The Corrosive Hagiography of Muslim Spain
By Andrew G. Bostom
Danish translation: Den ætsende forherligelse af det muslimske Spanien
Source: ISIS
Published on November 24, 2013

Celebratory announcements July 10, 2003 of a “…return of Islam to Spain” marked the completion of the new Granada Mosque. [1] Unfortunately, at a conference entitled, “Islam in Europe” that accompanied the opening of the mosque, some alarming statements were made by European Muslim leaders. For example, the keynote speaker at this conference, Umar Ibrahim Vadillo, a Spanish Muslim leader, implored Muslims to cause an economic collapse of Western economies (by switching to gold dinars, and ceasing to use Western currencies), while the German Muslim leader Abu Bakr Rieger told attendees not to adapt their Islamic religious practices to accommodate European (i.e., Western Enlightenment ?) values. [2]

Although a recent Wall Street Journal editorialist chastised Spanish authorities for their apparent lack of “…influence or knowledge regarding the new mosque’s direction”, the author of this op-ed then undermined the sound factual basis for his concerns with a romanticized, ahistorical synopsis of Muslim Spain, noting what he termed the “pan-confessional humanism” of Andalusian Islam, and even asserting, “ …one could argue that the oft-bewailed missing ‘reformation’ of Islam was under way there until it was aborted by the Inquisition”. [3] In her 2002 hagiography of Muslim Spain, “The Ornament of the World”, [4] María Rosa Menocal, Yale Professor of Spanish and Portuguese, claimed, "The new Islamic polity not only allowed Jews and Christians to survive, but following Qur’anic mandate, by and large protected them”. I maintain that reiterating these sorts of historically inaccurate, to wildly exaggerated claims regarding Muslim Spain abets the contemporary Islamist agenda, and retards the evolution of a liberal, reformed “Euro-Islam” fully compatible with post-Enlightenment Western values.

Jihad conquests were pursued century after century, from the Indian subcontinent to the Iberian peninsula, because jihad, which means “to strive in the path of Allah,” embodied an ideology and a jurisdiction. The basic pattern of the jihad war is captured in the great Muslim historian al-Tabari’s recording of the recommendation given by Umar b. al-Khattab to the commander of the troops he sent to al-Basrah (636 C.E.), during the conquest of Iraq. Umar (the second “Rightly Guided Caliph”) reportedly said:

Summon the people to God; those who respond to your call, accept it from them, (This is to say, accept their conversion as genuine and refrain from fighting them) but those who refuse must pay the poll tax out of humiliation and lowliness. (Qur’an 9:29) If they refuse this, it is the sword without leniency. Fear God with regard to what you have been entrusted. [5]

Jihad was formally conceived by Muslim jurisconsults and theologians from the 8th to 9th centuries onward, based on their interpretation of Qur’anic verses [6] (for e.g., 9:5,6; 9:29; 4:76-79; 2:214-15; 8:39-42), and long chapters in the Traditions (i.e., “hadith”, acts and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, especially those recorded by al-Bukhari [d. 869] [7] and Muslim [d. 874] [8]). The consensus on the nature of jihad from all four schools of Islamic jurisprudence (i.e., Maliki, Hanbali, Hanafi, and Shafi’i) is clear. Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406), jurist, renowned philosopher, historian, and sociologist, summarized these consensus opinions from five centuries of prior Muslim jurisprudence with regard to the uniquely Islamic institution of jihad:

In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the [Muslim] mission and [the obligation to] convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force... The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense... Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations. [9]

Muslim Spain was a country of constant jihad ruled under Maliki jurisdiction, which provided a severe, repressive interpretation of Islamic law. [10] For example, the Maliki jurist Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani (d. 996), characterized jihad as follows:

Jihad is a precept of Divine institution. Its performance by certain individuals may dispense others from it. We Malikis maintain that it is preferable not to begin hostilities with the enemy before having invited the latter to embrace the religion of Allah except where the enemy attacks first. They have the alternative of either converting to Islam or paying the poll tax (jizya), short of which war will be declared against them. [11]

And Maliki jurist Ibn Abdun offered these telling legal opinions regarding Jews and Christians in Seville around 1100 C.E.:

No…Jew or Christian may be allowed to wear the dress of an aristocrat, nor of a jurist, nor of a wealthy individual; on the contrary they must be detested and avoided. It is forbidden to accost them with the greeting, ‘Peace be upon you’. In effect, ‘Satan has gained possession of them, and caused them to forget God’s warning. They are the confederates of Satan’s party; Satan’s confederates will surely be the losers!’ (Qur’an 58:19 [modern Dawood translation]). A distinctive sign must be imposed upon them in order that they may be recognized and this will be for them a form of disgrace. [12]

