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Culture Contact Between the Islamic East and the European West


    Culture contact between East and West has always existed.  The Phonecian migrations across the Mediterranean to the North African coast and to Spain founded cities like Malaga, Cadiz and Cordoba.  The Trojan wars and the Persian-Greek wars culminating in Alexander's conquests are but a few examples of contacts.  Later we find the wars  between the Persians and the Byzantines. With the advent of Islam, this conflict took the form of confrontation between Christianity and Islam. In modern times, the contact took new forms such as colonialism, imperialism, zionism, etc.

    For all this history of conflict the encounter between Islam and the European Christian West led to cultural exchange and influence.

    Historians consider Andalusia, Sicily and Syria to be the three main venues for culture contact.

1. Andalusia or Islamic Spain was conquered during the reign of Caliph Al Walid Ibn Abdul Malik by Musa Ibn Nusair and Tareq Ibn Ziad in 92 A.H./711 A.D. It remained under Islamic rule until the fall of the Kingdom of Granada, the last Islamic Kingdom in Spain, in 897 A.H./1492 A.D.

    The Islamic conquest of Spain was not mereJy a military occupation; it produced a civilization which affected neighbouring Europe to leave far-reaching traces that are still felt. Certainly, Muslims mingled with the existing inhabitants when they conquered Spain creating a new social class called the 'half-breed' which is a mixture of the aboriginal blood with that of the Arab and Berber blood. This is in addition to the Mozarab Spanish Christians who retained their religion but were Arabized in every other sense. This mixture was paralleled by a variety of cultural influences. It was subject to eastern influences-Syrian, Hijazi, Egyptian and Iraqi-Iinked to the Islamic homelands. It was also affected by the Maghreb, Africa proper and by European elements.

    The position of Andalusia on the western edge of the Islamic world adjoining Christian Europe made it a zone of permanent contact between the two. As well as this external contact, life in Andalusia included Muslims and Christians. This continuous interaction between Islam and Christianity in Iberian Peninsula gave it a unique character. In this sense the Andalusian civilization was Islamic, Arab and Spanish at the same time. To Illustrate this, we shall consider specific aspects of Andalusia, stressing its role as a zone of culture contact.