The Muslim Expulsion from Spain: Roger Boase Looks at a Spanish Example of Religious and Ethnic Cleansing

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`EVERYTHING DECLINES after reaching perfection ...

The tap of the white ablution fount weeps in despair, like a passionate lover weeping at the departure of the beloved.

Over dwellings emptied of Islam, vacated, whose inhabitants now live in unbelief,

Where the mosques have become churches in which only bells and crosses are found ...

O who will redress the humiliation of a people who were once powerful, a people whose condition injustice and tyrants have changed?

Yesterday they were kings in their own homes, but today they are slaves in the land of the infidel!

Were you to see them bewildered, with no one to guide them, wearing the cloth of shame in its different shades,

And were you to behold their weeping when they are sold, it would strike fear into your heart, and sorrow would seize you.

Alas, many a maiden as fair as the sun when it rises, as though she were rubies and pearls,

Is led off to abomination by a barbarian against her will, while her eye is in tears and her heart is stunned.

The heart melts with sorrow at such sights, if there is any Islam or faith in that heart!'

These words were written by the poet ar-Rundi after Seville fell to Ferdinand III of Castile (1199-1252) in December 1248. By that date many other cities, including Valencia, Murcia, Jaen and Cordoba, had been captured and it seemed that the end of Muslim Spain was imminent. However, it was not until 1492 that the Moorish Kingdom of Granada surrendered to Ferdinand V and Isabella, and the final Muslim expulsion did not take place until over a century later, between 1609 and 1614. This means that there was a large Moorish population in Spain half a millennium after the high point of Andalusian culture in the eleventh century.

Ar-Rundi might well have been responding to the plight of his co-religionists after the fall of Granada or at the time of the expulsion when many similar atrocities were committed: homes were destroyed and abandoned, mosques were converted into churches, mothers were separated from their children, people were stripped of their wealth and humiliated, armed rebels were reduced to slavery. But by the seventeenth century the Moors had become Spanish citizens; some were genuine Christian converts; indeed many, like Sancho Panza's neighbour Ricote in Cervantes' novel Don Quixote (1605-15), were deeply patriotic and considered themselves to be `mas cristiano que moro'. Yet all were the victims of a state policy, based on racist theological arguments, which had the backing of both the Royal Council and the Church, for which the expulsion of the Jews in 1492 provided an immediate legal precedent.

According to the terms of the treaty drawn up in 1492, the new subjects of the Crown were to be allowed to preserve their mosques and religious institutions, to retain the use of their language and to continue to abide by their own laws and customs. But within seven years these terms had been broken. When the moderate missionary approach of the archbishop of Granada, Hernando de Talavera (1428-1507), was replaced by the fanaticism of Cardinal Cisneros (c.1436-1518), who organised mass conversions and the burning of all religious texts in Arabic, these events resulted in the First Rebellion of the Alpujarras (1499-1500) and the assassination of one of the Cardinal's agents. This in turn gave the Catholic monarchs an excuse to revoke their promises. In 1499 the Muslim religious leaders of Granada were persuaded to hand over more than 5,000 priceless books with ornamental bindings, which were then consigned to the flames; only some books on medicine were spared. In Andalusia after 1502, and in Valencia, Catalonia and Aragon after 1526, the Moors were given a choice between baptism and exile. For the majority, baptism was the only practical option. Henceforward the Spanish Moors became theoretically New Christians and, as such, subject to the jurisdiction of the Inquisition, which had been authorised by Pope Sixtus IV in 1478. …