• Anees Bhayat

My Journey to Spain


It had been a childhood desire of mine, from the time my father informed me regarding it, to visit a land which was under Muslim rule for approximately eight hundred years, Spain. Alḥamdulillāh, Allāh fulfilled this yearning of mine recently, and I am writing to share a few points.

Allāh says in the Qur’ān:

قُلۡ سِيرُواْ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ ثُمَّ ٱنظُرُواْ...

“Say [O Prophet ﷺ], ‘Travel in the land and ponder…’” (6:11)

Allāh orders His servants in the Qur’ān to travel the vast earth He has created, with the purpose of observing the Creation of Allāh - its sheer number and diversity, and at the remains and ruins of those who have passed before, and how Allāh destroyed them, so that they can recognise His true power. The great Mufassir, Imām Abū ‘Abdillāh Al-Qurṭubī رحمه الله, commenting on a similar verse, states:

“…and this kind of travel is commendable if it is undertaken with a view to ponder and take heed from past nations and settlements.”

Over the years, it has become common for Muslims around the world to travel in their holidays, away from the pressures and strains of ‘normality’. However, seldom do my fellow brothers and sisters travel with the purpose mentioned by Allāh in the Qur’ān, except those whom He blesses. Rather, holidays have become times in which a person can pack up his/her morals, character, and - most importantly – Dīn, and do as he/she pleases without being under the notorious watchful eye of his community.

How Islām Came to Spain

In the latter stages of the first century after hijrah, the Muslim empire had reached the Mediterranean Sea where it meets Africa, right up to modern day Morocco. In those times, Spain was ruled by King Roderick, who had ties with the Moroccan King, Julian. As time went on, Julian began to despise Roderick due to his immorality, and so decided to overthrow his Kingdom. Not possessing the means himself, he decided to try and task the Muslims with this desire of his. After all, they had a reputation for spreading peace, tranquillity and justice in whatever territory they conquered. The commander-in-chief of the Muslim army at the time was Mūsā ibn Nuṣayr, and after taking permission from the Khalīfah at the time, Walīd ibn ‘Abd-al-Malik, he despatched an army under the leadership of Ṭāriq ibn Ziyād. He crossed the Mediterranean with an army of seven thousand, and camped at Gibraltar - which comes from the Arabic name ‘Jabal-Ṭāriq’ - in Rajab 92AH (April 711AD). The conquest of Spain followed with minimal bloodshed, and Roderick was either killed by Ṭāriq ibn Ziyād رحمه الله or committed suicide, according to varying historical accounts. After his death, his army crumbled, and the Muslims advanced north-west right up into France, near Toulouse, until they were ordered to stop advancing. The whole country, except for a part of the north, came under Muslim rule, and it remained so for approximately eight hundred years.

Natural Beauty

Allāh has graced Spain with natural beauty. Whilst travelling, one sees lush green hills on every side, most of them laden with vast orchards of olive trees. Orange and lemon trees grace the city streets; valleys are footed with streams and rivers; the occasional rocky mountain comes into view, and then there’s the climate to match. The thought crossed my mind that if this was the beauty of the creation of Allāh, how beautiful must Allāh Himself be? The Prophet ﷺ mentioned in a ḥadīth, “Verily Allāh is beautiful, and loves beauty…”[1], which means that Allāh is beautiful in His being and in His attributes and actions. Every kind of physical or spiritual beauty is a direct result of the beauty of Allāh, and He likes this beauty to show in His Creation. Every human is instinctively attracted to beauty, and feels pleasure, contentment and joy at witnessing it, never to be bored of it. Jannah, as we have been taught, is adorned with beauty, and the natural beauty we see in this world is just a minute example of what Jannah could be like. However, the greatest bounty that the people of Jannah will be blessed with after having experienced all others, will be the ultimate blessing of seeing the beauty of the being of Allāh in His unique form, with their own eyes. One cannot even begin to imagine that beauty!

