Historical Precedents

A number of precedents and earlier discussions which concentrated on the Al Andalus Convivencia are important to mention here. We hope that the details below will inform readers of the continuous and consistent interest in Convivencia as a durable source of inspiration for all of us who act towards a just peace in Palestine/Israel.

The Toledo Meeting, 1989

A Note from Prof. Ella Shohat, NYU:

“Al-Andalus and the Convivencia were the inspiration to hold a special meeting in Toledo, Spain in 1989, largely between Sephardi/Mizrahi/Arab-Jews and Palestinians. The meeting included key intellectuals and political figures from various countries and backgrounds, deploying the past Convivencia to imagine a different future. Many of those who had only Israeli passports, mostly Mizrahi/Arab-Jews, risked arrest for defiance of the law that forbade such meetings. Many years later, we are not yet at the hoped-for Convivencia moment. Yet, the struggle and spirit should continue to guide us. I understand that many on the left may not at all be aware of this pre-Oslo event precisely because of its erasure in the public sphere. But congratulations to the Convivencia Network for pointing to this lineage on its public platform and making it part of the collective “historical consciousness,” i.e. as a project that in its spirit continues the Toledo Convivencia efforts but at a different political juncture.”

The article retelling the story of the Toledo meeting has been published on
Jadaliyya, Sept. 30, 2014 (Also included in Shohat’s On the Arab-Jew, Palestine, and Other Displacements: Selected Writings, London: Pluto Press, 2017) and can be accessed here. We urge you to read Prof. Shohat's fascinating report on this unusual and inspirational meeting, which is a crucial part of the history of the concept as a foundation for the search for a just and durable peace in Palestine.

Further reading

Convivencia and its Discontents: Interfaith Life in Al-Andalus
Anna Akasoy

Historians of Europe often declare that Spain is “different.” This distinctiveness of the Iberian peninsula has many faces and is frequently seen as rooted in its Islamic past. In the field of Islamic history, too, al-Andalus is somewhat different. It has its own specialists, research traditions, controversies, and trends. One of the salient features of historical studies of al-Andalus as well as of its popular image is the great interest in its interreligious dimension. In 2002, María Rosa Menocal published The Ornament of the World, one of the rare books on Islamic history written by an academic that enjoyed and still enjoys a tremendous popularity among nonspecialist readers. The book surveys intersections of Islamic, Jewish, and Christian elite culture, mostly in Arabic, Hebrew, and Latin literature and in architecture, from the Muslim conquest of the Iberian peninsula in 711 to the fall of Granada in 1492. Menocal presents the religious diversity commonly referred to as convivencia as one of the defining features of Andalusi intellectual and artistic productivity. She also argues that the narrow-minded forces that brought about its end were external, pointing to the Almoravids and Almohads from North Africa and Christians from north of the peninsula as responsible. The book's subtitle, How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, conjures the community of Abrahamic faiths. It reflects the optimism of those who identify in Andalusi history a model for a constructive relationship between “Islam” and “the West” that in the age of the “war on terror” many are desperate to find.

Review Article
Information: International Journal of Middle East Studies , Volume 42 , Issue 3 , August 2010 , pp. 489 - 499

The New Convivencia
Hussein Fancy

This essay offers an introduction to the recent and impassioned debates between two Spanish Arabists, Emilio González Ferrín and Alejandro García Sanjuán, about the Islamic conquest of the Iberian Peninsula in 711. While offering an overview of the controversy between them and representing their respective positions, it also calls attention to the methodological and philosophical underpinnings of the debate, underpinnings that echo earlier, trenchant disputes about medieval Spain.
Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies
Volume 11, 2019 - Issue 3: What was the Islamic Conquest of Iberia?,

Beyond convivencia: critical reflections on the historiography of interfaith relations in Christian Spain
Maya Soifer

While Américo Castro’s convivencia remains an influential concept in medieval Iberian studies, its sway over the field has been lessening in recent years. Despite scholars’ best efforts to rethink and redefine the concept, it has resisted all attempts to transform it into a workable analytical tool. The article explores the malaise affecting convivencia, and suggests that the idea has become more of an impediment than a help to medieval Iberian studies. It argues that convivencia retains some of its former influence because scholars insist on understanding it as a distinctly Ibero‚ÄźIslamic phenomenon. However, this article suggests that the evidence for Islamic influence on interfaith coexistence in Christian Spain is scarce. Instead of continuing to embrace the nationalist myth of Spain’s unique status in medieval Europe, scholars need to acknowledge the basic similarities in the Christian treatment of religious minorities north and south of the Pyrenees. The article also explores other aspects of convivencia’s problematic legacy: polarization of the field between “tolerance” and “persecution,” and the inattention to the nuances of social and political power relations that affected Jewish–Christian–Muslim coexistence in Christian Iberia.
Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies
Volume 1, 2009 - Issue 1

Convivencia: a medieval idea with contemporary relevance
Chris Wood

This paper was first inspired by medieval Moorish architecture and by the word
convivencia; the literal translation of which is living together and mingling. The Spanish word conjures the possibilities for living well when ideas are shared and when there is tolerance. It is used to describe the cultural flowering that occurred in medieval Spain, when the ruling Muslim Caliphates promoted tolerance, and when Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived well alongside one another. This history seems to show how mental health might be sustained in cities. The impact of urbanization, migration and poverty upon mental health services, are considered in the light of how art therapy has developed and what it might contribute, however modestly. The case is made for drawing creatively upon knowledge developed during successive periods of the profession’s history. The paper suggests that it could be wasteful of growing professional knowledge to espouse practice based on only one strand of what is a rich history. It concludes by expressing the hope for further integration, or convivencia, in the current period of art therapy development.

