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Return to Al-Andalus

Ziauddin Sardar
10 January 2016

From Critical Muslim 6: Reclaiming Al-Andalus (Hurst, London, 2013)

A young surgeon seeks new techniques to relieve the suffering of his patients. He is a rationalist familiar with the latest advances in science. But his rationalism is severely tested when he meets a libertine steeped in ancient religious beliefs and haunted by the memory of his dead father. In The Burial Chamber, a meticulously researched dark thriller by Jeremy Cox, the entanglement between rationality and magic, dreams, talismans and ancient dogma is played out against the background of scientific advances in a nineteenth-century London of lunatic asylums, gentlemen’s clubs and rowdy meetings at the Royal Society. In one particularly gripping scene set at the Royal Society, where the surgeon has been invited to present a paper, theories and cures for mental illness are heatedly discussed. It is acknowledged that the religious theories attributing insanity to the influence of Satan, as well as existing theories of medical treatment such as ‘the purging of the bowels, blistering, and mortification of the extremities have not always proved effective’; although ‘blood-letting and the emptying of the stomach through vomiting can still have a beneficial effect’. The discussion moves on to a new ‘moral therapy’ which emphasises ‘kindness and patience in [the] treatment of inmates’. A stalwart of the Royal Society explains, ‘I consider the mind to be an immortal, immaterial substance identical to the human soul, and therefore lunacy cannot be a disease of the mind. It has to be that of the brain. As such, it will be medical advances that bring about an understanding of insanity and new medical treatments for it in its various forms. Erasmus Darwin’s rotating chair, for example. The chair spins the patient around at great speed so as to rearrange the contents of the brain into their right positions. The treatment also has the added benefit of bringing about subsequent vomiting’.

Al-Ghazzali, the Muslim theologian and jurist, considered the Muslim
society of his time to be so deeply afflicted with social sickness, ‘an epidemic
among the multitude’ as he calls it, as to be virtually insane. The only
cure was a ‘moral therapy’, a heavy dose of religious devotion and piety.
Religion, it seems, was not unlike Erasmus Darwin’s rotating chair: it would
spin those persistently ‘straying from the clear truth’, those insistent ‘upon
fostering evil’ and ‘flattering ignorance’, at great speed, thus rearranging
their brains into pious order, while, as an added benefit, forcing them to
spew out their heresies. All of those who are lured by ‘the Satan’, he tells us
in The Book of Knowledge, ‘see good as evil and evil as good, so that the science
of religion has disappeared and the torch of true faith has been extinguished
all over the world’.

Al-Ghazzali’s invective is directed at the vast majority of Muslims he saw
and interacted with; although one suspects he would regard contemporary
Muslim societies with equal contempt. But he was especially concerned
with a particular ‘class of men’ who are largely missing from contemporary
Muslim societies. These men have ‘greater intelligence and insight’, ‘have
abandoned all the religious duties Islam imposes on its followers’, ‘defy the
injunction of the Sacred Law’, and ‘indulge in diverse speculations’. These
people, al-Ghazzali squawks, hold ‘irresponsible views’, have ‘perverted
minds’, and ‘must be branded with diabolical perversity and stupid contumacy’.
They are ‘the heretics of our time’.

Just who are these men denounced so emphatically as heretics, good only
for the gallows, by al-Ghazzali? They are men inspired by the ‘intellectual
power’ of ‘Socrates, Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle’. They are philosophers.
Like al-Kindi (801–873), who introduced Indian numerals to the Muslim
world, and wrote on everything from astronomy to music. Like al-Farabi
(872–951), the author of The Perfect City and The Book of Music, who explored
the relationship between logic and grammar and was so humble that he
spent his last days working as a gardener. Like ibn Sina (980–1037) whose
numerous scientific works are a wonder to behold and whose Canon of
Medicine was a standard text for eight centuries. And like ibn Rushd, the
philosopher and all round polymath from Cordoba whose works fuelled the
first European renaissance. The very people who laid the foundations of the
Muslim civilisation, the beacons of thought and learning whose names are
intrinsically linked to ‘the Golden Age of Islam’.

What incensed al-Ghazzali so much? His criticism of philosophers comes
in two parts. First, he accuses Muslim philosophers of taking a rather
uncritical attitude to ‘ancient masters’. The works of Plato and Aristotle are
regarded as ‘unquestionable’, and their mathematics, logic and deductive
methods are seen as ‘the most profound’ and used to repudiate ‘the authority
of religious law’ and deny ‘the positive contents of historical religions’.
Second, and this is what really troubles him, their beliefs – or aqidah – are
not correct. It is the sort of accusation that conservative Wahhabis, extremist
Salafis, and militant Talibanis routinely throw at all those who disagree
with them. But al-Ghazzali, a professor at the Nazamia Academy in Baghdad,
was far more sophisticated: using their own rhetoric and method, he
took the battle to the philosophers themselves.

The Incoherence of the Philosophers is an angry book. It is full of the sort of
name-calling and livid asides not usually associated with a work of philosophy.
In the preface, al-Ghazzali tries to defend the practice of offering
prayer during an eclipse on the authority of a tradition of the Prophet. The
philosophers explained the solar and lunar eclipse in scientific terms, as a
natural phenomenon, and rejected the idea of praying during an eclipse.
Al-Ghazzali acknowledges that ‘these things have been established by astronomical
and mathematical evidence which leaves no room for doubt’.

