Sunday, February 12, 2012



From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A tariqa (Arabic: طريقة‎ Ṭarīqa; pl. طرق; ṭuruq, Persian: tariɢat, Turkish: tarikat; alternate spelling, tariqah meaning "way, path, method") is an Islamic religious order. In Sufism one starts with Islamic law, the exoteric or mundane practice of Islam and then is initiated onto the mystical path of a tariqa. Through spiritual practices and guidance of a tariqa the aspirant seeks ḥaqīqah - ultimate truth.


A tariqa is a school of Sufism. A tariqa has a murshid (guide) who plays the role of leader or spiritual director of the organization. A tariqa is a group of murīdīn (singular murīd), Arabic for desirous, desiring the knowledge of knowing God and loving God (also called a faqīr Arabic: فقير‎, another Arabic word that means poor or needy, usually used as al-Faqīr ilá l-Lāh, "the needy to God's knowledge (الفقير إلى الله)).

Nearly every tariqa is named after its founder and is referred to by a nisba formed from the founder's name. For example, the "Rifai order", named after Sheikh Ahmad ar-Rifai, is called the "Rifaiyyah", the "Qādirī order", named after Shaykh `Abd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī, is called the "Qadiriyya". Often, ṭuruq are offshoots of another tariqa. For example, the Qadri Al-Muntahi order is an offshoot of the Qadiriyya order founded by Riaz Ahmed Gohar Shahi, the Jelveti order is an offshoot of the Bayrami order founded by Hacı Bayram-ı Veli who are an offshoot of the zahidiyye founded by Pir Zahid al-Gaylani. The Khalwati order are a particularly splintered order with numerous offshoots such as the Jerrahī, Sunbulī, Nasuhī, Karabashiyya and others, the Tijaniyyah order prevalent in West Africa also has its roots in this ṭarīqa.

In most cases the sheikh nominates his khalīf or "successor" during his lifetime, who will take over the order. In rare cases, if the sheikh dies without naming a khalīf, the students of the ṭarīqa elect another spiritual leader by vote. In some orders it is recommended to take a khalīf from the same order as the murshid. In some groups it is customary for the khalīfa to be the son of the sheikh, although in other groups the khalīfa and the sheikh are not normally relatives. In yet other orders a successor may be identified through the spiritual dreams of its members.

Tarīqas have silsilas (Arabic: سلسلة‎) "chain, lineage of sheikhs". Almost all orders except the Naqshbandi order claim a silsila that leads back to Muhammad through ‘Alī. (The Naqshbandi Silsila goes back to Abu Bakr the first Caliph of Sunni Islam and then Muhammad.) Many silsilas contain the names of Shī‘ah Imams.

Every murid, on entering the ṭarīqa, gets his 'awrād, or daily recitations, authorized by his murshid (usually to be recited before or after the pre-dawn prayer, after the afternoon prayer and after the evening prayer). Usually these recitations are extensive and time-consuming (for example the awrād may consist of reciting a certain formula 99, 500 or even 1000 times). One must also be in a state of ritual purity (as one is for the obligatory prayers to perform them while facing Mecca). The recitations change as a student (murid) moves from a mere initiate to other Sufi degrees (usually requiring additional initiations).

Being mostly followers of the spiritual traditions of Islam loosely referred to as Sufism, these groups were sometimes distinct from the ulema or officially mandated scholars, and often acted as informal missionaries of Islam. They provided accepted avenues for emotional expressions of faith, and the Tarīqas spread to all corners of the Muslim world, and often exercised a degree of political influence inordinate to their size (take for example the influence that the sheikhs of the Safavid had over the armies of Tamerlane, or the missionary work of Ali Shair Navai in Turkistan among the Mongol and Tatar people).

Tariqas around the world

The tariqas were particularly influential in the spread of Islam in the sub-Sahara during the 9th to 14th centuries, where they spread south along trade routes between North Africa and the sub-Saharan kingdoms of Ghana and Mali. On the West African coast they set up Zāwiyas on the shores of the river Niger and even established independent kingdoms such as al-Murābiṭūn or Almoravids. The Sanusi order were also highly involved in missionary work in Africa during the 19th century, spreading both Islam and a high level of literacy into Africa as far south as Lake Chad and beyond by setting up a network of zawiyas where Islam was taught. Much of central Asia and southern Russia was won over to Islam through the missionary work of the ṭarīqahs, and the majority of Indonesia's population, where a Muslim army never set foot, was converted to Islam by the perseverance of both Muslim traders and Sufi missionaries.

Tariqas were brought to China in the 17th century by Ma Laichi and other Chinese Sufis who had studied in Mecca and Yemen, and had also been influenced by spiritual descendants of the Kashgarian Sufi master Afaq Khoja. On the Chinese soil the institutions became known as menhuan, and are typically headquartered near the tombs (gongbei) of their founders.[1]

A case is sometimes made[who?] that groups such as the Muslim Brotherhoods (in many countries) and specifically the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt (the first, or first known), are modern inheritors of the tradition of lay tariqa in Islam. This is highly contentious since the turuq were Sufi orders with established lineages while the Muslim Brotherhood is a modern, rationalist tradition. However, the Muslim Brotherhood's founder, Hassan al Banna, did have a traditional Islamic education (his family were Hanbali scholars) and it is likely that he was initiated into a tariqa at an early age.

Certain scholars, e.g., G. H. Jansen, credit the original tariqas with several specific accomplishments:

1. Preventing Islam from becoming a cold and formal doctrine by constantly infusing it with local and emotionally popular input, including stories and plays and rituals not part of Islam proper. (A parallel would be the role of Aesop relative to the Greek mythos.)

2. Spreading the faith in east Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where orthodox Islamic leaders and scholars had little or no direct influence on people.

3. Leading Islam's military and political battles against the encroaching power of the Christian West, as far back as the Qadiri order of the 12th century.

The last of these accomplishments suggests that the analogy with the modern Muslim Brotherhoods is probably accurate, but incomplete.

Tariqas in the Four Spiritual Stations

The Four Stations, sharia, tariqa, haqiqa. The fourth station, marifa, which is considered 'unseen', is actually the center of the haqiqa region. It's the essence of all four stations.

Orders of Sufism

Main article: List of Sufi orders

It is important to note that membership of a particular Sufi order was not exclusive and cannot be likened to the ideological commitment to a political party. Unlike the Christian monastic orders which are demarcated by firm lines of authority and sacrament, Sufis often are members of various Sufi orders. The non-exclusiveness of Sufi orders has important consequences for the social extension of Sufism. They cannot be regarded as indulging in a zero sum competition which a purely political analysis might have suggested. Rather their joint effect is to impart to Sufism a cumulant body of tradition, rather than individual and isolated experiences.

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

(Redirected from Imamat)

The word Imamate (Arabic: إمامة‎ Imāmah) is an Arabic word (Imam) with an English language suffix (ate) meaning leadership. Its use in theology is confined to Islam.

Theological usage:

NOTE: The term Caliphate, an anglicanized Arabic word meaning successorship, is often used interchangeably with the term Imamate. Both terms, not always but most often, refer to the position of Succeeding and Leading the Muslim community after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

• Imamah (Shi'a doctrine) - A divine institution which succeeded the institution of Prophethood. Its appointees (Imams) are divinely appointed; e.g. Prophethood and Prophets.

o Imamah (Shi'a Twelver doctrine) - The doctrine of Imamate according to the Twelvers MEHDI  and also GRAND AYATULLAH.

o Imamah (Shi'a Ismaili doctrine) - The doctrine of Imamate according to the Ismailis.

o Zaydi - The doctrine of the Imamate according to Zaydis.

