By Hwaa Irfan
This year 2010, is bearing witness to what I think is the 3rd year of the French spring campaign against the Muslim dress code. In the throes of the trend of sexual objectification, unfortunately, it seems that other countries are catching the same virus more commonly known as Islamophobia. Within one week as we approach the summer months, the proliferation of reports seem endless:
• Spain – Second city bans Muslim garments, and more since.
• U.K – Legal fight over spy cameras in Muslim suburb
• Belgium – Belgian school teacher sacked for wearing Muslim headscarf
• Germany – German court denies Muslim right to pray at school
• France – French shopper allegedly rips veil off Muslim woman in ‘burqa rage’ brawl
• U.S. – Religious leaders join to condemn Cahill’s comments on Muslim community
• France – French Muslim Council warns government on veil ban
• U.S. – Local woman addresses DMV scarf incident
• U.S. – Family says Muslim man’s attackers targeted him because of his religion
• U.S. – Feds to investigate anti-Muslim activity at Minnesota schools
• Canada – Proposed ban on Muslim veil stirs controversy in Quebec
• U.S. – Photos: 1000 Protest Planned Mosque Near Ground Zero in NYC
• France – French Muslim Woman Fined For Driving Wearing Niqab
Many non-Muslims who do not know a practicing Muslim will assume the worst about all Muslims – to be feared and to be vilified. The trouble is, one cannot switch on like or dislike by the mere institution of laws. All laws can suffice to do is to make something seem unacceptable. Laws do not change the attitude of a people if everything else in civil society contradicts those laws. In the process of developing a prejudice against a people, one is actually rewiring one’s brain which leads to actions that demonstrate the real intentions as a pattern of behavior ensues from that deep seated prejudice. That is why bad habits die hard, and racism is one habit that the racist will deny or shroud in a series of “other” reasons as to why the victim of that racism shouldn’t be allowed to breathe! As a result, progress materialistically speaking seems to have made no inroad into what is essentially the backwater of prejudiced minds that weave into the very social structures on which a society refers to.
In times of ease and prosperity, the prejudicial mind subsides, but hibernates waiting to raise its ugly head again. It is only in a quality of the child’s individuality and/or within the way in which a child has been raised, does humanity stand a chance to make some real progress for the common good.
As we have seen in recent times, the myth of the “clash of civilizations” has been open to much debate, but that myth only serves as an indication that the legacy of the so-called “holy” crusades like the concept of witches and witch hunt, is alive in t with its origins with minds of even those who have not looked into its history. Both originated in a Catholic church which was obsessed with power, and perceived opposition to that power. In this context the so-called “war on terror” is no different. It is by perchance that concern at the pathology of the current wave of Islamophobia and the medieval past should conjoin the treatment of Muslims in a non-Muslim environment, and that environment is the environment of the Crown of Aragon of the 14th century. Is there a lesson from the medieval past which could be learnt from, who knows!
The period we refer to after the banishment of Muslims/Moors from Spain in the 14th century. This was at the hands of what was to become the Kingdom of Aragon, which grew out of the union of Aragon, Barcelona and Catalonia, where today they are trying to ban Muslim wear. Aragon was becoming a formidable force as a Christian feudal polity evolving a national identity, and a language that was evolved into Catalan. Against the Spanish Kingdom of Castille, they competed to claim lands from the Muslims. Peter III of Aragon fought hard as well beyond Spain’s shores aiming to conquer Tunisia, but was diverted to Sicily, which he claimed against the French, then Sardinia, the Duchy of Athens, and then finally Castille in Spain through marriage.
The Crown of Aragon
Following the period of expulsion of Muslims/moors from Spain, the polity Aragon began as a feudal community at foothills of the Pyrenees from where they attacked the moors of Spain. Despite this success, Aragon’s feudal beginnings, and conquering footpaths, did not prepare them to run a kingdom which was to stretch across the Mediterranean. Through as series of battles with other Spanish entities, and with the French beyond the shores of Spain, Aragon became a force to be reckoned with to become the Crown of Aragon.
Governing most of the Mediterranean, the Crown of Aragon lacked certain technical expertise. The Crown depended on Muslims under their governance for scientific knowledge directly and indirectly. The two main languages for intellectual discourse was Latin for philosophical and theological issues and Arabic for science. It was through Llull that algorithms via al-Khwarizmi’s “Arithmetic” spread to Europe, Egyptian fractions (fractions with the numerator 1, as well as the fractions 2/3 and 3/4, the remainder being calculated by adding these fractions) via John of Seville, and Fibonacci, sexagesimal fractions via al-Khwarizmi’s “Arithmetic”, and John of Seville.
