Review of Menocal's the Ornament of the World

Topics: Al-Andalus, Islam, Iraq Pages: 3 (980 words) Published: April 25, 2013
María Rosa Menocal's The Ornament of the World examines the world of medieval Spain or al-Andalus in which Judaic, Islamic, and Christian cultural and religious elements coexistence in a “lost” golden age: Menocal writes to shed light on this time period that models tolerance and to attempt to paint a portrait of life in Medieval Spain that can inspire future generations. Whereas tradition histories of Arabic people follow the Abbasid dynasty, Menocal choses to follow the Umayyad prince to al-Andalus examining the seven century presence of Islam in Europe. Menocal attempts to debunk the myth that from 755 to 1031 Spain was “unenlightened, backward, and intolerant” as the word medieval suggests (10). Instead Menocal views the time period as one of a “complex culture of tolerance” in which Christians, Muslims, and Jews coexisted and created a society rich in literature, science, and the arts (11). The first section attempts create context for the author’s later chronological anecdotes of Andalusian life. Menocal relies on primary sources as well as the work of her peers to paint al-Andulas as a place of superior culture and tolerance that was created out of the unstable and undeveloped Iberian peninsula(26). This area quickly became vibrant with its newfound stability and technologies (27). It contained a wide range of cultures and religions as seen in the famous Alvarus of Cordoba, in which it is described how Christian men wrote not in Latin but Arabic (29). Both Jews and Christians were both protected as dhimmi, “Peoples of the Book” (29). This fostered a culture of tolerance that allowed for the mixing of cultures and idea that “filled the black hole of cultural, material, and intellectual well being in the West” (35). The nun Hroswitha of Gandersheim remarks of Cordoba, the center of this new Arab-Islamic culture, “the brilliant ornament of the world shown in the west” (32-33). This quote is it pits the Abbasid Empire and Bagdad directly against the new...
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