The histories of the two sides of the Strait of Gibraltar have always been entwined and after the Islamic conquest of North Africa and the Iberian peninsula, Muslims came to see the two areas – the Maghrib and al-Andalus – as the ‘two shores’ (al-ʿudwatayn), a formulation expressing both proximity and difference. In this lecture, Professor Amira Bennison considers how North African Muslims engaged with their northern neighbours over time and how they imagined al-Andalus. For some centuries, al-Andalus and more particularly, Umayyad Córdoba, functioned as a glamorous, cosmopolitan place that Maghribis sought out. However, that appeal also engendered rivalry and in the eleventh and twelfth centuries Maghribis proudly conquered al-Andalus and asserted their moral superiority over a culture which they desired but also perceived as decadent. In the late medieval period the situation changed again as the population of the two shores migrated and mingled, and Christian advances severely reduced Muslim territorial control in the peninsula. As deeply nostalgic lieu de memoire, al-Andalus continues to inspire emotion in modern Muslims, expressed in music, literature and film.
Amira K. Bennison is Professor in the History and Culture of the Maghrib in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge. Amira’s research focuses on Islamic political culture and legitimation which she has explored from the perspective of jihad ideologies and more recently urbanism and material culture. Her books include Jihad and its Interpretations in Pre-colonial Morocco (2002), The Great Caliphs (2009) and The Almoravid and Almohad Empires (2016). Amira has also appeared regularly on ‘In Our Time’ on Radio 4.
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