Khosh amadid!

I’ve said it before on various occasions and I’ll say it again: Islam cannot be separated from the origins of Portugal, Arab language and culture cannot be separated from the Portuguese culture and language. They were already in the Iberian Peninsula before the creation of the country, they remained here during its formation process and left their mark on the vocabulary, placenames, gastronomy, customs and landscape. Which translates into the simple truth that the Portuguese are partially Arabized Latinos.

That’s why I was somewhat disgusted when I heard the orange idiot who occupies the White House say, during his visit to the UK, that immigration is changing Europe’s culture, which in the slang of the nativist right is code for the threat of Islam. And I say somewhat, because there’s not much that’s truly surprising in the words of a narcissistic, wilfully ignorant and deeply insecure clown.

As a native Portuguese whose family has been in Portugal for at least four centuries, whose native language has as much as one thousand words of Arab origin, whose native land is marked by numerous Arabic placenames and where bakeries, restaurants or traditional celebrations include various dishes of Arab origin or influence, all of it a product of the Islamic period of Iberian History, I can only classify as ignorant the idea that immigration from the Middle East or north Africa is a threat to European culture. Utter ignorance, raw stupidity, ridiculous fear-mongering. Europe is not monolithic and, when it comes to the southwestern end of the continent, Islamic civilization is one of its cultural matrixes.

Sala Árabe - Sintra

The Arab room in the Palace of Sintra, once the residence of Moorish rulers and later of Portuguese royalty (source)

But that was also why, last week, I happily accompanied through the media the visit to Portugal of Aga Khan IV, spiritual leader of the Naziri Ismaili Muslims, who was received with State honours by the President and Prime-Minister and, starting from the middle of next year, will have an official residence in Lisbon, where the world headquarters of the Ismaili Imamat will be located. At a time when many call for an imaginary cultural purity, close themselves up in a siege mentality or strive to deny layers of European culture, it’s good to know that my country, despite all its problems, manages to remain open to the Islamic world, to which it owes a part of its national identity.

Welcome, Imam!

Caligrama ismailita


9 thoughts on “Khosh amadid!

  1. I must say it is very unfortunate that you, even as a polytheist, use the stupidity Trump to justify a simple historical truth, i.e. that the Islamic empire invaded Portugal long ago and through imperialism spread their culture, just like Christianity and the Romans had done before them. Now, the only thing I can say here in defense of Islam is that it was as bad (and not worse) as Christianity for Portugal since it conquered over an indigenous land, people and culture, for the glory of monotheism and the wealth of empire…The presence of Muslim immigrants or your views on that is irrelevant to the fact of Islamic imperialism in Portugal. Personally I disagree with immigration as a policy, but as a polytheist who treats all peoples the same way, I wish to see the indigenous religion and cultures of “Muslim” lands return to what they once were. This is coming from a Greek who is 1/4 Egyptian. If you (as I do) love such people and their ancient Berber/Semetic/Arabian heritage of polytheism, why didn’t you state so instead of defending Islam’s imperialism, which they first and foremost suffered from? Perhaps your audience isn’t polytheists, but you didn’t state that neither and so I’m making conclusions accordingly.

    • To begin with, you’re neglecting the fact Portugal, which was created no sooner than c. 1096, did not exist at the time of the Islamic invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 711; nor for that matter at the time of the Christianization of the region, which happened even earlier. To claim that the “Islamic empire invaded Portugal long ago” is thus an anachronism that can only be described as an attempt at painting Islam as an alien enemy. Which in Portugal’s case it isn’t, because Portuguese culture and identity were born out of a blend of different cultures, Muslim Arab among them.

      Also, you might want to rethink the whole “conquered over an indigenous land, people and culture”, because at the time of the Islamic invasion of 711 there was very little in the way of truly indigenous in the Iberian Peninsula: in the 8th century, the region was ruled by Visigoths and partly settled by Swabians (i.e. Germanic migrants/invaders), who had been assimilated by the predominant Latin culture, which was brought or indeed imposed by Romans since the last centuries BCE. And even before that, you had Celts and Carthaginians who occupied “indigenous land, people and culture” in various parts of the peninsula. You have to go back thousands of years, to the time of the very first human settlements in the region, to find a truly indigenous Iberian population and culture. After that, it’s basically just layer upon layer of invaders and migrants, including Muslim Arabs and Berbers, who eventually mixed and blended with the pre-existing groups.

      This also explains why I said nothing about “ancient Berber/Semetic/Arabian heritage of polytheism” instead of “defending Islam’s imperialism, which they first and foremost suffered from”. If my country did not exist before 711 and its origin and culture are tied to the Islamic presence in the Iberian Peninsula, then Islam is not a foreign religion to me and it has as much right to exist as any other religion. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see Berber, Semitic and Arab polytheism make a come back and will support it. But I will not make it a zero-sum game where its either traditional polytheism or Islam, no more than I will make the end of Christianity a necessary condition for the resurgence of polytheism in my country.

      • Actually it is a zero sum game in that, if our religions are to come back, monotheists will have to “convert” or revert to their ancestral polytheisms. The argument that no European is indigenous because over many millennia there were different waves of human migration is unfair and often used by racist American conservatives to claim Native Americans are “Serbian immigrants” and have no more right to be there than whites. Polytheisms are earth-based religions and it’s clear indigenous peoples had a generations old connection to their lands. How long do they have to be there to be sufficiently native to you? There is even evidence that both Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians are descended from more than one ancient people’s migration tens of thousands of years apart.

      • Some polytheists may come from a monotheist background, others may come from an agnostic, atheist, monist, pantheist or simply spiritual, but non-denominational background. And even then, while there may be many polytheists, there may still be many monotheists. There’s room for everyone, no need to make it into an either-or proposition.

        As for Native Americans, the issue is who were *the first* to move into a given land and are therefore the actual or original indigenous population. If Native Americans were the first, they’re it. If not, they’re simply a migrant population who settled in an already inhabited land and dealt with the pre-existing population in any number of ways. How long does it take for newcomers to become native depends on that, not just time: if they displace the indigenous population by force, they can become the new natives relatively fast; if they blend in and are assimilated, the process may be slower. A mixture of both is also possible.

        Europe has been going through this sort of processes for millennia and we’ve sort of integrated that into national identities, some more than others, because some countries have gone through more migrations and settlements than others. Ireland and Iceland have a more uniform and self-contained History. But France, for instance, still uses the Gallic – i.e. Celtic – demonym, even though the name of the country refers to a Germanic tribe and French is a Latin language.

        Those layers, however, are old and the different groups have been subsumed, so there’s nothing like a Gallic tribe demanding rights from a Germanic government in a predominantly Roman region. Just like there’s no Lusitanian tribe claiming for legal recognition in a Swabian kingdom of northwest Portugal. Because those migrations, conquests, settlements and resettlements happened long ago. Not so with Native Americans in the US, which is why you speak of it as a fresh wound – because it is one – whereas I speak of Islamic presence in Iberia in a much more positive tone. It happened long ago and the different groups have been subsumed, their heritage forged into a single national identity. I don’t seen Islam as an invading alien as if the year 711 was 1871. You see it differently because your country is young, too young with too many open wounds, and going through a period of hyper-polarization.

      • You use an American example and address the issue in the typically polarized view of a US American. Fair assumption.

      • OK. It’s something I noticed both among US and Canadian conservatives. It is total bullshit, they cannot or will not understand the injustices done to the native peoples and how that still effects them today.

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