Arab News takes a Deep Dive into the history of Al-Andalus

Arab News takes a Deep Dive into the history of Al-Andalus
General view of Al-Hambra, Granada in Spain. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 06 November 2020

Arab News takes a Deep Dive into the history of Al-Andalus

Arab News takes a Deep Dive into the history of Al-Andalus
  • How eight centuries of Muslim rule led to a golden age of culture and science on the Iberian Peninsula
  • An investigation by Arab News’ new Research and Studies Unit tracks down descendants of families expelled when the era ended

Arab News’ latest online Deep Dive takes an in-depth look at Al-Andalus, the land on the Iberian Peninsula that was ruled by Muslims for eight centuries, and how its rich heritage left a lasting effect on modern Spain.

The months-long investigation was conducted by the long-form journalism department of Arab News’ new Research and Studies Unit as a Deep Dive, which immerses readers in a multimedia report including videos and interactive graphics.

“We hope that this Deep Dive, like others we have produced, contributes to people’s understanding of under-reported minorities in the region, as it seeks to create a more tolerant environment,” said Arab News’ Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas. “We also trust that it will serve as a great resource for people looking to learn more about Al-Andalus, which was a golden age for the Arab and Muslim world.”

The Deep Dive, by Jonathan Gornall and Mouna El-Haimoud, looks back to the dawn of Al-Andalus in the 8th century, and ends with the stories of families who have traced their roots to those who were forced to convert to Christianity or exiled after the end of Muslim rule in 1492.

Moroccan El-Haimoud, Arab News’ Madrid correspondent, travelled to Cordoba and Granada, the heartland of Al-Andalus, to speak with people on the ground. She gained special access to film in the legendary Alhambra, and interviewed one of the last Andalusians to be found in Spain, Abd Samad Romero.

“It is fascinating to see the many similarities between our culture in Morocco and Al-Andalus, thanks to the influence of the Moorish and Andalusians that came to Morocco,” El-Haimoud said.  “Since I moved to Spain 23 years ago, I always felt the need to dig more into the history of Al-Andalus and to know more about that important period of time.

“After I was asked by Arab News back in August to make a story about the Guadameci art in Cordoba, I felt the connection once again. Then, the idea came to me of finding Moorish descendants to tell their stories. The journey was beautiful and full of surprises. It made me understand a lot about our childhood traditions in Morocco, which connected me again with my roots.”

The Deep Dive highlights a topic seen as increasingly important in Spain.

Dr. Fatima Roldan Castro, a professor in the department of Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of Seville, is a principal investigator of its Andalusian heritage research group. She said “Arabism” as an academic discipline has a long tradition in Spain because of the Arab and Islamic presence in its history.

“The history and culture of Al-Andalus are part of the educational curriculum from primary education, although they are not treated with the depth and detail that they deserve,” she said.

“In other sectors outside academia, although often closely linked to it, special attention is devoted to the Andalusian past. An example is (the region of) Andalusia, where the tourism sector makes use of this stage of history and culture that occurred in it, as one of its main claims by splendidly showing the historical, artistic and cultural heritage of a past that identifies both the territory and its inhabitants.”

Dr. Julio Navarro Palazon, an archaeologist and senior scientist of Islamic archaeology of the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid, said Spain had made efforts to recover its Andalusian past.

“This is reflected in the economic and scientific investment placed around restoration of the monuments that have survived, as well as of the large number of archaeological excavations that are recovering … the remains of this period.”

Despite these efforts, the Islamic roots of Al-Andalus are not always apparent.

“The majority of the Spanish society is hardly aware of their Islamic past, and it is largely ignored,” said Umar del Pozo Cadenas, president of the Granada Mosque Foundation.

“However, due to academic investigation, more and more information is being uncovered and people are realizing that there is in fact an extensive heritage linking modern Spain to its Islamic past. This is happening very slowly as the efforts to erase any aspect of Islam from Catholic Spain were done very thoroughly and conscientiously.

