This talk was delivered by Nakita Valerio on March 18, 2017 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as part of the interfaith event, Religious Freedoms: A Community Conversation.

Assalamu ‘alaikum, peace be upon all of you.

I want to thank you all for having me here today, especially the organizers for putting together this wonderful day and program.  I want to begin by acknowledging that we are on Treaty 6 territory which is the traditional land of Indigenous peoples who have lived, gathered and passed through here for many thousands of years. In doing this, I want to convey my utmost respect for the dignified histories, languages and cultures of all First Peoples of Canada and reiterate that each and every one of us is a treaty person whether we arrived yesterday, are indigenous to the land, or were born here from settler-immigrant families. We all have a responsibility to uphold treaty values which include mutual respect and working to ensure we all remain here together.

I normally begin all of my lectures with treaty recognition but today it is especially important as I want to start my talk on religious freedoms by reading an excerpt from a different treaty – one written in the year 713, two years after the Muslim arrival from North Africa into what would be Al-Andalus – a Muslim polity in Europe for 750 years, and what is now known as Spain and Portugal. The Treaty of Tudmir was a peace treaty between ‘Abd al Aziz, the son of Musa ibn Nusair and Theodemir, the local ruler of an area called Murcia. The document is interesting because it counters the narrative that violent military victories are what enabled the conquest of the peninsula. In fact, it calls the entire notion of conquest into question as it suggests that the process of taking over the peninsula was gradual and piecemeal and required mutual respect and cooperation between incoming Muslims and their Christian and Jewish subjects. The treaty itself establishes the local religious communities as protected groups under Muslim rule, meaning a guarantee of their personal safety and allowing them to freely practice their religion in exchange for loyalty and (of course) becoming tax payers.

My point in bringing this treaty as an example is to show several things. Firstly, the idea of and anxieties about religious freedom go a lot further back into history than we think. And secondly, the very preoccupation with religious freedoms has historically been related to Muslim-Christian relations and how to navigate and negotiate our differences throughout our shared history together.

The Treaty of Tudmir is only one paragraph long, in which Abd al Aziz ibn Musa Ibn Nusair agrees not to set special conditions on the local Christians, nor harass them, nor remove them from local power. Christians would not be killed nor taken prisoner and they certainly wouldn’t be separated from their women and children (which was common practice in pre-Islamic conquests). Most importantly, the treaty notes that Christians and Jews “will not be coerced in matters of religion, their churches will not be burned, nor will sacred objects be taken from the realm.”

Much of this sentiment derives from the Qur’an itself, the Islamic Holy Book, believed by Muslims the world over to be the direct word of God, passed through the Angel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) during the 7th century. Chapter 2, verse 256 of the Qur’an clearly states: “There is no compulsion where the religion is concerned.”

According to Islam, everyone has the right to live freely by his beliefs, whatever they may be. Anyone who wants to support a church, a synagogue or a mosque must be free to do so. In this sense, freedom of religion is one of the basic tenets of Islam, whether or not Muslim have been or are currently very good at implementing that.

So, if this has been a continuous preoccupation with religious freedom in Islam, being the most recent of the Abrahamic faiths, where do many of the modern problems concerning religious freedom come from then? Why are Muslims constantly in the news, particularly in secularized European and North American countries, and especially as it relates to their rights to worship, to build mosques, to pray and other rather simple aspects of Muslim life? Why are Muslim women, like me, constantly hearing about how our veils (worn freely for the sake of worshiping God through our modesty) are incompatible with things like Canadian values? When speaking of catastrophic refugee crises, why have many nations including America and at one point Canada, prioritized Christian refugees over Muslim ones because the latter seem incompatible with North American life? (leaving aside, of course, more important questions about the right to life and safety for these traumatized people fleeing terrible horror and tragedy) Why are these tensions continuously arising between Muslims and Christians? And more often and especially between Muslims and secular institutions?

The problem for me is an issue of translation and definition. Our ideas of religious freedom hinges on and differ based on how we define religion. In the verse of the Holy Qur’an that I quoted, about there being no compulsion in religion, I must note the term that God uses to refer to what we now call religion. In the original Arabic, which the Qur’an was sent down in, the term we now, in my opinion, improperly translate as religion is: Deen and this is largely where the issues stem from.

Deen is not the same thing as the current societal understanding of religion. Both of these terms have their historical geneaologies and both of them mean very different things according to those contexts. And our understanding of our terms has not been fully excavated or accurately translated. You know, academics in my circles are obsessed with defining terms because we know that defining them different ways manifests completely different understandings and social realities according to context and time. We build social worlds for ourselves based on how we define things, so it’s natural that when there is continuous issues, we would return to the terms as the root of our discrepancies.

The original Hebrew term, din, meant law or judgment and, in ancient Israel, often referred to governance and the Jewish legal system, as in beit din. In Islam, the term connotes government, law, reward, punishment, loyalty and submission. It is more accurately translated into our entire comprehensive way of life, or even more accurately, a cultural system.

This differs from the modern, especially secularized, understanding of the term religion. The term religion comes from a specifically Christian historical context but through time, has evolved beyond that and has come to relate primarily to one’s private beliefs about the “supernatural”. Because religion has come to mean what we privately believe about God, there is an assumption that we can simply keep those beliefs and our actions around them at home and the public sphere can somehow be a “neutral” space for community engagement whatever our backgrounds. Where Judaism and Islam are concerned first and foremost with practice and governing social behaviour, which is decidedly public, and we use appropriate terms that are reflective of that, the term religion in the definition of private beliefs, when applied to these systems simply doesn’t work.  It is most important to note that the assumption that the public space free of religion is EMPTY is simply a historical falsity. Just because a secular public sphere seems to be empty does not mean that it is and we all need to think critically about what cultural system is invisibly in place – what values are we taking for granted because we are continuously under the assumption that nothing is there?

A famous hadith (or historical testimony from one of the companions of Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him at the time he was alive) states that Muhammad said: “Deen is very easy and whoever overburdens himself with it will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded; and gain strength by worshiping in the mornings, the nights.” Here, it is clear that Deen must mean a complete way of life, and indeed, in Islam there are comprehensive guidances for almost everything you can imagine, from how and when to pray to how to brush your teeth, which shoes to wear, how to treat the environment, and what conduct is appropriate for dealing with our spouses, our families, our neighbours, our children and the wider communities. While the first pillar of Islam is, indeed, our declaration of faith, that there is no God except God and that Muhammad is the messenger of God, our way of life does not stop there.

Because Islam encompasses every detail of how we live our lives, it means that there can’t really be a secular, religion-free public sphere how people imagine it, as long as Muslims are around. Now before anyone thinks I am arguing that Muslims cannot live in secular society (which I am not) I want to state clearly and unequivocally, that historically Muslims have lived under persecution for their religion for hundreds of years, they have done so secretly for their very survival and will do whatever it takes to maintain their way of life, even if that mean, forcing it into the private sphere. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Further, does this tension mean that Muslims do not follow local laws as some groups would improperly claim, that we instead only follow shariah and are trying to implement it locally and impose it on everyone? Of course not. Part of the guidance of our way of life is in following the leadership and rule of our local governments as long as they do not cause us to leave our spiritual path. And that spiritual path is for us alone. And if there are local laws against aspects of our way of life, as I said, we are also permitted to acquiesce to those laws, depending on the context and time.