• Caliphate - A non-divine institution which succeeded the institution of Prophethood. Its appointees (Caliphs) are not divinly appointed; e.g. an Islamic scholar.

• Khalifatul Masih - Successor of the Messiah - A divine institution in Ahmadiyya Muslim Community which succeeded the institution of Prophethood. Its considered to be the second manifestation of God's power. Its appointees (Caliphs) are divinly appointed.

Theological literature on the Imamate doctrine:

• Imamate and Leadership - by Mujtaba Musavi Lari

• Imamate: The Vicegerency of the Prophet - by Sa'id Akhtar Rizvi

Historical usage may refer to:

• Caucasian Imamate - a state during the early and mid-19th century in the Eastern Caucasus.

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Hidden categories: Articles containing Arabic language text

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Related Posts: TALIMAT , SHARIAH

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Unit 7: The wisdom of the ages

Overview of the unit
  1. A rare gift from a distant land
    This unit begins by referring to the place that knowledge and learning had in Cordova in medieval times. The text helps us to become aware of how great works of knowledge were treated by the caliphs. As an example, we learn how a rare and ancient book on plants sent as a gift by the Byzantine emperor was received byAbd al-Rahman Ill.
  2. The caliph who loved to read
    In this section, we read more about the Cordovans' love for knowledge. We learn about the example of al-Hakam II who built a magnificent library in Cordova, and collected a large number of valuable works in his collection. We also become aware of the wide range of subjects that were studied in al-Andalus, such as astronomy, medicine and geography.
  3. The torch of knowledge
    In the eleventh century, the period of Cordova as the capital of al-Andalus came to an end. The text helps us examine factors that led to its fall as a great centre, and how this event affected the everyday life of the people. We also learn how Greek and Arabic works preserved by Muslim scholars were translated from Arabic into Latin, helping to bring about a new period in Europe called the Renaissance.
  4. Farewell to Cordova
    In this final section of the book, we focus on the end of Muslim rule in al-Andalus and the conquest of Spain by Christian rulers in the fifteenth century?We learn about the migration of Muslim and Jewish communities from Spain, and conclude our study of Cordova.
    7.1     A rare gift from a distant land
    A messenger comes galloping on his horse to the caliphs palace with some important news. The caliph is informed that three Byzantine ships have arrived at Pechina, one of the seaports of al-Andalus. The caliph has been expecting the Byzantines to arrive in al-Andalus for some months now. The emperor of Byzantium is interested in joining forces with the caliph of al-Andalus so that they can defend themselves against the Fatimid navy. The caliph sends his men to receive the Byzantine ambassadors who are brought all the way to Cordova.
    Gifts from the Byzantine emperor
    The ambassadors 6nalJy reach the caliph's palace. The caliph is seated cross-legged on his soft couch, dressed in a simple white robe. Around him are his guards and slaves in their smart uniforms, together with the caliph's courtiers.
    The Byzantine ambassadors are received with great courtesy. Some of the courtiers are curious to know what gifts the guests have brought for the caliph.
    Kneeling before the caliph, the ambassadors hand to the caliph a finely carved silver box with a lid of solid gold. Inside is a blue scroll that carries a heavy gold seal. The scroll, written in Creek, is a list of all the gifts that the envoys have brought The gifts include, among other things, rolls of silk, bars of gold, precious gems and rare books.
    A book for healing illnesses
    The gift which is received with great excitement is an ancient work written by a Creek doctor known as Dioscorides. It is a very- rare and valuable work that doctors all over the Mediterranean lands have been searching. The book contains pictures and descriptions of some five hundred plants. The ancient Greeks believed that these herbs could be used for curing various illnesses.
    The doctors who are present in the court – Muslim, Christian and Jewish are all excited, by the work. They pore over it as if it is some kind of precious gem. Much to their disappointment, they find that they cannot understand the, words because they are written in strange characters. The rare work is written in Greek language which no one in the court knows too well.
    Then the ambassadors leave for home, the caliph sends a request to the Byzantine emperor, asking him to lend him a scholar who can translate Greek into Latin.
    The doctors who are present in the court – Muslim, Christian and Jewish are all excited, by the work. They pore over it as if it is some kind of precious gem. Much to their disappointment, they find that they cannot understand the, words because they are written in strange characters. The rare work is written in Greek language which no one in the court knows too well.
    Then the ambassadors leave for home, the caliph sends a request to the Byzantine emperor, asking him to lend him a scholar who can translate Greek into Latin.
    Translating Greek
    A few years Later, a monk final[y arrives to help the Cordovans translate Dioscorides' work. The caliph arranges for a team of doctors and scholars who have special knowledge of herbs to help the monk. The Christian monk spends many months with the Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars until the work is finally translated into Latin and Arabic. The caliph is very proud of what has been achieved.
    Precious knowledge
    Many of the Greek works, like the one written by Dioscorides, were lost for centuries. Then scholars working in Muslim lands came across some of the lost works and translated them into Arabic. The Muslim caliphs encouraged scholars to translate these works because they valued the knowledge of the ancient Greeks.
    Scholars in Muslim lands went further than simply translating the Greek writers. They added their own knowledge to what the Greeks had found- They discovered new ideas of their own and deepened the knowledge that came to them from ancient times.
    What value did Muslim rulers place on knowledge and learning in tenth century Cordova?
  • Dioscorides
  • Greek
  • 1st century BCE: Dioscorides
Imagine that you are visiting Cordova in the tenth century. Make a list of ten books that you would take as gifts to the caliph. Why would you select these books?
Knowledge was valued by Muslim rulers and scholars in the past, no matter where it came from
Find out about other rulers in Muslim lands and in other civilisations who valued knowledge. What role did these rulers play in helping to advance knowledge?
In some parts of the world, people who think about new ideas are seen as a threat by those who hold power. What role should thinkers have in society?
Think of the knowledge you have acquired from your education so far. Which subjects have been of benefit to you? Which ones have you found to have little purpose? What areas of knowledge would you like to learn about in the future?
7.2    The caliph who loved to read
The four things Cordova surpasses
the capitals of the world.
Among them are the bridge over the river,
and the mosque
the third is the;
but the greatest of all things is knowledge
and that
is the fourth.'

