Nudity woman campaigner fully clothed in glory

Amal Rigal leader of the influential UFAFH emerges from nudity protest fully clothed with glory
cheering amal rigal
Caption: Kuwaiti men cheering Amal Rigal outside the Avenues Mall.
The Gulf state of Kuwait last night was more optimistic of its future a champion of the Arab Spring, democracy and women rights than at any time since independence following the spectacular confidence lifting by the leader of the fast emerging UFAFH as one of the most influential global women organizations.
Women all over the Arab world joined in celebrating the outstanding success of Ms Rigal by staging solidarity sit-ins in main squares, parks and strategic locations including popular restaurants, coffee shops and a number of government corporate offices. Held high with pride where signs “We are all Amal Rigal”, “UFAFH here we come” and “Strength in numbers is a mover, strength in nude numbers is a mountain mover”.
Safia Mahdi, an Egyptian university student leading an estimated 500 protesters in a corner of Tahrir Square told reporters while dancing topless that Amal Rigal has achieved nude what no other woman in history achieved fully clothed. “Men may ignore women staging protests to demand full respect of their rights but Amal has proven beyond doubt that protesting naked will force men to pay unbelievable attention and surprising eagerness to join in with the demonstrators as swiftly as possible,” adding, “Men have failed us in every cause – in promoting democracy, in protecting women rights,, in improving living standards and even in beds. We Arab women will liberate the entire Arab world with our pussys and the world will rise in shock and awe and salute our steadfastness and bravery.”
The momentum sweeping the Arab world began in Kuwait early last night when most of Kuwait city was virtually deserted as the majority of its citizens, estimated at 630,000 strong, crammed into the Avenues Mall to voice their support for Ms Amal Rigal, the 2011 Gulf beauty queen and chairperson of the powerful UFAFH, a United Nations approved non-violent, non-profit, fun-loving, social organization.
Ahlam Othman, a Routers correspondent covering the hugely anticipated event, said Ms Rigal led a peaceful protest held at the largest shopping complex in Kuwait to voice strong objection to the increasing intrusion of the influential Religious Industrial Complex (RIC) in the private parts of women in the Islamic World.
As promised, Ms Rigal made her speech to the gathering, one of the largest held in the Gulf countries in almost 50 years, completely naked. More than 400 leading delegates of the UFAFH lined up in rows of 12 women each in front of Ms Rigal with not a single stitch on standing up and then sitting down every 90 seconds to the maddening cheers of the crowd.
Rolling in front of the crowd a protest sheet some nine meters long of major fatwas issued by the RIC and judged by the UFAFH unbearably intrusive in the private parts of Muslim women everywhere, Amal told the crowd: “The RIC has crossed all barriers of decency and common-sense. The life of Muslim women can only be described as living hell and we are all very confused. According to members of the RIC in Saudi Arabia, we cannot have sex with our husbands fully naked. According to the Yemeni members of the RIC in Yemen, we cannot have sex with our husbands fully clothed. According to ibn Abbas we can be screwed by our husbands only sideways. According to ibn Haytham we can be screwed by our husbands only crossways. According to Abu Wafa we can be screwed by our husbands only kneeling forwards. According to Muqatal we can be screwed by our husbands only kneeling backwards. There are sixty four more positions ordered by the RIC nobody seems capable of imagining let alone implementing. We Muslim women at the UFAFH wrote to the RIC that we are willing to be screwed but they have to make up their fucking minds on how to screw us. If they continue on this course they will end up being screwed instead.”
Interrupted by a standing ovation lasting more than 11 minutes, the longest known in the Arab World, Ms Rigal told the increasingly agitated crowed, “Truth be said, we at the UFAFH are already dizzy from turning round for our husbands all the time in bed, so the last thing we need is a carousel of fatwas going round in the opposite direction. According to Al Tabri, the men of science were not unanimous on what to do to us, Muslim women, during period time. Ibn Abbas thought wives should not be screwed when they have their periods, but then qualification – “avoid screwing their pussys”. What does that mean? Screwing something else? We simply don’t know. Our friends Ouf and Mohammad advised that husbands and wives can sleep on the same mattress but with different covers. Fair enough, but would the RIC answer our bloody letters on what color sheets we are allowed to buy before we use them? No.”
Following another standing ovation lasting more than seven minutes Amal said: “Next on the RIC agenda is what to do to us during period time. Aisha said ‘everything is free for the husband except the pussy’.  Well done, Aisha, this is the main point in our manifesto but some members want a re-think. Maymoon, on the other hand, thought otherwise: ‘Everything beyond the belly button’. Fair enough but would the RIC answer our bloody letters on which beyond is it – up or down, and are ears included? No.”
And girls, listen to what Mujahed told other men to do to us: “اطعن بذكرك حيث شئت فيما بين الفخذين والأليتين والسرة، ما لم يكن في الدبر أو الحيض.”
‘”You may stab (يطعن) with your penis wherever you please – between the two thighs, between the two hips, in the belly button, wherever, but not the pussy or the bottom.”
Seriously, Mujahed?
Is this the most crucial challenge confronting Islam – where to stab us with your penis during periods? Is the greatest issue deliberated by the greatest scholars of Islam is how to stuff their penises in harmless belly buttons?  Is pressing a penis between hips more pressing for the great scholars of Islam than freedom, democracy, poverty, terrorism, human rights, illiteracy, female circumcision, to name but a few?
Shame on you, Mujahed, and on all others like you, including al Tabri, for using the interpretation of the Holy Quran to discuss our private parts. Did it occur to you you are talking about your own daughters as well as the daughters and wives of every Muslim?
And my sisters, I beg all our Arab sisters forgiveness, but I’m going to say in their names: “Men! If you are incapable of treating us like 21st century citizens we want to go back to the time of our Prophet, Allah bless his name. We were respected more and we had more rights.” Now I want to say: seriously, Mujahed, seriously!
We don’t want to stab your belly button so why on earth do you want to stab ours?  If the RIC believes women are not safe to touch during periods the bloody husbands can sleep on the bloody couch. Why do you think couches are made for if not for this? But this is not the issue. We are the ones being screwed and stabbed in the belly button and everywhere else. Shouldn’t we be consulted? It is our fucking belly button, you know, shouldn’t men ask for permission first? Do we exist at all except as sex toys and baby bags? Does anybody at the RIC care?
Seriously! Seriously!
Roaring with “Seriously Mujahed seriously, no sex for you obviously”, UFAFH delegates began moving towards the main exit of the Avenues Mall cheered by the entire citizens of Kuwait. Showered by kisses thrown to them by the delegates, almost half Kuwait’s police force lined up the streets leading to the mall to protect the delegates with fingers raised with the sign of victory and support unusually high, and the fingers parted slightly more than normal.
Our correspondent Ahlam concluded: “Nobody cared about the little inconveniences. Everybody was happy and it was gloriously festive. Consider this as my resignation. I’m joining Amal at the UFAFH as her press secretary. You can e-mail me at”
Want to read first part?

God help men – Arab girls are catching up fast

Arab girls are catching up with their European and American sisters fast
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A social study of matrimonial trends in the Arab World confirms Arab girls are catching up fast with their European and American associates of Universal Womanhood, a sign they are ignoring idiotic fatwas (sham Islamic rulings) ordering them not to strip totally naked in front of their husbands.
Hundreds or Kuwait girls, historically known for their determination and independent thinking, are defying a recent such fatwa by a Saudi idiot by cooking, cleaning and doing the dish washing completely naked.
A study by Kuwaiti  psychologist, Al Kuwaiti Al-Muttalaq, a male,  confirms 10% of Kuwaiti wives beat up their husbands regularly. He noted the trend is increasing fast and includes a wonderful selection of body parts of husbands such as cheeks, shoulders, chest, bottoms and arms.
He wrote that Saudi wives are not doing as well with only 5% of wives identified as husband molesters by the police according to complaints filed by distressed husbands. In Egypt, he observed, the percentage is 20%, a relatively high volume that can be explained by the fact that Egyptian husbands on average are smaller than their counterparts in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia by 12.09%.
Al-Muttalaq is optimistic the trend will accelerate as Arab women become more independent and authoritative after 1,300 years of persecution by the influential Religious Industrial Complex (IRC) whose members issued no less than 7,00 fatwas generally considered by Arab women “fuckingly restrictive”.
Amal Rigal, the Kuwait chairperson of the United Front Against Fucking Husbands (UFAFH), a United Nations approved non-profit, peace-loving social organisation, said the Front is studying data collected by social experts in Europe and the United States to raise the number of husband molestation cases by Arab wives as quickly as possible.
Amal told reporters: “Dr. Al-Muttalaq’s study shows 26.92% of American married sisters and 19.72% of British married sisters beat up their husbands regularly. With new strategies currently implemented, we are confident Kuwaiti wives will knock the pants off American and European sisterly averages within five years. Arab men are more vulnerable than American or European men because they are circumcised and therefore less able to defend themselves against targeted attacks. We, girls, should exploit this weakness strongly.”
Added Amal: “No idiots, Saudi or otherwise, should dare tell us we Muslim girls they know Islam better than us. We come out to the world pure Muslims. If Allah, blessed be his name, wanted us to have hijabs we should have emerged from our mums’ wombs wearing one and the boys already circumcised. So enough is enough. Our next urgent move under consideration is to widen the protest against idiotic religious so called by themselves “scholars’ not just to include cooking, cleaning and  dish washing completely naked, but to start parading our sexiest members with not a stitch on in supermarkets and department stores. Initial consultations with managers of shopping complexes are very encouraging. Sales are guaranteed to shoot sky high and we’re promised 14% of all profits to help us finance  protests across Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf countries and maybe Europe and the United States as well.”
“I say to all our sisters all over the Arab world: rise girls and cast away the shackles imposed by turban-headed idiots: Steel yourselves with courage and decency and STRIP! Our honoured member Amina Widad said it very clearly: Get your fatwa off our arses! I only have to add the word ‘literary’ and call on you to assist those deprived men to wank themselves to extinction.”►NEW: Amal Rigal has given her first maiden speech. Read all about it on this page. Here’s a link but hurry
Amal Rigal leader of the influential UFAFH emerges from nudity protest fully clothed with glory

Katrina Kaif and Salman Khan, sing away and make good Muslims happy

Katrina Kaif and Salman Khan, sing away and make good Muslims happy. The title of your song is “Islamically” fine
‘Inshallah’ and ‘Mashallah’: What’s the difference?There’s a whiff of confusion concerning the two popular phrases “inshallah’ and “mashallah”.”Inshallah’
Somebody wrote on the web: “Say ‘mashallah’” is a request, or more of a command, that my family gave me habitually when I first moved back from the US.”
That doesn’t seem to be the case. The correct word to use in this case is ‘inshallah’. The phrase is a linguistic compression of three different words:
1 ‘In’, in this case, is a conditional proposition that functions almost exactly like ‘if’ in English. The wider usage is the same like English ‘in’, originally a full prehistoric root *’N.
2 ‘Sh’ (IPA ‘š’) is short for [sha’] “willing, want, prefer”, the last letter of which is a very short ‘a’ called a ‘hamza’.
3 ‘Allah’ is a name some people think it is specific to the Muslim God. This is not the case. The name ‘Allah’ is linguistically rooted in a prehistoric bilateral or mono syllabic root morpheme, i.e. made of two letters ‘il’ or ‘el’. It was originally the name given to God by a famous nation ‘Ud’ that lived in south east Arabia. ‘Il/el” is the prehistoric root for God in Judaism “El ohim” and Christianity ‘EL’ or ‘Eli’, as in Arabic translations of the New Testaments. Islam did nothing more than to claim the name for God known in Arabia before history. The rest followed, not vice versa.
Of course one can say ‘mashallah’ to mean ‘it is the course that Allah may choose’ but it is not common in Arabic. What is common in this case is the phrase ‘Ila mashallah’ “endlessly, to a time known only to God”.

