Religious concepts in research have long been subjects of misconstrued, misinterpreted, misunderstood, or even misjudged ideas and conceptions by researchers of different classes. The issue concerning the myth of Medieval Convivencia, which relates to the Spanish history, is little understood, and thus regularly misconstrued.
Cohen presents medieval Convivencia as a Spanish historical myth that describes how Christians, Jews, and Muslims lived peacefully during the medieval Christian Spain (1). Cohen understands Convivencia as a concept that more specifically demonstrates the traditional co-existence of Jews and Muslims.
Cohen’s main argument about the notion of Convivencia in the Arabic speaking world and the era of Spanish re-conquest is regularly misinterpreted as researchers contrast the concepts with the harmonious living era of the Jewish Christian relations in the northern parts of Europe (Cohen 1).
Cohen absolutely refutes Jewish suffering during the Islamic regime. Conclusively, his study assumes that such confusions have resulted in theological differences. In a bid to enhance a deeper understanding of Convivencia, this paper seeks to investigate this concept critically in relation to similar scholarly articles.
Cohen’s argument critique
The historical development of Convivencia of Jews and Muslims in the medieval Spanish Islam has undergone a series of critical analyses, disputed convictions, and misinterpreted histories and Cohen’s argument disputes certain issues articulated in this concept. Cohen disputes the European Jewish historians and their notion that Islamic-Jewish relations have been harmonious and they lived in interfaith utopia (1).
He further disputes the perception of Zionist and Jewish writers who claim that Jewish life under Muslims in the medieval Christian Spain was absolute suffering and a full disaster. These writers also claim that Muslims fueled Muslim/Arab-Jew hatred characterized by Arab anti-Semitism.
Cohen claims that both judgments are untrue and they fall under the best description of historical myths developed and argued by simple historians (1). According to his perception, the truth lies is the contemporary happenings and the history of Jews and Muslims in the Muslim Spain and in the medieval Islamic world was factual, but the harmonious living had some limitations.
In his conviction about the historical Convivencia of Jews and Muslims in the medieval Islamic Spain, the history was characterized by legally stipulated regime that instigated discrimination and periodic violence.
Cohen asserts that historical analysts should not undermine the cultural freedom of Jews in the Arabic Spain, the political acknowledgement that Jews received in Muslim courts, and the security that Jews enjoyed while living amongst Muslims (2).
Cohen persistently and partially condemns the constructed histories of long chain of suffering and Muslim acts of violence and claims that both religions have historically suffered the repercussions of anti-Semitism.
Cohen argues that Muslim tolerance and Christian intolerance in the context of the concept of Convivencia can barely answer the prevailing historical quandaries and political, social, economic, and religious realities of the Islamic nation can be imperative (2).
Cohen refutes the historical convictions of the era of Jewish-Christian relations that develop the story of northern Europe and compares the mutual dependence of the Judaea-Arabic civilization between Muslim and Jews.
Cohen’s judgment may present half reality and another view as well, based on the development of his convictions stipulated in this article. His analytical approach to the prevailing quandary is reflected in the scholarly sources that demonstrate the historical civilization of Jewish-Arab cultural Convivencia as the one living in mutual coexistence and with little prejudice.
Cohen persistently concentrates on his initial writings in his 1994 book, Under Crescent and Cross, which rests its arguments on less suffering amongst three religions and disputes the long-suffering history of the Christians and Judeans, and thus supports the harmoniously multicultural life of these religions.
Cohen shallowly examines the issue of Christian and Jewish suffering during the Muslim leadership regime and reestablishes several facts about the cultural harmony that these religions shared (3). As opposed to Fernandez-Morera, Cohen ignores the repressions that Muslims underwent and the Muslim political power given to the Christian leadership regime that proved grossly intolerant even to the Christians themselves (23).
Although Cohen presents the story of Muslim-Jewish Convivencia characterized by mutual cultural dependence and equal suffering of civilians from dissident Muslims and Christians despite their religious leadership regimes, some arguments are unjustifiable.
Cohen develops and comprehends his arguments upon the notion of peaceful coexistence and more importantly more suffering on the Muslim community than those borne by Christians and Jews.
As stipulated in many Medieval Spanish studies including Castro’s long standing history about religious connection of races and religions in the medieval Spain, Christians and Jews were likely to have undergone more oppression than the Muslim community underwent in almost all the regimes (Ray 3).
