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Today as I’ve said I’d like to show you how this period of cultural wealth and relative tolerance found expression in literature, in a series of five examples that span as many centuries, some from a context of Muslim government and some from Christian kingdoms.The city of Cordova in the tenth century was home to the court of the Umayyad Caliphs and the most populous, most technologically advanced, and wealthiest city in Western Europe.To be sure, this was not the daily reality of all Andalusis, but when we talk about al-Andalus we should think of fifteenth-century Florence in terms of wealth and cultural refinement.To this day “al-Andalus” in the Arab world means ‘wealth, opulence, and artistic refinement and is used heavily in branding things like shopping malls and hotels.They paid a poll tax and were barred from occupying certain positions in government.However, they enjoyed the right to practice their religions, to organize and govern their own affairs autonomously, provided they did not offend Islam or Muslims in doing so.The Muslims who conquered and settled the Iberian Peninsula — overwhelmingly North African Berbers with a sprinkling of Eastern Arab élites— created a society that has no peer in Western Europe in terms of its multiconfessionality, its coexistence of the three major Abrahamic traditions.

From a European perspective, this period of Muslim political dominance is what most distinguishes the history and culture of the Iberian Peninsula.Nowhere else in Western Europe was Islam the state religion and Arabic the state language for significant periods of time.Consequently, there is nowhere else in Western Europe, until very recently, where Muslims, Jews, and Christians, lived and worked together under a political system that espoused —but did not always adhere to— a doctrine of religious tolerance.This legacy of tolerance, while no utopia, was a significant historical fact and that made the examples I am about to discuss possible, at a time when religious minorities elsewhere in Western Europe fared considerably worse on the whole.What’s more, the material culture of al-Andalus far surpassed that of the rest of Christian Europe.

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