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A CULTURE OF RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE August 1, 2010

Posted by wmmbb in Multiculturalism.
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It is interesting to reflect, as Juan Cole does, that a culture of religious tolerance was created in Muslim Spain, prior to the onset of the Inquisition and the Reformation.

As I remember the Alhambra Decree, 31 March 1492, was about the first thing the new Christian rulers of Spain introduced to the determent of Muslims and Jews – and the economy.

Juan Cole notes referring the Maria Rosa Menocal’s, The Ornament of the World – How Muslims, Jews and Christians created a culture of tolerance in Medieval Spain:

. . . argues that while there were periods of fundamentalism and persecution, the over-all achievement of Spain (both Christian states like Valencia and Muslim ones like the Umayyad Caliphate centered at Cordoba) was of a broad tolerance and a shared love of learning (the library at Cordoba had 600,000 volumes at a time when there were probably only a few thousand manuscripts in all of France). In many ways, the multicultural religious atmosphere of medieval Spain , before the Almohads from one direction and the Inquisition from another did it in, most resembles that in the United States today.

Menocal is brilliant throughout, but especially good at recognizing the secular aspects of Arab culture that often formed an attraction even for those in Andalusia who did not convert to Islam. Alvarus, a hard line Christian priest, lamented:

‘The Christians love to read the poems and romances of the Arabs; they study the Arab theologians and philosophers, not to refute them but to form a correct and elegant Arabic. Where is the layman who now reads the Latin commentaries on the Holy Scriptures, or who studies the Gospels, prophets or apostles? Alas! All talented young Christians read and study with enthusiasm the Arab books; they gather immense libraries at great expense; they despise the Christian literture as unworthy of attention. They have forgotten their own language. For everyone one who can write a letter in Latin to a friend, there are a thousand who can express themselves in Arabic with elegance, and write better poems in this language than the Arabs themselves.’

Menocal suggests, in more elegant language, that Arabic romantic poetry was a babe magnet in Cordoba even for the Christian girls.

This atmosphere was created within a sphere of Muslim cultural, including technological, superiority. The Europeans were the backward ones and they knew it. They could not give themselves airs and graces. Now this history and its significance has been forgotten, at least in popular appreciation, and allowing for the cultural diversity of the more than one billion people who are Muslim, there is a tendency for media framed stereotyping such as burqa wearing.

What was the underlying, determining dynamics that made for the shift from tolerance and humanity to violence and barbarity? Was it economic distress? Was it scrapegoating? Was a closing of minds? To understand such a development is to equip us to prevent it happening here and now. We might reflect that we live in a media-saturated visual culture – excepts for misfits who refuse to participate in the televisual circus to the extent that is possible.

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