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Two Shores: Islamic Spain and Morocco in the pre-modern era. Prof Amira Bennison

Al-Andalus or ‘Islamic Spain’ has become a very popular topic both in narrowly academic circles and to the educated public in general to whom it has been marketed as a model of Islamic tolerance towards communities of other faiths, as Europe’s ‘lost civilisation’, and as a Golden Age of literature and culture. Much of this literature and its popularisation in the media is well meaning in the sense that it seeks to present a positive picture of Islam to counter-balance current negative stereotypes. However, the location of ‘good’ and ‘civilised’ Islam in Europe and the celebration of al-Andalus’s unique culture is problematic and grows out of a less innocent historiographical tradition based on the assumptions that al-Andalus was different to other parts of the Islamic world, most notably its neighbour, North Africa, and that the positive aspects of the Islamic period should be attributed to ‘Spaniards’ – Jewish, Christian and Muslim - rather than the Muslim Arabs or Berbers.

This book project looks at the history of al-Andalus not as part of the national history of Spain, or for that matter Portugal, but as a trans-national phenomenon predicated on the ebb and flow of influences across the Straits of Gibraltar between al-Andalus and Morocco which gave rise to a distinctive far-western Islamic culture which differed from that of Ifriqiya, modern-day Tunisia and western Libya, and the Middle East too.