Jews and Muslims Under the Crown of Aragon
Unlike their Visigoth forefathers, the Crown of Aragon allowed for Jews to govern themselves. The Jews met with challenges and clashes of faith from Christian scholars the result of which was the censorship of the Talmud by the Dominican Order. Jews were not allowed to own Christian slaves like the Muslims, but Jews could own Muslim slaves.
After the plague of Black Death in 1348, Jews were feeling vulnerable for many reasons, so attempts were made to pull together the differing Jewish communities to share and decide problems as a collective whole, which eventually failed. To regulate this, the decree, the takkanah was formulated to increase inter-communal coordination, and to reduce the level of rivalry, and disunity taking place amongst the Jews. They: Moses Nathan Haii, Crescas Solomon, and Judah Eleazar sought to obtain from the King mediation with the “Pope” (Innocent VI) referred to as the “King of Nations” with the aim to amongst others:
• Prevent Christians from turning on Jews every time a natural disaster like the plague occurred.
• To prevent Christians from attacking Jews for claimed desecration of the host
• To declare that it is heretic to claim that theses hosts can perform miracles
• To stop turning Jewish communities into a state of siege every Easter (they had to remain within their homes on Good Friday, and is some cases not even look out of their windows or a penalty would be incurred.
• A Jew should have the right of counsel if accused of heresy by the Inquisition.
• For Christians to return what they have stolen from “one of the children of Israel.”
• For anyone who slays a Jew to not be given asylum
• That Jews should not e subject to special investigation, but be investigated by an ordinary judge.
Be reminded here that we are referring to the period of the Spanish Inquisition which ensued after Christendom took Spain back from Muslim governance when Muslims never entered Spain by force, and most moors were Spanish by birth.
As it has been well established, the Catholic Church took both a pseudo-religious, and political stance towards any perceived threat towards its kingdom including its wealth. To expand its wealth, the Doctrine of Discovery was formulated over a period of time, claiming new lands and wealth in the name of the Church under the governance of western Christian powers. Muslims were considered a “perceived threat” to Christian domination and control. Through the so-called holy crusades Muslims were expelled from Spain, as Christianity was to spread its political wings.
Under the Crown of Aragon, Muslims and their descendents belonged to the Crown, and these Muslims were referred to as “royal/noble’s Muslims” or Mudejares or subjects to ecclesiastic jurisdiction. Mudejares belonged to the church or the noble under the governance of the Crown. Also, Christian clerics during this period were often lords and nobleman. Muslims under their control fell under three categories. They could be serfs, vassals, or slaves. The example of the Brotherhood of Minores, Fratres Minores, who controlled a third Muslim vineyards, the monastery of St. Peter as a lord owned a part of the Muslim population of Calatayud, the queen and the Sorores Minores held equal rights over the Mudejares of Bartaxell and Xirillent, and the monastery of San Cugat del Valles held owned their Muslims, whilst the other half of the ownership remained unclaimed. To add to the confusion, there were disputes over ownership.
Then of course there was the difference in ownership, for instance, some Mudejares had to pay war taxes and others not. Those under the Bishop of Tortosa illegally enslaved over 30 Muslims, and this Bishop also tortured, and extorted money from Mudejares officials.
The Bishop of Valencia was best known to the Muslim population there by his jail, in which very large numbers of Muslims were kept awaiting trial or sale as slaves. The convent of St. Clare, also in Valencia, invoked royal authority to prevent the Muslims from building a new meat market, since the nuns owned the sole rights over the existing one.
The labor/services of Muslims owned by a noble belonged to the noble, as well as some military duties, and agricultural taxes. The right to bear arms was controlled by the Crown for a Muslim (i.e. a Muslim who was not a Mudejar, but a Mudejar regardless of which land he lived in, as long as that land was under the Crown of Aragon, the Crown had the right to call on a Mudejar for his/her services. Muslim serfs who owned land did so in servitude. Referred to as exaricus (which included Christians after 15th century), their service passed over to the new landowners when the land was sold like any other serf, Christian or not. Muslim farmers who were not in servitude, and were referred to as franchi, under the Crown of Aragon were eventually forced to concede to the new governance. These included Muslim farmers who were independent under Muslim rule, and as such had prospered. Obsessive codes of dress and behavior were instituted, which if violated would relegate them to slavery and/or incur a fine. Yet, at the same time, attempts were made by the Crown and noblemen to make servitude attractive by offering free land, concession on taxes, and protection from creditors. As a result, by the middle of the 14th century, a new class of free farmers was growing, increasing the income of tax for the Crown and the nobles.
