Al-Andalus, also referred to as Islamic Spain, was a collection of medieval Muslim provinces and empires that existed from 711 until 1492. Al-Andalus became a center of learning and economic prosperity, and many achievements in art and science that originated in al-Andalus later spread throughout Europe and greatly influenced the development of the Renaissance. Throughout its existence, the governates of al-Andalus maintained constant conflict with the Christian empires in Northern Spain, which culminated in the Christian Reconquista and the expulsion of the last Muslim ruler from Spain in 1492.
The al-Hambra was a palace and a fortress built in Granada in the 13th century by Yusef ibn Nasr, the Nasrid emir. In 1492, the al-Hambra became the royal residence of the monarchs Isabella I and Ferdinand II after the explosion of Boabdil and the ruling Muslims. The architecture of the al-Hambra is a well-preserved example of the scientific and cultural achievements that were present in al-Andalus.
Christianity is one of the three major Abrahamic religions, and is based on the Jewish Tanakh (to which Christians refer to as the Old Testament) and the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, whom Christians believe was a member of the Holy Trinity containing God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is the world’s largest religion.
The Holy Land is a region on eastern Mediterranean coast between Mesopotamia and Egypt, and the desert toward its south. Today, that land includes all or part of several modern-day countries. They include: Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and parts of Egypt, Iraq, and Syria. The prophets mentioned in the Torah, Bible, and Qur’an were born and lived in this region. Therefore, this geographic space is holy to all of the Abrahamic faiths.
House of Wisdom
The House of Wisdom, or Bayt al-Hikma in Arabic, was established in 870 CE in Baghdad, Iraq. The House of Wisdom housed scientists and translators, and was responsible for housing all of the knowledge of the known world, which included manuscripts and books, as well as scientific instruments. Unfortunately, the House of Wisdom was destroyed in 1258 by the invading Mongol forces.
Islam is one of the three major Abrahamic religions, and its main tenants include the teaching of the existence of one God, and that Muhammad is the last of the prophets. The primary text of Islam is the Quran, and is believed by Muslims to be the word of God. Muslims also view Jesus as the Messiah, as well as an important prophet sent to mankind by God.
Judaism is the oldest of the three major Abrahamic religions, and one of the oldest monotheistic religions in the world. Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people, and its teachings derive from the Tanakh, as well as other oral traditions. Like Muslims, Jews believe that God has an entirely unitary presence, and denounce the Christian Holy Trilogy.
The Kaaba is a building at the center of the Great Mosque of Mecca, and is one of Islam’s most holy sites. Muslims believe that the Kaaba was built by Abraham and his sons at Gods command, and they pray facing it every day no matter where they may be. Journey to the Kaaba, called the Hajj, is an important tenant of Islam which every Muslim needs to perform once in their lifetimes if they are able to.
The Quran is the primary text of Islam and is believed by Muslims to be the word of God. TMuslims believe that God revealed the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad through Angel Gabriel over a period of 23 years.
The Quran consists of 114 chapters called surahs, and over 6,000 verses called ayat. The Quran describes and affirms the basic spiritual and moral messages of the Torah and the Bible. The Quran text states that it is a continuation of God’s message to humankind from earlier revelations.
The Reconquista is the period of time between 711 and 1492 in which the Christian kingdoms of Spain struggled with the ruling Muslims over control of the Iberian Peninsula. The Reconquista began with the arrival of Muslim armies at Gibraltar and ended with the expulsion of Boabdil from Granada in 1492. Traditional Eurocentric historiography has viewed the arrival of Muslims in Spain and their subsequent flourishing as a type of invasion and coopting of the land, and consider the Reconquista to be a just reclamation of rightfully Christian lands, rather than an expulsion of a people that had lived there for over 700 years.
Modern-day Spain is a country located on the Iberian Peninsula in South-Western Europe along with Portugal. It shares a border with the country of North African country of Morocco at the Straight of Gibraltar. The name “Gibraltar” comes from the Arabic Phrase “Jabal Tariq”, meaning “Tariq’s Mountain” which is named after Tariq ibn Ziyad, the Berber Ummayad commander who successfully invaded Spain in 711. It was in Spain that the intellectual and artistic culture that would later lead to the Renaissance flourished. Around the time the last Muslim ruler was forced out in 1492, Spain rose to be the first European global power.
Abbas ibn Firnas (810-887) – Muslim
A mathematician and astronomer at the Umayyad court in Córdoba. He prepared local astronomical tables, managed an observatory, and designed a water clock. He made one of the earliest attempts at man-made flight, a thousand years before the Wright Brothers. In 875, he built a glider and launched himself from a tower, remaining aloft for some time, to the astonishment of Córdoba’s citizens.
Abd al-Rahman I (731-circa 788) – Muslim
Responsible for establishing an independent Umayyad dynasty (r. 756-88) in Al-Andalus. Thus, he earned the nickname, “al-Dakhil” (the founder). He made this bold move after the Abbasids took over the caliphate in the east in 750. He fled from Syria to his mother’s Amazigh (Berber) homeland in North Africa, and then took control in Córdoba with the support of his army. He initiated construction on the Great Mosque of Córdoba, created a stable government, and built a palace called Rusafa. There, he emulated the glories of his Syrian ancestors. His line finally died out in 1036.
Abd al-Rahman III (912-961) – Muslim
Energetic and successful Umayyad ruler. His mother was a Navarrese princess. In 929, he declared himself as caliph with the throne name, al-Nasir li din-Allah (“Victorious in Upholding God’s Faith”). He, thus, reclaimed the title his ancestors in Syria had lost to the Abbasids in 750. With new-found prestige, he developed a monumental victory city and palace near Córdoba called Madinat al-Zahra. It is named after his favorite concubine.
Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi (936-1013) – Muslim
Surgeon of Córdoba, who is credited with developing many surgical techniques and instruments. His name is Latinized as Abulcasis. He is also known for the great medical encyclopedia, al-Tasrif. It was translated into Latin. Physicians in the West studied it widely.
