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

Besides the food crops, the Muslim brought to the Iberian Peninsula the cotton plant, which in Spanish is called algodon from the Arabic alqutn. They also developed the silk industry, to make Al-Andalus one of the major silk manufacturing countries of the medieval world. The fine fabrics of which Europe was to be proud in later centuries had their origin in this land of the Moors.

The wealth generated by agriculture would have been insignificant were it not for the excellent irrigation system the Muslim constructed throughout Al-Andalus. When these former sons of the desert first came to the peninsula, they found a primitive form of a Roman irrigation network. After making a scientific study of the land, they improved this network greatly, completing many hydraulic projects for irrigating their whole domain.

There is little doubt that the intricate canal network was responsible for producing the thriving crops in the Muslim era. The lush huerta surrounding Valencia has fascinated engineers and historians for centuries. The Moorish irrigation system, which made this garden full of orchards and rice fields possible, is still regulated by a thousand-year-old tribunal established by the Moorish khalifah Al-Hakam II. Every Thursday at midday it holds its sessions to adjudicate land disputes among the farmers. The code laid down by the Muslims is still the basis of judgement by this Tribunal of the Waters.

The Valenican huerta was only one of the areas in Spain which benefited from the agricultural techniques of the Muslims. In the southern part of the country, they created what some historians have called an earthly paradise. M Defourneaux in his book, Daily Life in Spain in the golden Age, wrote: The most admirable area is around Granada, where the Moors for a long time occupied the kingdom. They brought water from the snowcapped Sierras, by means of canals and tunnels, to fertilize the plains and the blossoming hills which surround them to make it one of the most beautiful sights in the world.

The excellent land-watering system constructed by the Muslims throughout Al-Andalus is attested to by the Spanish language, rich in Arabic loan words in the field of irrigation from names of the waterways to the laws and administration of the system irrigation ditch (acequia-al-saqiya), pool (alberca-al-birka) and irrigating duty (alfarda or farda-alfarda). More than the pen of any historian, these words tell the story of the Arab impact on the irrigation system in Spain. They are a living testimony to the Muslims' technical achievement in the agricultural field.

The introduction of new crops with the accompanying irrigation generated a great deal of wealth. This gave rise to an affluent society which appreciated the beauty of nature and that created by man. The forests were protected, new types of trees and flowers were cultivated and number of wild flowers, grasses and shrubs were identified and named. Many of these still carry their Arabic-derived names: safflower (alazor-al-asfur), alfalfa (al-fasfasa) and acorn (bellota-balluta).

The famous botanists of Muslim Spain, Ibn Bassal, Ibn al-Wafid, Ibn al-Hajjaj and Ibn al-Awwam, have left us a great deal of material on the productivity and fertility of plants and general agricultural practices. In the twelfth century Ibn al-Awwam wrote a treatise on agriculture which was translated into the Romance languages of the Middle Ages. It lists 584 species of plants and gives precise instructions regarding their cultivation and use. He also wrote about methods for grafting trees and how to produce hybrids, stop the blight of insects, and create floral essences of perfume.

With flowers, shrubs and trees, the Muslims built gardens to a grand artistic perfection. The passion for gardens and flower-filled courtyards was a deep love in the heart of every Muslim. This is reflected in the words of chroniclers who have left us first hand and precise knowledge about the Moorish courtyards during the Muslim era. As a result of this legacy, Spain today has some of the most charming homes and gardens in the world. Flowers dripping down from window-boxes against walls which beautify the streets and plazas are a true leftover form the days when the sons of Islam ruled.

Next of importance to the produce of the land in the Muslim age was sheep raising and the wool industry it generated. The head-shepherd (rabadan-rabb al-da'n), a flock of sheep with different owners (rehala-rahata), a head of cattle (res-ra's), and a young shepherd playing his flute (zaga playing his alboque-zaghlul playing his al-bug ) are Spanish words directly taken form the Arabs.

Perhaps even more interesting are the names and words derived form Arabic which permeate Spanish rural life. These tell their own story of how great the imprint the Muslims left in the land of EI-Cid (Al-sayyid). From the 8,000 basic Spanish words derived from Arabic, a large number relate to farming and the countryside: village aldea-al-day's), flour-mill (tahona-tahuna) and mule-driver (almocrebe-al-mukari), for example.
Of all the facets of country life in which one sees the mark of the Muslims, the home is the place where they left their greatest imprint. The beauty and comfort of the Andalusian abode of today is no different than that of the Muslim home in Arab Spain. A Spanish housewife goes about her tasks (tarea-tarihah) cleaning the tiles (azulejos-al-zulayj) and door-knocker (aldaba-al-dabba. As the masons (albaniles-al-banna toil, they drink from a water-jug (jara-jarrah) by letting a stream from the spout fall through the air into their mouths- a method of drinking brought into Spain by the Muslims.

The Spanish words of Arabic origin relating to rural life and the home are only one side of the coin. The countryside, especially in southern and eastern Spain, is dotted with place names of Arab origin: Medinas (medina-city), Alcalas (al-qasr-the palace). There are well over a thousand names of Arab origin found in every part of the country. They have become as Spanish as bullfighting, which is also believed to have been initiated by the Moors.
The expulsion of the Muslims from Spain deprived the land of its prosperity and led to a huge drop in agrarian production. This was especially true in the Valencia region and the last Moorish heartland of the Alpujarrs Mountians edging Granada. According to A Boyd in The Road from Ronda, when Philip II expelled the Moriscos (Muslims forced to convert to Christianity) from the Alpujarras, and repopulated it with Christians from the north, he ordered that two Morisco families must stay in each village to show the newcomers how to irrigate the land. In the Valencian huerata, after the expulsion of the Muslims, the cultivation of sugarcane was almost extinguished and the yields of citrus fruits declined drastically.

Muslim Spain, which covered a little more than 50 percent of the Iberian Peninsula, by its advanced farming techniques supported a population of 30 million-more than the inhabitants of all the European countries in that era. It was many years before that remainder of Europe reached the affluence once found in AL-Andalus. In that earthly paradise the Muslims had created the flower of the medieval world. Today what they left behind tells its own story. Not only the flourishing, rich Spanish countryside of our times, but the magnificent Mosque of Cordova, the Alcazar of Seville, and the majestic Alhambra of Granda all still stand-glorious examples of visual splendour attesting to the greatness of the Muslim civilization of Spain.

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