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When Muslims, Jews and Christians Built a Great Civilisation

If you go to the southern Spanish city of Cordoba, there are a pair of golden doors that shine at night through which you will find a forest of pillars. Ancient marble columns support red and white horseshoe arches and the whole thing seems to stretch forever. It’s a total feast for the eyes!

What is truly amazing is that this building was built over a thousand years ago. It started life as a church, then was massively enlarged as a mosque then became a cathedral. This happened at a time when modern Spain and Portugal were divided between the south, ruled by Muslim emirs and the north, divided into Christian kingdoms. The south was referred to as “Al-Andalus”.

The Muslim emirs in the south implemented a policy called “La Convivencia” which meant that Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together side by side. If you go to Cordoba, Seville or Toledo today, you can see where synagogues, churches and mosques once sat next to each other.

Amazingly at this time, the same building would start out being dedicated to one faith and later pass on to another. The mosque in Cordoba was bought from the Christians. It wasn’t seized or grabbed, the emir just offered the right price to its previous Christian owners and for a while, they even continued to worship there side-by-side.

Great learning was encouraged. The works of ancient Greek, Roman and Persian writers were built on by philosophers like Ibn Rushd (also known as Averroes) and Maimonides – both from Cordoba. Ibn Rushd was Muslim and Maimonides was Jewish.

Women also played a huge role as scholars. Just outside Cordoba are the beautiful ruins of a palace called the Medina Azahara. Two women, Lubna and Hasdai ibn Shaprut, created a library there which was famous throughout Europe. The ruler of Granada, Abdullah Ibn Buluggin, wrote that women made political decisions for the ruler. They were very powerful people!

So if anybody tries to tell you that different faiths cannot live together and achieve magnificent things – remind them of the history of Al-Andalus. And if you ever get the chance to wander through that forest of pillars in Cordoba – make sure you go!

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