Friday, August 17, 2007

Malaysia and Spain: Similarity and differences

There is some similarity between Malaysia and Spain. Both have close connections with Islam.

History of Islam in Malaysia

Some says that Islam began to spread in Peninsular Malaysia in the 12th century. Others says conversion of Malays to Islam began in the 14th century, accelerating with the rise of the state of Malacca under the rule of a Muslim prince in the 15th century. According to Wikipedia, Islam first exists in Malay peninsular when Sultan Muzaffar Shah I of Kedah in the 12th century) was the first ruler to be known to convert to Islam.

Parameswara, after conversion to Islam took on the name of Sultan Megat Iskandar Shah, is the first Sultan of Melaka. He converted into Islam after marrying a princess from Pasai, of present day Indonesia. The conversion of the Sultanate of Malacca into Islam is the milestone of Islamisation of Malay people in Malaysia in the 14th century. However, there seem to be some controversy over this, with some attributing the name Sultan Megat Iskandar Shah to his son. I am no historian, and I will let this issue rest here.

History of Islam in Spain

While medieval Europe was still in the dark ages, Muslim Arabs entered Europe from the South. ABD AL-RAHMAN I, a survivor of a family of caliphs of the Arab empire, reached Spain in the mid-700's and became the first Caliph of Al-Andalus, the Moorish part of Spain, which occupied most of the Iberian Peninsula. He also set up the UMAYYAD Dynasty that ruled Al-Andalus for over three-hundred years. (Grolier, History of Spain).

By the beginning of the ninth century, Moorish Spain became the gem of Europe with its capital city, Cordova and it was then referred to as the golden age of Al-Andalus. Cordova, in southern Spain, became the intellectual center of Europe. There were bookshops and more than seventy libraries. In the great library of Cordova alone, there were some 600,000 manuscripts. Students from France and England traveled to Cordova to learn philosophy, science and medicine from Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars. The period between the early 8th century to late 15th century had been referred to as the Golden Age of Islam when Al-Andalus was considered the center of global civilization.

Jews and Christians lived in peace and harmony with their Muslim overlords and the society emphasise literary rather than religion. However, non-believers called dhimmis paid an extra tax! (If the declaration with no basis from the current Malaysian Constitution that Malaysia is an Islamic states, first the the former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir and recently repeated by the current Deputy Prime Minister, become reality, Christians will become dhimmis (people of the Book) and will end up paying 3 taxes, tax to the Muslim authorities, tithes to the church (which unlike the zakat paid by Muslim in Malaysia, cannot be deducted from the taxable income plus the tax to Inland Revenue. I wonder what would have been the decisions of Sabah and Sarawak regarding joining the Federation of Malaysia if they even had a hint of this possibility happening). However,dhimmis have less rights than Muslim, and others have even less rights.

Islamic Spain have been credited by many as the source of Renaissance of Europe when Christian conquered Spain and obtained the vast works of the Greeks and Romans along with Arab philosophy and mathematics and translated the vast store of knowledge from Arabic to Latin. The concept of Zero (an Arabic word) came from the translations as well as the numerals we use today.

Muslim physicians made significant contributions to the field of medicine such as anatomy and physiology. Abu al-Qasim (Abulcasis) was regarded as the "father of modern surgery" with his Kitab al-Tasrif ("Book of Concessions"), a 30-volume medical encyclopedia which was later translated to Latin and used in European and Muslim medical schools for centuries.

Current state of Islam in Malaysia

According to the Constitution of Malaysia, Islam is the official religion. In the Reid's Commission, a clause was added that this should not imply that Malaysia (then Malaya) shall not be a secular state, but that have been excluded from the Constitution. At the time of the Federation of Malaysia's (then Malaya) formation, more than 50% of its population were non-Muslims. The non-Muslim population percentages have declined to about roughly 43% because the birthrate of Muslims also exceeded that of non-Muslims by a large margin, kicking Singapore out of the Federation in 1965, giving PR and citizenship to large numbers of illegal Muslim Filipinos from Mindanao and Muslim Indonesians from Sumatra and Java, and creating an environment hostile to non-Muslims inducing an estimated 1 million non-Muslim migrating to Western countries or to Singapore because they felt their future was no longer secure in Malaysia. According to U.S. Department of State
Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, as of May 2007, the Muslim population comprises 60.4% of the population, and I expect this to rise further.

