The Ornament of the World

by María Rosa Menocal
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Epilogue: Andalusian Shards Summary

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Last Updated on April 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 477

Menocal asks how it is possible for such a culture of tolerance to fall apart over centuries. The short answer is that much of Iberia, from the eleventh century on, was increasingly inhabited by groups that did not understand its culture. It began, she suggests, with the Berber sacking of Cordoba. Shortly thereafter, Iberia was colonized by the Christians of Castile, and over the next two centuries, Christianity became more and more puritanical. These two presences forced ideological conflict into a space where there had previously been very little. Additionally, the Black Death led to scapegoating, where many wanted to blame people of other religions (especially Jews) for what seemed a punishment from God. Still, Menocal suggests that the plague was only a part of this scapegoating and that individual perceptions and values were far more important in the crumbling of the tolerant culture that was Islamic Al-Andalus. For instance, Ferdinand and Isabella could have opted not to expel the Jews from Spain, but a general attitude moved them to sign these edicts into effect.

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Even so, it was difficult to remove all cultural influence of Islam and Judaism from Spain. The Spanish Inquisition attempted to do away with these Andalusian habits and the people who followed them, and slowly buildings such as mosques and temples were defaced and destroyed in an effort to purify the Christian surroundings.

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Latest answer posted May 9, 2020, 4:08 pm (UTC)

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In 1989, Salman Rushdie was issued a fatwa that essentially condemned him to death for writing the novel The Satanic Verses. While in hiding, he wrote a children’s book, Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Haroun (or Harun) is the name of an Abbasid caliph who oversaw the translation of many Greek texts to Arabic, and it is possible to trace how Harun’s actions in Baghdad led to philosophies and stories being shared across Europe. Menocal suggests that hope exists within stories. Stories can be interpreted multiple ways, and they can move individuals to a new place metaphorically and, sometimes, literally. Rushdie, as well as the Islamic Arabic Andalusians, understood this. Pieces of this Andalusia still exist in our own world, if we are willing to look for them. Some Jews still choose to write in Arabic and Hebrew for their literary endeavors, and other artists and philosophers allow for religious and philosophical contradictions in their works.

Menocal closes by reflecting on the fact that during the Bosnian War, Serbs targeted Bosnian museums and libraries. Within the Bosnian National Library, among other artifacts, a prayer book survived. This Jewish prayer book had been saved from being burned in 1492 and again from burning during the Second World War. In Sarajevo, the book was saved by a Muslim woman who was the daughter of the man who had saved the book during World War II. This story is a testament to how cultural intermixing and tolerance are enduring, even today.

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