What it does mean, and explains historically, is why Muslims and Jews and many other “religious” minorities have decidedly been the OTHER in secular historical contexts, often with catastrophic results (most notably the Holocaust and colonization). In fact, there are virtually no other religious groups in the world who define their ways of life as privitizable or somehow limited to their beliefs only. There are none. And Christian groups who focus a lot on governing social behaviour are now feeling the same pressure against their ways of life in the so-called “neutral” public sphere, despite the fact that such a concept historically originated in Christian contexts.

While this is only the beginning of a much more complex and deep discussion of religion as an entity, I do want to briefly meditate on what the way forward for religious freedom then is?  I would say, that the first place to start is in definitions and translation, and that begins with education. If Islam, Judaism and virtually all other ways of life were understood for what they are, it would become immediately clear that keeping the practices of those ways of life out of the public sphere will be very difficult. Not impossible, but difficult. And if the truth of diversity studies enhancing our shared communities has anything to say about it, it would be that keeping the practices of those ways of life out of the public sphere is also detrimental to our understanding of one another.We have to recognize that historically and presently, we are not incompatible with one another. We have coexisted for centuries. We have to stay firm that it is not an option that coexistence fails. It takes hard work and agreements, and that work begins with the work of translating how we understand our own ways of life and having others learn that too.

Now, lest someone argue that I am against secularism, I need only mention that it not secularism itself which is at the heart of these social ills and misunderstandings. It is the idea of a homogenized, so-called “empty” public sphere that is at the heart of these social ills and misunderstandings and which I demand critique of. If the public sphere was instead understood as a pluralistic and diverse space for multiple ways of life to coexist in the spirit of treaties from 1300 years ago – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Brahmanism, the Sikh way of life, many others AND secularism, respectful of one anothers’ differences –  we could move forward in a much easier manner together. That is why I personally and professionally remain committed to protecting the religious freedoms of all ways of life, even when Islam is not part of the picture.

I look forward to speaking more to these issues on the panel.

Thank you.


16265681_10154323322850753_2679466403133227560_nNakita Valerio is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta and sits on the advisory committee for the Chester Ronning Center for the Study of Religion and Public Life.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and the Vice President of External Affairs with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.

What the F*** is “Chanookah”?

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I can understand your confusion. You’re in the midst of preparing for the Christmas season – Christmas shopping, Christmas parties, Christmas lights, Christmas goats – when out of the blue your friend tells you she’s Jewish. What do you mean you don’t want reindeer pyjamas? And what’s wrong with Christmas ham? Christmas is stressful enough without having to worry about whether people celebrate it or not.

Don’t worry, because I’m here to make it easy for you with some simple tips on how to accommodate your Jewish family and friends without sacrificing your own holiday celebrations.

Firstly, it’s important to recognize that…

Jews aren’t out to steal your Christmas fun. You might watch Human Planet and think the content is really inspiring and interesting, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to go out, buy a dog sled, and hunt the mighty Greenland shark. In the same vein, someone may respect and appreciate the holidays of others while still wanting to celebrate their own.There’s a difference between wanting something to stop and not participating in a practice that isn’t a part of your culture. So don’t feel threatened – you are still welcome to observe your Christmas traditions as usual, even as others celebrate differently. Most Jews will have no problem if they get invited to a Christmas party, or if someone wishes them a Merry Christmas – it’s just also nice to say “Happy Hanukkah” to someone celebrating Hanukkah. And along those same lines…

Inclusion doesn’t have to suck. So, yeah, Secret Santa might get a little awkward, and, yeah, an invitation to go caroling may be declined, but inclusion doesn’t mean celebrating nothing. It also doesn’t mean changing all the words to traditional Christmas activities in order to make them “secular.” No one wants to decorate a “holiday” tree, or set up a “yay-tivity” scene. There are lots of ways Jews and Christians can celebrate together without either group compromising, like by attending a group cooking class or wine tasting. You could volunteer together at a homeless shelter, or knit baby socks, or do a book exchange. Just don’t have a shrimp eating contest.

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Religion is about more than just crosses and crescents and stars.

  • Why can’t I give a Hanukkah present wrapped in reindeer-studded paper? Why doesn’t my Jewish colleague want to make tree ornaments?
  • Well, why don’t Christians eat latkes at their Christmas dinner?

Religion does not only include those things that you might see in a church or a synagogue. In fact, it does not have clearly definable limits. So even though you won’t find Rudolph the Red-Nosed reindeer in the Bible, that doesn’t mean he’s not a Christian character who is part of a Christian narrative.

So, if you are giving a gift for Hanukkah this year, take the opportunity to go to a store you’ve never been to, get some beautiful Hebrew-embossed wrapping paper, and buy something you’ve never heard of. Maybe you’ll learn some Yiddish. Who knows? Just remember: chances are that the Jews in your life know all the Christmas traditions, stories, and songs – it won’t kill you to spin the dreidel.

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Please note: Hanukkah is from December 24th to the 31st for 2016.


rachaelRachael Heffernan has recently completed a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies at the University of Alberta. In the course of her academic career, she has received the Harrison Prize in Religion and The Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship. During her undergraduate degree, Rachael was published twice in The Codex: Bishop University’s Journal of Philosophy, Religion, Classics, and Liberal Arts for her work on Hittite divination and magic and philosophy of religion. Rachael has also had the opportunity to participate in an archaeological dig in Israel, and has spoken at a conference on Secularism at the University of Alberta on the Christian nature of contemporary Western healthcare. Her wide-ranging interests in scholarship are complemented by her eclectic extra-curricular interests: she is a personal safety instructor and lifelong martial artist who has been recognized for her leadership with a Nepean Community Sports Hero Award. She is an enthusiastic reader, writer, and learner of all things, a tireless athlete, and a passionate teacher.

A version of this article was originally presented by Liz Hill in February 2016 at the University of Alberta History and Classics Graduate Student Conference on the theme of the sacred.

