The Scientific and Cultural Legacy
The quantity and quality of sciences, art and letters cultivated in al-Andalus is really admirable, and also the interest many writers showed in raising the basic questions of human existence. Not surprisingly, Andalusi people repeatedly expressed their praise for al-Andalus, such as al-Saqundi when, in the 13th century, shortly before Cordoba and Seville finished belonging to al-Andalus politically, declared in his precious Epistle in praise of al-Andalus the following: “I praise God for he made me born in al-Andalus and granted me the grace of being one of his sons. I can raise my arm proudly, and the nobility of my condition makes me accomplish praiseworthy actions”, or the vizier of Granada, Ibn al-Khatib, when, as early as the 14th century, pondered over the other ones “these Andalusian lands”, the best in the world, he proclaims, “in beauty and vegetation, in extension and goods, in constructions and fortresses, in people and animals, in character and way of being, in customs and way of dressing, in nobility and intelligence, in industries and mines, in courage and zeal, in refinement and grace.”
Education and knowledge had, from the beginning, enormous importance in the Islamic world. Quotations such as: “Search for knowledge from cradle to grave”, or “There is nothing more important in the eyes of God than a man who learns a science and teaches it to the people”, were among the maxims of greatest influence at that time. Caliphs and emirs such as Abdal-Rahman II, Abd-al-Rahman Ill and al-Hakam II were great scholars who surrounded themselves by other learned men and made learning available to all. They had the principal classical works translated, they created public and private libraries –some as renowned as that of al-Hakam II– and built mosques and madrasas, where religion and law were taught. Some were excellent poets, such as king al-Mu’tamid of Seville and his friend and vizier, Ibn Ammar.
Much writing was devoted to the study of knowledge and learning, to the classification of sciences, such as that by Ibn Abd Rabihi in the 10th c.: al-Iqd al-Farid, (The Only Necklace). The author expressed himself concerning knowledge in this words: “it is the pillar upon which rests the axis of religion and of the world. It distinguishes man from animal, and the rational being from the irrational”. The well-known Ibn Hazm (994-1064) devoted countless pages to classifying the sciences in books such as Maratib al-ulum, or Kitab alajlak. This author was one of the most prolific in Islam, being outstanding as a poet, theologian, jurist, historian and philosopher. He wrote not less than four hundred books. He had such a critical and caustic tongue against power and the lack of spirit. On him, it was said that “his tongue was as sharp as the sword of al-Hach-chach”. He wrote the following on knowledge: “He who searches for knowledge in order to boast or praise, or to acquire riches and fame, is far from finding success, for its object is to reach something that is not knowledge”.
Prose, Poetry and Music
Music was never a form of art much considered by Islam. However, great musicians proliferated in al-Andalus. An outstanding artist of the time was Ziryab, who came from Baghdad in the 9th c. and, apart from revolutionizing the fashion in dress, cosmetics and cooking, was a magnificent lute player, to which he added a fifth chord.
Prose, usually of a philosophical variety, also had excellent figures. Some were of the stature of the great thinker Ibn Tufayl, author of the captivating Hayy Ibn Yaqzan, also known as the Book of the self-taught philosopher, and no doubt a forerunner of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. The Poet Ibn Suhayd (d. 1034) was also renowned for his work Al-Tawabi wa-l-zuwabi, (Spirits and Demons).
History and Geography
There is evidence that there were many historians, geographers and anthologists in al-Andalus, though much of their work has been lost. Among them we find the al-Razi family of whom Isa (10th c.) was the best known. He wrote a general history of al-Andalus called later “The Moor Rasis’s Chronicle”. The History of the conquest of al-Andalus by his contemporary Ibn al-Qutiya is of equal value. There were quite a few notable historians in the 11th c., such as Ibn Hayyan, born in Cordoba in 987, erudite author of several works on society and events of his time. Later, Ibn Saïd al-Magribi, born in Granada by the beginnings of the 13th century, and his contemporary Ibn Idari were outstanding.
The 14th c. also witnessed two great statesmen and thinkers: Ibn al-Khatib, born in Loja (Granada) and Ibn Khaldun from Tunisia, author of a basic work of his time: Muqaddimah.
Finally, al-Himyari from Seville was of note among the anthologists, as were the 12th c writers Ibn Bassamand Ibn Khaqan. The Geographer al-Udri (11th c.) was outstanding, and so was his contemporary al-Bakri, as well as al-Idrisi, called the “Strabo of the Arabs” (14th c.), and Ibn Battuta from Tangiers –the greatest traveller of his time–, who left us a great testimony of al-Andalus and many other faraway places of the world as known at the time.
Philosophy and Sufism
The instigator of the study of philosophy was Ibn Masarra, writer of the 10th c., who professed a kind of pantheism. Ibn Hazm and his contemporary from Malaga, the Hebrew Ibn Gabirol, who professed neo-platonic philosophy in his Yambu al-hayat. (Book of the source of life). During the 12th c., there were Ibn Bayyah (Avempace) and his disciple Ibn Tufayl, whose writing Hayy Ibn Yaqzan¸ already mentioned had a deep effect on the Christians.
However, without a doubt, the most influential thinker in Islam, as well as in all of Europe, was Averroes (Ibn Rushd, 1126-1198), of whom there are several extant works. Maimonides (1135-1204), the eminent Jewish philosopher, was a contemporary of Averroes.
Against this rationalist tendency, there were several Sufi mystics in al-Andalus, such as lbn al-Arif (1088-1141) and Ibn Arabi from Murcia (1165-1240) who held the prophetic belief: “know thyself and thou wilt know thy Lord”, not from a rational and intellectual point of view, but merely intuitive and mystical.
The natural sciences
In the field of mathematics, several authors were outstanding in al-Andalus, such as Maslama al-Mayriti, from Madrid, Ibn Mu’ad, al-Mu’tamam ibn Hud or Ibn Bayya (Avempace), among many others.
The greatest exponent in medicine was Averroes, but many other authors such as al-Zahrawi, Ibn Zuhr, also stood out in this discipline.
We should not forget in this brief list, the botanist from Malaga Ibn Baytar (1197-1248), or the agronomist Ibn al-Awam, to whom we owe a complete and valuable treatise on agriculture, The Book of Agriculture. They all exercised a great influence on the European scene of their day and the future, and their work was carefully studied up to the 17th c. by scientists such as Miguel Servet, Copernicus, Nicolas Massa and Galileo.