Nevertheless, since the Prophet declared that ‘when you see an eclipse you
must seek refuge in the contemplation of God and in prayer’, the eclipse
prayer is obligatory. Then we move on to twenty ‘theories’ of the philosophers,
such as their doctrine of the eternity of the world, their alleged
denial of Divine attributes, and their belief in the impossibility of departure
from the natural course of events. Al-Ghazzali sets out to demolish these
theories one by one. Thirteen theories are found to be problematic. On
three points (the assertion that the world is everlasting, the denial that God
knows the particulars, and the denial of bodily resurrection in the Hereafter)
he judges the philosophers to be totally outside Islam, kaffirs (infidels)
to boot. The other theories and assertions are seen as heretical.
Now, I know that I am dealing with a scholar regarded by many as the
most influential person in the history of Islam after the Prophet Muhammad.
In certain circles, criticism of al-Ghazzali is seen almost as a blasphemy,
releasing an automatic defence mechanism. And it is particularly
difficult for someone like me who grew up revering ‘The Proof of Islam’,
as al-Ghazzali is sometimes called. But, forced to take a leaf from al-Ghazzali’s
book, ‘I am no longer obliged to remain silent’.

By any intellectual standards, The Incoherence of the Philosophers is not a
‘major assault’ on philosophy, as it is commonly depicted, but a poor
polemic, and an insulting one too. Al-Ghazzali states the positions of the
philosophers reasonably well, but his counter arguments are trite and often
quite irrational. A couple of examples should suffice. The philosophers
argued that the movement of heavenly bodies is due either to (1) the intrinsic
nature of these bodies, such as the downward movement of a stone,
which is an unconscious act; or (2) to an outside force that moves the body,
which will be conscious of the movement. Al-Ghazzali counters with three
arguments. First, ‘the movement of Heaven may be supposed to be the
result of the constraint exercised by another body which wills its movement,
and causes it to revolve perpetually. This motive body may be neither
a round body nor a circumference. So it will not be a heavenly body at all’.

Second, the heavenly bodies move by the will of God. Third, the heavenly
bodies are specifically designed to possess the attribute of movement. And
these arguments, asserts al-Ghazzali, cannot be disproved! To the philosopher’s
assertion that angels are ‘immaterial beings’ which do not exist in
space or act upon bodies, and should be understood in an allegorical or
metaphorical sense, al-Ghazzali replies: ‘How will you disprove one who
says God enables the Prophet to know the Hidden Things?’ Or deny that ‘he
who has a dream comes to know the hidden things, because God, or one of
his angels, enables him to know them’. This is not philosophy but the
notions of men, as a natural philosopher in The Burial Chamber tells the
young surgeon who ‘strenuously avoided keeping an open mind on matters
of science’ out of fear that their dogma and ‘reputation would be undermined
if they took it seriously’.

It has to be said that al-Ghazzali is big on the supernatural, an area he calls
‘subsidiary sciences’. He quite likes the fact that the philosophers promote
inquiry into physical sciences such as mathematics, physics, astronomy, and
botany, but he is not too happy with their concept of causality, the assertion
that every cause must have an effect. More than that, he is enraged at the
fact that the philosophers laugh at the suggestion that the Prophet split the
moon (the philosophers dismissed the tradition as a fabrication), their
denial that Moses’ rod literally turned into a serpent (the philosophers
argued that this is an allegory of the refutation of the doubts of the unbelievers
by the Divine proof manifested at the hands of Moses), and their refusal
to believe in resurrection after death (the philosophers argued that the
resurrection is a symbolic reference to death arising from ignorance and life
emerging from knowledge).

Not everything can be explained by cause and effect, al-Ghazzali argued;
and it is the job of ‘subsidiary sciences’ to explain things which exist beyond
the domain of rationality. The reader is generously provided with a list of
these ‘subsidiary sciences’, including astrology, dream interpretation, ‘the
talismanic art’, ‘the art of magic’, alchemy, and ‘physiognomy’ – which ‘infers
moral character from physical appearance’ (this science would no doubt
locate me in an amoral universe). The list, including ‘physiognomy’, is a
perfect echo of the dark supernatural world conjured up in The Burial Chamber.
Incidentally, in The Book of Knowledge, al-Ghazzali describes these ‘sciences’
as ‘blameworthy’, real but not worthy of study by believers. But in the
Incoherence he defends them aggressively – with bizarre consequences.
The al-Ghazzali that emerges from the Incoherence is a literalist, antirational
scholar who is keen to cast a critical eye on philosophy yet eager to
accept dogma and belief, including miracles and irrational sayings uncritically
attributed to the Prophet. His main goal is to show that such metaphysical
doctrines as the world having a Creator, that two gods are
impossible, or that the soul is a self-subsistent entity, cannot be proved by
reason. But he gets carried away and jettisons reason and ‘intellectual
inquiry’ altogether from religion. The inductive leap to rejecting scientific
inquiry per se is only natural: ‘let us give up the inquiry concerning “why”
and “how much” and “what”. For these things are beyond the power of men’.
Given his vast oeuvre, it would be wrong to judge al-Ghazzali on a single
work. In his study Ghazali and the Poetics of Imagination, Ebrahim Moosa gives
us a different al-Ghazzali. Moosa argues that al-Ghazzali wanted to augment
as well as reinterpret religion by using the Aristotelian notion of poiesis
(shiriya in Arabic), that is, the construction of something relatively but not
radically new by means of poetics. ‘He constructed’, writes Moosa, ‘a narrative
by weaving a plethora of ideas and insights into a coherent but profoundly
refigured whole’, and thus ‘demonstrated that thoughts and ideas
are not given, but made and constructed. At the same time, he elucidated a
cosmology for Muslim thought that simultaneously imitated what came
before it and innovated and provided something additional, some of what
might be: the conditions of possibility’. Moosa presents al-Ghazzali as a
modern, even postmodern thinker – and one is almost convinced by Moosa’s
erudite analysis. Certainly the al-Ghazzali of theological works such as
The Revival of Religious Knowledge, The Alchemy of Happiness and Jewels of the
Quran, appears to be a different category of scholar.