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In his Life of Saint Francis of Assisi, Bonaventura credits an encounter with a leper with being a formative moment in Francis’ conversion. While traveling, Francis happened upon a leper on the side of the road. Initially horrified by this surprise encounter, Francis remembered his developing spiritual intentions and that if he was to become a soldier of Christ he must first conquer self. He leaped from his horse to embrace the leper, and kissed the leper’s hand as he gave him alms. After mounting his horse and turning back towards the leper, Francis found that the leper had miraculously vanished without a trace. Shortly after this episode Francis received a vision of Christ that called him to the apostolic life. “From that time forth,” writes Bonaventura, “Francis put on the spirit of poverty, the feeling of humility, and the love of inward godliness.” In contrast to his previous loathing of lepers, the converted Francis began to frequent their homes, giving alms and kissing their hands and faces. In The Little Flowers of Saint Francis of Assisi, a later collection of stories about Francis and the early Franciscan Order, Francis is credited with curing a leper both physically and spiritually. The leper in this story was so ill tempered and blasphemous that none of the other brothers would tend to him. Francis bathed the man and where the saint touched, his leprosy was cured. Seeing this, and the charitable and compassionated example of Francis, the leper repented for his sins and after his death Francis received a vision of the leper’s soul ascending to heaven.

Catherine of Siena also tended to an ill tempered and ungrateful leper. Catherine’s leper was named Tecca and her leprosy was so severe that everyone was repelled by the smell and she had no one to care for her. She was going to be removed from the city when Catherine came to the hospital, promising to tend to her every need and be her servant for the remainder of Tecca’s life. Unlike Francis’ leper, who was moved to penitence after the saint’s charitable example, Tecca became filled with pride, ingratitude, and irritation at Catherine’s humility and charity. Nonetheless, Catherine persisted in her ministrations until the leper’s death. Catherine even contracted leprosy on her hands from her contact with Tecca’s corrupted body. This leprosy miraculously disappeared after Catherine prepared and buried Tecca’s body. Raymond of Capua reports that Catherine’s “hands seemed to be whiter than the rest of her person, as though the leprosy had imparted additional delicacy to them.”

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Lepers appear in miracle stories throughout the Middle Ages, beginning with Christ cleansing lepers in the New Testament. There is a transformation in their narrative roles and the type of sainthood that they help construct around the eleventh century, though. Prior to the eleventh century leprosy mainly appeared as an affliction under divine control, often as a punishment or penance. Miracles that involved controlling leprosy – whether by curing a penitent leper or afflicting a sinner with the disease – were highly effective demonstrations of a saint’s supernatural powers because of leprosy’s natural incurability and biblical associations. The leper’s role was to be an outlet for the saint’s powers, and show the link between sin and punishment, and penitence and mercy. After the eleventh century the “ministering” saint became more prevalent and the role of lepers in those stories is simply to be the suffering recipient of charity. Catherine and Francis are both ministering saints, as are Elizabeth of Hungary and the less well-known St Eleazar. Martin of Tours and St Radegund were earlier models for the ministering saint. Martin cured a leper with a kiss, and St Radegund welcomed a group of lepers into her convent. Some ministering saints are credited with curing lepers, but stories of these interactions emphasize the saint’s compassion and ministration to the material needs of lepers. Rather than focusing on encounters between supernaturally powerful saints and stricken, penitent lepers, late medieval hagiography depicts penitent and humble saints serving lepers out of Christian charity.

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Charitable service is regularly represented in hagiography by acts such as bathing, embracing, and kissing lepers. Martin and Radegund both kissed lepers, but it became a common hagiographic trope along with the increased popularity of ministering saint after the eleventh century. Francis kissed the leper he met on the road and St Eleazar kissed three lepers who later found the stench of their disease replaced by a pleasant scent and their bodies cured. Both bathing and kissing involve close physical engagement with the leprous body. Catherine’s ministrations to the leper Tecca brings her so close to the leprous body that her own hands become leprous. Visual depictions of Elizabeth of Hungary also show her bathing lepers and Jacques Voragine wrote that she “laid in her lap a man horribly sick, which had his visage stinking like carrion” and shaved and washed his head. (The patient’s “stinking visage” suggests that he was a leper since bad breath and smell from the mouth and nasal cavity was a known symptom of leprosy.)

The intimacy and tenderness of these acts is often contrasted with descriptions of the disgusted responses of onlookers, or even by the saint’s own initial negative response to the leprous body. Before his conversion, “even the distant sight of lepers had filled [Francis] with violent loathing,” wrote Bonaventura, and Francis’ initial response to suddenly coming upon the leper on the road was horror. Raymond wrote that one of the virtues exhibited by Catherine in her care for Tecca was “patience [that] led her to support with joy the violence of the leper’s temper as well as the disgusts inseparable from that loathsome malady.”  Tecca is introduced as having been abandoned by her care-givers because her disease had become so unpleasant and smelly that no one, except the saintly Catherine, could stand to be around her. Elizabeth’s tenderness towards the patient with the “stinking visage” was also met with “loathing” and “scorn.” “All shuddered” to see Martin kiss the leper whom he cured outside Paris and one of Radegund’s attendants questioned who would kiss Radegund now that she had embraced lepers, to which Radegund responded “Really, if you will not kiss me it is no concern of mine.”

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These interactions between lepers and ministering saints have a fairly clear didactic purpose. They give hagiographers the opportunity to illustrate their saint’s charity, kindness, and humility. In some ways, the ministering saint can be viewed as a rather “down to earth” and practical model of sainthood. Rather than performing miracle cures they give alms and simply display compassion for the marginal and poor, modeling behaviors that could be emulated by ordinary Christians. This narrative purpose could be just as easily fulfilled by describing interactions between saints and any type of poor, sick, or disabled person, however. The leper has a uniquely untouchable nature, however, that gives more weight to the hagiographer’s demonstrations of his subject’s holiness.

The leper’s untouchable nature was perhaps most acutely manifested in his body, which was characterized as repulsive and gross, but his social status was also defined by untouchability. Recent scholarship has shown that rigid and punitive segregation and confinement of lepers has been simplified and over exaggerated, but medieval society did follow the spirit of biblical laws about leprosy that stated that the leper must live “outside the camp.” The leprosarium provided refuge, care, and community for lepers but it developed because lepers were customarily excluded and stigmatized, putting them in a vulnerable and needy social position. Lepers were marked out from the general population by special clothing, noisemakers that they carried to attract almsgivers and warn people of their presence, and of course by the physical marks of the disease itself. Although some could afford to remain in seclusion at home, most were made to live physically outside of society and their interactions and freedom of movement were restricted by measures that prevented them from eating with the healthy, sharing the same water sources, or frequenting public places such as taverns and markets. The actual institution and enforcement of these measures varied by time and place but the overall social responses to leprosy aimed to prevent contact, both physical and social, between lepers and the healthy.[1]

The socially and personally untouchable nature of lepers made the tactile interactions between lepers and saints a double transgression. There was transgression across the social boundaries that removed the saints, as healthy and often upper class members of society, from the lepers who lived on the margins of society, and there was transgression of normative personal boundaries. As the reactions to saints embracing lepers, and hagiographers’ descriptions of the corrupted bodies of lepers show, the normal response to the leprous body and person was repulsion and disgust. Saints are able to make these transgressions at the extreme level of intimate touch because of their exceptional, and sacred, natures.