Abu Ishaq al-Zarqali (1028-1087) – Muslim
A leading Arab mathematician and astronomer based in Toledo. He contributed to the Tables of Toledo. Gerard of Cremona later rendered the work into Latin. Al-Zarqali also corrected Ptolemy’s geographical data, such as the length of the Mediterranean Sea. He excelled at constructing precision astronomical instruments. He invented a new, flat astrolabe, called al-safiha (asaphea in Latin). It could be used at any latitude. He also built a water clock. It was capable of determining the hours of the day and night, and indicating the days of the lunar months. In Latin, it is known as Arzachel.
Adelard of Bath (1075-1160) – Christian
An Englishman sometimes called the first European scientist. He wrote about scientific advances in a manner that made Muslim sciences popular in western Europe. He studied and taught as one of the first European intellectuals outside the Church, working in France and the Mediterranean region. He introduced Euclidean mathematics and advances in astronomy from Arabic sources. He wrote technical treatises but also explored the philosophical questions of faith vs. knowledge. These issues were important in making the new knowledge acceptable in a Christian milieu.
Alfonso VI (1040-1109) – Christian
King of Castile and Len. He brought the Cistercian Order into Spain and established them in Sahagun. He chose a French Cistercian, Bernard, as the first Archbishop of Toledo after the reconquest on May 25, 1085. He protected the Muslims among his subjects and struck coins with inscriptions in Arabic letters.
Alfonso VIII (1155-1214)- Christian
He led the coalition of Christian princes and foreign crusaders in the battle of the Navas de Tolosa in 1212. The unified forces broke the power of the Almohads. His reign saw the domination of Castile over Len. Through his alliance with Aragon, he drew close the two spheres of Christian Iberia.
Alfonso X (1221-1284) – Christian
The Spanish king of Castile and Len from 1252–1284. Known as Alfonso the Wise (or “Learned”), or el Sabio, he was the son and successor of Ferdinand III. He continued the conquests of Muslim territories in Al-Andalus, and took the city of Cá¡diz in 1262. His mother, Beatriz, was daughter of German King Philip of Swabia. He aspired to become Holy Roman Emperor and engaged in continental royal maneuverings to that end. Papal opposition and Spanish rejection ended that ambition.
His reign saw rebellions of both Christian nobles and Muslim subjects. He sought allies in an effort to quell these disturbances. Civil wars over succession continued; however, so did the conquests of Muslim territory. His son, Sancho IV, took over after his rule ended.
Alfonso demonstrated great respect for Toledo’s culture and libraries. He supported the transfer of knowledge and the arts: Under his patronage, scholars translated Arabic and Hebrew works into Castilian and Latin. He also patronized a collection of legal guides, including the Siete Partidas. What’s more, he wrote a book of devotional poetry, Las Cá¡ntigas de Santa Maráa, which reveals Christian attitudes to Muslims and Jews, as well as books on chess and other games.
His interest in astronomy led to the compilation of the Alfonsine tables. It also fostered the translation and study of many scientific and historical works. These works were preserved and disseminated in northern Europe. There, they contributed to the development of learning in universities and medical colleges.
Ali ibn Hazm (994-1064) – Muslim
The son of an affluent minister at the Umayyad court in Córdoba. Thus, he was educated in the Qur’an and in poetry by women of the harem. After the Umayyads’ decline, he became an independent scholar. He wrote over 400 books in many different fields. He was renowned for having a sharp tongue when challenged to debate. He adopted the literalist approach of the Zahiri school of law.
Despite his intellectual prominence, several of his books were burnt. He was forced to leave Córdoba for the countryside, where he had a small following. His most famous works include a book on legal interpretation, a review of numerous religious sects, and a manual on morals and behavior. He also authored Tawq al-Hamamah (“The Dove’s Necklace”), a compilation of observations, anecdotes and poems about love.
Al-Mansur (712-775) – Muslim
An ambitious palace official in Córdoba. He is also known as Muhammad ibn Abi Amir. In 976, he secured the accession of the 12-year-old Umayyad prince, Hisham, to the throne. He consolidated his power as chief wazir by isolating the young caliph from the outside world at the Madinat al-Zahra palace. Following a victory in a frontier battle, he assumed the title of al-Mansur Billah (“Victorious by the Grace of God”). Over several decades, he conducted nearly 60 military campaigns against the northern Christian states. He sacked Barcelona in 985 and Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in 997. He became known in Christian Europe as the feared Almanzor.
Al-Mu’tamid ibn Abbad (1091) – Muslim
Ruler of Seville upon the caliphate’s collapse in Córdoba. He was Ibn Abbad’s grandfather. Al-Mu’tamid served as a judge (qadi) in Seville before becoming the third and last of the Abbadid rulers of Seville. He gained renown as a poet-king. Styling himself as ruler of the crown of taifa states, Al-Mu’tamid sought to reproduce the famed splendor of Madinat al-Zahra in his court at the Alcazar. He patronized scholars, poets, and artisans, and held lively salons that continued to propagate high Andalusian culture.
However, his rivalries with other petty kings exhausted his military strength and financial resources. Ultimately, it forced him to pay tribute to Alfonso VI of Castile and tax his subjects heavily. Ibn Abbad turned for assistance to Yusuf ibn Tashufin, a Amazigh (Berber) and the Almoravid ruler of North Africa. The Berbers’ arrival restored unity to Al-Andalus. But, by that time, Al-Mu’tamid was exiled and impoverished.
Boabdil (1459-1528) – Muslim
Last Muslim ruler of Granada. His name is a distortion of “Abu Abdullah” Muhammad XII. He was the son of the previous ruler, Muley Abul Hassan. He took over in 1482 from his exiled father. Following military misadventures, he consented to govern Granada as a tributary kingdom under Ferdinand and Isabella.
In 1489, Ferdinand and Isabella called upon him to surrender the city, after which it was placed under siege. In 1492, Granada surrendered and turned the city over to the Spanish rulers. He was offered an estate, but chose exile in North Africa about a year later. According to legend, as he left Granada, he looked back and wept at losing the city, at a place called “the last sigh of the Moor.”
Charles Martel (686-741) – Christian
The Franks’ Mayor of the Palace and Duke, nicknamed “The Hammer.” His army routed a small Muslim contingent at the Battle of Tours in 732-33. Muslim rule in Europe had nearly reached its geographic limit. Yet, the battle is often viewed incorrectly as a decisive action saving Europe from becoming part of the fold of Islam.
