Lessons from the Golden Era of Andalusia

A university teacher leads a group of students to Andalusia to explore cross-cultural and interfaith understanding.

Filmmaker: Abdelkrim Sekkar

Saadane Benbabaali is an Algerian academic whose ancestors came from what is now the southern Spanish region of Andalusia. He has retired from teaching literature and Arabic at Paris University III. But for 15 years, Benbabaali has led groups of students on annual trips to Andalusia to share his passion and knowledge about the region an it’s rich history.

He believes that the period of Arab Muslim rule over the Iberian peninsula was arguably the only time in European history when Muslims, Jews and Christians lived relatively peacefully together, producing a common culture and harmonious society.

He also thinks that the period and place have powerful lessons for what he sees as today’s fractured world.

“Today we need all those [Andalusian] philosophers, thinkers and Sufis, who like [scholar] Ibn Arabi, made love the basis of human relationships,” explains Benbabaali.

In 711, Muslim forces entered the Iberian peninsula from North Africa. They eventually occupied most of present-day Portugal, Spain and parts of southern France, which became known as al-Andalus as it joined the expanding Umayyad Empire

During the Islamic ‘golden age’ between the 8th and 14th century, al-Andalus became a hub for social and cultural exchange, while the arts, science, architecture, agriculture, medicine and mathemathics flourished.

Andalusia is a world that belongs to the past but this past had a reputation and an impact on the people who experienced it and left behind a culture, music and ideas that still exist today.

Saadane Benbabaali, Andalusian expert

The era also produced some of the most significant scholars, poets, musicians, philosophers, historians and thinkers of the medieval age – such as Ibn Arabi, Ibn Rushd (also known as Averroes), al-Zarqali (Arzachel in Latin), al-Zahrawi (Abulcasis in Latin) and Ibn Firnas, among others.



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