Simply an excellent lecture by Hamza Yusuf. Although he makes some minor factual errors and I may take issue with his framing, it’s definitely worth a listen. One of his main contributions is that he recognizes the dangers posed by both the “Reconquista” champions in modern Spain, who seek to completely deny the legitimacy of the 900-year long (!!) Islamic civilization in Iberia, and those in the Islamic world who embellish and exaggerate about this period of history. This talk shows his understanding of the broader processes and lessons from this period of Islamic history and his amazing ability to convey this information in a meaningful way
After Burgos, I headed for León, a city with an immensely important history for Christian Spain. León was perhaps the single most important contributor to the political and religious identity of the Kingdom of Castile-Leó. Historians and clergymen from this city were instrumental in reinforcing the idea that the conquest of al-Andalus was in fact a “Reconquista”, thereby linking the newly-established Christian kingdoms in the tenth and eleventh centuries with the illustrious Visigothic past. León also had an important identity as an “imperial city” since it was in the Cathedral of León that Alfonso VII (d. 1147) was crowned “Emperor of All Spain” (imperator totius hispaniae) in 1135. Naturally, the first place I headed the evening I arrived was to that very cathedral.
The next morning, the first thing I did was go back to the cathedral to explore it some more. It was perhaps one of the most stunning examples of Gothic architecture I’ve seen in all of Spain.
The rest of the city, like the cathedral, was also bursting with history. Here are some pictures.
Finally, I spent the last couple of hours in León visiting the Basilica of San Isidoro, where Isidore of Seville is buried along with a long list of illustrious Christian kings and queens of Spain.
Burgos is not a very well-known city to most travelers today. But it has immense historical importance. It was the political and cultural heart of the medieval Kingdom of Castile, the entity which conquered the majority of al-Andalus and which was instrumental in laying the legal, cultural, religious, and institutional foundations of the modern Spanish state. The city also lies on the Camino de Santiago, a major pilgrimage route, which adds to its importance.
When I arrived in the city, I could tell it was immensely different than Andalusia. The architecture was obviously the clearest indicator but the cool weather and unique dialect of its inhabitants also made this obvious. As I walked through the city’s gates, the first thing I saw was the massive cathedral. It is within this cathedral that the 11th-century hero Rodrigo de Vivar (“El Cid”) is buried. One cannot help but admire this incredible piece of architecture and the massive effort that went into its construction. Truly one of the wonders of Spain.
Another place of interest in Burgos for me was the Monastery of Las Huelgas, which is famous for a variety of reasons (namely all the royalty buried there.)…but personally I was mainly interested in seeing the Penon/Banner of the Almohads, captured by the Kingdom of Leon-Castile at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212), which is kept in the monastery. This battle was the death knell of most of al-Andalus, since the defeat shattered the Almohad empire and led to the conquest of the vast majority of Islamic Spain: Cordoba (1236), Valencia (1238), Jaen (1246), Sevilla (1248) all fell to Christian rule soon after. As such, the victory (and the captured banner which is the emblem of that victory) is immensely significant in the modern consciousness of the Christian Spain, since it marks THE fateful moment in their history when the tide turned eternally in the favor of the Christian states in the peninsula, at the expense of al-Andalus. Hence, it lies at the heart of the myth of the Reconquista. Each year, in a solemn ceremony, the banner is removed from the monastery by the state’s highest military officials and paraded through the streets in commemoration of that victory against Islam (I’ve found a picture online of the ceremony, which I posted below).
During the rest of my time in the city, I strolled around town and took in a few of the sights, which include the remains of the tenth-century fortress, the statue of El Cid, and the lovely mix of medieval and modern architecture.
Some useful literature about women in Islamic history:
Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.
