Mind of the Musulman: Chapter X
Causes of the dismemberment of the Muslim Empire— The chief is the inability of the Arabs to govern — The history of the Caliphs in Spain is identical with that of the Caliphs at Damascus and at Bagdad: the same causes of ephemeral grandeur, the same causes of decay — There was no Arab civilization in Spain, but merely a revival of Latin civilization — This was developed behind a Muslim facade, and in spite of the Muslims — The monuments attributed to the Arabs are the work of Spanish architects.
THE principal cause of the collapse of the power of the Arabs was their inability to administer their conquests. The secret of the success of the Greek and Roman conquerors lay in the fact that they possessed in their own countries a perfectly organized system of administration, which they had only to apply to the subject peoples with certain modifications to adapt it to their manners and customs. They thus brought to the vanquished a regime of order, bringing with it a prosperity that caused the latter to forget the brutalities of conquest.
The Arabs were not in possession of any such organization, they had not even a State; for the nomad tribes lived in freedom, obeying no authority, no directing power, no administration; theirs was, in fact, a regime of anarchy.
When the successors of Mohammed realized their conquests, they were obliged, in the absence of any Arab organization, to adopt that which they found in existence in the conquered provinces: and they could only carry it on by the help of the people they had conquered. Their political inferiority was thus evident from the first day and inevitably diminished their prestige. Finally, the Muslim religion, conceived as it was for the use of a collectivity of nomads, was with difficulty adapted to the manners and customs of sedentary nations whose mentality and necessities were quite different. Thus, as was inevitable, it was not long before there were collisions of sentiment and wounded feelings on both sides. The various peoples, stupefied at first by the impetuosity of the Arab onrush, soon recovered their self-possession and tried to regain their independence.
But the Arabs, intoxicated by their success, took reprisals with such “frightfulness” that the conquered peoples resigned themselves in terror to their servitude. The Arabs, then believing that they were safe from any further danger, tasted the joy of living. In contact with the old Greco-Syrian and Greco-Persian civilizations they became softened and lost their warlike qualities, so utterly that the Caliphs had to enrol foreign troops to ensure the defense of the Empire.
As soon as the subject nations became aware of this enfeeblement, they took up once more their projects of independence. Several causes urged them to this course:
1. Regional nationalism, naturally exasperated by the farce of foreign domination, and the desire of the people to be governed by men of their own language and mentality.
2. The utter incapacity of the governing Arabs, an incapacity which prevented them from improving the administration of the conquered provinces and compelled them to wink at the exactions of foreign officials.
3. The desire to get out of paying the tribute. In the subject provinces, every individual paid taxes, raised in the case of non-Muslims, and reduced for the converted. These taxes were largely increased by the corruption of the collectors. The money squeezed out of the vanquished served to enrich the Arab governors; the surplus went to Damascus or Bagdad to maintain the luxury of the Caliphs, so that the Muslim domination appeared as an exploitation of the conquered nations for the benefit of the Arabs.
4. The dissensions which divided the conquerors. The Alids intrigued in Persia, the Ommeyads in Syria, in Spain, and in the Maghreb, the Old Muslims in Irak. All these rivals, eager to injure one another, sought to recruit partisans among the non-Arabs, and this propaganda could only serve to impair unity and to increase the spirit of insubordination.
5. The ambition of the governors. As part of the bad organization of the Arab Empire, the provincial governors were allowed a measure of independence that made them the equals of the Caliph in their own province. They collected the taxes without any control; they recruited the troops necessary for their defense; this liberty led the ambitious by imperceptible degrees to revolt against the central power.
6. The exasperating rigour of the fanatics. In Islam there have always been rigid defenders of the Koranic dogma; these fanatics triumphed in the second century, when they obtained the immutable fixation of their doctrine. From that time onward they busied themselves in imposing their ideas and behaved with so little moderation that they became intolerable.
These diverse causes were not always in operation at the same time; according to circumstances and places, it was now one and now another that was in the ascendant. In one province it would be the spirit of nationalism that led to revolt; in another it would be the desire to avoid the payment of taxes; or again, it might be rivalries among the Arabs; or perhaps the ambition of a governor or of some military leader; but in every case, one of these causes was found to be at the root of the movement for emancipation.