Merchant class or noble saints such as Francis, Catherine, Eleazar, and Elizabeth serving members of a segment of society so marginal as to symbolize the entire concept of marginality was a transgression of social boundaries that demonstrated saintly humility and charity. Representing that transgression with an act as intimate and lowly as washing lepers’ feet dramatized this transgression very powerfully. It also drew on the idea that charity and service to the lowest of society was charity and service to Christ. Because Christ’s suffering during the Passion, and disfigured appearance after, were likened to the suffering and disfigurement caused by leprosy. Thus the charity and humility demonstrated by serving lepers had additional significance as symbolic service of Christ.

Transgressing the personal boundary created by the leprous body’s repulsiveness demonstrated mortification of self and transcendence of normal bodily reactions of disgust, in addition to being an expression of compassion and love. Francis’ encounter with the leper marked a turning point in his conversion because it was an act consciously undertaken in order to “conquer self” by resisting his normal, but selfish and uncharitable, revulsion towards the miserable leper. Raymond credits Catherine with the virtue of patience for bearing the disgust of her patient’s disease. When saints don’t struggle with their own revulsion, the ease with which they physically interact with lepers, such as in the cases of St Martin and St Radegund, is contrasted with the disgust of onlookers, demonstrating that the saint already possesses a degree of spiritual love and charity that allows them to be undisturbed by either their or others’ physical states.

Interactions between lepers and saints in hagiography make use of the untouchable leper and the act of touch by the saint to articulate ideas about sainthood – the traits that make a saint, and what the enactment of ideal Christianity looks like. The act of touch itself, however, has significance itself as an act with sacred power. Medieval Christianity made use of touch in a number of ways to express, transmit, and interact with sanctity, including the laying on of hands, the kiss of peace, devotional gestures, ascetic use of sensation (especially pain and discomfort), and devotional touch. Mystical experiences and spiritual relationships were also expressed through images of touch. The use of relics, in particular, demonstrates the perceived power of touch to confer sanctity through touch. Relics, sacred sites, and even living holy people became the objects of devotees’ feverish desire to touch. Hagiographies and miracle books from shrines recount the miraculous healing powers of relics, but even for those who were not sick, touching a relic provided a moment of closeness to the sacred and divine, possibly conferring some blessing or special grace.

The act of touch between leper and saint can be interpreted as a transmission of sanctity, much like that which occurs when a devotee touches a relic. In earlier hagiography that emphasized the saint’s power to heal and the leper’s penitential attitude the leper takes the role of recipient of the powers of the saint’s sanctity, but in the later examples, in which touch becomes most prominent, these roles are almost reversed. The lepers are sometimes healed, either physically or spiritually, but it is the saint who seems to truly benefit from the interaction. Catherine’s leper does not even repent for her ingratitude at the end of her life. Catherine, however, receives a sign of her own special grace by the miraculous cure of her leprous hands. Francis receives a vision that confirms his vocation after kissing his leper. Bathing lepers at least serves their physical needs, but kissing a leper primarily serves to demonstrate the saint’s piety more than to benefit the leper. The leper is the passive object of touch, like a relic, and in the tactile interaction between leper and saint, it is the leprous body that is emphasized rather than the saintly body. The saint is the holy person, and the leper might not even be portrayed as a very good person, but the leprous body has power when it is touched because it is normally untouchable. The leper’s body is in a sense sacred because it is only touchable by the very holy. Through receiving a saint’s touch, it either confers or reveals that individual’s sanctity.


 

[1] It is worth noting that this was not motivated by fears of contagion. Medical theories about the spread of leprosy only developed in earnest in the late Middle Ages and the idea of easy contagion by miasma only began to gain prevalence in the fourteenth century. Most medical sources suggest that leprosy could only be contracted by regular and prolonged interaction with lepers, or by sexual contact either with a leper or with a woman whose last partner was a leper. The leper’s isolation through out the Middle Ages was much more firmly rooted in Biblical tradition and the disease’s moral associations than in medical fears.

Further Reading

Boeckl, Christine M. 2011. Images of Leprosy: disease, religion, and politics in European art. Kirksville: Truman State University Press.

Demaitre, Luke E. 2007. Leprosy in Premodern Medicine: a malady of the whole body. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Orlemanski, Julie. 2012. “How to Kiss a Leper.” Postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies 3

Rawcliffe, Carole. 2007. “Isolating the Medieval Leper: Ideas – and Misconceptions – about Segregation in the Middle Ages.” Harlaxton Medieval Studies 15.

Stemmle, Jennifer. 2015. “From Cure to Care: Indignation, Assistance and Leprosy in the High Middle Ages.” In Experiences of Charity, 1250 – 1650. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate.

This article was written by Rachael Heffernan, writer and researcher for The Drawing Board and graduate researcher in Religious Studies at the University of Alberta.

It’s a term that gets used confidently, like we all know what it means, but the first thing that happens in any theory of religion class is to reveal that, in fact, “religion” has no satisfactory definition. No matter how we may try – and try many do – we cannot figure out what makes a religion a religion.

To break this down:

Many definitions of religion centre on the belief in some superhuman power, like angels and deities, but this is problematic for multiple reasons. Firstly, not all major recognized religions include belief in any kind of superhuman power: Theravadan Buddhism is rather adamant about its lack of inclusion of anything transcendental in its worldview.

Secondly, for many, simple belief in a deity or deities is not enough for a person to be considered “religious.” There are behavioural obligations, dress codes, eating restrictions, and so on and so forth, that are understood to be part and parcel to ‘actually’ believing in G/god(s).

Thirdly, even those that do not believe can still be considered, and consider themselves, religious. If one is an atheist but nevertheless attends religious services, reads sacred texts, eats according to religious laws, and observes sacred holidays, would they be viewed as a non-religious person? Maybe by some, but not by all.

Fourthly, without a concrete definition of “superhuman power,” it is impossible to determine the exact qualities of the being(s) in which a person is expected to believe, and it becomes difficult to explain how belief in folk heroes, monsters, and fairies is different from belief in saints, demons, and angels. This problem becomes even further complicated by the fact that though the belief in certain figures (such as angels and ghosts) may be intrinsic to one religion, the belief in those same beings may be abhorred in another. What kind of definition, then, would be capable of differentiating between the religious and non-religious superhuman powers in light of these difficulties?

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The idea that religion can be defined solely based on belief in superhuman powers, then, is a pipe dream. In light of the shortcomings of one-dimensional definitions, some scholars have suggested outlining a number of different criteria of which religions must fulfill at least a few in order to retain their status as religions. These criteria often include things like:

  • Dietary restrictions
  • Sacred texts
  • Sacred buildings
  • Belief in superhuman powers
  • The existence of religious professionals
  • A particular way of dressing
  • Etc.

There are, again, many problems with this style of definition.