Amri, Nelly. La sainte de Tunis : présentation et traduction de l’hagiographie de ʻĀisha al-Mannūbiyya (m. 665/1267). Paris: Sindbad, 2008
Bewley, Aisha. Muslim Women: A Biographical Dictionary. London: Taha Publishers, 2004
Caswell, Fuad Matthew. The Slave Girls of Baghdad: the Qiyan in the Early Abbasid Era. London: I.B. Tauris, 2011
Cortese, Delia and Simonetta Calderini. Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006
Davary, Bahar. Women and the Qur’an: a Study in Islamic Hermeneutics. Lewiston: Edward Mellen Press, 2009
Dursteler, Eric. Renegade Women: Gender, Identity, and Boundaries in the Early Modern Mediterranean. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011
Findly, Ellison Banks. Nur Jahan: Empress of Mughal India. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993
Guthrie, Shirley. Arab Women in the Middle Ages: Private Lives and Public Roles. London: Saqi Books, 2001
Hambly, Gavin R.G. Women in the Medieval Islamic World: Power, Patronage, and Piety. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1998.
Hammond, Marle. Beyond Elegy : Classical Arabic Women’s Poetry in Context. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010
Mack, Beverly and Jean Boyd. One Woman’s Jihad : Nana Asma’u, Scholar and Scribe. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000
Marin, Manuela. Mujeres en Al-Andalus. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, 2000
Mernissi, Fatima. Women’s Rebellion and Islamic Memory. Atlantic Highlands: Zed Books, 1996.
Mourtada-Sabbah, Nada and Adrian Gully. “’I am, by God, fit for high positions’: On the Political Role of Women in Al-Andalus,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 30 (2003): 183–209.
Myrne, Pernilla. Narrative, Gender and Authority in ʻAbbāsid Literature on Women. Göteborg : University of Gothenburg, Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis, 2010
Nadwi, Mohammad Akram. Al-Muhaddithat: the Women Scholars in Islam. Oxford: Interface Publications, 2007
Nashat, Guity and Lois Beck eds. Women in Iran from the Rise of Islam to 1800. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003
Peirce, Leslie P. Morality Tales : Law and Gender in the Ottoman Court of Aintab. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003
Peirce, Leslie P. The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Perry, Mary Elizabeth. The Handless Maiden: Moriscos and the Politics of Religion in Early Modern Spain. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005.
Roded, Ruth. Women in Islamic Biographical Collections. Boulder: L. Rienner Publishers, 1994.
Roded, Ruth ed. Women and Islam in the Middle East: a Reader. London/New York: I.B. Tauris, 1999
Ruggles, D. Fairchild ed. Women, Patronage, and Self-representation in Islamic Societies. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000
Shatzmiller, Maya. Her Day in Court: Women’s Property Rights in Fifteenth-Century Granada. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007
Shehadeh, Lamia Rustum ed. Women and War in Lebanon. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1999
Smith, Margaret. Muslim Women Mystics: The Life and Work of Rabi’a and Other Women Mystics in Islam. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 1994
Smith, Margaret. Rabia the Mystic. Lahore: Hijra International Publishers, 1983
Sonbol, Amira El-Azhary ed. Beyond the Exotic: Women’s Histories in Islamic Societies. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005
Spectorsky, Susan. Women in Classical Islamic Law: a Survey of the Sources. Leiden: Brill, 2010
Spellberg, Denise. Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past : The Legacy of ʻAʼisha bint Abi Bakr. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994
Thys-Senocak, Lucienne. Ottoman Women Builders: The Architectural Patronage of Hadice Turhan Sultan. London: Ashgate, 2006.
Tucker, Judith. In the House of the Law: Gender and Islamic Law in Ottoman Syria and Palestine. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998
Tucker, Judith. Women in Nineteenth-Century Egypt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985
Yermolenko, Galina. “Roxolana: The Greatest Empresse of the East,” Muslim World 95 (2005): 231–248.