Mudejares could not:
• Inherit from their Christian lords, or king
• Mudejares had the right to:
• Seek notary services and final appeal in criminal cases
• Wear Muslim dress
Mudejares had to:
• Pay taxes to the crown, or in part to the Church depending on the nature of the jusrisdiction.
• Forfeit all property if they chose to move from one noble, and if the king sold any property that a Mudéjar belonged to, the Mudéjar was transferred as well
• Inherit from a non-Muslim
• Be under the ownership of a noble/King.
Mudejares were allowed to:
• Carryout their acts of worship
• Be judged by a qadi, a Muslim judge
• Pay lighter fines for violating the dress code, which in practice was discretionary as the nobles they were under could pay on the behalf of Mudejares.
• Allowed to have more than one wife, as Jews were and did.
• To have slaves, this was prohibited before the 15th century.
• Migrate at the discretion of the noble or cleric they were under the governance of.
• In Valencia, no one could inherit the property of a Muslim unless they lived in Valencia. An exception was in the case of Ibrahim Abenxoa who had two wives, one in Valencia, and one in Onda. The wife and child in Onda was allowed by the King to have a fair share in Abenxoa’s estate.
Slavery did exist quite extensively although towards the end of the 14th century, the King considered the idea of freeing slaves simply because it was financially beneficial to the Crown to have them pay taxes as free men.
When it came to foreign Muslims, they were considered fair game for slave traders. Any Muslim who could not identify their owner was considered a slave. The price of a slave is the 13th century was 45 – 240 shillings, and by the 14th century the price rose to 800 shillings with males slaves more prized than female slaves. Muslims could and did own Muslim slaves like the reputable Belvis family, but were not allowed to own Christian slaves. One slave in the service of the Belvis family was not a slave in the accepted meaning of the word. Name unknown, he was employed to carry out business transactions in lands under the Crown of Aragon. Ordinary Muslims purchased their freedom through work or begging for charity, and in turn, those freed, gave money to free other Muslim slaves. Otherwise, Muslims escaped slavery with the help of Mudejares, and some Christians.
Whether as a slave or a Mudejar, Muslims were employed at all levels of society unlike the Islamophobic societies in the West and the U.S. today. Muslims were craftsmen, laborers, and professionals either working for themselves, the nobles or the Crown. Muslims were crucial in the sciences, linguistics, craftsmanship, stone masonry, textiles, carpentry, arms making, accountancy, as merchants of certain items like salt, irrigation, paper production, tanner, envoys, medicine (including surgery), and for overseeing their own communities.
Liberty amongst Muslims was allowed amongst those not under the Crown of Aragon, i.e. from overseas, foreign mercenaries, and the elite, the Mudejares in the Kings service including the civil service. There were notables like:
– Ibrahim Abenxoa who was in service under Queen Eleanor who was an envoy to Granada and a qadi/judge in several principalities.
– ‘Ali Abencomixa was an embassador to Morocco and Granada
– Caat Alcafac was purveyor to the Crown, and a qadi/judge
– The Ballistarius family who were master builders on the royal residence in Zaragoza
And then there was the Belvis family who were connected with Peter III (Peter the Ceremonious) before he became the King of Aragon through Farag de Belvis. His brother Yahya was a wealthy and prominent Mudejar in Castille before Peter III married into and claimed Castille. Farag was married to Fatima Fuster, daughter of one of the wealthiest merchants in Valencia, and widow of ‘Ali Alasrach. Farag was so wealthy that it was more than a common occurrence for him to lend money to the Crown in return for land. The Belvis family were exempt from the dress code, and so rich in clothing was Farag, that Christians bored a hole in the wall in an attempt to steal his clothing! In fact, King Peter exempted the Belvis family from most codes, and looked upon them highly to the point of instructing religious orders and royal officials to favor the affairs of the Belvis family.