Thus in Spain, schism was provoked by hostility to the Abbassids. The superior officers of the army, Arab or Berber, were the protégés of the Ommeyads; so that on the coming of the Abbassids, anxiety to preserve their privileges led them to revolt. Two of these leaders, Somail and Yusuf, exercised power in the absence of a sovereign. The latter was not long in presenting himself.
An Ommeyad, Abd-er-Rahman, a descendant of the Caliph Hashem who, after incredible adventures, had escaped the massacres ordered by Abul- Abbas-es-Saffa and had taken refuge in Africa, crossed over to Spain. Received with enthusiasm by the partisans of the Ommeyads, he had himself proclaimed Caliph, after getting rid of Yusuf and Somail who had attempted to oppose his intentions (756).
This was the beginning of the Caliphate in Spain, of which the history was very much the same as that of the Caliphates of Damascus and Bagdad. There were the same causes of grandeur and the same reasons for decay. As in Syria and in Mesopotamia, the Arabs found in Spain an advanced civilization, a reflection of that of Rome; and being quite without culture themselves, they fell under the influence of the people of the country, imitated their customs, and adopted their vicious habits.
Ignorant of the arts of administration and government, they surrounded themselves with Syrians, Berbers, and Spaniards, converts to Islam, who exercised authority on their behalf. These new Muslims, brought up in Latin traditions, revived, in spite of their barbarous conquerors, the fire of Latin genius. In contact with a refined society, the Arabs became corrupted, lost their warlike qualities, and were no longer in a position to maintain order. Power slipped from their hands. The history of Cordova is a repetition of that of Damascus and Bagdad, and furnishes fresh proof of the incapacity of the Arabs for government.
Abd-er-Rahman I (756-787) had the qualities of the Ommeyads, and their defects: bravery, pride, generosity, perfidy, cold-blooded cruelty, and sensuality. His court rivaled that of Bagdad in its pomp. He was in addition a man of refinement, with literary pretensions. After having caused one of his old friends to be assassinated, he would go and dream in his gardens at Cordova; and there, under the shade of the palms and orange trees, he would compose sentimental poems like the following:
" Beautiful palm, thou art, like myself, a stranger in these parts; but the winds brush thy fronds with their soft caress; thy roots find a hospitable soil and thy leafy crown expands in a pure air. Ah! thou would'st weep, even as I weep, could'st thou feel the troubles that prey upon me! Thou hast no fear of fate, whilst I am exposed to its buffets.
“When a cruel destiny and the vengeance of the Abbassids drove me into exile from the country of my birth, many times did I shed tears under the shade of palms watered by the Euphrates; but alas! the trees and the river have forgotten me, and thou, beautiful palm, thou dost not lament justice!"
Abd-er-Rahman had a difficult beginning: the chiefs, Arab and Berber, who had cut themselves adrift from the Empire in order to be free, entered into league against him. Some he bought over, others he had killed, and in the end he remained undisputed master. At his death, he left to his son, Hashem I (787-795), a situation practically clear of difficulties.
The new Caliph bore little resemblance to his father. Bigoted to excess, he was completely in the hands of religious personages, notably of the great Medinan doctor, Malik, one of the four orthodox interpreters of the Koran. These fanatical doctrinaires sought to impose their ideas upon the people and set to work with a brutality that turned all consciences against them.
The Spanish nation was conquered only in appearance; the lower class alone, who had obtained advantages by being converted to Islam, accepted Arab domination without excessive animosity; but the aristocracy, robbed of their lands, the Christian priests reduced to a miserable condition, the Visigoths fallen from power, all detested the invader and preached revolt. The want of tact on the part of the fakirs only added fuel to their hatred.