“As we know, Islamic Spain made great contributions to science, technology, algebra, engineering, medicine and many other fields, as well as (leaving) a substantial amount of monuments and constructions which are still visible today.”

Sabrina Amrani, who owns an eponymous gallery in Madrid, agrees.

“The Islamic culture of Al-Andalus is an element you can still breathe in modern Spain,” she said. “The more you would go south and the more it would be visible of course, but nationally its traces are all around us: In the Spanish language, pastries and regional dishes, and in the architecture.”

Being from Granada, Spanish artist Eduardo Gorlat, whose artistic name is EduArtGranada, said the influence of Al-Andalus is inescapable.

“My style has clear references to the Andalusian past, to the Arab culture and also to the Persian. I do not see them as foreigners but as something of our own and that we have inherited and should be valued,” he said. “I try to do it from a modern perspective in an attempt to integrate to our days, with a fresh touch that reaches the viewer; an attempt to connect the past with the future. I always like to work from the feeling of nostalgia for the lost, but with a colorful touch of joy: A bit like Andalusia, very happy but nostalgic.”

Not everything about Andalusia is happy, however. Prof. Jamal bin Ammar Al-Ahmar, a professor at Algeria’s Ferhat Abbas University, said many activists are working to have Spain recognize the descendants of the people it expelled.

“The Andalusian issue has a flag of its own, expressing its demands in all the diaspora of the world,” he said. ‘Our activities have appeared on several occasions, and it appears every year on Jan. 2 … to commemorate the fall of Andalusia under the blows of the Catholic kings.”

In 2015, the Spanish government offered citizenship to descendants of the Jews who had lived in harmony with the Muslims in Al-Andalus and who were expelled by the Christians in the Middle Ages. Despite promises made by the victorious Catholic monarchs after the fall of Granada in 1492, Muslims were also exiled from the land that had been theirs for 800 years, but no similar offer has been made to their descendants.

Hossain Bouzineb, an emeritus professor at the Mohammed V University of Rabat, specializing in Al-Andalus history, said the descendants of Al-Andalus had managed to rediscover their family origins through researching their past. “Nowadays, we have a rich documentary base on the Moorish community, which can clarify many extremes of the life trajectory of this community uprooted from its land and scattered throughout the planet,” he said.

Iman Alyauhariah Travieso, a Spanish Muslim convert who lives in Granada, said while knowledge of Al-Andalus improved after the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975, its history is still not well known, particularly among younger generations. “My interest in the history of Al-Andalus grew, of course, as I became a Muslim,”  she said. “Previously, it was just some certain curiosity since I felt historically connected to the Muslim past of Spain, and I believe that the majority of Spaniards of my generation think so, but on the other hand, in the Spain that I grew up the Islamic past was practically erased from history.”

Al-Andalus revisited
Eight centuries of Muslim rule in Spain, during which Arab culture and science flourished, are echoed not only in the magnificent art and buildings of Al-Andalus, but also in the souls and the DNA of its descendants



Tech giants face hefty fines under UK online safety bill to protect children

Tech giants face hefty fines under UK online safety bill to protect children
Updated 13 May 2021

Tech giants face hefty fines under UK online safety bill to protect children

Tech giants face hefty fines under UK online safety bill to protect children
  • A new online safety bill will regulate social media with terms and conditions on minimum age thresholds
  • Ofcom, the government-approved regulator for broadcasting and telecommunications, will be responsible for enforcing the new bill

LONDON: The UK government announced plans on Wednesday to introduce age verification for users accessing social media platforms as part of efforts to protect children online. 

A new online safety bill will regulate social media with terms and conditions on minimum age thresholds, while tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter will face hefty fines if they allow underage children to access their services. 

Ofcom, the government-approved regulator for broadcasting and telecommunications, will be responsible for enforcing the new bill.

