TRAVEL: Al-Andalus: The Mosque-Cathedral and the Conscience of History (I)

Al-Andalus Mosque Cathedral, Cordoba

For the youth of today, when you talk about Spain, what easily comes to their mind are the legendary football clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona. Two major football clubs that provide entertaining football on weekly basis to their fans.

However, the story of Spain goes beyond football. It is the story of a civilisation whose impact continues to be relevant today. By God’s providence, I enrolled for a study in one of the leading tertiary institutions in Spain, the IE Business School back in 2014. For the next 18 months, I came to understand the people, culture and educational system of this former empire called Al-Andalus.

Its a multi-campus programme between Madrid, Jeddah, Boston and Berkeley. Of course, the primary aim of visiting these cities was to receive lectures, but at the back of my mind was also to explore the historical edifices that still attract attention and provide interesting lessons in history.

On arrival in Madrid, the university surprised us with a number of historical visits within the city. The biggest surprise from the perspective of the coordinators was an official tour of the Santiagou Bernebeu, the stadium of Real Madrid.

While we appreciate the effort of the school administrators, my mind was elsewhere. Having read about the contribution of Andalusia to the development of science, education, arts, literature, and how this former empire contributed in shaping the technological advancement of the Western World, my heart was thinking about one city, Cordoba or Kurduba as it is known in the Muslim World.

But before sharing the story of Cordoba, let us go back to Madrid. Madrid is currently the capital of Spain and the city has undergone several transformations. Although one of the leading cities in the Europe, historical sources have documented the origin of the name of the city, part of which was from the Arabic term, Almajrit. The Arabs gave it this name due to the proximity of the city to a river.

It is also on record that the city has produced famous scientists whose contributions remain relevant to date. Such scientists include Abul Qasim, Masalama, Al-Qurtubi Al-Majriti. Almajriti was an astronomer, chemist, economist and Islamic scholar.

According to the Islamic encyclopedia: “Al-Majriti’s work in Chemistry had indeed produced some momentous contributions. He is greatly credited for his notable chemical treatise, Rutbat al-Hakim, which, amongst other things, described formulae and procedures for the purification of precious metals. It is in this work that Maslama attempted to prove the principle of mass conservation, credited eight centuries later to Lavoisier. Exact details of such attempts are not available at the present time, yet inferences from his experiment on Mercury prove that he was alert to the almost non-existent change in the weight of the mass after the reaction.”

In fact, his classical book, Kitab Ghayat Al-Hakim (the goal of the wise) has been made available by University of Pennsylvania’s online library through the Hathi Trust for those who might be interested.

Therefore, as we prepared on the morning of the visit to Santiago Bernebeu in the autumn of 2014, I knew that I was working through history. That the story of Madrid and Spain outweighs the popularity and prowess of Cristiano Ronaldo, and more skillful intellectuals have been produced, whose contribution by far eclipsed the dribbles of Lionel Messi. Of course nothing would be taken away from both Ronaldo and Messi, but certainly there were heroes from various ethnicities, nationalities and faiths that made the story of Spain possible.

As we disembarked from the bus that brought us to Santiago Bernebeu, about 40 of us from different nationalities – including Nigerians, Egyptians, Saudis, Americans, Indians, Pakistanis, Senegalese, Gambians and many more – almost everyone got himself busy taking pictures of this huge stadium that keeps many people awake in different parts of the world.

It was early in the morning, and we went round very nook and cranny of the stadium. From the football pitch, to the dressing rooms of the players. We saw the preparation area of players, from Ronaldo, Benzema, Rodriquez to Pepe, Bale etc. A replica of La Decema, the 10th Champions League trophy was also on display. In fact it was the centre of attraction.

Next after the visit to the Real Madrid Stadium, was a visit to Sobrino de Botin, believed to be the oldest restaurant in the world according to the Guinness World Book of Record. To be continued.

Muhammad Jameel Yusha’u is an ex-BBC journalist and public affairs commentator.

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