menocal, The Ornament of the World (2002).

Ronald Hilton - 2/18/03


Webmaster