Before the memory of our family vacation fades too fast in the wake of getting back to work and school for my oldest, I wanted to take a moment and talk a little bit about some of the things I have learned about travelling with kids as a result of this Euro trip.

Background: I haven’t taken a vacation in 7.5 years. The last time I truly had a break from work, school and the hustle was my very first trip to Morocco in 2011 to visit my husband, meet his family, and check out the school he was building. I spent six weeks getting to know everyone and seeing some sights around the country including a trip to the Sahara through Marrakech, Ouarzazate and Merzouga, and side trips to Casablanca, Mohammedia and Rabat. Even though we travelled around a bit, it wasn’t a super touristy trip because we didn’t have our marriage license yet and so paying for two hotel rooms everywhere we went wasn’t feasible for extended periods of time. I spent most of the time between his family’s places in Marrakech and a small village 60km north called Attaouia. This was followed by a month in Florence six months later where I spent most of my time buying and devouring dozens of books from a boutique English bookshop just off Piazza Duomo. Shortly thereafter, I actually moved to Morocco to continue building our school and running classes for small children in it.

Since that time, I’ve had two marriage celebrations (one in Canada and one in Morocco, same marriage!), taught for three years, endured a horrific birth trauma with my firstborn, immigrated with my husband and daughter back to Canada, built a business, completed a masters degree, delivered dozens of lectures/workshops on Islam and anti-racism work to literally thousands of people, and had a second baby. Between motherhood, grad school and the pressures of being a veiled Muslim  woman activist in an era of rising Islamophobia and misogyny, it’s safe to say, I have felt burnt out for a long time. So much so that burnt out has been my new normal…for a while.

Well rested on the last day of our trip.

Fast forward to August 2018 when we decided to use our good ol’ Canadian parental leave to take five months in Morocco and you have me still juggling kids, full time work (business has been busier than ever, thank God) and everything else in between -only now, I’ve had all the uniquely Moroccan stressors added, ones that I won’t get into listing much but which involve weather extremes, bugs and cultural divides, especially in the village where we are staying.

Because Canadian passports only entitle you to three months in Morocco without a residency card, work permit or visitor’s visa extension, November started to loom on the horizon. I had zero intention of going through the hassle of getting my papers for a (relatively and comparatively) short stay so I decided we should do a visa run on a cheap flight to Europe.

I am one of those moms that cannot leave her children for long periods of time. My oldest – who is now a spirited and eternally stubborn five year old – has only ever spent two nights out of my bed: the night her sister was born and the night after. I haven’t been away from my new baby for more than an hour in the ten months since she was born. As a survivor and someone who lives with PTSD, this is what I need to do to feel secure and safe and I am alright with that. What it means though is if I do a visa run, my family is coming with me.

So I started scouring for flights anywhere in Europe from Marrakech and checking out sights and accommodations in each place. As I looked more and more, it suddenly dawned on me: why not take an actual two-week vacation? One where you set an email auto-responder and legitimately don’t check your inbox. One where your phone is set to airplane mode and you only open the Wifi to update your Instagram. Could it really be possible? Do I dare to eat a peach? Do I dare disturb the universe?

alcazar of seville
Tile detail in the Real Alcazar de Sevilla

In the end, my love of history and my husband’s indifference won out and I booked us for five days in Berlin followed by ten days in the south of Spain running the Malaga-Cordoba-Sevilla circuit. I only had mild nerves as I gleefully packed our bags, carefully estimating how many diapers and how much formula I could cram into the two smaller checked bags the budget airline allowed. But ultimately the nerves were for nothing: we went on to have one of the best trips of my life and I will savor its memories for the rest of it.

What made it so great?

People we know couldn’t believe we were attempting a Euro-trip with two kids. People called us “heroes”and “troopers”. I honestly didn’t know what all the fuss was about and I still don’t. With enough careful planning and some important things to remember, traveling with super small kids can be fun, rewarding even. Were there meltdown moments for everyone involved? Of course. Did they happen often enough to destroy our enjoyment? No. And in the process we had the time and energy to learn more from our kids about what they need and when they need it.

Guten Tag, Berlin

Timing is everything. First of all, lap babies fly free so why not take advantage of that fact? Go when your baby is a bit bigger but not too big that they want to walk around all the time. The perfect middle ground for us was almost 10 months.

Also, when you’re checking flights, try to pick ones with good check in/departure times as well as being mindful of when they will land and how long it takes to arrive at your destination. We found that booking early morning flights to destinations worked well because we could rouse our kids to get on the plane but then they would be so groggy as to pass out as soon as the flight took off, waking off somewhat refreshed on arrival. Baby was a bit fussy on the flight to Berlin but still napped most of the way.

