Jan - Mar 2002, Spain

Islamic Influence in Spain

By Kenny Yusuf Rodriguez

As a nineteen-year-old Dominican Muslim who recently accepted Islam a couple of years ago, I personally know how difficult it is to be a Muslim in this country (nonetheless a Latino Muslim at that). Everyday, not only do we face numerous conflicts living in Western society, but we oftentimes also find ourselves having to defend our beliefs in our own households! Tell me if any of this sounds familiar:

“Islam? That’s a religion for Arabs!”
“Muslim? What are you, a terrorist now?”
“Allah? What’s that? Don’t you believe in Jesus anymore?

These are just some of the things that I had the misfortune of hearing when I first announced my acceptance of Islam. Unfortunately, most of the people who said this were my own blood relatives. It’s sad that our own families can at times set up some of the most difficult obstacles for us.

It seems that a lot of people have forgotten that Islamic and Spanish culture were once closely knit. Many fail to realize how big a role Islam has played in Spanish culture, as well as in Latin American culture. How many Latino/a people have you met with the name Medina or Yahaira? How many times have you said or heard somebody say: “Ojala?” How many times have you eaten a fajita? People tend to think of these things as being Spanish or Latin American foods; however, all of the above stated have Islamic origins.

Islam and Spanish culture have been interlocked for many decades after the Prophet’s (saws) death. Islam was first introduced into Spain by the North African Moors who ruled over Spain (which they renamed Al-Andalus) for close to eight centuries. From 710 to 1492, the Muslim Moors spread Islam throughout the European continent. Regardless of what some people think, historians are now admitting that this was not done through violence as was once believed, but through peaceful meetings and word-of-mouth.

At the height of Moorish rule, the marvelous cities of Cordova, Toledo, Seville and Granada were respected by scholars from around the world. People would travel from far off distances just to study in one the cities. Education was universal in Moorish Spain. It was even given to the poorest people, while in Christian European countries ninety-nine percent of the people were illiterate, and even some kings could neither read nor write.

At a time when the rest of the Western world was debating whether women were even human or not, many Islamic countries educated girls as well as boys, and numerous Moorish women became prominent in literary and artistic fields; there were Moorish women who were doctors, lawyers, professors and librarians (so much for the claim that Islam is misogynistic).

Ever since the Moors first entered Europe, Islam has grown to influence almost every facet of Spanish culture, from architecture and science down to language and clothing. For instance, as far as Spanish food is concerned, rice, tortillas, fajitas and salsa all have Islamic origins. The Spanish word for rice (arroz) actually comes from the Arabic word al-Aruzz, and it was first introduced into Europe by the Muslim Moors. Even Christopher Columbus, the so-called “discoverer” of the Americas, in his own words considered Arabic to be “the mother of all languages.” In fact, nowadays it is said that Columbus wouldn’t even have been able to make it over to the Americas if it wasn’t for the advancements in navigation that the Muslim Moors brought to Spain centuries before him.

In the Western Hemisphere, many historians are now realizing that Muslims have had direct contact with Latin America way before Columbus’s arrival. Historians have found Islamic inscriptions throughout Cuba, Mexico, and Texas that date back before 1492. In fact, the name “Cuba” comes from the same Arabic root as the word “Ka’bah.” There is a significant amount of evidence that shows that African Muslims traveled to the Americas centuries before Columbus was even born. According to Dr. Youssef Mroueh, “a careful study of the names of the native Indian tribes revealed that many names are derived from Arab and Islamic roots and origins, i.e. Anasazi, Apache, Arawak, Arikana, Chavin Cherokee, Cree, Hohokam, Hupa, Hopi, Makkah, Mahigan, Mohawk, Nazca, Zulu, Zuni, etc.” Scientists have found Native American tablets with the Kufic inscriptions “Laa ilaaha illa llaah” on them. Also, other tablets found have Soorah al-Fatihah inscribed on them. All of these date back before the supposed “discovery” of the Americas.

Even though we have been pounded with images of Native Americans as being half-naked since we were in grade school, this is not a universal truth throughout the Americas. In fact, when Spaniards first came to the Americas, they found certain tribes of people where the women were dressed in garments and veils that resembled the Muslim gowns of the East. In the Caribbean, the Taino Indians were said to have performed certain types of bathing rituals numerous times a day ( wudoo’, perhaps?).

There are many other findings that point to Muslim presence in the Americas before the arrival of the Spaniards. The point that I am trying to make is this: do not be discouraged when you hear people say that Islam is a religion for only a specific group of people. Statistics show that out of the 1.4 billion Muslims in the world, only 20 percent of them have an Arab background. Muslims can be found in all parts of the world, from China to Ireland, from Australia to Colombia, from Puerto Rico to Morocco; and statistics show that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world.

If I had to offer a piece of advice, it would be this: be proud of your Islamic beliefs, for Muslims have and continue to do great things in the world. Many of the advancements that Europe takes credit for were actually introduced by Muslims centuries before them. I cannot possibly list them all in this short article, but I advise that you go out and research it for yourselves. Regardless of what the media or the average person tells you, Muslims have and still do contribute much to the present world and oftentimes we do not receive the credit that we rightfully deserve. May Allah (swt) give us the strength to overcome whatever obstacles come in our way and may He increase us in knowledge.

Anything true that I have said is by the mercy of Allah (swt); anything wrong I have said is from my own error. May Allah (swt) forgive our wrongdoings and guide us closer to the straight path. Ameen.

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