The Myth – and Reality – of the “Andalusian Paradise”
by Jude P. Dougherty
Dario Fernandez Morera, a professional historian of sterling credentials (including a degree from Stanford University and a Harvard PhD) has taken on a subject of more than academic interest in a book with the arresting title The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise.
We often hear about that paradise in current controversies over militant Islam, particularly several themes identified in the opening pages of this book:
“On the intellectual level Islam played an important role in the development of Western European civilization.”and
“In the Middle Ages there emerged two Europes: one, Muslim Europe secure in its defenses, religiously tolerant, and maturing in cultural and scientific sophistication. The other, Christian Europe, an arena of unceasing warfare in which superstition passed for religion and the flame of knowledge sputtered weakly.”and
“Muslim rulers of the past were far more tolerant of peoples of other faiths than were Christian ones.”
James Reston, a prominent American journalist, long associated with The New York Times, is quoted as saying, “In the arts and agriculture, learning and tolerance, Al-Andalusia was a beacon of enlightenment to the rest of Europe. . . .among its finest achievements was its tolerance.” Reston, no Islamic scholar, was simply reflecting the fashionable mythology of the day, perhaps even the editorial policy of his paper.
Fernandez employs these and other such assertions to introduce what he takes to be the conventional view of Islam in mainstream academic and popular writings. He responds to the conventional view with the novel approach of examining what actually was the case.
He finds that in the spirit of Voltaire and Edward Gibbon, university presses tend to perpetuate the myth of a benevolent Islam – against all evidence to the contrary.
Fernandez’s alternative chronicle begins in the second half of the seventh century when the Caliph Abu Bakr’s armies from Arabia and the Middle East began their sweep across North Africa coastal areas held by the Christian Greek Roman (Byzantine) Empire.
North Africa had been largely Christian since the early fourth century. This was the land of Tertullian, St. Cyprian, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, and St. Augustine of Hippo. Some historians present this conquest as a migration of peoples. To the contrary, Fernandez shows beyond doubt that Islam emerged from Arabia as a conquering movement with world domination as its ultimate aim. And he has the texts to prove it.