The Palace Library of Cordova
Cordova is known for many for its monuments and palace-s. Now the new caliph, al-Hakam II, has made Cordova famous for something else — the Library in his palace. He is rearranging the library and increasing the collection of books and scrolls in it.
The caliph has sent his agents to all parts of the Mediterranean to buy books on different subjects — mathematics, astronomy, history, sciences, and any other subject which is of value. Where the books are not for sale, the agents have been instructed to have them copied by scribes.
The caliph intends to make the library in his palace one of the best in the Mediterranean world. Some say that the library already has 400,000 works. Whether this is true or not, we can only guess. What seems to be certain is that al-Hakim loves his books. There are rumors among the Cordovans that the new caliph spends more time in his library than anywhere else. They fear that he is not devoting enough attention to ruling the land. The library at the palace attracts great interest among the scholars visiting Cordova. They are also drawn to the other libraries and new places of learning which the caliph has set up. Here, they can find subjects such as poetry philosophy music and law being taught.
The libraries of Baghdad and Cairo
Al-Hakam II is not the only ruler who has a passion for learning. There have been many rulers in Muslim lands who have encouraged the search for knowledge in their lands. During the time of the Abbasid caliph, Harun-al-Rashid,1 Baghdad became an important centre of learning. So did Cairo during the Fatimid times. Here, the Ismaili Imam-caliphs set up new centers of learning, such as al-Azhar which became an important university. The Muslim caliphs valued knowledge and saw the benefits it could bring to the people in their lands.
Mapping the stars
Astronomers in al Andalus are keen to learn about the stars and movements of heavenly bodies. Using instruments such as the quadrant and the astrolabe, they have mapped many stars and constellations. Their work is useful in making calendars and for helping navigators find their way on the open seas.
Healing and curing
One of the subjects that is of great interest to scholars in the Middle Ages is medicine.. The art of healing is also highly valued by the al-Andalus.
Doctors in Muslim lands have made important discoveries about the human body.They have found out how blood circulates around the body. They have also built up a wide knowledge of different diseases and remedies that can be used during various illnesses.
Transporting water
Engineers in al Andalus are busy finding better ways of distributing water which is scarce in many parts of this land. Engineers have built a large number of canals and conduits to irrigate farms and bring water to the towns.
Some of the bridges and canals that have built by the Romans have been improved. New and old canals have been joined together in clever ways to make the best use of water and land. Close to Cordova, there are mills for grinding grain that are run from the power of flowing water.
Growing new crops
Some of the scientists in Muslim lands have special knowledge of plants and the type of soils in which they grow best. In al-Andalus, new plants, crops and fruit have been introduced, such as rice, oranges, bananas, dates, cotton, sugar-cane and saffron.
Exploring al-Andalus
Geographers and map-makers in al-Andalus have studied the Iberian Peninsula and produced maps and descriptions of the different regions. They give details of the climate and landscape of each region, and the riches to be found in various areas. Some of them have produced detailed descriptions of al-Andalus and the Maghrib using information from merchants who have travelled through these areas.
What did Muslim rulers in Cordova do to support learning?
    • Astrolabe    • Harun al-Rashid    •Quadrant
• 10th century CE: Al-Hakam II
Imagine you are a scholar working in tenth century Cordova. What kinds of books would you find in the caliphs library? Which types of books would you only find in a modern library? What knowledge was not discovered in the Middle Ages?
Muslim rulers in the: past valued different forms of knowledge. They were patrons of scholars and built large libraries in their cities.
What kind of subjects were important to people of different civilisations in the Middle Ages? Why do you think they were interested in these subjects and not others?
Some people claim that more knowledge does not necessarily lead to bettor lives. Discuss this view.
What are some areas where the knowledge that human beings presently have is limited. Do you think there will come a time when human being will know everything?
The torch of knowledge
It is the early part of the eleventh century. A time of great troubles has begun for the people of Cordova. Their worst fears have come true. The time of peace seems to have come to an end. There is no strong ruler to bring order to the land.
Instead, one weak ruler has followed another in quick succession. Madinat al-Zahra has, become a battleground for those who are hungry for power. Rebellious troops have caused great damage to the countryside near Cordova, living off the land by forcing villagers to pay them money.
Floods, plague and famine
Crowds of refugees from the countryside are flocking into Cordova, fleeing from the troops in fear of their lives. But the worst is yet to come.
The banks of the Guadalquivir have broken after heavy storms, flooding parts of the city. A plague has broken out and many people are sick and dying of illness. Food is in short supply in Cordova, and the people are becoming desperate. The poor are starving, for they have nothing left with which to buy food. The wealthy are selling off their precious possessions to keep themselves alive.
We are standing outside the palace al-Madinatal-Zahra. Here, too, those who are controlling the palace have been forced to take extreme steps. They are selling off rare books and scrolls from the magnificent library, of al-Hakam II.
The break up of al-Andalus
Many more years of trouble lie ahead for the people of Cordova. Al-Andalus is beginning to break up into small states. At the same time, the Christian kingdoms from the north are capturing more land every year. In a few years time, Cordova will no longer be the capital of al-Andalus
On the trail of the royal collection
In the meantime, we have another short journey to make. Where are the scrolls and books from the library of al-Hakam II being taken? We follow the trail and find that some are being sold in different parts of the Mediterranean world. Some are ending up in monasteries and universities in Europe. Most are being taken to towns such as Seville and Toledo, not many miles from Cordova.
In search of lost books
It is the twelfth century. A scholar the name of Gerard of Cremona is making his way to the city of Toledo He has travelled all the way from Italy in search of an ancient work called the Almagest. It is a great work of astronomy written by a Greek scholar called Ptolemy.
Gerard has searched long and hard for a copy of this work in Latin, but without much success. Then he hears from other scholars that there are copies of many ancient works in Toledo. Perhaps he might find the Almagest there.
The treasures of Toledo
After a long journey, Gerard finally arrives in Toledo. Nothing has prepared him for what he finds in this town. He not only comes across the Almagest, but hundreds of other ancient works. He has heard about these works and thought he would never see them in his life time.
Gerard examines some of the books to discover that they are written in Arabic, a language he does not know. He sets about learning Arabic so that he can translate the ancient works into Latin.
Centre of translation
Gerard spends almost fifty years of his life translating the ancient works. By the end of his life, he has translated dozens of works on medicine, alchemy, mathematics, geometry, optics and philosophy.
Gerard is not the only translator working in Toledo in the twelfth century. –there are other translators who are busy in Toledo; Seville and other places. They are helped by Muslim and Jewish scholars who are familiar with both Arabic and Latin.
The Renaissance
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the translated works in Latin quickly find their way to scholars in Europe. A new age begins in Europe called the Renaissance, which means 'rebirth'. It is a time when the Europeans are beginning to rediscover the knowledge of the ancient civilisations.
It is an exciting time for scholars. They are coming across works which they thought they had lost forever. The European scholars also discover something else which is of great interest to them. They find new knowledge that has been added to the ancient works by scholars in Muslim lands.
The end of the Middle Ages
In the years to come, the European scholars begin to add their own knowledge to what has been passed on to them by different civilisations. New discoveries follow in mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology and other subjects.
With these discoveries and new thinking, the Middle Ages slowly comes to end and the modern period begins. The knowledge that we have today comes from the great torch of knowledge which has been lit by many civilisations.
How al- Andalus did became an important bridge for the sharing of knowledge between civilisations?
  • Almagest
  • Ptolemy
  • Renaissance
1st century CE: Ptolemy
12th-13th centuries CE: Translation of Greek and Arabic works into Latin.
Al-Andalus was a bridge between civilisations through which knowledge was shared.
Write a story, from a book's point-of view, of the adventures, it experiences from the time it is removed from the library of Cordova. Think of the different places where the book would be taken, and the different types of people who might be interested in acquiring it in the Middle Ages.
Find out more about how Greek and Arabic works helped scholars in Europe to advance their knowledge. Try to learn more about the Renaissance in Europe, and the changes that came about as a result of it.
In the modern world, many advances have been made in all areas of knowledge. Some people claim that this new knowledge is not shared freely, but has become the property of those who discover it. What is your view on this issue?
How do we define what knowledge is? Should there be different rules for defining different subjects?
Farewell to Cordova
It is time to leave Cordova. We are now in the final years of the fifteenth century when all of al-Andalus has been conquered by Christian rulers. Cordova was among the first cities to be captured. A cathedral has been built in the centre of the great mosque of Cordova so that it is now a mosque cathedral.
As we leave for Gibraltar, we notice that there are large groups of Muslims and Jews who are travelling to the coast. The Muslims and the Jews have been told by the rulers either to become Christians or leave the Iberian Peninsula. It is a time of sadness. Many people are leaving behind what has been their home for centuries. The time of living together has ended.
We cross the old Roman bridge and look at Cordova one final time. A traveler who is with us recites a poem:
Weep for the splendour of Cordova,
For disaster has overtaken her……
She was at the height of beauty,
Life was gracious and sweet
Until all was over thrown and today
No two people are happy in her streets.
Then bid her goodbye, and let her go in peace
Since depart she must
We bid goodbye to Cordova and make our way to Gibraltar. The old of Tariq is still there, brooding deeply before the ancient sea. We climb the rock one more time. There at the very top, we pause. We see ships sailing from what was once al–Andalus towards the shores of North Africa.
This time for us to sail away as well, to our own new century. Perhaps we will be able to build many new Cordovas there, where people of all faiths can once again live together, this time with more lasting peace and understanding.
1492 CE: End of Muslim rule in Spain.
1492 CE: Colombus reaches America.
1498 CE: Vasco da Gama reaches India.
Cordova in the tenth century provides us with a valuable example of how Muslims live in one particular place and period created a civilisation where people of different cultures lived and worked together.
Make a list of some important points that you have learned from this module. Write down questions you would like to ask on topics which you did not understand or want to learn more about.
Identify other cities and periods in Muslim and other civilisations, that would be interesting to study What kinds of insights might these places give us?
Some people claim that the past has very little to teach us. List some of the advantages and disadvantages of studying the past for understanding the present.
What kind of history can we as Muslims help create today that will lead to a better future for all humanity?
Review of Unit-7
Review questions
1. A rare gift from a distant land
  • What information was in the ancient book that the caliph in Cordova received?
  • Why was this knowledge of value to him and his advisers?
  • Why was it difficult for the work to be read?
  • What did the caliph do to help the scholars so that they could read the text?
2. The caliph who loved to read
  • What kind of library did al-Hakam II build in Cordova?
  • Why was it thought to be one of the best in Muslim lands?
  • What were some of the different types of sciences that were of interest to scholars in al-Andalus?
3. The torch of knowledge
  • What were some of the factors that led to the downfall of Cordova as the capital of al-Andalus?
  • What happened to the books in the royal library?
  • What do we learn from the example of Gerard of Cremona about the translation process?
  • What was the European Renaissance? What important role did al-Andalus play in the period leading to the Renaissance?
4. Farewell to Cordova
  • In which century did Muslim rule come to an end in Spain?
  • What happened to the Muslims and Jews who lived in Cordova and other places in al-Andalus?
  • What were the feelings of those who were forced to leave their homes?
  • What important lessons do we learn from our study of Cordova?

