SHAFAQNA- At the beginning of the seventh century, Islam had conquered the Middle East, Africa, and part of Southern Europe. This occurred one century after its birth in the western Arabian Peninsula. Islam had established its western base in what is today most of Spain and Portugal.
The Iberian Peninsula served a significant part of the Muslim world — in terms of its population, economy, political power, and culture for half a millennium. The new Muslim-ruled kingdom had intricately incorporated the Arab element, a tiny minority of the population, with the Berber and Iberian elements, which were a large majority from the beginning in the early eighth century. Iberian Islam was born under the sign of a social, political, and cultural hybridization.
Muslim rule in Spain
Al-Andalus had to reinvent itself in the middle of the eighth century. It encountered the fall of the Umayyad caliphate and the emergence of small Berber states in the Maghreb, upgraded by the trans-Saharan trade in gold and enslaved people and governed by a dissident and culturally open Islam.
In the middle of the eighth century, Iberian Islam, separated from the Syrian metropolis, selected Abd al-Rahman I as its leader who was a survivor of the Umayyad dynasty. Now, Al-Andalus could claim political independence from the new Abbasid Empire with its center in Baghdad that had overthrown the Umayyads. Geographically, it was separated from their domain by the western and central Maghreb, which was liberated from the control of the Baghdad caliphate but still belonged to the world of the Abbasids in economic and cultural terms. Thereupon, the Islamized dominant classes of the peninsula, prevented from having real possibilities of expansion, had to rely on their interior agricultural territories as a source of wealth.
In return, the Christian cemeteries and churches were allowed to remain. Muslims prayed and were buried beside Christians, as confirmed by the discovery of remains lying on their right side, with their faces turned toward Mecca, next to the native burials.
Cultural diversity of Al-Andalus
In 929, Abd al-Rahman III triumphed over all his enemies and introduced himself as caliph. He defied his Abbasid and Fatimid counterparts and built a wonderful palatial city and promoted the cultural development of his court. From then on, his reign sought to fascinate and co-opt its opponents more than to destroy them. This unquestionable hegemony gave a particular gloss to the cultural diversity of Al-Andalus.
Also, the country was undergoing an amazing economic boom in agriculture, industry, and trade which encouraged urbanization and a steady increase in tax revenues. Hence, an Islamic tributary social formation had gained a victory over the feudal vestiges of old Hispania.
Al-Andalus became the first laboratory for a form of Arab-Muslim domination which had relinquished conquest to bet on the economic development of its territory. This evolution tended to gradually win over the natives to the language, culture, and beliefs of the Arabs without excessive pressure.
In the second half of the tenth century, the Muslim world represented almost a fifth of the world’s population. Fifteen to twenty million inhabitants inhabited in its eastern part, from Iraq to Tajikistan. It was subjected to the spiritual authority of the Abbasid caliphs. Its central part, from Syria to the eastern Maghreb, had a similar demographic weight, and lay under the sovereignty of the Fatimid caliphs. Finally, its western, Hispanic part, with a population of seven to nine million, formed a third caliphate guided by the descendants of the Damascus Umayyads.
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