Two requirements are needed for all types of communicative speech,
1- Consensus on pronunciation of the word,
2- Consensus on the meaning of the word.
Without this dual consensuses, some people may pronounce a word differently from others so people may be confused and assume it has a different meaning.
Like ‘inshallah’, ‘mashallah’ is made of three segments:
1- ‘Ma’ “whatever, whichever” but functions also interrogatively,  “What (ma) is your name?” It is also a negation article like ‘la’ “no, not” with some differences. Example: “Did you see my flying carpet?” Answer: “Ma shift, maybe the cat is using it for prayer.” (I didn’t see it…
Some words or phrases become idioms or expressions. Most people agree on the meaning or meanings and use them so. ‘Mashallah’ is one of them.
Examples of popular usage:
1- Ridicule: ‘Mashallah, you’ve become the biggest liar in the Indian sub continent.”
2- Wonder, appreciation and fun: ‘Mashallah Katrina Kaif, what legs! Their elegance is sufficient to convert half the people of Zimbabwe to Islam.”
The religious aspect in these two examples does not apply because the expression is used by Christians; they are in the millions and it is their language as well. Most of them use ‘Allah’ for “God” and the same applies to Maltese, a unique tongue of mixed ancient “Semitic”, Arabic, English and Italian. Their number is small, 400,000, so they all live in the Hilton hotel.

You wouldn’t use such expressions in a mosque or religious ceremonies or very seriously. In this case the expression should be uttered in classical Arabic: Example, “Ma sha’ Allah, this is beautiful mosque.”

Should Salman Khan Katrina Kaif use ‘mashallah’ as the title of their song?
I’ve read some complains on the internet, probably on religious grounds.
I can’t think of any reason why not, and nobody should object. If the ban is not in the Holy Quran then there is no ban. Only the Quran is sacred. Everything else is not.
What we have to understand is that the Holy Quran did not invent Arabic so Islam does not have an exclusivity of usage of Arabic. It was the language of Arabians and others for thousands of years before Islam and all the roots of Arabic are prehistoric with hundreds of words in Akkadian. What is correct is to say he Holy Quran used Arabic for the holy texts.
Both ‘Islam’ and ‘Allah’ are from prehistoric roots so there is no exclusivity for Islam on either word. Those who read classical Arabic would know that the prayer of some people before Islam was ‘Lubayak Alllahhuma lubayak. “Allah, we give you our hearts”. This was exclusive to Qureish tribe (Yaqoobi history, vol. I, p. 255).
Katrina Kaif and Salman (his first name joins Islam in sharing the same prehistoric root *LM) Khan, sing away and make good Muslims happy. Muslims should enjoy the song. Those who believe the title is not Islamic may want to stick to Carmina burana and leave us, practical Muslims, alone. Nobody on Earth has the right to judge the true belief of other people – this is Allah’s exclusive right. For all we know, Katrina may be waving from one of the towers of heaven to all those languishing outside who thought they were really fantastic Muslims.
We should be very proud to have Katrina, OK and Salman not criticise unfairly. The are giving Muslims joy. Some others have given them phenomenal grief, destruction and terrorism. Here’s how an Arab Muslim girl may react to the song ‘Mashallah’: ‘Ya Allah shu helo!’ “Oh Allah, how sweet!”
Hey guys and girls out there: “Allah is beautiful and he loves beauty”. Relax people – Islam is a civilised, free-flowing silk mantle not a straight jacket.

My gratitude goes to Ms Serenity, Shaheen Maroye, for alerting me to the song Mashallah.

Bishtawi is author of 20 books including Assal Al Kalam:  (Origin of Speech): The prehistoric ancestral origins of Ariba and Arabic

Mashallah song and dance

Actually, I’m still pissed off, and sad

A friend of mine, well, not any more, came to London and invited me to dinner at his hotel. As a newly appointed acting editor of a magazine in a Gulf capital, he wanted some exciting stories for a grand entrance to his newly decorated office back home. I suggested several interviews three of which attracted his attention. One was with British fantastic actress Vanessa Redgrave.

At the time, the key to Vanessa’s door was with her brother Corin. He sanctioned the interview with his sister on the very strict and very reasonable condition that a copy of the published interview must be provided ASP.

I went to Vanessa’s apartment with my friend, at the time, of course, and there was a brief small talk before the interview started. Vanessa was a smoker, then, like me, but she didn’t have a lighter. As I approached to light her cigarette, she pulled back and said the light was too dangerously close to my fingers. That was moving. “Don’t worry,” I said, “had I not had a lighter I would gladly burnt my finger for you.”

She puffed and looked at me sideways, “Why would you do that? I wouldn’t burn my finger for you.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to, but I would burn my finger for you. Why? I have absolutely no idea.”

The interview went very well, I thought, and a promise to provide a copy ASP was made.

I translated the interview into Arabic and gave my friend, at the time definitely, a copy with a number of photographs.

Three weeks later, or so, I got a call from Corin asking about the fate of the interview. I told him that it was published but I haven’t received any copies, yet. A week later I called my friend, well!. He said that three copies were sent. I waited another week and called again. He assured me that the copies were sent but he is going to ask his secretary to send me a new batch.

A week later, no copies. I made another call. Again he said two lots of copies were sent to me.

A week later, still no copies.

I became suspicious so I called an old friend of mine who was managing the local news agency.

“You can’t be serious,” he said, “is it your interview?”

“It is and I need a copy immediately. I feel very embarrassed. Both Vanessa and Corin were promised copies weeks ago I don’t know how Vanessa feels about this but her brother is pissed off;.”

A longish silence followed.

“Listen,” he said, “for you I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the interview was published and elevated our mutual friend to the post of editor. The bad news is that you are unlikely to get any copies from him ever but I will send you one.”

He wouldn’t tell me the reason so I waited for the copy that arrived five days later. When I looked at the inset, I was relieved to find the full interview with all the photographs, but the name on the interview was his not mine..

I had, at last, a copy I could present to Corin, but I was more pissed off than him.

That was many years ago when I was a young man. Now I’m really old but actually I’m still pissed off. Not because of a single unauthorised plagiarism, Throughout my career I have been plagued with several.

But I’m also sad. Vanessa was eight years older than me but she looked eight years and more younger. I never thought she would age. But just like everybody else, it seems, she did.

I hope her heart is still young. It was.








In search of Spain’s historic Andalusia

A Search for Traces of Spain’s Islamic Past

Tor Eigeland*

I set out on my trip to photograph the traces of Spain’s Moorish past by driving south, down the coast from my home near Barcelona. Valencia In Valencia and its satellite towns of Manises and Paterna I saw some interesting ruins, though in my opinion they are among the ugliest towns in Spain.

One attractive aspect of Manises, however, is its ceramics, especially azulejos–tiles. The Spaniards have never tired of the tiles that the moros brought. The owner of one shop told me that in the little town of Manises alone there are still some 200 ceramics shops or factories. Some, unfortunately, make cheap souvenirs for the tourists, but others still make lovely traditional ware
There are kilns called moruno, meaning “of the Moors,” in narrow, ancient back alleys which reminded me of the oldest parts of Cairo. When I asked the owner of a moruno kiln whether it was the original Moorish one, he said: “Kilns don’t last forever
But this one has been rebuilt exactly as the Moors built them, in the same place, and even with some of the same old materials.” He added, “The Spanish way of making ceramics is based on the Arab way.” The most attractive ceramics of Manises still come out of the moruno kilns as far as I could see.

Some of it is Islamic- style lusterware, which has a metallic sheen, in traditional designs carefully painted on by hand. In one shop several old ladies made friendly conservation with me as they painted, but they absolutely refused to let me photograph them
Since they were not at all shy, I asked them why. One answered with a smile: “We’re not modern. It is an old custom here.” So we left it amiably at that as I had done so many times in the Middle East.

I inquired about the patterns they were painting. Where did they come from? Did they have anything to draw from? One of the ladies raised her hand and tapped her index finger a couple of times on her head. “It comes from here.” Nearby Paterna, as far as I could discover, had only one traditional kiln, but I also spotted an interesting old Arab tower
Driving around the town in circles looking for a way to get to it, I came upon some whitewashed buildings where a narrow staircase seemed to lead up toward the tower between two houses.

The view from the top was like looking at the surface of the moon. Surrounding me over three or four acres of land were white- washed, round chimneys and equally white walls about a yard high, some circular, some square, all jutting out of the ground. And next to the chimneys and walls TV antennas were also planted in the earth.

On closer inspection, by leaning over the tower walls, I could see some big holes. Then I understood. There were underground caves and the walls on the surface were to prevent dirt, dust and water from dropping into these air holes. Whitewashed slopes led down from ground level to an open patio, from which gaily painted doors led into the caves.

I never hesitate to approach strangers in Spain and I asked one woman who was passing about the caves. “Oh, the Arabs made them,” she said, “and that was the old watchtower right over there.” She pointed to where I had been standing a few minutes before
The woman knew people who lived in one of the caves and she took me to meet them. The cave was spacious, spotlessly whitewashed and clean; it had two bedrooms, a dining room, a living room and a small kitchen as well as a battery-operated television and a record player.
It was attractive and also, I learned, rent free. The owners told me that their family had lived there for as long as they knew, “probably since the time of the moros.” The Valencia region, as other areas in Spain, has a highly developed irrigation system based on the Arab acequias, or irrigation canals.

And just over 1000 years ago in Valencia the Muslims started a Tribunal de las Aguas–a tribunal that judged and imposed penalties for any abuse of water rights. One such abuse, for example, would occur if a man were to sneak water from a canal on a day when it was his neighbor’s day to water his fields.

The tribunal still meets every Thursday about noon on the steps of the cathedral of Valencia, although the day I went they met elsewhere since the cathedral is in the process of being restored. Even with my knowledge of Spanish it was impossible for me to understand completely what was going on.

The proceedings were held in Valenciano, which is close to the Catalan language. And the place names and irrigation terms, most of Arabic origin, were unintelligible to me. This is a region where almost all the place names are of Arabic origin
Almansora, Almenar, Alcora, Benafigos, Adzaneta, Albucazzar: I am rattling off some of the road signs in Castell”n Province as I head north from Valencia, taking a roundabout route to Toledo. Place names beginning with “guad,” as in Guadalquivir, are also Arabic; Wadi al-Kabir, from wadi, a river valley, and al-kabir, the big one.

There are an estimated 6,500 words of Arabic origin in the Spanish language. Ole!, the most Spanish of Spanish words is derived from Wallah! For God’s sake! Arabic was full of technical words for subjects unknown in Europe and for which there was no Latin or Spanish equivalent, words having to do with crafts such as carpentry, botanical words and just about the entire vocabulary dealing with irrigation.

Unaltered or altered, these words passed into Spanish and other European languages. Saffron, sesame, coffee, alcohol, alkali, almanac, algebra, zenith and zero are a few examples. Toledo Toledo is not an Arabic name, but the city is full of mementoes of the Moorish presence.

Mudejar architecture dominates the city, though it coexists with Gothic, Renaissance, baroque, and neo-classic styles. I saw a small mosque built in the year 1000 and the old Gate of Bisagra (Bib Sagra–Gate to the region of Sagra), and I photographed a group of Christian wor- shippers who still call themselves Mozarabs and who celebrate mass on Friday, the Muslim holy day
Explained Don Jaime Colomina Torner, secretary of the First International Congress of Mozarab Studies: “People even here in the home of the Mozarabs know very little about them. They consider them a little mysterious and exotic, and many think they are descendants of the Arabs when in fact almost the opposite is the case.

The word Mozarab is Arabic, of course. It means literally adopting the customs of Arabs, becoming Arabized. So it refers to those who stayed in their places and lived with the Arabs, mixed with the Arabs and became like Arabs in many things including using their language.

Except for one important thing. Mozarabs remained Christian and their liturgy and rites were never in Arabic. These people predate the Arab invasion, which suggests how very tolerant the Arabs generally were of Christianity.” He added, “Of course there were pressures to convert, and even times of persecutions, but many Christians left their faith and became Muslims completely voluntarily.” “How many Mozarabs are there today?” I asked. “Probably about 4,000 persons, of whom some 1,000 reside here in Toledo.

The communities have some trouble in developing since Mozarabs only pass their faith on from father to son. Of daughters only the eldest has the option of founding a Mozarab home. Younger women, unless they stay single or marry a Mozarab, lose their status.” I went to the charming little Mozarab church of Santa Eulalia.

I found it simple, lovely, warm and with a certain Oriental feeling. It had Moorish keyhole arches, and to me, some of the feeling of a mosque. South from Toledo As I drove on I felt myself getting what I call “the Andalusia feeling.” To me, it is always a good feeling. I saw more and more whitewashed houses with red tiles. The whole atmosphere is different in Andalusia, more exciting. The people are attractive, but darker complexioned; I noticed more Arabic names. The countryside is gently rolling plains and hills, with abrupt, sometimes snow-clad mountains as a backdrop.

