The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise Under Islamic Rule
Friday, May 13, 2016
Source: The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise The existence of a Muslim kingdom in Medieval Spain where different
races and religions lived harmoniously in multicultural tolerance is one
of today’s most widespread myths.
University professors teach it.
Journalists repeat it. Tourists visiting the Alhambra accept it. It has
reached the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, which sings the
virtues of the “pan-confessional humanism” of Andalusian Spain (July 18,
The Economist echoes the belief: “Muslim rulers of the past were
far more tolerant of people of other faiths than were Catholic ones.
For example, al-Andalus’s multi-cultural, multi-religious states ruled
by Muslims gave way to a Christian regime that was grossly intolerant
even of dissident Christians, and that offered Jews and Muslims a choice
only between being forcibly converted and being expelled (or worse).”
The problem with this belief is that it is historically unfounded, a
myth. The fascinating cultural achievements of Islamic Spain cannot
obscure the fact that it was never an example of peaceful convivencia. The history of Islamic Spain begins, of course, with violent
conquest. Helped by internal dissension among the Visigoths, in 711 A.D.
Islamic warriors entered Christian Spain and defeated the Visigothic
These Muslims were a mixture of North African Berbers, or
“Moors,” who made up the majority, and Syrians, all led by a small
number of Arabs proper (from the Arabian peninsula). The Crónica Bizantina of 741 A.D., the Crónica mozárabe of 754 A.D. and the illustrations to the thirteenth-century Cantigas de Santa María chronicle
the brutality with which the Muslims subjugated the Catholic
population. From then on, the best rulers of al- Andalus were autocrats
who through brute force kept the peace in the face of religious,
dynastic, racial, and other divisions.