Columbus Day and our coexistence l Worship

By Aziz Junejo | Oct 03, 2018

Monday is Columbus Day. The story of the Italian explorer’s arrival in the New World is familiar to us all, but history often overlooks an extraordinary chapter that affected the commissioning of his voyage.

Columbus was persistent, trying for years to persuade rulers throughout Europe to finance his plan to sail westward across the Atlantic. But each time he was denied.

In Spain, the Muslim Kingdom, referred to as “Andalusia” for more than eight centuries leading up to the voyage, was a place that flourished in knowledge, science and philosophy during the Dark Ages.

The Spanish called it “la convivencia,” the coexistence, a period that reflected a spirit and culture of tolerance in which Muslims, Christians and Jews created a peaceful and vibrant civilization.

Christians and Jews held prominent positions in the Muslim government. It was a rich and tolerant society and an intellectual hub up until 1492, the year Columbus set sail.

It was after the marriage of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand in 1469 that a final assault to rid Spain of such tolerance once and for all would come with the conquest of Granada, the last Muslim stronghold.

Located on the Iberian Peninsula, the city of Granada is where the 14th-century Muslim fortress and palace of Alhambra lies high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

In 1981, I traveled to Spain to visit the Castle of Alhambra, the place where Columbus’ life would change forever.

Walking inside the fortress, I saw the splendor of colorful geometric patterns displayed on walls and hallways. I felt this style of artwork and architecture could be appreciated only by seeing it firsthand.

The palace was filled with elongated cross-vaults, balconies, an abundance of fountains and pools of dark-green water, with gardens decorated by orange and cypress trees, acacia and boxwood hedges.

Brilliantly carved onto the ceiling, columns and walls were 10,000 Arabic inscriptions, a symbol of centuries of Muslim thinking and rule, and why it remains Spain’s top tourist landmark.

On Jan. 2, 1492, the Muslims finally surrendered the Alhambra, with all its gold, to the new state of Spain. Christopher Columbus was there to witness the event, and shortly after, the victorious Isabella and Ferdinand met him in the Alhambra’s Hall of the Ambassadors to authorize his voyage.

Today, the Alhambra palace remains symbolic of a time of tolerance in Spain, when the world’s three monotheistic faith communities lived in peace and thrived together.

Muslims believe that as one door closes, God will open another. When tolerance ended in Spain, a quest remained among those expelled for a land where all people could live in peace once again.

On this Columbus Day, may the spirit of cooperation la convivencia that once flourished in Spain help us appreciate the unique culture we share here as Americans, and inspire us all to new levels of tolerance and peace.

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