Thus it happened that Hashem's successor, El-Hakem (795-821) had to suppress several revolts. Wishing to counteract the ill-timed zeal of the fakis, he incurred their animosity and had to baffle their intrigues. Whether against them or against the populace he employed violent methods: fire, the sword, and poison; he was a rough fighter, unrestrained by any scruples: witness this poem that he wrote for his son before his death:
"As a tailor uses his needle to sew together pieces of stuff, so have I used my sword to re-unite my separated provinces; for, since the age when I began to think, nothing disgusted me so much as the dismemberment of the Empire. Ask today on my frontiers if there is any part of it in the enemy's power; they will tell you No; but if they say Yes, I will fly there clad in my cuirasse with my good sword in my fist. Ask too if the skulls of my rebel subjects, which, like colocynth apples split in two, bestrew the plain and whiten in the sun's rays; they will tell you that I have smitten them without giving them any peace.
“Stricken with terror the insurgents fled to escape death; but I, always at my post, I laughed at death. If I have spared neither the women nor their children, it is because they have threatened my family; the man who cannot avenge outrages offered to his family has no feeling of honor and everybody despises him. When we had finished exchanging sword-strokes, I forced them to drink a deadly poison; but have I done any more than pay the debt that they had forced me to incur to them? Of a truth, if they have found death, it is because their destiny willed it thus. I leave you, then, my provinces pacified, O my son! They are like a bed on which thou canst sleep in tranquillity, for I have taken care that no rebel shall trouble thy slumbers.”
EI Hakem's successor, his son, Abd-er-Rahman II, advised by the Syrians and Spaniards of his court, wished to rival in splendor the Caliphs of Bagdad. He lived the life of an Epicurean, solely preoccupied with tasting the delights of existence, leaving the cares of power to his favorites. Of these, one was a fakir, the Berber Yahia, a pupil of the celebrated Malik, a fierce sectary, a wild tribune, who busied himself chiefly with religious questions; another was a Persian musician, a sort of adventurer, of an incredible verbosity and self-confidence, who set the fashion; another, an Islamized Spaniard, the eunuch Nasr, deceitful and cruel, with all the hatred of a renegade for the Christians; finally, there was the Sultana Taroub, an intriguing woman, devoured by a thirst for gold, who took advantage of the Caliph's infatuation for her to pile up wealth.
The Muslim fanatics, protected by Yahia and the eunuch Nasr, committed such excesses of zeal that they aroused a movement of revolt among the Christians. As in the heroic times of the Church, there was no dearth of fanatical devotees who sought martyrdom and who, there being no idols to destroy, insulted the Muslim magistrates. A Christian priest named Prefectus, having insulted a Cadi, was put to torture. Before dying, he predicted the death of the eunuch Nasr, his executioner. But, by a curious coincidence, Nasr had been commissioned by Taroub, the favourite, to poison the Caliph.
The Caliph, warned by some suspicions, compelled him to drink the fatal cup, so that the eunuch died the very next day after Prefectus suffered; the Christians did not fail to attribute this end to the curse of the martyr, whom they considered as a saint. The example of Prefectus was followed by numbers of the faithful, who by their sacrifice reawakened the Christian sentiments of the masses. Most serious troubles resulted from these events.
Abd-er-Rahman II, having died in the midst of all this, his son, Mohammed (852-886), found himself at grips with the gravest difficulties; first from the intrigues of Taroub, who wanted to raise one of her own children to power, and secondly from the exasperation of the Christians. Outbreaks took place on all sides; he drowned them in blood; at Toledo, eight thousand Christians were massacred; churches were destroyed, and the Muslim religion was declared obligatory.
These persecutions merely increased the zeal of the faithful. Eulogius, the principal head of the Church, publicly insulted Mohammed and Islam in order to earn martyrdom, and was executed in 859.To form any idea of the exaltation of the Christians, it is necessary to read the criticisms passed upon Islam by the authors of the time:
"This adversary of our Saviour," said a monk speaking of Mohammed, "has consecrated the sixth day of the week — which, because of the passion of our Lord, should be a day of grief and fasting — this day he has devoted to eating and drinking and debauchery. Christ exhorted his disciples to chastity; this man has preached coarse delights, unclean pleasures, incest, to his followers.
“Christ preached marriage — but he, divorce. Christ recommended fasting and sobriety — but he, feasting and the pleasures of the table.”