Zilfi, Madeline ed. Women in the Ottoman Empire : Middle Eastern Women in the Early Modern Era. Leiden: Brill, 2007
Synopsis: The episode begins with Umar sitting and talking with Uthman and Abd al-Rahman ibn Awf. The caliph reveals that he has now officially gotten married to Umm Kulthum, the daughter of ‘Ali and Fatimah. The next scene shows Abu Sufyan and Suhayl ibn Amr waiting impatiently outside Umar’s chambers in order to meet the caliph. Eventually, they get fed up of waiting and depart, going into the streets of Medina. Abu Sufyan expresses major indignation and asserts that those who were lowly in the era of jahiliyya are now given precedence over the Quraysh (a few non-Qurashi’s were given an audience with Umar while Abu Sufyan was waiting). Suhayl tells Abu Sufyan to fear God and not let the mentality of jahiliyya overcome him. He explains to the latter that those who were “lowly” are given precedence because of their good deeds and early conversion. Abu Sufyan asks God’s forgiveness and agrees with Suhayl. Suhayl then declares his intention to move to Syria and spend the last years of his life there. The next scene shows Umar, Uthman and some other senior Companions. The others are trying to convince Umar to reinstate Khalid as governor of Qinnasrin, explaining that Umar’s proposal to remove him seems unfair. Umar is unmoved by these arguments and states that Khalid was rather selective in his distribution of the wealth gained from the wars against Byzantium, and this was sufficient grounds to remove him from office.
The next scene goes to Damascus where Abu Ubayda is comforting Khalid by explaining that he should look forward to the rewards he will receive in the Hereafter rather than be troubled by the affairs of this world. Khalid agrees and tells Abu Ubayda that, although he disagrees with Umar’s decision (to remove him as governor), he will nevertheless obey the caliph. He then departs the governor’s palace and, once in the city square, expresses his reservations about Umar’s decision to his close associates. Back in Medina, Khalid’s kin are outraged at Umar’s decision to remove him from his governorship. Umar explains the situation and asserts that he removed Khalid due to the latter’s mismanagement of the wealth of his province. The Banu Makhzum (Khalid’s kin) state that Umar is their fellow tribesman and should show favor to them; Umar asserts that this is exactly why he has been so harsh on Khalid, so that none will assert that he had ever showed favoritism to anyone, whether blood relatives or otherwise.
The next scene shows the ambassador of the Byzantine emperor entering Medina along with his entourage and expressing surprise at the humble nature of the Muslim capital. The ambassador approaches the Companions and tells them that he has come to negotiate a peace treaty and would like to be taken to the caliph. He is led to the mosque of Medina, where Umar is sleeping under a palm tree just outside. The Companions point to the figure lying on the ground and tell the ambassador that this is their caliph. The ambassador looks quite surprised and rather amused. As the caliph sits up, the ambassador admits that since entering the city he has been surprised and has asked himself whether this was indeed the place from where the armies and notables which conquered Byzantine Syria had set out from. He then proceeds to respectfully praise the caliph’s great humility and justice. The next scene shows Umar and his entourage riding north to Syria, but are met in the desert by Abu Ubayda and others. Umar asks why they have met them halfway, when they were due to meet in Damascus. Abu Ubayda explains that there has been a major outbreak of plague in Syria and they thought it prudent not to expose the caliph to that. Umar consults with the senior Companions and decides to return to Medina. The next scene goes to Damascus, where the plague and its effects are shown. Abu Ubayda is seen walking around the city and comforting those suffering from the disease. He then goes to the house of Suhayl ibn Amr, where the latter is dying and his son (Abu Jandal) is seated at his bedside. After a few moments Suhayl passes away, uttering the declaration of faith very faintly. Both Abu Ubayda and Abu Jandal are grieved and pray for Suhayl’s soul. In a later scene, Abu Ubayda finds that he has contracted the plague, as some of its symptoms become evident. Next, we see Abu Ubayda lying on his deathbed surrounded by Yazid ibn Abu Sufyan and ‘Amr ibn al-‘As. Abu Ubayda tells them to ensure they maintain their prayers, pay the zakat, and to maintain the obligatory and recommended acts prescribed by Islam. He then passes away.