The indigenous Christians and Jews of Spain, conquered by the Arab Muslim jihad wars, thus submitted to Islamic domination under a "Pact"--or Dhimma--which imposed degrading and discriminatory regulations, consistent with the Qur’anic injunction in 9:29. The main principles of this “dhimmitude” were: (i) the inequality of rights in all domains between Muslims and dhimmis; (ii) the social and economic discrimination against the dhimmis; (iii) the humiliation and vulnerability of the dhimmis. [13] And there were dire consequences for infidel dhimmis in Muslim Spain who rebelled against the repressive Dhimma: slaughter of the rebels, and enslavement of their women and children. [14]

In addition to a small minority of privileged Christian notables, Muslim Spain was populated by tens of thousands of Christian slaves, and humiliated and oppressed Christian dhimmis. The muwallads (neo-converts to Islam) were in nearly perpetual revolt against the Arab immigrants who had claimed large estates for themselves, farmed by Christian serfs or slaves. Expropriations and fiscal extortions ignited the flames of continual rebellion by both muwallads and mozarabs (Christian dhimmis) throughout the Iberian peninsula. Leaders of these rebellions were crucified, and their insurgent followers were put to the sword. These bloody conflicts, which occurred throughout the Hispano-Umayyad emirate until the tenth century, fueled endemic religious hatred. An 828 C.E. letter from Louis the Pious to the Christians of Merida summarized their plight under Abd al-Rahman II, and during the preceeding reign: confiscation of their property, unfair increase of their exacted tribute, removal of their freedom (probably meaning slavery), and oppression by excessive taxes. [15]

In Granada, the Jewish viziers Samuel Ibn Naghrela, and his son Joseph, who protected a once flourishing Jewish community, were both assassinated between 1056 to 1066 followed by the annihilation of the Jewish population by the local Muslim community. At least three thousand Jews perished in an uprising surrounding the 1066 assassination, alone. [16] The Muslim Berber Almohads in Spain and North Africa (1130-1232) wreaked enormous destruction on both the Jewish and Christian populations. This devastation- massacre, captivity, and forced conversion- was described by the Jewish chronicler Abraham Ibn Daud, and the poet Abraham Ibn Ezra. Suspicious of the sincerity of the Jewish converts to Islam, Muslim “inquisitors” (i.e., antedating their Christian Spanish counterparts by three centuries) removed the children from such families, placing them in the care of Muslim educators. [17] Maimonides, the renowned philosopher and physician, experienced the Almohad persecutions, and had to flee Cordova with his entire family in 1148, temporarily residing in Fez- disguised as a Muslim- before finding asylum in Fatimid Egypt. Indeed, although Maimonides is frequently referred to as a paragon of Jewish achievement facilitated by the enlightened rule of Muslim Spain, his own words debunk this utopian view of the Islamic treatment of Jews:

..the Arabs have persecuted us severely, and passed baneful and discriminatory legislation against us...Never did a nation molest, degrade, debase, and hate us as much as they.. [18]

The eminent historian of Islam, Bernard Lewis, observed 35 years ago that nineteenth-century “Pro-Islamic” Jews promoted a utopian view of the egalitarian nature of Islamic rule, particularly in Muslim Spain. Not surprisingly, Muslims eventually also picked up on this romantic Jewish myth about Islam, which became a standard part of their own self-image. However, Lewis concludes,

…The Golden Age of equal rights was a myth, and belief in it was a result, more than a cause, of Jewish sympathy for Islam. [19]

An accurate assessment of interfaith relationships in Muslim Spain, and the contemporary currents responsible for obfuscating that history, can be found in Richard Fletcher's very engaging “Moorish Spain”. Mr. Fletcher offers these sobering, unassailable observations:

The witness of those who lived through the horrors of the Berber conquest, of the Andalusian fitnah in the early eleventh century, of the Almoravid invasion- to mention only a few disruptive episodes- must give it [i.e., the roseate view of Muslim Spain] the lie. The simple and verifiable historical truth is that Moorish Spain was more often a land of turmoil than it was of tranquility...Tolerance? Ask the Jews of Granada who were massacred in 1066, or the Christians who were deported by the Almoravids to Morocco in 1126 (like the Moriscos five centuries later)…In the second half of the twentieth century a new agent of obfuscation makes its appearance: the guilt of the liberal conscience, which sees the evils of colonialism- assumed rather than demonstrated-foreshadowed in the Christian conquest of al-Andalus and the persecution of the Moriscos (but not, oddly, in the Moorish conquest and colonization). Stir the mix well together and issue it free to credulous academics and media persons throughout the western world. Then pour it generously over the truth…in the cultural conditions that prevail in the west today the past has to be marketed, and to be successfully marketed it has to be attractively packaged. Medieval Spain in a state of nature lacks wide appeal. Self-indulgent fantasies of wonders for sharpening up its image. But Moorish Spain was not a tolerant and enlightened society even in its most cultivated epoch. [20]