Charles V (1500-1558) – Christian
Charles V was ruler of the Burgundian territories, King of Spain, King of Naples and Sicily, Archduke of Austria, a King of German territory, and Holy Roman Emperor. As a Habsburg monarch, his territories were spread across much of Europe.
In Spain, he was called Carlos V but was officially Charles I of Spain. He was the grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella, and son of Phillip of Flanders and Joanna the Mad of Castile. He ruled alongside them during his youth. He also was related to other royal houses in Europe, including Emperor Maximilian I Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII, and others.
He was among the first imperial monarchs of Europe during the Age of Exploration. He presided over the earliest stirrings of the Reformation in Europe. As such, he attempted to repress Protestants. He did so by supporting the Catholic Church through political and military maneuvering, as well as Inquistion.
He engaged in many entanglements, such as war with the Ottomans, the French and the Dutch Protestants. What’s more, his appointment of numerous Flemish officials to his Spanish court angered his subjects.
Under Charles V, the conquests of Cortes and Pizarro over the Aztecs and Incas took place under his reign. These conquests added huge territories and wealth in precious metals. He is said to have introduced slavery to the New World.
Christopher Columbus (circa 1451-1506) – Christian
Genoese admiral who is credited with making the first recorded European trans-Atlantic crossing of the 15th century to the Americas, in 1492. Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain equipped Colombus’ voyage.
During the first crossing, he landed on the island of Hispaniola. He only reached the mainland on his third voyage of four, in 1498.
The discovery of the Americas — attributed to Columbus even though he died believing he had reached Asia — was the beginning of European colonization of the New World. It resulted in contact with indigenous Americans. This contact resulted in a precipitous decline of their population through lack of immunity to European diseases, such as smallpox.
Because of this catastrophic effect on indigenous American society, the period before 1492 is known as Pre-Columbian. Columbus died in 1506, after several reversals of fortune and illness near his life’s end.
Count Julian (flourished 711) – Christian
A semi-legendary figure, the Byzantine governor of Ceuta, who controlled the North African coast town. He allied with the Amazigh (Berber) general Tariq ibn Ziyad. He possibly supplied boats to cross the Mediterranean, in order to remove the Visigoths from power.
Ferdinand II (1452-1516) – Christian
The Catholic king of Aragon, Castile, Sicily, Naples, Valencia, Sardinia, and Navarre. He was also Count of Barcelona. Ferdinand was the son of John II of Aragon. He married Princess Isabella of Castile in 1469. Later, he took the title of Ferdinand V of Castile, when Isabella became Queen of Castile.
Ferdinand took the throne of Aragon after his father’s death in 1479. Isabella and Ferdinand’s joint lands unified much of what is now Spain. The two monarchs ruled in partnership, each ruling their own territories independently.
In 1492, during their first decades, they achieved the Kingdom of Granada’s conquest. They also forced the expulsion of the Jews from both Castile and Aragon. What’s more, they funded Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Americas.
To avoid conflict in the exploration of new territories, they signed the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. They took this step to theoretically split the world between the rulers of Portugal and Castile along a line of longitude in the Atlantic Ocean.
After Isabella’s death, her kingdom went to their daughter Joanna. Ferdinand took over the regency of Castile. He ruled through Francisco Cardinal Jimenez de Cisneros.
Ferdinand spent much of his reign dealing with the extensive European territories, as well as succession struggles. These struggles enabled his grandson and successor, Charles V, to become one the most powerful rulers on the continent of Europe.
When Ferdinand died in 1516, Spain was a world power. Charles V inherited the Spanish lands of his maternal grandparents. He also inherited the Habsburg and Burgundian lands of his paternal family. Charles held Aragon and shared the Castilian crown with his insane mother Joanna, unifying the Spain under one rule.
Gerard of Cremona (circa 1114-1187) – Christian
One of the most important translators of Arabic works during the 12th century. At age 30, he left for Toledo after learning of the wisdom being shared there. He translated over 70 essential works in science into Latin. By doing so, he introduced advancements from the Arabic and Greek intellectual traditions to European thinkers.
His translations laid the groundwork for scholars such as Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and Copernicus. Gerard and John of Seville — a converted Jew — established schools of translators, scribes, assistants, and librarians.
Hakam II (914-976) – Muslim
A king of the Umayyad dynasty. He continued his father Abd al-Rahman III’s policies in order to secure the Umayyad caliphate. He negotiated peace with northern Iberia’s Christian kingdoms. He also further developed agriculture through construction of new irrigation works.
He amassed a vast library with over 400,000 books from all parts of the Muslim world. He gathered at his court the brightest Jewish, Christian, and Muslim minds. He also patronized translations of Greek works.
What’s more, he oversaw the expansion of the Great Mosque of Córdoba. This move reflected the increased conversion to Islam taking place at the time. His young son, Hisham II, succeeded him. Wazir Al-Mansur coddled Hisham II and took control of the government.
Hasdai ibn Shaprut (circa 915-990) – Jewish
A Jewish scholar who acquired a thorough knowledge of Hebrew, Arabic, and Latin in his youth through his father’s guidance. Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Rahman III initially appointed him physician. But later, he played a significant role in virtually all affairs of state, from diplomacy, to trade and taxation, to scholarship.
He served as the caliph’s envoy to Pamplona and Navarre. He allowed Abd al-Rahman to reassert control over these Christian kingdoms by curing the deposed king of Len, Sancho the Fat (a relative of the Caliph), allowing him to return to power.
In 949, he translated the Materia Medica into Arabic with the aid of a learned Greek monk. This work served as a magnificent codex of Dioscorides’ work on botany. An embassy from Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII brought the work to Córdoba as a gift.
John of Gorze, the ambassador for Otto I of Germany, remarked that he had never met a man of such subtle intellect as ibn Shaprut. Notably, ibn Shaprut sent a letter to the Byzantine Empress, Helena, pleading for religious liberty to be granted to the Jews of that empire and sent envoys, without success, to the Jewish Kingdom of the Khazars.
