April - June 2004, Other

Al-Andalus (Andalusia), 2002

By Sharif

Online under “On the Road”

Prophet Muhammad brought home to the Muslims in a famous hadith to travel for the sake of ´ilm (education, science) even if this journey takes us to China. Brother Bakr and I made a 10-day-trip to Andalusia in southern Spain; the Arabs gave it the name Al-Andalus.

After having had a nice flight from Dusseldorf to Seville alhamdulillah we looked for a tourist information center so that we could arm ourselves with city maps. As we are perfect backpack travelers, we already had lots of information from the internet about the Andalusia sightseeing, important places, history especially places of/with Islamic heritage, because we were two adventurous young men on the traces of the medieval Moors, the Andalusian Super Civilization, and wanted to widen our intellectual horizon.

Time had proceeded, and we had to look for a masjid in order not to miss Juma Prayer (Friday Prayer). As we didn’t see the sign indicating the location of the mosque at a parking lot, I decided to ask the guy working on the parking lot and the salesmen in a store selling Christian articles (like crucifixes, statues of Mary etc.) and all pretended not to know where the mosque might be. It might be important to mention that this ominous mosque was just 20 meters from the store. So I don’t know whether I had to hear the answer “No sé!” -I don’t know!- just because of simple arrogance and ignorance or because of an anti-Islamic conspiracy on a profane level.

However, after Salatu Juma with Arab, African, Spanish, Azerbaijani Muslims (God knows from what other part of the world), we approached some brothers and explained that we are two students from Germany, that we got the address of the Mosque from the sisters from Berlin, who had visited the community a couple of days prior, and that we were looking for accommodation adequate for our financial situation. After some talks that we could not follow (as our Spanish skills are not that good), brother Mohammed finally invited us to his home. May Allah be pleased with him and his Spanish brother for accepting us in their house. Now that we had a place to sleep, we were ready to explore the city that gained popularity through Miguel de Cervantes’s Carmen etc. Counter to the traditional way of visiting a city, the first sightseeing tour then direct visiting-by-walking, we counted on our sneakers and juvenile power and walked every corner of Seville Downtown/Old Town/Center visiting one marked spot of the map after the other within the next days.

One of the most prominent places surely is the world’s third largest Cathedral located in historic Muslim-Jewish center Barrio Santa Cruz. In ancient times the Romans had built a building there, the Moors built the Main Mosque at the very place in the second half of the 12th century including a court and the 60-meters, or 2000-ft, minarah, named Giralda (that are still existent). Today this tower of the Cathedral is the symbol of the city. After the Reconquista by the Christians in 1248, the Mosque was transformed into a Cathedral, and in the 15-16th century the gothic Cathedral was added. There lies the tomb of Christopher Columbus. During the Renaissance and the Barock further constructions were added.

Right across the street are the Reales Alcazares. This Castle/Palace was probably built in the 9th century as a shield against the Normans. During Khalif Mohammed V’s period a palace was added, the main part followed with the Christian Reconquista under King Pedro the Cruel. On the occasion of the alleged discovery of America through Columbus, the Casa de la Contratacion was built. On the backside facing the main street are the wonderful gardens with an all so typical Andalusian water supply system, fountains etc. The unforgettable smell of the flowers and trees were a tempting invitation for a nice walk and often made us do mental time travels to epochs long gone, trying to imagine how Seville must have flourished in its best times under Moorish rule.

But not only do the Palace Gardens offer such intense natural impact. Near these monuments, in front of the Plaza de Espana lies the Central Park of Seville, as I call it. The only difference to Manhattan is that here we can see palms and orange trees; a place where couples are having a romantic time among the flowers and birds singing, where ‘sun worshippers’ are lying on the lawn, where students poke their noses in the books under the shadows of high trees and where tourists from the cold north ask themselves what on earth took them to boring Westfalia in Germany. The Torre de Oro is worth being seen, too, as the Moors built it at the end of the 13th century as a watchtower at the end of a city wall ashore of the river Guadalquivir. The octagonal building is a marine museum today, before it was used as storage for the gold that had been imported from the Americas. From the Torre starts the above-mentioned sightseeing tour by bus. Visiting the numerous church towers that were minarets first helped us to get a vague impression of Muslim Seville. Among these former mosques/now churches are the Iglesia de Santa Catalina (neighboring ‘our’ mosque, see above), and the Iglesia de Omnium Sanctorum from the 14th century, the Iglesia de San Marcos, Iglesia del Salvador; as Muslim Seville was home to three cultures, one might want to see the former synagogue Iglesia de Santa Maria la Blanca, too.

We continued our trip on a Greyhound…excuse me…regular traveling bus to my favorite city of Andalusia: Granada. At the bus terminal, we encountered a Muslim-looking group, which turned out to be a Hispanic-American tourist group mainly from Los Angeles. We greeted each other (AsSalamu Alaykum) and similar to the procedure in Seville I asked the brothers and sisters for information on accommodation in Granada. The Hispanic brothers and sisters kindly invited us to accompany them to their hotel, where the friendly owner showed us some cheap pensions that would not let us be broke. What a coincidence or shall I say tawafuq? We met our Hispanic brothers and sisters several times during our walking, city exploration. So we decided to start the next morning with a Salatu Jamah (with the community) in their hotel.

