Khola Hasan

[The author visited Spain in March 1985 by car with two families. Their travel began in London, crossing into France by a ferry, then to Paris, Lyons and southern France passing through the town of Perpignan near the border with Spain. Her booklet "The Crumbling Minarets of Spain," contains impressions of several cities and their monuments known to be famous since the glorious days of Muslim Spain. The booklet includes several maps and many sketches.]

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In 720 C.E. when the Muslims had captured Spain they swept into France via two routes from its southern side. The area we were in was highly mountainous, and here the Muslim armies had marched through the mountain passes under the leadership of Ambasa and Samih bin Malik. The first route took them two thirds of the way to Paris, after which they were defeated [at Tours-Poitiers during the month of Ramadan in 732 CE. This place is known as 'The Pavement of the Martyrs' and in Muslim cronicles as Balaat ash-Shuhada']. The second route resulted in the region of Southern France, including Toulouse, Narbonne and Perpignan, as far up as Lyon, being captured.

The region remained in Muslim hands for a long time. It is to be expected that they left many landmarks behind them when they were driven out of France. Before reaching Perpignan, a tiny French town near the border with Spain, we passed another town, on the outskirts of which stood a castle shaped like a mosque, and this castle seemed to be one of them.

[Muslim control in southern France varied from time to time, as some of the territories were lost, regained, and then lost. This went on until 975 CE. Muslims also controlled parts of northen and southern Italy and Switzerland until 1050 in a manner similar to that in southern France, and these Muslims, natives of Spain and North Africa, were not allied with either Muslim Spain or any other major Muslim rulers. Muslim presence in northern and southern Italy began soon after the control of Sicily in 827. They lost Sicily in 1091 after ruling it for more than 260 years. About this time, other major islands in the Mediterranean were lost (Malta and Corsica in 1090), and Muslim naval superiority in the Mediterranean was challenged. Soon after these losses and with the fall of Toledo in 1083, a concerted campaign against the Muslims began with the first crusade in 1095.]

We learned that after the Moors of [Northern] Spain were defeated by the Christians in the l3th century, the new rulers began a ruthless campaign of rapidly obliterating any traces of Spain's glorious past. Queen Isabella issued decrees for mass conversion of Muslims to Christianity. Those who refused were either killed or forced to leave the country. The Qur'an and Arabic texts were burned, mosques were destroyed or converted into churches, Islamic prayers were forbidden, and anyone suspected of secretly practicing Islam was persecuted. [Quotations from Kamen and Lea].

The lengths to which the despotic Spanish monarchs were prepared to go to eradicate Islam were simply tremendous. The government even set up border stations outside former Muslim strongholds like Granada where any traveler passing through was forced to drink alcohol and eat pork.

The situation continued on until the early 20th century when the more tolerant Socialists came into power and allowed some religious freedom. It was then that about fifty 'Christian' families suddenly pronounced that they were in fact Muslims. These families were the descendants of the Moriscos, the Muslims who had been forced to convert to Christianity, and now, after a passage of many generations, they re-established the faith of their ancestors. It was beautiful to think of these people who were outwardly Christians, but who secretly passed down and kept alive the knowledge that they were Muslims for hundreds of years until they were able to pronounce this publicly. This is a direct and sad contrast to the majority of Muslims today who are publicly Muslims but whose practice and thought is that of the non-believers.

Although the Muslims played a Major role in the history of Spain and made it a center of learning for the world, such facts are completely ignored in the schools. Instead they are brainwashed with the usual story of barbaric Muslims attacking the peaceful Spaniards and giving them the choice between Islam and the sword. The little they are told about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Islam in general is a gross distortion of the facts. [Quotations from Famous Scholars: What they say about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)].

This was not new to me as I have suffered at the hands of teachers in London, especially those who teach History and Religious Studies. They seem to have a vendetta against the Muslims, refusing point-blank to acknowledge the truth. I remember being taught that the Jewish Golden Age in Spain was due entirely to their own efforts. The Jews were simply indispensable to the Muslim rulers as without their talents the Muslim civilization would never have flourished!