The mountaineers of Andalusia, worked up by the priests, renounced Islam which had been forced upon them, and under the leadership of a certain Ibn-Hafcoun, rose to recover their independence. By a few lucky strokes, they caused serious losses among the Muslim troops.
El Mondhir (886-888), on his way to carryon the struggle with the rebels, was poisoned by his brother, Abd’Allah, who seized power.
Abd’Allah (888-912), was a man of tortuous policy. His character presents a singular mixture of perfidy and devotion. Entirely without scruple although a bigot, he violated the most solemn engagements, committed the worst crimes, and yet at the same time was subject to fits of religious fervour; witness the following melancholy poem, composed in a period of remorse:
“All the things of this world are but ephemera; there is nothing stable here below. Make haste, then, sinful man, to bid adieu to all mundane vanities, and become a true believer. In a little while, thou wilt be in thy tomb, and damp earth will be cast upon thy face, but lately so beautiful. Apply thyself solely to thy religious duties; give thyself up to devotion, and try to propitiate the Lord of heaven."
Alarmed by the revolts which were breaking out on all sides, Abd’Allah made a truce first with Ibn-Hafcoun; but this step, having produced an effect contrary to his expectations, he resumed the struggle, with varying fortunes.
His grandson, Abd-er-Rahman III, at the age of twenty-two, succeeded him (912-961). He was a sovereign of rare energy and great courage, probably the greatest of the Caliphs of Spain.
He assumed command of the Muslim troops in person and pacified the country in a few months. He even extended his influence into Africa. He reorganized the public treasury, which had been emptied by his predecessors, and caused the taxes to be collected regularly so that they produced annually a total exceeding six million pieces of gold; of this he devoted one third to current expenses, another third to embellishments, and the remaining third he placed in reserve.
In 951, he had in his coffers more than twenty million pieces of gold. A wise and tactful administration caused the old quarrels between Christians and Muslims to be forgotten, and brought back prosperity once more. Commerce developed to such an extent that the customs duties inward and outward were sufficient to meet the public expenditure. His reign was for Muslim Spain a period of unquestionable splendour. And yet, Abd-er-Rahman was not happy: having caused one of his sons to be executed for plotting against him, he was so tortured by remorse that it hastened his end. He expressed his grief in the following verses, which were found after his death:
" Fifty years have gone by since I became Caliph: wealth, power, pleasure — I have enjoyed them all, I have exhausted them all. Rival Kings respect me, fear me, and envy me. All that a man could desire, that has heaven granted me.”
“Ah ! well, in this long spell of apparent happiness, I have counted up the days when I have been really happy, and I have found them to amount to fourteen. Mortals, form a just estimate of power, of the world, and of life."
The very remarkable record of work accomplished by Abd-er-Rahman III was carried on by his son, El Hakem II (961-976), who, having imposed peace on the neighboring Christian princes, administered the finances of the Empire with prudence. He made such economies in sumptuary expenditure that he was able to reduce taxation. Under the advice of Islamized Spaniards of his court, he protected art and letters as no other Caliph had done before him. Keen to educate himself, he attained a degree of intellectual culture very rare at that time. He had a passion for rare and valuable books, and kept a number of scribes in the principal towns of Islam — Bagdad, Damascus, Cairo, and Alexandria, whose business it was to make copies of any remarkable works. His library at Cordova contained over four hundred thousand volumes. In order to spread the advantages of education and the blessings of religion, he created numerous primary schools and many superior colleges, where selected professors taught grammar, rhetoric, and even philosophy, after Aristotle. The University of Cordova, reorganized under his care, became celebrated; the liberality of the Caliph drew to it the most renowned doctors of the Muslim world: Abu-Ali-Kali, of Bagdad, taught there everything connected with the ancient Arabs, their history, their proverbs, their language, and their poetry.
These lessons were subsequently collected and published under the title of Amali or lectures. Ibn al Koutia taught grammar. Abu-Bekr ibn Moawia, of the Koreich, dealt with the traditions relating to Mohammed. Thousands of students flocked from all parts of the kingdom to follow the teaching of these illustrious masters.
