Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Book Review: Your Money or Your Faith in Islamic Spain

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval SpainThe Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain by Darío Fernández-Morera
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Muslims once conquered most of Spain. What was life like for non-Muslims under their control? Christian and Jewish status in the period 711 to 1492 A.D. is the subject of this book. Contemporary accounts often allude to these centuries as a Golden Era of art, science and inter-faith tolerance, presided over by enlightened Muslims.

Professor Fernández-Morera offers an opposing view.

Using various accounts from Muslim, Christian and Jewish sources, we are presented with a Spain twisted by religious tension and marked by periodic uprisings, mass exportation of Christians to North Africa, and subordinate dhimmi status for Jews and Christians living under Muslim rule, forced to pay a tax for “protection.”

Some Jews, at certain times, did hold responsible positions, but their advancement relied less on tolerance and more on an individual Caliph’s distrust of fellow Muslims and the ulama—the religious council that enforced the Maliki version of Sharia law governing Spain at that time.

Given each faith’s exclusionary practices, the subsequent invasion of Spain by even more religiously strict North Africans, and the unrelenting pressure of the Christian reconquest, there seemed little inclination for interfaith dialogue. In Fernández-Morera's work, peace only descended after one faith or the other had been subsumed by the victors.

While readable, the book carries almost a hundred pages of endnotes and bibliography, basically a third of the overall text. I’m glad the author did his homework, but this imbalance left one feeling the main body might be a bit thin.


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