In certain American and European newspapers, magazines and chat show hosts – like Glenn Beck – there are claims that Europe is being ‘islamified’ and that very soon we will be living in an entity they call ‘Eurabia’.
Well, I have news for these columnists, shock jocks and blow hards – we’ve been here before. Parts of Europe were under Islamic rule for centuries and I’m talking about parts of Europe that subsequently became almost a hundred per cent Christian.
Spain and Portugal are the classic examples but Sicily, Greece, the Balkans and even southern France (in the period after the initial invasion of Iberia in 711 AD) were under the sway of Islamic emirs and ruled effectively by the Caliph – first in Damascus and then Baghdad. The evidence is strongest in the architecture you can still see all over southern Europe but also in the language. For instance, in Spanish – one can exclaim ‘ojala’. In Portuguese, the word is ‘oxala’. In front of a sentence it means ‘I do hope…” and then whatever you hope. The word is undeniably derived from the Arabic ‘In sa Allah’ – God willing.
From 711AD, Spain and Portugal were mainly under Arabic/Berber Islamic rule. There’s no ifs or buts about it. And most of the large cities like Cordoba, Silves, Valencia and Seville were in the parts of the peninsula most effectively controlled by the Islamic authorities. What is most controversial is that modern scholarship indicates that by 1000AD, most people in what is now Spain and Portugal were muslim. Whether they were converted or had come over with the invading armies. And I’m talking about 70 to 80 per cent of the population.
Likewise, Sicily still had a large Byzantine Greek community after it was invaded by the Arabs but by the time the Normans were conquering it in the eleventh century, most of the population was praying in a mosque.
Last year, I went to Cordoba for the first time and it’s simply incredible to see buildings constructed in the ninth and tenth century that were way ahead of anything being built at the time in northern Europe. The great mosque of Cordoba is the most splendid example of this and was built from the eighth century onwards but more or less completed by 987AD under the rule of Al Mansur.
It’s not difficult to appreciate how the wealth and opulence of the Islamic world must have turned the heads of many Christians in the so-called Dark Ages – a term now largely out of favour.
Here are some photos I took of the Great Mosque in Cordoba and just think to yourself – this was built a thousand years ago…