From among the young students of this University there emerged the man who was to give to the power of the Caliphs its greatest expression of might and splendor, but who was at the same time to ruin it by his ambition: Abu-Amir Mohammed, better known as Al Manzor (the victorious). Sprung from a middle-class family, but devoid of scruples and anxious only to succeed, he raised himself by means of skilful intrigue to the highest offices. Beginning as a poor public writer, then secretary to the Cadi of Cordova, he was recommended to the Caliph's favourite Sultana, Sobh (Aurora), who engaged him as administrator of her eldest son's estates, the child being then five years old. Thanks to the Sultana's interest, whose lover he is said to have been, he was appointed inspector of the Mint, an important post, which by placing at his disposal, almost without check, considerable sums, enabled him to form a following of devoted partisans. Sent into Mauretania to supervise the conduct of the Caliph's generals, he succeeded by tact and discretion in winning the friendship of both officers and men. On his return, El Hakem II, feeling himself seriously ill, made him major-domo to his son, Hasheml, who was still too young to wield power.
On Hakem's death, Abu-Amir Mohammed, ridding himself very cleverly of the personages who might stand in his way, proceeded, with the connivance of Sultana Sobh, to relegate Hashem II to the women of the harem, and himself assumed power. After a few military successes over the Christian princes of the neighboring States, he took the title of Al Manzor, the victorious, and then that of Malik Karim, the magnanimous king. Having fallen out with Sultana Sobh and threatened with dismissal, he extorted from Hashem II a declaration handing over to himself the conduct of affairs. His ambition was his ruin. In order to maintain his prestige and popularity, he engaged in a ruinous war with the Christian States. Defeated at Kalat Annozer by a coalition of the princes, and wounded in the course of the action, his pride was so mortified that he made no struggle against death (1002).
Hashem II might have taken advantage of this opportunity to resume power; but he did nothing. Dividing his time between the women of his harem and religious exercises, he allowed Abd-el-Malik, the son of Al Manzor, to govern in his place. But the new regent had not the qualities of his father. This was the beginning of the downfall of the Muslim Empire in Spain; the causes of its dissolution can already be discerned:
The absence of any national unity. The conquerors, drowned as they were in the flood of a hostile population who, though outwardly converted to Islam, had preserved their own mentality; their customs, and the sentiment of nationality, formed a minority incapable of exercising any directive influence. The Arabs were, in fact, merely encamped in the countries they had hastily conquered; their occupation was precarious; while their Semitic mentality kept them outside the pale of Latin civilization.
The subject population was divided against itself; the Islamized Spaniards lived on bad terms with the Christians, who regarded them as renegades; the Berbers, who formed the great bulk of the army, hated both Arabs and Spaniards alike, and were only concerned to live at the expense of either one or the other. The Caliph, kept apart from he people, was powerless to impose his will. A court composed of adventurers and servile courtiers, in haste to get rich, isolated him from the masses. And then, in addition, there was the constant menace of the neighbouring Christian States, which had become the refuge of all the malcontents, of all those who had been robbed, of all those who had refused to make any sort of compromise with the conqueror and had preferred to abandon their property rather than deny their faith. This menace kept alive in the hearts of the vanquished the hope of revenge, in the belief that some day the invader would be driven out.
This fragile structure had been kept together after a fashion by energetic rulers having at their disposition an irresistible military force; but as soon as power fell into the hands of incapable Caliphs, the hostile elements, who had been kept together by force, withdrew from their compulsory alliance, and anarchy took the place of order.
Abd-el-Malik had been barely tolerated. The Spanish people, with a vague consciousness of their dignity, bore with increasing impatience the rule of a parvenu without any real authority. The situation was aggravated after the death of Abd-el-Malik, when his brother, Abd-er-Rahman wanted to take his place. The hatred which had long been accumulating against this family of parasites broke loose. As the imbecile, Hashem II, did not intervene, various pretenders came forward, notably a certain Mohammed, in whose favor the Caliph abdicated, and who took the surname of El-Mahdi Billah.
