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Thursday, August 16, 2007

"City of Lights", Documentary of Andalus to Air on PBS

Granada. Alhambra Palace

The Alhambra Palace overlooking the city of Granada, stands out as the most famous example of Moorish architecture, and perhaps it is the most known Muslim construction all in all.

Alhambra, Granada, Spain

It's a modern-day wish ---- that there is peace in the Middle East. A millennium ago there was peace between Christians, Jews and Muslims, but it wasn't in the Middle East. It was in Spain in a kingdom called Al-Andalus.

"Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain" is a two-hour documentary that plays out almost like a fairy tale. Produced by Unity Productions Foundation, a nonprofit group that says its mission is to "create documentaries ... that can contribute to ending the clash of civilizations," this documentary sheds a positive light on Islam, but gives an equally positive look at Judaism and Christianity.

It's also a very detailed history lesson that begins in the 400s when the Roman Empire was beginning to falter. Spain was in the western regions of the empire and the Visigoths found it easy to take Spain, Portugal, France, Germany and England when the Roman Legions abandoned the western territories. For a time, the Visigoths were tolerant of the Jewish population in the region, until the Visigoths began to convert to Christianity and then began persecuting Jews. At the same time, a religion called Islam was beginning in Mecca.

Eventually Islam would unite Muslim tribes, create a capital in Damascus, and would begin to spread Islam throughout northern Africa. Since Spain was part of a major trade route, everyone wanted to control it, and in the 700s, a Muslim army defeated the Visigoths and began a century of reign that included peace, harmony and the construction of beautiful mosques and palaces in cities such as Cordoba and Seville. It was also a time when Muslim scholars and poets created scientific innovations and beautiful poetry, and stored and translated classic works from the Greek Empire.

But eventually fractions within the Muslim world would lead to internal conflict, the Christian Crusades would lead to wars of "purification," and the Jews would most often be the scapegoat victims. By the 1200s, both the pope in Rome and Muslim leaders in the Middle East were impatient with the way Muslims, Christians and Jews co-existed in Al-Andalus and both vowed to make Spain "pure" for their own people.

Very much to its credit, "Cities of Light" draws commentary from a wide range of scholars ---- Muslim, Christian and Jewish. It also makes a compelling case for why Islamic Spain, a civilization that lasted longer than the Roman Empire, is not just a golden age of Islam, but was a catalyst for the European Renaissance. And it's a cautionary tale of how fanaticism in any religious belief can be deadly.

To watch the trailer, go here

The documentary is to be aired on PBS channels August 22 (in Los Angeles at 9:00 pm, check your local listings for the time in your city)

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