Firstly, the criteria that are normally put in place in these lists are drawn from distinctly Western ideas of what constitutes religion. This is perhaps unsurprising, as it is a distinctly Western pursuit to try to discover what religion is, or even to attempt to separate religion from other kinds of human behaviour. Some languages do not even have a word for religion, and many do not consider religion to be a particular set of behaviours within a culture, but rather as fully integrated and inseparable from the culture itself. What happens, then, is that these attempts at definition ultimately fall short in their attempts to define religion on a worldwide scale. They do not take into the account oral cultures, or the fact that eating restrictions may have multiple justifications beyond “religious concerns,” or that sacred spaces are often ill-defined and can appear spontaneously, or that some cultures do not have or see the need for dedicated religious professionals.

Secondly, it is possible for some patterns of behaviour, institutions, or practices that are not normally considered religious to fulfill the criteria outlined in the above definitions. Sports fandom, for example, is often cited as a modern form of religion: there are designated buildings and particular clothing, people arrive en masse to participate in certain events at the same time every year, there are heroes and legends, it includes devoted professionals, and fans (or adherents) treat their team, the events, and the players with reverence. The same problem can be found in a large number of cases: political ideologies, recreational groups, community centres, even online communities may fulfill the criteria necessary to be considered religious.

Thirdly, it is possible for groups who want to enjoy the privileges offered to religious groups to simply ensure that they tick off the boxes necessary to be considered one. It is not so difficult to write a text, call a building “sacred,” wear particular clothes, elect a leader and then *poof* enjoy tax breaks and extended rights and freedoms. Most recently, scientology has been removed of its religion status in Germany and declared a business – pointing out the power differential when it comes to naming what a religion is and who gets that privilege.

And with this, it starts to become apparent why it is important to define religion. I would like to be able to say that it would be fine to simply allow people to call themselves what they want, and leave labels out of it, but I can’t, because the issues surrounding definitions of religion are larger than self-identification. It is not only that recognized religions enjoy considerable privileges in our society, but also that the term religion is used to make blanket-statement condemnations, promote discrimination, and encourage us-vs-them mentalities. When people say “religion is violent,” or “this religion is violent,” they are glossing over the fact that we have no way of determining what religion even is. The end result of this behaviour is often that millions of people are lumped in with the few, and the only solution proposed is if religion, or that religion, is left behind in favour of a ‘superior’ way of life. Root causes of issues are ignored in favour of blaming a porous, ever-changing, inconsistent, undefinable thing.

So define we must, because the more we recognize the issues inherent in our own categorizations, the less we are able to condone worldviews of us-vs-them.

ReligionWordleWhiteRound

 

In “Identity and Differentiation in Ninth Century al-Andalus,” Janina Safran examines legal texts of the Andalusi ‘ulama to reveal that the close proximity of Muslims and Christians (as the minority group) elicited anxieties among Muslims which primarily centered on the introduction of innovations that would corrupt the faith.[1] Fast-forward six hundred years to a reversal of this political situation, where Muslims formed the minority under Christian polities, and one can see that these anxieties largely remained the same, despite the power reversal. Other historical examples of this abound and this is, in large part, due to the presence of this preoccupation in the Qur’an and hadith; however, the degree to which such anxieties are warranted varies. Examining the Asna al-Matair and Marabella fatwas by al Wansharisi (translated by Dr. Jocelyn Hendrickson), it is possible to sift through the debates surrounding the historical veracity and authorial authenticity of these texts to highlight some of the key contemporary anxieties, of which religious innovations is paramount. In examining Ica de Gebir’s Breviario Sunni, we find a primary source attesting to how genuine these concerns might have been.

The Asna al-Matajir and Marabella fatwas by al-Wansharisi contain concerns for Muslim minority populations remaining under Christian majority rule in Iberia and represents a watershed moment in the fiqh, not because this situation was unique (in fact, it had happened in the Holy Land during the Crusades and in Sicily with the Norman invasions)[2], but because the documents that relate to these concerns have been well-preserved and made available to us.[3] This is more likely to have happened with regards to Iberia because the Muslim population coming under Christian rule there would have been much larger, warranting more attention to this matter. Additionally, encroachments along the coastal regions of the Maghrib by the Portuguese would have warranted a greater need for the emigration of Muslims there, allowing for the fortification of military arrangements and lending manpower in a time of fitnah.[4] There is some debate around whether or not the questioner in these fatwas (named Abu ‘Abd Allah ibn Qatiya) was real, or if he was conjured as a strawman to give al-Wansharisi a platform for his research opinion. Additionally, the authenticity of this being al-Wansharisi’s opinion is also in question as, it appears, that the bulk of both of these fatwas was plagiarized from a fatwa of similar concerns by Ibn Rabi. Regardless of these questions of verification and authorship, these fatwas still provide us with a window into some dominant concerns related to Muslim minority populations living under Christian rule.

In the Asna, the land of Christian-majority rule is characterized by “sin and falsehood”, which will result in “oppression or discord (fitnah)” for Muslims who remain there.[5] Among the recommendations to take only other Muslims as allies[6], to emigrate to guarantee the inviolability of Muslim property[7], to avoid the seduction of “ephemeral worldly pursuits”[8], and to stop paying taxes in financial support of Christians[9], is a persistence about the problem of religious corruption from living under Christians. In fact, al-Wansharisi goes so far as to say that “their corrupting ideas (fitna) are more severely damaging than the trials of hunger, fear, or the plundering of people and property.”[10] The repetition of the term fitnah here illustrates that it is used to represent both discord and corrupting ideas. This is a testament to the term’s overall connotations that corruptive ideas bring religious innovation and eventually total discord. Instability or chaos comes from bid’ah (innovation).

Where the fear of religious corruption is embedded in the Asna, it is the chief concern in the Marabella fatwa. Here, al-Wansharisi’s answer is dominated by concerns over “the pollutions, the filth, and the religious and worldly corruptions to which this gives rise.”[11] Paramount among these corruptions are the problems created for Islamic orthopraxis: the fulfillment of prayers (belittled and ridiculed), the giving of alms (to a legitimate ruler), fasting during Ramadan (which requires the sighting of the moon by an appropriate imam or deputy), the Hajj (which is no longer possible) and the waging of jihad.[12] Since Islam is not a Deen of orthodoxy (or the possession of internal beliefs alone), the removal of the possibility of practice (in their eyes) would be the equivalent of religious contamination, if not total destruction. Further, sexual and marital corruption are couched in similar terms, contrary to what one might expect in the modern, post-Blood period – that is, that mixing would be a contamination of kinship lines. The concern about a Muslim woman marrying a Christian man is in the expected fact that he would “entice and mislead her as to her religion, overpowering her so that she submits to him, and so that apostasy and religious corruption come between her and her guardian.”[13] Additionally, the loss of language is associated with the loss of the acts of worship.[14]

