Book review: The Fairy Tale of Al-Andalus


Fernández-Morera remarks another verbal sleight-of-hand in contemporary discourse about Spain under the Muslims: that discourse tends to treat the invasion, conquest, and exploitation of native wealth and resources of Spain as a non-event — something that casually happened — perhaps during a collective blink, after which the Muslims were mysteriously and benevolently there — but without a motive and without an agenda and meanwhile lacking any context, things that might permit an assessment of it. Fernández-Morera addresses the dodge by emphasizing the actual context of the original cross-Gibraltar incursion and its sequels, so disastrous for Spain: It belonged to Islam’s violent jihad across North Africa and took place simultaneously with Islam’s campaigns of terror and conquest in Christian Anatolia. “Muslim and Christian chronicles tell us,” Fernández-Morera writes, “and archeological evidence corroborates, that, in the second half of the Seventh Century, the Islamic Caliphate’s armies from Arabia and the Middle East swept through North African coastal areas held by the Christian Greek Roman Empire.” These regions had been bastions of Christianity since the Third Century and, like Spain itself, productive provinces of the Empire. The Muslim armies that marched out of newly-subdued Egypt under the banner of theirprophet set the pattern of jihad by besieging and capturing cities, killing all adult males who refused conversion, and taking women and children into slavery; they burned and demolished churches and synagogues. Such grabuge, rapine, et saccage honored the commands of Allah and venerated through imitation the life of the “perfect man.” As Fernández-Morera writes, “Jihad was so widely understood as Holy War in Islamic Spain that the famous work on jihad as Holy War by Abu Ishaq al-Farazi… remained popular in Spain long after it had ceased to be edited in other lands.”

That last quoted sentence points to another recurrent feature of Fernández-Morera’s exposition: His reliance on Spanish-Muslim sources for indications of how the conquerors and hegemons of Spain understood their own offices and functions. While it is possible to find a few mitigating discussions of jihad in Islamic religious discourse elsewhere than in Spain — among Sufis, perhaps, or other mystics — in Spain nevertheless the centuries-dominant Maliki school of religious commentary entertained no ambiguities with respect to the term. Thus, as Fernández-Morera writes, “extant letters from Islamic Spain that use the word jihad display no other meaning but Holy War (‘al-jihad’).” Thus again, “in Islamic Spain, Muslim clerics regarded as particularly worthy the combination of personal virtue and a willingness to make war against the infidels — jihad.

…As Fernández-Morera writes, “The daily realities of al-Andalus bear little relation to the fashionable mythology.” The realities express themselves in a single word: Sharia, or Islamic Law. The copious details that Fernández-Morera marshals in this chapter exclusively support the conclusion that Sharia never has and never will, and certainly never did in Spain constitute anything like a convivencia of Muslims and dhimmis… The ulamas issued edicts against drinking wine, making music in public, or enjoying any kind of entertainment. The chapter on “The Myth of Islamic Tolerance” amasses an encyclopedia of atrocities and oppressions that are entirely consistent with the picture that Fernández-Morera paints in the chapter on “The Daily Reality of Life in al-Andalus.”

  • All of Islam is a lie, it’s no surprise that their histories should be regarded as akin to Pravda or the CBC.

    • Ego

      On the other hand, the sharia (“Reliance of the Traveler”) gives a clear, open, and unabashed description of what Islam is about. So does the Koran (e.g. “Kill the unbelievers wherever you find them”, and many dozens more).
      Any politician (or the Pope) saying that Islam is a religion of peace only proves they don’t have a clue about Islam.

    • xavier

      I forgot to motion that has a radio program called Catholic answers focus and Fernando was interviewed. What pleasure to hear an academic speak so forth rightly and scorn indirectly that other book written by a fellow countryman.

      I highly recommend listening to it. The podcast deals with the book. So no need to worry about Catholic doctrine 🙂

  • H

    Somehow I don’t think that this book will be required reading in any university history courses on Dark Age and early Middle Age Europe, or even for a Spanish history course. It should be, but since it doesn’t fit the current dominant “islam is wonderful” narrative, it will probably be ignored.

    • xavier

      H there’s a lot of corrective research in Spanish and Catalan. One of the more recent was published in Catalan by Mira by Edició Bromera about the end of the Moriscos in the kingdom of Valencia.

      In one of the interviews he gave for a Catalan paper he scorns the whole notion of peaceful coexistence and the Moriscos were screwed. He implicitly argues that their disloyal behaviour sealed their fate.

      • Waffle

        As the culmination of the reconquista drew closer, the loyalty of the converts to Christianity — both the Muslims and the Jews — was always suspect. Ironically, while most Jewish converts (conversos) adapted easily to their new religion within a couple of generations, the Muslim converts (Moriscoes) did not and were also expelled.

        Coincidentally, next week — August 13-14 — is the 9th of Av on the Jewish calendar. Historically, this has been an awful day for the Jews. It was the date on which both Jerusalem temples were destroyed. It was the date in 1290 when England expelled its Jews; it was the date in 1492 when Jews were expelled from Spain and it was the date in 1914 when Germany declared war on Russia, a conflict which ultimately led to the Holocaust. One can only pray that 2016 will pass without incident.

        I have marked this book as a ‘must read’ although I must confess that I am primarily interested in the sociological and psychological implications of forced conversions.

  • John

    Who knows,Fernández-Morera may soon become the object of a *hate* crimes investigation. After all, truth is now hate.

  • Daviddowntown

    Excellent read. Thank you for posting.

  • Ego

    I read his “The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise”—great book.
    He seems bent on setting the record straight on the “Muslim Golden Age” peddled even today to tourists in Spain.

  • Tokenn

    Excellent book. Islam and its effects was a disaster for Spain. I wonder if it could even be guessed how much of European or even human civilization generally was set back by jihad. Centuries for sure…