by Shadab Zeest Hashmi
Trying to name the peculiar sweetness of Spanish sunlight in winter (lemon soufflé? saffron ice cream? malai qulfi?) before touchdown in Granada, I feel the small plane shake, then gently glide into descent. I’m reminded of a poem of mine in which a character has a dream of flying over the Alhambra: She grew wings so long they dipped in the Vega… Flying over Alhambra, she looked for the mexura, the court of myrtles, granaries, the royal stables…
This is my first flight to Granada and first visit since I finished Baker of Tarifa— my book of poems based on the legendary “convivencia” (peaceful coexistence of the Abrahamic people) in al-Andalus or Muslim Spain (711-1492). In the many years since the book was published, it has traveled to numerous places but this place, Andalucia, is a return to the world it embodies, the spectacular bridge that al-Andalus was— a bridge between antiquity and modernity, between Africa, Europe and Asia, between Medieval Jews, Muslims and Christians.
I am here to present from Baker of Tarifa and I am exhilarated to meet the academics who have invited me, to meet students, to present my poems at venues that are only a few miles away from the great Alhambra. These are difficult times to be speaking about the Islamic Civilization as a Muslim; being in the line of fire from the weaponry of literalism on both sides of the war-terrorism binary, the only thing we can do is attempt to be a bridge, to revive a language that conceived pluralism, a time known to be the pre-cursor to European Renaissance. The history of Al-Andalus, spanning nearly a millennium and collapsing with the Spanish Inquisition, is not entirely free of conflict, but it offers a model for tolerance and intellectual efflorescence and inspires hope.