I saw grapevines, olive trees and a train of gypsies on muleback with their slim-waisted dogs that reminded me of the graceful salukis I’d seen in the Middle East. I saw the ruins of Arab watchtowers on almost every strategic hilltop, and always within sight of another one.

Few are the villages or towns that do not have an Arab castle perched on the highest peak, usually, today, right next to the village church. Cordoba In Cordoba the Christians put a cathedral inside the mosque. The styles clash totally, yet I still find the interior of the building one of the few places in the world that overwhelms me so much I have had goose bumps on my arms when standing in the cathedral section listening to music or chant and looking beyond through the cool, silent forest of columns and arches of the Great Mosque.

There is a magnificent mihrad, or prayer niche, with intricately ornamented arches and mosaics of gold-flecked glass. The antechamber has a high vaulted dome with a subtly colorful leaf-patterned mosaic. Cool, shady and spacious, with orange trees and a fountain, the patio of the Great Mosque, now as in Moorish times, is a place for children to play, grown-ups to sit, talk, read walk, contemplate or rest.

Groups of tourists hustle through but no one pays much attention to them. In the old quarter of Cordoba where the Great Mosque stands, an infinite number of things reminded me of the Moorish past. Narrow streets, glimpses of lovely patios, tiny little workshops and cafes, and the people of Cordoba themselves.

To me they are gentle, fine, soft-spoken people. They still dress well and have excellent manners, characteristics which I suppose date right back to the days of the caliphate. Even the young people of Cordoba do not conform to the present rage throughout the rest of Spain and Europe of wearing jeans on absolutely all occasions. But if I wanted to retain the romantic mood, I shouldn’t have walked outside the Arab city walls. Just a few steps away I came across the usual nondescript apartment block, automobile- exhaust style of modern living with its plastic bars, disco- theques and supermarkets. Cordoba and other Andalusian downtown areas, clogged and increasingly smog-filled, did inherit one great gift from the Arabs, and the Spanish have shown their appreciation by taking good care of it.

I refer to the big gardens of the Moorish alcazores, or royal palaces. Today, where it is most needed, there is another world of water, air, space, shade from mag- nificent tall trees and a profusion of plants and flowers. And no cars. I found that pride in the Moorish heritage seemed to increase as I got closer to the source.

A Cordoban craftsman told me: “Many people here appreciate their Arab heritage. And frankly, that is what sells Cordoba to the tourists. As for myself, I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing if the Arabs hadn’t been here. Cordovan leather was once famous all over the world.

Embossed leather, I think you say in English. The whole process of making it is still basically as it was when the Moors made huge leather cordovans to cover entire walls. They used wooden molds and a press. Today we mostly make small things such as family crests for the Americans.” Granada As in Cordoba, it is Moorish past that sells Granada to its visitors.

The director of the Alhambra told me that in 1975 for the first time the palace had more visitors than Madrid’s famous Prado Museum, more than one million. The tourists in Granada are whisked around the Alhambra, one tour pushing another out of the way; then they are taken to the Corral del Carbon, an old Arab funduk, or inn, which has now been adapted for use by artisans. Then the tour groups forge on across the main street to two narrow lanes called the Zacatin and the Alcaiceria where some of the Muslim bazaars used to be.

The quarter has been reconstructed in the old style and is still a bazaar where handicrafts are sold. The guided tour of Granada is climaxed with a trip to the Sacromonte, the old gypsy quarter where visitors can drink and shout “Ole” to their hearts’ desire as they watch third-rate entertainers stamping their feet and clapping their hands. But to me, Granada is so special that even if I had to visit it as part of a guided tour and stick to the itinerary it would still be worth it.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to. And given the luxury of a little more time to wander around quietly, Granada becomes something else. At dusk the downtown Bibarrambla Square (from Arabic–Gate of the Sand) is a good place to sit for awhile. The Moors fought bulls on horseback there, and held all sorts of contests.

I didn’t have to wait long before someone appeared with a guitar, that all-pervasive Spanish instrument that was introduced in Moorish times. Softly, tentatively at first, an onlooker began to clap a rhythm to the music. Then another person, I think a complete stranger, started to sing.

For brief periods, when the mood was not crushed by the curse of modern Spain, muffler-less motorcycles ridden by ferocious youngsters, I felt transported into another, gentler, dreamier age. True Andalusian music without motorcycle accompaniment is not easily available to a casual visitor on a guided tour. But in Granada I know a place called Pena la Plateria.

It is a private club for professionals and amateurs dedicated to flamenco music and dance, but one or two strangers will not be turned away. Nothing much happens at the Pena till after midnight, but then great events sometimes occur. Nobody danced the night I went, but some of the singers and guitar players seemed to catch on fire.

Tarab was there. The deep, insistent monotony of the cante jondo, coupled with a strange guttural intonation and a quavering in the voice produce a strange, almost hypnotic effect. I felt a strong Middle Eastern influence in the music, though its exact origins lie in the obscure past.

Granada’s Albaicin quarter, greatly changed as it may be, retains much of the old flavor. It is like a village within Granada, and a good place for a leisurely stroll. Narrow, cobblestoned streets and stairways that run up and down, twisting and turning, may lead to a dead end, to a magnificent view of the Alhambra across the gorge, to a Morisco or Mudejar house or even to an old minaret In this quarter people quietly continue the crafts of the old Nasrid kingdom. I saw craftsmen making marquetry (inlaid wood), brass and copperware, Nasrid-style lamps and wrought iron.

Others were weaving the traditional alpujarra cloth, and still others were making fajalauza and cuerda seca ceramics, styles which have been handed down from the moros. In one ceramics workshop I watched an old, illiterate man hauling in clay for the day’s work. When he signed his name to the bill it was barely legible scrawl. His name was Jose but he signed it in the Arabic fashion: Yussef.

Later, strolling into a sweets shop I asked the owner which sweets he thought might have had a Moorish origin. “That’s an interesting question,” he answered. “In the first place the Arabs brought sugar cane to Spain and thus sugar. Then they planted almond trees. So it follows that most of our traditional Andalusian sweets, certainly all that contain almonds, must have an Arab ancestor. We really inherited a great sweet tooth from the Moors. Have you noticed how sweet everything is here com- pared to northern countries?” Heading Home Everywhere on my drive through Spain, but mostly in Andalusia, I found traces of the Moor’s beloved al-Andalus.

And even though I had set out to find the traces I had some surprises. In the Marismas, a marshy area south of Seville, I saw men wearing red-checked head cloths which resembled the ghutra, the Arab headdress. In a little village called Montejaque in the mountains near Ronda, an old woman immediately covered her face with a shawl up to her eyes when I glanced at her.

A young boy told me, when I asked the reason why, “Oh, she is my grandmother. She is nearly 100 years old and she keeps the Arab custom.” Near Murcia I came across a huge noria, waterwheel, churning away, irrigating some nearby fields. A caretaker who was cleaning the wheel told me he really didn’t know how old it was, but everyone knew it was built by the moros.

I know that cultural stereotypes tend to oversimplify and I am treading on dangerous ground, but I can’t help mentioning how many similarities I have noticed in the character of the Arabs I’ve met in previous travels and many Spaniards I’ve come to know. Every true Arab feels himself to be a king. He may be nobody of importance, but he has self-esteem and thus has the respect of others
He is proud and highly individualistic. The Arab responds to his emotions and doesn’t care as much about tomorrow as so many Europeans or Americans do. He is polite and hospitable and has a streak of fatalism.

Religion is of supreme importance to him. I think I have also just described a Spaniard. Of course centuries of cultural interaction leave traces, some clear and visible, others vague and imponderable. The Moors came from differing cultural backgrounds and the influences on them in Spain were varied and complex.

Moorish Spain was an integral part of the Islamic world, even though it had a unique flavor. The bright torch of civilization and knowledge blazed in Muslim Spain while much of Europe slumbered. But the light shone beyond its frontiers and it became an important meeting ground for East and West, a transmitter of classical Greek learning as well as innovative Muslim thought.

As I headed back north toward Barcelona to begin writing the story to accompany my photographs I thought about what I’d seen. The history of al-Andalus may seem today to have happened a long time ago and to have lasted all too briefly. But I couldn’t help reflecting–in the year Americans were proudly celebrating a mere Bicentennial–that the Muslim civilization in Spain had, after all, endured for nearly eight centuries.

*This feature appeared in Aramco World Magazine (Sep-Oct 1976)

The City of Al-Zahra*

Tor Eigeland
The most magnificent of Islamic Spain was probably not the well-known Alhambra which still stands in all its splendor in Granada, but another remarkable palace complex which once stood in the foothills five miles west of Cordoba: Madinat al-Zahra, City of the Flower, or Blooming City.

Begun in 936 by Caliph Abd al-Rahman III as a country home for his court favorite, al-Zahra, it grew in concept and was not completed until 40 years later by al-Hakam II.

In 1010, during a Berber revolt, Madinat al-Zahra was destroyed. Its stones were quarried for other buildings over the centuries until, covered by earth and vines, its site was nearly forgotten. Only in recent times did the Spanish Government painstakingly begin to restore some of the palace, piece by tiny broken piece.

During the few brief decades of its glory Madinat al-Zahra elicited an abundance of superlatives from contemporary writers. Ten thousand men and 2,500 mules labored to build the palace, which contained some 4,300 marble columns, many imported from North Africa and Italy, and 140 columns sent by the emperor Constantine VII of Byzantium. Walls were inlaid with ivory, ebony and jasper.

An exquisite green marble fountain was imported from Syria and surrounding it were 12 red-gold statues encrusted with pearls and gems. The statues were made in Cordoba and represented a cockerel, a kite, a vulture, a lion, a stag, a crocodile, an eagle, a dragon, a dove, a falcon, a duck and a hen.

Nearly 14,000 people lived in the palace-city when it was finished: servants, soldiers, women and children. The complex included some 400 buildings with inns, schools, workshops and even a zoo. Evidently 1,200 loaves of bread a day were required just to feed the fish in the ornamental ponds.

To dazzle visitors there was a pool of quicksilver in the reception hall which set off a kaleidoscope of flashing light when struck by sunlight. The mystic MuhyiI-din ibn al-‘Arabi wrote an account of one visit to the palace–by an embassy of Christians from the north of Spain whom the caliph particularly wished to awe with the magnificence of his court. Along their route from Cordoba to Madinat al-Zahra he had stationed a double rank of soldiers, “their naked swords, both broad and long, meeting at the tips like the rafters of a roof. On the caliph’s orders the ambassadors progressed between the ranks as under a roofed passage.”

Within the gate the caliph had ordered the ground covered with brocades. “At regular intervals he placed dignitaries whom they took for kings, for they were seated on splendid chairs and arrayed in brocades and silk. Each time the ambassadors saw one of these dignitaries they prostrated themselves before him, imagining him to be the caliph, whereupon they were told, ‘Raise your heads! This is but a slave of his slaves!’

“At last they entered a courtyard strewn with sand. At the center was the caliph. His clothes were coarse and short. What he was wearing was worth not more four Dirhams. He was seated on the ground, his head bent; in from of him was a Koran, a sword and fire. ‘Behold the ruler,’ the ambassadors were told.”

* Aramco World Magazine (Sep-Oct 1976)

“The Ripening Years”
Ishbiliah of the poet-king al-Mutamid*

Tor Eigeland

Although its history includes times of turmoil and upheaval, as well as periods of glory, Seville was the most important kingdom and city of Spain from the fall of the Cordoban Caliphate until it was conquered by Ferdinand III in 1248.

Seville’s history got off to a bad start–under its first independent ruler, the cunning, cruel al-Mutadid, who took control of the taifa or little kingdom, and extended it during his reign from 1042 to 1069. But fortunately, he was succeeded by a son, al-Mutamid, a gifted statesman, intellectual and poet. Under the poet-king al-Mutamid, Seville achieved a brief respite from struggle and some moments of beauty that have passed into legend.

Before al-Mutamid became king he met Ibn Ammar, an itinerant and brilliant poet, forged a friendship with him and, when he gained the throne, made him vizier of the kingdom. Together one evening, al-Mutamid and Ibn Ammar were strolling along the banks of the Guadalquivir, bantering and improvising poetry. Al-Mutamid started off with a line–“The wind scuffs the river and makes it chain mail . . .”–which Ibn Ammar was supposed to complete. For once, however, Ibn Ammar was at a loss for words to end the couplet and a slave girl nearby overheard them and completed the rhyme: “Chain mail for fighting could water avail.”

