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The long lost land.

About 500 years ago, the fall of Grenada marked the end of Islamic influence in Spain, yet the fall of Al Andalus continues to haunt Muslims the world over, writes Jeffrey Lee who recently completed work on a BBC television series 'Living Islam' to be screened in Britain this month.

Deep in the maze of alleys that is the magical medieval city of Fez, Hamid al Arishi, a sad-faced carpet merchant gently unfolds a cloth, revealing a heavy, and obviously old, key. It is, he believes, the key to the house his family left when they were expelled from Spain, 500 years ago.

Islamic Andalusia, "Al Andalus", has not simply left an enduring cultural legacy in Spain and throughout the Islamic world. Its loss to Islam, despite the distance in time, has left a mark on the Muslim psyche.

"I felt it was my house and that I had been kicked out," says al Arishi of his visit to the Alhambra, the exquisite fortified palace overlooking Granada. "I was so moved that I started the call to prayer."

Andalus does seem to have resonance for Muslims the world over. The great Urdu poet Iqbal put his anguish into verse after seeing the great mosque in Cordoba, barbarously converted into a Cathedral. For Pakistani anthropologist Akbar Ahmad, "The fall of Andalus was as poignant as its zenith was glorious, and created in Muslims an Andalus Syndrome which still haunts them."

Islamic rule in much of Spain lasted from 711 until the fall of Granada in 1492 and for long periods was an exemplar of religious tolerance. It also produced a flowering of science, arts and letters. Via the efforts of Andalusian translators the works of classical authors made their way into Christian Europe, laying the foundations of the Renaissance.

Andalusian culture spread throughout the Mediterranean and Islamic worlds, especially after the expulsion of the Muslims and Jews by the Catholic monarchs. It reached even as far as Timbuktu, where the Arma tribe ended up as mercenaries guarding the fringes of Moroccan empires. Today the Arma still live in Timbuktu which houses a treasure trove of Andalusian knowledge. Some of this is oral tradition, some is held in ancient family history books, added to through the generations. There are also religious, poetic and scientific texts from Andalus.

The mosques of Timbuktu, which were to prove the models for the magnificent mud building style of the Western Sudan are also of Andalusian origin.

Spain of course has inherited not just the architectural relics of Al Andalus. The assiduous persecution of Islam was incapable of eradicating centuries of cultural mingling. Many Andalusians still see themselves as different from northern Spaniards and recently, the idea of Andalus as a golden age has been revived. In the forefront of the movement are Spanish Muslims, led by Abderrahman Medina. His group, the Andalusian Muslim League, has staged some spectacular demonstrations.

On the anniversary of the capture of Granada by the Christians they actually scaled the Alhambra citadel to plant the ancient flag of Al Andalus on the battlements. Medina even dreams of recreating an ecumenical university in the old Muslim capital of Cordoba.

It is in Morocco that the Andalusian heritage has had the most lasting influence. North Africa was the destination of most of the refugees from Andalus and whole communities were uprooted and replanted in North Africa, where as far as they could they recreated their beloved homeland. Half of Fez is called the Andalus quarter, and even today, if you walk through the old town of Rabat and Sale, you could be walking through a Spanish village. The food, the clothes and the music of the people are all Andalusian.

Rachid Rayes, whose family are leading exponents of Andalusian music is clear about the importance of tradition to Moroccan society. "It is the blood of the country," he says. "It will never die."

The Andalusian past has not just bequeathed culture and nostalgia to Islam. It has also formed an important part of the Muslim world's perception of conflict with the West. The Reconquista is seen as the beginning of European colonialism that then as now spawned zealous opposition from Muslims.

"The loss of Andalusia and the continuing threat from Christendom generated a religious movement that preached avoiding contact with Christians," says Muhammad Chtatou, a Moroccan academic. "The corsair ports in Morocco were founded on hatred. There is a lasting suspicion of everything Christian. One clear example of this period's enduring legacy is the banning of non-Muslims from mosques."

Akbar Ahmad also sees the effect that this past trauma can have on the present: "Not too deep down in Muslim society the pain of Andalus still lingers; it is an old wound that flares up to remind Muslims that history can repeat itself."

There are more pressing concerns for Muslims of course, Palestine and Bosnia for a start. But the loss of these Islamic lands inevitably brings to mind the Spanish catastrophe. When Turkey's President Ozal needed an emotive phrase at a recent rally, Andalus fitted the bill. Turkey, he proclaimed, would not stand by and let Bosnia be lost like "another Andalusia".
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Title Annotation:Islamic Andalusia
Author:Lee, Jeffrey
Publication:The Middle East
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:859
Previous Article:Facing an uncertain future.
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