The Rise and Fall of Muslim Spain

Through all this natural wealth, the Muslims and Islām flourished in Spain on all fronts; art, architecture, academics, philosophy, literature, and many others. The likes of the great mufassir (commentator of the Qur’ān), Imām Abū ‘Abdillāh Al-Qurṭubī; his teacher, Abūl-‘Abbās Al-Qurṭubī; Ibn Ḥazm Aẓ-Ẓāhirī; Ibn Rushd Al-Mālikī, known to the secular world as Averroes; the great historian and Arab literalist, Lisānud-Dīn Ibn-al-Khaṭīb; Muḥyud-Dīn Ibn-al-‘Arabī; the great muḥaddith, Muḥammad ibn ‘Abdil-Barr; and the renowned Imām in Qirā‘ah and Fiqh, Ash-Shāṭibī رحمهم الله; are all sons of this country. In its heyday, Muslim Spain was the hub of knowledge and research in Europe.

However, the great wealth of this country which was meant to assist the Muslims in adopting taqwā and lead lives of obedience to Allāh who had so beneficently blessed them with it, instead became a tool used to fuel their evil desires. When they turned away from the obedience of Allāh towards the end of their appointed tenure, He took away these boundless blessings with great humiliation. When the Muslim sovereignty over Spain fell, each masjid that decorated the landscape and graced the streets of the cities was made into a cathedral. All the books were gathered in the streets and burned, and the remaining Muslims were forced to renounce Islām and change their religion.

Three Points Concerning Muslim Travellers

Before proceeding further, I would like to raise a few points which should affect Muslims travelling in general. They are three:

  1. Performing ṣalāh on time

  2. Eating ḥalāl

  3. Dress code

For a Muslim living in the UK, especially in areas well populated by Muslims, these issues are not really issues. Alḥamdulillāh, Allāh has blessed us in this regard. There is always a Masjid close by; ḥalāl grocery shops, a ḥalāl restaurant or take-away on the high street; and people are used to seeing the followers of various religions in their respective attire.

Unfortunately, whilst travelling, many of my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters do not give due importance to these points. Ṣalāh is the greatest obligation after belief in Allāh and His Prophet ﷺ, and has been made compulsory at prescribed times, five times a day, every day, in all circumstances. Allāh says in the Qur’ān, “Surely, ṣalāh is an obligation on the believers that is tied up with time.” (4:103) Wherever a person maybe, he needs to be punctual in fulfilling this great obligation. On their holidays, many of my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters take a holiday from ṣalāh completely, or at least from performing it on time. This is a major sin, and its importance cannot be emphasised enough.

Similarly, consuming ḥalāl food is another essential part of Islām. This command appears many times in the Qur’ān also, as well as the aḥādīth. The adverse effects of consuming ḥarām are that a person becomes more inclined to commit sin; drifting away from Īmān. His worship and du‘ā are also not accepted. As with ṣalāh, this is also an issue much neglected; the importance that should be given and the concern for it are almost non-existent when on holiday.

The third point is that of appropriate dress. When travelling to places that have a good number of Muslims living there, the locals are used to seeing the likes of the ḥijāb and the thawb. However, the same cannot be said about places where Islam and Muslims are not so familiar a sight. When travelling to those places, one should be warned that he/she may be subject to hostile and unfriendly stares, as I experienced in Spain.

Málaga

In our first outing, we went to the port city of Málaga, in southern Spain.

As I mentioned earlier with regards to the masājid from the time of Islamic rule over Spain, all of them had been converted into cathedrals. For this reason, it was often confusing when I would see a building with the apparent design of a Masjid complete with a minaret; yet it would be something else. Real Masjids were hard to come by, and so we had to make do with performing ṣalāh wherever was convenient. Whilst walking in Málaga, the need arose to perform ẓuhr ṣalāh, and as we were discussing where and when we should pray, we came across a café with Arabic writing on the front, so I decided to enquire within, hoping to find a Muslim brother who could guide us. I met a Moroccan brother, and put forward my need. He told me that there wasn’t a place to perform ṣalāh at the café, but he could make other arrangements for us. I obliged, and we were led into an alleyway, up a few flights of stairs, and through a door. The brother then asked us to close the door behind us when we were done. Everything happened so quickly, that it only dawned upon us after the brother had left that he had led us into his home, and left us to perform our ṣalāh, trusting us – complete strangers – with everything in his house. I thought to myself that it was due to us expressing our Islam that he showed such trust in us, and for the fact that we had asked to perform ṣalāh. This brother had a good heart, and for all these reasons, I envied him and held him in high esteem. The brother might not even think about this one incident for the rest of his life, but it is the like of these little incidents that can grant a person salvation in the Hereafter, and are most loved by Allāh.

