Al-Andalus in Text and Context: Stories and Histories of Medieval and Early Modern Iberia

Meerkhan, Nasser, Spanish - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Gerli, Edmondo, Department for Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, University of Virginia

Historians in Medieval Iberia never lost sight of the brief Umayyad Caliphate (661-750 CE) in their attempts to reconstruct the Islamic conquest of Iberia. As early as the ninth century, there is evidence of solid, yet almost contradictory, visions of the future of Islam in Iberia. On the one hand, Al-Andalus was interpreted, by al-Humaydi (11th c.) for example, as the land in “the west” mentioned in hadiths attributed to Muhammad affirming that Islam shall be present there until Judgement Day. On the other hand, other prophecies were also circulating which anticipated the eventual expulsion of Muslims in Iberia.

This dissertation deals with the concepts of imagination, nostalgia, and ephemerality in the shaping of Medieval Iberian Islamic historiography. I argue that the aforementioned contradictory prophecies reflect a nostalgic view toward the Umayyad Caliphate; one where not only its brief eminence but also its inevitable fall are imagined to be recreated in Al-Andalus. My goal is to show how unstable the historical concept of Al-Andalus has been since at least the 10th century. By resorting to Iberian authors from different historical and cultural backgrounds, I aim to emphasize the transcultural and trans-temporal significance of their contributions to this broader view of Medieval and Early Modern Iberian history.
Chapter one deals with the work of the tenth-century Muslim historian of Visigothic descent, Ibn al-Qūṭīyah. His work attempts to create an alternative periodization of the Islamic caliphates: one that highlights the continuity of the caliphates’ rule from Damascus straight to Al-Andalus, but also from the last Visigothic rulers to the Umayyads of Cordoba. In Chapter II, I turn to thirteenth-century King of Castile, Leon Alfonso X, The Wise. This chapter focuses on the pragmatics of Alfonso’s understanding of history as an establishment of the authority of knowledge. I use examples of his treatments of Christians, Muslims and Jews to illustrate an early attempt in Iberian historiography to define – and isolate – the roles of different social groups within an absolute monarchy.
In Chapter III, I analyze the texts of fourteenth-century Andalusí polymath Ibn al-Khaṭīb. By resorting to his historical writing, I illustrate how indebted so much of our contemporary understanding of the concept of Al-Andalus is to Ibn al-Khaṭīb’s works, which portray their author as both agent and protagonist of history. Furthermore, the nostalgia for the past present in his texts dovetails with the Alfonsine, poetic evocation of the untrammeled Gothic past before Rodrigo. Thus, these examples from both Christian and Muslim historiography build on a wistful, lost past.
The last chapter resorts to the figure of Muslim saint al-Khiḍr, as he sums many of the contradictions present since the ninth century on the future of Islam in Iberia. In this chapter, I illustrate striking similarities between this saint and a minor character called Don Diego in Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote Part II (1615). If my reading of Don Diego as a possible representation of al-Khiḍr is justified, Cervantes’s text shows the transcendence of the legends and prophecies surrounding the future of Islam in Medieval and Early Modern Iberian imagination.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Historiography, Medieval Iberia, Al-Andalus, Prophecy
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