Islam and Al-Andalus – Table of contents

    1. The origins and spread of Islam
    2. Muhammad, prophet of Islam
    3. Muslim religion
    1. The Orthodox Caliphate (632-661)
    2. The Umayyad Caliphate (661-750)
    3. The Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258)
    1. Political organisation
    2. Economic activities
    3. Muslim society
    4. Islamic culture
    1. The conquest (711-718)
    2. The Dependent Emirate (718-756)
    3. The Independent Emirate (756-929)
    4. Caliphate of Córdoba (929-1031)
    5. Taifa Kingdoms (1031-1085)
    6. North-African Dynasties (1085-1212)
    7. Last taifas and Nasrid Kingdom of Granada (1212-1492)
    1. Economic activities
    2. Social organisation
    3. Cities and housing
    1. Elements of Islamic architecture
    2. Types of buildings
    3. Art of Al-Andalus



  • Islam
  • Muhammed
  • Mecca
  • Koran
  • Hegira
  • Caliph
  • Orthodox Caliphate
  • Umayyad Caliphate
  • Abbasid Caliphate
  • Dhimmi
  • Battle of Guadalete
  • Dependent Emirate
  • Independent Emirate
  • Caliphate of Córdoba
  • Taifa kingdoms
  • Almoravids
  • Nasrid Kingdom
  • Alcazaba
  • Medina
  • Mosque

More texts of the unit


“Islam means peace by submission and obedience to the Will and Commandments of God and those who accept Islam are called Muslims, meaning those who have accepted the message of peace by submission to God.

In the first three years of Muhammad’s mission forty people (men and women) accepted Islam. The Prophet acted directed by a recent revelation by Archangel Gabriel to start preaching Islam. He then began to recite revelations to people in public and invite them to Islam. The Quraish, leaders of Mecca, took his preaching with hostility.

The Quraish began to persecute Muslims by beating, torture and boycott of their businesses. In spite of great hardships and no apparent support, the message of Islam kept all Muslims firm in their belief. The Prophet was asked by God to be patient and to preach the message of the Koran.

In 622, the leaders of the Quraish decided to kill the Prophet and they developed a plan in which one man was chosen from each of the Quraish tribes and they were to attack the Prophet simultaneously. Gabriel informed the Prophet of the plan and instructed him to leave Mecca immediately. They travelled north to Yathrib (Medina), and thanks to the protection of Allah the Prophet arrived safely in a suburb of Medina. This event is known as the ‘Hijra’ (Hegira, migration) and the Islamic calendar begins with this event.

Many delegations from all regions of Arabia came to the Prophet to investigate the teachings of Islam, and a large number of people accepted Islam. The Prophet sent many of his companions to new communities to instruct them about the practice of Islam.

Some years after, in 630, he Prophet marched to Mecca with an army consisting of three thousand Muslims of Medina and Muslims from other Arab communities that joined him on the way. The army entered Mecca without fighting and the Prophet went directly to the Kaaba. The Prophet pointed at each idol with a stick he had in his hand and said: “truth has come and falsehood will neither start nor will it reappear”. The Kaaba was then cleansed by the removal of all idols, and it was restored to its pristine status for the worship of One True God.

The people of Mecca then accepted Islam including the staunch enemies of the Prophet. Within a year almost all Arabia had accepted Islam. The great change in Arabia alarmed the two superpowers, Byzantines and Persians. Their Governors, particularly the Byzantines, reacted with threats to attack Medina. Instead of waiting, the prophet sent a small army to defend the northern border of Arabia. In the remaining life of the Prophet, all of the major battles were fought on the northern front.

The Prophet performed his first and last pilgrimage in 632, and he received the last revelation during this pilgrimage. Two months later, Prophet Muhammad fell ill and after several days died, the eleventh year after Hijra (June 8, 632) in Medina.”

ABD AR-RAHMAN I (Abderramán I)

“In 750, the Umayyad caliphate was overthrown as the result of an uprising known as the Abbasid Revolution. A new caliphate was founded, the Abbasid caliphate, whose ruling families claimed descent from a man called Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib who had been one of the uncles of the Prophet Muhammad.

Many leading Umayyad families fled from Damascus, and among them was a young man called Abd ar-Rahman, grandson of the recently deposed Umayyad caliph. Abd ar-Rahman was an extremely charismatic and powerful figure, so after escaping and crossing the Mediterranean sea and arrived in North Africa in 755, he quickly gained popular support an crossed to the territories of al-Andalus. Proclaiming himself as the true representative of the Umayyad caliphate, he began a civil war in al-Andalus in which he was victorious.