The al-Ghazzali of the Incoherence, however, is overwhelmed by his anger,
and this had a genuine cause. Philosophy, or falsifa as it was called, as shaped
by Muslims appeared positively dangerous to theology. And this danger was
physical as well as metaphysical. Theologians were persecuted in Baghdad
for not being rational enough, particularly during the Abbasid Caliph al-
Mamun’s (786–833) reign. The Minha, the ‘testing’ or ‘trial’, introduced by
al-Mamun to force theologians to justify their positions on rational grounds,
led to an inquisition and the incarceration of the noted theologian and jurist
Ahmad ibn Hanbal (780–855), founder of the Hanbali school of Islamic
jurisprudence. During the days of al-Ghazzali, study of the Qur’an and
traditions of the Prophet was in decline; and men of learning preferred
philosophy to theology. ‘The people of that time went so far’, writes the
thirteenth-century historian Marrakhushi in his History of the Maghreb, ‘as to
condemn as an unbeliever anyone who appears to be entering upon the
sciences of theology’ which were seen as ‘vile’. Hatred of theology and its
theories was the norm. During his own lifetime, the works of al-Ghazzali
were banned in the Maghreb and Andalusia. The Berber Almoravids, who
controlled large parts of Spain and the Maghreb, did not take kindly to his
theology. The Almoravid ruler Ali ibn Yusuf (r.1106–1142) ordered his
books ‘to be burnt, and issued severe threats of execution and confiscation
of property against anyone found in possession of any of them; and these
orders were strictly enforced’.

While al-Ghazzali’s anger is understandable and his theological works
demand a certain respect, we should not be carried away by his reputation.
‘Conflicting forces’, as Moosa argues, ‘pushed and pulled him in different
directions’, and he found himself engaging ‘with more than one intellectual
and cultural tradition’, as was the norm during this period. But there was
no ‘in-between-ness’ about him, as Moosa suggests. As we learn from his
autobiography, Deliverance from Error, al-Ghazzali moved from one extreme
to another in his own life: from being a total sceptic to an enthusiastic
believer who emphatically declared ‘reason is false’. He supported the
fanatic Almoravids even though they banned his books! And there is just too
much piety and uncritical acceptance of dogma in his work for an inquiring
mind to take.

For ‘in-between-ness’ we have to look at the object and subject of al-
Ghazzali’s wrath, and in particular at Ibn Rushd, who took it upon himself
to reply to the Incoherence. Al-Ghazzali lovers often dismiss ibn Rushd as not
very spiritual and too enthralled to the Greek masters. Moosa illustrates
this well. Having built up al-Ghazzali as a postmodern deity, he takes a
swipe at ibn Rushd. The Andalusian philosopher ‘mocked al-Ghazzali as a
man of all seasons, a theologian with the theologians, a mystic with the
Sufis, and a philosopher with the philosophers’, he says. Such ‘infantine
geniality’ says more about Ibn Rushd than ‘the target of criticism’. If, Moosa
goes on to say, ibn Rushd ‘had looked inwards, he might have acknowledged
that a commitment to formalism and an uncritical response to Aristotelianism
can be limiting’. Apparently al-Ghazzali is a ‘frontier thinker’ while ibn
Rushd is ‘intransigent’.

Given Moosa’s accusations, it would be worth making a quick comparison
of the two thinkers. Al-Ghazzali’s position is that only correct dogma can
save believers, and philosophy and rational inquiry have no place in Islamic
theology. His God is so omnipotent that He leaves no room for human
agency; everything can be explained by miraculous intervention. Ibn Rushd
argues that the Qur’an itself urges us to pursue rational deductions, to ‘look
into’, ‘consider’ and ‘reflect on’ (2:29; 7:14) the wonders of creation as a
means to understand God as Creator. Philosophy and science are thus central
to all Islamic pursuits. If it turns out that rational inquiry was not conducted
by Muslims but by the ancients (that is, the Greeks), then it is
incumbent upon Muslims to embrace their thought and learning. Al-Ghazzali
wants to instil fear of God and Hell in his readers; ibn Rushd argues that
a society is free when no one acts out of fear of God or Hell, or out of
desire for reward in Paradise, but for the love of God and humanity. Al-
Ghazzali freely uses hadith (authentic and weak, as well as quite irrational)
and the sayings of sages and saints to make his arguments. Ibn Rushd
unapologetically scrutinises the traditional sources with a critical and
rational eye. Both were jurists. In his legal text, al-Ghazzali denounces most
allegorical interpretations as kufr (disbelief). Ibn Rushd on the other hand
sees such literalism as anathema. (To describe the author of The Distinguished
Jurist’s Primer, which is as full of insight and wisdom on ritual and spiritual
matters as anything al-Ghazzali has to offer, as someone incapable of looking
‘inwards’ is a stretch of imagination too far). Moreover, al-Ghazzali was a
misogynist who compared women to ten kinds of animals, all of which
except one, the sheep, were nasty. Ibn Rushd, on the other hand, believed
that women were prescribed the same ultimate goals as men, that there is
no question of men being superior to women. It is men who consider
women as animals to be domesticated, or as plants which are sought for
their fruit. These are traditions made by men to serve their own ends, and
they have nothing to do with Islam.

The difference between the two scholars is also illustrated in ibn Rushd’s
reply to al-Ghazzali in his Incoherence of Incoherence. There is no long preface
throwing abuse and scorn at theologians in general or al-Ghazzali in particular.
The book opens with a very brief and clear statement of purpose, which
is to prove that The Incoherence of the Philosophers ‘has not reached the degree
of evidence and of truth’. Ibn Rushd refers to al-Ghazzali by name, and
respectfully calls him Sheikh. Then it is down to business: al-Ghazzali’s arguments
are torn to shreds systematically and thoroughly in a series of sixteen
‘discussions’. As Nazry Bahrawi writes in his contribution to this volume of
Critical Muslim,

first, ibn Rushd argues that God’s knowledge could not be categorised as “universal”
and “specific” since these are human conceptions. Given that God is not a corporeal
entity like humans, His perception of knowledge differs from ours. Ibn Rushd posits
that we are shackled by the limits of human understanding to comprehend, much
less categorise, Godly knowledge. Second, ibn Rushd argues that human conduct
could not be categorised as being either fully free or fully determined. Rather, it is
a bit of both. Humanity is free to choose, but this choice is also one determined by
external forces operating in tandem. Juxtaposing human will to God’s will, ibn
Rushd argues that humans act to fulfil their desires because these change over time.
God simply acts because His eternal nature means that He is not bounded by time
– past, present or future. In this sense, human desire becomes one of those extenuating
“external” factors dictating an individual’s choice.