The girl was al-Rumaikiyya, a lovely and charming mule- skinner. (For some reason mule drivers often seem to be romantically associated with poetry in Spain.) Al-Mutamid instantly fell in love with her, later married her and, eventually, when war again engulfed the taifa, romantically sailed with her into exile.

Another charming story is told about them. They were standing side by side one morning looking at a very rare sight in Andalusia: the plains were covered with snow. Al-Rumaikiyya sighed and told al-Mutamid how much she hoped to see this lovely scene another time. To please her, al-Mutamid had the plains planted with almond trees and to this day, seen from a distance, parts of Andalusia in early spring look snow-covered because of the groves of white blossoms.

Such idyllic interludes, however, were short-lived in al-Andalus. There was constant intrigue in the court, intermittent feuding among the various Moorish taifas and a growing menace from the Christian kingdoms in the north: Castile, Leon and Galicia.

Although Castile, Leon and Galicia–united under Ferdinand I in 1037–had broken apart again after Ferdinand’s death, Castile and Leon were temporarily reunited under Alfonso VI and Christian raiders were reaching farther and farther south. At last they reached Tarifa–where the first Muslim raiders had come ashore more than three centuries before. In 1085, the Christians retook Toledo, a key Muslim city in the heart of Spain. The road was now open to the underbelly of al-Andalus.

The taifa kings of Spain suddenly realized that they were in serious trouble. Because of their quarrels they had waited too long to join forces against the Christians. Now it couldn’t be done without outside help and the kings knew that asking for help in the one quarter in which it was available was like choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea.

In North Africa some Berber tribes, the Almoravids (in Arabic al-Murabitun, Those Who Live in Religious Retreats) had recently embraced Islam. They were undoubtedly strong, and certainly eager to defend the faith in a new holy war, but they also, al-Mutamid thought, might pose more of a threat to Seville than the Christians. In the end, of course, he knew that he could only make one decision, and he eventually made it. As he wrote, “I do not want a curse to be leveled against me in all the mosques of Islam, and faced with the choice, I would rather drive the camels of the Almoravids than be a swineherd among Christians.”

In 1086, therefore, the Almoravids, led by Yusuf ibn Tashafin, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar. Marching on Toledo, they encountered the Christians at Sagrajas, near Badajoz, and defeated them soundly. The Christians fell back, but due to problems at home the Berber army failed to exploit its victory. It returned to North Africa and, as so often in the history of Spain, the campaign ended inconclusively.

Al-Mutamid’s fears, however, were not groundless. Within four years the Christians were again on the march and the Almoravids again crossed the Strait of Gibraltar. This time, however, Yusuf ibn Tashafin came not to help the Moors of Spain, but to add to his own North African empire. In quick succession he seized the kingdoms of Granada, Cordoba and Seville.

For a few years the Almoravids were held in check by a great Spanish warrior who fought fiercely all over the country, inspiring countless poets and writers with his exploits. He was Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar–better known as El Cid, a name derived from the Arabic sayyed, originally “lord.” El Cid was actually a free lance who fought for both Christian and Muslim rulers. But his basic loyalty was to King Alfonso VI–though Alfonso did nothing to deserve it–and when the Almoravids came the second time it was El Cid who stemmed the Berber tide, winning battle after brilliant battle for the Christians and earning the title Campeador, or Champion. But when El Cid died in 1099, the Almoravids swept over all of southern Spain and present-day Portugal.
In Seville, meanwhile, the poet-king al-Mutamid had fallen on bitter times. His great friend and fellow-poet Ibn Ammar had ambitiously attempted to establish himself as an independent ruler of the kingdoms of Murcia and Valencia. After his treasonous plans failed, Ibn Ammar and al-Mutamid were reconciled briefly. But again Ibn Ammar enraged al-Mutamid and the king went at him with a flashing axe. Ibn Ammar fell to his knees and begged for mercy, but al-Mutamid’s patience had run out.
But so had his luck. Taken captive by the Almoravids, the poet-king al-Mutamid and his love al-Rumaikiyya were sent into exile and poverty in North Africa, an event described by poet Ibn al-Labbana:

Never will I forget that morning by the Guadalquivir
When they were thrown into ships like corpses into graves.
Along both banks the people crowded
To see those pearls cast into the foam of the river.

Maidens had no wish to cover themselves, they dropped their veils. Clothes were rent and faces torn with anguish. The moment came–what a tumult of farewells, Maidens and young men outdoing one another in lamentation! The ships gathered way, the sobbing mounted, Like the driver urging forward his slow caravan.
How many broken hearts those merciless galleys took! To the newly-converted, zealous Almoravids, the poet al-Mutamid and other Moorish kings of al-Andalus seemed decadent and slack in their faith. Perhaps they were. But lush Andalusia was seductive, and it was not long before the kind climate, the easy living and the refinements of life softened the crusading fervor of the Almoravids too. Gradually Almoravid rule began to crumble in as great a confusion of rebellions and intrigue as that of the taifa kings before.

In North Africa, in the meantime, the Almoravids’ homeland had been taken over by an even more zealous Berber group from the Atlas mountains. These were the Almohads (“Asserters of the Unity of God”), whose founder, Ibn Tumart, was a sophisticated theologian who had studied in Baghdad, Mecca, Alexandria and Cordoba. And as earlier factions had invited the Almoravids to Spain, now new factions invited the Almohads to come and protect al-Andalus from the ever-present Christian threat.

Again, North Africans swept into Spain. Again, al-Andalus was unified and the Christians were pushed back. But except for the tiny Kingdom of Granada, which miraculously endured three centuries after their fall, the Almohads were to be the last Muslim rulers of Spain.

The final years were a period of confusion, corruption and violence. Yet, paradoxically, even as military and political affairs went badly, the economic and cultural life of the Moors reached new heights. In Seville trading ships came up the Guadalquivir from the Atlantic Ocean and ferryboats hustled back and forth across the river. In the shade of the Great Mosque, several Christian churches raised their spires. Through open doorways along the streets craftsmen of every imaginable kind could be seen at work, and in the market areas hawkers, beggars, veiled women and tradesmen shouted and whispered over bread, meats, fish, olive oil, melons, figs, oranges, grapes, spices and herbs piled in the stalls. It was a city of smells, ranging from orange blossoms and myrtle to more earthy odors.

Cultural, intellectual and scientific life also flourished as the towering intellects of al-Andalus soared into new realms of thought and experiment in theology, philosophy, mysticism, medicine, astronomy and geography. It was not uncommon for one man to make great strides in several fields, and there were many such men: al-Idrisi, who wrote the most accurate and detailed account of the world available to man at his time, as well as impressive works on botany and medical remedies; and Ibn Rushd, or Averroes as he is known in the West, a distinguished Aristotelian philosopher, whose writings later helped spark a scholastic revival in the rest of Europe and who, in addition, wrote a seven-book medical encyclopedia. Among his insights in medicine: no one is taken ill twice with smallpox.

Another of the period’s outstanding intellectuals was Ibn Tufail, a writer, physician and astronomer from Guadix near Granada. His allegorical tale, “Hayy ibn Yaqsan, The Living One, Son of the Vigilant,” anticipated the literature of the Age of Reason and it is said that the 1708 English translation of this book, titled “The Improvement of Human Reason”, influenced Rousseau and Voltaire, and possibly Kipling and Daniel Defoe too. The tale, about a boy brought up by a gazelle and isolated from human beings, raised the philosophical question of whether the child by his own reasoning and intuition would find truth and God. The answer in the tale: he would.”

Out of the confused last days of Seville also came the mystical and inward-looking Sufis, whose purist thought dominated the last of the Almohad period. Although Sufism had numerous adherents, many fundamentalists in Islam objected. As Jan Read says in his excellent book, “The Moors in Spain and Portugal,” Sufism, “directed as it was, inwards and to the individual . . . did nothing to restore the spirit of the jihad. The holy war now became the prerogative of the Christians, and in the hands of the Crusaders and the Inquisition it was to prove a weapon as blunt and brutal as it was essentially irreligious.”

The decline in the spirit of the jihad among the Almohads, plus their preoccupation with affairs back in North Africa, promoted still another series of taifa secessions, and still more intra-Muslim strife just as, in the Christian north, King Alfonso VIII of Castile and the Archbishop of Toledo were working to reconcile their kingdoms. Their efforts were successful and in 1212 the united forces of Castile, Leon, Navarre and Aragon at Las Navas de Tolosa delivered Andalusia’s death blow. As the taifa kings even then continued fighting among themselves, their final downfall was not long in coming.

In 1236 Cordoba fell– and its Great Mosque was converted into a cathedral. In 1238 the Balearic Islands were conquered. In 1246 Jaen fell and in 1248 Seville was occupied, with the help of Muslim forces from the taifa Kingdom of Granada, where the final–and some believe the finest–chapters of Islam in al-Andalus would be written.

*Aramco World Magazine (Sep-Oct 1976)

The Golden Caliphate*

Tor Eigeland

By 718 the Muslims had taken control of most of Spain. In the north, tough Berber tribesmen still patrolled disputed areas, but in the central highlands Muslim rule was relatively uncontested and in the area today known as Andalusia the Arab military and administrative leaders had chosen the old Roman city of Cordoba as their capital and were settling in for a long stay.

At they had since the beginning of the century of rapid Islamic expansion, the Muslims, although looking on the conquest of Spain as a jihad, or holy war, did not exert pressure on Spanish Christians or Jews to embrace Islam. This policy, which dates back to the lifetime of the Prophet, is summed up in an injunction in the Koran. “Be courteous when you argue with People of the Book, except with those among them that do evil. Say: ‘We believe in that which is revealed to us and which was revealed to you. Our God and your God is one. To Him we surrender ourselves.”

Admittedly, there were also practical reasons for not forcing mass conversions. Muslims were exempt from taxes while Christians and Jews were not. Nevertheless, the approach of the conquerors was definitely based on a real spirit of tolerance, as one treaty of surrender of Murcia in 713–illustrates: “In the name of Allah, the Clement, the Merciful! A letter addressed by ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Musa ibn Nusair to Tudmir (Arabic for the Visigothic name Theodemir) ibn ‘Abdush: This last obtains peace and receives an engagement, guaranteed by Allah and His Prophet, that nothing will be changed in the position of him and his; that his right of sovereignty will not be contested; that his subjects will not be killed, nor reduced to captivity, nor separated from their children and wives; that they will not be burned, nor despoiled of their holy objects; and that this will hold good as long as they satisfy the charges we impose. He is accorded peace subject to the surrender of the following seven towns: Orihuela, Baltana, Alicante, Mula, Villena, Lorca and Ello. . . He and his subjects will each year pay a personal tribute amounting to a Dinar in money, four bushels of wheat and four of barley, four measures of musk, four of vinegar, two of honey and two of oil.”

The policy of tolerance extended to the practice of religion too. The Great Mosque of Cordoba, for example, was built on the site of a Visigothic church, but at first the Muslims shared the church, then bought it–at a good price–so that they could build a proper mosque. And whenever that occurred the Christians were allowed to build new places of worship. Indeed, during the first half century of Moorish rule in Spain, the Muslim conquerors experienced considerably more difficulties with each other than with the Spanish as the mixed armies–Berbers and North African and Syrian Arabs–broke into factions.

In Damascus, meanwhile, the Umayyads–then the rulers of the Islamic empire–were also facing unrest, which in an unexpected way was to transform Cordoba and al-Andalus. In 750, the Abbasids of Baghdad overthrew the Umayyads and replaced them as the ruling dynasty. Only two members of the Umayyad family got away–young Abd al-Rahman and his even younger brother. The escape was described in Abd al-Rahman’s own words in the Akhbar Majmu’a, a contemporary chronicle: “Joined by my freed man, Badr, we reached the bank of the Euphrates, where I met a man who promised to sell me horses and other necessities; but while I was waiting he sent a slave to find the Abbasid commander. Next we heard a noise of the troop approaching the farmhouse; we took to our heels and his in some gardens by the Euphrates, but they were closing in on us. We managed to reach the river ahead of them and threw ourselves into the water. When they got to the bank they began shouting ‘Come back! You have nothing to fear.’ I swam and my brother swam . . .”

