Muslims under Christian Rule in Al-Andalus

Edited from
Encyclopedia of Religion
Second Edition
by Lindsay Jones (Editor)

The religious experience of Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula also had a specific trait: that of the Mudéjares, the Muslims who had neither migrated nor converted when their lands were conquered by the Christians but who continued to live as Muslims under Christian rule. They were able to temporarily maintain the use of Arabic, while progressively acquiring the language of the conquerors. This bilingualism was short-lived in some areas, such as Castile, where Arabic was lost, while in the Kingdom of Valencia it lasted longer. A curious form of linguistic survival was to use Arabic letters to write Romance (the so-called aljamiado or aljamía), not because those who used aljamiado wanted to ignore the Romanic script but because they sought to keep themselves linked to the sacred language of the Qur'an. The use of aljamía was a profession of faith, a sign that indicated the users’ belonging to the Muslim community.

The status of the Mudéjares came progressively under threat after the conquest of the last Muslim kingdom. The Mudéjares of Granada and Castile were forced to convert to Christianity in 1501 and 1502, those of Valencia in 1521 and 1522, those of Aragon in 1524, in a process that by 1526 signaled the end of Islam as a permitted religion in the Iberian Peninsula. These forced converts are known as Moriscos. Efforts for the Christianization of the Moriscos were carried out according to policies closely intertwined with contemporary debates about the conversion of the Indians of America. In spite of the inevitable, but slow, process of religious and cultural assimilation, the new Christians were suspect in their religion and often denounced as a potential fifth column for the Muslim enemies of the Spanish crown. Also, there was rejection on the part of some sectors of Christian society of their cultural difference. After their rebellion in Granada in 1568, the persecution of the Moriscos at the hands of the Inquisition increased and the remaining communities grew weaker. Their expulsion was discussed in 1582, the first decree was promulgated in 1609, and between 1610 and 1614 the Moriscos were forced to leave the Iberian Peninsula. With them, the small amount of Arabic that still survived disappeared as a spoken language. The dispersion of the Moriscos in Muslim lands and their eventual acculturation to the new context also meant the disappearance of the Andalusi dialectal bundle. For a while, they preserved the Romance language in the new lands where they settled, even producing works in Castilian in Tunis.

Surviving legal opinions dealing with the issue of whether Muslims were allowed to live under Christian rule, mostly formulated by jurists who did not live in the Iberian Peninsula, show a powerful tendency to reject this possibility, arguing that residence in a non-Muslim territory precluded following fundamental tenets of the Islamic religion and was thus equated with religious and cultural corruptions such as eating carrion, blood, or pork. This attitude must have been demoralizing for the religious elites of Mudéjares and crypto-Muslim Moriscos who did not emigrate (emigration to Muslim lands was economically difficult, if not impossible, for the more humble members of the community). Even so, they managed to develop varied and fruitful strategies for religious and cultural survival, the study of which has offered and is still offering new perspectives on the general issue of the interplay between normative and local Islam. Aljamiado literature preserved the fundamentals of religion and law, as well as Muslim sacred history, and made them available to the community at large. Sophisticated forgeries such as the Gospel of Saint Barnabas and the Lead Tablets of the Sacromonte of Granada tried to demolish the distinction between “old Christian” and “new Christian” as a rationale for the elimination of the Moriscos, in an attempt to ensure the physical permanence in the Iberian Peninsula of the descendants of its former Muslim inhabitants.


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