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Jews & Muslims in Medieval Spain

Jews & Muslims in Medieval Spain
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  • 0:02 Jewish-Muslim Tension
  • 0:47 The 'Golden Age':…
  • 2:24 Characteristics of the…
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Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will examine Jewish-Muslim dynamics in Medieval Spain. Specifically, we will learn about the Golden Age of Cooperation between these two groups, and we will identify key themes and events.

Jewish-Muslim Tension

If you pay attention to the news, you probably know Jewish-Muslim tension is widespread in our world today. For example, the radical Islamic group, Hamas, regularly fires rockets into the Jewish state of Israel, provoking retribution. This type of conflict is nothing new. For centuries, tension and violence between Arab Muslims and Jews has been the norm. But, in this lesson, we're going to examine a refreshingly peaceful time and place when Muslims and Jews got along relatively well. Let's get to it!

The 'Golden Age:' Debate & Controversy

So, this time and place that I speak of has a number of names; sometimes it is called the Golden Age of Spanish Society, the Golden Age of Medieval Spain, or the Golden Age of Cooperation between Jews and Muslims. It all refers to the same thing. For the purposes of this lesson, we will just refer to it as the Golden Age of Cooperation. So, what was it?

Basically, this term refers to a period of Medieval Spain when Jews and Muslims lived together in relative peace and harmony. There is much debate among historians as to when this 'Golden Age' was. Some say it began in the early 8th century, while others argue it began in 912 under the rule of Abd-ar-Rahman III. Its end is also a matter of debate, but it is relatively safe to say it came to a close around the mid to late 11th century. So, basically, just remember that the Golden Age of Cooperation peaked between the 10th and 11th centuries. And, where did this take place? That's right: Spain!

There's one more point of disagreement that I have to mention. It's kind of a big one. Not all historians agree that a Golden Age of Cooperation even took place. Some argue this whole thing was a myth. So, the bottom line is that there's a whole range of opinions on what Jewish-Muslim interactions looked like during this time in Medieval Spain.

Characteristics of the 'Golden Age'

So, now that we have all the debate and controversy out of the way, let's look at the Golden Age of Cooperation a little more in-depth. Before the late 6th century, Jews in Spain had relative freedom under their Visigoth rulers. But, eventually, the Visigoths became Christian and joined the Catholic Church. When this happened, the Jews began to suffer persecution under Catholic authority. However, when the Muslims conquered the Iberian Peninsula (remember, that's where Spain is), they recognized the benefit of allowing Jews to have relative autonomy.

Al-Andalus is the name for Muslim-controlled Spain between 711 and 1492. Jews living in Al-Andalus began to thrive. This was especially true after 912, when Abd-ar-Rahman III became the Islamic ruler of the region. He granted religious freedom to Jews, and during his reign, they prospered culturally and economically. The Caliphate of Córdoba was the official name of Rahman III's kingdom. It lasted from 929 to 1031, when it dissolved as a result of civil war.

Some Jews held positions of prominence in the caliphate. Jewish philosophers, mathematicians, astronomers, and others were highly regarded by their Muslim neighbors. Moses ben Enoch, for example, was a Jewish scholar who was appointed rabbi by Rahman III. Enoch's contribution resulted in Al-Andalus becoming a leading center of Jewish scholarship.

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