Andalusia: The long, lost history of Muslim Spain

Married couple Omar Shahid & Aaminah Patel reflect on a surprisingly inspiring trip to Andalusia’s main attractions.

As free spirits who love to travel, explore and discover different cultures, our spontaneous nature pushed us to Andalusia last month. Andalusia is a majestic part of Spain that we had little idea was replete with such a fascinating history.

alhambra

An air of nostalgia followed us as we visited the old Islamic sites in Andalusia, from the exquisitely designed Alhambra to a quaint restored Muslim-Andalusian home in Cordoba, a small city in Southern Spain. The Alhambra itself, the principal reminder of the pinnacle of Spanish architecture, captured us from the moment we entered its palaces, and we spent hours (at the expense of our poor feet in the 30 degree heat!) taking in the majesty of the interior tile work and gilded walls, and roaming its lush gardens, offering us panoramic views of the city.

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Cushioned in a community that no longer has an interest in, or an inclination towards, Islam, the ornate calligraphy, praising Allah as the ultimate victor, is tinged in hope and melancholy. It reminded us of the triumph and many successes of the Islamic dynasty, but also its defeat and tragic, genocidal end.
It is widely held that Muslims reached their zenith during their rule in Southern Spain, or more precisely, Andalusia. Science, art and philosophy flourished under the Umayyds in Spain, but one of the most important achievements is the tolerance that existed between Muslim, Jews and Christians during Muslim rule.

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Cordoba was the capital of Muslim Spain, and the most powerful state in Western Europe, both politically and economically [ii]. We eagerly hop off the bus when we arrive in Cordoba, jump straight into a taxi, and within minutes we’re stood outside the Cathedral-Mezquita.

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Once a Cathedral, this site became a Mosque during Muslim rule, but it was not destroyed to make into a Mosque, instead it became a Cathedral-Mosque, showing the Umayyads cared about the multiethnic, pluralistic state they were living in. The aesthetics of the Mosque has been a source of inspiration and countless odes have been written about this fantastic piece of architecture.

As Jummah, the obligatory Friday prayer drew closer, it’s time to start finding out about Mosques close to our hotel in Granada. Surprisingly, there is only one Mosque in the city, built recently in 2003, that we manage to find, and it’s neighbours with the Saint Nicholas Church.

In fact, the Mosque was finally built – despite widespread opposition – after 22 years of struggle from the local Muslim community. With a capacity of 500 people, it’s regularly attended by Muslims in the area, the majority of whom have converted to the faith over the past 30 years.

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As we make our journey uphill to the Mosque, we notice the increasing number of Moroccan restaurants, hookah bars, bartering Arabs and a winding souk reminiscent of Marrakech, selling street art and calligraphy. Nestled right at the top of the Arab district of the city, the mosque wistfully overlooks the grounds of the Alhambra in the distance.

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The adhan, call to prayer, begins, and we usher inside the Mosque to listen to the Khutbah given in both Arabic and Spanish. After the prayer, we travel through The Albaicin’s maze of labyrinth streets and moorish houses, and stumble across a Centre of Islamic Studies, housing an extensive library of Arabic books. There’s something more to this district than we think, and we make it a point to return here and discover what we can before we leave.

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Today, in 2015, 500 years after the Christians reclaimed Spain from the hands of the Muslims, you can’t but help feel a sense of longing for what once was. Lamenting the fall of Seville to Christian hands in 1248, an Andalusian poet, Abu al-Rundi, remarked: “Everything declines after reaching perfection.”

By Omar Shahid

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