jeudi 18 avril 2013


Specialist on Spanish History, about Spain and Islam

Posted: 17 Apr 2013 

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

Recently,in 2010,Stanley G. Paine,American expert on Spanish civilization and history,published a scholarly analysis of Spanish history.

His book was first in Spanish and then in 2011 published in English as “Spain: a Unique History”.

Chapter 2 of his book is “Spain and Islam:The Myth of Al-Andalus” and here I cite his conclusions textually so that nobody can say a paraphrase of mine does not represent him.The only modification of mine is that I enumerate some of his statements.

About the political despotism of Muslim Spain

“1.Arab and Berber elites zealously maintained their native tribal and clan structures,based on strongly endogamous relationships.
2.The political structure of Al-Andalus represented the typical despotism of the Middle East,replete with the equivalent bureaucracy and slave soldiers,without any parallel with the European kingdoms of that era.Arab and other minority non-Hispanic groups always dominated the power structure,even after the breakup of the caliphate in the eleventh century.
3.Descendants of Muslim converts formed no taifa or independent dynasties,all of whom were led by Arabs,Berbers or Slavic slave soldiers.(1)
As Anwar Chejne puts it,Al-Andalus was always an integral part of the literary and cultural mainstream of the East and,as such,was as  Islamic as Syria or Egypt“.(2)
Historically and culturally,Al-Andalus followed the same chronological trajectory as the Arab civilization of the Middle East,reaching a plateau of acculturation in the ninth and tenth centuries,achieving its maximum cultural sophistication during the eleventh and twelth centuries,then experiencing major decline,accompanied by conquest from without,in the thirteenth century.”
About the conversion of the Europeans in the Iberian peninsula to Islam
“Eventually most of the native Hispanic population remaining in Al-Andalus converted to Islam.When did that take place?The only attempt to estimate this was carried out by the American historian Richard W. Bulliet,applying a technique that he had earlier used for Egypt,Syria and Persia.

1.Bulliet’s rough calculation was that by 800 only about 8 percent of the native population had converted.
2.A figure that increased to only 12.5 percent fifty years later.With the full crystallization of Andalusi society and culture during the ninth century,the rate of conversion began to accelerate.
3.By 900 about 25 percent had converted,and 50 percent by 950.
4.By the end of the tenth century the figure might have stood at 75 percent,by which time the population of Al-Andalus had become overwhelmingly Muslim.Small Christian minorities nonetheless remained until at least the twelth century,until they were finally eliminated altogether by the Islamist empire of the Moroccan Almohads. ”

Alhambra Palace,Granada
About the divided nature of Al-Andalus society

“In theory all Muslims form part of the umma,or general Islamic community.In practice,however,Muslim society has been riven by ethnic tensions,which in Al-Andalus were profound,as much or more than in any other Islamic land.Prior to the eleventh century,and even to some extent afterward,the elite remained Arab and looked down on the Berbers(the other principal group of Muslims of foreign origins) and the native converts,as well as on Christians and Jews.

Other sectors of society reacted with intense resentment,leading to sporadic revolt and great violence,as political divisions formed along geographic and ethnic lines.In theory,Islam,like Christianity rejects racial discrimination,but reality revealed otherwise.The Arabs exhibited a powerful sense of caste and racial superiority,demaning racially inferior “sons of white women”,even though those same white women were the ones most greatly desired for Arab harems.

Even the Muwalladun(Spanish:”muladies”),the native converts to Islam,were sometimes derided for their white complexions,compared with the Arab elite.Muslim society feautured widespread slavery,which like the slavery of the Ancient world was multiracial,slaves being drawn from every race and ethnic group not Muslim,but black slaves from Africa normally occupied the lowest position.

Andalusi society remained highly segmented,not merely among the religions,but in terms of the different categories of Muslims-the Arab elite divided by lineages,tribes and districts from the Berbers(and their own internal segments) and the convert majority of native Hispania.”
About the Myth that the Muslims presevered the Original Texts(and I repeat the Original Texts) of Non-Muslim Cultures
“At its height,the high culture of the cities of Al-Andalus rivaled that of the great Muslim centers of the Middle East.

1.The scholarly and scientific texts of Greece and Rome had generally been translated into Arabic by the tenth century.
2.But it is a mistake to think that the classic manuscripts(Latin,Greek,Syriac,Persian) were preserved,for “infidel” texts,no matter how high the quality and originality,were generally destroyed after being translated into Arabic.
The high culture that soon developed in the Islamic world was a “transfer culture”,for the lands originally conquered by the Muslims-Syria,Persia,Egypt,and to some degree the Visigothic kingdom-all had active and vibrant high cultures.The rise of learning in the Islamic world was a matter of taking over these foundations,though,unlike the imperialism of Rome and some later Western imperialisms,Arab imperialism in most areas steadily erased native languages and largely suppressed independent native cultures.
In toto,Arab culture borrowed much more from Syria,Byzantium and Persia than Western culture would later borrow from it.” (3)
About Averroes and his importance or lack of it
“The most famous Muslim philosophers,the Persian Avicenna and the Andalusi Averroes(Ibn Rushd),primarily wrote commentary on Aristotle and other thinkers,failing to complete new systems of their own.
Such commentary ultimately had its main impact on Western thought,which unlike that of the Muslims,learned to study contrasting points of view.
By comparison,Averroes had no significant influence on Islamic thought,which rejected his insights.”

(1)P.Guichard,”Al-Andalus:Estructura antropologica de una sociedad islamica en Occidente”(1976)
P.Guichard,”De la expansion arabe a la Reconquista:Esplendor y fragilidad de Al-Andalus”(2002)
T.F.Glick,”Islamic and Christian Spain in the Early Middle Ages:Comparative Perspectives on Social and Cultural Formation”(1979)
P.Chalmeta,”Invasion e islamizacion:La sumision de Hispania y la formacion de Al-Andalus”(2003)
(2).A.G.Chejne,”MuslimSpain:Its History and Culture”(1974)
(3)M.G.S.Hodgson,”The Venture of Islam:Conscience and History in a World Civilization”,3 volumes(1974)
M.G.S.Hodgson,”Rethinking World History:Essays on Europe,Islam and World History“(1993)


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