The brother was caught and killed but Abd al-Rahman–poet, warrior; tall, red-haired, one-eyed, with shrunken cheeks and a mole on his forehead–survived still more adventures and even- tually made his way west to al-Andalus. There, only 26 years old, he went triumphantly to Cordoba and claimed his position as surviving head of the Umayyads. His claim did not go unchallenged–either in Cordoba or in Baghdad–and Abd al-Rahman had to quell rebellions and cope with intrigues for more than 20 years before he consolidated his power as leader of the Cordoba emirate, with roughly three-quarters of the Iberian Peninsula, including present-day Portugal, under his control. At one point his personal militia totalled some 40,000 warriors, mostly Berbers and Slavs.

This unrest, which would eventually undermine Islamic rule in Spain, continued under his successors Hisham I and al-Hakam I. But somehow they also found time to re-establish and increase commercial and cultural contacts with the faraway Eastern Caliphate where, under the Abbasids, science and art were flourishing. These continuing contacts would eventually make Cordoba and al-Andalus the cultural center of western Islam and a seat of learning for Christian Europe. Cordoba’s prosperity, and its era of splendor, began in the reign of Abd al-Rahman II.

By then the hospitable climate and fertility of Andalusia had begun to mellow the tough desert warriors and a love of books, poetry and music began to replace their infatuation with intrigue and battle. Ziryab, for example, a musician from Baghdad, founded the Andalusian school of music and also brought a taste for fashion with him when he arrived from the East. He prescribed brightly colored silk robes for spring, pure white clothing during the hot season and fine furs and quilted gowns for the cold weather. Ziryab also prescribed hairstyles and, some say, even ran a hairdressing salon. There was also considerable integration with the original non-Muslim populations. As the warriors had come without their women, many married local Christians while others turned to blond and blue-eyed concubines from the north. Reputedly, some of the later Moors, who were especially proud of their North African heritage, had to dye their hair black to conceal their northern ancestry.

The local populations were also, in increasing numbers, accepting Islam. As the wealth and culture of Andalusia grew, those Christians who did not voluntarily embrace the new faith began to complain that their impressionable young people were being unduly influenced by the splendor of Muslim culture. The Indiculus luminosus, written in 854, expresses how some of them felt: “. . . intoxicated with Arab eloquence they greedily handle, eagerly devour and zealously discuss the books of the Chaldeans (the Muslims), and make them known by praising them with every flourish of rhetoric, knowing nothing of the beauty of the church’s literature, and looking down with contempt on the streams of the church that flow forth from Paradise; alas! The Christians are so ignorant of their own law, the Latins pay so little attention to their own language, that in the whole Christian flock there is hardly one man in a hundred who can write a letter to inquire after a friend’s health intelligibly, while you may find a countless rabble of all kinds of them who can learnedly roll out the grandiloquent periods of the Chaldean tongue. They can even make poems, every line ending with the same letter, which displays high flights of beauty and more skill in handling meter than the gentiles themselves possess.”

In contrast, Spanish Jews, who had been persecuted by the Visigoths, had welcomed, even aided, the Muslim invasion. Though living in close-knit groups they nevertheless played an active and successful role in the life of Muslim al-Andalus, working as tradesmen, scientists, scholars and even as advisors and administrators. They were far outnumbered by Spanish Christians, however, as the Christians also came to be outnumbered by Muslims. In the 10th century, during the reign of Abd al-Rahman III (912-61), probably the greatest ruler of Muslim Spain, this richly diverse society reached a memorable level of affluence and culture. And Cordoba, the most sophisticated city in Europe, was its center.

As al-Idrisi, the great medieval geographer, wrote: “Cordoba is made up of five continuous cities, each surrounded by walls that divide it from the rest, and possessing enough markets, hostelries, baths, and buildings for the different professions. From east to west the city covers a distance of five kilometers (three miles). From the Gate of the Jews in the north to the Gate of the Bridge in the south is a little over one and a half kilometers (just under one mile).”

Another writer of the time once counted all the houses in the city and suburbs and found that they came to a total of 213,077. “This figure includes the dwellings of the common people such as workmen and artisans, but excludes the rented attics, inns, baths and taverns. The palaces of the nobles, viziers, officials of the royal household, generals and wealthy citizens, the barracks, hospitals, colleges and other public buildings come to a total of 60,300.” The population of Cordoba was about 500,000 compared to about 40,000 for Paris at the same time. The streets were lighted, there were 700 mosques and some 900 public baths. Many wealthy people had lavatories with running water in their homes.

The houses of Andalusia were typical of those found in the western Mediterranean region since Roman times and the style survives today not only in Spain but in parts of North Africa as well. The exterior was usually whitewashed and plain. As in the Arab heartland, people concealed their private lives and possessions behind their massive, wooden studded doors. Life centered around a sheltered outdoor patio paved with marble or stone, or not paved at all, according to the size of the owner’s purse. From the patio, doors led to the bedrooms, sitting rooms and storage areas. Rush mats, wool carpets and cushions covered the floor. Brass lamps or candles supplied lighting and charcoal in braziers supplied heat. At the end of the bedrooms there would be a raised screened niche or alcove for sleeping, which the Moors called al-kubba.

The most impressive buildings, of course, were the mosques– especially the Great Mosque, which still stands in Cordoba. Begun by Abd al-Rahman I, it was enlarged and improved by successive rulers. Abd al-Rahman III contributed the magnificent minaret which was later imitated in Seville as well as in Rabat and Marrakesh in Morocco.

In al-Andalus, as in most of the Arab world, the mosque was a center of education as well as worship. But in Cordoba education flowered elsewhere too as the fame of its writers, philosophers, poets, astronomers, physicians and other scientists spread throughout Europe. Indeed, Andalusian intellectual life was years ahead of the rest of contemporary Europe. There was a university in Cordoba and some 70 libraries in which not thou- sands, but hundreds of thousands, of volumes were amassed. Al- Hakam II’s library contained some 400,000 books. And though philosophers of the time complained of the lack of opportunity for the development of women’s talents, there were female poets, librarians and book copyists and other women were involved in teaching, law and medicine.

In sum, as geographer al-Idrisi said, the Cordobans were: “. . . the most advanced in science and most zealous in piety . . . They have won fame for the purity of their doctrine, the rigor of their honesty, the formality of their customs in regard to dress, riding accoutrements, elevation of felling in assemblies and gatherings and finally in often exquisite taste as regards food and drink; add to all this great amiability and perfect manners.”

Then, as now, the citizens of Cordoba loved music and song passionately. At times people reached a state called tarab, a state of physical pleasure attained through music. According to the famous Spanish Arabist Emilio Garc!a G”mez, “Spain, that stronghold of ancient forces, still keeps the tarab in its cante jondo, an inner room in an Andalusian tavern; glasses of golden wine, a guitar, a voice . .”

Outside Cordoba, the countryside was lush with Spain’s traditional olives and wheat and also the sugarcane and oranges imported by the Muslims. As a Mozarab bishop, Recenmundus, described it in March 961: “Fig trees are grafted in the manner called tarqi; the winter corn grows up; and most of the fruit trees break into leaf. It is now that the falcons of Valencia lay eggs on the islands of the river and incubate them for a month. Sugarcane is planted. The first roses and lilies appear. In kitchen gardens, the beans begin to shoot. Quails are seen; silkworms hatch; grey mullet and shad ascend the rivers from the sea. Cucumbers are planted and cotton, saffron and aubergines sown . . . Locusts appear and must be destroyed. Mint and marjoram are sown . . .” Al-Andalus had not attained this happy state of material prosperity and the peaceful pursuit of knowledge and pleasure without an effort. Abd al-Rahman III, who came to power in 912, was beset by perennial rebellions by minor Muslim rulers and continual skirmishes with Christians from the north, who had begun to raid further and further south. In a series of brilliantly planned and well-executed annual campaigns the stocky, red-haired, blue-eyed ruler first eliminated the resistance within al-Andalus and, in 929, pro- claimed himself a sovereign caliph under the title of al-Nasir, the Victorious, thus formally breaking what had become only a nominal link with the Eastern Caliphate. Abd al-Rahman then turned his energies against emerging Christian kingdoms.

Initially successful, he organized what he called the “Omnipotent Campaign,” in which, at Valladolid, he led 100,000 men into battle with the combined forces of the kingdoms of Navarre, Castile, and Leon–and nearly lost everything. Abd al-Rahman himself barely escaped with his life, apparently losing a golden suit of armor and his precious personal Koran in the confusion. But as the Christians rarely seemed to follow up their victories, and turned to internal feuding not long after, Muslim forces soon returned to the attack. Before long, as a result, the three Christian kingdoms of Navarre, Castile and Le”n were again paying annual tribute to the Cordoban Caliphate, Abd al-Rahman III reigned supreme and Muslim power reached its zenith in Europe. Ambassadors from throughout the known world came to pay their respects at his court.

Abd al-Rahman’s successor, however, was to be the last of the great Andalusian rulers. This was the caliphate’s greatest warrior and minister, al-Mansur, the Conqueror, who came to power in 976. Ambitious and ruthless, he established military rule, introduced secret police, employed large numbers of mercenary troops and, although warring constantly with Christian kings, married two of their daughters.

Al-Mansur’s most spectacular campaign took place in 997 when he led a great force to the holy of holies of Christian Spain, Santiago de Compostela. This was the site of the tomb of St. James the Apostle (Santiago), whom Spanish Christians believed to be the twin brother of Jesus. Since 830, when relics of St. James had been found there, Santiago de Compostela had been a center of pilgrimage for Catholic Europe.

During the battle the city was sacked and the church of Santiago de Compostela was destroyed. Out of respect for Christian beliefs, however, al-Mansur left the tomb of Santiago itself alone and placed a guard around it. He also spared the life of an old monk found sitting next to the tomb. Al-Mansur asked what he was doing there and the monk replied simply: “Praying to St. James (Santiago).” “Then pray on,” said al-Mansur, and gave orders to leave him in peace.

Santiago de Compostela having been a rallying point, its fall was considered a disastrous defeat for the Christians. But St. James was also the symbol that helped maintain Christian faith in the ultimate reconquest of Spain; when al-Mansur died five years later, the Christians credited St. James with having punished the Moors for the rape of his city and cathedral.
As no strong ruler succeeded al-Mansur in Cordoba, and as his military rule had made his reign unpopular, Cordoba itself rebelled and civil war engulfed al-Andalus. Within 20 years the caliphate–previously the emirate–which had lasted nearly 300 years, collapsed. By 1031 it was over, the occasion marked by a riot in the capital.

Andalusians, Berbers and even minor functionaries began to carve out little kingdoms for themselves, called taifas, from the Arabic for faction. Some lasted only months; others, like the Berber kingdoms of Malaga and Algeciras, and the Berber Zirids of Granada, founded local dynasties that lasted till the Almoravid invasion at the end of the century. But the long decline of Muslim rule had begun.

*Aramco World Magazine (Sep-Oct 1976)

The Antechamber of Heaven*

Tor Eigeland

“If you have a patio, you possess your own piece of sky,” said Maria Luisa Llorente as I admired her manicured, flower- filled patio in the center of Seville.

Said a friend in Granada, “The patio is the heart of the house; it is where friends come to talk. And it is also the lungs. The plants and the running water clean the air.”

“The antechamber of heaven” is what some Andalusians call their patios, with a characteristic sense for poetic phrasing– and poetic license–no doubt inherited from the great poets of their Muslim past.
Reflecting on visits to a hundred or more patios across Andalusia, I was suddenly struck by a fact that says volumes about the spiritual influence of these outdoor living rooms: I did not see a single television set in a single patio, even in this land of television addicts.

The Andalusian patio is automatically associated in people’s minds with the traditional Arab house. This is correct as far as it goes, since the ultimate refinement of the patio was indeed achieved by the Muslims in Andalusia during their six centuries of rule; the Patio of the Lions and the Patio of the Myrtles at the Alhambra in Granada are the high points of this development, and the most famous patios of all. The Corral del Carbon–an ancient funduk, or Arab inn, now turned into a center for artisans–is almost as well known.

The Albaicin quarter of Granada also has a number of beautiful patios. At the villa Carmen de los Martires, only about a hundred meters from the Alhambra, there is a jewel of a restored Arab-style patio and a fine old Persian/French garden–very peaceful in contrast to the Alhambra itself, which has about two million visitors a year The Parador San Francisco, a hotel, also has a lovely Andalusian patio and an Arab garden.

The predecessors of these patios date back thousands of years, to ancient Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures. It was simply a natural way of constructing a home: Dwellings surrounded and protected a central open space where a family lived its life and where the outdoors, its rigors tempered, could be enjoyed in complete privacy.

