Following the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula (which they would call al-Andalus) in 711 AD, the Andalusi society eventually featured a very interesting ethnic and cultural mosaic. Then came the Reconquista, the Christian armies started gaining back territory slowly but surely, and the social mosaic became even more sophisticated. A couple of days ago, while lecturing on al-Andalus at Bibliotheca Alexandrina, I explained some interesting ‘elements’ of the Andalusi society:
1- Muwallads (muladíes مولدون)
These were the sons and daughters of Muslim conquerors and native Christian women. The term also extended to describe natives who converted from Christianity to Islam.
2- Mozarabs (mozárabes مستعربون)
These native Christians maintained their religion under Muslim rule, but adopted many elements or the Arab culture and language.
Later on, two more elements would come into play:
3- Mudajjan (mudéjar مدجنون)
As the Christian armies took back several cities, several Muslim communities chose to stay and live under Christian rule, maintaining their religion.
4- Moriscos (moriscos موريسكيون)
Following the surrender of Granada and the introduction of the Inquisition courts, scores of Muslims had to convert to Christianity, becoming new Christians of Moorish origin, better known as moriscos. They were finally expulsed from Spain (some 300,000 moriscos) between 1609 and 1614 under Felipe III following a tragedy that extended for over one century. The Jews were forced to leave much earlier (Sephardim), and also scores of them had to convert.
Obviously, from the Arab-Islamic viewpoint, al-Andalus was ‘lost’, while from the Western standpoint, it was ‘liberated’. Such is the case with history always: it can never be read in a unilateral way or a linear form, or based on a single discourse.
Calls among some Arabs to ‘recover’ al-Andalus are more than just absurd: they are delusional! For one thing, al-Andalus no more exists; because it is a historical concept and should always be treated as such. It was occupied by the Arabs and Berbers, but was never their homeland or their native territory. Moreover, calls to ‘recover’ territory just because, hundreds of years ago, it was under Islamic rule, is closer to intellectual terrorism than it is to rational thinking that would foster intercultural dialogue. With all the Islamic and Arab countries around the world that are lagging behind culturally and scientifically, wouldn’t it be a better idea to start with themselves and alleviate the suffering of their own people than ‘yearn’ for a land that their modern feet never stepped?
I yearn for al-Andalus myself, not the land but rather the state-of-mid, not the territory but rather the cultural renaissance, not the traditional geography but rather the moral one… and I will end it here.