Tuesday 15 February 2011

Multiculturalism vs Monoculturalism

The School of Athens by Raphael includes the philosopher/scientist Averroës from Andalusia. 
 I was surprised when our friend Ramon announced at the end of the debate (5 Feb 2011) that the answer to his question is « No, multiculturalism will not work in our society. » Surely, he should have noticed that our café-philo itself is a microcosm of a multicultural society where people from different corners of the planet come and join the debate every Saturday forming a friendly social network in a convivial atmosphere. What’s more surprising is that Ramon, as a Spaniard, seemed to have forgotten the colourful past of his native country where multiculturalism was a unique feature unknown elsewhere in Medieval Europe.

Forest of columns of Patio de los Leones, Alhambra, Granada

The Islamic Spain from the 8th century to the 15th century is a quintessence of a culturally rich, diverse, and thriving civilization, and a melting pot of ethnic allegiances. The arrival of Muslims in Iberia in 711 CE created an enlightened culture in which three Abrahamic traditions -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam -- co-existed, interacted, and flourished. By 732, the Islamic Empire united most of the peninsula, calling it Al-Andalus. During this time, Al-Andalus witnessed the emergence of major figures, the birth of vital cities, the rise and demise of ruling dynasties, decisive battles, and an important role for women.


Jews and Christians worshipped freely without fear of persecution. The native Christian population governed according to the Germanic customs of the Visigoths. Meanwhile, small Jewish communities inhabited such key cities as Toledo and Córdoba.

Spiritual beauty of Alhambra

The Arabs were fewer in number but after the establishment of the Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba, new Muslim immigrants including bureaucrats, scholars, merchants, and artists from Egypt, Syria, Persia, and other eastern lands made their way to Al-Andalus to seek their fortunes in a distant land that had quickly acquired a reputation for beauty and abundance. As they began adapting to settled life, they established trades, raised crops, and interacted with the local populace with increasing frequency. They sought familial alliances and marriage with Hispani-Roman women. 

Conversely, Christians retained their faith but increasingly adopted Arabic language and Muslim customs. They came to be called Mozarabs. Their daughters often bridged the social worlds of the rulers and the ruled.

This coherent multicultural society lasted over four centuries until the Reconquista by the Christian resurgence from the North in late 11th century. Since then, the fertile land of the south was overshadowed by religious repression and persecution known as Papal Inquisition, later as “Spanish Inquisition” ordering Jews and Muslims to convert or leave, throughout the period from the 15th to the 19th century.
The former Mosque in Cordoba (the 3rd largest mosque in the world), known by its Spanish name, Mezquita. After the conquest, the Christians built a cathedral in the middle of this large complex, so it is now two sacred sites in one.


  1. The picture of "forest of columns" is the "Patio de los Leones" in Alhambra, Granada (it is not the mosque of Córdoba).

  2. Thank you for your comment, Anonymous. The caption will be amended accordingly.