This meant civil war and anarchy. Abd-er-Rahman was murdered by the populace; El-Mahdi put Hashem II into close confinement and gave out that he was dead, which did not improve the situation. A grandson of Abd-er-Rahman III, Soleiman, was proclaimed Caliph. The palace mercenaries, under the lead of a certain Wadhih, killed El Mahdi, under the pretext of restoring Hashem II, they then killed Wadhih who was abusing his power.
Soleiman took Cordova; and when he reproached Hashem II with having abdicated in favour of his rival Mohammed, the Caliph replied, joining his hands: "Alas! you know I have no will; I do what they tell me! But spare me, I beseech you, for I declare again that I abdicate, and I appoint you my successor." This language shows the depth of cowardice into which Hashem had fallen.
In the provinces the Berber leaders revolted; the populace betook themselves to pillage; adventurers arose on all sides to foment these troubles. There were several Caliphs attempting to reign at the same time: Ali Ibn Hamoud; then a grandson of Abd-er-Rahman III, Abd-er-Rahman IV (I0l0); then Kassim (1028); then a son of Abd-er-Rahman IV, Abd-er-Rahman V (1028); then an Ommeyad, Mohammed II al Mostakfi (1024); then Yahia, son of Ali Ibn Hammoud (1025); then Hashem III al Motamid, elder brother of Abd-er-Rahman V (1026-1029), a roi fainéant who passed his life at table, between actors and dancing-girls.
Driven from power, this ne'er-do-well who cared only for wines, flowers, and truffles, was replaced by a sort of Senate, made up of Viziers and other influential personages (1029).
Each province and every town of importance became a separate State; Cordova fell from its rank as the capital and was supplanted by Seville, where the executive power had been entrusted to the Cadi, Abul-Kassim Mohammed, of the family of the Beni-Abbad or Abbadites. To put an end to these rivalries and re-establish some sort of order, he made use of a stratagem. He had found, in the person of a mat-weaver of Calatrava, the living double of Hashem II, and he claimed that the Caliph was not dead, that he had found him in a prison; and he gave the outward signs of power to this mat-weaver, reserving the real governing power to himself (1035).
His son, Abbad (1042), succeeded him as hadjib or prime minister to the so-called Hashem II. Suspicious, corrupt, treacherous, given up to drunkenness, tyrannical, and cruel, this man seemed to combine in his own person every possible defect. He got rid of the pseudo-Caliph and reigned under the name of Abbad II, in the midst of general anarchy. His son, Al Motamid (1069), less corrupt, tried to restore order; but his attempts were unfortunate; and in despair he entered into an alliance with Alphonse V (1080). The latter, in case of success, reserved for himself Toledo, leaving to his ally Badajoz, Granada, and Almeria.
This understanding was specially favorable to the Christian King in giving him possession of Toledo and thus delivering to the Spaniards all the fortresses on their side of the Tagus, and giving them a solid base of operations for the future.
The Arabs, feeling their situation precarious, appealed to the Almoravid Yousef ben Tafsin, established in Morocco, whose warlike successes and great qualities centered upon him the hopes of the Muslim world. They realized that in doing this they were merely changing masters; but, as Al Motamid expressed it, they would rather be calmel-drivers in Africa than swineherds in Castile.
Yousef crossed over into Spain (1086) and obtained a first success over the Christians; he was about to follow this up when the death of his son compelled him to return to Morocco. Left to himself, Al Motamid sustained severe reverses; the Christians, led by chiefs of the highest courage, such as the famous Rodrigo de Campeador (The Cid), took possession of the province of Murcia (1087).
At the request of Al Motamid, Yousef returned to Spain, where, taking advantage of the rivalries of the Arab leaders and of the complaisance of the Berber chiefs, he carved out for himself a State in the south of the peninsula, where his authority was exercised without opposition (1090-1094). There remained only one independent Muslim State, that of Saragossa, where Mostain, of the family of the Beni-Hamed, ruled. On his death, Saragossa was handed over to the Almoravids (1110).
