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Freedom of Religion in Muslim Dominated Spain

Maryam Noor Beig
3/2/2009
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          Muslims entered Spain not as aggressors or oppressors, but as liberators. In this multicultural society, many Jews and Christians held government positions. Moreover, the Golden Age of Jewish history is in fact known as the period of Muslim rule in Spain. Islam allowed the Jews to flourish in Spain, with the example of the renowned philosopher Moses Maimonides, (Musa ibn Maymun) who wrote Guide to the Perplexed. "Judaism probably welcomed the conquest of Spain by the Muslims in 711. With the Muslim conquest began a Golden Age of freedom and tolerance for Jews. They freely entered the fields of government, science, medicine, and literature." [1] Spain was home to by far the largest and most brilliant Jewish community in Europe; elsewhere, the Jews were hounded and persecuted. Although non-Muslims paid more in taxes than the Muslims, it was by far less than any previous government had imposed upon them, especially Roderic's. In addition, it obviously wasn't much of a burden, however, since non-Muslims freely opted and longed to live under Muslim rule.  

 

         "Throughout the period of Islamic rule, Al-Andalus was a remarkable example and outstanding model of tolerance." [2] We fail to remember that the tolerance the Muslims, in accordance to their faith, displayed towards the Jews and Christians enabled them all to live together in relative peace and harmony, an indication of the Greatness of Islam, without question. No where else has there been so long and so close of a relationship between the three faiths. All Jews and Christians were allowed to maintain their beliefs and live their lives as they desired as long as they respected their Muslim rulers. "Some Mozarabs took issue with the tolerance Muslim authorities displayed toward them and the Jews, a tolerance based on two Qur'anic verses: "No compulsion is there in religion" (2:256) and "If thy Lord had willed, whoever is in the earth would have believed, all of them, all together. Wouldst thou then constrain the people until they are believers?" (10:99)..." [3] As a result of the compassion Islam displayed towards the non-Muslims inhabitants, many of them embraced Islam. Many accepted Islam simply because Islam provided a superior, healthier way of life at a time when the social system was in rapid decay. [4] Unfortunately, religious tolerance was never a virtue in Christian Europe, as in the example of Charlemagne. [5] And so, the peace exhibited under Muslim rule did not continue after the last of the Muslim rulers was defeated in 1492.

 

         In chapter 109 of the Qur'an, the Holy Book revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) through the Angel Gabriel, Allah advises mankind:

 

         "Say to the disbelievers:
I do not worship that which you worship.
Nor do you worship that which I worship.
And Nor will I worship that which you have worshiped.
Neither will you worship that which I worship.
To you belongs your religion, and to me mine."

 

         "In a time of tranquility and justice, the Christians have never been compelled to renounce the Gospel and to embrace the Qur'an." [6] As a result of the tolerance displayed by Islam, the incredibly rich language of the Muslims became the official language of literature and scholarship in Spain for all by the year 1000. Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike devoted their time in studying Arabic. Christians essentially spoke Arabic, which was "often better than their Latin." [7] They absorbed the Arabic culture so much so that they began to be called, "mozarabs" a corruption of "must'arib" meaning the "Arabized ones." Furthermore, the Christian Priest Alvaro complained in the 9th century that Christians preferred to read Arabic writings and studied Muslim theologians and philosophers rather than their own. He exclaimed, "Oh, the pain and the sorrow! The Christians have even forgotten their own language, and in every thousand you will not find one who can write a letter in respectable Latin to a friend, while as soon as they have to write Arabic, there is no difficulty in finding a whole multitude who can express themselves with the greatest elegance in this language..." [8]  

 

[1]. Hopfe, Lewis. Religions of the World. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1998.
[2] Benchrifa, Mohamed. The Routes of Al-Andalus. http://mirror-us.unesco.org/culture/al-andalus/html_eng/andalus2.htm.
[3] Vernet, Juan. Al-Andalus: The Art of Islamic Spain. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Abrams, 1992.
[4] Thomson, Ahmad. Blood on the Cross: Islam in Spain in the Light of Christian Persecution through the Ages England: TaHa Publishers Ltd, 1989.
[5] Shubert, Adrian. The Land and People of Spain. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992.
[6] Gibbon, E. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
[7] Barrucand, Marianne. Moorish Architecture in Andalusia. Italy: Taschen, 1992.
[8] Barrucand, Marianne. Moorish Architecture in Andalusia. Italy: Taschen, 1992.






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