Hroswitha (circa 932-circa 1002) – Christian
A noblewoman and Benedictine nun from a Saxon family of Gandersheim. She distinguished herself as a major poet and composer of dramatic works in Latin. She was well-versed in the Church fathers, as well as Classical writings, which included Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Terence, among others. Her works form part of the Ottonian Renaissance. She traveled to Córdoba during the height of its splendor in the mid-10th century. She was captivated by the bustling city’s running water, paved streets, palaces, and industries, characterizing shining Córdoba as the “ornament of the world,” a description that continues to resonate with visitors today.
Ibn Abd Rabbihi (860-940) – Muslim
A renowned poet in Córdoba. He was the descendant from a former slave of the Umayyad ruler Hisham I. He enjoyed a great reputation for learning and eloquence. His most famous work is al-Iqd al-Farid (The Precious Necklace). It is an anthology of the best selections of original, sophisticated, and pleasing Arabic prose, satire, and essays. Each of its 25 sections is named after a precious gem. Such naming illustrates the tendency of Arabic authors to apply witty and creative names to their works.
Ibn Bajja (circa 1095-circa 1138) – Muslim
Philosopher of 12th century Al-Andalus. His name was Latinized as Avempace. He also served as wazir for Almoravid rulers, including Abu Bakr ibn Ibrahim for a short time and Abu Bakr Yusuf ibn Tashufin for 20 years.
Historian Ibn Khaldun recognized Ibn Bajja as one of the leading Muslim philosophers, among Averroes (Ibn Rushd), Avecinna (Ibn Sina), and al-Farabi. Ibn Bajja was also known as a poet, musician, and composer of songs.
Ibn Bajja’s writing exists in Arabic and in Hebrew translation. Latin translations of Averroes quote Ibn Bajja, as well. He is known for his writings on the pine union of the soul, from the stage of spiritual purification to Active Intellect. Ibn Bajja also studied astronomy, mathematics, and botany.
Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (980-1037) – Muslim
Known as Avicenna in the West, Ibn Sina was a Persian polymath who is known for his work in medicine and astronomy, as well as philosophy. He is believed to have written around 450 works, of which only 240 have survived. Like most of his contemporaries, his influences included Aristotle and other ancient philosophers, and his discoveries influenced al-Biruni and Thomas Aquinas.
His most notable works mainly document existing knowledge at the time and allowed subsequent scientists to better understand the wealth of knowledge available to them. He was also instrumental in discrediting astrologists and alchemists while promoting astronomy and chemistry.
Isabella (1451-1504) – Christian
She was Queen regnant of Castile and Leon. She became Queen of Castile in 1474, after her allies forced her brother Enrique IV to de-legitimize his daughter and rightful heir, Juana. In 1469, she married Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Aragon, against the wishes of her brother and the nobility.
She and her husband, Ferdinand II of Aragon, laid the foundation for the political unification of Spain under their grandson, Carlos I of Spain (Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor). Her paternal grandparents were King Henry III of Castile and Katherine of Lancaster, half sister to Henry IV of England.
Her maternal grandparents were Prince John of Portugal, brother of Henry the Navigator. She was the daughter of King John II of Castile and Queen Isabella of Portugal. Among her five children with Ferdinand was Catherine of Aragon, wife of Henry VIII, and mother of Mary, Queen of Scots (“Bloody Mary”).
Isabella and Ferdinand established an effective co-regency under equal terms. They accomplished many goals, which included establishing a legal basis for a united Spain; completing the Reconquista with the defeat of Granada; sponsoring Columbus’ voyage; and consolidating rule over Spanish possessions in the New World. They also established Catholicism as the dominant force in Spain, with the expulsion and forced conversion of many Jews and Muslims.
Isa de Jabir (flourished in 1455) – Muslim
Religious leader (alfaqui) from Segovia. He was a mudejar, or Muslim living under Christian rule. Juan de Segovia invited him to Ayton in the Savoy, where he translated the Qur’an into Castilian language. Juan de Segovia then translated the Castilian version into Latin. In the 14th century, the Leyes de Moros (Law for the Moors) were composed purely in Castilian. In 1462, Isa de Jabir published the Suma de los Principales Mandamientos (Summary of the Principle Commandments). It was written for a Muslim population that did not speak Arabic any more.
Isidore of Seville (circa 560-636) – Christian
Eminent bishop of Seville. During the height of Visigothic rule, he played a key role in stamping out Arianism. His most influential work is the Etymologies. This encyclopedia summarizes all of the knowledge of the time. It also preserves portions of Greco-Roman classical writings. In addition, he wrote a valuable history of the Goths, Vandals, and Suevi who had ruled Spain, as well as treatises on theology, language, natural history, and other subjects. He was canonized as a saint in 1598.
Jabir ibn Hayyan (721-815) – Muslim
Jabir ibn Hayyan was perhaps the most influential chemist in the history of the Islamic world. He was the first known person to derive inorganic compounds (such as ammonium chloride) from organic substances, and his works had a huge impact on all chemists that followed. Nearly 3000 treatises and articles are credited to Jabir ibn Hayyan (latinized at Geber), covering subjects from magic and mysticism to numerology and chemistry.
Jimenez de Cisneros (1436-1517) – Christian
A Spanish Cardinal and royal official in Spain. Born into a humble household, he ascended the heights of power as a religious reformer, regent of the Spanish throne, Grand Inquisitor, and Crusader in North Africa.
As ambitious as he was, he often lived as an ascetic. He was known for his strictness and rigidity. He lived during the time of Spanish unification and the dynamic rule of Ferdinand and Isabella and their royal successors.
Cisneros is known for having forcibly converted many Muslims of Granada and burning Arabic manuscripts in his zeal. He is also known for funding charities and educational institutions, as well as reforming Spanish clerical orders. He died just as he was preparing to receive Charles V into Spain and serve as regent to the 16-year-old monarch. Historians speculate that he may have been poisoned.
Judah Ha-Levi (c.1075-1141) – Jewish
Spanish Jewish philosopher and poet born in Tudela, Spain. He was trained as a physician.
Ha-Levi is sometimes called the “Sweet Singer of Zion” for his poetry based on the theme and sacred language of the Torah, or the Old Testament in Hebrew. He was well versed in the traditions of Arabic poetry, its themes and structures, and with the Greco-Arabic philosophy.