Check your booking carefully. We booked holiday apartments and even a hostel instead of pricey hotels. But it wasn’t just a budgetary decision: we also needed access to a small kitchen everywhere we went so we could prepare kid-friendly foods and wash bottles. Two out of four places also had baby cots for us and the other two had furniture arrangements that allowed for safe sleeping regardless. Also, many bookings have specific check-in times and won’t allow entry before then – make sure you time your flight/travel to allow for you to get to accommodations as soon as you arrive. There is little more anxiety-producing scenarios than dragging a stroller, two de-planed kids and suitcases down narrow cobblestone streets. If you have to, request early entry and pay slightly extra if you have to. There was only one occasion where we had to sit around so we found a playground and parked the baby, her stroller and the luggage while our oldest got her pent up energy out.

View over Malaga

Hit the supermarket. Honestly, as much as I am a closet foodie and wannabe chef, culinary tourism isn’t really my bag. Especially since becoming Muslim when finding halal or even vegetarian options is nearly impossible. We were so touched that the breakfast at our hostel in Berlin actually had certified halal breakfast sausages and we occasionally hit a shawarma shop, but most of the trip involved getting fresh bread, produce, instant coffees and yoghurts at the corner shop. It was infinitely cheaper than attempting restaurant eats with a picky kid who prefers fresh veggies and simple food, and our pocketbooks were happy the whole trip.

Let go of the Euro-trip stereotypes. When a lot of folks think of backpacking across Europe, they think of late nights at pubs and days spent rushing from one sight to the next. Obviously as Muslims we have zero interest in clubs or bars, and ultimately we let our kids set the pace for the day. We booked enough time in each place to do one or two major things a day, interspersed with supermarket runs, playground breaks or outright Legoland visits. Having kids with us also meant hitting the sack when they did at 8pm after clocking 15-18,000 steps a day together.  And that was alright. In fact, it was ideal. We got so much more rest than we were used to and rising early to have a fresh breakfast and plan our route for the day became a beautiful routine for us. There were some days we just didn’t make it to all of our destinations either and instead we wandered around, taking in neighbourhoods outside the center and seeing different things.

Ultimately, you know your own family best. These are just some of the things we found helped us have a much-needed rest and to make the most of it together. Alhamdulilah for that.

Plaza de Espana, Sevilla

16265681_10154323322850753_2679466403133227560_nNakita Valerio is an award-winning writer, academic, and community organizer based in Edmonton, Canada. 


It cannot be denied that Medieval Iberia represents an incredible example of cultural and intellectual diversity that was unique in Europe and may lack a comparable example elsewhere in the world for the same length of time (711 – 1492CE). However, some historians have overemphasized the harmonious atmosphere between groups on the peninsula by characterizing their coexistence as convivencia – a word that can carry overly positive connotations and might gloss over important political, religious, economic and ethnic competitions between various groups throughout this period. In her text, The Ornament of the World, Maria Rosa Menocal upholds the positive image (if not the word) of convivencia in Iberia by examining cultural prosperity in the era of Islamic polities and beyond. Elsewhere, Menocal makes it clear that her invocation of the spirit of the term is polemical in helping to establish a counter-narrative to the hegemonic discourse that excludes and Others al-Andalus from European intellectual history. Other historians such as Richard Fletcher prefer to complicate convivencia as having less to do with harmonious coexistence and more to do with simply “living together” – something that was far from a “straightforward business” and may have carried with it an ever-looming possibility of violence.[1] Still others such as Alex Novikoff take the middle road between pedestalizing convivencia and villainizing interreligio-ethnic contests in Iberia, drawing on examples of either tolerance or intolerance. Olivia Remie Constable sees no such value in the term, nor its opposite (Reconquista) which both serve to polarize and thereby simplify our understanding of Iberian history. In contrast, the value of the term is reified by Thomas Glick, who sees its rescue as an opportunity for learning about the process of acculturation and what it says about cultural and social interactions between people in Iberia and our contemporary period. Its reification in spirit (if not name) is also a method used by Janina Safran in her study of identity and differentiation between Christians and Muslims in 9th Century al-Andalus. In my mind, Safran stands with David Nirenberg who seems to belong to the camp of those who advocate the abandonment of a term such as convivencia (and its opposites) because it can obfuscate the multi-layered complexities between identity groups that give rise to both positive and negative realities within one society. To borrow Nirenberg’s language, what is at stake in tallying a society’s “assets and liabilities” is the “commodification” of its historical experiences which usually have less to do with the actual history and more to do with the historian’s current moment.[2]

What is at stake in the term convivencia is whether or not Iberia was unique and if there is something for the historian to learn from its uniqueness with regards to our modern situation. In this paper, I will briefly examine the definition of convivencia from the scholars listed above in greater depth, illuminating the term’s contestation, modification or abandonment among them. In surveying the variant ways in which scholars have made use of the term convivencia, it becomes clear that it has taken on a multiplicity of meaning and layers of complexity that run counter to the idea of it as an oversimplified, reified concept. Ultimately, however, I will side with Menocal (with a few modifications) to show that until the public hegemonic myth that excludes al-Andalus from European history is adequately complicated by examples of Iberian convivencia, abandonment of this term as a historical commodifier runs the risk of historians reneging on a discursive ethical imperative. I will conclude by showing why, in both academic and non-academic circles, commodification or crystallization, is inevitable and thus, why that imperative matters.

