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December 21, 2005

The Dream of Al-Andalus

The Dream of Al-Andalus

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

mosque

The Mezquita (mosque) in Cordoba, Spain, dates back to the 10th century. [Keith Bonner / Flickr]

Charlie Senott


Charlie Sennot, the once and future Globe correspondent, now a Nieman fellow and in our studio for the afternoon [Brendan Greeley]

Christians, Jews, and Muslims do not always get along in this modern world of ours. How’s that for an understatement?

But perhaps there’s a historic moment that all three peoples can look back on as a model: a medieval version of a tolerant, multicultural, pluralistic state. That notion is the dream of Al-Andalus, and the peaceable stewing of cultures that occurred there in southern Spain around the 10th and 11th centuries, when Muslim, Jews and Christians, all monotheistic “people of the book,” lived together in relative peace and stability. During that time (and under Muslim rule) all three peoples experienced a flourishing of cultural exchange still visible and audible in the period’s architecture, music, and literature.

For some the dream of recreating Al-Andalus is, literally or figuratively, very much still alive. And the question there may be less, how did such a time come to be (and how did it last so long) in the past, than how do we bring it back again, today?

In this show we’ll talk about Andalucia – both real and imagined.

A big thank-you to Roger Kennedy for steering us there.

Charlie Sennott

Middle East Correspondent and former Jerusalem Bureau Chief, The Boston Globe

Author, Seeking Madrid Motives in the Cradle of Muslim Glory

Maria Rosa Menocal

R. Selden Rose Professor of Spanish and Portuguese, Yale University

Director, Whitney Humanities Center

Author, The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Christians, and Jews Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain

Joel Cohen

Musician, Composer, Director

Expert in medieval and Renaissance music

Music Director, The Boston Camerata

Recently released record A Mediterranean Christmas

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  • loki

    O what a dream! Can we all get along?

  • nother

    Don’t we already have our Al-Andalus in the great city of New York (Yankees and Johnny Damon excluded)? Personally I see a “flourishing of cultural exchange� throughout that city. In many ways, NY is its own entity, taking its cues from no one. There is a kind of resoluteness in its diversity. For me at least, when I get discouraged by delusions of neo-cons and disoriented by the omnipresent fear, I rub my eyes and look to New York City as a beacon of hope.

    Even in your blog you describe Al-Andalus as having “lived together in relative peace and stability,� “relative� being the key word there. It’s easy to make Al-Andalus a utopia but I’m sure there were still neighbors yelling out their windows to keep the noise down and I’m sure there were still loud arguments in the pub over sports, politics, and religion.

    So, what makes Al-Andalus so much better than The Big Apple?

    Incidentally, my Al-Andalus is in Central Square Cambridge MA. I love to stand on the side walk and absorb the kinetic energy of diversity down there. At the little “strip-mall� across from the massive church, there is a Middle Eastern restaurant, next to a Tibetan furniture store, next to South American language school, next to a futon store. Great futons there!

  • nother

    By the way, all of you at ROS are like my friends in that Al-Andalus pub who I can rap with about music, politics, and religion.

    and the pub you guys run has the best discourse and drink around!

    So I toast my eggnog to you! Thanks for the hard work, and Happy Holidays to Chris, Mary, Brendan, Robin and the Rest!

  • A little yellow bird

    Yeah! Radio Al-Andalus! (Oops–that sounds like a news agency Bush would fry from the sky…)

  • shriber

    “But perhaps there’s a historic moment that all three peoples can look back on as a model: a medieval version of a tolerant, multicultural, pluralistic state. That notion is the dream of Al-Andalus, and the peaceable stewing of cultures that occurred there in southern Spain around the 10th and 11th centuries, when Muslim, Jews and Christians, all monotheistic “people of the book,â€? lived together in relative peace and stability. During that time (and under Muslim rule) all three peoples experienced a flourishing of cultural exchange still visible and audible in the period’s architecture, music, and literature.”

    There is of course a lot of irony in this formulation.

    Tolerance implies someone tolerating someone else. Hence it can be true that all religions tolerated each other. (Where there other religions that these three tolerated?)

    Since Jews were then as now in the minority they were the ones tolerated. There also occasions when Muslims and Christians tolerated each other and Jews.

    These moments, alas, were the exception.

    Still, hope springs eternal.

  • A little yellow bird

    Al-Andalus is really a state of mind, a sort of movable feast that can exist anywhere it’s allowed to: The Cranium Cafe!

  • C. David Burt

    Joel Cohen is probably the best medaeval musicologist alive today, and I am intreagued with the connection with between the Cantigas of Alfonso el Sabio and modern Morrocan music.

    I think, however, that the nostalgia among the Muslims for Andalucia and the tendancy for Westerners to romanticize the Muslim culture that existed there is indeed a myth making activity.

