The first day of Ramadan (yesterday) in Granada was quite surreal. Ramadan was the very month in which Islam reached Spain and thus has a very special significance. As I waited for the sun to go down at the Mirador of San Nicolas in the Albayzin, I observed a beautiful sight: the Alhambra and the remainder of Granada under the sunset. The view reminded me of one of Ibn Zamrak’s poems:
The Sabika Hill sits like a garland on Granada’s brow
In which the stars would be entwined,
And the Alhambra is the ruby set above the garland.
Granada is a bride whose crown is the Alhambra and whose jewels and adornments are its flowers
Magrib prayer and iftaar was an amazing experience as well. The beauty of having the opportunity to pray my first Ramadan prayer in Granada aside, the hospitality and the excellence of the Muslims at the Mezquita de Granada simply made this experience all the more meaningful. I broke my fast with indigenous Spanish Muslims, Moroccan and Tunisian Muslims, German Muslims, and a few American converts to Islam. The diversity of the community and the unity of their purpose and values was beautiful to behold. Alhamdulilah once again for this amazing privilege of being here.
I cannot neglect to mention one additional aspect of this experience, which touched me even more as a historian of Islamic Spain. Less than 20 meters away from the Mezquita de Granada lies the Iglesia de San Nicolas which, like all the churches in Granada (and much of Andalusia), was once a mosque. This particularly site, however, had added significance because this particular building’s transformation into a church coincided with the major transformation in Spanish policy/society in the medieval period, from one of uneasy accomodationism (of non-Christian communities) to one of aggressive and forced conversion. By 1502, Islam as a public religion was extinguished within Castile: fasting, the adhan, prayer, and even uttering the shahadah all became punishable (or even capital!) offenses. In 1567, even speaking Arabic, “dressing like a Muslim,” and the zambra/flamenco dance (all marks of Hispano-Muslim culture) were outlawed. The fact that there lies a mosque right across from the Iglesia de San Nicolas from which the adhan is declared loudly and a large, thriving community of Muslims exists is, in itself, a miracle and a sign of God’s mercy. Exactly 400 years ago (in 1612), when the last crypto-Muslims were expelled from Granada…this reality was absolutely unthinkable. The sound of the Qur’an emanating from the Mezquita during tarawih prayer, the churchbells of San Nicolas, and the loud utterances of the flamenco musicians on the plaza outside all intermingle freely in the Mirador de San Nicolas…and in my opinion, nothing could be more beautiful. Even the Alhambra sparkles happily, as if in agreement at this reality. As for me, seeing and being in the midst of all this I cannot help but feel a sense of contentment and satisfaction. Alhamdulilah.