Rebels and Renegades: Lisān al-Dīn ibn al-Khaṭīb (d. 1374) and the Christians of Medieval Granada
Paper by Mohamad Ballan
Given at the conference Ethno-Religious Interaction in Premodern Iberia: Mechanisms and Trajectories, held at UCLA, on October 14, 2022
Abstract: This paper seeks to demonstrate the convergence between Nasrid discourses about ethno-religious identity and the complex borderland realities of the Muslim-Christian frontier in 14th-century Iberia. It seeks to contribute to larger conversations about Nasrid cultural and religious polemics by critically examining the writings of the Granadan scholar-statesman Lisān al-Dīn ibn al-Khaṭīb (d. 1374) about Christians in medieval Granada (including Christian converts to Islam).
My paper demonstrates that the organization of communal identity around notions of religious and ethnic purity in Nasrid Granada involved the marginalization, omission, and erasure of Christian communities and lineages from the collective memory of Andalusi Muslims. These discourses sought to render the region that constituted the Nasrid kingdom as a “borderland of Islam” that possessed a deep-rooted Arab and Islamic character. This confessionalized construction of Granadan identity through the erasure of Christian lineages, in particular, is most evident in Ibn al-Khaṭīb’s extensive narration, and justification, of the violent expulsion of the Christian populations in the region to North Africa during the early 12th century. Throughout the “Comprehensive History of Granada” (al-Iḥāṭah fī Akhbār Gharnāṭah) and many of Ibn al-Khaṭīb’s other works, Christians appear primarily as foreign enemies and enslaved peoples, and occasionally as merchants or mercenaries, but rarely as progenitors of local lineages or constituents of the ethnic and social landscape of Granada since the 12th century. The descent of Andalusi Muslims from Christian communities, or the affiliation of Andalusi elites with Iberian Christians, was primarily invoked by Ibn al-Khaṭīb as a marker of religious deviance and disloyalty.
This paper argues that these cultural and religious polemics, which were tied closely to the representation of Christian figures and communities, reflected Ibn al-Khaṭīb’s anxieties about the dynamic borderland realities produced by migration, conversion, and acculturation along the Nasrid-Castilian frontier in late medieval Iberia.
Mohamad Ballan is an Assistant Professor at Stony Brook University, where his research focuses on the intellectual, political and cultural history of the Mediterranean world, with a focus on late medieval and early modern Spain. Click here to visit her personal website or follow Mohamad on Twitter @Ballandalus
Top Image: 16th century map of Granada by Piri Reis – Wikimedia Commons