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Visit to Granada
This was a period where the historian WM Watt cites a Christian scholar of the 9th century as saying "all the Christian young men are attracted by Arabic poetry and are more interested in Arabic than in Latin" a trend which was also seen further a field in Sicily where, after Muslims lost control of the island to the Norman Knights, the Christian rulers and their subjects actually adopted Islamic culture so much so that they were nicknamed "the two baptized sultans of Sicily". The beauty of Islam attracting all.
Andalucia, is a region of Southern Spain which today is divided into eight provinces. From the landing of Tariq ibn Zayd in Gibraltar in 711 AD to the surrender by Abu Abdullah in 1492, this region was controlled by Muslims. This golden age was characterized by a number of achievements to include the city of Cordoba which had a population of 200,000 (Paris had 38,000), its 700 mosques, 60,000 palaces, 70 libraries (one of which housing 400,000 plus manuscripts)
My excursion into Andalucía was short. In Spain to attend a conference in Barcelona, I managed a short excursion to Granada, to the famed Al-Hambra Palace built between 1248 and 1354. Set atop a hill, it has views to the city towards the west and north and the stunning Sierra Nevada mountains towards the east and south. While out of season I found myself taking the bus from town to its entrance made all the more exciting as a group of tourists and I jumped off then back on a number of times believing that we had reached Al-Hambra - the impatience of anticipation!
"Indeed all Praise belongs to Allah" I thought as I wandered through the Al-Hambra park. A series of courtyards, rooms and gardens graced with a style of architecture known as mudejar where intricate filigree and encrustations of Islamic art are combined with the three dimensional, nature-inspired style of Gothic architecture.
Throughout the Palace ran a single theme, `There is no god but Allah' carved throughout along the walls, the pillars, the ceilings,
everywhere. It is said that Prophet Muhammad upon who be peace, said that the key to paradise is the belief that there is only 1 God.Knowing of this tradition I couldn't help but wonder, if that is the key, then this must be one of the palaces of paradise! I'm certainly not the first to think this for while today the Al-Hambra park today includes a number of areas built by Muslims, it also includes a number of areas built by Christians. Scholars often compare the intricate attention to detail afforded to the Muslim parts, its shere beauty, in contrast to the rather bland, white-washed walls of the Christian parts, such as the palace of Charles V which also sits inside the park.
From the stunning rooms and halls throughout the complex to the extensive array of water features, every step within the palace takes your breath away, not only did I need photos, but I needed to be in them! Standing at the main Al-Hambra courtyard I spied a Japanese tourist whose rather expensive looking camera gave me the impression that his photographic skills would be second to none, sadly this turned out not to be the case. Desperate to have least one good photo I spied a girl who spent a great deal of time framing a photo. `She's the one' I thought as I rushed over to ask, she happily obliged.
There is a set route through the palace and as I continued to stumble upon even bigger and better courtyards I also encountered my fellow photographer whose services I enlisted. Later as I left this section I saw her sitting with a friend in the park. Walking over to thank her I discovered that both she and her friend, Kate and Agatha, were students visiting from Poland. A few minutes turned into half an hour and as we still had some of the complex to visit we decided to go together, taking photos of one another in turns in front of the various sites.
As we reached the Palacio de Generalife, the summer palace of the Nasrid Sultans, I asked whether they recognised the inscription along the wall and that's when it began. I showed them how the word Allah is written in Arabic, and I pointed out the phrase `There is no god but Allah' which repeats throughout the palace. They in turn barraged me with question upon question about Islam. Actually I have to confess it was quite refreshing and nice to be able to share what little knowledge I have of Islam with people so keen to learn more of my faith.
Continuing throughout the complex we took photos, they kept asking questions, and I kept answering such that having now seen the entire complex at a leisurely pace we were asked to leave, it was closing time! As the girls were still full of questions on Islam we decided to visit one of the restaurants alongside the walls of Al-Hambra where the dialogue continued. Five and a half hours later, we were asked to leave again. How quickly time flies! Still keen, the next day we decided to meet again making our way to Granada mosque.
