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Friday, May 23, 2008

Spain's Dream of the Alhambra: A Multicultural Model for Europe

Today's Granada is a cultural melting pot. Five centuries after the Christian royalty known as the Catholic Monarchs drove the last Muslim ruler from what is now Spain and raised their cross in the throne room of the Alhambra, Muslims and Christians in the city of Granada are once again living side by side in peace. For nearly 800 years, the inhabitants of al-Andalus, as the Arab dynasties called their empire on the Iberian Peninsula, allowed Jews, Christians and Muslims to coexist in a spirit of mutual respect -- a situation that benefited all. The red fortress symbolizes this period. Originally, a rich Jewish merchant had the walls of red clay built on the ruins of an old castle. Later, the Muslim Nasrid Dynasty expanded the complex of palaces up until the late 14th century, creating shady gardens and fountains and building a splendid mosque. The house of worship was consecrated as a church by the Christian conquerors 150 years later.

After the death of the Prophet Mohammed, and once the rule of Islam had been firmly established on the Arabian Peninsula, the first wave of conquest began. The Berber tribes of North Africa were converted to the new faith. As early as 710, the first Berber leader, Tarif Abu Sura, crossed the Straight of Gibraltar. To this day, the place where he made landfall is called Tarifa. One year later, some 7,000 Muslim warriors defeated the army of the Visigoth king Rodrigo. Afterwards, the Hispanic-Latin inhabitants offered little resistance, and a quarter of them became Muslims within the first generation. The Visigoth nobles even fled Toledo, leaving the field open for the conquerors to advance to the Cantabrian Mountains of northern Spain in just three years. At his point, the invaders were halted by the Asturian resistance.

Part 1: A Multicultural Model for Europe
Part 2: "Islam Came with the Tea"


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