Finally, even if deemed “tolerant” for Medieval civilization, dhimmitude is completely incompatible with modern notions of equality between individuals, regardless of religious faith. At the dawn of the 21st century, we must insist that Muslims in the West adopt post-Enlightenment societal standards of equality, not “tolerance”, abandoning forever their hagiography of the repressive, discriminatory standards practiced by the classical Maliki jurists of “enlightened” Muslim Spain.


[1]Mosque signals Muslims return to Spain” BBC July 10, 2003.

[2]Muslim call to thwart capitalism” BBC July 12, 2003.

[3] Melik Keylan. “Back again after 500 years” The Wall Street Journal July 18, 2003

[4] Gloria Rosa Menocal, “The Ornament of the World” (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 2002. p. 28)

[5] Al-Tabari, “The History of al-Tabari (Ta’rikh al rusul wa’l-muluk)”, vol. 12, The Battle of Qadissiyah and the Conquest of Syria and Palestine, translated by Yohanan Friedman, (Albany, NY.: State University of New York Press, 1992).

[6] The Noble Qur’an

[7] Translation of Sahih Bukhari

[8] Translation of Sahih Muslim

[9] Ibn Khaldun, “The Muqaddimah. An Introduction to History”, Translated by Franz Rosenthal. (New York, NY.: Pantheon, 1958, vol. 1, p. 473).

[10] Evariste Levi-Provencal. “Histoire De L’Espagne Musulmane” Vol. 3 (Paris G-P Maisonneuve, 1953, Pp. 131-33; 470-76); Bat Ye’or. “Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide” Translated by Miriam Kochan and David Littman, (Cranbury, NJ.: Associated University Presses, 2001, pp. 62-63).

[11] Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani, La Risala (Epitre sur les elements du dogme et de la loi de l'Islam selon le rite malikite.) Translated from Arabic by Leon Bercher. 5th ed. Algiers, 1960, p. 165.

[12] Evariste Levi-Provencal. “Seville musulmane au debut du 12e siecle” (Traite sur la vie urbaine et les coprs de métiers d’Ibn Abdun). In “Islam d’hier et diaujourd’hui.” (Vol. 2 Paris, 1947, p. 114)

[13] Bat Ye’or, “The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians Under Islam”, Translated by David Maisel, Paul Fenton, and David Littman. (Cranbury, NJ.: Associated University Presses, 1985, pp.51-77).

[14] Richard Fletcher. “Moorish Spain” (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1992, pp. 44-49; 120-21); Bat Ye’or. “Islam and Dhimmitude”, pp. 62-63;

[15] Evariste Levi-Provencal. “Histoire De L’Espagne Musulmane” Vol. 1 (Paris: G-P Maisonneuve, 1950; for Letter, see p. 228)

[16] Moshe Perlmann. “Eleventh Century Andalusian Authors on the Jews of Granada”, Proceedings of the American Academy of Jewish Research, Vol. 18 (1949), pp. 269-70.

[17] H. Z. Hirschberg. “A History of the Jews of North Africa” (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1974, Vol. 1. pp. 123-139).

[18] Bat Ye’or, “The Dhimmi” Documents III- Aspects of the dhimmis existence as experienced, #94, Forced conversions and degradation (12th century), p. 351.

[19] Bernard Lewis. "The Pro-Islamic Jews," Judaism, (Fall 1968), p. 401.

[20] Richard Fletcher. “Moorish Spain”, pp. 171-73.

Andrew G. Bostom, MD, MS, is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Brown University Medical School.
He is the author of:
The Legacy of Jihad, Prometheus Books (2005),
The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, Prometheus Books (2008),
Sharia Versus Freedom. The Legacy of Islamic Totalitarianism, Prometheus Books (2012),
The Mufti's Islamic Jew Hatred. What the Nazis Learned From the 'Muslim Pope', Bravura Books (2013), and
Iran's Final Solution for Israel. The Legacy of Jihad and Shi'ite Islamic Jew-Hatred in Iran, Bravura Books (2014).