The era of Muslim predominance in the Iberian Peninsula (eighth to thirteenth centuries) has long generated a historical narrative of a dynamic and brilliant civilization, contrasting sharply with a primitive if not brutish Western Europe apparently lacking in cultural instruments. In this reading, the "paradise" of convivencia (living together) was one of mutual tolerance with political, social, and religious harmony flourishing in al-Andalus between the followers of the three Abrahamic, monotheistic religions.
Through an examination of primary sources, Fernández-Morera of Northwestern University has produced an intelligent reinterpretation that reconsiders the historiographic and intellectual vision of the superiority of this civilization as well as the myth of a peaceful tolerance and convivencia fostered by the Islamic conquerors with a look at the underside of Islamic civilization in medieval Spain.
In its seven chapters, the book undertakes a journey through the main paradigms of the peninsular encounter between Islamic and Christian civilizations. Beginning with the conquest of Hispania by Muslim armies in the early eighth century, it delves into the juridical status of Christians and Jews under Muslim rule as well as the condition of women in this idealized period. The author demonstrates that the conquered Visigoth kingdom had a classical foundation, established largely by Archbishop Isidore of Seville (c. 560- 636), which was not inferior to that of the North African invaders under Arab leadership.
Doubtlessly, the process of Muslim acculturation produced a new, multicultural social landscape that created a model of material and artistic wealth, but that same landscape contained within it many dark features, among them sexual slavery, religious repression, ruthless forms of punishment (stonings, beheadings, crucifixions, impalings) and the subordination and exploitation of non-Muslim communities.
Often a work of historical revisionism is a dubious exercise in discovering trendy, hidden agendas with little bearing on the actual record of the past. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise is decidedly not such a study and is instead a bracing remedy to a good deal of the academic pabulum that passes for scholarship on Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations.