History and Sources

Was Islam especially important in medieval Spain?

Not long after Arab troops began to occupy the Iberian peninsula, Muslim princes (called amirs, literally commanders; pronounced aMEER) established themselves in major cities. In 750 the Abbasids sought to put an end to their Umayyad rivals by assassinating all of the family’s princes. One managed to escape and take refuge in Spain. This Abd ar-Rahman proclaimed himself Amir of Cordoba, still holding aloft the Umayyad standard. His successors eventually broke with Baghdad definitively by proclaiming the Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba. A major step up from an Amirate, the Caliphate laid claim to the universal allegiance of all Muslims. For several centuries Cordoba would be a marvel of cultural splendor and inter-religious harmony. On the whole, Cordoba was an outstanding example of how Jews, Christians, and Muslims could live together in peace under Muslim rule.

Islam’s presence was highly visible in other Spanish cities as well. Seville became an important political and cultural center as Cordoba receded in importance in the mid-eleventh century. Christian reconquest of Spain gradually retook ground from Muslim rule, from Toledo to Cordoba to Seville. Granada would remain the last stronghold of Islam until the armies of Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella took the legendary Alhambra in 1492. Nearly eight centuries of Islamic presence in Spain left a rich religious and cultural heritage. Five hundred years after the fall of Granada, small communities of Muslims are once again taking root in Spain.


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