But demolishing the Incoherence was a relatively easy task for ibn Rushd. A
more challenging duty was critiquing Muslim Neoplatonist philosophers,
specially al-Farabi and ibn Sina. Here, ibn Rushd restores the agency to
ordinary believers that both al-Ghazzali and Neoplatonism had denied.
Bahrawi again:

ibn Rushd’s middle position between al-Ghazali and ibn Sina allows for the doctrine
of freewill to exist without denying God’s omniscience. In other words, humanity is
an active agent in Islam, and not a passive, predetermined one. It is also this recognition
of human agency that leads ibn Rushd to the rejection of a key component of
Islamic Neoplatonism – the emanation theory. For ibn Rushd, the idea that humanity
is a ‘by-product’ of the First Being, as ibn Sina and al-Farabi uphold, contradicts
human agency. To subscribe to the emanation theory, ibn Rushd argues, is to deprive
all actual entities of any active powers, and to deny the principle of causality.
When ibn Rushd referred to al-Ghazzali as ‘a man of all seasons’, he was
actually pointing to his shifting, changing positions – a relativistic, postmodern
stance, if you like, which Moosa would argue for. As ibn Rushd points
out, ‘al-Ghazzali says in The Jewels of the Qur’an that what he wrote in The
Incoherence was merely dialectical argument, but that the truth is to be found
in his other book, entitled What Is Concealed From the Unworthy’. But then he
changes his mind again about the nature of truth in The Niche of Lights. And
in his autobiography, Deliverance from Error, he argues that certainty in
‘knowledge arises by means of withdrawal (from the world) and reflection
only’. He reiterates this position in The Alchemy of Happiness. So what is one
to believe: where is knowledge finally located? Al-Ghazzali’s ‘confusion and
muddling’ and his ‘doubtful and perplexing arguments’, writes ibn Rushd,
‘drove many people away from both philosophy and religion’.

Ibn Rushd tries to bring philosophy and religion together in On the Harmony
of Religion and Philosophy, written in a persuasive style for the educated
public. Written from the point of view of a jurist, it explores whether philosophy
and logic are permitted or prohibited by the Qur’an, the traditions
of the Prophet, and Islamic law. Ibn Rushd argues that philosophy is nothing
more than a teleological study of the world. In as far as the Qur’an encourages
a scientific, teleological study of the world, it encourages philosophy,
which means reason and logic have to be amongst the tools required to
study scripture and shape Islamic law. Revealed truths, he argues further,
are true ‘in the religious realm’, and those of the world ‘in the philosophic
realm’, but there is no contradiction between them: ‘We the Muslim community
know definitely that demonstrative study does not lead to conclu-
sions conflicting with what Scripture has given us’. When apparent
contradictions arise, it is the function of philosophy to reconcile the contradictions.
For ibn Rushd, the method for reconciling these apparent contradictions
involves an allegorical and metaphorical interpretation of the
Qur’an in such a manner that the inner meanings of Quranic verses are seen
to agree with observed and demonstrative truth.

Unlike al-Ghazzali, ibn Rushd was a product of a pluralistic, multi-religious
society: al-Andalus. Muslims arrived in Hispania, as it was then
known, during the early eighth century. They settled in a region that, as
Robin Yassin-Kassab notes, ‘had already been rich, and religiously and ethnically
diverse’. It was not, as Gonzalez-Ferrin points out, ‘the empty or
uncultivated land that appears in the Arabic chronicles’, written at least a
century and a half after the event. Hispania had an established tradition of
Hellenic scholarship, art, law, and of questioning imperial authority. ‘Hispania
became al-Andalus after an extended struggle of different heretical
trends, substantive problems in the transition of the Visigoth kingdom, and
a long and continual process of questioning Imperial Centralism as Rome
shifted to Constantinople’. Moreover, Islam did not appear in Hispania as a
result of a miraculous and bloody invasion; another ‘worthless myth, a bare
creationist concoction, devoid of historical proof’, created by Muslim
scholars and later expanded by European Orientalists. Rather, there was a
long period of gestation that lead to the progressive formation and change
of the name: ‘al-Andalus, a phonetic transformation of Atlantis, located by
Plato in the Lost Paradise in the western lands where the Mediterranean
meets the Atlantic Ocean. Between the fourth and sixth centuries, several
commentaries were produced on Plato’s main writings, generating that
Hellenic cultural movement called Neo-Platonism, wherein we find the
origins of the transformation: Atlantis > Adalandis > Al-Andalus’. The Muslims
who arrived and settled in al-Andalus did not declare followers of
other religions as kaffirs and infidels – a tendency, by the way, al-Ghazzali
demonstrates amply – but, writes Yassin-Kassab, ‘intermarried with the
locals and bred with their slaves, who were very often Slavs, eastern Europeans
captured in eastern European wars to be traded around Europe and
the Mediterranean. Soon most of the Muslim population consisted of the
offspring of these mixed marriages, and of large numbers of converts’.
It was in this society of ‘mixed marriages’, Christians, Jews and Muslims,
that Abd al-Rahman, the founder of the Umayyad caliphate in Spain (756–
1031), escaping the massacre of his clan in Damascus, established the first
great Western city of Islam: Cordoba. Its international fame rested on
sophisticated homes in twenty-one suburbs, seventy libraries and numerous
bookshops, mosques and glorious palaces. It inspired awe and admiration
because it was a haven for thinkers, philosophers, musicians, and writers.
In al-Andalus, ibn Rushd rubbed shoulders with revolutionary thinkers like
ibn Tufayl; scientists such as Abbas ibn Firnás (810-887), the Andalusian
Leonardo, who invented and manufactured many instruments, including a
flying machine, which he crash landed on Cordoba’s main street; feminist
intellectuals such as ibn Hazm, the author of the love manual The Ring of the
Dove, which contains surprisingly vivid anecdotes; brilliant musicians and
fashion icons like Ziryab, whose achievements are described by Cherif
Abderrahman Jah in his article; as well as artists, poets, architects, and
mystics of the calibre of ibn ‘Arabi.

