Book Review: “The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise” by Dario Fernandez-Morera

Jonathon Davies, Going Postal
From “El Cid” courtesy of

“The Messenger of Allah … said:… I would like to fight in the way of Allah.… I would be killed, then I would be brought to life, then I would be killed, then I would be brought to life and I would be killed” (21.14.27).”

“The Risala by the “little Malik” al-Qayrawani, discusses jihad only as Holy War (30.1–30.6): “Christians and Jews either accept Islam or pay the jizya; if not, they are to be fought.” (Fernández- Morera, Darío. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise (p. 25). Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Kindle Edition.)

Medieval Islamic Spain has long been held up by the Left and Arabists as a shining example of the benign rule of Islam and a model of diversity, multiculturalism and integration. As you can tell by the title, the author disagrees. The story goes that the Arab ruler of southern Spain allowed other cultures and religions to flourish alongside a more relaxed form of Islam.

“Today, many Western historians, no friends of either Christianity or the idea of “Spain,” pointedly avoid using the term Islamic Spain, preferring al-Andalus, just as they prefer medieval Iberia to medieval Spain.” (Fernández-Morera, Darío. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise (p. 51). Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Kindle Edition.)

Darío Fernández-Morera is Associate Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Northwestern University. A former member of the National Council on the Humanities, he holds a BA from Stanford University, an MA from the University of Pennsylvania, and a PhD from Harvard University. He has published several books and many articles on cultural, literary, historical, and methodological issues in Spain, Latin America, and the United States.

Fernandez-Morera skilfully takes apart this myth. At the start of each section is a quote from a modern source, which propagates the myth. He then goes through point by point, dismissing it. There a particular quote from Blair, but I’ll leave that for you to discover and enjoy. He highlights the fact that a lot of money for Arab studies comes from certain countries in the Middle East, leading to bias and skewed interpretations.

He relies a lot more on sources from the time. He believes these offer more of an insight in to the mind set of the people at the time, especially from the Muslims. This is very interesting in its own right, but even more so in how it relates to the present day. We often hear things such as “this has nothing to do with Islam,” and other gems such as “people who do this are not real Muslims.,” and “Nothing To Do With Islam.” The author uses the Koran, the Ahadith, the writings of Muslim historians and chroniclers of the time, and the pronouncements of the Islamic Judicial class who at times often overruled their leaders.

Jonathon Davies, Going Postal
Toledo, Spain

Fernandez-Morera points out that Spain was relatively civilised and was developing a worthy culture of its own. He disputes the claim that the Arabs preserved the Greek and Roman learning, and in fact had to send to Constantiople for treatise on mathematics and science. Far from providing a bridge for learning, he claims it was a barrier between east and west.

“In 948 the Christian emperor of the Greek Roman Empire, Armanius, gave Abd al-Rahman III, the Umayyad caliph of Córdoba, Dioscorides’s works in the original Greek. But Muslims in Córdoba did not have anyone who knew Greek. As a result, the Roman emperor also sent a Greek monk, who instructed the Muslim ruler’s slaves in Greek.” (Fernández-Morera, Darío. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise (p. 66). Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Kindle Edition.)

Furthermore, he states the Arabs ransacked large areas of Spain, and destroyed churches and Christian treasure. Often churches were converted to mosques.

The section on Jihad makes interesting reading. Moerea points out that Jihad was seen as a sacred duty. It was not an “internal struggle” or a daily struggle against evil in your life. It was directly aimed at unbelievers. An example:

“But even al-Bukhari’s ahadith placed jihad, understood as Holy War, at the top of a Muslim’s obligations, right after believing in Allah and His Prophet: Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle was asked, “What is the best deed?” He replied, “To believe in Allah and His Apostle (Muhammad). The questioner then asked, “What is the next (in goodness)?” He replied, “To participate in Jihad (religious fighting) in Allah’s Cause.” (Fernández-Morera, Darío. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise (p. 27). Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Kindle Edition.)

Daily life was ruled by Islamic Law. There was no separation between religion and state and the law. He says that living with and near Christians made the Muslims of Southern Spain even more rigorous in their practice of Islam. Open apostates were allowed a chance to repent and return to Islam, while secret apostates were killed straight away, no second chances.