In The Ornament of the World, Menocal does not use the word convivencia to refer to Medieval Iberia, a point about her work echoed again in Novikoff’s historiography of the term.[3] In fact, Menocal is clear that her examination of “cultural tolerance and symbiosis” which Europe inherited from al-Andalus is not meant to “replace all the older clichés [of Medieval intolerance and darkness] with another equally simplistic new one” – i.e. a tale of convivencia.[4] However, in reading her text, it becomes very clear that Menocal is not only interested in upholding al-Andalus as the center of multiple medieval golden ages and muffling differences, but that she is also willing to do so by distorting or dismissing the influence of other civilizations such as the Almoravids and the Almohads. Novikoff chalks this paradoxical approach up to the fact that Menocal has not defined what cultural tolerance is, nor is she interested in how it differs from either social or political forms of tolerance. Rather, what is at stake for Menocal is the mythologizing of al-Andalus’ incredible literary, social and artistic achievements by finding their origin in the attitudes of the Ummayads and their demise in the religious fanaticism of both Christians and Muslims.[5] I use the term mythologizing here because, in relation to other works by Menocal, it becomes clear she is employing a conscious program of rewriting history against other, more dominant histories. In “The Myth of Westernness in Medieval Literary Historiography,” Menocal follows in similar footsteps as the likes of Hayden White and other Critical Memory theorists who concur that “our writing of history is as much a myth-making activity as that of more primitive [sic] societies.”[6] She explores Western discourse’s preoccupation with their own intellectual heredity, shattering notions of the East-West dichotomy by pointing out how their particular myth comes with a dominant and selective forgetting of al-Andalus’ instigation and propagation of the so-called “West’s” intellectual Renaissance.[7] Her call for the inclusion of Andalusian influence in Western literary historiography is characterized as involving a major paradigm shift of unimaginable proportions because it requires the reimagining of Western civilization as being “indebted to and dependent on a culture… regarded as inferior…and as the quintessence of the foreign and the Other.”[8] Since this paradigm shift is Menocal’s project, it makes sense that Ornament be read as the development of a counter-myth to hegemony, explaining why her work focuses more on positive outcomes of tolerant, co-existing cultures, rather than seeking to complicate images of that coexistence. This purposeful and selective retelling is in direct resistance to typical European narratives that not only black out everything between antiquity and the Renaissance, but also might view an Arab-centred historical reconstruction with the same disdain felt towards Darwinian evolution theories – that Europeans were “descended from apes.”[9]

Without invoking such pejorative imagery, multiple historians have complicated this view of coexistence, either declaring it inadequate, expanding its meaning to include positive and negative cultural interactions, or abandoning it completely in favour of some other historical lens. Constable claims, in the introduction to her Medieval Iberia Reader, that “the diversities of Iberian history cannot be fully explained by either harmonious convivencia or hostile Reconquista[10]– presumably using each term in its most typical form. Not only did elements of both exist, but each term also represents a mythologizing that, in its overuse, simplifies Iberian history. Her collection of primary source documents that follow are intended to show differences but also points of contact between varying groups.[11] The reader is meant to pass from source to source, drawing their own conclusions organically or in contrast to other historians’ secondary interpretations, and ultimately, what is meant to come through is that no such terms can capture all the different kinds of people, groups, affiliations and so forth that are found in these sources. While this may be true, the uniqueness of the situation in which these documents arose should not be neglected. Without some kind of coexistence, it is hard to imagine the need for texts like “The Pact of ‘Umar,” “The Treaty of Tudmir,” Abraham ibn Daud’s “Book of Tradition,” Samuel Ibn Naghrela’s “Battle of Alfuente” and many more. While there are many counter examples, these simply represent more extreme negotiations of coexistence at different times and in different contexts. A relativist might argue that no historical experience rises above another and, as such, Iberia is not a shining example above Europe and Islamic polities; however, in various documents throughout the text, not only is sharing and coexistence the principle put forth, it is the means by which those documents could even have arisen.