His poetry is still prized for its wit and turns of phrase. It also is noted for the way in which he introduced a lively and fluid style to the Hebrew language. It, thus, contributed to its literature as a living — not merely a scriptural — language. He lived as an honored physician and celebrated poet in Toledo and Córdoba.
Later, he felt an urge to travel to the Holy Land. He visited Egypt, where friends urged him to stay. However, he set out for the Holy Land and died either soon after reaching there or right before he arrived. His death became a matter of legend.
Mancebo de Arevalo (died 1550) – Morisco (or crypto-Muslim)
Scholar whose writings document the deprivations of life after the Christians’ conquest of Islamic Spain. This literature has been called aljamiado. These writings focus mainly on the attempt to pass on Islamic knowledge and heritage under the repressive conditions of forced conversions and the early Spanish Inquisition.
De Arevalo was from the Castilian Arevalo near Madrid. His name means “young man of Arevalo.” He was forced to pretend to be a convert to Christianity. He did so by indicating that his mother had been a Christian for 25 years.
He traveled extensively around Spain to such places as Alcantara, Astorga, Saragossa, Gandia, Granada, and Segovia. On his travels, he visited with other Morisco, or crypto-Muslim, notables; gathered knowledge; and collected the teachings of his now-forbidden religion.
He transcribed documents and texts he discovered to preserve and pass them on. He recounts people’s memories of Nasnd times and of the Christian conquest of Granada.
Little is known about him. However, it is thought that he must have traveled during the end of the 15th century, up to the time of Ferdinand’s death, as pressure on Muslims was increasing.
The information he collected was written down in three works. The first, El brebe compendio de nuestra santa ley y sunna (The Brief Compendium of Our Holy Law and Sunnah), represents the work of a group of Muslim notables at Aragon, including the alfaqui Bray de Reminjo. Today, it sits in the Cambridge University Library.
The other two, Tafsira and Sumano de la relacion y ejerctcio espintual (Summary of the Account and Spiritual Exercise) also exist in libraries today.
Mancebo is thought to have been arrested by the Inquisition and killed, as he was preparing to depart on the pilgrimage to Mecca.
Maslama al-Majriti (died 1007) – Muslim
A leading mathematician and astronomer from the frontier town of Madrid (al-Majra) in central Spain. At the Umayyad court of al-Hakam II, he produced an improved translation of Ptolemy’s astronomical work Almagest. He circulated al-Khwarizmi’s astronomical tables (zij). He also demonstrated the use of algebra for business transactions and taxation. And, he introduced techniques of surveying and triangulation.
Joannes Hispalensis later translated his treatise on the astrolabe into Latin. Al-Majriti most likely authored an important compendium on chemistry, called the Rutbat al-Hakeem (The Footsteps of the Sage).
Michael the Scot (flourished in 1240) – Christian
A northern Christian scholar. He was one of several scholars who went to Spain after 1085. These scholars set out to gain knowledge and translate the Arabic works. They found these works in libraries of locations that had just passed under Christian domination, primarily Toledo.
There is not much known about these individuals and their work. However, they provided Europeans with their very first exposure to the advanced sciences and philosophy in the Arabic-speaking tradition. They translated using Castilian, Hebrew, or sometimes both.
Michael the Scot is known for his translation of works by Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and Ibn Sina (Avecinna). His other translations — which were not always clear or accurate — concerned medicine, mathematics, metaphysics, and philosophy.
Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) – Jewish
A rabbi, physician, and philosopher born in Córdoba. Named Moshe ben Maimon in Hebrew, he studied the Torah and received a traditional education. He lived in Spain, Morocco, and Egypt during the latter period of Muslim rule in Al-Andalus. This waning period was often called the “golden age” of Jewish culture in Spain.
When the Almohad rulers conquered Córdoba in 1148, Maimonides left the city for other parts of Spain, like many other elite and well connected Muslims and Jews. He finally ended up in North Africa, where he studied medicine at Fez. He also began writing at that time and produced his commentary on the Mishnah.
Maimonides left Morocco and visited the Holy Land, settling in Egypt. He was considered a great physician. While in Egypt, he became court physician to the vizier, al-Fadhil, and to Sultan Salahuddin. He also completed most of his writings in Egypt. What’s more, he served as the leader (nagid) of The Egyptian Jewish community.
Maimonides died in Fustat (Cairo). He was buried in the Holy Land city of Tiberius. His son, Avraham, took up his mantle as a scholar and physician. Avraham also succeeded him as nagid. The family held this office for four consecutive generations.
Among Maimonides’ important works are Jewish scholarship and medical texts. Most of these were written in Arabic, except for the Mishneh Torah.
One of his famous philosophical works is The Guide for the Perplexed. Like Ibn Rushd’s work, it was an effort to bring together Aristotle’s philosophy and theology, and provide a religious worldview through Jewish lenses.
He brought the Jewish philosophical tradition to its height. He incorporated ideas from the Islamic tradition of al-Farabi and Ibn Sina, to harmonize Aristotle with the Old Testament.
In his time, Maimonides’ works on Jewish law and ethics were opposed, but have since been recognized as foundational to Jewish thought.
Muhammad V (1338-1391) – Muslim
King of Granada of the Nasrid Dynasty. He came to power in 1354 CE, after the assassination of his father, Abu Hallaj Yusuf. In 1359, he lost the throne in a palace revolution. Ismail succeeded him. Then, he returned to power in 1362, after overthrowing Ismail’s successor, Abu Said. He died in 1362. His son, Abu Hallaj Yusuf II, succeeded him.
Muhammad ibn Abbad Al-Mu’tamid (1040-1095) – Muslim
Ruler of Seville upon the caliphate’s collapse in Córdoba. He was the third and final ruler of the Abbadid Dynasty in Spain. He reigned from 1069-1091. Al-Mu’tamid served as a judge (qadi) before ruling Seville. He gained renown as a poet-king. Styling himself as ruler of the crown of taifa states, Al-Mu’tamid sought to reproduce the famed splendor of Madinat al-Zahra in his court at the Alcazar. He patronized scholars, poets, and artisans, and held lively salons that continued to propagate high Andalusian culture.
