Diversity Abounds Under Muslim Rule
arrival of Muslims in Iberia in 711 CE created ethnic and
religious persity unknown elsewhere in Europe.
At the time of conquest, the majority of the population was
Christian. This native Christian population was largely
Romanized. They governed according to the Germanic customs
of the Visigoths. Meanwhile, small Jewish communities
inhabited such key cities as Toledo and Córdoba.
With the extension of Umayyad rule to Al-Andalus, Christians
and Jews were accorded the customary dhimmi, status,
with certain legal protections and obligations in exchange
for a poll tax collected annually.
The Arabs and Amazighs (Berbers) who conquered the peninsula were
members of organized tribes. They tended to settle in Iberia
as intact groups.
The Arabs were fewer in number but formed the cultural
elite. They also exercised the most power in Andalusi
society. They often settled in the cities and acquired the
best farmlands from the Visigothic elites they overthrew.
The Amazighs (Berbers) outnumbered the Arabs but were relatively new
converts to Islam and subordinate to them politically. They
typically were given land in the countryside and in
mountainous regions, where they could continue their
As soldiers and officials began adapting to settled life,
they established trades, raised crops, and interacted with
the local populace with increasing frequency. They sought
familial alliances and marriage with Hispani-Roman women.
Conversely, many local families sought upward mobility. They
searched for a connection to the new arbiters of cultural
and economic power.
Christians retained their faith but increasingly adopted
Arabic language and Muslim customs. They came to be called Mozarabs. Their
daughters often bridged the social worlds of the rulers and
New Muslim immigrants also spurred interaction and
intermarriage. For many decades, bureaucrats, scholars,
merchants, and artists made their way to Al-Andalus from
Egypt, Syria, Persia, and other eastern lands. They were
pioneers seeking their fortunes in a distant land that had
quickly acquired a reputation for beauty and abundance.
The Umayyad caliphate's decline allowed ethnic rivalries to
flare up. This downturn ushered in the Era of the Petty
Kings. Yet, despite the political fragmentation, Islamic
Spain's population at large came to share a distinct
culture, which they regarded as uniquely Andalusi. This
shared culture included Andalusi Jews and Christians.
the late 11th century on, the Christian resurgence and
conquest placed large numbers of Muslims and Jews under
Christian rule. Initially, they accorded religious
minorities respect, legal protection, and a high degree of
However, the provisions for Jews and Muslims eroded over
time. Christian leaders increasingly equated religious
difference with cultural difference, no matter what level of
acculturation. Within their mindset, the moro [Arab or Amazigh (Berber)] and the cristiano (a Christian) were divided into distinct religious and cultural categories that were difficult to bridge.
In sharp contrast, in Al-Andalus, it was often difficult to
distinguish between Christian, Jew, and Muslim. Thus, the
safeguards afforded to the "People of the Book" remained
largely in effect.
Competition among Christian
kingdoms drove them to push relentlessly southwards into Muslim
territory, a movement which was given historical justification as a reconquest of lands which were rightfully Christian. As
Christian society grew more sophisticated and numerous, minorities came
to be increasingly marginalized, legally, socially, and
By the 1300s, it
was increasingly common for non-Christians to be restricted to certain
neighborhoods and banned from practicing many professions, such as
medicine. Public manifestations of their faith came to be forbidden.
They became targets of popular violence in times of tension or during
important religious festivals. They were obliged by law to wear special
items of clothing or hairstyles, which marked them off from the
Christian majority, in order to prevent accidental social and religious
contamination. Such marginalization, coupled with aggressive missionizing -- and occasional violence -- prompted many Jews to
convert under duress, while Muslims tended to close ranks.
Christian reactionism against the converts and suspicion of their
motives prompted the establishment of the Inquistion and the
establishment of blood purity laws. In an effort to solve the
false-convert problem all of the Jews of Castile and Aragon were
ordered to become Christian or face expulsion in 1492.
Between 1502 and 1525, the increasingly isolated and reactionary Muslim
population was ordered to convert. The descendents -- numbering some
300,000 -- were expelled en masse to North Africa between 1609 and 1613
for resisting integration and rebelling against their ever-more
Since the death of General Francisco Franco, Spain has
adopted a liberal democratic outlook. Franco served as the
country’s head of state from the end of the Civil War in 1939 until 1975. Spain
also has become an increasingly important participant in
Many Spaniards exhibit a spirit of openness and pride in
their rich heritage, particularly in Andalucia. There,
inhabitants continue to trace their roots, family and
cultural, to the time of the Muslims centuries ago. What's
more, new communities of Jews and Muslims in Spain are
shaping and challenging the modern state’s views of its past
and its vision for a pluralistic future.