Unit 6: One faith, many ways of life

Overview of the unit
  1. A man of many talents
    There were many groups of Muslims in Cordova. In this unit, we explore some of the different ways of life that these groups adopted. The text begins by describing the life of the ruling group and nobles in al-Andalus who valued a life of culture and refinement. The example of Ziryab, a talented poet, musician and entertainer, provides us with insight into the cultured life of the Cordovans.
  2. 'The most noble among you'
    An important group in Cordova consisted of the ulama or religious lawyers and scholars. In some periods, they exercised great influence over the rulers. At other times, they were given less importance by the amirs and caliphs. The text provides us with the examples of two such scholars who reminded the caliphs of their religious and ethical duties.
  3. An inner journey
    The Sufis were another group of Muslims in Cordova who led a different way of life. They emphasised the inner life in Islam and the importance of understanding the deeper meanings of Allah's message. The text describes some of the key beliefs and practices of the Sufis. We also learn about Ibn al-Arabi, an Andalusian philosopher who had great interest in mystical ideas.
  4. The boy who learned to think far himself
    A final group of Muslims we explore in the text were the philosophers. We become aware of some of the issues that philosophers of this time were interested in answering. The text highlights Ibn Tufayl as one of the philosophers who lived in al-Andalus. His story of Hayy ibn Yaqzan is used in this section to illustrate how philosophers tried to answer some of the questions that were important to them.
    6.1    A man of many talents
    We are in the Madinat al-Zahra, in the very palace of the caliph. We stand on a glittering white marble floor, next to the enormous fountain with its green marble basin.
    Here, the caliph and his wives and the courtiers feast and are entertained by acrobats, magicians and jesters. Here, the best of the poets in al-Andalus recite their verses and dazzle their royal audience with their clever words. Here, the most unusual performances take place which remain in the memories of the courtiers for many years.
    Some of the courtiers in the palace of Madinat al-Zahra still talk about Abbas ibn Farnas who lived in the time of Abd al-Rahman II. He was a poet, a scientist and a master magician, all rolled into one.
    On one occasion, he made a costume to which he attached a frame of wings covered with silk feathers. Watched by a large crowd of Cordovans, among whom were many from the amir's court, Firnas climbed one of the hills overlooking the Guadalquivir.
    Stepping off from the top of the hill, Firnas leapt into the air, flapping his arms wildly. For a moment, the crowd was convinced that he was about to soar away like a huge bird. But it was not to be. Firnas tumbled down the hill, his silk feathers all ruffled up, with the crowd in stitches of laughter. Fortunately, Firnas lived to perform yet more tricks for his admirers.
    The skilled musician
    The courtiers also remember someone else from the time of Abd al-Rahman II who was far more outstanding than Firnas. Ziryab was one of the best poets, musicians entertainers of his time who came from Baghdad. He began tutoring the young men and women to become skilled musicians by introducing them to new themes and styles.
    Ziryab modified the four-string lyre by adding a fifth string; allowing to introduce new notes and tunes. He composed catching melodies that became popular in the palace and villas.
    We remember the flamenco dance that we watched while having our meal in the small Spanish town. Some say
    it was Ziryab who introduced this dance. Others disagree, arguing that the flamenco is a mixture of the music of many lands.
    A fine taste for food
    Ziryab was not only a talented musician but also had a very fine taste for food. He experimented with different ingredients to create new recipes. Many of his ideas came from the foods of different cultures — Arab, Jewish, Persian and Greek.
    Ziryab felt
    that food served on a bare wooden table, all lumped together in a large, flat dish, was not very attractive. The food had to appeal to both the mouth and the eye. Ziryab insisted that the serving table should be covered with a cover of fine leather. Drinks had to be served in delicate glass crystal rather than clumsy gold and silver goblets.
    But this was not all. The meal had to be introduced in a particular order, beginning with soup and proceed to the dish made of lamb, fish or fowl. Then followed a sweet dish usually, cakes of almond and honey or fruit dishes & flavoured with vanilla, and howls of pistachios and other nuts.
    New hairstyles and costumes
    The way people presented themselves
    did not escape Ziryab's sharp eyes. He noticed that the wealthy ladies of Cordova used to wear their hair by parting it in the middle, with the temples and forehead covered, and braids at the back. Ziryab introduced a new hairstyle where the hair was cut short to reveal more of the forehead and the neck.
    Ziryab also suggested changes in the clothes worn by the Cordovan nobles. He thought it more appropriate for the costumes to be brightly coloured in the springtime — silks in blues, greens and yellows worn over the tunics. In the summer, white was his favourite colour, possibly because of the very hot weather. In the winter, he recommended long cloaks trimmed with fur.
    A life of taste
    Ziryab was a man with very delicate taste, and he was gifted with bringing about refinements in the lives of the wealthy Cordovans. Some people say that such was Ziryab's influence that his ideas about food, music and clothes spread rapidly from palaces to villas, then to the Christian kingdoms in the north, and finally to the rest of Europe.
    This is quite a big claim to make. In the Middle Ages, it was difficult for any one person to change the lifestyle of a whole continent All we can say is that Ziryab was a refined man who made a deep impression on the nobles of al-Andalus.
    What kind of life did the rulers and nobles of Cordova lead?
    Imagine that a caliph in Cordova has invited you to be a tutor to his princes and princesses. What kinds of things would you teach the royal children that give them a good education?
    The nobles who lived in
    Cordova in the tenth century enjoyed a life of refinement and culture
    Compare the life that rulers and nobles led in different civilisations in the Middle Ages. What qualities were cultured people expected to have in these civilisations?
    In today's times, people lead many kinds of lifestyles. Are there some ways of living that are better than others, or are they all the same? Discuss each view point.
    6.2    The most noble among you"
    Good music, food and clothes are a delight to the nobles of Cordova. Other Cordovans, however, frown upon the life of the powerful and the wealthy. Among the people who disapprove the life of pleasure are the ulama or religious scholars and lawyers.
    The religious scholars feet that the Muslim rulers of al-Andalus have left the right path which was revealed by Allah to Prophet Muhammad. The Amirs and caliphs, of Cordova have failed to create a just and righteous community. They have forgotten to take care of the poor and those in need.
    Instead, the rulers have built vast palaces and spent their wealth on unnecessary luxuries. They are more concerned with this world than the world of the hereafter. Some of the religious scholars feel that the teachings of the Quran have been forgotten. They recite the verse in the Quran which says:
    'Surely the most noble among you in the eyes of Allah are the best in conduct. '(49:13)
    Yahya and the court poet
    There have always bee people in Cordova who have disapproved of the rulers. In the time of Abd aI-Rahman II, one of his close advisers was an old man named Yahya ibn Yahya. He was a stern man who introduced harsh punishments in the city through the judges and market inspectors. Yahya also did not like the poets at the court who seemed to have no regard for what was decent.
    On one occasion, a court poet made fun of pious people like Yahya in his verses, throwing the old man into a rage. He stormed to the amir, complaining to him about the, insults.
    The amir was too fond of the poet to get rid of him. But he also knew Yahya had great influence over religious scholars and lawyers in Cordova. They were a powerful group who could easily rise against him. After giving the matter some thought, the amir announced that there would be no music and poetry in his palace during the month of ramadan.
    The golden and silver roof
    In the time of Abd al-Rabman Ill, the religious scholars are not happy with the money that the caliph has spent in building Madinat al-Zahra. They think that this money could have been better used on the needy and the poor.
    One of these men is Said al-Balluk, an old teacher and lawyer in the caliph's court.
    On one occasion, the caliph asked him what he thought of the gold and silver roof that was being put up on one of the royal buildings.
    The old man replied, 'I would never have thought that some demon turned you into an disbeliever.' The caliph was taken aback, and ordered the gold and silver to be removed from the roof.
    In al—Andalus, as in other lands, there are occasions when rulers and other groups
    do not always agree
    over what is right and wrong. People have different views about important issues. Sometimes, they try to arrive at a compromise to settle their differences. At other times, a disagreement may lead to a more serious dispute or conflict.
    What kind of life did the religious scholars in Cordova want the Muslims to
    • Ramadan    • Ulama
    Write a dialogue between the caliph and the religious scholar regarding the complaint about the court poet. What would the religious scholar have said to the caliph? How would the caliph have responded? What would the poet have said to defend himself?
    Religious scholars were an important group of Muslims in Cordova who wanted people to follow Allah's message in their lives.
    What was the position of religious scholars and priests in other civilisations? What were some of the main concerns of this group in the societies in which they lived?

