Civilization

Certain words are more expressive than volumes. Amongst these are those which are transferred from the language of one people to and fro, for they point to the transfer of forms of civilization and way of life from one nation to another. The conditions of life of a nation which existed before the adoption of certain foreign words clearly show us the change which took place after they were adopted for use in daily life.

European languages have certain words which indicate the influence of Arab civilization on European life through social contact, subordination or commercial exchange. Among these words are cotton, muslin, gausze, damas, cordevan, morocco, jupe, musk, attard, saffron, syrup, jar, sofa, rice, orange, lemon, sugar, coffee, candy, etc... These words are very common in English. French and some other European languages. The number of Arabic words adopted by Spanish and Portuguese runs in hundred. Among those words are : gaban, albanil, almacen, azotea, tariha, fonda, tahone, alhaja, albaran, aiquiler, alcoba, assaquiya, fanega, celemines, alcatifa, arroba, algibeira, afaiate, arratel and other words given to circulated commodities and places and towns.

These words are not mere additions to the vocabulary of the two languages. As matter of fact, they indicate the way of Arab life which colored the structure of life in these or other countries. These words show the difference between the living conditions of European nations before and after their contact with Arab civilization.

The Andalusian peninsula was not the only point where Europe met with the Arab civilization. There was no lull between the movements of caravans which carried goods from West Asia to East Europe in any period of history. Moreover, the Europeans learnt a lot about the East during the Crusades. What we can say for certain is that the Andalusian peninsula is the only country which enjoyed no other golden age except during the days of its magnificent Arab kingdoms. Even the period of Philippe the Second, which was marked by prosperity and grandeur is not an exception to the rule. Spain enjoyed luxuries in his days which did not originate in the country itself but came from its colonies following the discovery of the New World. His were not the days in which human knowledge grew and the intellectuals devoted time to further achievements or discoveries in their fields which might have won a name for the country.

In the golden age of Andalusia no European city from one end to the other could view with the cities of Spain in grandeur and civilization. Here Cordove alone could boast of having a copyist's house where one hundred and seventy slave girls worked to prepare copies of rare books. In the palace of the Caliph there was a library containing four hundred thousand volumes. European Lords felt proud if they possessed Spanish cloth, metallic jewellery or clay pottery, which were always unrivalled anywhere else. The population of Cordova numbered one million people and they lived in two hundred thousand houses. Not one single town in Europe had, at that time, more than thirty or fifty thousand inhabitants at the most orthodox estimate.

It was to Cordova and its sister cities of Granada, Seville, Toledo, Marsiah and Malaga that the emissaries of the kings of Europe came for medicine, gifts, luxury goods, articles of decoration, music concerts and singing. The English historian Stanley Lane-Poole, describing this briefly, said «The reign of Abdur Rahman the Third which was spread over nearly fifty years introduced such reforms in Spain that they cannot be accounted by imagination however wide its scope may beĽ.

There can be no greater testimony for the glory which Islam conferred upon Spain than that provided by the most ardent nationalists and by Spanish writers who had expressed yearning for their past and wished for the days similar to those of the Arab rule to return. In recent times Spain has not known a greater nationalist and a more distinguished writer than Blasco Ebaniz. He died a few years ago. No words written by any Arab or an Easterner can excel his writings about the grandeur of the Andalusian Arabs. In his most important book «Under the Shadow of the Cathedral», he explained how the people coming from Africa were warmly received in Spain and how the villages surrendered to them without any opposition or any show of hostility. He mentioned that as soon as groups of the Arab horsemen approached a village doors were thrown open to receive them. Their arrival was always marked by greetings. The Arabs' Spanish campaign, he continues, aimed at civilizing the people; it was not a conquest or a movement to subdue a nation. Immigrants continued to pour in through the Isthmus, bringing with them their rich culture which was full of life and which soon embedded itself firmly in the country. Their culture showed vitality from its first day. It had something of the Prophet's sacred fervor. It contained the best of Semitic revelation, the arts and sciences of Byzantium, the legacy of India and the treasures of Persia and China. The East had crept to Europe following a route different from that of Darius and Xerxes who entered through Athens. The latter had to face opposition from the Greeks who defended their liberty. But this time, the East chose another road; it entered Europe from the Western side through Andalusia, where the divine kings and the crusaders were dominant. The East was welcomed by Spain.