Novikoff’s somewhat tepid contribution to this discussion is simply to say that the academic community can find in Medieval Iberia instances of both tolerance and intolerance, making it a place and time of study that is fruitful for lessons drawn from the past.[12] The presumption is that historians are not just writing history for the sake of recording it, but rather to lend a better understanding to our present moment – something difficult to argue against. Richard Fletcher takes a rather different approach to our contemporary learning than both Menocal and Constable because of a different overall purpose, tackling the issue of convivencia head-on in his chapter of the same name. While he acknowledges the unique cultural and intellectual achievements of Iberian coexistence, using many of the sources we find in Constable’s reader, he is quick to point out that multi-religio-ethnic groups living together is, by no means, an anomaly and can be found elsewhere.[13] What is unique about Iberia is how long-lasting that coexistence was compared to other European examples.[14] And yet, Fletcher falls short of accounting for why it was so long-lasting, other than to say that outright slaughter of one another was not an option due to the economic value of keeping people alive. The implication is that convivencia was undertaken begrudgingly, out of necessity and not attitude, and that – citing the unfortunate tale of Ramon Llull and his slave as evidence – at any moment this fragile balance could be disrupted and made violent.[15] It is harder to know who Fletcher is talking to here, but his work can be taken two ways. Firstly, Fletcher’s characterization of convivencia could be taken as an example of the hard work that went into coexistence for these groups, including cultural and intellectual exchanges, rather than something to be taken for granted. In terms of the current moment, it would signify that such experiments require continuous effort to retain some semblance of cohesion, if not harmony. More skeptically, from the perspective of the hegemonic discourse to which Menocal spoke, such a compromise of the term might be a vindication of Euro-centric discourses, particularly those that amplify the Reconquista narratives of taking back the peninsula from untrustworthy Muslims and Jews who could turn on Christians at any time.

Glick straddles the middle ground between Menocal’s selective cohesive imagery and Fletcher’s more cynical look, while tackling the definitions and the use of the term convivencia directly. Rather than discard the term like Constable, he notes that convivencia has been used as a synonym for coexistence but also “carries connotations of mutual interpenetration and creative influence, even as it also embraces the phenomena of mutual friction, rivalry and suspicion.”[16] He is also careful to point out that even definitions of the term that carry these connotations assume a lot about different religio-ethnic groups, including the fact that people saw themselves as bound by those identities or bound to play the roles ascribed to them. This highlights the permeability of multiple social strata by different individuals, depending on which role was being played at any given time, including interactions structured along the lines of social class, as well.[17] The latter point, coupled with the fact that both Andalusian and Christian-dominated polities may have isolated minorities religiously or ethnically but not economically, added a different dimension of social tension.[18] What convivencia does for Glick is highlight the flexibility of identity depending on the circumstances, challenging the self-affirming image “of a sealed, pristine, pure and uncontaminated culture” that groups use in their discourse, with the realities of a mixed, everyday lived experience.

In “What Can Medieval Spain Teach Us About Muslim-Jewish Relations,” Nirenberg echoes Glick in examining what Iberia can teach us about the present moment, especially in light of multivalent, multidirectional understandings of identity. Nirenberg also offers a deeper level of understanding to modern conflicts between Muslims and Jews through the lens of coexistence in Iberia. Eyeing the myth of convivencia, without naming it so, Nirenberg explains how Jewish historians of the late 19th century had perpetuated writing about the age of Islamic tolerance, particularly juxtaposed against persecution from (re)conquering Christians and then modern Europeans. However, with the creation of the State of Israel, Muslim-Jewish relations have become much more central in collective consciousness than either of those two groups as they relate to Christians. As such, historians revisiting Medieval Iberia as a case study have sought to uphold the moniker of convivencia in reifying the Jewish Golden Age narrative, or have sought origins of Anti-Semitism among Arabs by examining darker periods of competition, polemics and persecution in Iberia. Nirenberg cuts through both narrative extremes by pointing out that Iberia was, in fact, unique, especially as it regards Jews, because they carried a historical memory of the “relative merits of life under Islam and under Christendom…[and represent] a precious example of a society in which Jews and Muslims were able to engage each other in open competition and conflict as they work out the terms of their own existence.”[19] Thus, Nirenberg does not, after all, outrightly dismiss the possibility of convivencia but seeks to find the factors that coalesced to make a picture of that coexistence less than rosy. Among his conclusions is the fact that Muslim-Jewish dialogue was always mediated by or through Christians, Christianity, Christendom and Christian representations of both groups. Historians relating to the modern period would do well to heed Nirenberg’s warning of forgetting the intruding “third voice” that permeate(s/d) Muslim-Jewish relations, and arguably, mutate(s/d) them.[20]