But al-Andalus is not a place and time dominated solely by men. Women
were more active in this period of Islamic history than in any other, enjoying
freedom of movement in the public sphere and reaching high levels of
accomplishment. Consider the Umayyad princess Walladah, daughter of a
Cordoban Caliph, who played host to poets and artists in her Cordoba
home, often engaging in poetic contests. Beautiful, gracious in speech, and
never married – an ‘emancipated woman’ by any definition – she declared:
‘By God, I am suited to great things, and proudly I walk, with head aloft’.
Or al-Arudiyyah, who learned grammar and philology from her patron and
soon surpassed him. Or Hafsah bint al-Hajja al-Rukuniya, whose beauty and
elegance impressed the ruler of Granada, but she chose to be with a fellow
poet; or the slave al-Abbadiyyah, a writer of prose and poetry who spoke
several languages and eventually married the ruler of Seville. ‘But women
in Muslim Spain’, writes Brad Bullock, ‘were not just poets and artists, but
also scientists and philosophers. And they were not just a handful but
numerous – and during their time they were as famous as their male counterparts’.
Indeed, women from diverse backgrounds were so prominent in
public life that it was taken for granted that they could be leaders of men.
The only question was whether they could be Prophets as well. Ibn Hazm
tells us it is ‘an issue on which we know of no debate except here in Cor14
doba and in our time’. The opinion of people, according to ibn Hazm was
divided into three: those who deny that women can be Prophets and claim
that it would be an innovation (bida) too far, those who argue that Prophethood
is possible for women, and a third group who are too confused or
afraid to take part in the discussion and abstain. Ibn Hazm himself had no
doubt. After looking at various theological issues, and examining the arguments
of the objectors, he states his conclusion emphatically: ‘we find no
proof for those who claim that Prophethood is impossible for women’. He
points out that there are many women prophets in the Qur’an, including
Mary, mother of Prophet Isa (Jesus), and Sarah, the mother of Isaac. The
overall argument is that there is no limit to what women can do and
achieve. For Bullock, ‘the women of al-Andalus provide a vision of the way
forward’. The spirit of al-Andalus, he argues, ‘demands an unprecedented
and urgent commitment by the ummah to empower women’.
The learning and thought of al-Andalus was not all ‘Islamic’; al-Andalus
was also home to the Jewish Sephardic community. What happened to Muslims,
writes Gonzalez-Ferrin, also ‘happened with another Hellenic journey
from the Garden of the Hesperides to Separad > Sefarad, the Hebrew
equivalent of al-Andalus’. Cordoba, Granada, Toledo and other cities had
thriving communities of Arab Jews who participated in and shaped the
thought and learning that emanated from al-Andalus. It was in al-Andalus
that thinkers and writers of the calibre of Moses Maimonides, one of the
foremost Rabbinical scholars and philosophers, who shaped the thirteen
principles of Jewish faith, flourished; ibn Gabirol, the philosopher and poet
who left an indelible mark on Hebrew literary heritage; and Judah Alharizi,
the philosopher who composed Tahkemoni, written in Hebrew in a wellknown
Arabic literary genre of rhymed prose. The output of the Andalusian
Jewish poets alone, writes David Shasha, would fill several libraries. But
what is really unique about the Jewish thinkers and writers of Andalusia is
their synthesis of the spiritual values of monotheistic religion with philosophy
and science to produce a humanistic notion of religion. Jewish religious
humanism, Shasha suggests, ‘sought to understand the commands of God
by making use of the intellectual resources of the human mind in all its
workings. It combined sublime faith with rigorous scholastic analysis’. It
affirmed the primacy of universal love and charity, recognised the need for
tradition, but allowed ‘for diversity of worship and a respect for the values
of pluralism’.

It was against this background that ibn Rushd and ibn Tufayl became
bosom pals. Ibn Tufayl introduced ibn Rushd, who had little sympathy with
his friend’s mystical leanings, to the Almohad Caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf (r.
1163–84). The Caliph, a man of learning with a passion for philosophy, was
ibn Tufayl’s patron, who, in turn, was the Caliph’s chief physician. The two
spent a lot of time together discussing the finer points of philosophy. Abu
Yaqub was also an avid collector of books and learned men. His court was
brimming with thinkers, writers and poets who openly argued and critiqued
each other and the Caliph. When Ibn Tufayl brought ibn Rushd into
the circle, the Caliph immediately commissioned him to write a commentary
on Aristotle. That commission, and the subsequent patronage by Abu
Yaqub, as George Hourani notes in his truly brilliant introduction to On the
Harmony of Religion and Philosophy, ‘had far-reaching consequences in the
history of thought, for it gave a new boost to philosophy in Islam at a time
when it could bear fruit in Jewish and Christian circles, in Spain and the rest
of Europe’. It enabled ibn Rushd not only to take on al-Ghazzali but also to
reformulate Islamic philosophy.