Currently, children under 13 are not allowed to sign up to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, while those under 12 are prohibited from creating a Google account. Meanwhile, the Facebook-owned chat service WhatsApp has a minimum age of 16.

Most social media companies rely on users self-declaring their age when they sign up. However, under the new regulations, Ofcom will have the power to carry out age checks and recommend certain social media platforms introduce age verifications. 

This could mean that social media firms will require users to upload a form of ID to verify their age. However, platforms warned that this move would exclude millions of users, both young and old, because many lack the documentation required.

The Online Harms Foundation criticized the UK government’s plans, saying that the proposals “overwhelmingly ignored” smaller platforms in favor of tech giants.

In a statement, the foundation claimed that the government focused on larger platforms, which already carry out much of what the bill demands.

Live TV broadcasts Israeli mob attacking driver they believe to be Arab

Live TV broadcasts Israeli mob attacking driver they believe to be Arab
Updated 13 May 2021

Live TV broadcasts Israeli mob attacking driver they believe to be Arab

Live TV broadcasts Israeli mob attacking driver they believe to be Arab
  • The driver was forcibly pulled from the vehicle and dozens of people descended on him and beat him
  • Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital said in a statement that “the victim of the lynching is seriously injured but stable”

LONDON: Footage of a far-right Israeli mob attacking a man in Bat Yam, Tel Aviv, who they believed was an Arab was broadcast live on TV on Wednesday as Israeli extremists assaulted Arabs in several cities.

The footage was aired on Israeli public broadcaster Kan, but reports indicated that the police and emergency services did not arrive on the scene until 15 minutes later. By that time, the victim was lying on the ground motionless and bloodied in the middle of the street. 

Although Israelis at the scene justified the attack by saying that the driver was an Arab who was intentionally trying to crash into the crowd, the footage showed otherwise. A white car is seen reversing away from a crowd before it collides with another vehicle.

The car then appears to speed forward toward the crowd before being stopped by the mob. Then the driver is forcibly pulled from the vehicle and dozens of people descend on him and beat him. 

Six people have been arrested following the brutal attack. Meanwhile, Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital said in a statement that “the victim of the lynching is seriously injured but stable.” 

The live broadcast comes amid increased demonstrations by far-right Israelis and escalating violence between Israel and Hamas, with the UN warning that the two sides are heading for “all-out war.” 

First Muslim woman on UK Special Forces TV show describes ‘internal conflict’ at taking part

First Muslim woman on UK Special Forces TV show describes ‘internal conflict’ at taking part
Updated 11 May 2021

First Muslim woman on UK Special Forces TV show describes ‘internal conflict’ at taking part

First Muslim woman on UK Special Forces TV show describes ‘internal conflict’ at taking part
  • Fitness enthusiast Shireen Khan says “SAS Who Dares Wins” placed her in some uncomfortable situations
  • The entrepreneur of Pakistani origin said her parents did not want her to take part, and share room and toilets with men

LONDON: The first Muslim woman to take part in a popular British TV show, in which contestants are set challenges by former Special Forces members, has described both her pride in taking part but the “difficult situations” she faced linked to her faith and upbringing.
Shireen Khan, an aesthetics and tech entrepreneur from London, was chosen among thousands as one of the recruits in the action-packed series “SAS Who Dares Wins.”
The sixth season, which started airing on Sunday on Channel 4, involves an elite team of ex-Special Forces soldiers putting 21 men and women through a series of grueling physical and mental exercises designed to mirror selection for the Special Air Services (SAS).
“A lot of people thought I wasn’t going to get on the show or even pass their fitness tests,” Khan told Arab News of the entry process. “At one point, I actually thought myself I was’t going to pass, because they were so difficult.”
Even to enter the show, contestants must be able to do 44 push-ups in a minute-and-a-half, and run 1.9 kilometers in nine minutes.
Khan, 28, received the call to say she made it as one of the final recruits, but her parents were not very happy, which posed a “real conflict” for her.
“My mum was like, you are a Muslim girl and how are you planning to go onto the show, when you are going to be sleeping next to men, and going to the toilet, and all of these things, if you go on the show, I am practically going to disown you,” Khan told Arab News.
For Khan, this was “a once in a lifetime opportunity,” although it “was a very difficult situation.”
“There are Muslim women who want to go into the SAS or army, because that is their passion and the big question is, is that something they can do in the correct way of Islam?”
Since then, her father has come around due to her achievement and knowing her values, but her mother has not, however at the time of the interview, they still had not seen her contribution to the show.
On the show, the men and women share open toilets and sleep in army camp beds in the same room. They also get changed together.