However, his rivalries with other petty kings exhausted his military strength and financial resources. Ultimately, it forced him to pay tribute to Alfonso VI of Castile and tax his subjects heavily. Ibn Abbad turned for assistance to Yusuf ibn Tashufin, a Amazigh (Berber) and the Almoravid ruler of North Africa. The Berbers’ arrival restored unity to Al-Andalus. But, by that time, Al-Mu’tamid was exiled and impoverished.
Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (780-850) – Muslim
A renowned scholar who produced a variety of works in mathematics, astronomy, and geometry. The word “algorithm” comes from al-Khwarizmi, and rightly so. He is responsible for producing the first recorded quadratic equations, which had huge influences on how physical sciences were conducted. He has been described as the founder of algebra, and his work with geography produced the first trigonometric tables that could assist navigators with global positioning.
Muhammad ibn Nasr (died 1273) – Muslim
King of Granada from 1235 CE and founder of the Nasrid Dynasty. The Nasrids ruled the Kingdom of Granada from 1238, until Ferdinand and Isabella conquered it in 1492. They were the last Muslim dynasty on the Iberian Peninsula.
The Nasrids originated the most monumental, sophisticated and lavish period within Spanish Islamic art. As a result, Granada became the artistic center of North Africa and the Iberian Christian kingdoms. The best example of Nasrid art is the royal residence of the Alhambra.
Muhammad ibn Rushd (c.1126-1198) – Muslim
A philosopher and physician, who was well-versed in theology, Islamic law, mathematics, and medicine. Ibn Rushd is known as Averroes in Latin. He was born in Cordova, Spain, to a family of jurists and public servants.
His grandfather was Abdul-Walid Muhammad (d. 1126), the chief judge of Cordova under the Almoravid Dynasty. Ibn Rushd’s father, Abdul-Qasim Ahmad, held the same position until the Almoravid Dynasty was replaced by the Almohad Dynasty in 1146.
Ibn Rushd received a traditional education in Islamic disciplines. He also studied medicine under the famous physician Abu Jafar ibn Harun of Trujillo. He may have studied under Ibn Bajjah (Avempace), as well.
Ibn Rushd wrote an important study of medicine Kitab al-Kulyat fi al-Tibb (Book of Generalities of Medicine). This work became one of the major medical books for Jewish, Christian, and Muslim colleges for centuries afterwards.
Ibn Rushd maintained a relationship with the Almohad Dynasty. Its reform efforts may have influenced his work in reconciling philosophy and religion.
While at Marrakesh, he met physician and philosopher Ibn Tufayl (Abubacer in Latin), who served as physician and counselor to Caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf. Ibn Rushd was appointed chief judge and later as chief physician. His relationship with the ruler commissioned Ibn Rushd to write his commentaries on Aristotle.
Although he was influential with the Almohads, factions around the government repudiated Ibn Rushd’s writings. He was exiled in 1195. His writings were banned and his books burned. Two years later, Ibn Rushd returned to Córdoba with his reputation restored. However, he died the next year.
Interest in his writings faded among Muslims. Yet, in the 1200s, his commentaries and original philosophical work, Tahafut al-tahafut (The Incoherence of the Incoherence), were translated into Hebrew and Latin. In Tahafut al-tahafut, he defended Aristotelian philosophy against al-Ghazali’s Tahafut al-falasifa (The Incoherence of the Philosophers).
The transfer of these translations beyond Spain awakened philosophy in Europe. And, Averroism became influential intellectually. Thomas Aquinas and Roger Bacon widely quoted Ibn Rushd’s work. They, along with other prominent figures, worked to reconcile faith and reason. They also established scientific inquiry on a sound religious and intellectual foundation.
Muhammad ibn Tumart (c.1080-1130) – Muslim
Leader of the Almohad movement (Muwahhidun). He was born around 1080 in Morocco of Amazigh (Berber) ancestry. He acquired a reputation for personal piety and charisma as a preacher. He also was known for controversial positions in debates. His opinions led the Almoravid rulers to perceive him as a political threat.
Refusing arrest, he soon after declared himself Mahdi, or “The Guided One.” Thus, he became associated with the rise of the Almohads in North Africa. He died after a battle in 1130 CE. His death was concealed long enough for Abd al-Mu’min to be proclaimed Almohad leader.
Muhyi al-Din ibn al-Arabi (1164-1240) – Muslim
One of the founding writers and practitioners of Sufism. He was born at Murcia in Al-Andalus. He lived in Seville. There, he was educated and served as secretary to several governors.
He traveled to various cities in Spain and North Africa, including Córdoba and Tunis. He studied with various teachers (including women). He also performed the Hajj, or pilgrimage. He stayed there for two years of spiritual discovery. Later, he lived in Damascus and elsewhere in the eastern Muslim lands.
Ibn al-Arabi wrote more than any other Sufi scholar, producing as many as 400 works. Scholars have not yet completely studied his work, due to the large quantity of works and dispersal of manuscripts.
He wrote about attaining unity with God through a spiritual journey in stages. He also emphasized the importance of faith and attainment of pine knowledge. Meanwhile, he placed less stress on human reason as a way to attain true knowledge and union with God.
Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi (died 808)
A Persian polymath, physician, philosopher, and alchemist. He made fundamental changes to many sciences, and is considered the father of modern psychology and psychotherapy. Some of his notable contributions to science include: production of acids such as sulfuric acid, extensive writings on contagious diseases such as smallpox, and the idea that the pupil was the part of the eye that reacted to light, all pioneering ideas at the time that fundamentally changed how others practiced science. He is widely considered to be the greatest physician of the Islamic Golden Age.
However, al-Razi was also a controversial figure in the Muslim-ruled Spain, for he had anti-Islamic ideas and believed that the Quran doesn’t contain any useful information.
Paulus Alvarus (flourished in 860) – Christian
A colleague of the theologian Eulogius. A staunch supporter of Christian martyrs in Córdoba in the mid-9th century. Though basilicas and monasteries remained open, the Christian population was gradually becoming assimilated to Arab culture and Islam. He famously noted that Christians preferred to study and master Arabic, rather than Latin. He also expressed unease about the cultural shift taking place in southern Spain.