In “Identity and Differentiation in Ninth Century al-Andalus,” Janina Safran is also careful not to speak explicitly of convivencia, but instead, also shows how a nuanced view of coexistence, such as that espoused in Glick, results in a better understanding of the negotiations of identity for both Muslims and Christians as they dealt with the realities of that coexistence –including acculturation, interfaith marriage and conversion. The picture painted is less about impending violence (though is shown to have happened in Safran’s work, particularly as it relates to the martyrs of Cordoba) and more about the work that goes into living together and issues that arise as a result. Concerns about the corruption of the religion dominated discussions among Muslims, who found legal methods of protecting the religious orthodoxy while accommodating an influx of converts and, to a lesser extent, marriages to dhimmis. Safran’s work stands as a brilliant middle ground between Menocal and Fletcher – giving voice to the cultural-legal achievements of Medieval Islamic polities while showing that cohesion may have required hard work, but violence was not necessarily a given. For Nirenberg, violent competition was also not a determined consequence and it only arose in relation to the presence of a disenfranchised third party, the deposed Christians. For Safran, this might well have been true, but violence was not a given for less cynical reasons than Fletcher: people did not avoid slaughtering each other because it would have made poor economic sense to do so; they kept each other around because, after generations of sharing and intermixing, Muslims, Christians and Jews were not only sharing communities, languages, culture and economic status, but family units too. The work that went into convivencia, however complicated it was and, at times, contradictory to the implied meaning of the term, was undertaken as an attitude of relationality, an experiment (to use Fletcher’s term) which, for a long time, succeeded. Focusing on learning from those successes as they pertain to our modern situation is as admirable an endeavour as a historian can hope to undertake, though I recognize that this is not the raison d’etre of every historian.

The question that then follows is this: if it is possible to have all of these variations (positive and negative) coexist, so to speak, under the banner of convivencia, then why abandon it as Constable has recommended? What is gained in such secondary analyses which do abandon it, like that of Safran and Nirenberg? It might be said that within highly elite historical discourse, the abandonment of the term convivencia with its rosy implications may allow for the brilliant nuanced arguments we see in Safran and Nirenberg, and which are allowed to arise organically from Constable’s assemblage of primary sources. There is no prescribed conclusion from which to start and, as such, an examination of coexistence in Iberia can include everything rosy and not-so-rosy. As an intradisciplinary conversation, this is perfectly acceptable. However, history is not only the task of academics, nor is its relevance only found in scholarly circles and so we must also ask what is lost in the abandonment of convivencia. Arguably, the work done in the agreements, disagreements and amendments by academics contributes to an overall, collective narrative that then trickles down or is forcefully brought to the level of civil policy, education curriculums (including introductory programs at public universities) and other public avenues. The histories told there will invariably do violence to the meticulous work of the historian by virtue of their crystallization (or as Nirenberg terms it, “commodification”).[21] In other words, these crystallizations will serve political purposes for those who employ them and this will almost always lead to manipulation and oppression, as univocal histories cannot help but do, however intentional. Thus, the role of the historian is not only intradisciplinary but can also be extradisciplinary. A translation of academic discourse must take place to compete in the public educational arena where political discourse and power resulting from certain uses of history dominate. As such, I return to Menocal and her project of using convivencia to tell the main narrative of Medieval Iberia, focusing on cultural and intellectual flourishing, as a counter-point to hegemonic narratives that continue to trace the Renaissance in a straight line from Antiquity to the modern era with no Iberian pit-stops in between. However imperfect her conclusions may appear within Iberian academic discourse and however much farther she had to push them (particularly in terms of including the Almohads as part of the intellectual inheritance of Europe), her preliminary stance offers a delightful muddying of illusions of “pure” cultural achievements of transcendental value[22] that arise from within any discipline’s particular ideological rootedness.[23] Convivencia opens a door to Iberian studies and the development of an understanding of intellectual heredity that hegemonic narratives do not even recognize exists. Its relevance to challenging and breaking down the current myths by which powerful political forces dichotomize the East and West and engage in ever violent activity is too salient to ignore, and for historians who recognize history as the weapon that it is, (for either hegemony or resistance) it ought not to be ignored.


Constable, Olivia Remie, ed. Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, (2012)

Fletcher, Richard. Moorish Spain. University of California: Berkeley. (1992)

Glick, Thomas, “Convivencia: An Introductory Note” in Convivencia: Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Medieval Spain, Mann, Glick, and Dodds, eds. George Braziller Publishing: New York (1992)

Menocal, Maria Rosa. The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. Back Bay Books: New York. (2002)

Menocal, Maria Rosa, “The Myth of Westernness in Medieval Literary Historiography” in The New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy, eds. Emran Qureshi and Michael Sells, Columbia University Press: New York, 2003, p249-87.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. On The Use and Abuse of History. Cosimo Printing: New York. 2005.

Nirenberg, David. “What Can Medieval Spain Teach Us About Muslim-Jewish Relations?” CCAR Journal: A Reform Jewish Quarterly (Summer, 2002)

Novikoff, Alex. “Between Tolerance and Intolerance in Medieval Spain: An Historiographic Enigma,” Medieval Encounters. 11.1-2 (2005).

[1] Fletcher, Richard. Moorish Spain. University of California: Berkeley. (1992) p 135.

[2] Nirenberg, David. “What Can Medieval Spain Teach Us About Muslim-Jewish Relations?” CCAR Journal: A Reform Jewish Quarterly (Summer, 2002) p 19.

[3] Novikoff, Alex. “Between Tolerance and Intolerance in Medieval Spain: An Historiographic Enigma,” Medieval Enocunters. 11.1-2 (2005) p 7-8.

[4] Menocal, Maria Rosa. The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. Back Bay Books: New York. (2002) p 13.