Many Malaysian Muslim have indicated the desire to see Malaysia become an Islamic state despite the intention of the nation's founding fathers' to have Malaysia (then Malaya) as a secular state. The statements by the former Prime Minister and repeated recently by the current Deputy Prime Minister that Malaysia is an Islamic state (despite what is in the current Constitution) plus the few cases including a case of a non-Muslim couple married in the Civil Registry but where the husband converted to Islam and converted one of the sons to Islam without the consent of the non-Muslim wife, the refusal of the civil court to hear cases which they say falls under the jurisdiction of the syariah court and requiring the non-Muslim to seek recourse in the syariah court have caused great consternation among non-Muslims. It is clearly stated that the syariah court shall have jurisdiction over Muslim only. Non-Muslim Malaysians are watching with anxiety how the issue will eventually play out.

Current state of Islam in Spain

Spain as it is now can generally be considered Christian (Catholic) although I was told a great majority of its population do not attend Church regularly. The Muslim are in the minority. However, you can still see vestiges of its Islamic past, particularly in the south. Smaller palaces can be found in the historic Albaican quarter where there are still Muslims. However, many former mosques have been converted to churches with crosses on top of domes which revealed their former status. The Gothic Cathedral is an example. It was once the Great Mosque of Granada.

In Corboda, the former Grand Mosque of Cordoba (Le Mezquita), built in the 8th century, have been converted to The Holy Cathedral. This may be bad news for Muslims, but at least this prevented it from complete destruction. The muezzin's minaret have been replaced by the bell-tower. But there are still majestic arches and columns and the mihrab enclosed by a metal fence. There are several Quranic verses on the walls inscribed in Arabic calligraphy. Near the Mosque is the Alcazar (Al-Qasr in Arabic), built in the 8th century as the residence of the first Ummayad emir, Abdur Rehman with his statue. There is also the Ibn Rushd Islamic University which has a mosque.

Along the banks of Guadalquivir (derived from al-Wadi al-Kabir, or Great River, in Arabic) is a historic fort, the Tower of Calahorra (Arabic Qalah al-Harrah, or The Fort of Freedom), which houses an excellent Arab-funded Islamic Museum.

In Seville, there is Seville's Cathedral and its La Giralda (The Minaret). You can walk to the top of the 165-feet tall Minaret by gently sloping ramps. Other evidences of its Islamic past are an Arabic-language wall plate at the entrance to the minaret that tells of its architect, Abu Yusuf Ya'qub, and the huge entry gate with Islamic design and 12th century Arabic inscriptions.

Other legacies of the Islamic past of Spain are the presence of Arabic words and phrases like almirante (al-amir), almohade (al-mohtasub), arroz (al-ruz), guitarra (qitar), aceituna (zaytuna), etc.

Travelling in Spain

If you decide to travel to Spain to see the remains of its glorious Islamic past, you will most likely first land in Madrid, the capital and the largest Spanish city. The second largest city is Barcelona, the capital and most populous city of Catalonia. You can travel by road, train or fly. The train journey between Madrid and Barcelona will take anything 5 and a half hours to 9 hours depending on the train service you use, compared to just over an hour when you fly. And if you fly, check-in time is not too long.

Daily flights from Barcelona airport to Madrid, Barajas, are operated throughout the day between 7.00hr. to 23.00hr. by Air Europa with flight time of only 1 hour 15 minutes. Expect ticket prices of between 94 Euros to 320 Euros return plus 12 Euro service charge.


When I was travelling around Europe 30 years ago, I had to hunt for accommodation on my own on arrival. That is not a pleasant situation. There was no Internet then. Now you have better choices. Now, with the Internet You can book your accommodation ahead of arrival via sites like Hotels EspaƱol (Spanish Hotels). For accommodation in Madrid, you can go to Hotels en Madrid. Can't read Spanish? No problem, go to Hotels in Madrid. For accommodation in Barcelona, try Hoteles en Barcelona. For its English version, go to Hotels in Barcelona. Now, with these conveniences, you don't have to go through the hardship I experienced 30 years ago, hunting for accommodation on arrival at a strange place and always faced with the prospects of finding all hotel rooms fully booked or not suitable either in terms of location or price.

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