Could Moriscos return to Spain?

 King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain made Islam illegal

 This is an interesting take on the draft Spanish nationality law – which thousands of Sephardi Jews may benefit from – by an Egyptian writer living in Jerusalem, Khaled Diab. What about the Moriscos (Muslims), he asks in Haaretz. One reason why Spain may be more interested in attracting Jews may be their ‘investment potential’.

Spain has further opened its doorsto the descendants of Jews expelled from its land half a millennium ago – though the actual application process remains as mysterious as alchemy.

It
is welcome that Spain is striving to right a historical wrong. However,
what is overlooked in Spain’s public atonement is that it was not only
Jews who were expelled during the Reconquista and the subsequent
Inquisition, but also an untold number of Muslims.

A
decade or so after the fall of Granada and the expulsion of the Jews
who refused to embrace Christianity, Muslims were given the option either to convert or leave. But even the converts, known as Moriscos, wereforced out a century later.

This
omission has caused some anger among North African Muslims. Jamal Bin
Ammar al-Ahmar, an Algerian professor at the Ferhat Abbas University in
Sétif, was outraged by “the injustice inflicted on the Muslim population
of Andalusia who are still suffering in the diaspora in exile since
1492.”

There
have actually been some low-level attempts in Spain to address this.
For example, in 2006, the Andalusian parliament considered the issue of
granting the Moriscos’ descendants Spanish citizenship.

But
even if Spain were to extend an equivalent right of return to the
descendants of Moriscos as it is offering Sephardi Jews, it would
involve enormous practical difficulties. It is already a major challenge
determining, some 20 generations later, who exactly qualifies as a
descendant of an Andalusian Jew. In fact, many Jews, including those not
belonging to Sephardi Judaism, and even non-Jews, could have Sephardi ancestry.

 

Four
centuries after the expulsion of the last Moriscos, ascertaining who
their descendants are is even tougher, given that they blended into the
general population far more than the traditionally more isolationist
Jews did.

Intriguingly,
however, all these centuries down the line, there are still pockets
that proudly identify as Morisco and trace their families back to
Andalusia. For instance,there are even Morisco towns in Tunisia, such as Sidi Bou Said, Testour and Sloughia which maintain their unique Andalusian identity.

“It
was very rare for Andalusians to marry ‘outsiders’, that is, Arabs not
of the same origin,” explained Professor Abdeljelil Temimi, one of the
foremost experts on Morisco influence and heritage in the Arab world, in
an interview in the early 1990s. “This is one of the biggest reasons so
much of their heritage still exists today.”

And
many still feel nostalgia towards the old country. “Being Morisco to me
is belonging to a historic time that comes from Valencia, a
civilization, culture, art, agriculture,” Moez Chtiba who is from
Zaghouan but traces his family back to Andalusia was quoted as saying.

And
I can understand the source of the nostalgia. In its heyday,
multicultural Andalusia was the most advanced and cultured place in the
Europe of the time, where science, philosophy and art flourished. As I
discovered when visiting Spain, this can still be detected in the
region’s architectural gems, from the Mesquita in Cordoba to the
breath-taking Alhambra in Granada.

Andalusia also had a profound cultural impact on Europe, even defining the concept of Western “cool” and teaching Europeans how to “love” in a courtly and tormented fashion.

Yet Spain has failed to recognize Moriscos, while embracing Sephardi Jews. One Moroccan journalistcalled the oversight “flagrant segregation and unquestionable discrimination, as both communities suffered equally in Spain at that time.”

And
this is partly true, given the centuries of bad blood between Muslims
and Christians and the rampant Islamophobia on the European right, as
reflected in a U.K. opinion piece arguing Spain has no reason to apologize for expelling its Muslim population and freeing itself from “Islamic Jihadist rule.”

But
another reason is simple and straightforward demographics. While there
is potentially a couple of million Jews who could theoretically qualify
for Spanish citizenship, probably only a few thousand at most will
actually bother to apply.

In
contrast, there are unknown millions of Arabs and Muslims who may be
able to trace themselves back to Andalusia, from Morocco in the Maghreb
to as far afield as Turkey, where the Ottomans gave refuge to Andalusian
refugees.

If
only a fraction of these were to apply, it could significantly and
rapidly alter Spain’s demographic make-up. And in a country that was
devoid of Muslims for half a millennium but lies on the fault line separating the two “civilizations,”this could well spark civil strife or even conflict.

Then,
there are those who would argue that the circumstances of Jews and
Muslims were different: while Jews were an oppressed minority, Muslims
represented the conqueror. In many ways, this would be like asking the
Levant to grant the descendants of the Crusaders the right to return and
live in their midst.

Though true, this misses a number of important nuances.

One
is the fact that during its seven centuries of presence in the Iberian
peninsula, Islam became an indigenous faith, not just an elite one.
There is plenty of historical evidence that Islam permeated all strata
of society, and that Arabic was spoken widely, as reflected in itsextensive fossilized remainsin modern Spanish.

Moreover,
the Moriscos, like other Conversos, were so attached to their homes
that they preferred to, at least ostensibly, abandon their faith rather
than be banished from their homes.

Regardless
of whether or not the descendants of Moriscos will ever be granted the
right to move to Spain and become Spanish citizens, Spain at the very
least owes them an apology.

Much
closer in terms of space and time, as a first step towards
reconciliation, Israel owes the Palestinian an unreserved apology. 
Likewise, the Arab countries that were once home to significant Jewish
minorities need to apologize unreservedly to their former citizens and
would-be citizens.
(My emphasis)

One
day perhaps we will even see Arab countries and Israel extending some
kind of right of return, which would be a boon to a region that has
seriously lost its diversity, would spell the end to exclusionary
nationalisms and would prove that Arabs and Jews are “brothers” and
“sisters,” not feuding “cousins.”

Read article in full 

Spanish citizenship creates huge interest

3 Comments

  • This story tends to undermine Jewish claims on Spain. And where was this piece published?
    In HaAretz, of course.

    Reply
  • No; things are typically what they seem like at first blush. Spanish authorities know that essentially zero Jews would come to take advantage of this. At most a few may wish pick up Spanish passports in lieu of Israeli or American ones. But Muslims might actually come and they might come in large numbers. In reality Spain doesn't want either Jews or Muslims.

    Reply

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