Ebaniz goes on to say that within two years, the conquerors captured a kingdom whose inhabitants spent even complete centuries trying to retrieve their country from former conquerors. In fact, the Arabs' coming to Spain was not a conquest achieved by use of force. It was the coming of a new civilization which pervaded all walks of life there. At no time did the torch-bearers of that civilization forsake the freedom of conscience on which the real majesty of peoples depends. In the cities they captured, they allowed the Christians' churches and Jews' synagogues to function. The mosque had no fear of the temples which had different forms of worship. The mosque admitted others' rights and it stood side by side with the temples without envy or any attempt to dominate. As a result, the most rich and fine of all civilizations flourished between the eight and fifteenth centuries there. It was time when the nations of the North groaned under the pressure of religion and brutal fratricide. while the Northerners lived like savages in their backward countries, the Spanish people were flourishing and multiplying. They amounted to more than thirty million people, with a mixture of all races and different religious beliefs. In Spain, social life was full of activity in a way which had no parallel in the history of mankind excepting the United States of America where different races thrived and flourished side by side with each other. In the Andalusian peninsula, groups of Christians, Muslims, Arabs, Levantines, Egyptians and Moroccans lived together with the Jews of Spain and of the East. This produced a mix-up of peoples. There were naturalized Arabs among them; others who adopted the Arab ways and still others who had mixed blood in their veins. By virtue of this vibrating interplay of influences of different races, different views, traditions, scientific discoveries, education, arts, industries, modern inventions and ancient's systems flourished side by side. The faculties of innovation and modernism received a stimulus with the coming together of different forces. Silk, cotton, coffee seeds, paper, lemon, oranges, pomegranates and sugar came from the East! There were carpets, textiles, powder and decorated metals coming from there too. Decimals, algebra, chemistry, medicine, astronomy and rhythmed poetry were borrowed from the East.

Ebaniz adds even the Greek philosophers escaped oblivion by the grace of the Arabs whose conquests the Greek philosophers followed. Aristotle sat majestically in the University of Cordova the fame of which reached far and wide.

The Arabs of Andalusia became enamored of the idea of knighthood and this was adopted by the proof the North. It is mistakenly believed that none except the Christian people know it.

When the Franks, the Saxons and the Germans lived in caves and their kings stayed in darkened castles on hilltops, their men wore mail and ate the food which reminded of the stone-age man, the Arabs of Andalusia built imposing castles and frequented public baths - like the Roman nobles before them - to hold contests for matching of wits. They met there to discuss scientific theories, literature, poetry and events of every day life.

Whenever a Christian pries felt yearning for knowledge he went to any one of the Arab universities. The kings and princes had a deep belief that they could get rid of their diseases if luck enabled them to consult a Spanish.

Then, Ehaniz continues, came a time when nationalism was forgotten by the invaders and small Christian nationalities came around to engage the Arabs in military campaigns which did not entail destruction after a victory. Each one of them had deep respect for the other. They entered into agreements of long truce as if they wanted to keep away as far as possible the hour of final parting. By these agreements they appeared to be trying to coordinate their efforts for certain achievements.

These were the days when the entire Christian Spain enjoyed freedom long before Northern Europe knew it. She had her own independent financial system, the kings or princes were given military ranks, provinces became smaller republics run elected rulers. The volunteers in cities set the best example for democratic armies. The Christian Church was closely in touch with the people and lived peacefully with other religions; there was an active middle class in the country which developed different industries and created the most powerful of all naval forces on the sea coasts. Spanish goods flooded all other European ports and cities sprang up in Spain which could vie with modern capitals of our own age in density of population. There were certain villages which were famous for their textiles.

The Catholic kings ascended the thrones at a time when nationalism was at its highest. The length of their reign owes much to the sources of the Middle Ages which had abundant treasures deposited in the vaults of the previous centuries.