Back in Medina, Umar and the senior Companions are mourning the passing of Abu Ubayda and eulogizing him. The next scene goes to the year 642 and shows ‘Amr ibn al-‘As leading Muslim troops into Egypt. We hear (in the voice-over of the actor reading Amr’s letter to Umar) that ‘Amr has conquered most of Egypt, established peace treaties (dhimma) with the local population, and overcome most of the Byzantine garrisons in the country with the assistance of the Egyptians. At the moment, ‘Amr continues, the Muslims are besieging the last major Byzantine stronghold in Egypt, Alexandria. As Umar reads out the letter in Medina, the Companions rejoice and praise God. The Companions comment on how relatively little warfare ‘Amr had to engage in to overcome the Byzantines in Egypt. ‘Umar explains that this is the best of victories: one that is achieved with as little bloodshed as possible. The caliph writes back to ‘Amr and advises him on how to proceed in Egypt. In Alexandria itself, the Patriarch Cyril (al-Muqawqis) is advocating a peaceful surrender to the Muslims, citing the fact that no aid was forthcoming from Constantinople. It seems he convinced the others, because the next scene shows ‘Amr and the Muslim army entering Alexandria in triumph. The next scene shows the news being announced in the mosque of Medina, to the elation of the Muslims assembled.
The next scene goes to Emessa (Homs) where Khalid ibn al-Walid is on his deathbed dying. He is surrounded by his household, whom Khalid tells not to hold any grudges against Umar since all that the caliph had done was for the pleasure of God. Khalid then utters his famous words: “I have fought in countless battles and there is not a single part of my body which is not covered with the strike of a sword, a spear, or an arrow…yet, I die in my bed like an old man. May the eyes of cowards never sleep!” In Medina, Umar and all the Companions are in the mosque mourning and eulogizing Khalid ibn al-Walid. Umar is especially grieved and feels that he was rather unjust and overly harsh towards Khalid while he was alive. He mourns the death of Abu Bakr and says that the latter was a far better judge of the character of men than he (Umar).
The next scene shows an important-looking Persian official being escorted around Medina by some Muslim soldiers, who are looking for the caliph. When they arrive in the mosque they find Umar sleeping on the ground. When the caliph wakes up, the soldiers explain that the Persian official is Hurmuzan, an important general and governor from Iran who surrendered willingly to the Muslims on the condition that he will be delivered to the caliph in Medina. Umar explains to Hurmuzan that he is responsible for the deaths of countless Companions of the Prophet and justice will best be served by his death. Hurmuzan asks the caliph for some water. Hurmuzan holds the cup of water in his hand and asks Umar if he will be safe until after he drinks the water. Umar responds in the affirmative. Hurmuzan then drops the cup and the water. He explains to the caliph that he is now safe, since Umar promised that he would not kill him until he drunk THAT cup of water. Umar protests and accuses Hurmuzan of trickery, but the rest of the Companions affirm that Hurmuzan is right and that the caliph implicitly agreed to spare his life under that condition. Umar grudgingly agrees with the rest of the Muslims. Hurmuzan, touched by the caliph’s acceptance of this agreement and the Companions’ dedication to justice, then gives a short speech about how, even before this moment, saw how the Arabs triumphed due to their faith in God and God’s assistance. Although most of Iran has fallen to the Arab armies and nothing remains of former Persian glory, he asserts that Islam will ennoble the Persians as it did the Arabs. He then proclaims his conversion to Islam and ‘Umar invites him to stay with the Muslims in Medina, where he will be given a residence and stipend. Hurmuzan agrees.