    Some people claim that people in modern times have become less caring than those who lived in the past. To what extent do you agree with this statement?

    What does it mean for Muslims to lead noble lives and to do good in today's times?
    6.3    An inner journey
    We are inside the great mosque of Cordova. The light from the open courtyard fills the mosque with brightness. We sit down amid the rows of marble pillars that hold up the horseshoe arches. The red-and-white stones of the arches reach up and out like the rays of the sun.
    The spaces between the pillars provide a large area for people to worship together, as well as quiet areas where individuals can pray alone. At night, thousands of oil lamps cast a soft glow on the floor of the mosque.
    The Sufis
    Among the Muslims who visit the mosque are the Sufis. The Sufis are Muslims who lead a mystical way of life. They pray regularly, give alms to the poor, and carry out their religious duties, just as the other Muslims of Cordova.
    For the Sufis, these practices are, important but they are not enough to lead a truly religious life. They believe that these outer actions have inner meanings.
    It is important to wash before prayers, but it is also important to have a pure heart. Bowing down in prayers is an empty action if one does not also follow Allah's message. Going on a pilgrimage to Mecca has not much meaning if one does not undertake the journey of the soul.
    The journey of the soul
    What do the Sufis mean by the journey of the soul'? It is an inner journey of a believer towards God. Many Sufi poets and thinkers have written about this journey and described it
    in different ways. One of them was Farid al-Din Attar who presented his understanding of the journey in the Conference of the Birds, a story about a group of birds trying to find the Simurgh, the king of birds.
    Some of the valleys that the birds had to cross were the valleys of love, understanding and unity. These valleys are the poet's way of trying to describe the inner feelings of a mystic.
    One God, many paths
    A great Muslim thinker and mystic who was born in al-Andalus was Ibn al-Arabi. He travelled widely through North Africa and Asia, meeting famous scholars and Sufis and visiting holy places. One of his books is called the Sufis of Andalusia and contains interesting stories about mystics that Ibn al-Arabi met in his travels.
    While travelling in al-Andalus, Ibn al-Arabi must also have met many Jews, Christians and Muslims. They were all following different religions, but all were seeking the same Cod. For Ibn al-Arabi, there is no single path to the Cod. Each religion teaches about God in its own way.
    Shaykhs and murids
    In order to embark on a journey of the soul, a person needs a spiritual teacher. The spiritual teacher is called a Shaykh, and his followers are called murids. One shaykh may have many murids.
    The nuber of murids of a shaykh may grow over many years to form a large group of followers called a tariqa. A tariqa means a 'path'. Different tariqas follow different spiritual paths, but they all lead to the same goal – oneness with God.
    Sufi khanaqahs
    Sufis gather at special places of worship known as Khanqah or zawiyyas. Here, they remember the beautiful names of God by chanting them in a rhythmic manner. This practice is known as dhikr.
    The Sufis also recite poetry of the great masters, such as Mawlana Rumi. The poetry contains short stories, anecdotes and examples from the lives of the prophets and saintly people. They may also be stories about animals and birds that have inner meanings.
    Listening to these poems helps the Sufis to reflect on their life as a spiritual journey towards God.
    place did the mystical way of life have in Cordova?