The Muslim Andalusians, though highly urbane, remembered the blazing deserts of North Africa and the Middle East, which was the heritage of some of them. Consequently they had a great love of beauty, nature, and growing things, and a positive passion for running water–qualities evident in their art, architecture, and, above all, in their patios.

Traditional Muslim Andalusian patios were secretive, enclosed–even had a jealous quality. It was nearly impossible, from outside a house, to find out what was going on inside: The eye met blank walls. If there were any windows at all, they were high up, so that people could see out but not in. A front gate would open onto a passage that turned at right angles and only then gave onto the patio, protecting the family, especially the women, from curious eyes.

Many older Spanish homes are still this way, and the layout of more modern homes, when they are built with patios, is basically unchanged–rooms open onto a central patio which is often surrounded by an arcade. What differs is the entrance from the street. Instead of a blind passage, only a decorative wrought-iron gate prevents someone from walking in, and seems positively to invite spectators.

Taking advantage of this new openness, people line up in front of particularly attractive patio gates in the old Santa Cruz section of Seville, for a glimpse inside. That quarter, in the center of the city, is full of patios, and two notable ones, one now a restaurant, are on the very short Callejon del Agua (Water Lane). The main patio of the Alcazar, Seville’s 14th- century royal residence, is also impressive.

Cordoba is the best place to see a great number of superb patios very easily, especially in May, when they have fiestas and patio flower-decoration contests. The Palacio de Viana has no less that 14 different patios, and the Patio de los Naranjos of the Great Mosque is magnificent.

Simple and natural as the idea of the patio is, the actual constructions vary greatly according to the taste and pocketbook of the owner, and the use to which they are put.

Palatial homes may have enormous marbled patios with tall, splashing fountains, statues, ornamental plants and flowers. A country home might have orange and lemon trees as well as a vegetable garden in its patio, in addition to the usual geraniums, roses, jasmin and vines. Everywhere, the murmuring of splashing of the water and the scents of flowers and trees are as important as the visual beauty.

In poorer quarters of the cities of Andalusia there are the corralas-joined two- or three-story houses or apartment buildings looking onto a large rectangular or square patio, the center of life for several families, rather than just one. Chairs and tables are put out in front of each home. At the very least, a few pots of geraniums hang from the walls.

On Santiago Street in Granada there are two colorful, decayed, 16th-century apartment buildings, four and five stories tall, with interior galleries on each floor that look down into a rectangular patio. Partly built of wood, the buildings have miraculously survived years of smoking in bed and past attempts at modernization. But one elderly resident told me that the government was now going to restore them–something the tenants regretted, she said, since they would have to move out.

“Now, when people really need them,” laments Maria Luisa Llorente, “the patios are disappearing.”
Reprint permission granted by publisher.

*Aramco World Magazine (Vol. 41, No. 5, September-October 1990, pp. 5-10)
The Final Flowering*

Tor Eigeland

That Muslim Seville was captured by the Christians with the aid of Muslim troops from Granada is not as surprising as it might appear at first glance. Political alliances, as well as marriages, between Christian and Muslim were common in Spain, and in any case Granada’s taifa King Ibn al-Ahmar had little choice. His little kingdom, which reached down to the south coast between Gibraltar and Almeria, could easily have been overrun by the Christians had he refused to join Ferdinand III of Castile in attacking Seville.

In a sense Ibn al-Ahmar personifies the achievements, the failures and the sad romanticism that pervades the story of Islam in al-Andalus. He was the man who planned the glorious palace- fortress called the Alhambra. He was a petty princeling who like other throughout Islamic Spain diverted Islamic strength into the endless wars that opened the way to Christian reconquest. And throughout his reign, his small kingdom was corroded with intrigue, the political cancer that slowly, over the centuries, consumed both the caliphate and its innumerable offshoots.

Ibn al-Ahmar, king of Granada, was of Arab descent, born in al-Andalus. Starting out as the lord of a castle near Cordoba, he was just a little more successful than the other feuding taifa kings and leaders. Gathering supporters as he invaded one territory after another, he captured Jaen about 1231 and then, in 1235, Granada, to which, in 1245, he moved his capital.

By then, of course, Christian Spain was closing in on al-Andalus, and in response Ibn al-Ahmar had become the vassal of the Christian King Ferdinand III. But then he was faced with a cruel choice: join the Christians in their final assault on Muslim Seville–as a loyal vassal must–or risk extinction. He chose to help Ferdinand and Granada survived. But on his return, as the Granadans hailed him as victor, he gave a quiet reply that hinted at his feelings and was later inscribed in the Alhambra: “There is no victor but God.”

Since then, historians have speculated on the reasons why the Christians chose not to take Granada any way. One reason may have been that they no longer saw a threat in this little kingdom. Another could be that it made a convenient “reservation” for the Moors where they could mind their own business and pay taxes. In any case, Granada, the last Muslim kingdom in Spain, survived–for more than two and a half centuries, in fact–and nearly 100,000 Moorish refugees from throughout Andalusia poured in. They doubled the size of the kingdom, enriching it with the artisans, intellectuals, poets and merchants who were to con- tribute significantly to the final flowering of Islamic culture in Spain.

Ecstatic writers, Muslim and Christian, past and present, have praised Granada and its glories. Perhaps it is because Granada–unlike the beautifully preserved historical city of Toledo, which is almost an outdoor museum–has succeeded in combining its many parts, its cultural past, its pleasant climate, its splendid setting among snow-clad mountains, rivers and fertile plains, to become uniquely itself, alive and lovely. Or perhaps it is because Granada is crowned by that incomparable palace-city, the Alhambra.

But whatever the reason, the praise has been profuse and unending. One example is the extravagant description written by Ibn al-Khatib, vizier and historian of Granada, in his work “The Full Moon Splendor of the Nasrid Dynasty”: “The city is today the metropolis of the coastal towns (Granada is about 30 miles from the Mediterranean), illustrious capital of the whole kingdom, a great marketplace for traders, a pleasing hostess to travelers of all nations, a perpetual garden of flowers, a splendid orchard of fruit trees, an enchantment for all living creatures, the center of public finance, a place famous for its fields and forts, a vast sea of wheat and fine vegetables and an inexhaustible source of silk and sugar. Nearby soar lofty peaks, notable for the whiteness of their snow and the excellence of their water . . . The area abounds in gold, iron, silver, lead, pearls and sapphires, and its woods are full of blue gentian and lavender . . . There is not a shadow of doubt that the clothes made of silk surpass the silks of Syria in softness, delicacy and lasting quality.”

Writing about the setting, he was equally enthusiastic: “The great city of Granada with its suburbs lies partly on the hills and partly on the plain. It is not easy to describe the comfort and beauty provided there by the mildness of the winds and breezes, the solidity of the bridges, the magnificence of its temples and breadth of its squares. The famous River Darro rises at its eastern confines and flows through the town, dividing its suburbs, then changes and meets the River Genil which, after lapping the city walls, flows on through the spacious plain, now swollen by other torrents and streams, and finally directs its proud course, Nile-like, towards Seville . . . The streams flow in different directions, sometimes to supply the baths, sometimes to work the water mills, the income from which is earmarked for the restoration of the city walls . . . There are about 300 villages and 130 water mills in the immediate vicinity of Granada and 50 colleges and temples within the city.”

Housed in this city was the greatest concentration of craftsmen anywhere in Spain at any time–the Muslim artisans who had lived all over the peninsula and had flocked to Granada as the Christians, kingdom by kingdom, drove the Muslims south.
By this time their crafts had become more refined and elaborate than during the Cordoba and Seville ascendancies and their famous silks, gold and silver embroideries, wood veneer inlaid with infinite skill and patience, embossed leather, carpets, ceramics, ivory, filigreed silver and fine arms had won fame– and markets–in Christian Spain, northern Europe and Africa.

Out of this fusion of craftsmanship and prosperity, Ibn al-Khatib suggests, came a citizenry that to him seemed physically and socially superior: “The people of Granada are orthodox in religious matters . . . They are loyal to their kings and extremely patient and generous. They are generally slim, of medium height and well-proportioned, with black hair. They speak an elegant form of Arabic, and their speech is full of proverbs and occasionally rather too abstract. In discussion they tend to be unyielding and hot-headed.

Like the Persians they dress in fine clothes of silk, wool and cotton, striped in subtle shades. In winter they wrap themselves in the African cloak or the Tunisian burnous. In summer they wear white linen
The faithful assembled in the temples, arrayed in their many-hued clothing, present the appearance of a spring meadow covered in flowers . . . Among the ornaments thought particularly tasteful by the princesses and ladies of Granada are girdles, sashes, garters and coifs, exquisitely worked in faceted gold and silver. Precious stones such as zircons, topazes and emeralds glisten amid their finery. The women of Granada are graceful, elegant and svelte.

It is rare to find one who is ill- proportioned. They are neat, take great pains to arrange their long hair and delight in displaying their ivory-like teeth. The breath from their kips is as sweet as the perfume of a flower
Their charms are highlighted by their graceful manners, exquisite discretion and delightful conversation. It is regret- table, however, that we are reaching a moment in which the women of Granada are carrying the magnificence of their attire and adornment to the brink of fantasy.”

Describing the Alhambra, which was begun by Ibn al-Ahmar in 1238 and enlarged and perfected by his Nasrid successors, Ibn al-Khatib was oddly restrained: “The regal residence of the Alhambra presents a fine appearance, rising like a second city. The enclosure is embellished with lofty towers, thick walls, sumptuous halls and other elegant buildings
Sparkling torrents rush downwards, soon to become quiet brooks that murmur through the shady woods. Just like the city below, the Alhambra has so many orchards and gardens that the palace turrets are glimpsed amid a canopy of foliage, like bright stars in the night sky.”

But if Ibn al-Khatib was restrained, subsequent writers were not. The Moors left Granada some 500 years ago, but physically the Alhambra is still one of the loveliest palaces anywhere.

Its lofty beauty was achieved with simple materials such as wood, carved stucco, tiles in geometric patterns and the repetitive application of Arabic lettering or calligraphy. Everywhere water–laughing, burbling, pouring, sparkling, leaping, or dead still in order to reflect the blue sky, the towers, the flowers, myrtles and the elegant cypress trees. The Alhambra is a perfect fusion of the efforts of man and nature, and a fitting monument to the civilization that even then was crumbling.

The final years were not unlike the preceding years: there were occasional incursions of Berber tribes from North Africa, frequent raids and counter-raids among rival factions within Spain. But commerce continued as before and, in general, there was extensive mixing between Muslims and Christians.

Towards the end, unfortunately, a new, less pleasant spirit began to grow, especially in the north, as tensions mounted between the Christians on the one hand and the Mudejars and Jews on the other. Part of the reason for this was simply envy; although the Christians again held political power they saw that their subjects were less prosperous.

The Mudejar population in the north, like the overseas Chinese in so many places today, worked hard, saved their money, paid their taxes and were model citizens. Generally they were much more skilled than their Christian neighbors in the arts and crafts as well as in the cultivation of land. As for the Jews, many had reached high positions within the Christian community as administrators, merchants, doctors and tax collectors.

Then, in 1453, news reached that the Ottoman Turks had taken Constantinople and the old Christian fear of Islam was fueled. It smoldered uneasily through 16 years in which tensions and frontier skirmishing increased until, in 1469, the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile fanned it into flames.

This marriage constituted a powerful union. Ferdinand was a gifted soldier, diplomat and politician and Isabella had a forceful–some say bigoted–character. The marriage, in any case, signaled the last assault on Granada, a campaign carefully planned by Ferdinand and Isabella and well financed.

The King and Queen even convinced the Pope to declare their war a Crusade. The Christians crushed one center of resistance after another and finally, in January 1492, after a long siege, the Moorish king of Granada, Muhammad abu Abdallah, known as Boabdil, surrendered the fortress palace of Alhambra itself.