Yousef owed his success to the fakirs who had carried on an active propaganda on his behalf and who had legalized his usurpation by religious texts. Himself very devout, he rewarded them by according them the most extensive privileges. It was a reign of narrow fanaticism and of religious oppression carried on by Islamized Berbers who scrupulously observed the letter of the Islamic dogma and applied the commandments of the Koran with inflexible rigor. This regime was prolonged under Yousef's successors, Ali and Teshoufin, up to 1148.
The intellectual culture, developed by Islamized Spaniards under the patronage of liberal-minded Caliphs, was annihilated. The poets had to exclude every licentious expression, every profane metaphor from their writings, and to limit themselves to extolling the benefits of Islam; the philosophers had to confine themselves to a servile imitation of the orthodox writers; men of science were obliged to desist from researches which carried them beyond the narrow borders of dogma. Even Ghazzali, the great Muslim theologian, whose works had been called the proof of Islamism, was ranked among the ungodly. It was the destruction of all thinking, the return to barbarism.
Naturally, the Christians and Jews were persecuted with the utmost rigor. For fifty years Muslim Spain lived under the rough discipline of ignorant and bigoted sectaries who set themselves the task of killing every tendency towards progress at its birth.
Exasperated by this unbearable tyranny, the people finally rose against the bigots. They were aided in their rebellion by the Arab chiefs, who wished to free themselves, and also by the neighboring Christian States. It was the time when the enthusiasm that had aroused the great crusading movement was still vibrating. The Christian princes, taking advantage of the hostility of the people against their Muslim oppressors, engaged in the struggle. The moment was favorable.
The Berber Almoravids had lost their warlike qualities through their residence in Spain; whilst the Spaniards, who had been converted, detested their tyrants more than ever. Alphonse of Arragon made several successful incursions into Andalusia (1125); Alphonso VII of Castile took Xeres [Jerez] (1133); Roger Guiscar took possession of Candia and Sicily, and his son conquered the islands of the coast (1125-1143).
The Almoravids having lost all prestige, a certain Mohammed ben Abd’Allah gave himself out as the Mahdi, the Messiah who was to regenerate Islam; and from Africa, where he had just founded the dynasty of the Almohads, he crossed over into Spain (1120-1130). His successor, Abd-el-Moumen (1180-1160), accomplished the conquest of Africa, and then fought in Spain against the Christian princes.
His son, Yousouf (1172-1184), carried on the war with alternating success and failure, and his successor, Yacoub, took up the holy war against the Christians (1184). He took Calatrava, Toledo, and Salamanca.
The accession of the Almohads was the result of the movement of reaction against the fanaticism of the Almoravids. Thanks to the liberal spirit of the members of this dynasty, civilization which had been stifled by bigoted ignorance, shone with a new brilliancy by the help of Islamized Spaniards. The same fact may be noted throughout the whole course of Muslim history: namely, that whenever the religious party is in the ascendant, and the Caliph is amenable to its suggestions, civilization is stifled and there is a retrogression of the subject peoples towards barbarism. On the other hand, there is an expansion of civilization as soon as the subject people are able, thanks to the administration of a tolerant prince, to develop freely their national qualities.
When Islam triumphs, it is the Arab spirit that dominates, that is to say a spirit poor in imagination, incapable of invention, and which, being quite unable to conceive anything beyond what it perceives directly, observes scrupulously, fanatically, the letter of the sacred texts. When the religious party ceases to wield power, the subject people, left free to think and act, escape from the narrow pillory of Islamic dogma and obey the inspirations of their own genius. It is a further proof of the deadly influence of Islam. The expansion of civilization that was produced in Spain under the tolerant administration of the Almohads, following the fanatical tutelage of the Almoravids, shows once more the correctness of this view.
The reign of Yacoub marks a renaissance of Latin civilization. Belles-lettres, which had been disdained by the coarse and devout Africans, were once more held in honor; poets and men of science were understood and appreciated, and sumptuous monuments on every side bore witness to the wealth and liberality of the Almohads.
Mohammed- el-Nasr (1205), who succeeded Yacoub, at first followed his example, but moved by ambition he had dreams of military glory and wished to undertake expeditions against the Christians. In 1205 he took the Balearic Isles, and was so intoxicated by this success that he lost all prudence, and in 1210 invaded the neighboring Christian States.
