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Monthly Archives: February 2014

Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406) on the the Alid Lineage of the Fatimids

The following is excerpted from Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah, the introduction to his universal history (which can be found here: Ibn Khaldun, unlike many of his contemporaries or predecessors in the Muslim world, was convinced of the authenticity of Fatimid claims to Alid descent. As one of the foremost philosophers and historians of the medieval period, Ibn Khaldun’s defense of Fatimid lineage (even as he condemns the dynasty for belonging to a “heretical sect”) deserves to be considered.  (more…)

“An Ocean without a Shore” by Ibn Arabi (d. 1240)

I marveled at an Ocean without shore,
and at a Shore that did not have an ocean;
And at a Morning Light without darkness,
and at a Night that was without daybreak;
And then a Sphere with no locality
known to either fool or learned scholar;
And at an azure Dome raised over the earth,
circulating ’round its center – Compulsion;
And at a rich Earth without o’er-arching vault
and no specific location, the Secret concealed…

I courted a Secret which existence did not alter;
for it was asked of me: “Has Thought enchanted you? ”
– To which I replied: “I have no power over that;
I counsel you: Be patient with it while you live.
But, truly, if Thought becomes established
in my mind, the embers kindle into flame,
And everything is given up to fire
the like of which was never seen before!”
And it was said to me: “He does not pluck a flower
who calls himself with courtesy ‘Freeborn’.”
“He who woos the belle femme in her boudoir, love-beguiled,
will never deem the bridal-price too high!”

I gave her the dower and was given her in marriage
throughout the night until the break of Dawn –
But other than Myself I did not find. – Rather,
that One whom I married – may his affair be known:
For added to the Sun’s measure of light
are the radiant New Moon and shining Stars;
Like Time, dispraised – though the Prophet (Blessings on him!)
had once declared of your Lord that He is Time.


Reconquista Mythology in 21st-Century Iberia

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the Spanish government seeking to make amends for the expulsion of the Sephardic Jewish community in 1492. One of the ways in which it has sought to do so is by extending Spanish citizenship to any living descendant of the Sephardim. Of course, the manner and parameters of this offer (which still has not been approved by Spanish parliament) remain unclear, but it appears that the Spanish state is attempting to rectify one of the darkest chapters of its history. However, some people have rightly pointed to a clear double-standard of the Spanish state since it has failed to either discuss or even contemplate a similar offer in the case of the descendants of the Iberian Muslims forcibly Christianized in 1502 and expelled in 1609-1614, the so-called Moriscos, of whom at least 1-3 million reside in North Africa.Worse, certain Spanish politicians have not only ruled out the possibility of doing so, but have also gone out of their way to justify the murder, systematic torture, forcible conversion, mass expulsions of the Iberian Muslim community that took place between 1502 and 1614. They have also sought to deny that the treatment of the Hispano-Muslims during the 15th, 16th and 17th century constituted persecution, preferring instead to reaffirm old myths and emphasize that the expulsions were simply security measures taken during a time of war. This refusal to consider the atrocities committed against Iberian Muslims certainly needs to be questioned.



Ibn Hazm (d. 1064) on Specialization of Knowledge

“He who limits himself to one science and does not acquaint himself with the others will be a laughingstock and will be missing more from his own specialty than what he knows of it. For the sciences are all connected with one another. On the other hand, he who seeks to encompass all the sciences is almost detruncated, removed from knowledge, and unable to achieve anything; he is like a buyer with no fixed goal: a lifetime falls short of attaining that. Rather, the student should take up a little of each science if only to the extent of knowing the objective of each one. Afterwards, he should take up what is most indispensable, as we said above. It is only then that he should devote himself to the science in which he excels with all his natural inclinations, and all means at his disposal, and should master it to the best of his ability. This may mean two, three, or fewer sciences, depending on the degree of his natural sagacity, his power of understanding, his persistent inclination, and his devotion to study.”—Ibn Hazm (d. 1064), Maratib al-‘Ulum


The Origins of the Alhambra as a Jewish Fortress

Although the Alhambra, the famous fortress-palace complex that sits magnificently on the Sabika hill overlooking Granada, is very much the product of the Nasrid dynasty (1238-1492) and has become the most recognizable symbol of al-Andalus, there is evidence to suggest that it was originally a palatial residence of the Jewish viziers of the Zirid dynasty (1013-1090). It is quite possible that before Granada rose to prominence as an Andalusi Muslim capital during the Taifa period, most of its population was Jewish, a fact that earned it the name “Gharnatah al-Yahud” (Granada of the Jews) by contemporary Muslims. Although there may have been a small fortification on the Sabika hill as early as 889, it was not until the early eleventh century that a Jewish vizier named Samuel ibn Naghrillah, or Samuel HaNagid (d. 1056), constructed a fortress on the hill and made it his residence. (more…)

The Tibyan of Abd Allah ibn Buluggin (r. 1073-1090): A Fascinating Glimpse into the World of Eleventh-Century Iberia

The Tibyan, which was written in Arabic by ‘Abd Allah bin Buluggin, the last Zirid emir of Granada (r. 1073-1090) sometime around 1094, is among the best sources for the end of the Taifa period, an era of division and fragmentation following the collapse of the Umayyad Dynasty centered at Córdoba. The text describes the division of Muslims in Spain into two hostile groups, Andalusis and Berbers, and provides crucial insight into issues such as as the advance of the Christian kingdoms, the political intrigues between Muslim and Christian rulers and the growth of the city of Granada as a new Muslim capital and political force in the Iberian peninsula. The work also provides important eyewitness accounts of battles and sieges and contains many colloquial Andalusi expressions which demonstrate the vernacular Arabic of the period.


Zirid Emir Abdullah ibn Buluggin (d. 1090) on the Reputation of Dynasties

“The good reputation of a dynasty/state endures only as long as it lasts, and continues only during its days of ascendancy; this is the case even if the dynasty is unjust. It is vilified once it has passed away, even if the dynasty was just. People take the side of the winner, with the exception of those people–and they are very few–who look at things fairly and without prejudice”–‘Abd Allah ibn Buluggin (d. 1090), last Zirid emir of Granada, “al-Tibyan”