Information: ATHOL, Vol 1 No. 1 (2010) https://journals.gold.ac.uk/index.php/atol/article/view/218

Convivencia and Securitization: Ordering and Managing Migration in Ceuta (Spain)
David Moffette

Ceuta is a Spanish city in Northern Morocco. It is thus situated at a European Union border on the African continent. In this context, I contend that migration is generally considered a potential threat to the pacified local order of things by the Christian majority. In order to protect this order of things referred to as convivencia, Christian Ceutíes tend to prefer de-politicizing strategies to manage igration. Nonetheless, migration sometimes becomes highly politicized and is framed as a security issue.
This essay thus suggests that the concept of securitization is relevant to grasp the problematization of migration in times of crisis in Ceuta and analyzes three occurrences of local processes of securitization.

Journal of Legal Anthropology Volume 1 No. 2, 2010:189-211 (available here)

The Convivencia in Islamic Spain
Sarah-Mae Thomas

For a period of almost four centuries, when Medieval Spain was ruled by the Moors, the believers in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam lived together in peace and harmony. La Convivencia refers to this coexistence. For over 400 years, knowledge and mysticism thrived in the Spanish towns of Toledo, Cordoba, and Granada as students and teachers in all three disciplines helped one another to learn, translate, and understand ancient teachings.

The year 1492 marked the destruction of an unprecedented form of coexistence between the Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Al-Andalus, a state that had thrived since the eleventh century. Was the purported reality of La Convivencia a mere construct of mythology, recreated by the Spanish historian Ramon Pidal and his student America Castro, or one exacerbated by populism? This in microcosm forms the basis of the article which is divided in three parts. Firstly, the historical context will be sketched in order to determine how the spirit of Convivencia crystallised. Secondly, the essay will draw upon political, religious, and socio-economic determinants to best understand the reality of La Convivencia. Thirdly, by way of historiography, the essay will attempt to reconcile the notion that La Convivencia was a retrospective utopian fallacy with the equally persuasive assertion that there really existed such an unprecedented social fabric in medieval Spain. Drawing upon proximate and remote factors, it will be argued that to blindly subscribe to utopian historical interpretation only exacerbates this theoretical misguidance and continues flawed historical documentation. This essay also seeks to provide an alternative. Perhaps by looking at the very tenets of Islam itself, one can channel the confused conclusions of the Convivencia into a cohesive understanding, for within the Qur’an lie the very seeds of democratic pluralism. As an overarching analysis, the essay will draw upon aspects of La Convivencia that should inform the peace process in the Middle East. For when Muhammad XII Abu 'Abd Allah left the gates of Granada in 1492 marking the “last sigh of the moor,” the death knell of the ever celebrated Convivencia reverberated throughout the medieval world.
Read the article on
Fountain Magazine.
Sardar, Ziauddin,
Islam beyond the Violent Jihadis, Biteback Publishing, 2016
Islam has been corrupted. A virulent strain of the religion manifests itself in bloodthirsty mutations such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and the terrifying spectre of ISIS. But behind the atrocities and turmoil lie many different versions and visions of Islam, each struggling to survive in a rapidly changing world. Islam Beyond the Violent Jihadis argues for a pluralistic and reflective religion with a distinguished past - but one that appears to have been wrenched from its noble origins by rigid fundamentalism. In examining how we have nourished the rise of Islamic jihadi groups, Sardar urges us all to work together to preserve the sanity of our world.

Yaqin, Amina, “La convivencia, la mezquita and al-Andalus: An Iqbalian vision”, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, Vol. 52, 2016-Issue 2
This article offers a critical close reading of the Urdu poet philosopher Muhammad Iqbal’s poem “Masjid-e Qurtaba” (The Mosque of Cordoba), written in 1933 when the poet travelled to Spain. He was officially invited there to pray, a unique occurrence since the mosque’s conversion into a cathedral. The poem is illustrative of the period known as al-Andalus, celebrated for its cross-cultural spirit of la convivencia (coexistence) under the sovereignty of the Umayyad dynasty. The article argues that the secular and the religious are not diametrically opposed ideas in the Indo-Islamic tradition of Urdu, and that Iqbal’s poem articulates a historic cultural conversation at a time of political national identification in the 1930s.
Schonfield, Ernst, “Heine and Convivencia: Coexistence in Muslim Spain”,
Oxford German Studies Vol. 47, 2018-Issue 1
‘Convivencia’ refers to the coexistence of Muslims, Christians and Jews during the period of Muslim rule in Spain (711–1492). Like the historian Isaak Markus Jost (1793–1860), Heine formed an idealized image of Muslim Spain in support of his own cultural ambitions. Heine’s identification with Marranos is well documented (Veit). This article considers the depiction of ‘convivencia’ in two texts by Heine, the drama Almansor and the poem ‘Jehuda ben Halevy’. In accordance with Heine’s sources, the chorus of Almansor presents Muslim Spain as a centre of cultural and religious tolerance for modern Europeans to emulate. Three decades later, Heine’s poem ‘Jehuda ben Halevy’ presents a more troubled picture, as two of the three Sephardi poets are murdered. Crucially, though, in Cordoba the murderer is punished. In this way, the poem asserts that the rule of law prevailed in Muslim Spain.