Ebaniz goes on to say that, despite all that, it was a disagreeable rule which had to face bad consequences. This rule made Spain drift away from the right path in politics, with the result that the country fell victim to hated fanaticism. It also sowed the seed of expansionism in colonialism.

In those days Spain enjoyed the same position which is enjoyed by Britain now. Had Spain followed the policy of the Arabs in matters of religious tolerance and cooperation with different peoples, continued the industrial and agricultural work began by the Arabs, instead of involving themselves in wars and colonialism, Spain would have been in a different position.

The Spanish character, the writer says, is more prominent in the European Renaissance than the Italian character, despite its patronizing of old cultures and Greek arts. The Renaissance was not restricted to the field of arts and literature; it produced for the world a new civilization complete with its traditions, industries, armies and sciences, all of which are the blessings of Arab, Christian and Jewish Spain.

It was the great general Joan Salfo who outlined the shape of modern war. Pedro Faro excelled all others in engineering and the Spanish armies used fire-arms for the first time in history. It is the introduction of gun powder which created infantry; it also turned wars into a democratic force because it provided superiority to the cavalry who were slaves of the aristocratic martial class.

Ebaniz continued to say that Donna izabella was very rash and a fanatic, as women usually are. She set up inquisition courts which led to the extinguishing of the flame of learning in the mosque and the synagogue. What was left was mere worship in the churches; it was the time of prayers only, the time for intellectual pursuits had gone. The Spanish intellect had to pass its time shivering in bitter cold dungeons gradually losing life and finally dying. If there was anything left of it, it was poetry, drama and religious bickering. All this because learning was supposed to lead one to hell.

This is the true Spanish testimony given by Ebaniz on behalf of the Arab State in Andalusia. It briefly recounts the agreed points of history; it is not simply a homage paid by a fair man gifted with imagination. None of the noted historians among the Arabs, the Europeans and the Spaniards had doubts about this account of the Arabs in Spain. There is a very small fraction of people who wrongly believed that Arab civilization in Spain was brought into being by the sons of the soil and not by foreigners who settled there. It is a quaint misconception which makes one feel asking. But why did not the Spanish genius flourish and bloom somewhere other than inside the Arabs' state? That genius did not show itself before the advent of Arabs, or after their departure, and the departure of their science, industries and civilization.

The reply to the above question will quieten the tongues of these fanatic who deny the facts, particularly those of them who have not a simple Spanish name among their followers. It is the Spanish people who cooperated with the Arabs in running the administration and developing a civilization. Could anyone quote a single statement saying that the Spaniards' participation with the Arabs was on a large scale.

What the description of the Andalusian civilization shows is that its impact on the European life was much greater and deeper than the history books tell us. We can see for ourselves that mere knowledge of one ideal or civilization, leave aside co-existence for centuries of a group of people, leaves its impression on people accepting that ideal. The French Revolution's ideals and aims have penetrated African and Asian countries, yet there are very few people who really know what the Revolution meant. Still it has left a deep impression on their minds. If Europe is not prepared to change its view regarding Andalusian civilization after centuries of its existence the fault, in this case, lies with the Europeans and not with the Arabs or Islam.

Ebaniz was right when he claimed that the Renaissance owes more to the Andalusian, rather than the Italian civilization which appeared later. The Renaissance was not an age of revival of ancient Greek arts sure and simple. In fact it was an age of revival of practical life, commercial and industrial services and a new understanding about faith, the world around us and the relations between the ruler and the ruled. It can be said also to have been an age of a new system of economy which changed the whole structure of social classes, from the upper down to the lowest.

Words and figures are capable of giving an idea of the impression the Arabs have left on sciences and industries. But this impression is so vast that it cannot be known through figures and mere words. People who deny that civilization passed away without leaving a great impression are harboring a notion which is not supported by the human intellect. This notion is belied even by what we see around us and what we feel.

The Renaissance came in the wake of Andalusian civilization. The Renaissance brought about religious and later Political reform not a single European has denied the effect of one of these reforms or movements on the other. The fanatics cannot remove the link between one movement and the one following it.