Pedro I (1334-1369) – Christian
King of Castile from 1350 to 1369. He was the son of Alfonso XI and Maria of Portugal. He was the last ruler of the main branch of the House of Burgundy. He was sometimes known as “Pedro the Cruel.” He earned a reputation for monstrous cruelty by committing a series of murders, waging constant wars, igniting palace intrigues, and being unfaithful to his word. His reign ended with his murder, following the loss of a battle against his brother Henry’s forces.
Pelayo (690-737) – Christian
Some historians believe he was a Visigothic nobleman, who served as the sword bearer for King Witiza and a bodyguard for King Roderic. However, it is also possible that he was a local Asturian strong man.
In 713, he fled north to the Asturias. There, he founded a small kingdom that thwarted Muslim expansion in the region. His resistance is often cited as the beginning of the Reconquista. However, no unified or organized plan to counter the Muslim presence existed until many centuries later.
Qadi Iyad (died 1149) – Muslim
Celebrated Maliki scholar, who served the Almoravid Dynasty as a judge. His family was of Yemeni origin. His ancestors achieved fame for their knowledge of the Quran. As a result, they became notables in the West. Iyad set out to Al-Andalus for study. Later, he served as qadi of Granada and of Ceuta. He also was author of a work, Ash-Shifa, in praise of Prophet Muhammad, which plays a role in popular piety. What’s more, he wrote a juristic work recognized as a strong defense of the Maliki school of law.
Raymond Llull (1232-1315) – Christian
A Catalan author, mystic, and missionary, born at Palma de Majorca. He led an ordinary life until he had a vision of Christ. Then, he decided to devote his life to missionary work by joining the Franciscan order.
Lull studied Arabic to work at converting Muslims. He was instrumental in founding a Franciscan monastery at Miramar. There, he taught Arabic and philosophy for a decade and wrote some controversial treatises.
He traveled to various cities, where his work was considered eccentric at best. He also worked to gain support for the teaching of Arabic and other oriental languages to help with evangelism among the Muslims.
To achieve this end, Lull developed methods that attempted to use logical means to reduce knowledge and logic into basic principles. He used one such method to list attributes of God in Christianity. He knew that believers in all three monotheistic religions — Christians, Jews and Muslims — would agree with the listed attributes. Thus, it gave him a solid platform on which to argue, in an attempt to convert others to Christianity.
He also tried to refute the Latin Averroists, who were becoming very influential in Europe, especially in Paris. He wrote many prominent works, Yet, he is best known as a prominent Christian apologist and missionary to the Arabs.
Raymundo (died 1151) – Christian
Archbishop officiated in 1125, who founded the translation center in Toledo, under Alfonso VII of Leon. Toledo was chosen as the principal see of the Roman Church in Spain, after its capture in 1085. The city became a center for translation of Arabic texts on science and philosophy into Latin. Raymundo may have expanded translation efforts after meeting with Peter the Venerable (1094-1156), abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Cluny, who visited Spain in 1142.
Recarred (died 601) – Christian
Visigothic king who distinguished himself in warfare with the Franks and Basques. He converted from Arianism to Roman Catholicism at the Council of Toledo in 589. His conversion led to the unification of the Visigothic nobles and the Hispani-Roman population of Spain into a common religion. Spanish Jews, however, began to be persecuted during his reign, under an early form of the Visigothic Code.
Recemundus (flourished in 973) – Christian
Mozarabic bishop of Elvira and secretary of the caliph of Córdoba in the mid-10th century. He was called Rabi ibn Zayd in Arabic. In 953, he served as ambassador for Abd al-Rahman III to the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto I of Germany, normalizing relations between the two rulers. He also led an embassy to the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople and to Jerusalem. In 961, he presented an impressive Arabic almanac of agricultural information to the new caliph al-Hakam II. The almanac explained such topics as times for planting, harvests, actions against destructive insects, soil use and irrigation. This work, commonly known as The Calendar of Córdoba, also included a list of Christian holidays. Some of these commemorated the martyrs of Córdoba.
Roderic (died 711) – Christian
A Visigothic duke, who became king in 709 CE. He and his large but exhausted army were defeated at the Battle of Guadalete. This critical turning point enabled Muslim forces to conquer Iberia over the following decade. Roderic’s body was never recovered after the battle.
Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (circa 1044-1099) – Christian
Alférez or General to King Sancho II of Castile. The term derives from al-faris, which is Arabic for horseman. He was nicknamed El Cid, which derives from al-sayyid, or Arabic for “nobleman” or “lord.” The soldiers of al-Mu’tamid of Seville honered him with this title after he led them to victory over the taifa king of Granada’s army. He also helped Sancho II defeat King Garcia of Galicia and King Alfonso VI of Leon.
Rodrigo later became a vassal of Alfonso VI, but fell into disfavor and was exiled. He then entered the service of the Muslim king of Zaragoza (1081-1085). There, he defeated Muslim and Christian foes alike.
Then, Yusuf ibn-Tashufin’s Almoravid army defeated Alfonso at Zalaqa in 1086. He took Rodrigo back into his service. Rodrigo became the “protector” of al-Qadir, the former Muslim king of Toledo who was installed by Alfonso in Valencia.
Rodrigo took the city as his own in 1094. When he died in 1099, his wife Jimena held the city for three more years before returning it to Alfonso.
El Cid’s legend as a Campeador, or “champion defender of Christianity,” grew over the centuries. Epic poems, such as the Cantar de Mio Cid, preserved the memory of Rodrigo. Numerous anonymous short poems embellished the story with new literary episodes.
Roger II of Sicily (1095-1154) – Christian
Son of Roger I and king of Sicily, who succeeded his brother Simon. In 1117, Roger II married Elvira, daughter of Alfonso VI of Castile.
Roger II supported Antipope Anacletus II against Innocent II, as claimant to the papal throne. As a reward, Anacletus issued a papal bull on September 27, 1130, declaring Roger as king of Sicily, He was crowned in Palermo on Christmas Day in 1130. Innocent II’s loyal supporter, Bernard of Clairvaux, built up a coalition against Anacletus and Roger II. The result was a 10-year war. Then, later in his reign, Roger II revived attacks against the Byzantine Empire.
Roger II rose to become one of Europe’s greatest kings. He is distinguished to have united all the Norman conquests into one kingdom. He is also noted for granting them a scientific, personal, and centralized government.