    • 12th century CE: Farid al-Din Attar
    • l2th-l3th century CE: Ibn al-Arabi
    Imagine you are one of the birds in the Conference of the Birds, setting off on a search for the Simurgh. Describe your journey through one of the seven valleys. What meaning do you give to each of the valleys in the story?
    Among the Muslim communities in al Apdalus were the Sufis who chose to follow a mystical life
    • Dhikr • Mystics  
    •Khanaqah  •Pir  
    •Murids •Shaykh
    Compare the lives of two mystics from different religions. What do they have in common? What is different about them?
    People in all ages and cultures have had a deep need to search for meaning in their lives. In modern times, it is science rather than religion that answers all our questions. Debate this view.
    6.4    The boy who learned to think for himself
    Throughout the Mediterranean lands, there are individuals who call themselves philosophers. Philosophy means love of knowledge'. The philosophers claim that through the use of reason, people can come to have a better understanding of themselves and their world. In al-Andalus, some individuals have chosen to follow the path of philosophy.
    Ibn Tufayl
    One of the Muslim philosophers who lived in al-Andalus was Ibn Tufayl. He wrote a very interesting story which was entitled Hayy ibm Yaqzan. The story is about a child called Hayy who grows up on an island where there are no people. At first, he is looked after by a gazelle. As he grows older, he begins to learn bow to take care of himself
    Hayy has to find out about many things on his own. Since there are no other people on the island, he has to make use of his mind to find answers to the questions he has. As he grows up, he begins to think more deeply about himself and what he sees around him.
    Hayy discovers that he is different from all the other living things on the island. He can
    think and
    reason, a skill which animals do not appear to have. He begins to group things into non-living things, plants and animals. By observing the animals on the island, he finds out that living things are born and die. Hayy wonders what it is that keeps .living things alive and what happens when they die.
    At night, Hayy watches the stars in the sky, far above the island. After much thought, he comes to the conclusion that there must be a Creator who has made all living and non-living things. Gradually, by reasoning what has to be true and what is false, he is able to come to deeper understanding about creation and the purpose of life on earth.
    Many years later, when Hayy has grown up, he receives a visitor on the island whose name is Asal. Asl comes from an inhabited island and has been brought up to believe in one of the revealed religions. He comes to the island to get away from the busy ways of the world so that can reflects on the mysteries of Allah's creation.
    Hayy and Asal become good friend and start sharing their knowledge. To their surprise, they find that both have the same understanding of the world. Asal has acquired his understanding from his faith, while Hayy has achieved it though the reason.
    What part did philosophy play among the Cordovans?
    • Philosophy
    • Revelation
    • 12th century CE: Ibn Tufayl  
    In al Andalus some individuals chose to live as philosophers. They followed the path of reason.
    Two types of knowledge
    Ibn Tufayl wrote this story because the thinkers of his time were trying to understand the difference between the knowledge that prophets received through revelation, and the knowledge that people acquired through the use of their minds.
    Some of the thinkers argued that knowledge only from revelation could be true because it came from God. The minds of human beings are limited, and likely to make mistakes. The knowledge from reasoning was therefore not to be trusted.
    Another group of thinkers disagreed. They felt that the mind was as important gift that had been given to human beings. God wanted human beings to exercise their minds and to think about their world. He did not want people to follow their faith blindly.
    These thinkers claimed that revelation and reason were not opposed to each other. Rather they led to the same truths. Ibn Tufàyl is one of these thinkers. It was because he wanted to convince others of his view that he decided to write Hayy ibn Yaqzan.
    Being a Muslim
    In modern times, we ask the question, 'What does it means to be a Muslim today?' In the Middle Ages, different groups of Muslims placed emphasis on different aspects of their understanding of Islam.
    Some Muslims preferred a life of culture. They tried to acquire a good taste for the finer things in life.
    Others placed emphasis on leading moral lives. The good Muslim according to them was one who tried to help create a society which was just. A good Muslim performed all the religious duties taught by the Prophet.
    Other Muslims valued a life which saw deeper meanings in these religious duties. They saw their lives as an inner journey of the soul towards its Creator.
    A few thinkers argued that by using the mind, people could arrive at the same truths as those revealed by God to His prophets. It was through the use of reason that a better way of living could be found.
    The above ways of understanding Islam were not totally separate from one another, and often overlapped. However, the emphasis that different groups placed on one aspect over another varied.
    These examples show that, for the Muslims of al-Andalus, there was no single answer to the question, 'What does it mean to be a Muslim?' Rather, different groups of Muslims had found different ways of understanding the message of Allah. This was as true in other Muslim lands as it was in al-Andalus, and it
    is as true in the modern times as it
    was in the Middle Ages.
    Write a story about a boy or a girl living in the modern times who tries to gain a greater understanding of the world by using his or her other mind. What kinds of questions would a young person ask today? How would he or she go about answering those questions?
    Find out more about great philosophers who lived in Muslim and other lands. What types of questions were these philosophers interested in answering? What types of answers did they give to their questions?
    Some people claim that being religious means following your faith without questions. Discuss this view. What role does reason have in understanding one's faith?

    'Is there a need for philosophers today? What kinds of questions would philosophers seek to answer in the modern age?
    Review questions
  5. A man of many talents
  • Who was Ziryab, and what kinds of things did he teach in the caliph's court?
  • What impact did Ziryab have on how the nobles of Cordon led their lives?
  • What kind of life did the rulers and nobles of Cordova prefer to live?
  • Who was considered to be a cultured person in those times?
  1. 'The most noble among you'
  • What complaints did the religious scholars make to the Muslim rulers? Why were they displeased with the rulers?
  • Who did the religious scholars feel were the most noble of people?
  • What did they want all Muslims to do?
  1. An inner journey
  • Who are the Sufis and what do they. believe?
  • What do the Sufis mean by the 'journey of the soul'?
  • How does a shaykh help a murid in his spiritual quest?
  • What kinds of practices do the Sufis observe in their khanaqahs?
  • Who was lbn al-Arabi, and what kind of book did he write about the Sufis?
  1. The boy who learned to think for himself
  • Who were the philosophers and what did they emphasise?
  • Who was Ibn Tufayl and what story did he write?
  • In the story, who was Hayy'? What conclusion did he reach when he grew up?
  • What question was Ibn Tufayl trying to answer through the story? How did he answer this question?
  • How important today is the debate between reason and revelation for Muslims?
  • What do the four examples of the nobles, religious scholars, mystics and philosophers teach us?

Unit 5: Among the Cordovans

Overview of the unit
  1. A living mosaic

    Cordova in the tenth century was home to people of many backgrounds. The text describes the different groups of people who lived in the city. We learn about the regions from which these people came, the languages they spoke, the religions to which they belonged, and their status in relation to other groups.

  2. The people of the book

    We deepen our understanding of the communities who lived in Cordova by focusing on people' of various faiths. We examine the relations that existed between Jews, Christians and Muslims — the three religious communities that lived together in Cordova. The text also highlights the movement of people across the boundaries of their religious traditions in these times.

  3. Slaves or masters?

    Cordovans belonged to groups who held different levels of power, wealth and status. The text helps us to identify these groups and their position in relation to one another. We learn about a range of groups, from the very powerful to those who were at the bottom of their society. The text also discusses the extent to which people in the Middle Ages could change their status by crossing the divisions that existed between the various groups. 

  4. The royal city of Zahra

    In the final section of this unit, we focus on the status of women in Cordova. We learn about the position of women in the past, and the roles they played in their society. The text discusses how the way of life of women in these times depended to some extent on the social group in which they were born.

    6.1     A man of many talents

    We are back on the streets of tenth-century Cordova, visiting its markets. It is a busy day, and the stall-owners are doing goad business. We look around us and see all kinds of people. Who are these people who live in Cordova?

    People of different cultures

    The first thing that strikes us is the colour of the people's skins! There is no single colour that stands out. We find among us people who are black, brown as well as white. We find people of all types of shades between these colours. We listen to what they are saying. Some are speaking in Hebrew and others in Romance. Some are using North African dialects while a few converse in Latin. Many of them also know Arabic, a language which is used by the caliph and his court officials.

    People of different faiths

    Perhaps we can divide the Cordovans according to their faiths. But this is more difficult than it first appears. Some of the people are Jews who have come from various lands. Many of the people are Christians who accept the Pope as the head of their Church. Others follow different versions of Christianity that are found in Byzantium, Syria and Egypt. Some of the people dress like Arabs and speak Arabic but are Christians.
    The rest of the people are Muslims but they are from various backgrounds. There are Sunnis who belong to the the different schools of law, as well as Shias. Some of the Muslims are Sufis, while others are recently converted Jews and Christians.

    Peoples from different lands

    We could group the Cordovans according to the lands of their ancestors. We find that the people of Cordova come from different regions. Many of them are Iberians who settled in the peninsu1a in ancient times. Some of them have Visigoth ancestors who came from northern Europe. Others are eastern Europeans from the land of Slav.
    Then there are Arabs who have settled here from Syria and Arabia, and Berbers from North Africa. We also have people who have come all the way from Yemen, Persia and the Sudan.

