Shelomo Alfassa: Beware the Cordoba Initiative





[Shelomo Alfassa is the former US director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries and a scholar of Judaic life in Islamic Spain. He lives in New York.]

The world should know that the ‘Cordoba Initiative,’ the New York City based organization desiring to construct a massive Islamic house of prayer at ‘Ground Zero,’ has posted on its website, a peculiar and disingenuous statement indicating the desire to bring back the atmosphere of, “interfaith tolerance and respect that we have longed for since Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in harmony and prosperity eight hundred years ago.”

I point this out because contemporary scholarship has clearly demonstrated that there was no ‘harmony’ or ‘prosperity’ for non-Muslims in Islamic Spain. The Cordoba Initiative is attempting to revisit some sort of mythical “tolerance and respect” which never existed.

What is irrefutable is that living under Islam, the non-Muslim population was always mandated to submit to Islam, accept discriminatory laws, and make payment of a mandatory Quranic tax imposed upon every non-Muslim. For a period of about 800 years, most of Spain was ruled by Muslims and this area was known as ‘Al-Andalus.’ Islamic rule ended in 1492, when the city of Granada, the last Muslim kingdom in Western Europe, capitulated to the Spanish Catholics.

The Cordoba Initiative is an organization whose very name makes reference to what was, 1,000 years ago, one of the world’s most advanced cities, Cordoba, Al-Andalus (Spain). This was a city that was politically and religiously dominated by Islam, and a city that was conquered by jihad (holy war). Today, there are Islamic groups such as Al-Qaeda that have a dream of seeing a pan-Islamic world that would extend from old Al-Andalus (Spain). This is based upon Islam’s principle of dar-al-Islam, which means a world where Islamic sovereignty prevails over the citizenry. Dar-al-Islam is attained through jihad and the media is replete with Al- Qaeda’s calls for jihad and their claims to Al-Andalus and its major cities such as Cordoba.

Clearly, Islamic Cordoba was once a city where a number of intellectual Muslims such as Averroes (Ibn-Rushd), influenced European thought with Arab philosophy related to the scientific teachings of Aristotle. In mathematics, the Arabs built upon the foundations of Greek mathematicians. At one point there were dozens of free schools in Cordoba for the education of poor Arabs and at some point there existed some 600 mosques. However, even with all of this scholastic and societal grandeur, the route to get to such a point of magnificence was through violent warfare.

Not only were successive battles for Spanish cities bloody, but desiring more than Spain--the Arabs declared a jihad against France, then crossed the Pyrenees, and in successive swarms spread over the southern regions of the French countryside, slaughtering the Christians by thousands, and burning their churches to the ground before being halted.

We must remember that a practice associated with conquering Islamic armies was the construction of a mosque at the location where their triumphant battle was won. Thus, this modern Islamic organization is seeking to build a mosque at the site of 9/11 attack—an attack which was carried out by 19 Muslim hijackers who considered their mission holy war.

Insomuch, it is this man's opinion that a Muslim house of prayer that would be cemented in the ashes of catastrophe at the foot of New York's lost Twin Towers would be a symbolic victory flag for Muslims who seek the destruction of America. Further, it is my honest opinion that no matter how the construction of a mosque at ‘Ground Zero’ may be perceived by well-meaning Americans, the construction of a mosque on the spot where Al-Qaeda brought jihad to the United States will unquestionably represent victory to the worldwide forces of Radical Islam.

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Edgar Y Shen - 9/24/2010

Well Said!

‘Cordoba Initiative’ is a bad name with a hidden negative message. So the initiators of the project renamed it to "Park51."

As a Chinese descendent, I stand for the needs of Muslins to have a big enough place for their worship and prayers, but not at a location that stimulates negative feelings in surrounding communities and the world.

As the ‘Cordoba Initiative’ Web pages said, the Muslins need to educate their next generations and to communicate with other races and faith groups, they are willing to step out establish a more harmonic world. However, the intention and the contents of the "Park51" project is not enough to promote their vision.

