They gather on Fridays, after prayers, at London’s Regent’s Park Mosque. Trousers pulled up a few inches above the ankles, beards prominent, carrying black flags with the kalma written in white, there are women among them also, shrouded in black, top to toe, and converts, both black and white, bearded to fit in, the keffiyeh dangling rebelliously around their necks. Manifestly angry and intimidating, they rally to instil fear in the hearts of the infidels who surround them.
It is a vicious cycle. The English Defence League, every bit as rabid as the Muslims they take on, shouts anti-Islam and anti-immigrant slogans, while groups like Muslims Against Crusades burn poppies on Armistice Day or threaten to disrupt the royal wedding. Disgruntled and primarily under 40, these young Muslims across Europe use scare tactics. Waving sticks to call for Sharia in Britain is either delusional dawaa or payback for the racism suffered by their older generations.
To be fair, the Crusades are not a figment of the Muslim imagination. In fact, it was in fighting the Muslims that Europe consolidated its identity. In a fascinating Channel 4 documentary entitled, “When the Moors Ruled in Europe”, Bettany Hughes reveals that nearly 700 years of history, the time that Spain was an Islamic society, has been written out of European textbooks, “its legacy virtually erased from western history”.
As someone who has visited Andalucian heritage sites several times, it does not surprise me in the least that Queen Isabella and her husband Ferdinand chose to be buried at the Alhambra, surrounded by Quranic verses, in one of the most architecturally pleasing and serene spots created by man, even as they fought off the last 70,000 Muslims of Granada. Although 300,000 Muslims had been expelled, a million Arabic books burned, and all of Alhambra’s archives incinerated during the Spanish Inquisition, the beautiful buildings were not destroyed. These include those in Granada, Sevilla and the grand mosque of Cordoba that now serves as a church.
What is far more important, however, are the recent archaeological findings that reveal, contrary to previous belief, that there was hardly any evidence of violence in the four-year period that it took for the Muslims to gain control of all of modern-day Spain (then Andalucia). Instead, the Visigoths, who then inhabited the area, were so impressed by the superior ways of the Muslims that they welcomed their rule. The Muslims, in turn, turned Cordoba, the capital, into the largest, most civilised and cosmopolitan city in Europe, where Jews and Christians lived peacefully alongside their Muslim rulers. Greek texts translated and built upon by Muslim scholars were brought to the rest of Europe via Andalucia. Trade thrived and paper was introduced to Europe by the Muslims, replacing parchment, an innovation akin to the internet of today. The Muslim doctors of the time performed surgeries that were not seen in the rest of Europe till a few centuries later. Algebra, alchemy and advanced astronomy were Muslim inventions. Muslim laws were far sophisticated, providing contracts for ploughing, giving rights to those who did not own the land. And in the year 859 AD, the first university in the world was founded by a Muslim woman by the name of Fatima al Fihri, which still exists as the University of Al-Karaouine in modern-day Fes, Morocco. Even the city of Madrid was founded by a Muslim.
Islam, in its early years, was thus spread by reason and intellect, and not by the sword. After the death of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) in 632 AD, expansion in the seventh century was so rapid that by 711 AD, the Muslims, having already gained control of North Africa, crossed the straits of Gibraltar into Spain, which they ruled for centuries, until in 1492, coincidentally, the same year that Christopher Columbus set sail and discovered America, the last Muslim ruler in Spain, Boabdil, surrendered the Emirate of Granada. Going over this history, I cannot help but be reminded of what an African American convert to Islam who is writing a book on how Hazrat Khadija’s (RA) Christian relatives nurtured the Holy Prophet (pbuh) told me once. “We Muslims,” he said, “set Europe up for the Enlightenment and became stupid ourselves”.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 24th, 2011.