After having performed ẓuhr, we walked through the narrow streets of the old part of Málaga, until we came into a clearing. Immediately opposite us was an old fortress, built upon a steep hill. This was the Alcazaba fortress, and the name comes from the Arabic ‘al-Qaṣbah’, which means ‘the citadel’. Built by the Muslims during their reign, it is a fortress overlooking the sea and port of Málaga, together with the city. Being a fortress, one can see that it was built to withstand and deter enemy onslaughts, with its high walls, lookout towers and narrow window slits. Inside, the pathways were narrow and the turns at right-angles, designed to hamper the progress of would-be attackers. These pathways wound around the perimeter of another, higher walled enclosure, where the dwellings of the people would have been all those years ago. Judging from the trees, gardens, and fountains that decorated the inner enclosure owing to the later restoration work, I could just imagine how serene, secure and peaceful life must have been inside Alcazaba in Muslim Spain.

The view of the fortress from the outside, and of everything else from the inside was breath taking. One could just feel the awe and power that this must have emitted in its heyday, and the fear that it must have created within the hearts of would-be attackers. Sadly however, today it was a mere tourist attraction; anyone could infiltrate it right to its centre, equipped modestly with a few euros. Allāh created a means of condolence and solace for me because, as the time for ‘Aṣr ṣalāh had commenced; we thought it appropriate to offer it before going any further. We found a secluded spot in one of the gardens of Alcazaba, and offered our ṣalāh wondering when last, another of Allāh’s chosen servants had done likewise.

Granada

Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this city was one of the major cities during the Muslim rule of Spain. It was blessed with natural wealth: gold, silver, and iron was mined here. It also produced silk and many other items of export. When the Muslims failed the trial of all this wealth that Allāh had blessed them with and the Muslim rule in Spain began to crumble, many took to Granada as their safe-haven and place of refuge. Thus, Granada was the final city to be surrendered.

The most famous landmark in Granada is the ‘Alhambra’, which comes from the Arabic name ‘Al-Ḥamrā’, the complete form of which is ‘Al-Qil‘ah-Al-Ḥamrā’ (The Red Fortress). It was a palace or fortress which housed the rulers of the city. It housed many different rulers of the same family: the Banū-al-Aḥmar, all of whom played their part in adding to its structure, until it became one of the most celebrated architectural masterpieces of the time. Unfortunately, once we reached Granada, the tickets into Al-Ḥamrā’ had been sold out, so we had to make do with fascinating views of it from the outside. Anyone intending to travel is advised to book their tickets in advance, to avoid the same disappointment.

However, we visited the historical neighbourhood of Albayzin, (Al-Bayāzīn in Arabic), which sits at the foot of Al-Ḥamrā’. Even in this neighbourhood, there were many former masājid - more or less one every few streets away - marked out by a monumental structure outside them which was built on the place where the Muslims would perform wuḍū before entering the masjid. One could just picture the place buzzing with people rushing towards the masājid upon the sound of the adhān resonating through the narrow streets. We were told that the wisdom behind the streets being so narrow was that in the heat of the day, one side of the street would always remain in the shadow of the houses that lined it, so as not to make it burdensome for the residents of the town. The houses were also surrounded by tall walls, or thick hedges at times, to provide security and privacy to their inhabitants, especially the women in ḥijāb, who could come out of their homes into their gardens unnoticed by passers-by. We also passed an open space, which was a marketplace in the Muslim rule. There was a large wall at one end, upon which the names of untrustworthy traders would be inscribed to warn the people when dealing with them.

