America. The land of freedom. The land of refuge and acceptance. The land of religious tolerance. America. The land of the American dream. The promise of opportunities regardless of social status or circumstance at birth. America. The land of liberty and justice for all.
America. The land of racial division and mass incarceration. The land of religious persecution and widespread intolerance. The land of the military industrial complex. The land of slavery and internment camps. America. The land of oppression and hatred.
America. What is America? America has undoubtedly provided both opportunity and hardship for many people at home and abroad. American cultural hegemony has had its impact on all parts of the globe. Unfortunately, part of America’s cultural export has been the vilification and hatred of Muslims. American anti-Muslim indoctrination has existed for decades. Muslims are evil. Muslims oppress women and spread war. The culmination of years of indoctrination is the acceptance of the recent Muslim ban.
While there has been widespread opposition for the ban; there has been significant support and acceptance. Anti-Muslim violence and vandalism of mosques is rampant. The ruling has been used as justification for a Muslim inquisition. U.S. border agents have increased mistreatment of Muslims arriving from all parts of the globe including Canadian and U.S. citizens. Common abuses have included detention for several hours, border officials seizing and searching cell phones and questioning of religious values and places of worship. Questions have included whether they attend a mosque and how often. The prejudice and mistreatment has been unquestionable.
This religious inquisition is reminiscent of a time not long ago when Muslims and Jews faced this form of persecution together. A time when there existed an inclusive nation where people of all faiths and backgrounds lived harmoniously. A time when that nation was overthrown and inclusivity became persecution. A time that if perhaps more Americans knew about; perhaps they would not tread down this harmful path, maybe they would change their views on Muslims and Islam.
This time began in 8th Century Spain. Al-Andulus, also known as Muslim Spain, was a medieval Muslim territory covering the majority of modern day Spain and Portugal or the Iberian Peninsula. Al-Andulus was controlled by Muslims between the 8th and 15th Century CE. Muslim Spain has long been viewed by historians as a model nation for religious tolerance. Christians and Jews in the territory received the same level of protection by government as the majority Muslim population. Protection was very important during this time, especially for Jews. Persecution of Jews had begun during this time in Latin Christendom or modern Europe. Forced conversion, burning of synagogues, enslavement and stake burning were among the many atrocities faced by the Jewish populations in Europe. Al-Andulus was a safe haven for Jews. The golden age of Jewish culture in Spain occurred in Al-Andulus during Muslim rule. Many of the greatest Jewish philosophers, theologians and jurists were a product of this society.
This tolerant society slowly disintegrated with the success of the Christian Reconquista. The Catholic Kingdoms of Northern Spain slowly recaptured cities and removed Muslim rulers from power. The Reconquista eventually led to the Spanish Inquisition. The treatment of minorities during the Spanish Inquisition of the 15th-19th Century CE stands in stark contrast to the tolerant land Andalusians once knew. The Spanish Inquisition was originally meant to maintain Catholic orthodoxy, but royal decrees ordered less than 4 years later meant Jews and Muslims had to either convert, leave Spain, or face persecution.
It is important to note that the Spanish Inquisition usurped Christianity and used it to justify the horrific treatment of minorities, and the murder and persecution of Muslims and Jews. Since Andalusians had lived in harmony for many years, the inquisition was not accepted readily. Most kings initially ignored the royal decrees and many cities in Andalusia continued to live harmoniously. It took years of propaganda and vilification of the other to convince the majority that Muslims and Jews were threats that had to be eliminated. Eventually the Spanish Inquisition resulted in the murder, persecution, torture and forced removal of countless Muslims and Jews.
There are many lessons for Americans in this dark period in history. The importance of tolerance and respect for others in Al-Andulus is reminiscent of the values many Americans hold dear. Even though U.S. foreign policy may not be as forgiving, America has long been viewed as a beacon of opportunity. A land for the persecuted, a land for refuge. While there is a long history of fearing refugees; America has helped many escape war and persecution. Americans and people in general are innately compassionate. Fear, hatred and anger are emotions cultivated in the masses for ulterior motives.
In times of racial division, religious persecution, and widespread intolerance; it is important to know our history. It is important for us to understand the mistakes humankind has made and perhaps learn from the good times. We cannot expect everyone to have the same religious and political views but we have to understand that we are all striving for the same goal. We want our families and our communities to be safe. We want the ability to act freely without impeding in the rights of others. To practice our faiths in safety; to raise our children in safety; to provide for our families and to live in peace. These desires do not see race, religion, creed, or nation. These desires are universal and the first step in building a tolerant society is understanding that. The first step in building a tolerant society is cultivating compassion for those who may not agree with us.