The Ornament of the World

by María Rosa Menocal
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A Grand Vizier, a Grand City Summary

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Last Updated on April 9, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 381

In 949, Hasdai, prince of the Andalusian Jews and right hand to the caliph, wrote a letter to an unknown lord about the kingdom of Cordoba. Hasdai would have only been about fourteen when Abd al-Rahman III declared himself the true ruler of Islam. There were a number of powerful Muslim rulers in the world, but none other than Abd al-Rahman III had claim through his Damascus blood and Umayyad heritage. Menocal asks a series of rhetorical questions about why, at this point, he would choose to make this proclamation.

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Baghdad had been a prosperous city, and from 800, Andalusia was indebted to Baghdad for cultural, material, and intellectual innovations across the Muslim world. However, by the early 900s, the Abbasid empire was beginning to lose hold. A group of Shiite Muslims had taken control of their territory in Northern Africa. Given this move, it makes sense that the Umayyad line would no longer recognize the Abbasids as legitimate, especially given Abd al-Rahman III’s success in building Andalusia into a cultural powerhouse. Hasdai had heard of an all-Jewish city far away, and he wrote a letter to whoever ruled this land describing the fertility and riches of Cordoba.

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

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By the time of Hasdai, 150 years after the establishment of the Umayyad empire, Jews had been fully Arabized and were in turn recognized as educated individuals who followed a monotheistic religion. Unlike the Christians of the time, Jews believed they could be culturally Arab while maintaining their religious convictions, and in turn, the Arabized Jews of Andalusia contributed to the diverse culture of the Umayyad empire.

Menocal returns to 949, when Hasdai oversaw a delegation in which Abd al-Rahman III was trying to develop an alliance with the Byzantine emperor of Constantinople on the grounds that both sides had a common enemy in the Abbasids. Likely, prominent Christians were present at this delegation as well. During the meeting, the Byzantine ruler gifted the Umayyads a Greek text on medicine, suggesting the cultures’ common interests in progress. This was especially meaningful, as the Umayyads had no access to Greek texts or translations since cutting their ties with the Abbasids. Hasdai led the efforts to translate this book, standing as one example of the ways in which Jews both were respected in and contributed to Andalusian culture.

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