I realised that it is Allāh only who confers His grace upon His servants, by giving them the intellect to think up these very simple, fail proof methods. The Prophet ﷺ said in a ḥadīth narrated by Imām Muslim, “…and Allāh helps a servant as long as he is engaged in helping his brother…”[2]. When you intend to help others, Allāh helps you in ways you can never even imagine.

As we passed the narrow winding streets, we came into an opening, at the end of which was a low wall. This was one of the best vantage points on top of a hill, and from which one could see Al-Ḥamrā’ with the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains in the backdrop. It was a breath-taking view, and one could imagine the view the inhabitants of Al-Ḥamrā’ must have been blessed with. Together with that, its apt location could be fully understood, with it being a fortress. When it was in Muslim hands, the trees on the hills surrounding it were uprooted, so that surveillance was easier. After taking in the view, we moved on a little further, until we came across a brilliant white building, which had all the features of a real masjid. Amazingly, it actually was a masjid, which had been built just a few years previously, and it was in regular use. We met a few Muslim brothers there and exchanged introductions. After all the gloom of seeing the aftermath of the Muslim rule in my visit so far, I was ecstatic on setting foot in a ‘real’ masjid. May Allāh safeguard it and keep it populated until the Day of Qiyāmah. The brothers took us into the garden of the masjid, decorated with fountains and various flowers. However, the most striking bit was the view that the garden offered of Al-Ḥamrā’; even better than the tourist vantage point!

Circumstances did not permit us to offer any ṣālāh in this masjid, but we managed to find another, smaller and more discreet masjid in a side street, and we performed our Ẓuhr and ‘Āṣr ṣalāhs there. Finding this masjid was not as difficult, due to the many Muslims we met on the streets, between residents and tourists. Whilst walking through some parts of Al-Bayāzīn, one could almost be forgiven for taking it to be a Muslim city!

This beautiful city was surrendered by the then ruler, Abū ‘Abdillāh, Muḥammad XII, also known to the Spaniards as ‘Bobadil’, on the 23rd of Ṣafar 897AH, coinciding with the 2nd of January 1492, under the terms of the Alhambra Decree. This glum day marked the end of Muslim rule in Spain, which had begun approximately 800 years ago in 711AD.

We then left Granada after the Maghrib ṣalāh, having performed three ṣalāhs there.

Cordoba

Having heard the name and developed an attachment to the tafsīr of Imām Al-Qurṭubī رحمه الله, I always had a desire to visit his birthplace. Together with this great Imām, I learned that it was also the birthplace of the famous Ibn Rushd Al-Mālikī (Averroes) and Ibn Ḥazm Aẓ-Ẓāhirī رحمهما الله, among others. As a child, I had once come across a picture of a spectacular building, which resembled a masjid, but in actual fact was a church. After further research, I came to know that it had once been a grand masjid, and was later turned into a church, and that it was in Cordoba, Spain. How many times do we experience a longing to visit a scene or a building we are taken aback by in a photograph? For me, this was a moment I had been waiting years for.

We had planned to make Cordoba our first stop in Spain, but Allāh planned otherwise, “…and Allāh is the best of planners.” (3:54) It so happened that due to the awkward timings of the modes of transport available to us from our residence to Cordoba, our travelling there was always going to be difficult, and always in doubt. However, through His infinite Grace, Allāh fulfilled my longing, and we set off early by coach to Cordoba.

We arrived at our destination early afternoon, and made our way on foot to the old part of the city. This was approximately a half-hour walk which we preferred to the expensive taxis, and more so to get more of a feel of the city.

As we reached high some high walls, we saw a steady flow of people going through the entrances in them. We knew that we had now reached the old section of the city. As we entered, the now familiar narrow streets came into view, and there was only one thing on my mind: to find the building that my eyes longed to see. We wondered around for a while, and as we gradually made our way through the city, we found a tall, old, but magnificent building in front of us. Walking around it in amazement, we made out the familiar markings of it having Islamic resemblance - Arabic text, which was barely legible, decorated its outer walls at intervals. It was the Great Mosque of Cordoba.

