As a homage to that time and place; as a potential vehicle for teaching about that historical period and for constructive dialogue about Islamic-Jewish-Christian interfaith issues in general; and as a way to express some things that are meaningful to me and that I want to share with others, I have written what I think of as a filmscript, or perhaps a play, that takes place in al-Andalus in the Tenth Century. It is an historical romance.
The principal theme of the script is the historical reality of intimate and constructive relations between Muslims, Jews and Christians in al-Andalus at that time. What they shared was a culture – a culture that placed high value on learning, on beauty and on what today we might call moral character development. Other themes include:
– The beginnings of the Renaissance in Europe, in a Western European land under Muslim rule.
– The power of poetry, including Arabic poetry, and the development of Hebrew poetry through Arabic poetry.
– The importance, both personally and for faith systems, of both engaging The Other and looking within.
– The existence of miracles all around us.
– Feminism. All four of the female characters struggle with rules and prohibitions placed on women.
The main characters all are historical figures:
1. Three Muslim Male leads
– The Great Prince, Abd al-Rahman, seen only in flashback, who in fact established enlightened Muslim rule in al-Andalus, in the 8th Century.
– Caliph Abd ar-Rahman III (“Abd ar-Rahman”), who in fact was a descendant of the Great Prince and declared himself Caliph in 929, and who at the time of the story is old and has paid in unhappiness the price of almost 50 years of successful rule over al-Andalus.
– Prince Hakam, who in fact was Abd ar-Rahman’s son and a Renaissance man, and who in the story tries to protect his father, his sister and the realm.
2. Three Jewish Male leads
– Hasdai Ibn Shaprut, who in fact was personal physician to, and diplomatic representative of, Caliph Abd ar-Rahman, and also was Nasi, i.e., the leader of the Jewish community in al-Andalus. In the story, he tries to be true to his love of medicine, to the Caliph, to the Jewish people, to his love, Lubama, and to whomever he meets — and otherwise be perfect. And his development beyond that, as his heart opens.
– Dunash ben Labrat, newly arrived from Baghdad, who in fact revolutionized Hebrew poetry by incorporating the meter, forms and broad subject matter of Arabic poetry.
– Moses ben Hanoch, Rabbi and Talmudic scholar in Baghdad, who in fact was captured at sea, ransomed by Hasdai and relocated to Córdoba, where he became Chief Rabbi.
3. Three Catholic Male leads
– Count Sunyer, who in fact was the ruler of what would become Barcelona/Catalonia and with Hasdai negotiated a peace treaty, and who in the story forms a friendship with Hasdai as the two negotiate that peace treaty.
– Bishop Racemundo (also known as Rabi ibn Zayd) who in fact was another adviser to the Caliph, and who in the story tries to do his best for his faith community, for the Caliph, and for his friend Hasdai.
– John of Gorze, who in fact was a monk born in Lorraine, sent by Otto I of Saxony (later, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire) to Córdoba to negotiate with the Caliph and who then was detained in Córdoba by the Caliph. In the story, John does not know why he is being detained in Córdoba yet manages to see miracles all around him there. In historical fact, John returned North after three years of detention in Córdoba, became Abbot of Gorze and after his death was canonized as Saint John of Gorze.
4. Three Female leads
– Wallada, Muslim, who in fact was the daughter of the Caliph who came to power in al-Andalus in 1024. She was a very powerful and provocative woman, and the poet Ibn Zaydun was in fact a great love of her life. In the story, she is Abd ar-Rahman’s daughter, and sister to Hakam, and also a powerful and provocative force.
– Lubama, Muslim, who in fact was the royal Library’s acquisitions expert during the rule of Abd ar-Rahman, as well as a mathematician, poet, copyist, and Hakam’s private secretary, and who in the story is in love with Hasdai and tries to protect what she loves, including Hasdai, Hakam and learning.
– Hrotsvitha, Christian, who in fact was a celebrated Tenth Century writer from Saxony some of whose writings are defamatory of Jews and Muslims, and who in the story comes to Córdoba to stir the Christian population to revolt and to gather information she can use to defame the Caliph and Muslim rule.
Other Historical Characters
• Ibn Zaydun, Muslim, real-life poet and lover of Wallada.
• Ibn Abdus, Muslim, Abd ar-Rahman’s real-life Vizier, who in the story is jealous of Ibn Zaydun.
It is extremely unlikely that this script will make its way to your local theatre any time soon. But if it plays in your mind and moves you, it will be a success.
I include this script in this website because poetry is one of the principal themes of the script. Poetry was an important part of the culture of al-Andalus, and the script celebrates that. The script also concerns how Hebrew poetry blossomed in al-Andalus through the adoption of the meter, form and subject matter of Arabic poetry, which by the Tenth Century already had a rich history.
With the hope that it will be enjoyable or helpful, I offer the historical romance below. Click here to view the entire text of the script.