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I have been watching some BBC documentaries on the history of Spain recently. 'Blood and Gold: The Making of Spain with Simon Sebag Montefiore', and 'The Art of Spain' (Episode 1: The Moorish South).

These documentaries examine Al-Andalus, and particular attention is given to what seems like a remarkably tolerant and enlightened era during the Caliphate. This contrasts sharply with the intolerance of subsequent regimes. After 1147 the Muslim Almohads from the Maghreb forced Jews and Christians to convert, and later Christian rulers offered the country's Jews the choice of conversion or expulsion with the Alhambra decree of 1492.

What I'd like to understand is why exactly was the Caliphate so exceptional in its tolerance of Christians and Jews, and its patronage of science and art? What factors influenced this behaviour that made this period so different from anything which followed?

EDIT: To quote Mark C. Wallace in the comments:

'Why the phenomena existed. Seems to me there are two subordinate questions: (1) was this era tolerant (or cosmopolitan)? Was violence diminished? What about non-violent conflict? (2) To the extent that the era was tolerant (however defined), why?'

This relates to the academic debate over 'La Convivencia'. It however seems that this era is defined too broadly, leading to confusion. For example, the 1066 Granada Massacre occurred decades after the Emirate/Caliphate had collapsed in a civil war (1009-1031). It should therefore be unsurprising that there was less tolerance and more violence after the Caliphate and thus rule of law failed.

An answer must explain if and why cosmopolitan society existed during the Emirate/Caliphate of Cordoba (756-1009). We define cosmopolitan society here in terms of relative tolerance amongst Muslims, Christians, and Jews, as well as the patronage of science and the arts.

I expect this will be able to be answered by someone with broad knowledge of Islamic civilisation, and thus someone who can make a comparative analysis of the factors involved.

  • The fact the founder of the Emirate was fleeing from a rebellion in his home country that offed most of the ruling family must have inspired him to make a country more acceptive – LamaDelRay Aug 1 at 12:37
  • You are interested then specifically in 756-1009? I imagine a contemporary Christian perspective might depend on whether those Christians were Visigoths (including descendants of erstwhile Visigothic subjects), Franks, or Basques. – C Monsour Aug 1 at 15:22
  • Not many Islamic scholars here. – John Dee Aug 3 at 16:07
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I don't have much relevant expertise, but am inclined to question the uniqueness of Al-Andalus on both points.

First, the case can be made that Islam in general was more tolerant of Jews then Christian rulers were. The Wikipedia article on the Muslim concept of dhimmi or "protected peoples" quotes a scholar who asserts:

The legal and security situation of the Jews in the Muslim world was generally better than in Christendom, because in the former, Jews were not the sole "infidels", because in comparison to the Christians, Jews were less dangerous and more loyal to the Muslim regime, and because the rapidity and the territorial scope of the Muslim conquests imposed upon them a reduction in persecution and a granting of better possibility for the survival of members of other faiths in their lands.

Secondly, my impressions is that patronage for the arts and sciences was also generally strong in many urban centers under Muslim rule. See, for example, the Wikipedia article on science in the medieval Islamic world. In that larger context, Al-Andalus does not stand out as particularly central.

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