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

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Unwanted preservation

Another still wanted to call himself Mercury, the inventor of all theft and all deceit, to whom greedy men offer sacrifices, as if he was the god of profit, forming heaps of rocks when passing through crossroads. (De Correctione Rusticorum, 7)

So wrote Saint Martin of Dume in the second half of the 6th century. Of course, he meant it as a condemnation of pre-Christian practices, though how far they were prevalent in northwest Iberia at the time is unclear. But as so often happens, when writing about what you think people shouldn’t do, you end up preserving the memory of it, thus offering the possibility of resumption of those practices later on. Which is exactly the case here: the text gives a clear account of road-side rock piles as a form of tribute to Mercury and so I do just that. As in the photo above, where you can see a cairn I erected yesterday next to a crossroad. Thank you, Saint Martin!

Also, if you’re a heathen and you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed how his description of Mercury resembles that of Loki in Snorri’s Edda, Gylfaginning 34, where Laufey’s son is called the “originator of deceits” (Faulkes’ translation). Pretty much in line with the character of the Greek Hermes, who’s described in his Homeric hymn as “very crafty” and “thief”, even “Prince of Thieves”, though that didn’t make Him any less godly or unworthy of worship. It did, however, make Him more prone to comparisons with the deceiver-in-chief of the Judeo-Christian tradition – aka, the devil – and you see some of that in Saint Martin’s words. I’m not saying that Hermes and Loki are the same god – it’s not something I believe in – but their resemblances, both in traits and the way they were treated by Christian authors, should be taken into consideration before arguing that Laufey’s son isn’t to be worshipped because He’s a liar.