    The rich and the poor

    We could divide the Cordovans according to their wealth and power, and the work they do. There are people at one end who are lords and nobles, and at the other end, slaves. In between, we find the merchants who have become very wealthy and are great influence in the city.
    We also come across numerous people who are craft workers, artisans and small traders who are not as well off as the merchants. Many of the people are from the countryside. They work as labourers and earn just enough to make their ends meet. Although Cordova is a wealthy city, many of its people are poor.
    We look at the people around us once again. We realise that it is difficult to tell who each person is, unless we ask that person about his or her background. A visitor to Cordon has written the following verse about the city:
    'in Cordova,
    there are not Jews, Muslims or Christians.
    In Cordova,
    there are probably not even Spaniards.
    Jn Cordova,
    there are just Cordovans.'
    Living together

    Cordova is like a living mosaic made up of people from different races, faiths and cultures. All these people find themselves having to fit into a way of life where everyone lives close together. Cordova is like an exciting experiment in the Middle Ages where people of different cultures are trying to live with one another.
    There are other places too, like Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem and Baghdad, where we find Muslims, Christians and Jews living in the same city.
    Not all cities in medieval times are like Cordova. There are many places where people of only one faith or culture live. The people of the Middle Ages are suspicious of anyone who is different from them, and they have little knowledge of foreign lands.
    Even in Cordon, the ordinary Muslims, Christians and Jews have made little effort to understand one another's faiths and ways of life. However, living together peacefully is an important achievement in the middle Ages.

    What groups of people lived in 10th century Cordoba?


    • Dialect • Sufis
    • Slaves

    Cites such as Cordova in the tenth century were places where people of different cultures religions and backgrounds
    lived together.


    Find out about the composition of people in other civilisations in the middle Ages. What were some of the factors that led people of different backgrounds to live together?
    Write a poem about Cordova that expresses your own views about the people of this city in the tenth century.


    In today's world, there is far more interaction between people of different cultures than there was in the past. Yet there is also suspicion, hostility and conflict between different groups of people all over the world. What are some of the reasons why this situation exists today? What are some of the ways in which Muslims can help to create a more peaceful world? 


    What issues have arisen from groups with different faiths and cultures living together in your country? What factors are creating misunderstandings between these groups? What is helping to bring them closer together? 
    5.2    The people of the book

    Cordova has not always been a place where different groups of people live together peacefully. How did the Jews, Christians and Muslims come to live in the same city? We walk along the streets of tenth century Cordova, trying to find clues that will answer our question.
    We find ourselves in an area of Cordova that reminds us of a place we have visited before, but we cannot quite remember what it is. In this quarter, there are narrow alleys with crowded whitewashed houses, their walls and balconies decorated with pots of flowers. The houses lead to shared courtyards where children play near bubbling fountains.
    Then we remember the area we are in — it is the Juderia. This is the place where the Jewish community of Cordova lives.

    The ahl al-kitab

    The Christians and the Jews have their own holy books. The Quran refers to these communities as ahl al-kitab, the people of the book. Like the Muslims, they believe in one God and honour the prophets whom God has sent to guide them. The Muslim rulers respect the Jews and the Christians in al-Andalus as the ahl al-kitab. They are treated as the dhimmi, the protected ones. They are free to practise their faith and given protection during war. 

    An old story

    We talk to some of the older residents who live here. They remember a story which has been passed on to them by their parents and grandparents. This story is about a time when the Jews were faced with a very difficult choice. The Visigoth kings ordere4 them either to become Christians or leave the Iberian Peninsula.
    It was a very difficult choice indeed. Some pretended to become Christians and others left for North Africa. But many remained behind, hoping things would get better.
    Better times did come for the Jews. The rule of the Visigoths came to an end when the Muslims settled in the Iberian Peninsula. From the very beginning, the Muslim rulers did not force either the Jews or Christians to leave the land they had conquered. The rulers did not force the people of these religions to become Muslims. Most of the time, the Jews and Christians were left free to follow their own faiths.


    With time, some of the Christians and Jews have become Muslims. This has happened very gradually. There are different reasons for people changing their faiths. Some people have done so for religious reasons because they have found the beliefs of one faith more convincing than another.
    There are also other reasons for people changing their religion. Many marriages are taking place between Muslims, Christians and Jews, leading to new relationships between the people. It is quite normal in these times to find people of one household belonging to two faiths.
    In recent times, the number of Muslims in Cordova has increased greatly leading the rulers to enlarge the mosque of Cordova several times.

    The Mozarabes

    We can also find many Christians living in Cordova who have not chosen to convert to Islam. Since many of them dress like the Arabs and speak Arabic, they are known as the Mozarabes or Arabised Christians. 
    In later centuries, the Mozarabes will take the art and architecture of al-Andalus to the northern Christian kingdoms. Here, they will construct buildings very similar in style to those found in Cordova.

    Solving conflicts between the communities

    In Cordova, Jews and Christians are to be found in all kinds of professions. Some of them occupy important positions in the caliph's court. The caliph often calls upon bishops when he wants to send envoys to Christian lands. He also uses the services of Jewish advisers, doctors and scholars.
    When problems do arise between the communities, the caliph asks the rabbis and the bishops to help him deal with them.


    What were the relations between the Muslims, Christians and Jews in Cordova?

  • Ahl al-kitab
  • Mozarabes.
  • Bishop
  • Rabbi
  • Dhirnmi

Imagine the everyday life of three people in Cordova: a Muslim, a Christian and a Jew. Write a list of things that would have been common to all of them. What kinds of things would have been special to each one? In what ways would these three people have interacted with one .another in Cordova?


In tenth century Cordova Muslims, Christians and Jews could be found living together in the same city;


Compare the relations between Christians, Muslims and Jews in different lands of the middle Ages. What were some factors that created hostility and division between these communities? What factors led to peace and cooperation between them?


People of different religions share much in common with one another. To what extent do you agree with this statement? How can greater understanding be created between people of different beliefs?


Some peop1e claim that religion is responsible for much violence, in the past and today. Others claim that without religion there would be greater violence in the world. Examine a recent conflict where people of different religions have been involved. What role has religion played in this conflict? Are there other factors that need to be taken into account?

5.3    Slaves or masters

Cordova has many groups of people living together. These groups are based on the different religions that the Cordovans follow. The people of this city can also be divided in terms of their wealth and power. There are some groups who are rich and rule over others. At the other end, there are many people who are poor and have little control over their lives.

The nobles

The wealthiest people in Cordova are the nobles, whether they are Muslims, Christians or Jews. Some of them live in the city, but others prefer to live, in the countryside where they own large estates.
The nobles live in grand villas and mansions which have ail kinds of luxuries, such as ornamental gardens and fountains. All the work is done by the slaves they own and the large number of labourers and peasants who work on their land.
The land and property of the nobles is passed on from one generation to the next, so that the wealth always remains within the same families.
Some of the nobles are patrons of art and learning. They support poets, scholars and other individuals with special talents.

The merchants

After the nobles the merchants of Cordova are the next wealthiest. Much of the money they have made has come from trading goods and merchandise. Some of the merchants have acquired their wealth quite recently from the new markers that have opened up in Cordova.
The goods sold by the merchants in these markets are in great demand: ivory, musk, silk, precious stones, spices, perfumes, dyes and leather goods. The merchants have strong links with other traders in the Mediterranean lands, with whom they exchange a wide range of goods.