[5] Novikoff, p 9.

[6] Menocal, Maria Rosa, “The Myth of Westernness in Medieval Literary Historiography” in The New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy, eds. Emran Qureshi and Michael Sells, Columbia University Press: New York, 2003, p 249.

[7] Menocal, “The Myth”, p 250.

[8] Ibid, p 257.

[9] Ibid, p 251.

[10] Constable, Olivia Remie. Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, (2012)p xxix.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Novikoff, p 36.

[13] Fletcher, p 134-5.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid. p 155-6.

[16] Glick, Thomas, “Convivencia: An Introductory Note” in Convivencia: Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Medieval Spain, Mann, Glick, and Dodds, eds. George Braziller Publishing: New York (1992) p 1.

[17] Ibid, p 4.

[18] Ibid

[19] Nirenberg, p 20.

[20] Ibid, p 22.

[21] Nietzsche, Friedrich. On The Use and Abuse of History. Cosimo Printing: New York. 2005.

[22] Menocal, “The Myth” p 267.

[23] Ibid. p 266.

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.

There can be no doubt that one of the most remembered thinkers of 12th century al-Andalus is Ibn Rushd. How he is remembered varies from author to author, with some focusing on his philosophical achievements, crediting him as ushering in the foundations of the European Enlightenment through his Neo-Aristotelian exegesis and others preferring to contextualize his philosophical achievements within their political-religious contexts. In her book, Ornament of the World, Maria Rosa Menocal falls into the former category, elevating Ibn Rushd to the level of extraordinary and even characterizing him as a victim of the “single-mindedness” of the Almohad conquerors who overtook al-Andalus in his lifetime.[1] While this makes Ibn Rushd’s successes seem all the more incredible in the face of the alleged fundamentalist, unReasonable Almohad regime, the fact is that only part of Ibn Rushd’s story is being told. Both Richard Fletcher and Olivia Remie Constable paint a much different picture of Ibn Rushd as not only a revered philosopher but also a supporter of the Almohads, and a physician and advisor to the Almohad rulers. Why is there such a discrepancy in these recountings? The answer to this question has less to do with Ibn Rushd himself than how he fits into the overall project of each author. Ibn Rushd as an Almohad protagonist compromises Menocal’s overall counter-myth-making plan of upholding al-Andalus as an integral part of the European Renaissance and later Enlightenment against the typical “barbaric” African fundamentalist backdrop of Almohad al-Andalus.

In “The Myth of Westernness in Medieval Literary Historiography,” Menocal follows in similar footsteps as the likes of Hayden White and other Critical Memory theorists who concur that “our writing of history is as much a myth-making activity as that of more primitive societies.”[2] She explores Western discourse’s preoccupation with their own intellectual heredity, shattering notions of the East-West dichotomy by pointing out how their particular myth comes with a dominant and selective forgetting of al-Andalus’ instigation and propagation of the so-called “West’s” intellectual Renaissance.[3] Her call for the inclusion of Andalusian influence in Western literary historiography is characterized as involving a major paradigm shift of unimaginable proportions because it requires the reimagining of Western civilization as “indebted to and dependent on a culture… regarded as inferior…and as the quintessence of the foreign and the Other.”[4] As such, a reading of her more popular text, Ornament of the World might be read as the development of a counter myth challenging the hegemonic discourse that excludes and Others al-Andalus from European intellectual history. Indeed, Menocal is unabashed about her project in its introductory chapter, Beginnings, arguing that much of Europe “was shaped by the deep-seated vision of complex and contradictory identities that was first elevated to an art form by the Andalusians.”[5] And while this project might be noble in itself, especially in terms of more accurately nuancing our understanding of the development of European intellectualism, Menocal’s book is permeated with instances of problematic Othering – upholding al-Andalus as exceptional and acceptably European (particularly for its legacy). This is done at the expense of the Almoravid and Almohad dynasties who are conflated together as both barbaric, fundamentalist and, ultimately, foreign Muslim conqueror. The underlying story that is then told is that the Muslims that are acceptable for Europeans are those that most resemble Europeans.

One of the most glaring instances of this unfortunate consequence of Menocal’s project is found in her depiction of Ibn Rushd. Flip to the name Ibn Rushd in the index of Maria Rosa Menocal’s Ornament of the World and the reader is directed to “see Averroes.”[6] Though it can be argued that this choice was that of the publisher, particularly for a commercial book whose audience might not be aware that Ibn Rushd and Averroes are the same Muslim person, the point is that an Andalusi-Euro-fication of Ibn Rushd is definitely at work elsewhere in Menocal’s book. When Menocal formally introduces us to Ibn Rushd, she sets him alongside Musa ibn Maymun, arguing that their work was shaped “by the advent of the Almohads” and their “single-mindedness” or “repressions” that dominated Andalusian society.[7] She goes on to pitch him as primarily a philosopher in an age of great Andalusian discourse, where the place of Reason beside religion was negotiated or accepted and rejected, back and forth, by the likes of Ibn Sina, Al-Ghazali, ibn Maymun and Ibn Rushd himself.[8] She concludes that although Ibn Rushd’s work made him a hero in Europe, he died in Marrakesh under “suspicious circumstances” (possibly Almohad house arrest) and implies that his philosophy received “a markedly different reception” within his own culture.[9] Is she referring to his Islamic culture, Andalusian culture or to the Almohad-dominated culture of his day? In all instances, and any combinations of these as well, her implication that his death or house arrest had something to do with his philosophical paradigm might be purposeful conjecture and requires an equally purposeful dismissal of the important political roles he held under the Almohads which allowed for his philosophy to develop.

