Category Archives: Islam

A Visit to al-Andaluz

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A person, a place or even a country is always an expression of their very own life story. The country of Spain is no different thanks to its rich history. 

The Iberian Peninsula was inhabited by Iberians, Celts and Basque people before the Romans occupied what they then called Hispania. The Romans lasted until perhaps the 5th century, when their Empire decayed. After that, Germanic barbarians crossed the Pyrenees and Visigoths and Vandals settled here in quick succession. They were followed by the Arabs and Muslims of the Islamic Umayyad caliphate who first arrived in Iberia in 711, mainly hailing from North Africa, and commonly called Moors.

The Moors brought the entire Iberian peninsula, except for Galicia and Asturias in the far north, under Islamic control (see map below); however, frontiers with the Christian north were constantly in flux. The new Islamic territories, referred to as al-Andaluz by the Muslims, were administered by a provincial government established in the name of the Umayyad caliphate in Damascus and centered in Córdoba.

Within a century, the Islamic, or Moorish civilization in Iberia was widely considered to have been the most advanced in Western Europe. The period of al-Andaluz was a prosperous time for Spain. The Muslim invaders brought with them a cultural influence which greatly enriched the Iberian life in all aspects of arts and architecture, music and literature, food and agriculture.

The period of the Caliphate (from 929) is seen by Islamic writers as the golden age of al-Andaluz. Crops produced using irrigation, along with food imported from North Africa, provided the area around Córdoba and some other al-Andaluz cities with an agricultural economic sector which became by far the most advanced in Europe. Among European cities, Córdoba under the Caliphate, with a population of perhaps 500,000, eventually overtook Constantinople as the largest and most prosperous city in Europe. 

 

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Within the Islamic world, Córdoba soon developed into one of the leading cultural centres. The work of its most important philosophers and scientists (notably Abulcasis and Averroes) had a major influence on the intellectual life of medieval Europe.

The society of al-Andaluz was made up of three main groups: Christians, Muslims and Jews. The Muslims, though united on the religious level, had several ethnic divisions, the principal one being the distinction between Arabs and Berbers. Mozarabs were Christians that had long lived under Muslim domination and thus had adopted many Arabic customs, art and words, while still maintaining their Christian rituals and their own Latin-derived languages. Each of these communities inhabited a separate part of the cities of al-Andaluz.

But history is a funny business. Today, Spain is not so sure about its Moorish past. Whilst everybody is proud of Muslim remnants in Spain, such as the Alhambra in Granada or the Great Mosque in Córdoba (now integral part of the Cathedral in Córdoba), Spain seems much happier about its own history beginning in 1492 with the Americas being discovered for the Spanish Crown.

Over the last ten years or so, Spain has seen an enormous influx of immigrants, including a large number of Arabs from Morocco. In Mallorca, where I live, these immigrants are called Moros (moors) in quite a derogatory way. Some locals are worried about a rebirth of al-Andaluz, especially now that al-Qaeda’s second-in-charge has begun to verbally claim the historic al-Andaluz for the Islamic world.

Watch this space.

 

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Ramadan, a 29 Day Fast

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Ramadan or Ramadhan is the holiest month in Islam. The month of Ramadan is when it is believed the Holy Quran “was sent down from heaven, a guidance unto men, a declaration of direction, and a means of Salvation”.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Islam uses a lunar calendar – that means, each month begins with the sighting of the New Moon. Because the Lunar calendar is some days shorter than the Solar calendar used elsewhere, Islamic holidays move each year.

This year, Ramadan starts today, September 13th, in Spain that is. But it is more complicated than it appears. Since the moon does not have the same constellation everywhere at the same time, Ramadan gets observed with slight variations, depending upon the country and region.

The Astronomical New Moon is on Tuesday, September 11th, 2007 at 12h44 Universal Time (i. e., 12h44 GMT, 08h44 EDT, and 05h44 PDT). But the new moon is almost impossible to be seen anywhere on September 11th. On September 12th, the moon will be visible in Australia, South Africa, South America, and North America. Hence, the first day of Ramadan (fasting) in Spain is determined to be September 13th. Where and when exactly, is ascertained by the local Imam, the religious leader.

In Mallorca, where I live, Ramadan has always been celebrated at dates according to the country of the Muslim immigrant’s origins, be he or she from Moroccco, Algeria, Mauritania, Western Sahara, Sudan, Mali or wherever. But last year, for the first time, it was agreed that all Mallorcan Muslim residents would celebrate at a uniform date, set by the New Moon in Spain, irrespective of their geographic origins.

And this year, if you happened to follow the Prophet’s ways, the dates in Spain are for one lunar month from the New Moon on September 13th.

According to some of my sources there are 18,500 residents of the Muslim faith in Mallorca alone, whilst other sources claim that number to be over 25,000. If these figures are those of official residents only, one might as well double those numbers for people of Islamic belief actually living on this island. No wonder there are so many Halal butchers in our villages now.

There are two major mosques in Mallorca, in Palma and in Inca, with smaller ones in most villages, normally unnoticed by people like us. But recently it was announced that a new large mosque will be built in Marratxi.

Ramadan is the time when Muslims concentrate on their faith and spend less time on the concerns of their everyday lives. It is a time of contemplation and worship. This year then, every Muslim in the Balearics can fast during the same days. The ‘Fast of Ramadan’ lasts the entire lunar month. The next New Moon in Spain will be on October 12th. The last day of fasting will be October 11th.

During the ‘Fast of Ramadan’ strict restraints are placed on the daily lives of Muslims. One is not allowed food, water, and most importantly, coffee, tea, or cigarettes from dawn to dusk. Sexual relations are also forbidden during fasting. At the end of the day the fast is broken with prayer and a meal called the ‘iftar’. After the ‘iftar’ meal it is customary for Muslims to go out, visiting family and friends. The fast is resumed the next morning.

According to the Holy Quran, one may eat and drink at any time during the night “until you can plainly distinguish a white thread from a black thread by the daylight – then keep the fast until night”.

The good that is acquired through the fast can be destroyed by five things: the telling of a lie, slander, denouncing someone behind his back, a false oath, greed or covetousness. These are considered offensive at all times, but are most offensive during the ‘Fast of Ramadan’.

 

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During Ramadan, it is common for Muslims to go to the Masjid (Mosque) and spend several hours praying and studying the Quran. In addition to the usual five daily prayers, during Ramadan, Muslims recite an additional special prayer called the Taraweeh (Night Prayer). The length of this prayer is usually 2 – 3 times as long as the regular daily prayers. Some Muslims spend the night in prayer.

On the evening of the 27th day of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate the Laylat-al-Qadr (the Night of Power). It is believed that on this night, Muhammad first received the revelation of the Holy Quran.

When the fast ends (the first day of the month of Shawwal) it is celebrated with a three day holiday called Id-al-Fitr (the ‘Feast of Fast Breaking’). Then, gifts are exchanged. Friends and family gather to pray together, and for large meals. In some towns fairs will be held to celebrate the end of the ‘Fast of Ramadan’.

Insha’Allah.

For all of my Jewish readers: Shaná Tová. A Happy New Year to you. The Jewish Rosh Hashana (New Year) began yesterday. The year 5678 has started.