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The Ornament of the World

Tue, 11/29/2005 - 9:26am by Tim

Beth Andersen, Reference Librarian, Ann Arbor District Library

Maria Rosa Menocal, The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. Boston: Little Brown, 2002.

Menocal’s highly readable history of Medieval Spain (740-1492), intentionally written for the non-academic reader, is told in a series of fascinating vignettes featuring that era’s key players and major events. While the rest of Europe during the same time period was in the Dark Ages, Andalusia was enjoying a 700-year run of remarkable advances in agriculture, science, the arts, architecture, and literature. Menocal makes clear that this progress was made because of, not in spite of, the presence of all three religions of the Children of Abraham.

The lessons of this golden age of cultural collaboration are compelling, especially when viewed in today’s context. Although Islam was the dominant religion during Spain’s Golden Age, Christians, Jews, and Muslims learned, for the most part, to tolerate and to respect each other's differences and to successfully channel their common ground with astonishing results. Perhaps this message of tolerance could serve as a blueprint for the future.

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