Running through Granada with Mishka and Aria (we were really running, this is not a metaphor) with Subway subs in our bags and a few minutes left to catch our departing bus, I was struck (maybe in retrospect, who knows) by the immense beauty of the city. Later that evening, bus caught and heart rate back to normal, the three of us watched the ancient part of the city wizz by in the twilight, on our way to where the gypsies live, whitewashed houses, some on the edges of mountainsides, long hair and bright skirts and flamenco rhythms to boot.
But apart from the obvious flamenco and paella and gazpacho and being in Barcelona on the night that Barca won el Clasico, the hidden gems of Spain were even more enchanting…even haunting.
Regretfully, I did not get to see Cordoba, home to many remnants of Islamic history. Thankfully, I did get to see Granada and the Al Hambra, the iconic fortress built sometime around the 13th and 14th centuries, teeming with the ghosts of Spain’s old Muslim leaders. The Al Hambra (the name derived from the Arabic word for red fortress) sits majestically atop a hill in Granada, a reminder of the last Muslim kingdom of Spain.
In another part of Spain (was it Seville? I can’t recall) we explored a church that had a high column on one side – we walked up the column, round and around, no steps, but an inclined slope, to the top, for the breathtaking view. Why was this column erected? The church had actually been a masjid, and the column was the minaret from which the muezzin gave the adhaan. Because he had to climb the minaret 5 times a day, instead of steps, they had built it in an upward slope, wide enough for a horse to walk up – and so the muezzin ingeniously avoided too much exercise and was easily able to make it up in time to give the call to each prayer.
Many other masjids had been converted into churches after Muslim rule left Spain – domed minarets were merely changed to square or pointy tops, with most of the rest of the buildings left intact. Some new artwork was done, but many of the arabesque designs remain.
Spain is a treasure trove of Islamic history and art, but it takes a discerning eye (and a more careful plan than my haphazard noticing of relics of Islamic history here and there) to find it. That’s why I need to go back, to see Cordoba and more of Granada and just more of everything, Islamic history especially (okay and throw in some more Gaudi too).
Hints of Islamic civilization abound all over the world, and it reminds me that Islamic culture had a lot to add to the civilization of the world, not just in terms of religion but also in areas like architecture, agriculture, mathematics and more. The golden age of Islam left golden nuggets of development in many countries, still to be glimpsed by passersby if they have the interest to see it.
How do we reclaim our lost Islamic history? How do we ensure that all that Muslims have to offer the world is not left in the past, but that we continue to make contributions to humanity today? It probably begins with repairing our tarnished global image. But it also means that we have to sit up and do something worth remembering.