Observing the surrender were two men. One, by coincidence, was a man who would make history that same year: Christopher Columbus, who had come to speak to Isabella and seek her royal patronage. Another was an eyewitness who left a vivid account of the surrender in a letter to the Bishop of Leon: “The Moorish king, with about 80 or 100 on horseback, very well dressed, went forth to kiss the hand of their Highnesses whom they received with much love and courtesy (Some historians believe that the contrary was true–the Highnesses were rude and condescending), and there they handed over to him his son, who had been hostage from the time of his capture, and as they stood there, there came about 400 captives, of those who were in the enclosure, with the cross and a solemn procession singing Te Deum Laudamus and their Highnesses dismounted to adore the cross to the accompaniment of the tears and reverential devotion of the crowd, not least of the Cardinal and Master of Santiago and the Duke of Cadiz and all the other grandees and gentlemen and people who stood there, and there was no one who did not weep abundantly with pleasure giving thanks to Our Lord for what they saw, for they could not keep back the tears; and the Moorish king and the Moors who were with him for their part could not disguise the sadness and pain they felt for the joy of the Christians, and certainly with much reason on account of their loss, for Granada is the most distinguished and chief thing in the world, both in greatness and in strength as also in richness of dwelling places, for Seville is but a straw hut compared to the Alhambra.”

The famous Spanish poet Garcia Lorca, himself from Granada, has said of this junction: “It was a disastrous event, even though they say the opposite in schools. An admirable civilization and a poetry, architecture and delicacy unique in the world–all were lost. . .”
Boabdil sadly rode off into oblivion, but his subjects were allowed to stay on, and for a brief period the future even looked bright for them. Surprisingly, the defeated ruler had obtained very favorable terms of surrender.

The Muslims were guaranteed virtual self-government, freedom of movement, complete religious freedom and even a three-year from taxes after the surrender. After that they were to pay no more than they had under Nasrid rule.

Europeans elsewhere were exasperated by the Spanish attitude, and unable to understand why the Moors had not all been expelled or slaughtered after the victory. They failed to realize that, for all their fighting, after 800 years of coexistence and mixed marriages the Christians and the Moors had, in spite of themselves, become very much alike. Also, in the final centuries the Christians had to a large extent lived off taxes paid by their Mudejar population as well as by the Muslim vassal kingdoms
The Catholic kings, moreover, must have known that if they had thrown the Moors out abruptly, much of the peninsula’s flourishing trade would have come to an end. Nor did they want large depopulated areas.

Nevertheless, the end did come soon. In 1499 the primate of Spain, Ximenez de Cisneros, arrived in Granada and was soon applying strong pressure on the Muslims to become Christian. Three years later the Muslims were told simultaneously that they must convert or leave–and that they would not be allowed to leave.

In 1526 the Inquisitor General moved to Granada to speed things up. But the process dragged on for years with many Muslims pretending conversion to survive–they were called Moriscos–and other rebelling. There were, for example, serious uprisings in the Alpujarra mountains near Granada; one was so long and well fought that Philip II of Spain finally had to call in Austrians to put an end to it.

Eventually, between 1609 and 1614, Spain gave expulsion orders to the Moriscos. Only six percent were to be allowed to stay, most of whom were children and their mothers, and some 250,000 to 500,000 Moriscos were driven out.

During the journey into exile, it is estimated, up to three quarters of the exiles died and Henry Charles Lea, writing on Moriscos expelled from Aragon, provided a description of their fate: “There was one body of some 1,400 souls, that was refused admission to France . . . They had paid 40,000 ducats for permission to go to France besides the export duties on what they carried and the expense of commissioners in charge of them.

Forced to turn back on the long road to Alfaques, so many of them sickened and died in the summer heat that it was feared that they would bring pestilence to the ships.”

With that footnote the long history of al-Andalus came to its end.

*Aramco World Magazine (Sep-Oct 1976)

Petra Doleželova – Děkuj very much




The Church of Saint Giles (Ægidius), or Kostel svatého Jiljí in Czech, is almost right in the heart of the old town of Prague. There are many beautiful churches outside Italy, and Saint Giles church, built at the beginning of the 14th century, is one of the most beautiful I have seen. The priest likened it to an ante chamber of Heaven. I was at the church in early November for the wedding of my eldest son, Sammy, to Petra Doleželova, a young Czech lady he met while studying for his Masters in Diplomatic Studies at the University of Malta, and I agreed.

Sitting close to the altar, and for a brief moment I imagined myself living a dream. With the precision of a German master’s clockwork, everything was ticking in unison as planned meticulously by Petra and her bridesmaids – the stuff from which fairy tales are spun.

Like time, the bridesmaids moved quickly as if floating on soft air like the fairies of a Disney movie, and then stopped suddenly. The ceremony uniting Petra and Sammy in marriage was about to begin with the established Catholic traditions in English and Czech. Thirty or forty minutes later, the grand finale – the bride and bridegroom exchanging vows for a life-long union.

During the ceremony the word ‘love’ was repeated more than a dozen times and for a good reason. Love is one of probably five or six topics that dominate the life of human beings but what is love? There are countless definitions of the word but if we go back 15,000 or so years we will discover that the ‘natural’ definition of live is ‘giving’. The bilateral root of the word in ancient Arabian, the closest daughter to the mother tongue known as Ursemitisch, means ‘seeds’. Like in most bilateral roots, the meaning is all inclusive of kind, therefore ‘seeds’ would also mean any kind of edible seeds or shaped vegetables as well as fruit – apples, oranges, grapes, figs, etc.

Love in the hunting age was essential not just for the continuation of marriage (then a sort of cohabitation tradition) but for the very survival of human beings. If a man doesn’t love his wife, he wouldn’t protect her nor would he feed his children. The same applies to women. The concept of duty comes from a trilateral root and therefore a coinage several thousand years after the concept of love. Love in the old times was a natural duty.

When time came for a few words of the dads of the bride and bridegroom, my friend, Jiri, Petra’s dad, was emotional. I was no less emotional but the guests, including several friends of Sammy and Petra who came for the occasion from Malta, England, Romania and Sweden, were silent and the words had to be said. In such occasions, a speech should be like the dress of a pretty girl – short but not too revealing. I am at an age where I have absolutely nothing exciting to reveal – not even to my good wife, so it should be brief.

And in brief, aside from the duty of giving, couples should fall in love to make their partners happy. They should also marry for the same reason or not love at all nor marry at all. Looking at my son and his wife I felt I was looking at miracle. They are just man and wife, but they are in love. Every love story is a miracle and I was, we all were, looking at a fine example.

We are proud of our Sammy. His mom and I looked after him well and, like his brother Daniel, he was a happy child. They are the words of his dad, but Sammy is a gentleman, a title I don’t dare to claim. He can be a wall, if he wants to. A wall in which a bright, happy window was opened it. We have to thank Petra for that.

I tell my boys do not bring me a girl – bring me a lady. Sammy did and I’m sure Daniel, in good time, will do the same When, by chance, we met Petra for the first time, we tried to hide our thrill at Sammy having managed to attract such a girl to his heart. But behind closed doors we were ecstatic. Like all novelists, I am a sinner so I don’t believe God would listen to my prayers but his mom is a devout Catholic and I believe she prayed at the time for Petra and Sammy to bond and marry. It is clear that her prayers were answered.

In brief we were giving the Doleželovi, Petra’s family, a gentleman and a fine eldest son but I think they are doing even better – they are giving us their only daughter – an accomplished lady with amazing looks that shine along with her amazing intelligence. At no time in their marriage, Sammy should brag about your Master’s degree – Petra has two and a little dog as well.

Probably above all else, marriage ceremonies are celebrations of love. Like all other people, married people, like all other lovers, need help that can help sustain and strengthen their social and religious bond. As families and friends, we shouldn’t just hope that they will be happy but do all we can to make them happy – now and always.

During his longish stays in Prague, Jiri, Petra’s father and Jelena, Petra’s mom looked after our son. My wife, my son and I will do the same for Petra and for her family. Jiri and Jelena didn’t give away their only daughter – they gained another son and husband to their beloved daughter.

And off they go on their long honeymoon carried to their waiting car on chairs – Petra by her two brothers, and Sammy by his brother, Daniel, and his best man, Kevin, an affable and intelligent young man who looks always happy and always anxious to make all those around him as happy as he is.

Děkuj Petra and Sammy for giving me the happiest day of my life



Apparently fingers are not just for foreplay

Astonishing epigraphical evidence unearthed in southern Arabia proves fingers were first used for counting goats, camels and wives

Some clever people in ancient Arabia, or maybe in eastern Africa before they crossed the southern end of the Red Sea, needed to express numbers. They had no paper, no pens and pencils and definitely no computers, scientists claim.

The story goes that a pretty girl harassed by almost half the young men of a tribe of 100 members or so, was given the option of choosing just one young man and not the ten she liked. To do so, each of the 10 finalists had to choose a mark by which the girl can identify him from a good distance.

With no iPads available, yet, the chieftain of the tribe allocated each young man a symbol created by a different hand and finger formation. To keep her chosen one a secret, so as to avoid getting his throat slit at night by nine angry stone daggers firmly held by nine very angry young men, she had to scratch the symbol identifying the finalist on a stone dagger made for the occasion. Her chosen one was to be revealed to the tribe on a special betrothal occasion the following Saturday, or whatever name the day was called.

The orientalists of the East India Company will tell you a different story, but the above is the most likely one as it is epigraphically proven.

Here are the ten symbols used by the ten anxious young men:


Microsoft Word - Nafees Naskh v2.01.doc


It should be noted that historically people scribbled, or scratched surfaces, from right to left. Here is a plate that proves how identical the numerals produced to the actual physical hand and finger formations. The plate combines both the eastern Arabic numerals and the western (English) numerals whose origin will be explained a bit later:


Microsoft Word - Nafees Naskh v2.01.doc


Probably five or fifty thousands years later, Europe was gradually populated and some needed numerals to count the famous Charlemagne silver pennies. Meanwhile in Spain, which was named Andalusia by Arab conquerors, a mixed Iberian-Arab generation thrived and so were bilingualism and numeralism. A clever Andalusia mathematician reversed the eastern Arabic numerals and produced a different numeral creature known as Western Arabic numerals.

Here is his creation preserved in a famous manuscript:

Microsoft Word - Nafees Naskh v2.01.doc


A bit of refining of the shapes of western Arabic numerals brought perfection to the European sisters of their oriental concubines. Here is the final outcome:


Microsoft Word - Nafees Naskh v2.01.doc


Unfortunately for our prehistoric brave heroine, none of the finalists was suitable for casual foreplay let alone sleeping with. When the supposed betrothal ceremony was at last held , her scratched dagger was presented to the judges. Instead of the number she was supposed to have scratched with a fibreglass pencil, the judges were astounded to discover that the pretty girl had invented a symbol fit for both the occasion and her own opinion of the finalists.

Alongside the Arabic numeral system, her symbol was universally adopted and is still widely used by all sophisticated societies.

Here it is freshly unearthed in south west Saudi Arabia:




Shamelessly Amateurish



Bishtawi has written two books on the Moriscos covered extensively in the Arabic section of this website. In what I called “a literary odyssey in search of Andalusian Spain”, the investigative featurist Tor Eigeland poduced for Aramco World magazine a series of remarkable articles covering many topics. A search in the magazine will produce the articles but I am reproducing them here as well.

“As to their vanishing from the face of Earth,”,María Elvira Sagarzazu wrote of the fate of the Moriscos, “they have shared the fate of many nations, cultures and languages. It seems useless to speculate if they deserved a destiny different from that of Zoroastrians, Sumerian, Parthian, Mayan, Charrúas or Abipones, all of which had their own aims and reasons to survive but lacked at some time or other the proper answer to do it. Life is change. So change is needed to adjust to new life conditions, which are, in an ultimate analysis, a way to guarantee survival” Here.

However, nations do not just vanish from the face of the Earth. Some would have been killed in Spain or drowned in the exile seas, some found their waSidi Bu Saidy to the New World and many moved south to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia,  and east to countries controlled by the Otomans. Apart from Spain itself, no other country was influenced by the expelled neo-Andalusians (Moriscos) more than Tunisia. Whether in art, agriculture, fruit, food, traditional handicraft and manufacturing, folklore etc., Tunisia may be regarded as the most important recipient of the Andalusian legacy. The Tunisians over the years have accepted this legacy with pride and continue to build on it. A famous quarter of Tunis (Sidi Bou Said – image left) is mostly built as a replica of Andalusian architecture and style with the white and blue paint wash of buildings.