While the index of Richard Fletcher’s Moorish Spain also diverts readers in search of Ibn Rushd to Averroes, Fletcher presents a much less contrived version of this character. While Fletcher notes that the Almoravids and Almohads shared some similar characteristics, particularly in terms of the beginning of their movements around charismatic leaders, their methods of conquering al-Andalus and their characterization as “fundamentalist”, he does distinguish between their brands of Islam. Fletcher is careful to show that the Almohads represented: a rejection of Almoravid (and Andalusian) Maliki legalism, a theology based on the immanence of God, and a move to “spiritual interiority” that would later find its most formidable philosophical expression in the work of Ibn Rushd.[10] Ibn Rushd flourished as a philosopher (and in many other roles) because philosophy –contrary to other depictions – was actually an integral part of Almohad rule in al-Andalus. Fletcher points to the example of Ibn Tufayl who was the physician of Almohad ruler, Yusuf I, who not only sought to marry religion and philosophy in his own writing, but also was responsible for introducing Ibn Rushd to Almohad court circles (which he was an early supporter of) where he served as qadi of Seville and Cordoba, but also inherited the position of physician and trusted advisor to Yusuf (and Ya’qub). [11]

The argument that Ibn Rushd was rejected by the rulers of his time for his philosophical endeavours is simply wrong. He was immersed in Almohad political and cultural circles, and given his prominent position with the ruling group, there is little reason to think that the Almohads were repressive of his way of uniting Islamic creed and Aristotelian Reason. In fact, The Almohad Creed of 1183, composed at a time when Ibn Rushd was the closest advisor of Yusuf I, is explicit in its unification of these two concepts, declaring reason to be the main criterion for religious truths[12]. Olivia Remie Constable argues that, in all likelihood, this important document was written by Ibn Rushd. With its appeal to the use of Reason and the finding of “common ground on which to establish faith propositions,” the creed of the Almohads seriously challenges Menocal’s depictions of them as barbaric exclusionists.[13]

The Almohad openness to Ibn Rushd’s discourse (despite early inspiration from the works of Al-Ghazali which rejected the marriage of Reason with philosophy) is what made his prolific writing possible. And this alone, presents a much different image of the Almohads than what Menocal wants to put forth as part of her counter-myth. Her project, while a response to forgetful European intellectual hereditary myths (which is a noble cause) simply does not go far enough. Menocal falls short of following her own imperative in the study of “Muslims” and “Arabic culture” in medieval Europe by excluding the Almohads from the discussion. If such work is to be done and it “must be…rooted in the rejection of the simplicities an isolations of its own categories and terms, in an appreciation of the profound ambivalence of such readily nameable identities and of the necessary interconnectedness with other (equally ambivalent) identities,”[14] then the inclusion of Almohads in a European narrative becomes the necessary response to such an imperative. Rather than the European Renaissance being derived of purely “Andalusian” intellectual development, tolerance, and reverence for ancient philosophy (which the Almohads allegedly are outsiders to), the rise of Reason in Europe, through the discourse in writings of philosophers like Ibn Rushd, must be seen for what it, at least in part, is: an Almohad inheritance.

[1] Menocal, Maria Rosa. The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. Back Bay Books: New York. 2002, p 208

[2] Menocal, Maria Rosa, “The Myth of Westernness in Medieval Literary Historiography” in The New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy, eds. Emran Qureshi and Michael Sells, Columbia University Press: New York, 2003, p 249.

[3] Menocal, “The Myth”, p 250.

[4] Ibid 257

[5] Menocal, Ornament of the World, p12.

[6] Menocal, Ornament of the World, p 307.

[7] Ibid, p 208

[8] Ibid, p 211

[9] Ibid, p 212

[10] Fletcher, Richard. Moorish Spain. University of California: Berkeley. 1992 p119

[11] Ibid, p 132-33

[12] “The Almohad Creed (1183)” 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. 245-6.

[13] Constable, Ibid; Menocal, Ornament of the World, p 195-6.

[14] Menocal, “The Myth”, p 268.