The sixth season of “SAS Who Dares Wins” started airing on Sunday on UK Channel 4. (Channel 4)

“I got very constipated, because mentally that is not something I am used to, whereas a lot of the other recruits, they have been in scouts and been wilderness camping since they were young, they have been exposed to these type of things, so they did not find it as a culture shock,” Khan said. “Whereas with me, I have been brought up in a very strict Muslim household in some way, so I physically couldn’t go to the toilet.”
At one point, they returned to camp and were washed off in freezing cold water to clear the mud and filth, and were told to undress and get into their dry kit.
“It meant that everyone had to strip, and when it came to me, I just said no,” Khan said. Instead, she wore her dry kit over her wet clothes, prompting warnings from the show’s staff that she risked hypothermia.
“It was a very uncomfortable situation and what you see on TV and in reality is absolutely nothing what they put you through, they literally just put a few snippets, but you are constantly going through that trauma behind the cameras.”
Another problem she faced was that the show did not not provide halal food.
Women were only allowed to apply for the real SAS since 2018.
On the TV show, Khan is not the first Muslim to take part. In the second season, Iraqi-born Mohammed Abdul Razak, who reached the final stage, used to pray five times a day on the show.
It was filmed in a remote part of Scotland, where the British Special Forces do most of their challenging training.
Despite her best efforts, Khan was the first to be eliminated during the first task, where they had to race 2.2 kilometers up a mountain carrying 18 kilos on their backs, as she along with another contestant, would have been a liability in a real war zone, the judges said.
Contestants often have a story of hardship, which has given them the strength to turn their lives around.
“Since I was young, I was bullied at school, I was not one of the best looking girls, I had a mustache growing up, being from a Pakistani background I was extremely hairy and that was one of the targets for bullies to pick on me and beat me up in the playground,” Khan said.
She suffered from self-esteem issues, which made her binge eat and become overweight. She also went through a really tough time with her parents’ divorce and growing up without much money.
She changed her life to become as physically fit as possible and went from “rags to riches,” training as a nurse before setting up a a chain of beauty clinics across London.
“I have come a long way took a lot for me to do that, but I am a pure example of when you put your mind to something it is possible.”

Shireen Khan, an aesthetics and tech entrepreneur from London, was chosen among thousands as one of the recruits in the action-packed series “SAS Who Dares Wins.” (Supplied)

Khan joined the show because wanted to experience the real SAS and army, “who are actually going through this day to day just to save us, and for us to be sleeping peacefully at night. Coming off the show, my admiration, I’ve just got no words to describe what they get exposed to every day, it’s a real honor.”
Khan does not think she is capable of a career in the SAS because she discovered on the show she has physical, mental limitations. Weighing 51kg, Khan is 157cm, and said she was physically unable to compete with the men in the same tasks.
“It has definitely changed and shaped the way I look at life in general and I am exposing myself to new challenges,” she said.
Khan said she now plans to focus on her business and charitable work “and give back to the world in a different way.”
Khan runs a charity called Carrott Kids, which helped rebuild an earthquake-damaged school for 100 children in a remote Pakistan village. The new school building opened in March.