After having walked a little around the city, we decided to offer our ẓuhr ṣalāh and have something to eat. Thus, we started searching for a place to offer ṣalāh. After asking around for a while, an Arab brother, may Allāh repay him with goodness, directed us to an alleyway which housed a masjid, by the name of Masjid Ibn Rushd رحمه الله. It was a very small masjid, the insides of which resembled the great masjid of Cordoba. I was fortunate enough to lead a few brothers in ṣalāh therein, alḥamdulillāh.

After that, we made our way to the centre of the city, and into the courtyard of the Great Mosque of Cordoba. It is still well-known by that very name to this day, despite it being consecrated into a cathedral, and the locals emphasising on calling it the ‘Mosque-Cathedral’. This courtyard was where the Muslims would perform wuḍū, hence it is known as the ablution courtyard, and these were the norm throughout Spain in the times of the Muslim rule. The courtyard itself was lined with orange trees and fountains, and was truly a spectacular sight, but my mind was rewinding to the times of the Muslim rule, where this very courtyard would be teeming with the Muslims answering the adhān and preparing for ṣalāh. Instead, it was teeming with tourists, some Muslims, capturing it in the backdrop whilst they themselves posed happily for their cameras. Everyone seemed happy; there were smiles all around but undoubtedly for very different reasons. I wondered, and still do, at how, being a Muslim, one can visit such places and turn a blind eye to the history behind them; instead, enjoying it like any other outing. It was whilst thinking so that my ears picked up the sound of the adhān, albeit faint, and my heart drew solace from the fact that although there was no Islām within this building, the adhān, a symbol of Islām, still stood strong around it. May Allāh take it from strength to strength.

The Muslims’ conquest of Spain started in Rajab 92AH (711AD), and this was the year in which the city of Cordoba was also captured. It was made the capital of Al-Andalūs after Seville, by the Umayyid ruler ‘Abdur-Raḥmān I in 138AH (756AD). From this point onwards, Cordoba became one of the largest and most cultured cities in Europe. It was famed for books, and housed one of the largest libraries in the world. Al-Muqrī reports that there was once a debate between Ibn Rushd رحمه الله and an official named Abū Bakr ibn Zuhr, in which Ibn Rushd said regarding Cordoba, “I do not understand what you say, except that whenever a scholar passes away in Seville, and his books need to be sold, they are brought to Cordoba and sold there, and whenever a singer dies in Cordoba, and his instruments need to be sold, they are taken to Seville [and sold there]! And Cordoba has the most books amongst all other cities of Allāh.” Such was the knowledge that was rife in the city, which was then captured by the Christians in 633AH (1236AD).

The construction of the Great Mosque of Cordoba was initiated by Abd-ar-Raḥmān I in approximately 170AH (786AD). According to some Islamic sources, it was originally a Cathedral, which was bought from the Christians by ‘Abdur-Raḥmān I for 100,000 dinars. Before its construction finished, he passed away; after which his son, Muḥammad, completed it. The rulers after him expanded the masjid over the years, and it currently stands in its magnificence with some 850 pillars. Its minaret was its tallest point, upon which the tower of the cathedral stands today.

I cannot find words to describe the feelings of sadness I felt walking through it, so I will leave it to the readers to put themselves through the history of the place and try to imagine just how any believer would feel when in that position. Perhaps the only consolation one can feel is the fact that despite the efforts of those who run the cathedral, it is still known, in Spain itself and worldwide, as the Mezquita-Catedral, or the Mosque of Cordoba. In other words, the label of it being a masjid is still somewhat attached to it.

This was the highlight of our visit, after which we visited other parts of Cordoba. Due to time restrictions and despite a great longing towards it, we did not manage to visit Medina Azahara (Al-Madīnah Az-Zahrā or Madīnah-Az-Zahrā – The Beautiful City), which was a smallish governmental city built by ‘Abdur-Raḥmān An-Nāṣir in 325AH (936/937AD). It was the most beautiful city in its time, and was constructed to house the ruler and his government. It contained the palaces, courts and offices of the government, together with a masjid and beautiful gardens.

