Socio-cons got all bent out of shape when the proposed name for the “Manhattan Mosque” was revealed: The Cordoba House. Some immediately made a connection between “Cordoba” and the “victory” of 9/11; arguing that Muslims see Cordoba as a symbol of victory over Christianity.
What was Cordoba?
10th century Cordoba (Arabic: Qurtuba) was arguably the most advanced city in the world, and a major cultural, political, financial, and economic metropolis of Islam; think of it as the New York or the London of the Islamic Civilization.
An extant wall from the 12th-century Cordoba Synagogue
With a population of half a million, 10th century Cordoba had tar-paved and gas-lit streets (the first in Europe); it had public hospitals, universities, medical schools, restaurants, massage parlors, advanced industries; and the world’s largest library, housing up to a million volumes.
A Golden Age
Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in what is closest – by 10th century standards – to a multi-cultural, peaceful, and tolerant society. In fact, some historians called this period of Jewish history a “Golden Age of Jewish Philosophy”.
Contemporary accounts report full literacy. Famous Cordovans included Islamic jurists & scholars Ibn Hazm and Al-Qurtubi, Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd (Averroes), and Jewish rabbi and philosopher Musa Maimoun Al-Qurtubi (Moses Maimonides).
Ibn Rushd depicted in a painting by 14th century artist Andrea di Firenze
(The last two figures – Averroes and Maimonides – were an immensely important influence on the development of Western philosophy; Averroes was studied by Thomas Aquinas and Descartes, while Maimonides influenced Spinoza and Newton.)
The Fall of Cordoba
In the 13th century Cordoba was captured by King Ferdinand III of Castille, during the Spanish Reconquista. Most Muslims and Jews fled the city; those who stayed were soon subjected to the Inquisition and forced to either convert to Christianity or emigrate.
Cordoba fell from prominence quickly and sharply; its light didn’t slowly fade, but was rather abruptly extinguished. By the 18th century it was reduced to a little town of less than 20,000. Population and economy only recovered in the 20th century.
What Cordoba means to Muslims
Since its fall, Cordoba has been to Muslims a symbol of magnificent glory and irrecoverable loss. The mention of Cordoba brings to the Muslim deep feelings of both great pride and heart-rending sorrow. It’s certainly not a symbol of victory, and no Muslim looks back at the memory of Cordoba with joy or triumph.
Contemporary Muslims who bring up the memory of Cordoba typically do so either to emphasize the need for a new Islamic scientific and industrial renaissance, or to emphasize the need for a multi-cultural and tolerant society.
A symbol of loss and hope
Update: The Cordoba House has since been renamed to Park51. You can read more about it here.