Esai Pendek

Al-Andalus: a Short Personal Reflection

December 1491.  The last days was approaching. The siege had caused famine and misery. Abu Abdullah or Boabdil had to decide an unthinkable decision that will change the stream of history. He felt every breath he took and every move he made.[1] At the Hill of Martyr, accompanied by small numbers of his knights, he came to see Ferdinand and Isabella for the royal procession. He gave Ferdinand the last key of the Muslim palace on Iberian Peninsula. By that moment, the Muslim defeat was completed; the reconquesta was accomplished; the Moors was expelled. Before the last Sultan left the city, he turned his back and saw his lost kingdom for the last time before he crossed over to Africa and live as ordinary people. His mother said a memorial famous sentence for the coward Caliph: “You may well weep like a woman, for what you could not defend like a man”[2]

Tariq Ali, a British-Pakistani historian and novelist, eloquently describes the tragic moment of the last days of Muslim Spain (Andalusia) in his novel, Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree[3].The novel describes the tragic calamity of Muslim communities who lived in Granada after the downfall of the city. Even thought the treaty of surrender between Boabdil and Ferdinand clearly stated that the new Christian King would guarantee the religious freedom, in the reality, the massacre of Muslim and Jewish citizens and the abolition of non-Christian public facilities such as mosques, madrasa (Islamic schools), public baths and synagogues had started few days after the fall of the city[4]

The tragedy even worsened after the new cardinal of the city, Cardinal Francisco Jimenez de Cisneros was appointed by Ferdinand to replace the previous liberal-minded archbishop Cardinal Hernando Talavera[5]. The appointment of the new cardinal marked the change of policies of the christianization of Granadinos from soft christianization to hard christianization. Cisneros wanted to change Granadinos’s culture as quickly as possible by power and violence, not by cultural appeal as believed by Talavera. He proposed a new policy to the Queen by which the Muslims were given three options: convert to be a Christian, exile or die. He closed down the mosques, burned thousands of books and manuscripts that had been preserved in the libraries for centuries, destroyed public baths, banned Muslim popular dances, songs, festivals and weddings, and banned Muslims cloths and all the other cultures[6].  This policy, which known as inquisition, continued until the late 17th century where more than half million people were exiled and about three million Muslims were banished[7].  The most advance civilization at the moment which gradually culminated in eight centuries was swept out of Spain in a few years.

By mentioning this historical evidence I want to show, firstly, how, on the one hand, the great Muslim civilization has gradually sunk and how, on the other hand, the modern European civilization has sprung. Muslim civilization in Spain (until the late 14th century) was a golden bridge for European modern civilization. Until that moment, Andalusia was the place for advance technologies, architectures, science, philosophy, art and navigation. Andalusia attracted student from France, German and England to come to study in Muslim learning centers[8].  Andalusia’s silk and wool industries were the best in Europe at the moment which attracted other European states like England to emulate this technology[9]. In 1493, one year after the fall of the city, Columbus, with a new spirit of the Spanish Christian glory after kicking out the Moorish from the Spanish land, started his journey to find the new land, America. At the end, the discovery of America which later became the source of wealth for the European states; concomitant with Renaissance and Reformation, had made the Europe emerge as a new super power overtook the domination of Ottoman Empire which still powerful at that moment. Nothing remain for Islam in Europe except a ‘fragrant memory’[10]

Secondly, the discovery of America marked the birth of international law. Even though international lawyers mostly will refer to Hugo Grotius as the founding father of international law, some lawyers see that the origin of international law could be traced back to the classical works of the Spanish jurists like Francisco de Vitoria who was born in 1492, the year of the fall of the city, Francisco Suarez and Balthazar Ayala[11]. De Vitoria’s writings, for example, focused on the finding of legal basis for the Spanish colonization in America. He extensively discussed how to dealing with Indian people, establishing legal justification of how to exercise power, violence, force and war against Indian-American[12]. Interestingly, Vitoria developed his theory by criticizing and departing from the traditional jurisprudence of the Spanish Church which conventionally applied jurisprudence to deal with the Saracens (Saracens was a word used by The Europe in the middle age for Moorish, Arab or Muslim) to the Indians[13]. Francisco Suarez, another example, in his legal writings, spent one extensive chapter to discuss how Christian people and the Church dealt with the unbelievers (unbelievers referred to Muslim and Jewish)[14]. We have to keep in mind that since the Muslim army landed in the region and built empire in 8thcentury, the Christian kingdoms in the northern region engaged in a perpetual rivalry with the Muslim caliphs. Since they were conquered by the Moor, the ultimate dream was to re-conquer or to regain the lands from the Moorish rulers. One by one, from Salamanca, Seville, Cordova to Granada, Spanish lands were regained by Christian kings. The Kings needed legal justifications for waging war against and dealing with the unbelievers. The Christian jurists like de Vitoria, a theologian and jurist at Salamanca, and Suarez, I assume, formulated their writings in this historical context. When Spanish conquered the new land, jurist like de Vitoria extended his analysis from the unbelievers in the homeland to Indian America in the New Land.


[1] Some literatures notes that Boabdil surrendered on January 2, 1492. See James Brown Scott, The Spanish Origin of International Law. Francisco De Vitoria and His Law of Nations (1934) 14

[2] Stanley Lane-Poole, The Story of the Nation, The Moors in Spain (1903) 267.

[3] Tariq Ali, Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree (1992)

[4] A. Katie Harris, From Muslim to Christian Granada: inventing a city’s past in early modern Spain (2007) 10-11

[5] Ibid, see also Stanley Lane-Poole , above no 2, 269-270

[6] Lane-Poole, above no 2, 271-273; Harris, above no 11, 10-12; Ali, above n 10, 117

[7] Lane-Poole, above n 2, 279

[8] Ibid, vii-viii,

[9] Erick S. Reinart, How Rich Countries Got Rich and Why Poor Countries Stay Poor (2007) 80-87

[10] Tariq Ali, above n 3

[11] Anthony Anghie, Imperialism, Sovereignty and the Making of International Law (2004) 13

[12] Ibid 15-21

[13] Indeed, Vitoria tried to find a secular explanation for the same output: legal justification of the Spanish colonization in America. See Antony Anghie, ibid, 17-28. See also James Brown Scott, above n 8, appendixes i

[14] For further reading see Francisco Suarez, S.J, Selections from Three Works (1944) 739-787

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