Abu Yaqub’s patronage also permitted Ibn Tufayl to write Hayy ibnYaqzan
(‘Alive, Son of Awake’), a philosophical novel of profound significance. The
protagonist Hayy is spontaneously generated on an isolated desert island.
He is adopted by a gazelle, learns survival skills, and after the death of his
‘mother’, on whom he performs an autopsy, sets out on the road to scientific
and self-discovery. Through his observations and deductions, Hayy
finally reaches the ultimate truths and realises that there is a Creator. There
are two significant points about Hayy. The first is widely recognised: ibn
Tufayl argues that reason is a powerful tool for understanding and shaping
the world, and offers us an evolutionary take both on humanity as well as
on human thought and development. The second is somewhat neglected:
ibn Tufayl is more than aware of the limitations of reason, despite al-Ghazzali’s
erroneous allegations. For a major aim of the book is to show that
reason alone is not enough to experience the Divine. Indeed, ibn Tufayl
insists that even the conceptualisation of the Divine is not possible through
reason and mundane experience. When Hayy reaches the final stages of his
philosophical journey, he realises that he cannot gain an understanding of
the supernatural by studying the material world. There is also a jibe at al-
Ghazzali here. The Baghdadi professor had identified the heart, in line with
Sufi tradition, as the part which is receptive to the Divine unveilings, the
place where God is experienced. Ibn Tufayl dismisses this notion. Rather,
ibn Tufayl suggests that the experience of the Divine is spread across the
human body; and to describe this experience is misguided and impossible.
Our words just cannot do it justice. All attempts at such description lead
straight to the authoritative version: the theology of orthodoxy, based on
heresy and superficial constructions. Instead, ibn Tufayl proposes an alternative:
spiritual development is a journey that individuals take for themselves.
Having brought the reader to a level of understanding of the world and
purpose of life in which words no longer suffice, ibn Tufayl declares: now
you are on your own, the teacher can’t help you, the Sheikh can only give
you false directions. From here you have to take the next steps yourself to
experience what I have experienced in my immersion in the Divine. Once
again, al-Ghazzali ends up looking rather lame.

The legacy of ibn Tufayl and ibn Rushd had a profound impact on Europe.
As Gonzalez-Ferrin argues, it shaped the original Renaissance. Ibn Rushd
produced a whole school of philosophy, Averroism; his works became
widely available at universities throughout Europe, and were responsible for
the development of scholasticism, which examined Christian doctrines
through the lens of reason and intellectual analysis. Indeed, he ‘reached such
a level of prominence in Europe that his translations were forbidden in
thirteenth-century Paris, where he was accused of promoting free-thinking’.
The 1671 Latin translation of Hayy under the title The Self-Taught Philosopher
caused a sensation. As Bahrawi notes, it became the foundational
text for British empiricism. John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding
was greatly influenced by Hayy; Locke’s first draft of the Essay was
completed in the same year his friend Edward Pococke finished and published
the English translation of Hayy. It went on to influence a string of
influential philosophers and writers, including Baruch Spinoza, Jean-Jacques
Rousseau and Daniel Defoe.

While Europe embraced Andalusian philosophers and writers, the story
in the Muslim world was somewhat different. The reasons for the evaporation
of learning, philosophy and critical thought, and hence the decline of
Muslim civilisations, are many and diverse. It probably has something to do
with the so-called closure of ‘the gates of ijtihad’, which basically outlawed
reason. While no one actually closed the gates, it came to be treated, as
Sadakat Kadri suggests in his Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Sharia Law,
‘as a historical fact rather than a poetically pleasing way of saying that jurists
were no longer as good as they used to be’. A lack of patrons like Caliph
Abu Yaqub also meant that the support that philosophers and free thinkers
needed was just not there. In the later stages, the colonisation of the Muslim
world no doubt contributed a great deal to the malaise. But there is little
doubt that al-Ghazzali made a major contribution to the downward spiral
of Muslim civilisation. It was not the Incoherence itself, which as I have
argued, is simply not a work of enough power to dethrone philosophy, and
was probably read only by a select few. Rather, it was the aura built up
around the book, within a context of an anti-philosophy hysteria whipped
up by theologians, that did the most damage. Even before al-Ghazzali there
were efforts to outlaw philosophy, most notably by the Abbasid Caliph
Abdul Qadir (d.1031), who issued a famous decree in 1017-18 requiring
the philosophers ‘to repent’ and ordering his subjects to dissociate themselves
from ‘the counter to Islam’ ideas of philosophers. Al-Ghazzali became
the epicentre of an anti-rationalist storm. He succeeded in resurrecting ‘the
science of religion’ but in the process his arrogant dismissal of philosophy
confined the Muslim civilisation to The Burial Chamber, the earthly representation
of the Hereafter, a place full of talismanic artefacts, where the walls
are illustrated with magical texts, and where the living start foaming at the
mouth and become completely irrational.

The true extent of al-Ghazzali’s influence is well illustrated by C. Snouck
Hurgronje, who spent a considerable time in Mecca in the latter part of the
nineteenth century. Hurgronje found that only the works of al-Ghazzali were
taught in Mecca to students who came from all over the world. The Revival of
the Religious Sciences was the main text; it was memorised by students parrot
fashion. Other texts ‘were more or less excerpts or compilations from the
works of Ghazzali’. Not ‘one new word’ was to be heard anywhere. Philosophy
was totally forbidden. ‘The industrious students’, Hurgronje writes, only
understood that the philosophers ‘were stupid pigheads who held human
reason to be the measure of truth – a terrible superstition’. The professors
openly mocked and ridiculed philosophers like ibn Rushd, ibn Tufayl and ibn
Sina: ‘I have seen a smile of mocking astonishment pass over the faces of all
students present when the professor told them how the ignorant heathens
who opposed Muhammad, had, like the philosophers, believed in human
reason, and the professor smiled too with a shrug of his shoulder’.

After its initial love affair with ibn Rushd and ibn Tufayl, Europe became
just as unjust to the legacy of al-Andalus. ‘The fall of Granada in 1492’,
Merryl Wyn Davies says in her ‘Last Word’, ‘is a clear and precise historic
moment’: ‘the time the life-blood of plurality was drained from European
consciousness’. As the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella sealed the
final end of Muslim rule, Europe ‘discovered’ the Americas and used their
wealth to dominate the eastern sea routes and kick start its imperial adventure.
But it was not just the Muslims who were expelled from al-Andalus;
Jews too were driven out.

