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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 233

The Ornament of the World by Maria Rosa Menocal is the story of a young prince named Abd al-Rahman who fled his home in Damascus, Syria and traveled across the desert and to establish a kingdom on the Iberian Peninsula, or modern-day Spain. His accomplishments changed the course of history, and Menocal’s account of his story exposes truths about the power of diversity to create rather than to destroy.

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Abd al-Rahman was the heir to an Islamic dynasty and the only member of his family who escaped persecution in a religious war. After he fled, he built a palace in al-Andalus, established the first Islamic kingdom in western Europe, and proved that people of different faiths can share their knowledge and work together to build a powerful and progressive society and make great achievements in the arts and sciences. Menocal explains that the religious Crusades and the Inquisition led to the fall of al-Andalus, yet she shows how before it fell al-Rahman succeeded in fusing knowledge and insight from some of the greatest minds in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam to build an society based on respect. By describing al-Rahman’s vision and the thriving empire he was able to create, she exposes the futility of religious warfare and presents a snapshot of life in the middle ages that conflicts with the historical portrait of the era as one of persecution and intolerance.

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