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Muslim influence in Spain still felt in daily life - i
By Habeeb Salloum

No one who has been so fortunate as to be invited to an Andalusian farmer's home will ever forget the hospitality of his hosts. This hospitality has historical roots. It goes back to the 900 years of Muslim presence in the Iberian Peninsula.

When a Spanish host smiles and makes his guest feel at home with the phrase, Esta casa es su casa, he is translating the words of his Muslim ancestors, who would say Al-bayt baytak (this home is your home). Similarly, Hasta manana, si Dios qiuere on departure is an echo of the words of Muslims, who said, Ila'l-liqa, insha'Allah (until we meet again, if Allah wills). These and other Muslim inherited phrases in the Spanish way of life are a testimony to the influence the Muslims left on the culture of the Iberian Peninsula.

The Muslims poured out of their homelands with the zeal of their faith and spread far and wide. From the heart of China to the borders of France, Arabic became the language of intellectual and scientific expression. This is attested to by the countless Arabic words which were borrowed by other languages in all fields of human activities.

This impact of Arabic is best exemplified in the Iberian Peninsula where the sons of Islam built a dazzling civilization that bequeathed to Europe the basis of its future development. According to WJ Entwistle in The Spanish Language, the Mozarabs, arabized Spanish Christians under Muslim rule, were responsible for the easy passage into Spanish of a considerable Arabic vocabulary. The administrative, intellectual and scientific language in Spain was Arabic, and a large number of words dealing with administration, agriculture, architecture, crafts, commerce, industry, science and place names are today of Arabic origin. The Spanish Christians, in turn, gave these words, along with the associated technology, to other countries in Europe.

To this day the influences of this Muslim Spanish State, called by the Arabs Al-Andalus, permeates all aspects of Spanish life-best reflected in the agricultural sector, the pillar of Muslim Spain. In its days of glory, farmers in Muslim Andalusia produced more, and were more prosperous, than in most of the other Islamic countries, which , in their turn, were the most advanced in the medieval world. In his book, The Splendour of Moorish Spain, Joseph McCabe states that the Arabs described Al-Andalus as a glorious garden of terraced hills where every acre of cultivable land was tilled.

Muslim Spain reached its zenith in the tenth century. Ibn Hawqal wrote that the major part of AL-Andalus was fertile and was watered by many rivers, the cost of living was reasonable and the people lived a happy and prosperous life. It is said that during its golden age in the tenth and eleventh centuries. Al-Andalus had 12,000 town and villages along the banks of the Guadalquiver alone-a density unknown in any other part of the world.

What made this westernmost country in the Muslim world flourish was the hard work of the peasants, rendering the countryside fertile. Estates tilled by slaves were very few. The land was almost all owned by small landowners. Tilling the soil was a proud profession and a person was not looked down upon if he was a farmer. Work was a moral duty and an Islamic ideal.

Agriculture was greatly developed by this attachment to the soil, which led to the introduction of new crops, advanced techniques of cultivation, preservation of fruits and vegetables, and the use of fertilizers. These were complemented by an excellent irrigation system with a tight control of inspection and enforcement-still followed in parts of the Iberian Peninsula.

A wide variety of foods were cultivated, of which the people in the rest of Europe had no conception. Among the important crops, many in Spanish still carrying their Arabic names, were: sugar (azucar / al-sukkar), saffron (zafaran / al-zafran) rice (arroz / al-ruzz), and many citrus fruits and vegetables, including lemon (limon / laymun), orange (naranja /Naranj) and spinach (espinaca- / sbanikh).

In addition, the Muslims increased on a large scale the production of almonds, asparagus, dates, figs, grapes, strawberries, wheat and olives: the last still called aceitunas in Spanish from its Arabic name al-zaytun, and its oil is acetic from al-zayt. Today Spain produces half the world’s supply of olive oil.  (Contd)

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