It is not only in the answers to the questioners that we find a preoccupation with religious innovation, and perhaps this is the point at which it is most expected to arise. Rather, embedded within the questions themselves, a fear of bid’ah reveals itself. If we look back to the debate of authorship and authenticity regarding the existence of these questioners, we have to recognize that the presence of these anxieties in the questions does not necessarily translate into representing real-world fear of innovation. If these questioners were, however, constructed as strawmen by al-Wansharisi, their fears still reaffirm his fears also found in his answers. In the Ansa, the questioner (“ibn Qatiya”) discusses the intentions of a group of Andalusis to emigrate, presuming that they originally came to Maghrib “for the sake of God, taking with them [only] their religion.”[15] It was not until they arrived in the Maghrib and found that the material reality available to them was worse than they realized it would be that they began to curse their emigration. Because actions in Islamic contexts are how niyyah (intention) is deduced,[16] this showed that their intention for emigration had never been pure or predicated on “the true purpose of emigration [which is] the protection of religion, family and offspring.”[17] Similarly, in the Marabella fatwa, the question of giving dispensation for one man to continue living in Iberia as a representative of the Muslim minority population is negated by greater concerns about “major ritual impurities” which would result in one’s inability to practice their Islam – giving way to the possibility (even certainty) of religious corruption.[18]

While we have seen that innovation has been a preoccupation for Muslims and Islamic authorities throughout time[19], how warranted was this concern at this particular point in time? A comprehensive analysis is needed, but for the purposes of this paper, I will examine the first chapter of Ica de Gebir’s Breviario Sunni to shed a small amount of light on this issue. As was pointed out by Dr. Jocelyn Hendrickson, the beginning of this chapter, while mentioning the five pillars of Islam, disperses them amongst Commandments that resonate with those found in the Old Testament, including not taking the Creator’s name in vain and not committing murder or fornication.[20] It is also within the first couple of lines that we have mention of one’s neighbour – a figure that permeates the text as someone you must not only desire things for (which you also want for yourself), but also someone to be honoured, someone who must not be lived next to if evil, and eventually, someone who could be Allah with the right course taken.[21] Though the neighbour figures into Islamic discourse[22], it is much more closely associated with Biblical scripture imploring the loving of one’s neighbour and its repetition in this text could signify an allusion to Christian texts or doctrine.[23] Further, perhaps the most important clause of the entire text reads, “be faithful to your lord, even though he is not a Muslim”[24] – a sentiment in direct tension with the arguments of al-Wansharisi’s fatwas which came after them. We cannot deduce direct causation between these documents (ie. that the sentiment that one caused the other to be written); however, if Mudejars had been convincing themselves overall to accept non-Muslim rulers (as is evidenced in all three texts), this would be grounds for issuing fatwas condemning such obedience, particularly for the reasons of detriment to praxis outlined above. While there are clear forbiddances of adopting Christian practices and an emphasis on both knowing and enforcing Islamic law, that does not take away from the fact that this chapter and other parts of the text are permeated through with Christian sentiments – and exactly because of their submersion in the text, these would have caused serious anxiety in prominent religious scholars who recognized that the most dangerous forms of innovation are those that go undetected and are assimilated as part of Islam.[25] The line between what Islam shares with Christianity because of their perceived Abrahamic origins and what is inappropriately adopted from them in the post-revelation era is defined by an ever-elusive line.

This paper will have to end here with the conclusion that like other eras of Islamic history, preoccupations of religious scholars during the Mudejar period centred on the problem religious innovation. While the al-Wansharisi fatwas can also be used to show how Portuguese encroachments on Maghrib coastlines were also an anxiety or can expose the inner politics of subjectivity in the writing of fatwas, there is still an undeniable religious dimension to these texts that is not contrived. Though this realization might seem self-evident based on what we seen in the studied primary texts and what we know of the centrality of Bid’ah as a problem in the Qur’an and hadith, future archival and primary source research is needed to push all of this a step further – namely, in looking at how highlighting the overwhelming concern of religious innovation for Muslims helps for understanding (comparatively) what sorts of anxieties plagued Christians about intermixing, acculturation and conversions. Where Muslim dissuasion of interactions with Christians have been put in terms of the fear of bid’ah and Christian conversions to Islam seem to have been couched in concerns over the loss of their tax contributions and political tensions that might result, Christians have shown not only disinterest in religious corruption, but the regular dismissal of Others, distinguishing them by virtue of ethnic origins (blood), even when they had converted to Christianity. Alas, this is research for another time.[26]

[1] Safran, Janina, “Identity and Differentiation in Ninth Century Al-Andalus” in Speculum, Vol 76:3, 2001. pp. 576

[2] Indeed, this reasoning even appears in the Asna fatwa in Hendrickson, Jocelyn, “The Islamic Obligation to Emigrate: Al-Wansharisi’s Asna al-Matajir Reconsidered,” PhD dissertation, Emory University. Appendix A, p 10.

[3] Documents for other areas of Muslim minority existence certainly exist; however, it is my understanding that their number is far fewer than as it relates to Iberia. Sarah David-Secord’s “Muslims in Norman Sicily: The Evidence of Imam al-Mazari’s Fatwas” (Mediterranean Studies, Vol 16; 2007; p 46-66) is worth a read for that particular case. More research is needed on this.

[4] Hendrickson, Jocelyn, “Muslim Legal Responses to Portuguese Occupation in Late Fifteenth Century North Africa” in Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies. Vol 12:3, 2011, pp 309-325.

[5] Al-Wansharisi, Ahmad. “Asna al-matajir” trans. Jocelyn Hendrickson, in “The Islamic Obligation to Emigrate: Al-Wansharisi’s Asna al-Matajir Reconsidered,” PhD dissertation, Emory University. Appendix A, p 3

[6] Ibid p 6-7

[7] Ibid p 14-15

[8] Ibid p 21

[9] Ibid p 23; Financial support of the Christians through taxes was presumably perceived as being to the detriment of Muslims in the distant hopes of taking back al-Andalus but more realistically in defeating Christians along the Moroccan coast. See footnote 4.

[10] Ibid p 22

[11] Ahmad al-Wansharisi, “The Marabella fatwa” trans. Jocelyn Hendrickson in “The Islamic Obligation to Emigrate: Al-Wansharisi’s Asna al-Matajir Reconsidered,” PhD dissertation, Emory University. Appendix B, p 32

[12] Ibid p 33-34

[13] Ibid p 36; This understanding of the corruptive possibilities of mixed marriage also represents a continuity with fears shown in legal texts in the ninth century – see Safran, p 583.

[14] Ibid

[15] Asna, translation, p 2

[16] Rosen, Laurence. Bargaining for Reality: The Construction of Social Relations in a Muslim Community. University of Chicago Press (Chicago and London) 1984.