Although the Spanish are not exactly overflowing with manners they are actually very friendly and hospitable people. The Spaniards are much like the Arabs and this is to be expected after the latter's eight-hundred-year stay in Spain and the intermarriages that thus took place. During our journey we were so struck by the calm and clean nature of the people, especially in the smaller, sleepier towns. In every village we would pass women standing at their doorsteps with brooms or dusters in their hands, gossiping non-stop (It's amazing how much they talk!). At every corner there would be a knot of old men and if they were not busy staring at us, they would be talking.

When we got hopelessly lost and screamed for help, which was a regular occurrence, obliging passers-by rushed to help. And if it was possible they would actually fetch their cars and escort us to our destination. Although most of the roads had pavements, these seemed to be reserved for the tourists. The natives would stroll leisurely across the road while the car drivers would take quick naps in their cars. The atmosphere was tranquil and lazy, and it was hard to believe that we were still in the real world and not in a scene from Enid Blyton.

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In Valencia, the mosques that were not destroyed were the largest ones and were transformed into churches. We went to see a few of these that evening and were saddened into silence. I can remember one of them particularly well. It was a huge stone building in the middle of a small square. Standing in front of its numerous towering minarets we all felt like shrimps. We entered it in the same frame of mind we would enter any mosque in London or elsewhere, so imagine the torture we experienced when, instead of an Imam, we saw a Priest dressed in flamboyant red; instead of the Qur'an, we heard a choir; instead of prayer mats we saw cold benches; instead of the Mihrab we saw the outstretched arms of Jesus on a cross. Although it was late at night, a service was being conducted because it was Easter Friday.

We spent a long time in that square because there were many mosques clustered in that small area. While walking around we met a young Arab. He told us that he came to that area every evening to stand quietly in the dark looking at the remains of a marvelous history. Although the authorities have tried to make these stolen mosques look more like churches, they have not fully succeeded and the buildings remain distinctly Islamic. Because of their rugged exterior and thick unpainted stone walls, there is an air of permanence and solidity in all these buildings, which becomes even more apparent when they are compared with the other buildings around them.

Spain is a land of strange contrasts, the strangest of which is the sight of these ancient, distinctly Islamic castles and mosques standing next to modern flats and office blocks made of thin walls and glass, so delicate that it seems that a strong wind would easily blow them away. It is as if the whole world may change but these historic buildings are determined to stay the same. And time has in fact proved them right. Living amidst such stubborn reminders of their Muslim past it is not surprising that there has been a growing nationalist movement in Andalusia with an aim to asserting an identity closer to their Moorish heritage.

We then walked to the largest mosque that the Moors built. When the Christians first captured it, after encountering brave resistance, they burned alive the Qadi (Judge) of the town as well as his eldest son outside the mosque. The only memorial today to these martyrs is a faded Spanish inscription on one slab of the pavement at the site of the burning.

One of the minarets of this mosque is exceptionally tall and remains the highest in Valencia to this day. The Christians had immediately placed crosses on all the minarets, but for some reason they left this one alone, and so it still stands, unconquered. They also contributed statues of Jesus and horrific figures of various demons to their "churches." These demons are supposed to represent Satan and were placed there to protect the churches against the Muslims.

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As we left Murcia we passed a massive, wooden water-wheel. This was built six hundred years ago by the Moors to water the fields and when the Christians captured the town they realized what a prize they had found and so kept it intact. Today it is still used to water fields for miles and is probably the largest water-wheel in Spain: about eight meters in diameter, and still working as efficiently as if built yesterday. What really annoyed me was that the Information Board nearby only said that it was a Historic Monument, with no details about its date or builders. This applied to all the palaces, bridges, mosques, castles and fortresses that we saw. The jealous Spanish authorities want to keep the world in ignorance about the role of the Muslims in making their country a historian's and tourist's paradise.

Allah: Allah is the proper name in Arabic for The One and Only God, The Creator and Sustainer of the universe. It is used by the Arab Christians and Jews for the God (Eloh-im in Hebrew; 'Allaha' in Aramaic, the mother tongue of Jesus, pbuh). The word Allah does not have a plural or gender. Allah does not have any associate or partner, and He does not beget nor was He begotten. SWT is an abbreviation of Arabic words that mean 'Glory Be To Him.'
s or pbuh: Peace Be Upon Him. This expression is used for all Prophets of Allah.


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Copyright © 1991 Abul Qasim Publishing House (AQPH). All Rights Reserved
Copyright © 1997 Abridged, Edited and Web version by Dr. A. Zahoor.
Posted by the permission of AQPH.

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