Those who were left behind were forced to convert to Christianity. The
converts, known as Moriscos (‘little Moors’), writes Matthew Carr, ‘were
often depicted as inherently backward, inferior and uncivilised.’ And there
was always the suspicion that Moriscos were not ‘good and faithful Christians’.
On 7 November 1567, King Philip II of Spain issued a royal decree
ordering the Moriscos of Granada ‘to cease speaking or writing in Arabic
and learn Castilian and destroy all Arabic books and texts’. Public baths
were to be demolished, Morisco songs, dances and musical instruments
were banned, and Morisco householders had to leave their doors open on
Fridays and Christian festivals so that their religious observance could be
monitored. Morisco men and women who persisted in wearing Moorish
clothing were to be fined, flogged or deported. ‘In a stroke, Philip II issued
what amounted to a charter for the complete eradication of Morisco culture
from Granada, which demanded that the Moriscos disappear as a distinct
and recognisable group’.

The Moriscos entrusted an elder of the community, Fernando Nuñez
Muley, to plead with the authorities and defend their cause. According to
Carr, Nuñez Muley’s Memorandum for the President of the Royal Audiencia and
Chancery Court of the City and Kingdom of Granada is one of the key historical
documents of sixteenth century Spain. Not everything, Nuñez Muley
argued in the Memorandum, that goes under the rubric of Islam is actually
Islamic. There is a distinction between cultural traditions and religious practices.
He insisted that ‘Morisco dances were a folkloric rather than a religious
custom that was anathema to pious Muslims; that the clothes worn by
Granadan Moriscos were merely a form of regional costume without religious
significance; that Arabic had “no direct relationship whatsoever to the
Muslim faith”’. Moreover, Morisco women did not cover their heads for
illicit romantic liaisons, but out of modesty; neither were bathhouses of
religious significance or had anything to do with ritual ablution, but were
only there for the purpose of health and hygiene. Despite the Memorandum
the decree was enforced, leading to a Morisco rebellion. It provided yet
another excuse for religious cleansing: the Moriscos too were banished
from Spain. ‘In the space of five years, nearly 350,000 men, women and
children were expelled from Spain in what was then the largest forced
population transfer in European history’.

Indeed, Europe in general, and Spain in particular, has constantly been
expelling al-Andalus from the continent as well as from history. As Gema
Martín-Muñoz notes, ‘ideological positioning has marked the interpretation
of Andalusian history’. The Enlightenment historians saw al-Andalus either
as a part of the history of progress, ‘an uninterrupted progression until the
triumph of reason’, or as an exotic ingredient of the Romantic vision.

Romanticism and Orientalism fashioned their own version of a stereotypical
al-Andalus that happened to be in Europe but was firmly outside European
history. The Spanish nationalists, on the other hand, sought to link ‘real
Spain’ with ‘Western Christianity to avoid sharing her destiny with Muslims’
and to ‘establish a continuity of national essence, defined by rules of
religion, language and race (Christianity, Latinate, Hispanic)’. An example
of the nationalist tendency is provided by the Orientalist Francisco Javier
Simonet (1829–1897): his 1903 The History of the Mozarabs demonstrates ‘a
great hostility toward the presence on the Iberian Peninsula of Islam, to
which he attributes persecution, violence and evil’. Martín-Muñoz discusses
the output of a number of Spanish Arabists, who negated the Muslim
contribution, presented al-Andalus as an outsider, and emphasised the ideas
of the ‘Europeanness’ of Spain. In more recent times, when eight centuries
of Islamic presence and experience in the Iberian peninsula could not be
ignored and written off, a new answer was found: a ‘Muslim Spain’ and a
‘Spanish Islam’ was created that isolated al-Andalus ‘completely from its
global Arabic and Islamic context’. The works of old and new Orientalists
and nationalists have inspired, writes Martín-Muñoz, ‘a good part of the
historical interpretation of Spanish education in the twentieth century’.

As a consequence, al-Andalus is ‘hardly mentioned’ in the secondary
school curriculum in Spain, Jordi Serra del Pino tells us. ‘Instead, we were
regaled with the exploits of the Reconquista, which, we were taught, forged
modern Spain’. As in Mecca, where nothing mattered except religious doctrine,
Reconquista is taught ‘as dogma and its main actors, the Catholic
Monarchs’ projected ‘as legendary characters’. Indeed, the Reconquista is
presented as ‘a spiritual endeavour’. Everything good in Spain, the students
are told, comes from the Reconquista; the previous history, the time of al-
Andalus, is dark and evil; ‘hence, the need to wipe out any traits, features,
remains, history and heritage of al-Andalus’. So, it is hardly surprising,
writes Serra del Pino, that ‘I grew up knowing little about al-Andalus; even
worse, what I thought I knew was largely propaganda’.

Serra del Pino suggests that Spain is now engaged in a Reconquista 2.0.
The old Reconquista imagery is being resurrected: the fierce El Cid is now
being projected on billboards as a hero of Spain and Queen Isabella is
depicted in a new television series as a modern woman, a feminist, spiritual
mother of Spain. There is a drive to force Castile and its language on everyone,
to homogenise the state, and purge Spain of its linguistic and ethnic
diversity. Reconquista 2.0, argues Serra del Pino, is aimed at subduing Catalan
and other autonomous regions of Spain. Andalusia, one of the least
advanced and poorest regions, suffers from ‘an archaic property distribution
that concentrates great portions of territories into the hands of a few landlords’,
and has already ‘become one of the most subsidised European
regions’. Furthermore, ‘the rich Andalusian cultural heritage has been
reduced to banal folklore for the consumption of tourists: the bullfighter,
the flamenco guitarist and dancer have become global references for Spain,
perverting the deep meaning and relevance these cultural forms had for
Andalusia. Andalusians are told they are good at looking after the tourists
and entertaining them with flamenco, great at parties, but not very good at
working hard’.

