Cordoba’s Blueprint: Sketching a Cultural Renaissance in the Middle East

On July 30th, it was announced that Israel aims to invest $27 billion in a rail expansion project that will connect its peripheral areas to the metropolitan, Tel Aviv and which could, in the future, deliver overland links to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This announcement came shortly after a visit by top US officials to Saudi Arabia, in an attempt to normalize formal relations between Riyadh and Jerusalem.

A more united Middle East is possible, and we can draw inspiration from history to achieve it. We can look to the Iberian Peninsula as an example of how people of different backgrounds can live together harmoniously. For almost 800 years, Moors ruled the region, and Arabs, Christians, Jews, and others coexisted peacefully. By unifying the three Abrahamic religions, setting aside past grievances, and working towards a common goal, the Middle East could experience an even greater renaissance than Europe did in the 16th century.

The potential for even greater advancements in science and technology is vast. Iran, with its rich cultural history as the descendant of the great Persian Empire and its notable achievements in nuclear technology and medicine, could make significant contributions to this development. Furthermore, countries such as Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq have a long history of individuals who have played a vital role in developing and expanding sophisticated technologies that have had a significant impact on various fields, including astronomy and medicine.

Measures taken by states in the Middle East are also aimed at expanding financing for clean energy projects. In January 2022 alone, the central bank of Iraq launched a financing initiative to encourage renewable energy projects. The FIFA men’s World Cup in Qatar brought an influx of football fans to the country and heightened awareness of its developing science program. The UAE became known as the first country in history to appoint a designated ‘Minister of State for AI’ in the year 2017; in early 2023, the UAE’s Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence celebrated its pioneer class’ graduation, and in 2019 the university was the world’s first graduate institute committed solely to AI research. Bahrain did not stay behind in this race of technological advancement, as in March 2023 the Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance declared the unveiling of its Metaverse campus.

The UAE’s initiatives were followed by Qatar which issued its ‘National AI Strategy’ in late October 2019, leading Saudi Arabia to do the same exactly a year later. By 2030, Saudi Arabia intends to attract approximately $20 Billion worth of investments from local and foreign investors to support its goals. This year Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz University was awarded a top score for ‘UN Sustainable Development Goal 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure’. Israel too appears to be making some waves in the field of ground-breaking technological advancements; in July 2023, the Israel Innovation Authority (IIA) announced the launch of a new program with an investment of USD 11 Million; it emphasizes delivery technology, health (bio-convergence technologies) and technology solutions for schools and campus security.

In the Muslim era, Spain experienced a “Golden Age of Learning” in the capital of the Moorish territories, from 969 to 1027. Under the Moors, Spain became a center of learning with an impressive array of amenities, including 70 libraries, 700 mosques, 700 public baths, 17 universities, 60 magnificent palaces, and well-paved streets. Cordoba, which was the world’s largest city in the year 1000, having gained fame for its vast markets, clean streets, numerous public baths, and stunning mosques. With its picturesque oil lamps lighting the streets at night, it exuded an irresistible charm. It was only in Baghdad, and no other city in Europe, where such sophistication could be found.

Regarding social interaction, the Moorish era has become known as ‘Convivencia’ – the culture of co-existence. The idea of cultural acceptance and its extent does remain contested among some historians, but it is to be noted that only a scarce number of riots and violence were documented at that time. The more educated Muslims were known for respecting the Christians and Jews as they referred to them as ‘dhimmis’ – people of the book (protected people).

Cordoba’s Blueprint: Sketching a Cultural Renaissance in the Middle East

Figure 1  A Jew and a Muslim playing chess in the 13th century.


In the Umayyad administration, Jews held influential positions such as the consul in the government, Hasdai ibn Shaprut, who was a renowned Jewish scholar and physician. The Jewish culture thrived during the Caliphate era with scholars, poets, and philosophers making significant contributions to scientific and mathematical studies. Living under Muslim rule, Jews received better treatment compared to the mistreatment they had faced under Christian rule before.

The status of dhimmis allowed the Christians to practice their religion freely, and they were permitted to keep and preserve most of their Churches. The clerics and other influential church officials had to have the blessing of the Caliphate before stepping into office. Many Christians went on to hold influential positions in the Umayyad administration, and Christian artisans were incorporated in decisions regarding building projects, with religious prejudices kept aside.

Historians widely agree that the Andalusian society had a unified culture, despite the diversity of religions. This was due to the exceptional level of mutual respect and understanding that existed among the people. The period was home to some of the most exceptional thinkers of all time, including Ibn-Hazm, Al-Mutamid, Ibn Tufayl, Al-Zargali, Ibn Bajja, and Ibn Rushd (Averroes), who had a significant impact on the European way of thinking. The Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment were invigorated by the exchange of philosophical and scientific ideas from the Roman, Greek, and Arab civilizations, which were carefully preserved and developed by Muslim scholars during the translation process. According to the renowned orientalist, Dozy, nearly every citizen in Cordoba was literate and had the ability to write.

Reflecting on the history of the three monotheistic religions and commemorating the prosperous era of Al-Andalus is absolutely crucial for promoting a peaceful and stable future. This is a necessary step towards achieving remarkable technological breakthroughs. In order to accomplish this, it is imperative to establish connections that are not influenced by religious animosity.

Recognizing the shared similarities between Muslims, Jews, and Christians is crucial. By promoting tolerance and mutual respect among these communities, a better world for all can be created. The threat of climate change is real and urgent, and it is time for the Middle East to unite and form a larger community, much like Cordoba, to share critical knowledge and information for the betterment of future generations. Intellectual conversations can foster like-mindedness, and art and architecture can leave a lasting impact. Together, collective efforts can pave the way for a brighter future, and it needs to be done collaboratively.


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