What’s more, Roger II practiced tolerance of differing races and cultures. He welcomed learned men of these races and cultures into his court. They included Arab geographer Idrisi and the Greek historian Nilus Doxopatrius. He also hired many Greeks and Arabs trained in centralized government traditions.
Samuel Ha-Nagid (993-1056) – Jewish
A Talmudic scholar, poet, rabbi, statesman, and general. He is also known as Samuel ibn Naghrela. He was born in Córdoba. He lived there until the sack of the Umayyad capital. After that, he migrated to Malaga, part of the province of Granada. He was appointed vizier in 1027 CE. He went on to become a successful military leader and statesman. As a result, he earned the title of nagid, or “prince,” among members of the Jewish community. He was known for fine living and poetry in the best Andalusian tradition. He wrote with great eloquence about life, death, and suffering, as well as about war.
Solomon ibn Gabirol (1021-1058) – Jewish
An Andalusi Hebrew poet and Jewish philosopher. He was born in Má¡laga. He came to be recognized as a great poetic talent after composing a moving elegy after the death of Hai Gaon. He was the chief rabbi in Baghdad.
During the tumultuous taifa period, Ibn Gabirol wandered from town to town. He eventually came under the tutelage of Samuel Ha-Nagid, before a falling out.
Ibn Gabirol wrote a work arranged in verses of 400 lines — like Arabic counterparts — to teach Hebrew grammar. He wrote numerous piyyutim, or liturgical poems. He also wrote the treatise, On the Improvement of the Moral Qualities.
Ibn Gabirol reconciled Greco-Arabic Neoplatonic ideas with Jewish theology. His best-known work was Fons Vitae (The Fountain of Life). This work had considerable influence on the scholasticism of Medieval Christianity, after its translation from Arabic into Latin in 1150.
Tariq ibn Ziyad (died 720) – Muslim
Amazigh (Berber) commander of the Muslim forces that conquered Spain in 711. He defeated Visigothic King Roderic at the Battle of Guadalete. Ibn Ziyad’s army crossed the straits from North Africa. They landed near a large mountainous outcropping on the Spanish coast. It later was named Jabal Tariq (Tariq’s mountain) in his honor. Today, it is known as Gibraltar.
Theodomir (died 743) – Christian
The count of Orihuela in southeastern Iberia. According to a treaty, he agreed to recognize the Umayyad governor, Abd al-Aziz, as overlord. He also had to pay an annual tribute (jizya). It consisted of one dinar, wheat, olive oil, honey, and other items on behalf of each person in his province. He maintained his lands. Meanwhile, the inhabitants were free to continue their lifestyle and practice their faith, as they did before the Muslim conquest. What’s more, his descendants converted to Islam.
Tomás de Torquemada (1420-1498) – Christian
A Dominican friar born in 1420 in Castile-Leon. He rose to a trusted position at the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. He became the first Grand Inquisitor of Spain, and confessor to Queen Isabella herself. He is best known for his ruthless prosecution in the Spanish Inquisition. The inquisition held everyone above their early teens subject to inquiry for their beliefs and actions in the faith. He is widely remembered for burning Arabic and Hebrew books; for persecuting the Jews and Muslims of Spain after the conquest of Granada, when promises of tolerance were broken, mass forced conversions took place, and finally, the Jews of Spain were expelled.
Umar ibn Hafsun (circa 840-917) – Muslim/Christian
Leader of anti-Umayyad Dynasty rebel forces in southern Spain. He was a muwallad in his youth. He joined a group of brigands and caused trouble for local Umayyad governors. In 883, he became a leader of rebels based at the castle of Bobastro near Ronda. This move expanded his control over nearby lands.
He initially gained support by rallying disaffected muwallads to his cause. However, when he renounced belief in Islam, many of his followers abandoned him. The Umayyad ruler, Abd-ar-Rahman III, began annual offensives against him. He eventually conquered Ibn Hafsun’s fortress and ended the rebellion.
Wallada bint Mustakfi (circa 1001-1091) – Muslim
The daughter of al-Mustakfi, one of the last Umayyad caliphs. Her mother may have been an Ethiopian Christian slave. Despite the end of Umayyad rule in 1031, Walladah had inherited wealth and lived on her own in Córdoba. She opened a salon for poets and writers. She began a love affair with Ibn Zaydun, a talented Arab poet. Her own poetic verse reflects self-confidence and an indomitable spirit. She is considered a symbol of the open and cosmopolitan nature of Andalusi society.
Yusuf ibn Tashufin (circa 1006-1106) – Muslim
Almoravid amir and second ruler of the Tashufunid Dynasty. This dynasty ruled over a large part of North Africa and southern Spain from 1106 to 1143. He took the title of amir al-muslimin (“commander of the Muslims”). His rule followed the reign of Abu-Bakr Ibn-Umar, founder of the Almoravid Dynasty.
Ibn Tashufin is the founder of the famous Moroccan city, Marrakech. He chose its location and made it his capital city. The city’s construction marked the beginning of a sedentary ruling life for this desert dynasty.
In 1085, Christian King Alfonso VI of Castile made advances toward three petty Muslim kingdoms. The three rulers called on ibn Tashufin twice to help counter incursions of the Christian armies. The first time, he promised to return to Marrakech. However, the second time, he united all of the Muslim kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula under the Kingdom of Morocco around 1090. This move signaled Al-Andalus’ inclusion into the Amazigh (Berber) Almoravid Empire.
Ziryab (circa 789-857) – Muslim
A gifted musician and poet at the Abbasid court in Baghdad. His name means “blackbird.” When his skills appeared to surpass those of his teacher, he was forced to leave and journeyed to Córdoba to join the court of Abd al-Rahman II, great grandson of the founder of the Spanish Umayyad Dynasty.
He established a school of music. He made refinements to instruments such as adding a fifth string to the lute (ud), the predecessor of the modern guitar. He introduced Persian customs to Al-Andalus, and was an arbiter of food, fashion, and style. For example, he recommended that people should adopt seasonal attire, and men should cut and part their hair to be considered well-groomed. He also introduced our practice of eating meals in courses, beginning with appetizers and ending with dessert.