These sentiments are shared by Carr, who refers to the 2006 statement
of former Spanish Prime Minister José Maria Aznar comparing al-Qaeda to
the eighth-century Muslim ‘occupation’ of Spain, and Gonzalez-Ferrin, who
describes expulsion as Spain’s ‘endemic sport that has continued to the
twentieth century’. But al-Andalus stubbornly persists, to use the words of
Yassin-Kassab, ‘as the jasmin in the air’. It is the future that Serra del Pino
envisages for his beloved Catalan as well as for Spain.

The spring shoots of a re-emerging al-Andalus are most evident amongst
the young of Andalusia, fighting to recover their heritage, culture, and historic
identity; and the Spanish converts that Marvine Howe meets in her
travels across Iberia. A few positive steps towards ‘normalisation’ have been
taken in recent times, she writes, and one can now find a host of wellestablished
Muslim communities throughout the region. There is a small
community of ‘old Muslims’, people of Moroccan descent, who inhabit the
two Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in northern Morocco. But the
first Muslims to venture back to Iberia, centuries after it had been ethnically
and spiritually cleansed, were university students who arrived from the late
1950s to the early 1970s. Seen as ‘pioneers’, they have worked hard to build
their communities. Howe introduces us to a host of Spanish Muslims: converts,
the well-settled, and new arrivals. Individuals like the late Mansur
Escudero, who ran the Islamic Junta; Abdel Rahman Essaadi, a Moroccan
professor of Arabic; and Braima Djalo, a thirty-five-year-old shopkeeper
who fled his native Guinea-Bissau, sailed through perilous seas in a fragile
fishing boat, only to be detained on arrival. Howe relates some heartwarming
stories of Muslims who overcame tremendous odds to make a
home for themselves in Spain. She sees ‘a new solidarity’ emerging ‘among
Muslims in Spain, more cooperation between the main communities, the
Moroccans and Pakistanis and the Spanish converts’. There is more confidence,
more political involvement, and more eagerness ‘to show a public
face, heedless of emerging anti-Muslim attitudes’.

The anti-Muslim sentiments of Spain and Europe are a product, Gonzalez-
Ferrin tells us, of amnesia: ‘the forgetfulness of having been something
more, something else’. Both Europe and Islam were something more, something
greater than the European constructions of al-Andalus ‘as an operetta
set on an Orientalist stage’, something more profound than the anti-rational
‘cosmology’ of post-al-Ghazzali Islam. They can come together and become
whole if they reclaim their mutual histories – and return to al-Andalus.
In their re-imaging of the celebrated Cordoba Mosque, Zara Amjad and
Gulzar Haider show us how the past can be remade to heal our present and
to build a more viable and pluralistic future. Built in 785 by Prince Abd
ar-Rahman I, the founder of the Umayyad Caliphate of Spain, the Mosque
is located on the southern edge of the city on the banks of river Guadalquivir.
Its most iconic feature is a forest of colonnades which make the space
inside appear weightless and create a sense of infinity. The Mosque was
consecrated as a Cathedral in 1236, and a Renaissance Cathedral was built
within the Mosque in 1523. The Cathedral destroyed the harmony of the
Mosque, 63 pillars had to be moved to locate it exactly in the centre, and
the Mosque which was originally flooded with light became exceptionally
dark. The Cordoba Mosque now functions largely as a tourist site, although
there is a Sunday service. Muslims are forbidden from praying inside.

Amjad and Haider begin by ‘re-locating the Renaissance Cathedral to its
metaphorically equal place across the river. The Cathedral is moved stone
by stone so that it can continue to function but now has a more clear identity,
with an opportunity to reflect on itself and focus on the previously
occupied Mosque across the river’. The re-located Cathedral leaves a huge
void in the centre of the structure. The natural conservative Muslim tendency
would be to rebuild it as a Mosque. But Amjad and Haider redesign
the interior as a pluralistic sacred space for all religions. The void is turned
into ‘a new altar that employs spiritual signs and religious symbols of all
religions and is an ode to light, sound, and water’, a pool ‘mandala’ replaces
the dome of the Cathedral and collects rain water which is recirculated back
to the river, a series of pilasters in place of the columns of the Cathedral
serve as the memory of the Cathedral, and an arcade of glass columns serves
as reminders of the Mosque columns. There is also a carved courtyard, steel
columns that are left open to the sky, ramps that take you down in the
carved spaces around the courtyard, a library under the floor of the
mosque, and an underground tunnel that opens onto the river to let in the
breeze and the music of the wind. The minaret is turned into four residences
named after Ibn Rushd, Maimonides, the thirteenth-century Roman
Catholic philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas (who, by the way, was
inspired by and sided with al-Ghazzali against ibn Rushd), and the Subcontinental
philosopher and poet Muhammad Iqbal, whose poem ‘Mosque of
Cordoba’ still reverberates throughout India and Pakistan. Pavillions dedicated
to different world religions are built on the small islands on the river
Guadalquivir: ‘each pavilion will show the essence of the religion it is representing
in context with nature; together they will provide a space for the
common goal of our different spiritual traditions – a symbolic journey from
a place of one individual differentiated religion to a place, the Inhabited
Void, the Courtyard, that is for all’.

Like the Cordoba Mosque, al-Andalus too can be reimagined and relocated,
liberated ‘from the wounds of history’, and infused, as Amjad and Haider
assert, with ‘the essence of life’ so that pluralism and humane futures flourish.
‘Al-Andalus is not merely a past time’, says Gonzalez-Ferrin. ‘It is also a time
present, a component, and an essential ingredient of all our histories’.
The legacy of al-Andalus belongs to us all.