The Cordoba House and the Myth of Cordoban 'Ecumenism'
Imam Feisal Rauf, “founder and visionary” of the Cordoba Initiative, apparently sees the construction of a triumphal mosque within the 9/11 World Trade Center attack's zone of destruction as a fulfillment of his vision for Islam in America. As Rauf stated in his 2004 What’s Right with Islam, a work limited to treacly Islamic propaganda:
For many centuries, Islam inspired a civilization that was particularly tolerant and pluralistic. ... Great philosophers such as Maimonides were free to create their historic works within the pluralistic culture of Islam.
Rauf envisions this invented past as a model for the future “Sharia-compliant” America he desires.
Self-proclaimed “contrarian” Christopher Hitchens asserted his distaste for those in charge of the Cordoba Initiative, especially Rauf, characterizing the imam’s utterances about the 9/11 atrocities as “shady and creepy.” Yet even Hitchens upheld the Andalusian myth of Cordoba, calling it:
The site of an astonishing cultural synthesis, best associated with the names of Averroes ibn-Rushd and Moses Maimonides ...
Hitchens gleaned this, apparently, from his reading of the pseudo-academic apologetics of María Rosa Menocal’s The Ornament of the World, which he insisted was “the finest recent book on the subject.”
Pace Hitchens’ uninformed praise, Menocal’s superficial hagiography ignores the mid-20th century studies of Evariste Levi-Provencal and Charles Emmanuel Dufourcq, and more recently Jane Gerber’s focused 1994 analysis debunking the "Golden Age" myth in Muslim Spain as:
[The] aristocratic bearing of a select class of courtiers and poets, [which consisted only of] garishly packaged ... gilded moments.
Whitney Bodman, associate professor of comparative religion at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, has provided the most egregious misrepresentation of “Cordoban ecumenism.” He invoked it specifically to defend Imam Rauf’s GZM project and to condemn its opponents --who now represent 70% of both the U.S. and New York populations -- for failing to understand “ ... the difference between the Muslims of al-Qaeda and the Muslims of Cordoba.” Professor Bodman’s warped narrative was punctuated by the utterly ahistorical claim that the purported idyllic interfaith relations and glorious cultural symbiosis of Cordoba were abruptly terminated by the Spanish Catholic Inquisition:
The name “Cordoba House” is significant. It is named after the famed medieval Spanish city of Cordoba where philosophers, mystics, artisans and poets -- Muslim, Christian, and Jewish -- lived and shared together. ... Its libraries were vast, and the translations of Arabic works into Latin changed Europe and Christianity forever. Among the resident luminaries were Maimonides, a noted Jewish intellectual, the poet Ibn Hazm, and Averroes, the Muslim philosopher and mystic. ... With the coming of the Inquisition and Christian exclusivism, the brilliance of Cordoba faded, but its significance endures as a vibrant, inter-religious community.
Reinhart Dozy (1820-1883), the great Orientalist scholar and Islamophile, wrote a four volume magnum opus (published in 1861 and translated into English by Francis Griffin Stokes in 1913) titled Histoire des Musselmans d’Espagne (A History of the Muslims in Spain). Here is Dozy’s historical account of the mid-8th century “conversion” of a Cordoban cathedral to a mosque:
All the churches in that city [Cordoba] had been destroyed except the cathedral, dedicated to Saint Vincent, but the possession of this fane [church or temple] had been guaranteed by treaty. For several years the treaty was observed; but when the population of Cordova was increased by the arrival of Syrian Arabs [i.e., Muslims], the mosques did not provide sufficient accommodation for the newcomers, and the Syrians considered it would be well for them to adopt the plan which had been carried out at Damascus, Emesa [Homs], and other towns in their own country, of appropriating half of the cathedral and using it as a mosque. The [Muslim] Government having approved of the scheme, the Christians were compelled to hand over half of the edifice. This was clearly an act of spoliation, as well as an infraction of the treaty. Some years later, Abd-er Rahman I requested the Christians to sell him the other half. This they firmly refused to do, pointing out that if they did so they would not possess a single place of worship. Abd-er Rahman, however, insisted, and a bargain was struck by which the Christians ceded their cathedral.
Indeed by the end of the eighth century, the brutal Muslim jihad conquest of North Africa and of Andalusia had imposed rigorous Maliki jurisprudence (one of the four main Sunni schools of Islamic law) as the predominant school of Muslim law. Thus, as Evariste Lévi-Provençal (1894-1956) -- the greatest modern scholar of Muslim Spain, whose Histoire de l’Espagne Musulmane remains a defining work -- observed 75 years ago:
The Muslim Andalusian state thus appears from its earliest origins as the defender and champion of a jealous orthodoxy, more and more ossified in a blind respect for a rigid doctrine, suspecting and condemning in advance the least effort of rational speculation.
For example, the contemporary scholar J.M. Safran discusses an early codification of the rules of the marketplace (where Muslims and non-Muslims would be most likely to interact) written by al-Kinani (d. 901), a student of the Cordovan jurist Ibn Habib (d. 853) -- “known as the scholar of Spain par excellence,” who was also one of the most ardent proponents of Maliki doctrine in Muslim Spain:
[The] problem arises of “the Jew or Christian who is discovered trying to blend with the Muslims by not wearing the riqā [cloth patch, which might be required to have an emblem of an ape for a Jew, or a pig for a Christian] or zunnār [belt].” Kinani’s insistence that Jews and Christians wear the distinguishing piece of cloth or belt required of them is an instance of a legally defined sartorial differentiation being reconfirmed. ... His insistence may have had as much to do with concerns for ritual purity and food prohibitions as for the visible representation of social and political hierarchy, and it reinforced limits of intercommunal relations.
Notwithstanding Professor Bodman’s allusion, Ibn Hazm (d. 1064) was hardly just a Muslim “poet,” nor was he a paragon of ecumenism.
He was a viciously anti-Semitic Muslim theologian whose inflammatory writings helped incite the massive pogrom against the Jews of Granada which killed 4000, destroying the entire community in 1066. And Averroes -- despite his “philosophical studies” -- was also a traditionally bigoted Maliki jurist who rendered strong anti-infidel Sharia rulings and endorsed classical jihadism for the very same Almohads who eventually turned upon him.
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