The next scene shows a Copt from Egypt riding into Medina and entering the mosque, where he asks to see the caliph. Umar is seated and asks what he can do for the man. The latter proclaims that he has suffered an injustice at the hands of Muhammad ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, the son of the governor of Egypt. He asks the caliph, under the terms of the dhimma, to help him. Umar promises that he will. The next scene shows ‘Amr ibn al-‘As and his son in the royal palace in Egypt. Amr tells the latter that he has received a letter from the caliph in Medina demanding that Amr send his son to the city. Amr asks his son if there is some issue he should know about, since he was surprised by the letter. The next scene shows Amr and his entourage arriving in Medina. We are then taken to the mosque where Umar is talking with both Amr and his son…and then the caliph summons the Egyptian Copt. The caliph offers the Copt his walking stick and tells him to beat Amr’s son in the same manner as the latter had beat him. The Copt takes the stick and begins beating the guy. Umar then tells the Copt to beat ‘Amr himself, since as the ruler he was responsible for ensuring justice for his subjects but failed. The Copt asserts that he has no interest in doing so and is satisfied with his revenge. Umar then turns to Amr and tells him that his subjects need to be granted justice, for they are all free men and not slaves and should not be treated as such. Later, Amr asks the caliph if he seeks to provoke the people to rise up against their governors. Umar responds that if it is for a just cause then this is permitted. He explains that without justice the very foundations of the state will crumble. ‘Amr concurs. He then asks the caliph if he would grant permission for an expansion westward to Libya, but Umar responds negatively. The caliph explains that it is necessary for the Muslims to put their internal matters in order and to build up the institutions of Islam within the conquered territories before extending their rule further. As they finish their conversation, al-Mughirah ibn Shu’bah–flanked by Abu Lu’lu’–approaches the caliph and tells him that his new slave (Abu Lu’lu’), acquired after the battle of Nahawand, is one of the best craftsman and blacksmiths he has encountered. Umar and Abu Lu’lu’ exchange an uneasy look.
The next scene shows Abu Lu’lu’ at night entering Hurmuzan’s residence. The former explains that, although Muslim, he feels a great hatred for the Arabs and, especially, for Umar for having conquered Persia. He continues and asserts that the “holy fires” which had burned in Persia for over 1000 years were extinguished by the Arabs, who had once been the slaves of the Persians. Hurmuzan tries to dissuade Abu Lu’lu from such thoughts and talk, but the later continues and becomes more passionate. This provokes Hurmuzan into asserting his own misgivings about the fall of Persian rule…he explains that he feels torn in two: completely accepting of Islam but completely regretful of the fact that Persian domination has come to an end. He quickly realizes what he is saying and stops. He angrily accuses Abu Lu’lu’ of awakening the devil (of ethnic/national sentiment) within him and demands that he leave at once.
The next scene goes to the year 644 and shows the Hajj to Mecca, led by Umar. This is essentially a repeat of the very first sequence of the first episode of the show. The caravan then returns to Medina. In the city, Abu Lu’lu’ approaches Hurmuzan and shows him a dagger that he has acquired and implies that he will use it to assassinate the caliph, “the man responsible for the fall of Persia.” Hurmuzan is fearful and rushes away from the scene asserting that he wants nothing to do with this plot. The next scene shows the Muslims praying fajr in the mosque, with Abu Lu’lu in the congregation. As Umar leads the prayer and recites the fatiha during the first rak’a, Abu Lu’Lu (standing in the first row) pulls the dagger from his robes, approaches the caliph and stabs him several times (once in the back, and three times in the stomach) before fleeing. The next scene goes to Umar lying on his bed, surrounded by all the Companions, all of whom look very somber. The caliph praises God that his death did not come at the hands of one of the righteous Muslims. He then beckons to his son Abd Allah ibn Umar and tells him to go to A’ishah (the Prophet’s widow) and tell her that Umar requests to be buried next to his Companions and those he loves (the Prophet and Abu Bakr). Umar then turns to the rest of the Companions and states that he feels responsible for the succession to the caliphate. Al-Mughirab ibn Shubah suggests that Umar make his son, Abd Allah, successor. Umar is horrified at the idea and responds that he would never place such a burden upon any of his own family. Rather, he will allow the matter to go to a consultation between the most senior Companions of the Prophet still living: Uthman, Ali, Abd al-Rahman ibn Awf, Talha ibn Ubayd Allah, al-Zubayr ibn Awwam, and Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas. He orders them to meet and decide upon a successor from among themselves. Umar then lays down his final testament in which he urges his successor to care for all the Muslims and non-Muslims in the Islamic polity and to uphold justice. He then passes away, amidst great mourning in Medina and throughout the conquered lands.
