Andalus And Sefarad: On Philosophy And Its History In Islamic Spain

Andalus And Sefarad
  • Book Title:
 Andalus And Sefarad
  • Book Author:
Sarah Stroumsa
  • Total Pages
249
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Introduction – Andalus And Sefarad

the story told in the pre sent book, which begins in earnest only in the fourth/tenth century, tells the tale of speculative thought in the Iberian Peninsula under Islamic rule. It would be impossible to give an accu-rate account of our topic, however, if we were to treat al- Andalus (or for that matter, any other region) as hanging in thin air, and its culture as creation ex nihilo. Before moving to the story itself, then, we shall first set the scene with some background.

Al- Andalus: Territory, Chronology, and Identity

Within the Islamic world, “al- Andalus” (Islamic Spain) constituted a dis-tinct cultural unit with its own unique characteristics. The borders of this territory changed over time, following the advance of the Christian con-quests (the “Reconquista” in Christian parlance).[01] On some religious and legal implications of these unstable borders, see Fierro and Molina, “Some Notes on dār al- ḥarb in Early al- Andalus,” … Continue reading Toward the end of the second/eighth century, al- Andalus covered most of the peninsula ( today’s Spain as well as Portugal), while in the eighth/fifteenth century, the shrunken Emirate of Granada alone, at the southernmost tip of the pen-insula, remained in Muslim hands.

Our period of interest extends mainly from the fourth/tenth to the sixth/twelfth century, when Jews living under Islam in the Iberian peninsula played a significant cultural role, and when philosophy flourished in al- Andalus.[02] Some Jewish communities existed in al- Andalus also after the Almohad persecu-tion, up until the fall of Granada, especially after 1391, following … Continue reading

At times, al- Andalus was po liti cally an extension of Maghreban ter-ritory. This was clearly the case in the sixth/twelfth century, under Almoravid and Almohad rule. But even in periods when the Maghreb and al- Andalus constituted distinct po liti cal entities, Andalusian intellectual history remained tightly tied to the Maghreb and its culture. The borders of al- Andalus as a cultural and intellectual unit were thus dependent on its fluctuating territorial borders, although they were not always identical with them.

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The philosophy and theology that were produced in this cultural unit developed as a continuation of speculative thought in the Islamic East and remained in constant dialogue with it. Books and ideas were imported from the East, studied, and assimilated.3 Yet the philosophical and theological works of Andalusian authors are not servile replicas of Maghreban or Eastern sources.4

They have a distinctive character that, while show-ing their diff er ent sources, displays their originality and their Andalusian provenance.5 The Muslim writers themselves were quite conscious of the special quality of their region. The Cordoban Ibn Ḥazm (d. 456/1064), for example, attempted to spell out “the merits of al- Andalus,” while Ibn Rushd (Averroes to the Latin scholastics, d. 594/1198) included in his com-mentary on Plato’s Republic several observations concerning the nature of po liti cal regimes in what he calls “our precinct.” 6 In his commentary on Aristotle’s Meteorology, Averroes also discussed the specific traits of the inhabitants of “this peninsula [hādhihi al- jazīra].”7

Like their Muslim counter parts, Andalusian Jewish philosophical writings exhibit close connections with trends of thought in the Maghreb. Moreover, notwithstanding their strong dependence on the literary output of the Jewish centers in the East, they too developed their own character-istic traits. Jewish thinkers saw themselves as “the diaspora of Sefarad,” and they cultivated their own local patriotism. Thus Moses Ibn Ezra (d. after 1138) extolled the literary and linguistic purity of “the Jerusalemites who were exiled to Sefarad” (Obad. 1:20) above all other Jewish communi-ties, and he insisted that “ these exiled Jerusalemites, who were undoubt-edly at the origin of our own exiled community, were more knowledgeable in the correct use of language.”8 This strong sense of Andalusian identity was also shared by Maimonides (d. 1204), who, although exiled from al- Andalus as a young adolescent, continued to call himself “ha- sefaradi.”9

In the study of Muslim theology, where regional differences often constitute the framework for historical studies, the particularity of Andalu-sian intellectual life is assumed as a matter of course.10 Students of Jewish philosophy, for their part, usually prefer a classification that links Jewish medieval thinkers with the relevant schools of Islamic thought (kalām, falsafa, or Sufism) rather than to geo graph i cal provenance.11 The assump-tion under lying this rather reasonable approach is that the development of Jewish philosophy was, by and large, an integral part of a common Islamic culture.

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The problem is that the logical consequence of this perspective, which favors, for example, assigning Judah Halevi (d. 1141) to the Neo-platonic school, is to minimize the impact of the immediate intellectual environment on a given thinker.12 Only if one claimed that Jews in al- Andalus lived a segregated intellectual life— a claim that no one has thus far made— would such an approach be justifiable.

The strongly felt Andalusian identity of both Jewish and Muslim Anda-lusian intellectuals, and the close proximity in which these figures lived and worked, clearly calls for an integrated inquiry. Accordingly, this book perceives the various products of philosophy and theology in al- Andalus as components of a common intellectual history and as stages in a continuous trajectory. This region itself, however, was part of the greater Islamicate world. Before beginning the story of al- Andalus, then, some remarks on the broader context are in order.

The Linguistic and Philosophical Koinē of the Islamicate World

From the second/eighth century, Islam dominated for centuries a vast territory, stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic and from the Cas-pian Sea in the north to Yemen in the south. Notwithstanding differences between regimes and variants of religious denominations, the presence of Islam was the major cultural factor uniting these territories, to the extent that they can justly be called “the world of Islam.”

Striving to do justice to the polyvalent nature of this world, Marshall Hodgson (d. 1968) coined the term “Islamicate,” which refers “not directly to the religion, Islam, itself, but to the social and cultural complex historically associated with Islam and the Muslims.”13 This term allows us to distinguish Islam as the dominant reli-gion of a cultural world from the civilization identified with it, a civilization that encompassed multiple religious communities and was shaped by all of them.

The lingua franca of the Islamicate world was Arabic. Religious and ethnic minorities living in this world retained their own legacy and often their own cultural language— Persian, Syriac, Coptic, Greek, or Hebrew— but Arabic came to be their primary language: the language in which they spoke and corresponded with members of other communities as well as with each other, and in which they discussed even their own religion.

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The linguistic and politico- religious unity of the world of Islam formed a unique, common cultural platform for thinkers of different religious and

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References / Footnotes

01 On some religious and legal implications of these unstable borders, see Fierro and Molina, “Some Notes on dār al- ḥarb in Early al- Andalus,” esp. 205–6
02 Some Jewish communities existed in al- Andalus also after the Almohad persecu-tion, up until the fall of Granada, especially after 1391, following the persecution of Jews in Christian Spain. But these communities did not attain the cultural strength of the past. See Del Valle and Stemberger, Saadia Ibn Danán, 17–27