In 756 he made the politically astute move of calling himself an emir or governor-general, rather than a caliph. This title suggested that he was still ruling in the name of his deposed grandfather, rather than his own.

The new emirate became a safe place for anybody who had been displaced by the revolution in the east. Abd ar-Rahman placed his family in positions of authority throughout the emirate, turning it into a caliphate in all but name. In 763, he managed to repel an invasion by Abbasid forces and hold on to the territory. Al-Andalus was then a completely independent Muslim nation, with the capital in Cordoba.

He was a enlightened sovereign, and maybe due to his years as fugitive he avoided prosecution of minorities. Therefore, Christians and Jewish maintained their religious freedom while paying the jizya tax”.


“The most important single event in the internal history of al-Andalus under Abd ar-Rahman III was linked with the threat from the Fatimids [North-African dynasty, whose leader had proclaimed himself caliph and aspired to join al-Andalus to his territories]. This event was the assumption by Abd ar-Rahman III in 929 of the titles of ‘caliph’ and ‘commander of the believers’, together with the ‘throne-name’ of an-Nasir li-din-Allah (“defender of the religion of God”). In making this claim what was asserted was not a universal right to rule all Muslims but the independence of the ruler of al-Andalus of all higher Muslim political [and also religious] authority. To support the claim he could point to his descent from the caliphs of Damascus […] The claim was thus not directly against the Abbasids but was to counter the claim of the Fatimids, and to give the petty rulers [reyezuelos] of North Africa the theological justification for recognising the sovereignty of the Umayyads of Córdoba”.

Montgomery Watt, W., A History of Islamic Spain (London: Aldine Transaction, 2007)

Texts with questions



“About 800 AD, not very long after the symbol for “nothing” was invented, the Hindu numerals spread into the north and west lands of India. These lands were inhabited by people who spoke Arabic. Arabic-speaking people also lived all across northern Africa and in Spain as well. The Hindu numerals spread through Africa and into Spain.

The Arabs called the Hindu sunya, the symbol for “nothing”, sifr. About 820 AD, an Arabic mathematician named Muhammed Al-Khwarizmi wrote the first book about how to use the Hindu numerals in arithmetic.

Over a hundred years later, a Frenchman named Gerbert was very interested in gathering knowledge, so he travelled to al-Andalus in 967 AD, which was far more advanced than other European countries. He came across Al-Khwarizmi’s book and was struck with the convenience of the new system of numerals. He brought the numerical system back to France with him. The people in Europe called them Arabic numerals because they obtained them from Arabic-speaking people.

Two centuries later, there was a man called Leonardo Fibonacci, who lived in an Italian city called Pisa. He picked up the notion of the Hindu system of numerals while he was visiting northern Africa. In 1202, he published a book in which he used Arabic numerals plus the symbol for “nothing”. He showed how it could be used in arithmetic. By that time, Europe had emerged from the “Dark Age”. People were more prosperous and more learned. In Italy, especially, there were many businessmen who had to do a lot of calculating to keep track of their dealings. As Italian businessmen found how convenient the Arabic numerals were they abandoned the Roman numerals and used the new system instead”.

Isaac Asimov, How we found out about numbers.


“We could multiply the examples because the Franj [Franks] have learnt from the Arabs in all the fields, in Syria, Spain or in Sicily. And what they learnt was indispensable for their further expansions. If the Greek legacy was transmitted to Western Europe, it was through the Arabs, who translated and continued. In Medicine, Astrology, Chemistry, Geography, Mathematics and Architecture, the franj acquired their knowledge from the Arabic books they assimilated, imitated and then overtook. The amount to words that testify so! Zenith, nadir, azimuth, algebra, algorithm or, simply, ‘numeral’ (cifra).

In what relative to industry, the Europeans took –before improving them– the methods the Arabs used to make paper, work with leather and textiles, distillate alcohol and sugar, etc. We cannot forget the extent to which the European agriculture was enriched due to the contact with the East: apricots, aubergines, oranges, lemons, watermelons… the list of ‘Arab’ words is infinite”

Amin Maalouf, Las cruzadas vistas por los árabes (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 2003) [Own translation]

  1. Search for the underlined words in the dictionary (and the ones you do not understand).
  2. In two lines, write the main idea of the first text.
  3. What is the main idea of the second text?
  4. What do both texts have in common?
  5. When we speak about ‘European culture’, and after reading these texts, what are we speaking about? Can we speak about a single and unified culture?


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