    The fact is that the Muslims conquered all of North Africa, the Holy Land, Asia Minor,Greece and the Balkans, and Spain in a brutal military expansion which subjugated Christians. They totally exterminated the Christian Church in North Africa, and they exterminated the Byzantine Empire. If the Muslims had not been driven out of Spain, they might have gone on to conquer the whole of Europe.

    Let’s not encourage the present day dreams of Muslims to re-establish a Caliphate.

    David

  • http://home.comcast.net/~john.lee.in.slc/index.html john in salt lake

    >

    Appropriate appropriate appropriate. Embrace the view of andalusia world where Muslims Jews and Christians coexist. Know that the dreams of MOST Muslim’s are sympathetic with ours. Don’t let fundamentalist Jews or fundamentalist Christians or fundamentalist Muslims own the language.

    There seems to be a thread that holds together recent open source programs. Do we live in a conflicting world – religion vs science, or a same world can religion and science coexist. Do Muslims need to be in conflict with Christians and Jews, or can Muslims live with Christians and Jews.

    Might I suggest a program that focuses on Republicans and Democrats sharing a same worlds view? Can we live together?

  • shriber

    “I think, however, that the nostalgia among the Muslims for Andalucia and the tendancy for Westerners to romanticize the Muslim culture that existed there is indeed a myth making activity.”

    I agree with that sentiment, David.

  • A little yellow bird

    Here is an example of a current-day Al-Andalus–in Malaysia, as experienced by the fearless, imperturbable, and gay editorial director of Antiwar.com, Justin Raimondo: http://www.antiwar.com/justin/?articleid=8300 (from Fri., 12/23/05). Oh, shoot– it looks like ol’ Bushy & Co.’ll hafta invade…er–um, I mean, “spread democracy”–here, too. You know how “they” hate our Amurrkin freedoms. CIA/Mossad/MI6 will probably blow up an Indonesian discotheque a month, just for good measure.

  • anhhung18901

    Perhaps we can bolster the Al-Andalus state-of-mind by supporting aspects of other cultures. For instance, non-Jewish families can study and, perhaps, celebrate Hanukah each year. People could frequent different ethnic restaurants or rent foreign films. These are fun ways to learn about and embrace other religions and cultures while not giving up your own.

    By the way, a really good book about Muslim women is “Nine Parts of Desire : The Hidden World of Islamic Women” by Geraldine Brooks. Its a great book; I highly recommend it!

  • anhhung18901

    By the way, what are some goods books and movies about Jewish and Islamic cultures for a christian to read and see?

  • A little yellow bird

    “anhhung18901″: Thanks for the heads up about “Nine Parts of Desire : The Hidden World of Islamic Womenâ€? by Geraldine Brooks! I found at least 111 copies for as little as $4 plus $3+ shipping from http://www.abebooks.com/. Wish I could help you with your request for info. Here’s a bit of info on the book from one of the booksellers at abebooks: In this captivating book, award-winning journalist Geraldine Brooks offers an intimate, often shocking portrait of the lives of modern Muslim women, and shows how male pride and power have warped the original message of a once-liberating faith. “A valid, entertaining account of women in the Muslim world.”–The New York Times Book Review. FROM THE PUBLISHER Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women is the story of Brook’s intrepid journey toward an understanding of the women behind the veils, and of the often contradictory political, religious, and cultural forces that shape their lives. In fundamentalist Iran, Brooks finagles an invitation to tea with the ayatollah’s widow – and discovers that Mrs. Khomeini dyes her hair. In Saudi Arabia, she eludes the severe segregation of the sexes and attends a bacchanal, laying bare the hypocrisy of this austere, male-dominated society. In war-torn Ethiopia, she watches as a female gynecologist repairs women who have undergone genital mutilation justified by a distorted interpretation of Islam. In villages and capitals throughout the Middle East, she finds that a feminism of sorts has flowered under the forbidding shroud of the chador as she makes other startling discoveries that defy our stereotypes about the Muslim world. Nine Parts of Desire is much more than a captivating work of firsthand reportage; it is also an acute analysis of the world’s fastest-growing religion, deftly illustrating how Islam’s holiest texts have been misused to justify the repression of women. It was, after all, the Shiite leader Ali who proclaimed that “God created sexual desire in ten parts, then gave nine parts to women.” FROM THE CRITICS Publishers Weekly Having spent six years covering the Middle East for the Wall Street Journal, Brooks presents an exploration of the daily life of Muslim women and the often contradictory forces that shape their lives. (Jan.) BookList – Mary Ellen Sullivan During her six years covering the Middle East for the “Wall Street Journal”, Brooks sought to find out how Muslim women feel about their societies’ attitudes toward women. What she discovered is sometimes astonishing, sometimes shocking, but always fascinating. Taking on the “hijab” (the Muslim woman’s black veil) herself, Brooks talked with women throughout the Islamic world, reexamined the Koran, spent time with fundamentalist and feminist alike, and emerged with a deeper understanding of the religion as one that once empowered but now cripples women. She found, for instance, that Iran is one of the better Islamic countries for women, Saudi Arabia the worst; that the “hijab” can be strangely liberating; that enjoyment of their sexuality is an inherent right for Muslim women; and that to be a feminist under Islam calls for a daily form of courage almost incomprehensible to the Western mind. Brooks is a wonderful writer and thinker; the observations she makes and the conclusions she reaches open both our eyes and our minds to understanding Muslim women anew.