“If anything, the presence of large Catholic populations to the north and in their midst, along with the conversion to Islam of many of the earlier inhabitants, seems to have exacerbated the Andalusian clerics’ zeal in adhering to Maliki teachings.” (Fernández-Morera, Darío. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise (p. 99). Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Kindle Edition.)

Fernandez-Morera points out the contrasts with Christian lands. Here there was a separation between church and state. Laws came from the Latin Roman tradition, rulings of judges, town charters, and granting of rights from the Ruler.

Jonathon Davies, Going Postal

The author explains about slavery in medieval Islamic society. While there were types of slavery in Christian lands, such as serfdom, serfs could not be bought and sold. They were not carried off from their home villages. Fernandez-Morera says that Islamic Spain pioneered the trade in Black African slaves:

“The Arab trade in African black slaves reached vast proportions with the growth of the Islamic empire and led to several revolts.” (Fernández-Morera, Darío. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise (p. 164). Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Kindle Edition.)

He notes their attitudes to Blacks, which would certainly be frowned on today:

“An Arab proverb states that “the black, when hungry, steals; sated, he fornicates.” (Fernández-Morera, Darío. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise (p. 165). Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Kindle Edition.)

These attitudes in Islamic Spain, the author notes, are rarely mentioned by modern historians and Arabists. He finds this strange given present-day views on racism and equality (That, dear readers, is the sound of a narrative being smashed.) The book argues that, in cultural terms alone, the invasion, conquest, and colonization of Christian Spain during the first half of the eighth century by Islamic warriors was a disaster for the Christian population because a nascent, post-Roman, Christian civilization was nipped in the bud. Without the Christian resistance and eventual Reconquest, first against the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba and then against the Berber Almoravid and Almohad empires, Spain today could well be an extension of the cultures of North Africa and the Middle East.


To put all this in to context, we return to the culture wars that have been waged both online and offline. The lines we are fed on a daily basis by MSM are that Britain is a multicultural society, always has been a “Nation of ImmigrantsTM” and is enriched by immigration. The past is used as a weapon to justify this. Medieval Spain is put on a pedestal, held up as a shining example of how integration can work. Little is made of the fact the Muslims conquered by force and subjugated Southern Spain. The myth is propagated that they let Christians and Jews worship in peace. Furthermore, it is asserted that once Muslims came in to contact with the West they softened their practices, somehow became lax and less strict religiously. The idea is the West rubbed off on them.

This is then used today as a subtle propaganda weapon. The assertion then that it should be this way today. Rule by foreigners will be benign. Immigrants will fit in, and cultures will rub along together or fully integrate. Barbaric ways will be reformed or softened by living in the West. New ways they bring will be good, and that our culture is not worth much anyway. In this way, Muslim Spain is held up as a template for the present. Why not just give in and accept? To. help counter this narrative we need authors like Fernandez-Morera. We need the real history told, not just the history the Left want us to hear. The false consensus needs to be challenged. Fernandez-Morera successfully does this is an informative and interesting way. At the same time, he offers hope in the culture wars. You can take on the prevailing left wing view and win.

Jonathon Davies, Going Postal
Alfonso Vi, King of Castille and Leon, who reconquered Toledo in 1085

The book also gives us an insight in to the mindset of the modern day Jihadis. The ideas and doctrines featured are the ones they hark back to. The Caliphate, treating Christians and Jews as second-class citizens, and the Jizya tax. After the Barcelona attack ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack against “Crusaders.” This is the name they give to anyone who opposes them, much as Socialists call everyone “Nazi.” If they don’t submit, they are to be fought. These ideas permeate through their actions. And they have many supporters throughout the West, either overt or covert. This book then raises the question “can anyone who follows this ideology successfully integrate in the West?” Fernandez-Morera’s answer would appear to be no. Hence the SJW shrieking that accompanied the books release. This book serves as a warning from history, as it shows what we will get if we give in to and appease these people more than we already have.

Overall, this book was informative and stands up well as an academic piece of work. It is also an entertaining read. I never felt that it was going too highbrow, and it is not full of Jargon. It provides a good counterpoint and balances the arguments of cultural Marxist historians and Arabists that Medieval Islamic Spain was a paradise and a good role model for a present day multicultural society. It is highly quotable, and it provides plenty of useful intellectual ammunition to use in arguments with ardent left wingers. Highly recommended.

© Jonathon Davies 2017

Available from Amazon here.