It was after we performed our ‘Aṣr ṣalāh that we made our way back towards the station, and set off on our return. The visit to Cordoba was the last leg on our visit to Spain, and as I enjoyed the last of this beautiful country, I wondered at the Greatness and Beauty of Allāh. Undoubtedly, there are many other, even more stunning places in the world than those we witnessed in Spain, but may Allāh bless us with the ultimate and everlasting beauty of Jannah. Āmīn.

[1] Muslim

روى مسلم في صحيحه قال: وَحَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ الْمُثَنَّى، وَمُحَمَّدُ بْنُ بَشَّارٍ، وَإِبْرَاهِيمُ بْنُ دِينَارٍ، جَمِيعًا عَنْ يَحْيَى بْنِ حَمَّادٍ، قَالَ ابْنُ الْمُثَنَّى: حَدَّثَنِي يَحْيَى بْنُ حَمَّادٍ، أَخْبَرَنَا شُعْبَةُ، عَنْ أَبَانَ بْنِ تَغْلِبَ، عَنْ فُضَيْلٍ الْفُقَيْمِيِّ، عَنْ إِبْرَاهِيمَ النَّخَعِيِّ، عَنْ عَلْقَمَةَ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللهِ بْنِ مَسْعُودٍ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ: «لَا يَدْخُلُ الْجَنَّةَ مَنْ كَانَ فِي قَلْبِهِ مِثْقَالُ ذَرَّةٍ مِنْ كِبْرٍ» قَالَ رَجُلٌ: إِنَّ الرَّجُلَ يُحِبُّ أَنْ يَكُونَ ثَوْبُهُ حَسَنًا وَنَعْلُهُ حَسَنَةً، قَالَ: «إِنَّ اللهَ جَمِيلٌ يُحِبُّ الْجَمَالَ، الْكِبْرُ بَطَرُ الْحَقِّ، وَغَمْطُ النَّاسِ»

[2] روى مسلم في صحيحه قال: حَدَّثَنَا يَحْيَى بْنُ يَحْيَى التَّمِيمِيُّ، وَأَبُو بَكْرِ بْنُ أَبِي شَيْبَةَ، وَمُحَمَّدُ بْنُ الْعَلَاءِ الْهَمْدَانِيُّ - وَاللَّفْظُ لِيَحْيَى، قَالَ يَحْيَى: أَخْبَرَنَا وقَالَ الْآخَرَانِ: حَدَّثَنَا - أَبُو مُعَاوِيَةَ، عَنِ الْأَعْمَشِ، عَنْ أَبِي صَالِحٍ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: «مَنْ نَفَّسَ عَنْ مُؤْمِنٍ كُرْبَةً مِنْ كُرَبِ الدُّنْيَا، نَفَّسَ اللهُ عَنْهُ كُرْبَةً مِنْ كُرَبِ يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ، وَمَنْ يَسَّرَ عَلَى مُعْسِرٍ، يَسَّرَ اللهُ عَلَيْهِ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ، وَمَنْ سَتَرَ مُسْلِمًا، سَتَرَهُ اللهُ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ، وَاللهُ فِي عَوْنِ الْعَبْدِ مَا كَانَ الْعَبْدُ فِي عَوْنِ أَخِيهِ، وَمَنْ سَلَكَ طَرِيقًا يَلْتَمِسُ فِيهِ عِلْمًا، سَهَّلَ اللهُ لَهُ بِهِ طَرِيقًا إِلَى الْجَنَّةِ، وَمَا اجْتَمَعَ قَوْمٌ فِي بَيْتٍ مِنْ بُيُوتِ اللهِ، يَتْلُونَ كِتَابَ اللهِ، وَيَتَدَارَسُونَهُ بَيْنَهُمْ، إِلَّا نَزَلَتْ عَلَيْهِمِ السَّكِينَةُ، وَغَشِيَتْهُمُ الرَّحْمَةُ وَحَفَّتْهُمُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ، وَذَكَرَهُمُ اللهُ فِيمَنْ عِنْدَهُ، وَمَنْ بَطَّأَ بِهِ عَمَلُهُ، لَمْ يُسْرِعْ بِهِ نَسَبُهُ»

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