My First Book Published on al-Andalus

This week my first book was finally published after years of travelling, researching, writing and editing. The book is a study of a very important Mediterranean diaspora that took place in the early 17th century and left an extraordinary imprint on the Mediterranean culture, especially in North Africa, namely the diaspora of the Moriscos (Arabs and Berbers forced to convert into Christianity under the pressure of the Inquisition Courts in the Iberian Peninsula, mostly in Spain).

In the year 711 AD, Muslims conquered the Iberian Peninsula, calling it al-Andalus and sowing the seeds of a fascinating renaissance characterised -mostly- by tolerance, coexistence and an appreciation for the arts and the sciences. With the fall of the last Andalusi Kingdom in Granada to the Catholic Monarchs in 1492 AD, the Muslim rule in al-Andalus came to an end. Faced with discrimination and persecution, the Muslims there (first called mudejars, then moriscos after they converted to Christianity) survived one tragedy after another until the Spanish King Felipe III approved a decree calling for the final expulsion of all the Moriscos between 1609 and 1614 AD. It is estimated that some 350,000 Moriscos were forced to leave, accused -among other things- of practising Islam in secret, failing to integrate in the Spanish community and conspiring with the Ottomans against the Spanish Crown.

All the material in my work is based on research, interviews and accredited historical sources, presented in my book in a storytelling format. The title is ‘al-Andalus: History of the Diaspora’. It’s in Arabic, but for my friends/followers who cannot speak Arabic, below is an English translation of the back cover:

Al-Andalus was once a glorious chapter in the history of the Islamic Civilization (and humanity in general), before it finally turned into an epitome of the Paradise Lost as the Muslims succumbed to their internal conflicts and ignored the civilizing foundations that the Umayyads had lain centuries earlier. The tragedy of the diaspora that followed the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Moriscos in the seventeenth century is rich in incredible details about how these groups adapted to their new realities in North Africa and the Orient. The Moriscos left an exceptional imprint in all fields from architecture and urbanism to poetry and music. This book chronicles the memory of the diaspora through a selection of tales that trace the footsteps of the Andalusi migrants and celebrate their cultural legacy in the Mediterranean basin.

Mohammed Elrazzaz An Egyptian academic researcher and professor (Cairo, 1976). He studied History at the University of Granada and Cultural Management in Barcelona. He is Professor of Culture, Art History and Mediterranean Heritage at the International University of Catalonia where he obtained his MA back in 2010. Since 2013, he works for the Secretariat of the Union for the Mediterranean in Barcelona.

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Egypt’s ‘Stick Game’ UNESCO-listed

This week brought great news regarding Egypt’s rich cultural heritage, namely the inscription of Tahteeb (Stick Game) on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Tahteeb is regarded by the UNESCO as performing art and as a social practice / festive event (two out of the five domains of Intangible Cultural Heritage). Tahteeb, which involves a non-violent stick fight that seems more of a dance, traces its roots to Ancient Egypt. It acquired this ‘festive’ character much later in Upper Egypt, where it remains to be practiced during important social events, usually accompanied by traditional popular music. Local communities take pride in this tradition which showcases not only their skill and swift movement, but also embodies the values of fraternity and respect.

Tahteeb is the second element of Egypt’s Intangible Cultural Heritage to be recognized by the UNESCO (the first was al-Sirah al-Hilaliyyah Epic back in 2008). To my Egyptian mind, I can think of tens of other unique elements of heritage that could easily find their way into the list: khiyamiyya (craft), tanoura (performing art), traditional Muslim and Coptic mouleds (festive events), the Nubian language (oral tradition), to the end of the long list.

During their meeting in Addis Ababa, the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage adopted 15 other new elements from different countries. This includes the Beer Culture in Belgium, the Rumba in Cuba, the Valencia Fallas Festivity in Spain, the çini-making in Turkey, etc. Check it out here.

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