Although Cohen’s claims slightly provide some relevant argument on how Jews somewhat enjoyed peaceful acculturation in the Islamic land, his study is incapable of substantiating his arguments to any prevailing or prior evidence articulated in the Hispanic medieval studies.
Cohen claims that theological differences, legal position of the Jews, economic factors, Jewish stand on social order, and Islamic anti-Semitism were important to the harmonious living.
From a contrasting argument, several other researchers have disputed the notion of peaceful coexistence amongst the three faiths as demonstrated by Cohen in his Hispanic medieval studies. Acculturation of either Jews or Christians has suffered challenges especially following the theological differences demonstrated through the Holy Scriptures with Muslims having a differing credence to the religious doctrine.
Novikoff affirms this argument by asserting, “If this tolerance persisted, it was not on theological grounds, for one does not observe the same tolerance elsewhere in the Middle Ages” (21). Ray confirms this argument by postulating that theological differences never impelled tolerance, but often instigated inter-religious suffering (13).
Cohen assumes minor influence of little spurned tolerance that his fellow scholars present to claim uninterrupted mutual existence. He fails to question himself as to why the Spanish medieval history of peaceful coexistence fails to work in today’s repression amongst Muslims and Judeans as well as Christians.
If the Muslim acknowledged the existence of Judaism, why are there some differences between the Messiah and divinity in the faiths prevailing to date?
Cohen offers substantive evidence of aspects that support his notion of peaceful coexistence amongst three faiths and fails to accord similar attention to the opposing ones.
Evidence on how the legal position of the Jews helped them acculturate into the mainstream Arabic and Muslim culture is missing, and Cohen persistently demonstrates the prevalence of enjoyed security by the Jewish during the Islamic regime, without providing supportive evidence to this notion.
While Cohen supports that the dhimmi groups provided legal protection, authors including Fernandez-Morera state that Catholics opposed power sharing in the dhimmitude state (25). The scholar fails to substantiate how Muslims and Christians confined themselves to their native religious doctrines and somehow forced each other to convert to the other’s religion.
More evidently, the Roman Catholic affiliates failed to spare even the Jews who were less repressive to the Catholic political power. With documents from Cairo to support his argument about economic fairness during Islamic power, Novikoff acknowledges the presence of economic resentment during the Muslim regime (33).
Historical development of religious differences amongst the three main religious doctrines has persistently formed part of religious literature. Tolerance and intolerance among the traditional Muslims, Jews, and Christians in the Convivencia of the three faiths have raised considerable arguments on whether there was mutual coexistence or repression.
It sounds more of religious differences instigated by Islamic anti-Semitism and the persistent hatred amongst the Arabic Muslims, Christians and Jews. On my position, critical differences in the studies undertaken pertaining to Convivencia of Jewish, Christians, and Muslims in the medieval Spain have affected the way modern theological researchers view their coexistence.
In his arguments, Cohen seems to favor Muslim leadership and more often assumes that there was mutual dependence, something that I question, which clearly indicates that different medieval studies depending on different researchers favor one religion.
Although well-articulated, Cohen’s judgment on the peaceful Convivencia among the three religions is evidently biased as sources used to substantiate his arguments come from studies undertaken in the Arab countries. Some pieces of the evidence provided by Cohen demonstrate the actual suffering and intolerance that Jews and Christians experienced during the Muslim regimes.
In addition, facts about the suffering of the Muslims during the power of Christian Catholics are weak, and this aspect gives him a chance to continue considering the historical Hispanic medieval living as harmonious.
Cohen overemphasizes the notion that Jews enjoyed peace and maximum security during the reign of the Islamic state and enjoyed economic equality, yet other sources claim that during the same regime, Jews and Christians expressed economic resentments and experienced prejudice from the ruling Islamic powers.
Cohen, Mark 2007, The “Convivencia” of Jews and Muslims in the High middle Ages. PDF File. 29 Nov. 2013. <http://wcfia.unix.fas.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/CohenMarc_0.pdf>
Fernandez-Morera, Dario. “The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise.” The Intercollegiate Review 41.2 (2006): 23-31. Print.
Novikoff, Alex. “Between tolerance and intolerance in Medieval Spain: A Historiographic Enigma.” Medieval Encounters 11.2 (2005): 7-36. Print.
Ray, Jonathan. “Beyond tolerance and persecution: reassessing our approach to Medieval Convivencia.” Jewish Social Studies 11.2 (2005): 1-18. Print.