MBC's Waleed Al-Ibrahim receives King Abdulaziz medal

MBC's Waleed Al-Ibrahim receives King Abdulaziz medal
Updated 11 May 2021

MBC's Waleed Al-Ibrahim receives King Abdulaziz medal

MBC's Waleed Al-Ibrahim receives King Abdulaziz medal

RIYADH: Saudi Arabian media mogul Waleed Al-Ibrahim received on Monday the King Abdulaziz Order of Merit for his success in the media and broadcasting world.

The King Abdulaziz Order of Merit is a medal awarded to citizens of Saudi Arabia and foreigners for meritorious service to Saudi Arabia. It is considered the highest civilian honor in the Kingdom.

Al-Ibrahim founded and chaired the Middle East Broadcasting Center, also known as MBC Group, in London in 1991. At that time of its launch, MBC was the first pan-Arab free-to-air satellite TV network. Today, MBC is one of the biggest media broadcasting stations in the Arab world. It includes several movie, TV show, and children channels such as MBC 2, MBC 3, MBC 4 and MBC Action. Al Ibrahim launched Al Arabiya in 2003, a free-to-air television news channel based in Dubai.

Al-Ibrahim is widely recognized for his contributions in the field of Arab media. In 2007, he was chosen as the 27th most influential Arab among 100 Arab personalities by Arabian Business. He received the title ‘Media Man of the Year’ at the 4th MENA Cristal Awards held in Lebanon in 2008. In 2011, he was chosen among the top 50 figures in MENA’s media, marketing and advertising industry. Al Ibrahim was also named as the world's 66th most influential Arab personality by Gulf News in 2012, while Arabian Business named him as the world's 24th most influential Arab among 500 others in 2012.


Facebook, Instagram accused of bias by censoring Palestinian content 

Facebook, Instagram accused of bias by censoring Palestinian content 
Updated 11 May 2021

Facebook, Instagram accused of bias by censoring Palestinian content 

Facebook, Instagram accused of bias by censoring Palestinian content 
  • Director of 7amleh said the censorship of Palestinians happened through two channels
  • The organization was able to restore some content and pages of users who reported removals to them

DUBAI: Imagine the pain of being kicked out of your own home. Then imagine being unable to let the world know what is happening to you.

This is the reality for Palestinians living in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, which houses 28 families from the 1948 Nakba. Under international law, East Jerusalem is considered part of the Palestinian Territories.

Earlier this year, the Israeli Central Court in East Jerusalem approved a decision to evict four Palestinian families from their homes in the neighborhood. 

The court was scheduled to issue a ruling on the evictions on May 6 amid heated demonstrations and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers, but the decision was delayed until May 10.

Hundreds of social media users have accused Instagram and Facebook of removing content and accounts reporting on the Sheikh Jarrah violence.

One of the videos that was deleted from the story archives of Palestinian journalist Maha Rezeq was about Israeli settler Jacob, who took over the house of Muna El-Kurd in 2009. He told her that if he did not steal her house then someone else would.

“What I’ve been sharing is raw footage, videos, testimonies of people on the ground, some are actually coming from the mouth of an Israeli, the mouth of a settler, why is that controversial? Everything was self-explanatory, there is no blood or graphic footage that violates the community standard,” Rezeq said.

Rezeq told Arab News that only her content on Sheikh Jarrah was removed.

“The only thing that was removed from my archive were stories and posts related to exposing Israeli crimes against Palestinians.”

Mohammed El-Kurd, a Palestinian writer from Jerusalem, was posting videos and stories on violence in Sheikh Jarrah when he received a warning that his account might be deleted.

“Some of your previous posts didn’t follow our Community Guidelines,” the message read. “If you post something that goes against our guidelines again, your account may be deleted, including your posts, archive, messages and followers.”

Facebook also removed “57 pieces of content” from his page because they went against the guidelines.

Yasmin Dabat said her stories with the hashtag #SaveSheikhJarrah, dated to May 3, were “removed by Instagram without any warnings or updates.”

Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, tweeted it was facing technical issues on May 6, after hundreds of people began reporting the censorship.

“We know that some people are experiencing issues uploading and viewing stories. This is a widespread global technical issue not related to any particular topic and we’re fixing it right now. We’ll provide an update as soon as we can.”

Nadim Nashif, the director of a nonprofit organization called 7amleh that advocates for Palestinian digital rights, said the explanation did not make sense to them.

“(It) is very weird, like you know, to compare what happened in a certain neighborhood in Jerusalem, with huge countries like Canada, the US and Colombia, doesn’t sound logical to us, doesn’t sound like it’s really explaining, because in Canada and the US they were taking down stories that are about various topics, (but) here (it was) about (a) certain hashtag, specifically about Sheikh Jarrah,” he said.

Nashif said the censorship of Palestinians happened through two channels.

“One factor is what the Israelis are doing, they are basically trying to push the social media platforms to adopt their own standards of what should be there and what shouldn’t be there. There’s strong cooperation between them and Facebook mainly.”

According to Nashif, this leads to what’s called “voluntary takedowns,” where Israeli cyber units send requests to social media platforms to take down specific content without a court order.

Another way that Palestinian content was pushed out of social media was through “armies of trolls and applications called Act.IL organizing people to report in a massive way,” he added.

Act.IL is an app that describes itself as “the place where all pro-Israeli advocates, communities and organizations meet to work together to fight back against the demonization and delegitimization of the Jewish state.”

According to the app, users “will be able to remove inciting content from social media, fight antisemitism and anti-Zionism, influence the online narrative regarding Israel, and take part in special pro-Israel campaigns and efforts.”

Palestinians are also being silenced on social media through the use of Artificial Intelligence by those platforms to identify what content violates their user guidelines.

“Social media platforms are (using) artificial intelligence for takedowns and there is lots of use of keywords, mainly around what the US government consider(s) as terrorist organizations,” Nashif explained.

Some of those who reported content takedowns and account removals to 7amleh were able to restore their content after the organization reached out to Facebook.

“We managed to restore tens or hundreds of them in this struggle, because we are (a) trusted partner of Facebook,” Nashif added.

Dabat was able to recover her stories around 12 hours later after getting in touch with Instagram.

“I emailed Instagram directly mentioning this and applied pressure on them to put them back. They then put them back without replying to me,” she said.

Nashif said the system was still biased despite the restoration of content and accounts.

“We (haven’t) managed to get a transparent, clear system of content moderation. The keyword here is transparency and equality, because this is not happening in the Israeli side.”

Instagram hid the hashtag #الأقصى (Al-Aqsa in Arabic) two days ago, when Israeli police in riot gear were deployed in large numbers as thousands of Muslims held Tarawih prayers. Medics said over 200 Palestinians were wounded that night.

“Part of the escalation that happened is that they were even taking down hashtags, I mean they were hiding hashtags like Al-Aqsa, which is something new,” Nashif said.

He advised social media users to continue reporting instances of censorship through their platforms and contact organizations that handled these issues to raise awareness and correct such behavior.

Instagram sent a clarification on May 11 to Arab News about the removals of accounts and posts related to Sheikh Jarrah.
“Earlier this week, many of our Instagram users faced significant issues accessing certain hashtags and content - including our Palestinian community. We sincerely apologize for the frustration this has caused and assure you that we were in no way trying to limit anyone’s ability to freely express themselves,” the statement read.

On Thursday, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland urged Israel to cease demolitions and evictions in Sheikh Jarrah in line with its obligations under international humanitarian law.

On Sunday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel rejected pressure not to build in Jerusalem, after days of unrest and growing international condemnation of planned evictions of Palestinians from homes in the city claimed by Jewish settlers.

“We firmly reject the pressure not to build in Jerusalem. To my regret, this pressure has been increasing of late.”

Last week, the Red Cross reported that 22 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli police in annexed East Jerusalem.