In the centuries before the Knights Templar were formed, much of Europe was ruled by Muslim emirs. These were Islamic polities prepared to absorb the learning of the Greeks and Romans and become learned civilisations. They produced great surgeons, artists and poets – and a surprisingly open minded attitude.
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Al-Andalus – a centre of learning for all Europe
Al-Andalus was the Islamic realm that covered the whole of modern Portugal and Spain and even reached in to the south of France at one stage. In the year 711CE, Muslim armies fanned across the Iberian peninsula and as with north Africa and the Levant, Iberia became part of the Islamic world.
For three hundred years, most of the peninsula remained under the rule of the caliphate with its capital at Cordoba. It then fractured in to rival ‘taifas’ before falling under the Almohads, who we would probably term ‘fundamentalist’ now.
The tenth century was arguably the high point of Islamic – or Moorish – rule in Al-Andalus and it’s been estimated that about two thirds of the population was Muslim by this time.
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Jews, Christians and Muslims mixed in Al-Andalus
Jews and Christians had a lesser status and paid the jizya tax but there was an interesting cross-fertilisation between the three religions with cities like Toledo and Seville having churches, synagogues and mosques rubbing up against each other.
Al-Andalus produced some fine thinkers including Abu al-Qasim and the Jewish philosopher, Maimonides. When the crusaders did eventually take Al-Andalus, they also imbibed the contents of its libraries and schools – which undoubtedly influenced Christian thinkers in the later Middle Ages and in to the Renaissance.