Thoughts To Live By…

Archive for the ‘Heritage’ Category

By Raul Pangalangan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:09:00 05/22/2009


Granada, the last Moorish capital in Spain, was taken by the Catholic monarchs in 1492, the most glorious year of the Reconquista when Granada’s last Muslim ruler, Boabdil, surrendered his kingdom to the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile (supposedly the potent union of the pious Isabel and the Machiavellian Ferdinand). Thus ended seven centuries of Muslim rule over virtually the entire Iberian peninsula, which they called Al-Andalus, with cities that boasted of palaces, mosques, gardens, universities, public baths and bustling markets. Historians have spoken of their “courts of justice, central administration, respect for citizens’ private life” that placed Al-Andalus centuries ahead of the rest of Europe of that time. In 1212, the reigning emir built a palace complex called the Alhambra, “al-kalat al-Hamrá” (or “the castle built of red earth,” after the reddish clay found in the Granada valley), which today stands as a fitting reminder of the sophisticated civilization that thrived in Moorish Spain.

The Alhambra was a government center, fortress, and royal residence combined. Built atop a hill, its walled garden, the Generalife, was intended to be a preview of paradise. Its palaces have been described as “ennobled with sublimity and splendor,” the walls and ceilings covered with Islamic verses and adorned with the most intricate ornamentation. Indeed some modern scientists detect a mathematical complexity in the symmetry of the ceramic tile-work, and it is said that the Dutch artist Maurits Escher’s strange geometric drawings were inspired by the Alhambra’s designs. The columns that lined its courtyards were positioned to serve as markers on a sundial, and the rooms were aligned to make the most of the sun in winter and of the shade in summer.

The most distinctive element in the Alhambra is its use of water in reflective pools and fountains, where it is said, even the sound of falling water was intended to be part of the design. It had baths with hot and cold water. It coursed the cold waters flowing from the mountains underneath the floors for “ambient” cooling. And it had lavatories flushed with water, with separate wash basins and ventilation.

I have just left Granada as I write this and I am still awestruck by what I have seen. The past days have been disorienting. Watching Spanish TV, I saw an advertisement for Agujeros de Filipinos, some sort of a chocolate biscuit. The movies showing in town are “Angeles y Demonios” and “Noche en el Museo 2.” It makes me regret that I don’t remember anything from my 12 units of Spanish in college—and I will definitely watch those movies in their English-language original.

And now I understand better why our Spanish colonizers really had this thing about the Moros in Mindanao. I can imagine them, having triumphed at Granada in 1492 and then colonizing our islands in the mid-1500s. They sailed to the outer edge of the known universe, and who do they find? The local comrades of their Moorish protagonists back home! I suppose, for them, this was no local insurgency. It was not as if they had to subdue merely some troublesome natives. They were replaying the centuries-long Reconquista, and securing their triumph from fresh threats in the New World. Thus the urge not just to put down the recalcitrant Moros but to put down their religion as well. And that latter urge is even more compelling, because the conquistadores were up against a religion, nay an Islamic civilization, that had put much of Europe to shame for all of seven centuries.

But historical perspective can teach us yet other lessons. The triumph of the Reconquista, after the initial flush of magnanimity to Muslims and Jews, actually heightened the Inquisition. At around 1492 and soon after, the Grand Inquisitor Tomas de Torquemada expelled 200,000 Jews and persecuted the Muslims through forced baptisms, the burning of Islamic books and a ban on the Arabic language—all this from a faith that taught us to love others as God loved us.

I am convinced that religious wars, deep down, are never really about faith and spirituality. They are about power, plain and simple. Religious causes are merely proxies for the truer, more earthly causes of human strife, and religion just provides the ideological cover and the inspiring call to arms. The sooner we separate the true issues from the false, the better for us all. We could have had a fuller debate on the aborted peace pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which was struck down as unconstitutional. Sadly, in doing so, we merely replaced the obscurantism of religious debate with the self-righteousness of the local brand of constitutionalism. Either way, we never really cut to the real issues: health, shelter, and education for Mindanao’s youth, by securing for them their just share of Mindanao’s wealth.

Conversely, this should also chastise Muslims here and abroad. Take the Alhambra and what it says about the lofty achievements of Islamic culture. Then contrast that to the dominant news that we encounter today. The worldwide death warrant against the writer Salman Rushdie. The Talibans and their bizarre practices. The terrorist attacks in New York, Madrid, and Bali. And, of late, the Abu Sayyaf as nothing but a kidnap-for-ransom gang. Filipino Muslims, especially, should dissociate themselves publicly and categorically from wayward elements that bring dishonor to an enduring religion that deserves better champions.

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