Caftworkers, traders and labourers

The majority of the people in Cordova are craftsmen, tradesmen and labourers who have to work very hard to earn a living. Among then are the coppersmiths, cobblers, butchers and bakers, water carriers and street cleaners. They usually do work which requires special skills or that other people do not like doing.
These people live in simple dwellings in the crowded parts of city. They do not posses any land property, and have to pay rent to landlords. They look upon the wealthy with envy and are not always happy for being poor.

The slaves

Another group of people in Cordova are the slaves who have been captured from lands such as eastern and northern Europe, and from Africa. They are sold in the markets of Cordova to people who can afford to buy them. Most slaves end up working for the nobles and the merchants.
If the slaves are lucky, they could find themselves working in the palaces of the caliph or in his army. Here they can rise to very high positions becoming even more powerful than nobles and merchants. It is said that when Abd al-Rahman II died, it was the palace slaves who decided which of his sons would be the next amir.

Born into a way of' life

In the middle Ages, it is very difficult for people to change their position or leaving one group and joining another. Slaves, for example, have no freedom of their own. Unless their masters choose to set them free, they remain captives for the rest of their lives.
Similarly, a poor cobbler can do very little to change his way of life and become a merchant or a noble. To do so he would require a great amount of wealth which he does not have. It is very likely that his sons and their sons will continue working as cobblers.
A person born as a noble will most likely die a as a noble, unless something unexpected happens.

Unexpected changes

There are times in the middle Ages when sudden changes to people's positions may come about. Warfare and other disasters may lead to nobles losing their land and property. If they are unlucky, they may find themselves captured and sold as slaves.
Soldiers on the winning side may end up becoming very wealthy if their ruler gives them land and the booty won from battle. In al-Andalus, many of the Arabs and Berbers have become wealthy by gaining new land.
There are other ways in which the positions of people may change. In Cordova, some of the people have become rich merchants in a short period of time. They have managed to do this out of their own effort, but also because of the busy trade that has opened up in Cordova.
People with special talents, such as musicians and poets, can also be fortunate and find themselves supported by a rich noble.
In cities like tenth-century Cordova, new chances are being created for different groups of people. However, the vast majority of the people in these times continue to lead a way of life that has not changed much for centuries.


How were groups of people in Cordova divided in terms of wealth, power and status?


Look carefully at the objects shown on this page. List the materials and processes required to make them. Which groups of people would have been involved in making them? For which groups of people would these objects have been made?


In the past, as in modern times, there were groups of people with different amounts of wealth, power and status In Cordova1 people of different groups lived in the same city.


Compare the lives of slaves in Muslim empires in the Middle Ages to those in other lands. What was common to all these societies? In what ways did this differ in their treatment of slaves?


In modern times, two views have emerged about the differences between groups in modern societies. One view is that all people should have equal wealth, Another view Is that people should be free to acquire wealth based on their skills and efforts. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each view.


In modern societies, the gap between the very rich and the very poor is increasing. What are some of the factors that are creating this situation? What are some of the ways in which those groups who are the most disadvantaged can be helped to raise their standard of living?

5.4    The royal city of Zahra


We are in a very special place that we have visited before. It is located about five miles from Cordon on a hillside covered with almond and fig trees. We are back in Madinat al—Zahra, the palace—city of the caliph Abd al-Rahman III.
What we see before us dazzles our eyes. We are no longer surrounded by broken ruins and shattered tiles. Instead, we are in the middle of a living royal city where 30,000 people live and work. In the centre of the city stands a magnificent palace, surrounded by other fine buildings belonging to the caliph's officials.
Fountains and bathing places abound in the city, flowing with water brought down from the mountains. The biggest fountain is in the caliph's palace. Its basin is made of green marble and decorated with twelve sculpted pieces of animals.
The grandest place of all is the caliph's royal chamber where he holds his court. Here, blue-and-pink marble pillars gracefully support horseshoe arches covered with red- and-white patterns that branch out like the rays of the sun. It has taken thousands of workers almost forty five years to build this royal city.

Women of royal households

Abd al-Rahman III has named this city after one of his favourite wives who is called Zahra. Madinat aI-Zahra has become the envy of rulers all over the Mediterranean world. Some people say that it was Zahra who first suggested to the caliph the idea of building a new royal city.
In Cordova, some of the wives of the amirs and caliphs have played an important role in influencing events. Some have tried to get their own sons chosen to succeed their husbands as rulers. Others have looked after princes who have become great rulers.

Skilled poets and writers

In royal households and in the homes of nobles, there are many women who are well educated. They have libraries in their palaces and mansions which contain a wide range of books. These women take a keen interest in events that are happening in Cordova. Some of them are skilled poets and writers, known for their wit and learning. Others have special knowledge in subjects such as history, grammar and the sciences.

Working to earn a living

The lives of women who are not born in rich households is quite different. Some of these women have to work hard to earn a living. A few of the women are doctors and others are teachers. There are female scribes who work in Cordova's libraries, making copies of valuable books.
Some of the women work as midwives, helping mothers during childbirth. Others manage their own stalls in the markets, or help in preparing various crafts for sale, such as mats, pottery and basketwork.
Among the Cordovans are women and girl slaves. They work in female bath-houses and as maids, nurses and in the servants in the houses of the wealthy. A large number of are to be found in the royal palaces and household. Here, they may grow up to become educated and gain positions of influence over their masters and mistresses.

Everyday life

Most women who belong to ordinary households in Cordova work at home, looking after the children. They often visit neighbours or relatives, and the many markets of Cordova. Public baths are also important places where women meet. Here, they exchange news and share their problems. On festival days, Muslim women visit places of worship and cemeteries to offer prayers for the dead.

Women in the Middle Ages

The life of women in the Middle Ages varies greatly. A woman born as a noble leads a life quite different from one who is born a peasant. Some women enjoy a life of luxury while others struggle hard to feed their children. Women who are married to rulers and other men in high positions can acquire great power and influence, as can slave girls. The majority of women in these times have very little say, except in their own everyday lives.


  • 10th century CE: Madinat al-Zahra built by Abd al-Rahman III.

Select two groups from those on the previous. Page, compare the everyday life of women to these two groups. What would have been common to the lives of the women? How would their lives have been different?


In the middle Ages, the social groups to which belonged played an important role in their lives.


Find out more about the role and status of women in different civilisations in the Middle Ages What wore some of the major difficulties that all women faced in those times? What were some of the opportunities open to them?


In modern times, women in many parts of the world still suffer all kinds of difficulties. What are some of the issues that women in Muslim societies face? What are some of the ways in which these concerns can be addressed?


In Islam, all men and women are equal before God. How should we interpret this guidance In modern times?

Review of unit 5
Review questions
  • A living mosaic
    • What kind of society would a visitor have encountered in tenth-century Cordova?
    • What were some of the regions from which the different groups of people originated?
    • Which were the main religions represented in the city?
    • How were the people grouped in terms of their wealth and status?
    • In which other cities did people of different backgrounds lived together?

  • The people of the book

    • How were the Jews treated by the Visigoths, and how did their situation change under the Muslims?
    • How does the Quran describe the Jews and Christians? What does the word 'dhimmi' mean?
    • What were some of the reasons for people in al-Andalus converting to Islam?
    • Who were the Mozarabes?

  • Slaves or masters?

    • What were some of the groups that could be found in Cordova, and what was their status?
    • Why was it difficult for a person to move from one level of wealth and importance to another?
    • In what kinds of situations did people find their status changed in the. Middle Ages?
    • What kinds of differences exist between groups of people today?

  • The royal city of Zahra

    • What different roles did women have in the Middle Ages?
    • To what extent was the position of women related to the social group in which they were born?
    • Why was it difficult for women in the Middle Ages to be free to choose the work they would have liked?
    • To what extent has the position of women in modem societies improved? What are some major problems that women all over the world face today?