The Convivencia in Islamic Spain

The Convivencia in Islamic Spain

The Convivencia in Islamic Spain
Sarah-Mae Thomas

For a period of almost four centuries, when Medieval Spain was ruled by the Moors, the believers in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam lived together in peace and harmony. La Convivencia refers to this coexistence. For over 400 years, knowledge and mysticism thrived in the Spanish towns of Toledo, Cordoba, and Granada as students and teachers in all three disciplines helped one another to learn, translate, and understand ancient teachings.

The year 1492 marked the destruction of an unprecedented form of coexistence between the Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Al-Andalus, a state that had thrived since the eleventh century. Was the purported reality of La Convivencia a mere construct of mythology, recreated by the Spanish historian Ramon Pidal and his student America Castro, or one exacerbated by populism? This in microcosm forms the basis of the article which is divided in three parts. Firstly, the historical context will be sketched in order to determine how the spirit of Convivencia crystallised. Secondly, the essay will draw upon political, religious, and socio-economic determinants to best understand the reality of La Convivencia. Thirdly, by way of historiography, the essay will attempt to reconcile the notion that La Convivencia was a retrospective utopian fallacy with the equally persuasive assertion that there really existed such an unprecedented social fabric in medieval Spain. Drawing upon proximate and remote factors, it will be argued that to blindly subscribe to utopian historical interpretation only exacerbates this theoretical misguidance and continues flawed historical documentation. This essay also seeks to provide an alternative. Perhaps by looking at the very tenets of Islam itself, one can channel the confused conclusions of the Convivencia into a cohesive understanding, for within the Qur’an lie the very seeds of democratic pluralism. As an overarching analysis, the essay will draw upon aspects of La Convivencia that should inform the peace process in the Middle East. For when Muhammad XII Abu ‘Abd Allah left the gates of Granada in 1492 marking the “last sigh of the moor,” the death knell of the ever celebrated Convivencia reverberated throughout the medieval world.
Read the article on Fountain Magazine.


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