  • Potter

    Why is Islam the fastest growing religion in the world when, as practiced, it represses women supposedly half of it’s adherents?

  • anhhung18901

    Potter,

    I do not know why Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. However, when I was a missionary in Sydney, the only person who asked me to join their religion followed Islam. Christians, Jews, Buddhists, or Hindus didn’t ask me to join their religion, but one Muslim did…

    In response, to your concerns about it repressing women, read the book I mentioned above (“Nine Parts of Desire”). While I do not condone the practice, I understand it better after reading the book.

  • A little yellow bird

    To “Potter” & “anhhung18901″: Islam is growing fast partly due to multitudes being born into it: my Muslim friends have seven children (I think they’re done now). Also, they do not observe an oppressive brand of it. The older girls are studying very hard so they can contribute to the world, and they go alone–unaccompanied by male relatives–about their business: up and back to college in Boston by MBTA trains and subway, working in their parents’ business, stopping and talking to non-related males in the street like me, etc.

  • Nikos

    ALYB: just got ‘Nine Parts Desire’ from the library. One page in and I’m already hooked! Thanks for the extensive promo material.

    Tangent Thread / OS Pub stuff: I actually thought ‘ditto-tard’ (from the EO Wilson thread) quite humorous, (and effective without being particularly insulting). Nice work. (Or is it a common blogo-spheric anti-Rush sobriquet? I’m SO uninformed…)

    (Sorry, Coach!)

  • anhhung18901

    I am glad that people are giving “Nine Parts of Desire” a look; it helped me understand Islamic culture better. One of the most interesting things I found in Brooks’ account is the wide variance of observing different religious practices (like women covering themselves) throughout the Muslim world. Like Nikos said, the fact that some people can practice the religion without going all out in some sects probably helps Islam grow fast in general.

    Here’s a question: What group will bridge the gap between Islam and the western world?

  • Nikos

    anhhung: s’gotta be the Pastafarians. Their heavenly stripper factory (and beer volcano) can only be the missing Western link to the 100 virgins awaiting martyrs in paradise. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_Spaghetti_Monsterism
    ;-)

  • Nikos

    Huh? I said what? (“Like Nikos said, the fact that some people can practice the religion without going all out in some sects probably helps Islam grow fast in general.”)

    Thanks, but sorry, I can’t in good conscience take the credit for that…

    Ramen, all.

  • anhhung18901

    My mistake, A little yellow bird talked about one way how Islam is growing so fast. Nikos, you’re nifty, too.

    For the record, I am not a Pastafarian… I am quite content with my real world religion.

  • A little yellow bird

    I ran into my Muslim friends at the supermarket last night and we were back at discussing how sad it is that not only do “they” not “hate our freedoms”, but they MISS the American freedoms they came here from Syria sixteen years ago to partake of. They feel dismay that they are automatic suspects and that the latest tack taken by the Dep’t. of Busybodies is to secretly (not so secret anymore, FYI: http://kurtnimmo.com/?p=170) monitor mosques and such for elevated radiation emissions. And it stabs them in the heart to know their tax money is funding the murder of their co-religionists in other lands, as well as helping to spread lies and suffering and besmirch their religion.

  • A little yellow bird

    “anhhung18901″: No group will bridge the gap–individuals will have to cooperate with each other. Also, the gap is caused by misunderstanding and forcible intervention and deliberate disinformation (not the lack of a group, anymore than headaches are caused by a lack of aspirin in the bloodstream). All through history, those who would make war have always spread lies and fear first: “The first casualty of war is truth.” (Author of quote is disputed.) The best way to defeat an enemy is to cause them not to fight back in the first place, and an effective way to accomplish that is to have them divided by any means: fear, ideology, or various kinds of strife: “A house divided cannot stand.” -Matthew 3:25, and a speech at a Republican convention in 1858, per Bartlett’s. The more people seek commonality while acknowledging, respecting, and even enjoying (life is short, and variety is the spice) the differences, the harder it is for the cursed warmkers to gain ground again and again throughout human history. Or: there’s nothing new under the gun except kill-tech, I always say… Peace, ALYB

  • A little yellow bird

    Oops! P.S. to last post: “Bread and circuses” is another very effective way of keeping the masses docile while the warligarchy goes about its business, and it’s in full effect in the United States of Amnesia.

  • http://www.mywebhostinghero.com Moe Williams

    Wow that is an understatement?