The Muslins need to learn from their Israel cousins, that "Use laws to confront the irrationals, and partner the rationales through feel their feelings!”

If American Muslins really want to build a cultural center and a big enough prayer place at the proposed near-911 location, they need be more sensitive to the needs of surrounding non-Muslin communities, and fulfill the needs through the facilities and the continuous operation of the center. “Service and Communications” need to be the focus, not just a high-profile “show-off” of the Islamic culture. Although, Islamic culture do have many attractive and valuable achievements.


Jonathan Dresner - 8/18/2010

All due respect, but you're positing a unified, conspiratorial "Islamic community" where none exists, blaming innocents for the actions of vicious murderers. This is the sort of collective/tribal guilt-by-association that led the 9/11 conspirators to decide that the civilians of the World Trade Center were legitimate targets for execution.


Katrina M Marino - 8/18/2010

As a widow of a Fire Fighter lost on September 11th - I am very disappointed in our concern for how respect and understanding seems to be required for the very people responsible for our tragedy. I think these other countries feed on our rights for freedom and equality for all. They (the Islamic community) know exactly what they are doing, and they are pitting Americans against Americans. As September 11th pulled us together - will we let them slowly tear it apart?


Dale S Schofield - 8/17/2010

You are correct, in my opinion, in pointing out the different standards that existed in Cordoba under the more moderate Umayyads as opposed to the far more militant Almoravids. What is important to note though Dale is that the modern Shiite movement with it's fundamentalist streak and internal condemnation of more moderate Muslims has far more in common with the latter than the former.

What is telling about the inferences of calling an organization The Cordoba Institute is not so much a call to the peace of Cordoba, such as it was but rather that in time it became the symbol of lost Muslim power in Europe. Ferdinand and Isabella directed a good portion of the Reconquista from Cordoba long before the fall of Granada.

It that sense calling an organization by this name might be a call to arms for a return of Islam to take back what is theirs. Please remember that the Mezquita is the last of the great mosques of Europe and at one time equaled Mecca in prominence for Muslim pilgrims.

One final note regarding your statement about building temples and churches on the sites of old temples and churches. You have it backwards. This practice was done specifically to display the superiority and dominance of the new religion over that of the old. It was a psychological tool against the defeated plain and simple.


Jim Donovan - 7/13/2010

Thank you for the excellent piece, Shelomo! It's a relief to see a nicely presented perspective.


Dale Gutierrez - 6/15/2010

Tell me where the battle was in Cordoba? or you can just talk about how the land for the Mosque in Cordoba was purchased, not seized, nor was there a battle on it's former ground, which prior to being a mosque, was a church, prior to being a church was a Roman Temple to Janus....it is normal for any religion to build on a site of a previous temple, that is what the Christians did with old Roman sites, it happens, not as a sign of conquering, let's use common sense here-ok, read for this? New population moves or takes over another area, said area had no religious or worship areas or buildings for new population...hmmmm what do they do? Um they do what makes sense, build themselves a new worship are to meet the needs of a new population. Keep feeding the paranoia, that is what you are doing.

Why do you leave out how the treatment was for the Jews under the visigoth christians? and all the laws enacted under the Arian christians prior to the Muslim invasion? Why don't you address the difference between the Umayyad rule, and the more extreme fundementalist Almoravid rule? Any scholar worth his weight would be able to tell the difference between the more liberal Umayyad rule (which jews as well as those sects of Christianity considered heretical by Catholics welcomed), up until the early part of the first decade of the 11th Century, and the later fundementalist rule.

Are you truly a scholar? or you just another sensationalist that hides behind faux-credentials?


Cathy Barker - 6/8/2010

Thanks for the historical perspective. Who's paying for it, that's the key to understanding the intention. Currently muslims in lower Manhattan are using an old, cramped space for mosque. 13 stories? Design and funding details should be provided before permission to build is given.

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