By Haïm Zafrani
The Routes of al-Andalus: Spiritual Convergence and Intercultural Dialogue (UNESCO, 2000)
Introduction: The dialogue of ideas, cultures and religions, which is of such major interest to us today, has its roots in the distant past, in Biblical wisdom literature, which, being essentially universalist, supra-historical in character and a source of monotheism, provided an important point of contact between ancient civilizations and peoples, such as the Jews and the Arabs.
The Arab conquests between 632 and 711 created an immense area in the western Mediterranean which united under the banner of Islam peoples who had previously been subject to the empires of Persia, Byzantium and Rome. The distinctive way of life that developed in the Umayyad and Abbasid periods lasted for eight centuries in the Muslim West, in the fertile lands of North Africa and Andalusia, until 1492. It has survived in the Judaeo-Muslim historical and cultural consciousness over the four centuries since that tragic date and remains as a major point of reference and a model to be followed.
Taking the collation of parallel Jewish and Islamic writings as our starting-point, we have scrutinized the texts that have helped to transmit cultures, civilization and indeed wisdom, dissecting their authors’ way of thinking so as to reveal similarities and the elements of a symbiotic relationship for which there is no parallel during the more than 1,500 years of Jewish life in Christian countries, apart from a few brief periods in the history of Spain, the inheritor of Arab civilization, when some of its monarchs proclaimed themselves emperor of two or three religions.