Names and places in Spain: I was pleasantly surprised a few years ago when I found myself able to trace the route taken by the famous 12-13th century Andalusian traveler Ibn Jubair (1144-1217).  Curiously, mount Etna was as active in his times as now, he noted, with streams of lava flowing into the sea. As he returned home to Granada after a three-year extensive trip to the Arab east, he named towns and villages on his way. With the help of a number of maps, I was able, mostly, to mark place names and compared them with Ibn Jubair. Over the past 10 years I compiled a list of names and places of modern Spain and their equivalent in Arabic as used by the Andalusians. It is claimed the former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar is of Morisco stock with the original Arab name of “Al Saniah”. Rafal in Spanish is Rahal in Arabic; Albuquerque is Al Barququi (prunes for which Andalusia was famous all over the Middle East), Al Bufera is Al Buhaira (lake), Alcala is Al Qalaa (citadel) and several hundred others among the 6000-7000 words used in Spanish today. Over 450 names and places are listed


True or false?: A line of poetry on Al Hamara (Al Hambra) mural says: “Mercifully you ascended the zenith of kingly power to clear away all that was darkened by injustice”. The line is missing a word lilnas “to people” suggesting the reproduction of the mural may not have made by Arabs or may not be contemporaneous with Arab Granada..

True or false, again!

Section-1-to-5-Crop-16-1030x621Roaming Spain properly requires a lifetime. If the historian is accompanied by a beautiful and sexy girl, it should take longer. Together, we criss-crossed Spain south to north and east to west often arriving in cities and towns late at night after long drives with no hotel booking.

Of the thousands of pics we took, the one from the military museum in Madrid was curious. When the film was developed, the pretty girl,who later became my wife, noticed a white shadow covering part of the third line of a reproduced plate of the treaty signed in 1493 by queen Isabela and Abdulla Mohamed, the last king of Arab Granada.

After a long search I found the exact photo in a book published in Arabic in 1976, Andalusian History from the Islamic Conquering to the Fall of Granada, written by Abdul Rahman Ali Al-Hajji.

In the 1976 photo, and maybe earlier, the original text states merely that King Andulla Mohamed consented to leave the city of Andarax. The altered text states “en su capitulacion”, or “capitulation”.

Nations do forge important historical documents but this one is shamelessly amateurish.

A Life Less Ordinary: Polymath A.S. Bishtawi

by Anisa Benmoktar on February 20, 2010

I have all the time in the world for Adel Said Bishtawi. This Palestinian-born Arab creative polymath has written extraordinary articles, novels and produced documentaries on Muslim and Arab culture around the world.

A Career Dedicated to Arabic Culture

I feel that A.S. Bishtawi has mined, explored and revealed some of the most beautiful aspects of the Arab world with beauty, poise, clarity and enveloping sensitivity. He’s also been a fountain of political and historical knowledge, and has interviewed some of the worlds’ most illustrious characters such as Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher and Sheikh Issa Bin Salman Al Khalifa, Emir of Bahrain. The author even interviewed Afghanistan President Hafizullah Amin and his family shortly before the leader’s execution at the dawn of the Russian invasion of his country.

I first encountered A.S Bishtawi when I was at university: I read Traces of a Tattoo in my final year. It’s the stunning tale of a young Palestinian man whose heart is shattered by a beautiful Syrian girl when she is coerced into accepting a marriage proposal from someone else. The couple are reunited twenty-four years later in London, and the novel traces the love affair between his son and her daughter against a backdrop of cross-cultural challenges and intricacies.

If you haven’t read Traces of a Tattoo yet I recommend you go grab it any way you can…

A Palestinian Author and Then Some…

Adel Said Bishtawi was born in Nazareth, Palestine, in 1945 and  studied English and Linguistics in Damascus and London. He began his journalism career at the Syrian News Agency, before relocating to London to become Front Page Editor of Al Arab, the first European pan-Arab Newspaper.

In 1980 he was appointed Central Managing Editor of the Emirates News Agency in Abu Dhabi. He fitted back and forth between prestigious journalism posts in the Arab world and the UK.

As an author, his early-published works included 5 short story collections and a novella.

His first historical work, The Andalusian Moriscos (History of the Moriscos after the Fall of Granada) was first published in Cairo in 1982.

Then came Traces of a Tattoo in 1998, followed by Times of Death and Roses in 1999, both of which were published by The Arab Institute for Publication and Studies, Beirut, Lebanon and highly acclaimed by critics. The Arab Institute also published his third novel, Gardens of Despair in late 2000.

In 2001 when he decided to hang up his journalist’s hat and become a full time novelist, shortly after a further non-fiction work, The Martyrdom of the Andalusian Nation (Part I) was released to the public.

He co-authored A Thousand Miles in One Step, with  HRH Prince Abdulla Bin Mosaad Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, grandson of the founder of Saudi Arabia. It is the first work ever to reveal the true circumstances behind King Faisal Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia’s death as neither a conspiracy nor state plot.

And If All That Weren’t Enough…

Abdel Said also produced, directed and wrote “Muslims along the Silk Road”, a 5 part series of one-hour documentaries following Muslim culture, heritage and  the legacy of Muslim pioneers and merchants along the Silk Road.

Today, this extraordinary Arab author regularly appears on TV to conduct press interviews, speaking to world political leaders, ministers, writers, businessmen, and artists, and gives conferences and seminars on history, literature and IT.

I’ve heard he also wrote a series of solidarity poems for Iraq during the invasion.

The Arab Spring: an update

Mare Nostrum: The 7th Biennial European Writers’ Council

The Seventh Biennial European Writers’ Council was held in Valletta – Malta on 11 April 2013

Discourse/Disorder: Literature Narration of Revolution and Social Upheaval

Update on the Arab Spring by historian and novelist Adel S. Bishtawi


I- Novelists and Historians

I do not know much about cholera so I do not know if love is possible in the time of cholera, or if writing about El amor en los tiempos del cólera is at all possible in such times.

What I can tell you is that in the late 1990s I took the natural course followed by many other authors and moved from writing short stories to writing novels. Between 1998 and 2001 three of my novels were published – Traces of a Tattoo, Times of death and Roses and Gardens of Despair.

I was happy about my new literary course, and I was looking forward to publish my fourth novel but I could not complete it. As if suddenly, happiness became elusive, the content barren and the words failed to express the simplest literary images and ideas. A period of grief and disappointment surged outward from the personal to the general.

Like other areas, the Arab World knew cholera and other diseases that were largely eliminated, but many other types of cholera persisted – political cholera, social cholera, economic cholera, literary cholera, intelligentsia cholera and several other types that depleted the bodies and souls of tens of millions of Arabs almost everywhere, and sucked out the fresh air other nations enjoy.

Then the killing started in earnest. In one of the most futile and bloodiest wars known in the Middle East, Saddam Hussein decided in 1980 to invade Iran. Ten years later, he invaded and occupied Kuwait thus initiating a UN sanctioned response in what is known as Desert Storm. In 2003, Iraq itself was invaded, and three years later fighting broke out between Israel and Hezbollah to be followed two years later by Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

Therefore, during a visit to Amman I told a close friend that I have never in my life seen so many veiled women and asked him for an explanation. He pointed right towards Iraq, left towards Israel, and said: “There is killing on this side and killing on the other – the veil is used to shield them from both but it is also a gesture of defiance.”

In Times of Death and Roses, I wrote about love in the final years of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) because love can be a unique weapon against killing, but there was so much killing that even love seemed to me at the time a desperate act of helplessness. However, killing alone was not the reason that restrained my literary instinct. The ancient Arab World has seen many dark times but none, in my opinion, was darker than the period that started in the mid 1950s under what is known as the nationalist Arab governments. Most of these governments presented their subjects with a poisonous cocktail of murder, persecution, impoverishment and mass confiscation of personal liberties and freedom. In return, the governments promised people security.

Now, it often happens that when nations trade their freedom for security, they end up with neither freedom nor security. The promises were false but the agony was real. From one end of the Arab World to the other, governments, with certain Western help, thrived and became more powerful. Soon the atmosphere became too stifling, and like many others, I had no choice but to abandon Syria.

Abandoned as well, was most literary writing. The novelist in me went into a coma and I began to write about history. In 2005, I published History of Injustice in the Arab World, which was banned in a number of Arab countries. My message was simple:

“Arab dictators are the Berlin Wall of the Arab World,” I wrote, “and like the German wall, they will come crashing down.”

“In the end, justice will be done”, I wrote,” but justice is more often taken than given away. There is nothing without value, aim or price. To expel fear from their world, Arabs must first expel fear from themselves. To see light, they have to open their eyes. To march into the age of freedom, they have to leave the caves of emotion and militancy that reside in their minds. To recover their lost lands, rights, dignity, security and prosperity, and to keep all these for themselves and their children until God inherits the Earth, they have to devise new strategies that suit our age and discard old beliefs that have exasperated the theft of their lands, rights and dignity, weakened their economy and spread injustice. Unless they do all this, Arabs will not take the correct decision and the thugs who confiscated their ability and right to make decisions will confiscate their right to make the decisions once more.”

II – The Arab Spring

The nuclear weapon in the arsenal of Arab regimes is fear. Once broken, the survival of these regimes becomes precarious and their demise will be just a question of time. Probably without knowing until it was too late, the American invasion of Iraq broke the Arab fear. Like Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Saddam had the standard deluded mind of a brutal dictator, but Saddam’s delusions were on a grander scale. As such, he was the largest boulder blocking the road to freedom. Once removed, all other Arab dictators were mere pebbles.

Now, when one looks at the Arab World with some depth, one may realise that Arabs generally are one race. Regardless where did it start or where will it end, the Arab Spring would have started anyway. An inch sometimes can be a mile, and despite the obvious setbacks, the move forward appears to me irreversible.

When one studies the Arab revolutions thus far, one may find that they started with least legitimate regimes. Finding the next pebble may not be difficult – just count the number of presidential posters of the heads of the states in Arab capitals and the capital with the largest number of posters is likely to be the next target.

Will it stop?

Unlikely. I believe the movement is unstoppable. Most observers who know the nature of the regime expected the difficulties in Syria. Its eventual collapse may be a lesson to other Arab dictators to avoid bloodshed. The key is not to kill demonstrators. Once killed, the end of the regime becomes inevitable.

III – Discourse and Disorder

In many ways, the failures in the Arab World are not simply the failures of the regimes. They are the failures of the people as well. Aside from Algerians, Arabs in general have not paid for freedom the heavy price paid by Europeans and others. They are paying it now. The failures in the Arab World are the failures of individual and collective consciousness and awareness. They are the failures of writers, journalists, artists, teachers and students alike. One could list institutions, but these are either none-existent or largely ineffectual.

Unless one claims that dictatorship is an ‘order’, it could be argued that most of the Arab World has no ‘order’. If there is no order, there is no disorder. What one can see is a massive failure the reasons of which are many. As a writer, I do believe that writers and thinkers are the guiltiest. When one studies many published works, one may notice that most writers are writing about the past not the future – about things that happened, not things that should happen.

There comes a time when a writer has to employ his creativity not simply to educate, express and convince, but to provoke and incite the people to rise and claim their freedom. The young should be credited for the revolutions, not writers and thinkers. Very few professional Arab writers enjoy financial independence. Many are employees of government departments, and their voices have long been silenced by their need to earn an income. This, along with and other reasons, may explain why the Arab World was turned into a sordid collection of kingdoms, sheikdoms and republics of silence.

Arabs in general are guilty of trading their freedom for false security and many writers may be viewed guilty for having traded their natural instinct to demand justice and freedom for their daily bread.

It is primarily for this reason that a number of writers of new Syria found it imperative to discard the Syrian government’s controlled Writers Union and build a new one. As a founder member, I can happily report that the new Association has been launched in Cairo and it is beginning to deal with the challenges of a new order.

IV – Spring Worries

Many people inside and outside the Arab World are worried about the Arab Spring. They should not. Many would like the spring of freedom to slow down or to stop completely. They are wrong and their fears are unwarranted. Those who can help should do so. Those who cannot should wish Arabs the freedom they deserve. If the Mediterranean and the countries beyond are freed of injustice and murderous, dictators there will be stability. A large and important area of the world that bred violence and fundamentalism for decades may at last help in promoting a new and true spirit of tolerance, peace and economic prosperity.

Others, who have not noticed yet, should open their eyes for they may discover that the history of the world has entered a new phase of hope and encouragement. These are two of the cherished aims, but there is a price. Revolutions divide, and the political, economic and social upheavals may last 10 years or more. However, one has to remember that the universe itself was created by a revolutionary upheaval.

There are difficult times ahead after which freedom and peace will prevail. My hope is that both will be achieved with spare time to finish my fourth novel.

Adel S. Bishtawi

Historian and Novelist