Review: This episode was done magnificently. Truly, a great way to end this amazing series, Since I’ll be writing a more comprehensive review of the entire show, I’ll keep this one short. The writers and producers did a great job showing all the important anecdotes mentioned within the classical accounts (the case of the Copt, Hurmuzan, removal of Khalid from governorship) and stringing them together in a coherent fashion. I thought the exchange between Abu Sufyan and Suhayl was shown particularly well, and it underscored–at least for me–the reality that existed by the death off Umar (and which would assert itself in the caliphate of Uthman) of a number of Qurashi late comers to Islam feeling that their status had been undercut by the earlier converts from the “lesser” tribes. Abu Sufyan emerges as the representative of this school of thought. The representation of both Khalid ibn al-Walid and Abu Ubayda ibn al-Jarrah in this episode firmly highlighted these characters’ honor, nobility, and dignity. The scenes of their deaths were particularly powerful and were depicted as faithfully as could be to the traditional narratives.Umar’s reaction to the death of Khalid was done particularly well and may as well have been taken, word for word, from the earliest sources. The sorrow of the caliph combined with his regret for how harshly he treated Khalid come out very clearly and powerfully during this scene.
The representation of Hurmuzan was very intriguing to say the least. The character, while historical and important in his own right, is made in this episode to represent the tens of thousands, if not millions, of Persians who would enter into Islam in the aftermath of the conquest of the Sassanid empire. As such, he represents all the anxieties, ambitions, and internal conflict which would have accompanied the embracing of Islam by this community. As a people who were subjected to a conquest by their hated subordinates (the Arabs), the psychology of the new Persian converts becomes evident through the character of Hurmuzan. The relationship of Hurmuzan to Islam is rather schizophrenic…on one hand, he fully accepts the tenets of the new faith and believes firmly in God, but on the other hand he finds it difficult to reconcile himself to the Islamic polity (and its leadership) which destroyed the “glorious” Persian empire. Abu Lu’lu’, as a character, represents the most extreme of the latter tendencies and this hatred drives him to assassinate the caliph.
The martyrdom of Umar was shown perfectly and was extremely difficult to watch. The ruthlessness of Abu Lu’lu’ in perpetrating this act while the Muslims were in the midst of prayer, the consolation of Umar that his murderer was not among the Companions of the Prophet, and his concern for the welfare of the Muslim community after his death all came together quite effectively in the final scenes. The concern of Umar to be buried next to Abu Bakr and the Prophet underscored how much love the caliph had for these two individuals and how he always aspired to be considered among their ranks. I was glad they did not dwell too much upon the succession issue, since that takes one too far away from the main theme of the show: the life of ‘Umar. The closing sequence, where they showed all the people and lands under the caliphs control, from Iraq to Egypt to Arabia to Syria, was a great way to end the show by showing that Umar was not merely one man in Medina or, as he always insisted, simply one of the Muslims but a great contributor to a magnificent civilization. He was truly a successor to the Prophet Muhammad and Abu Bakr.
Here are two maps that I think best help conceptualize the major political transformation following the collapse of the Caliphate of Cordoba in 1031, following a Muslim civil war in al-Andalus. Without even reading the history, one can imagine the developments which occurred just by looking at these maps.
Al-Andalus before 1031
Al-Andalus after 1031
It covers everything from the establishment of Islamic rule in Iberia, the Umayyad Caliphate, the Taifa kingdoms, the “Berber”-Amazigh empires of the Almoravids and Almohads, the ‘Reconquista,’ the fall of Granada, the inquisition, the Moriscos, the 1568-1571 rebellions, and the expulsions of 1609. Definitely worth a watch!