The following day we went to the peak (when I say peak/highest point, I mean it) of our Granada stay: the Alhambra. We sold our tickets that we had bought in Seville in order not to wait too long in line with some tourists, because our brothers and sisters from the United States invited us to tour the Moorish monument. May Allah be pleased with them. The Alhambra (Arabic: red, because of the reddish ground) was built in the 14th century and practically evolved to a City during the blossoming time of the Nasrid-Dynasty with both military and private sections. The cedar woods ceilings, that represent the seven heavens, the marble pillars, the gardens, the walls with Qur’anic scriptures are very impressive.

Together with Brother Mario we separated from the group, and, being amazed at the architectural masterpiece, shifted back mentally to the times of the legendary Moorish ruling as we had done a few days before in Seville. We had a great time getting to know each other in a surrounding so fabulous with the enchanting atmosphere of calligraphies, gardens, comforting odors and colors by telling anecdotes and personal thoughts. Our Mexican Brother every once in a while said: “Let’s pray two rakat for Peace!” or “Come on! Two rakat for this or that.” So we searched for adequate spots where we could roll out our rugs. One time Mario and Bakr would pray, while I observed the observers. Another time the brother from L.A. was my Imam, while the third inspected the faces of passing tourists. Reactions ranged from pointing-at-us-with-an-index-finger while repeatedly looking back again at us to taking photographs, respectfully acknowledging us, and calling upon silence while passing. Hours of conversation passed on the tower at the west end of the palace overlooking the city in the valley, the surrounding hills, and the mountains far out.

Although this was my second visit to Granada, the first stay was by far not as educative. This time, we didn’t solely learn about the historical-cultural aspects of Andalusia, but also about the Hispanic Ummah (Community) from our Latino brothers and sisters. May Allah be pleased with them.

Our third target was Cordoba. This city, too, I had visited before, and I must admit that I didn’t grow to like more than on my first visit, in spite of the relatively increased background information on the city. Yet, this is not just a town.

In the 8th century the emirate was proclaimed, and in the 10th century the caliphate was. The Umayyad-Dynasty ceased around 1000 years ago. This city raised great personalities such as the Jewish Maimonides and the Muslim Ibn Rushd. There is no doubt that Cordoba is a must-see for every Andalusia traveler. The famous Mezquita from the 8th century with a 22.000m² is the world’s greatest mosque. This mosque has more than 100 marble and granite pillars. The mosque’s direction is toward Damascus rather than Mecca. The mosque’s mihrab (prayer niche) is exocentric because the mosque is built westward due to the natural and architectural limits, the River Guadalquivir in the south and the Caliph’s Palace in the east.

Indeed, the Mezquita has many reasons for being in the list of most unique buildings. In 1236 the Mezquita was transformed into a Cathedral after the Christians reconquered Cordoba. Today Christian masses still take place there; Muslims on the other hand are not allowed to perform their prayers there. Brother Mario had told us in Granada what we would experience in Cordoba. A brother who prefers being unnamed was determined to pray a few rakat in the Mezquita/Catedral. After making sure that there was no guard, he faced Mecca on his rug and started to perform salat when suddenly, out of the blue a guard rushed towards the ‘delinquent.’

From the distance, I couldn’t hear what the guard was saying, but I was able to take a picture of this interesting motive. We appreciate the guard’s respect, because he did not interrupt the prayer violently. He didn’t only wait the salah to be finished; he also calmly waited till the brother ended his Dua’s. We left the Old Mosque/Cathedral, and visited the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos (Palace of the Christian kings), where the Moorish caliph Boabdil (Abu Abdullah) was imprisoned, the Torre de Calahorra, an Arab fort on the counter side of the Roman bridge close to the Mezquita, where today is an interesting museum for Cordoba’s history besides other places.

Apart from the historical attraction, I was deeply impacted by the result of our search for an accommodation. Brother Mario had handed us the phone number of a Cordoban brother. After the Juma Prayer in a picturesque mosque in the midst of a little park with a fountain in the center and white doves that are apparently famous in Andalusia, we approached the Imam and explained for the third time during our trip that we were looking for ‘meager accommodation.’ Because we were acquaintances of the Los Angeles brother, the Imam permitted us to stay in the mosque, may Allah be pleased with him. Again as in the other two cities before, we were allowed to learn that there is still true brotherhood among Muslims although this is the 21st century. Muslims do continue to try to practice in everyday life what the Prophet said in his famous last Khutba: “Every Muslim is a brother to a Muslim.” We were allowed to see that this brotherly care doesn’t necessarily have to be a debris of days long gone. May Allah let the Ummah be One Community again.

We returned to Seville, finally, where we met some Malaysian brothers and sisters who were students from England. After all the aid that we had received, the least we could do was take them to the same tourist information center where we had begun our voyage. Upon arriving at locked doors, we gave them our own map and some information. Brother Bakr and I intended to spend the last night at the airport terminal, but a policeman woke us up at about 1 a.m. because the terminal was about to be closed. With a twinkle, he told us we could stay in the elevator near the parking lot. We grabbed our luggage and slept in the elevator in our sleeping bags.

Peace be unto you! Sea la paz sobre ti!