[17] Asna, translation, P 3

[18] Marabella fatwa, translation, p 31

[19] See Safran reference above. Additionally, as mentioned in the introduction, the fear of Bid’ah (innovation) can be found in Qur’anic and hadith sources as well. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “…Verily he among you who lives [long] will see great controversy, so you must keep to my Sunnah and to the Sunnah of the rightly-guided Khalifahs – cling to them stubbornly. Beware of newly invented matters, for every invented matter is an innovation and every innovation is a going astray, and every going astray is in Hell-fire.” [Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi]; Prophet Muhammad, (peace be upon him) said: “He who innovates something that is not in agreement with our matter (religion), will have it rejected.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim] Bid’ah arises from the following scenarios: Ignorance (“Allah does not erase knowledge (from earth) by erasing knowledge from slaves (hearts). Rather, He erases knowledge through the death of scholars. When He leaves (earth) without scholars, people will take the ignorant as leaders (and scholars). They (the ignorant) will be asked and then give Fatawa without knowledge. Then, they will be lead, and will lead astray.” [Ahmad]); Being led by desire (“But if they answer you not O Muhammad, then know that they only follow their own lusts. And who is more astray then one who follows his own lust (desires) without the guidance from Allah” [Noble Quran 28:50]); blindly follow anyone (““Follow what Allah has sent down.” They say: “Nay! We shall follow what we found our fathers following. Even though their fathers did not understand anything, nor were they guided.” [Noble Quran 2:170]”); and imitating non-Muslims (The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Allahu Akbar! It is the Sunan (traditions of the Mushrikun). You said by He Who has my soul in His Hand, what the children of Israel said toMoses: “Make for us gods as they have gods. He said: ‘Verily! You area people who know not.” [7:138]). Other examples of Bid’ah as a continuing anxiety throughout Islamic history could be outlined in a future research paper.

[20] De Gebir, “Breviario Sunni” in Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources. Olivia Remie Constable, ed. Majd Yaser Al-Mallah, trans. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 2012, p 470

[21] Ibid, p 471-2

[22] Narrated Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-‘As: Mujahid said that Abdullah ibn Amr slaughtered a sheep and said: Have you presented a gift from it to my neighbour, the Jew, for I heard the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) say: Gabriel kept on commending the neighbour to me so that I thought he would make an heir? – Sunan Abu Dawood, 2446; Malik related to me from Ibn Shihab from al-Araj from Abu Hurayra that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “No one should prevent his neighbour from fixing a wooden peg in his wall.” Then Abu Hurayra said, “Why do I see you turning away from it? By Allah! I shall keep on at you about it.” – Malik Al-Muwatta, Volume 36, Number 32; Yahya related to me from Malik from Said ibn Abi Said al-Maqburi from Abu Shurayh al-Kabi that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should speak good or be silent. Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should be generous to his neighbour. Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, should be generous to his guest. His welcome is for a day and a night, and his hospitality is for three days. Whatever is more than that is sadaqa. It is not halal for a guest to stay with a man until he becomes a burden.” – Malik Al-Muwatta, Volume 49, Number 22; Narrated Abdullah ibn Umar: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: The best friend in the sight of Allah is he who is the well-wisher of his companions, and the best neighbour is one who behaves best towards his neighbours. Transmitted by Tirmidhi. – Al-Tirmidhi, Number 120; Narrated Abdullah ibn Amr: Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “The best companion in Allah’s estimation is the one who is best to his companion, and the best neighbour in Allah’s estimation is the one who is best to his neighbour.” – Al-Tirmidhi, Number 1287; Narrated AbdurRahman ibn AbuQurad: The Prophet performed ablution one day and his companion began to wipe themselves with the water he had used. The Prophet (peace be upon him) asked them what induced them to do that, and when they replied that it was love for Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) he said, “If anyone is pleased to love Allah and His Messenger, (peace be upon him) or rather to have Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) love him, he should speak the truth when he tells anything, fulfil his trust when he is put in a position of trust, and be a good neighbour.” Bayhaqi transmitted it in Shu’ab al-Iman. – Al-Tirmidhi, Number 1289; Narrated AbuDharr: Allah’s Apostle said: AbuDharr, when you prepare the broth, add water to that and give that (as a present) to your neighbour. – Sahih Muslim, 1208 Narrated AbuHurayrah: The Messenger of Allah) observed: He will not enter Paradise whose neighbour is not secure from his wrongful conduct. – Sahih Muslim, 15; Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should not hurt (trouble) his neighbor. And I advise you to take care of the women, for they are created from a rib and the most crooked portion of the rib is its upper part; if you try to straighten it, it will break, and if you leave it, it will remain crooked, so I urge you to take care of the women.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Number 114; Narrated Abu Shuraih: The Prophet said, “By Allah, he does not believe! By Allah, he does not believe! By Allah, he does not believe!” It was said, “Who is that, O Allah’s Apostle?” He said, “That person whose neighbor does not feel safe from his evil.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Number 45; Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “Anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should not harm his neighbor, and anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should entertain his guest generously and anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should talk what is good or keep quiet (i.e. abstain from all kinds of evil and dirty talk).” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Number 47.

[23] Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:39, 1 John 4:11, John 15:13

[24] De Gebir, p 471.

[25] This is a point concurred even in the introductory paragraph to the text written by Olivia Remie Constable and echoed in her quotation from L.P. Harvey on the subject, that de Gebir’s text seems to seamlessly combine “orthodox Islamic precepts with (often contradictory) ideas from Christian writings,” likely as a result of the stresses on Muslim minorities living under Christian-dominant polities. (470)

[26] Some preliminary texts that have alerted me to this difference (making the proving of bid’ah as uniquely central to Islam and not Christianity) are: Lex Visigothorum in Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources. Olivia Remie Constable, ed. Majd Yaser Al-Mallah, trans. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 2012, p 24- 25; Siete Partidas in Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources. Olivia Remie Constable, ed. Majd Yaser Al-Mallah, trans. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 2012 401-2 and 404; Sicroff, Albert, Los Estatutos de Limpieza de Sangre, Taurus Ediciones, 1985. Chiami, Pablo, Estatutos de Limpieza de Sangre, Centro de Investigación y Difusión de la Cultura Sefardí, 2000; and Anidjar, Gil. Blood: A Critique of Christianity. Columbia University Press: 2014. Much more research is needed to quantify Anidjar’s overall anthropological thesis with meticulous archival research it is currently lacking.

In 478-9AH (1086CE), armies of the Almoravid Amazigh dynasty in North Africa arrived in the land that had once been al-Andalus and was now a fragmented composite of competing ta’ifas (city-states). These fighters had been solicited by the Andalusians to aid them in the struggle against the growing territorial acquisition and political power of Alfonso VI of Castile-Leon who had sacked Toledo the year before and showed no signs of slowing his expansion across the peninsula. Historians like Maria Rosa Menocal have ruminated on the reasons for the calling of the Almoravids. She concluded with the argument that there was a religious dimension to this solicitation that made it of urgent importance. It was not enough that Alfonso was growing evermore politically and economically strong (which would threaten to snowball and might result in his taking of Iberia) but when this very real possibility was combined with the fact that he was Christian, the prospect of his ruling over Muslim subjects caused the panic that led to the Almoravid arrival. In this paper, I will examine the various factors (ethnic, economic, political and religious) that could have gone into the decision to call the Almoravids by the Andalusians, weighing each factor in terms of its importance according to representations of Alfonso and Christian rule in the primary source materials that are available. In the end, it will become clear that Menocal’s argument does not entirely hold. Religion does not stand alone as an impetus for the intrusion but might have been mobilized as a means for political-economic (and potentially ethnic) ends. Looking at the coalescence of factors will help to nuance our understanding of the peninsula-changing event that was the arrival of the Almoravids.