The first mosque in Granada for 511 years, Granada mosque was a very controversial build. Set atop the hill opposite the Al-Hambra, the mosque has a small courtyard and sits next to a large church and public square with stunning views to the Al-Hambra palace. Despite the fanfare of promoting the mosque as the first step to rediscovering the identity of Muslims in Europe I was saddened to discover that it only opens during prayer time. Worse, when we did find the doorman, despite being able to see people inside he refused to let us in! I was astonished. Here I was, a Muslim, trying to enter a mosque, with my two new non-Muslim friends and he wouldn't let us in.
Just a week ago I received an e-mail from one of my translators now friends, also non-Muslim who was visiting Malaysia. She told me how she was literally kicked out of a mosque on account of being a girl and I was determined for my own sake let alone for Kate and Agatha (whose perception of Islam had now been tainted by this rather unfriendly fellow), to enter the mosque. After a short dispute, he gave up and let us in.
As we walked into the main mosque courtyard which had a rather `pretty' area for ablution, I noticed a cameraman recording two girls who had just finished their prayers. Curious, I wandered in to introduce myself to discover that they were recording a documentary on Muslims in Spain. As I signalled Kate and Agatha to come in as well, the guard approached saying that they could not enter the mosque. Now I was infuriated, how can he have such audacity to say that these two girls cannot enter the mosque when there are two other girls inside the mosque being recorded on a tv camera?!?! Allah Almighty grant me
Angered, and not speaking a word of Spanish beyond hola, I approached Lamya, one of the two girls being recorded and explained not only how rude it was to prohibit Kate and Agatha from entering the mosque but how un Islamic it was as well! If Christians can enter the Prophets Mosque in Medina and pray despite their prayers being viewed as shirk to Muslims, this being done by the invitation of Prophet Muhammad, then how dare anyone prohibit two respectful women from entering the
mosque! Lamya stepped out, had a word with the man and while I do not know what she said to him, she returned inviting the Polish girls into the mosque and we showed them around answering a few other questions they had about Islam.
Running short of time - I had a flight to catch - we left the mosque making our way back to the town stopping by the square alongside the church. There a small band of musicians sat playing the hang, a percussion musical instrument with Al-Hambra as a backdrop. Enjoying the music, as I saw one of the musicians take a break, I signaled to the lead musician who allowed me to sit alongside him, playing his friends hang drums; we jammed for a few moments entertaining the passing tourists.
Throughout my short time in Granada memories of the great achievements of the Muslims from that period kept running through my mind. As I sat playing the hang atop a hill, for example, I couldn't help but think of a man little known even in the Muslim world today, Abdul Qasim Ibn Firnas. A Spanish Muslim, the historian Phillip Hitti in his book `History of the Arabs' paid tribute to him saying that "Ibn Firnas was the first man in history to make a scientific attempt at flying".
Imagine that, a man who died in 873 AD, a Muslim man at that, being recognized as being the first man to make a scientific attempt at flight!
Another who came to mind was Ziryab (born 789 AD). Not only did he introduce the lute to Spain (from where it was introduced to Europe) but he transformed social customs. Known as a fashion designer, the historian H Terrace said "Ziryab launched a number of modes and fashions, which lasted for centuries. He brought to Spain crystal glasses and leather furniture. He introduced winter and summer dresses, setting exactly the dates when each fashion is worn. He also added dresses of half season for between seasons. Through him, the luxurious dress of the Orient was introduced to Spain. Under his influence fashion manufacturing was set up producing colored striped fabrics and coats of transparent fabric which are still found in
In Europe today there is no shortage of Muslims and while many of us do our best to contribute to the development of the societies we live in – e.g. in the UK Muslims contribution 32 billion pounds to our GDP – we are still many years away from creating a culture where Muslims understand the beauty of Islam, our heritage, let alone helping non-Muslims understand this beauty. The historian S Lane-Poole said it best in his book `The Moors in Spain' when, speaking of the eviction of Muslims from Spain he said, "The Moors were banished; for a while Christian Spain shone, like the moon, with a borrowed light; then came
the eclipse and in that darkness Spain has groveled ever since."
Today we Muslims are glowing in the light of the achievement of our predecessors. We need to change such that through our own good efforts we can shine without having to rely on the efforts of those in previous generations. Nothing quite prepared me for coming face to face with this great Muslim legacy of Spain, and I look forward to the great contribution Muslims can make to society today. May Allah Almighty make easy for us the opportunity to grow, contribute and bring positive change for everyone.
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