Farag de Belvis was one of the most important religious cleric of Aragon and Valencia, as well as a royal notary, and a çabiçala/Imam (prayer leader), and qadi, which shows that Muslim acts of worship was allowed unlike the measures that countries like Germany are trying to extend today. Farag was also a qadi/judge of Jativa for life, as well as a royal notary in absentia.
Christians, particularly the priests felt compelled to learn Arabic in order to challenge and criticize science, and also pertaining to issues of Christians in Muslim lands. However, in doing so, there were to warm to Islamic philosophy. For example, Ramon de Penyafort, Llull took a Muslim who has been described as a “slave” to learn from. The learning consisted of Arabic philosophy, which is no mean fete, and culture. After obtaining a basic level enough to read the Qur’an, what was initially perceived as a threat became a point of admiration. Llull wrote in his “Book of the Gentiles and the Three Wise Men”:
“Said the Saracen to the Gentile: ‘Mohammed was a layman, not versed in letters, and the Koran is the most wondrous dictation that has been or ever will be produced’. Hence, had it not been for the will and the work of God, Mohammed could not have dictated such a wondrous text with such wonderfully arranged words as those in the Koran.”
And in Llull’s “The 100 Names of God”:
“I, Ramon Llull, unworthy as I am, wish to endeavour, with the help of God, to write this book that covers better subject matter than the Koran, for, if I write a book with better subject matter than the Koran, it means that another man is capable of writing a book as wondrously dictated as the Koran. And I do this so that we can argue, in our discussions with the Saracens, that the Koran, as wondrous a book as it is, was not dictated by God.”
Just as the holy crusades and the Inquisition was about maintaining dominance and power over lands and wealth in the name of Christianity, so has been the war on terror been about maintaining and claiming control over the earth’s bounties to maintain U.S. as a super power in the name of Christianity as former President G.W. Bush Jnr. proclaimed he was spoken to by God. Israel has been a part of that strategic game, just as the U.S. has been a part of Israel’ strategic game, both setting out to make Islam and Muslims the scourge of humanity. The general practice that has evolved amongst certain Western countries, specifically the U.S. and the U.K. runs parallel to the Crown of medieval Spain in that there seems to be no issue over the services of a Muslim when it comes to the state. The state once perceiving Muslims to be a threat, calls “on Muslim representatives to “police” “report” and “monitor” other Muslims on behalf of the state, and in doing so creates a real threat. In group conscience of Israel and the U.S. there is that fear of knowing what they have done, and what they have created, and that because of that knowledge, the level of obsession with national security which means that they cannot even trust their own. Without a God to trust, if one cannot trust at the most basic of levels, then that lack of trust eats away at all aspects of one’s life.
The medieval west was in the throes of a Christian ethos, albeit frequently a barbaric one treated Jews in the same manner in which Muslims are treated today. Given that the feudal Crown of Aragon was in the era of the barbaric Spanish Inquisition, in general, Muslims were treated better than the so-called democratic societies of today. This probably had much to do with the level of religious knowledge, skill, and craftsmanship which the Crown depended on for its own development, but with that came respect of a people who were allowed to practice their own religion, and were respected for their knowledge and skills. However, the U.S. obsession with itself began way back in WWII, and ever since it has been taking people with scientific knowledge in one form or another for its own advancement. Yes, abuses took place under the Crown of Aragon, and though the laws were not strictly regulated, there was allowance for personal freedom at many levels, which was not even present during the enslavement of black people by America’s colonizers.
The people at the time of the Roman Empire were considered fickle. Politicians exploited this fickleness in their favor. Today, instead of more freedom, there is less freedom. There is no true freedom of thought, and understanding of a given situation making people today fickle, and objects of the state via the media. As a Muslim, depending on where one lives, one fears one’s education, one’s employment, the right to pray, how to raise one’s child, who to marry, and one’s right to wear what one chooses to wear out of self respect for the mind over the body is threatened. This is not just by the rule of law, but by groups of people who increasingly have learnt to objectify the self, and are at the mercy of sexual objectification. As such, they cannot walk in another’s shoes, or show genuine understanding of anything other than what they have become under the illusion that they have any idea of the real meaning of freedom! Subject to the mentality of the herd, anything that says it does not have to be like that is a perceived threat, and when a French woman can drag the hijab off a Muslimah, the hysteria of a herd is a dangerous thing to the liberty of all, because when the herd has nothing else to feed on, it will feed on itself!
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