At this point in the Iberian narrative, the day-to-day interactions between Muslims and Christians in the city-states would have largely been affected by issues of demographics, first and foremost. According to Richard Fletcher’s analysis of Bulliet’s conversion rates for al-Andalus two centuries prior, the acculturation of Christians into Islam (as Muslims) or into Muslim culture (as Arabized Christians) at this point would have been almost totalizing.[1]For the small minority of Christians who had not converted or emigrated from Muslim polities, intermingling with Muslims was inevitable but still mediated by the politics of separation. Prohibitions on employment, trade and gendered interactions continued to prescribe boundaries between the groups which were (likely in practice) fluid and porous.[2] Further, geographical separation with Christian princes in the northern territories would also have been physical markers of the Christian-Muslim divide on a political, if not a mundane cultural level. At this point, it is clear that despite the lack of total clarity on whether or not religious and cultural factors represented a gulf between Muslim and Christian subjects in the ta’ifas, their division was still of primary importance to political and religious elites taking measures to prescribe it.

In speaking of demographics, one also has to ask the question of ethnicity and if it played a role in aligning the Amazigh Almoravids with the Amazigh Ta’ifa leaders against the Christians of largely non-Amazigh and non-Arab descent. Was this an alliance against their influence, but not in favour of an Arab political resurrection? To what degree was the decision to call the Almoravids mediated by Amazigh ta’ifa leaders, to the exclusion of Arabs? These are questions which require a great depth of research that cannot be done here but it is worth putting forth as an added dimension to the overall historical question at hand. We can, however, speculate on economic-political impetuses for employing the Almoravids.

Economically-speaking, the takeover and continuing expansion of Alfonso would mean the gobbling up of valuable resources, manpower and land that would have a cumulative effect on his power. The more resources one acquired, the more one had to continue expansions and, more importantly, finance such expansions (particularly as it regards the payment of military forces). In the Primera Cronica General de Espana dating from two centuries later, there is evidence of Alfonso’s mobilization of “crops, the vineyard and the other fruits from all the surrounding areas of Toledo” to feed a starving urban population that would, in turn, support him.[3] While this is not objectionable in and of itself, for ta’ifa leaders elsewhere, a prosperous and complacent population governed by Alfonso would ensure his economic supremacy over that area and would be alarming. That this practice was applied to surrounding towns and involved the filling of Extremadura (which was allegedly “uninhabited” despite actual towns existing there) with presumably loyal populations would further raise the alarm for other ta’ifas as it represented a level of permanency in non-urban environs before unseen in the destabilization of their period.

Promises to allow “Moors” to “retain their houses and estates as they had before”[4] and protection of the Mosque in Toledo would make Alfonso’s takeover seem rather innocuous at first, and similar in method to Muslim ta’ifas when conquering and reconquering one another. However, political moves carried out by Alfonso that went against these promises showed that something far more calculated was taking place. In a charter from twenty-five years after the conquest of Toledo and after the arrival of the Almoravids, Alfonso privileged Mozarab Christians under his rule in matters of lands and holdings, testimonies, and the manipulation of land.[5] It is possible that this retroactively confirms suspicions that were likely present at the time of his initial takeover. For these, we have to look at an event contemporary to his takeover: the conversion of the Mosque of Toledo. The Primera Cronica alleges that Alfonso guaranteed that the mosque would remain as it was, and yet within a month of the city falling to him, the building was consecrated as a Church. While the text that accounts for what happened[6] was written at least a century after the fact (making it more likely to be representative of its own era rather than the one it is describing) and even though the blame for the consecration was placed on Archbishop Bernard de Sedirac and Alfonso’s wife Constanza, while Alfonso was allegedly “outraged and deeply grieved…with the Saracens concerning the mosque”, this account is highly suspect.[7] To have the Moors of Toledo gain his audience and absolve him of his bond of protection the mosque is too convenient to be realistic. In reality, the takeover of the mosque would be of huge symbolic value for Alfonso when establishing a Christian polity over Muslim subjects from whom he could now exact tribute. Herein lies the rub and the crossover between political and so-called religious anxieties held by ta’ifa leaders witnessing what happened in Toledo and its surrounding areas: how could they, as Muslim leaders, pay tribute to a Christian who was converting mosques into churches in Toledo while threatening to overtake them? It is important to dissect this question for it contains two parts that are not mutually inclusive. It is just as easy to ask the question of how leaders could pay tribute to another leader that would conquer them, thereby contributing to their own downfall. But when you add the religious dimension and a reversal of the master-subordinate form between Christians and Muslims to the mix, one can see that this is doubly intolerable.

The perfect example of this impossible dilemma can be read the memoir Tibyan by AbdAllah ibn Buluggin of Granada while in exile in Morocco in from 487-8AH (1095CE). Attempting to defend himself against the “double-dealing” accusations lobbed at him by al-Mu’tamid of Seville, ‘AbdAllah noted that if he did not pay tribute to Alfonso to keep his land, he “would be unable to provide for the annual campaigns…launched against the Christians and for hospitality extended to the Almoravids” on their arrival.[8] It is critical to note, that nowhere is there mention of religious sanctioning or prohibiting of paying tribute to Christians as the reason for his anxiety about paying it. Rather, tribute was seen (by ‘AbdAllah at least) as a placation of the “enemy” and a way of protecting one’s own interests.[9]

Menocal’s portrayal that the solicitation of military aid from the Almoravids was a religious imperative against the infidels finds little bearing in the primary source documents examined thus far. At most, it might have been rhetorical tactic employed to achieve a political-economic end, rather than a religious end-in-itself. That this might have been pitched to the Almoravids (who were much more fundamentally religiously oriented) as a Jihad, is possible and even likely, but that it was perceived as a jihad for the ta’ifa rulers who called them remains to be seen.

[1] Fletcher, Richard. Moorish Spain. University of California: Berkeley. 1992: p 94

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Description of the Conquest of Toledo from the Primerq Cronica General de Espana” in Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources. Olivia Remie Constable, ed. Majd Yaser Al-Mallah, trans. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 2012: p. 133

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Privilege Given by Alfonso VI to the Mozarabs of Toledo” in Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources. Olivia Remie Constable, ed. Majd Yaser Al-Mallah, trans. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 2012: p 137

[6] Jimenez de Rada, Rodrigo. “Conversion of the Mosque of Toledo” in Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources. Olivia Remie Constable, ed. Majd Yaser Al-Mallah, trans. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 2012: p 134-5

[7] Ibid. p 135

[8] Ibn Buluggin, ‘AbdAllah. Tibyan in in Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources. Olivia Remie Constable, ed. Majd Yaser Al-Mallah, trans. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 2012: p 143.

[9] Ibid.