This was a blunder; for Islam no longer had at its disposal armed forces adequate for the realization of conquests. The Berber armies, corrupted by contact with Latin civilization, had lost their powers of endurance and their bravery and had become nothing more than hordes of undisciplined old soldiers. On the other hand, the Christians, fired by religious zeal, were possessed of formidable armies.
As soon as the Muslims made their attack, Pope Innocent III preached a crusade and sixty thousand foreign volunteers crossed the Pyrenees in response to his appeal and joined forces with the Spanish Christians. A great battle fought in the plains of Tolosa ended in the defeat of the Muslims (1212). The Christians, encouraged by this success, followed it up by a succession of victories. The Islamized Spaniards, who had only remained quiet from fear of reprisals, now rose. The Arab and Berber leaders, wishing to be free, followed their example, and there ensued a fresh period of anarchy, which was fatal to the Almohads. The successors of Mohammed-el-Nasr, Abu Yacoub, and Almamun tried in vain to stem the disorganization of the Empire. The Christians continued their successful progress until in 1232 the dominion of the Almohads in Spain was totally destroyed.
Of the Muslim States there remained only Granada whose sovereign, Mohammed al-Hammar, was able to make a show of resistance. Granada had become the refuge of those Muslims who could not submit to a foreign yoke. Threatened on all sides, they united together and thus enabled the kingdom of Granada to subsist for more than two centuries (1288-1492); but its fall was fated. EI-Zagal, one of the successors of Mohammed al-Hammar, capitulated in 1492.
That was the end of Islam in Spain. What had happened elsewhere happened again in Spain: the Arabs transplanted into the country were, so to speak, poisoned by Latin civilization.
It is indeed notable that the Arab has never been able to profit by the intellectual or scientific achievements of other nations; he has contracted their defects, but he has shown himself incapable of assimilating any of their good qualities. The reason of this is simple. The law, of religious inspiration, which rules tyrannically every act of a Muslim, and which has been based upon Arab customs, that is to say, the customs of a barbarous people, does not expressly condemn the grosser forms of pleasure; contrary to Christianity, Islam does not preach continence nor the contempt of sex. With the exception of the prohibition of fermented liquors, it leaves the faithful complete liberty in all that concerns material enjoyments. Mohammed boasted of his love of perfumes, of women, and flowers. But the law of Islam fixes in a rigid and unchangeable way the intellectual limits that the Muslim cannot pass without denying his faith. It has thus prevented those who accept it from benefitting by the progress of civilization realized by other nations, without defending them against the vices of these same nations. The consequence has been that while remaining intellectually barbarians, the followers of the religion of Islam have assimilated the vices of societies refined by an ancient civilization.
In Spain, the Arab became weakened by contact with Latin culture. The man of war became effeminate. Being quite unable, from his want of intellectual equipment, to exert any influence over the mentality of the newly converted, he was content to impose himself by force; and thus power slipped from his hands as soon as a more easy life and the abuse of material pleasures had caused him to lose his qualities of vigor and endurance. The vanquished, in response to the sentiment of nationalism, revolted as soon as he felt himself strong enough and drove out the invader.
The expansion of civilization, which was produced in Spain under the reign of tolerant Caliphs, was due entirely to Islamized Spaniards, that is to say, to Latins who, in spite of their conversion, had kept intact their mentality and their genius. Even the Arab literature of Spain shows the effect of Latin influence. Within the limits allowed him by the law of Islam, the conquering barbarian has submitted to the impress of the conquered, more civilized than himself. As everywhere else, the Arab has copied, but has invented nothing. The monuments of Cordova, of Seville, and of Granada, are the work of Spanish architects. The Arab gave the orders, but no instructions. The Caliph said: "I want a palace," but he could never find any Arab capable of drawing up the necessary plans, and had to entrust this duty to Islamized Spaniards; just as at Damascus and at Bagdad, it was Syrian and Greek architects who erected the monuments wrongly attributed to the Arabs.