Syria's clash with history

Hisham Melhem

Published: Updated:

Andalusia's Islam has a magnificence, majesty, fineness and sophistication never before witnessed in the Muslim world. What is left of the amazing Umayyad civilization that Abdelrahman al-Dakhil and his grandchildren established in Cordoba, Granada and Sevilla is enough to give people an idea of the enlightened world developed by a leading Arab minority (and a majority of Berbers) characterized with confidence, courage, openness, tolerance and love of intellect, philosophy, arts, architecture and happiness on earth.

Cordoba reached the peak of its glory during the era of Abdelrahman III, and it was called the Jewel of the World. Today's Arabs appear extremely estranged from this world. Today's Middle Eastern Muslims, with their narrow sectarian awareness, appear extremely far from the humane sources that under Islam made them the second civilization after the great Romans. They are so far from sources that granted the world a new language in intellect, art and commerce upon a universal vision supposedly based on logic and justice.

Observing what is left of this fine world, touching some of the columns in Cordoba's magnificent mosque, walking in Sevilla's castles, getting to know the areas of its Arab universities and roaming - yes, roaming as if you are in a dream - the castles' hallways of Al-Qalaa al-Hamraa (the Red Castle) is to realize a majesty called Andalusia's Islam. At the same time, it is also to feel the urge of writing an elegy or crying not over the ruins of Cordoba and Seville but over the ruins that the Umayyad grandchildren are piling up every day in Aleppo, Damascus, Homs and Hama.

The Syrians today are killing the inheritance that distinguished the Umayyad governance in the East and in Andalusia. They are killing the openness towards other cultures and religions and the desire to build a civilization that includes Muslims and others. Saqr Quraish and his grandchildren did not only "tolerate" the Jews or the Christians whom they militarily defeated but they also culturally and humanly interacted with them. Spain's Jews were persecuted before the Umayyad era, and during the latter, they developed. After they mastered Arabic, they revived their language. Plenty of Spain's Christians "Arabized" out of conviction.

Umayyads in Andalusia sought to overcome sects and sectarian struggles. Their world - at least in its aspirations - completely contradicts with the "sectarian wars" launched by Assad's regime and its Shiite allies in Lebanon and Iran and which found their reflection in Al-Nusra Front and other extremist Sunni organizations.

In Cordoba, philosophers including Ibn Rushd and Ibn Maymun who are amongst the most prominent philosophers of the Middle Ages were born. Arabs and Jews are right when they say that the Jewish Ibn Maymun is one of them. What Ibn Rushd and Ibn Maymun had in common was their belief in rationalism. This belief is what subjected them to the intimidation of radical Muslims and thus forced them to flee Cordoba. Today, where do Arab rationalists escape to from the sectarian wars' warlords and Islamist obscurantists?

This article was first published in an-Nahar newspaper on May 23, 2013.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.