Historical discussion of the Almoravid and Almohad dynasties tends to conflate the two by labelling them both as Berber and “fundamentalist.” While both dynasties did, indeed, originate in Amazigh tribes from what is now Morocco, their interpretations of Islam were far from the same. Almoravids upheld the Maliki school of fiqh, whereas the Almohads adopted an early form of scripturalism, critical of the Maliki school, combined with ancient philosophy that committed exegesis through the use of reason. To see them as similar or a continuation of one another is a homogenization of their disparate ideological differences and likely arises from a tendency to view their influence as an incursion on an idealized understanding of Andalusian Islams and Iberia’s relegation to the status of an Amazigh colony under both polities. In this paper, I will briefly examine their theo-ideological differences, and other contingencies that separate the two dynasties. I will also examine their similarities and speculate as to the reason for their conflation among historians.

In the Medieval Iberia reader, the distinction between Almoravids and Almohads is ambiguous, partly because the source materials associated with them are lumped into the same chapter, and the dating of these materials can be a bit unclear. The dating of Ibn Abdun’s Hisba Manual is simply “early twelfth century,” which does not leave much information for the reader as to whether it was a specifically Almoravid or Almohad document. Its emphasis on Qur’anic or hadith stipulations for governing the marketplace leaves things up in the air as to who the document could have belonged to as both groups tended towards reinterpreting these key scriptural sources. That being said, the Almoravids did not break from the Maliki school of fiqh as the Almohads did and a thorough study of legal opinions from that school in relation to the prescriptions of this document might help to make the connection (or non-connection) to the Almoravids clearer. The one account we are provided with that is directly attributable to the Almoravids is Al-Idrisi’s Description of Almeria which says little of their ideological preferences or other distinguishing features. It appears that the Almoravids were very much interested in commerce, manufacturing and trade but the same can easily be said about the Almohads whose trade networks would later extend much farther east across the Mediterranean. The other documents in the chapter tend to focus on Almohad theology, their patronage and their treatment of the Jews. It could be that the source materials for the Almoravids in Iberia are simply not available or not directly attributable to them, which leads to a conflation of the two dynasties by virtue of source issues. Looking at how they are arranged in the Medieval Iberia reader is one example of this conflation.

At the beginning of his chapter entitled “Moroccan Fundamentalists” in Moorish Spain, Richard Fletcher notes that although the Almohads were of a remarkably different sect of fundamentalism from the Almoravids, the two groups are “confusingly similar” and “there is nothing that can be done about it.”[1] Maria Rosa Menocal describes both the Almoravids and the Almohads as fundamentalist Berbers from Morocco.[2] It seems that the term fundamentalism is being used here to imply a kind of intolerance based on literal applications of Islamic interpretations. The argument that these two are largely indistinguishable from each other, however, remains unconvincing and in the interests of not generalizing about these groups, it is important to find their key distinguishing features.

Constable argues that the Almohads are easier to trace based on their theological projections being clearer than the Almoravids who preceded them.[3] Although Menocal (wrongfully) claims that the Almohad’s “narrow interpretation of Islam made their scholars far less avid than many Latin readers of [the] scientific and philosophical library,”[4] their Almohad Creed is an excellent example of how the influence of Aristotelian metaphysics impacted Almohad interpretations of Islamic doctrine. Arguments made in the Creed were meant to be tested against one’s own Reason and lived experience in order to arrive at the truth of the Almohad ontology. Sources suggest that this approach was unique to the Almohads and was not shared by the Almoravids who exhibited their “fundamentalism” by extinguishing practices in al-Andalus that were against Islamic fiqh rulings but remained within that rigid framework.[5]

Their differences in ideology are just one area we can use to nuance our demarcation between them. Al-Marrakushi’s history of the Almohads and Ibn Tumart’s rise and take over of Almoravid territory is a primary source document that helps to illustrate not only that these groups were different but that they were in contention with one another. The Almohads gained momentum quickly under Ibn Tumart’s leadership, conquering Almoravid territory in Morocco and into al-Andalus. In looking at their historical interaction, it sounds redundant to say, but these are obviously not the same group. I would go so far as to say that they are not the same brand of so-called fundamentalism either – a term problematic for its anachronistic connotations.

So, it remains, in what instances could it seem appropriate to put the Almoravids and Almohads in the same historical category together? Such an exercise might be useful from an Andalusian perspective as distinctions between the two groups might have been a moot point. The usurpation of power by the Almohads was still the unification of al-Andalus under a foreign polity – both polities which practiced radically different forms of Islam, not only from each other but from Andalusians themselves. In trying to uphold a narrative of Andalusian exceptionalism or preference for their cultural-religious practices, it would make sense to put two foreign, less cosmopolitan conquerors (who arrived one after the other) next to each other. For historians seeking to understand the differences between these two groups and to highlight the unique experience of Andalusians under each one, their conflation is of little value.

[1] Fletcher 105

[2] Menocal 141 and 195-6

[3] Constable 237

[4] Menocal 198

[5] Fletcher, 108.

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.