By DIANA RICHMOND
Reconciliation is one of out most adult experiences heralding the rebirth of love, understanding between humans, and the assurance of forgiveness. Many now have enjoyed hearing an Anglican , address a Catholic con. gregation, or seeing a Catholic bishop re-enter one of our great • cathedrals. We listen to rabbis with respect, and begin to understand the worship of Islam. Catholics may take special pride in the wisdom of Bishop Cirarda, who has allowed a group of Moslems to pray in Cordoba Cathedral that majestic edifice which was originally one of the finest mosques of Islam.
Within this enormous building, into the centre of which an entire cathedral has ingeniously been erected, a visitor seems to retreat through time as he approaches the altar of Christian worship through a forest of Moorish pillars and arches built at the finest period of Arab architecture.
In September, at the IslamicChristian International Congress in Cordoba, Egypt's Minister for Religious Affairs spoke on co-operation. He read a message from his President encouraging mankind to search for new horizons of benevolence and understanding.
Cordoba provides an ideal setting, for here the three monotheistic religions could come together as in the past, against a civilised background less charged with emotion than Jerusalem.
The men who created Cordoba, the great minds of its university, prove by their eminence that scholarship and prayer can begin to break the barriers between Jew, Christian and Moslem and can emphasise the common ground; while at the same time diminishing the inexplicable divisions, still seemingly insurmountable but surely to be bridged as mankind struggles towards a wider view of the Almighty.
In Spain's Islamic period and the first centuries of the Rem:qmista, society was so well adapted to co-existence that there was real fusion of culture, myth and background for a period of 600 years.
Contrary to general belief, Moslems did not threaten Jews or Christians with a choice between Islam and the sword, nor did the returning Christians immediately expel Jews and Moslems. Fanaticism was only sporadic between the years 700 and 1200 AD, and the differing cultures enjoyed a certain harmony. Only later did conditions deteriorate and man's inevitable quarrels come to be. seen in terms of Christianity's extension or Islam's defence.
Though many Cordoban scholars suffered deprivation and insecurity in turbulent times, their work deepened the wells of knowledge; and "a great stream of prayer" must have arisen from cathedral, mosque and synagogue.
What prayers did these present-day Moslems choose to celebrate their return to sacred ground in Spain? These lines, perhaps, from Muhammed lqbal's Javid Name:
"Our bread and water are of one table: "The progeny of Adam are as a single soul."
Cordoba is a small city set among the flowering plains and high mountains of Andalusia. South of the town, spanned by a tremeilOous Roman bridge, flows the wide Guadalquivir river whose name, Wadi el ICebir, evokes the Arab atmosphere of the area,
As the visitor walks the narrow streets, hears the rustle of fountains in cool courtyards, strolls under Moorish arches or balconies from which a profusion of geraniums softens the bright sun and crisp shadowpatterns with fresh foliage, he may feel surprised to hear Spanish spoken in such an Arab setting.
Men and women lived and traded here long before Roman times, and after Marcellus' conquest Cordoba became capital of Outer Spain. As Rome's power declined Christianity flourished, and the heretical Visigoths swept in from the West,' converting to orthodox Christianity in the year 589, and dedicating a Cathedral to San Vicente. This building, the Mozarabs or Christians owing allegiance to Moorish kings but allowed their own religion were, later, to share with Moslems; so the two creeds were in contact from the start. The Islamic invasion began in the year 711 and the invaders treated Cordoba's citizens with clemency a virtue recommended more personally by a later Moorish poet, Ibn al Hajj, who wrote: "Thc more he strives to injure me "The greater is my clemency. "So when the wick is cut, its light "Shines all the clearer through the night."
They are lines reminiscent of George Herbert writing centuries later in England.
In the ensuing 400 years Andalusia, through peace and war, displayed many of the best achievements of mankind: there is a richness about these centuries which must still amaze us. In art and poetry, scholarship and grace, the Arabs and the indigenous peoples have left a heritage which is almost fabulous.
For the Islamic invasion proved to be a channel by which a wider culture flowed in to Europe. The building of the Great Mosque was begun in 785 and its grandeur extended later. A league beyond the city the lovely city of Medina Azahara, designed by three of Islam's finest architects, was set upon the sheltered hills.
Today patient Moroccan craftsmen repair with meticulous accuracy the plasterwork, inlay and ceramics, the precious metals and mirrors, the delicate columns and arches erected during this golden age of Arab architecture.
In the city itself streets of small or grand houses with their cool patios gave shelter from sun temperatures as fierce as Baghdad's; and hundreds of bath-houses provided abundance of water for those whose religion makes such a fetish of personal cleanliness. .Eventually the great civilisation cracked and crumbled, and with it the university which had attracted Jewish, Christian and Islamic scholars from the civilised world. Yet Moslem reverence for the Peoples of the Book obtained, under Christian rule, for a further two centuries until gradually Christians began to believe it a duty to expel Jews and Moslems from their midst.
The quarter in which, for centuries, Cordoba's Jews had lived as protected persons, and where their great scholar Maimonides was born, lay empty. The synagogue was once a sumptuous building befitting a community as wealthy and influential as were Spanish Jews before the Reconquista.
Today delicate plasterwork incorporating quotations from the Psalms can still be seen there. Outside is a gentle little statue to Maimonides, and at the City gates another to Ibn Hazim, Islam's "doughty controversialist" who could, for all his sharp tongue, write: "Love came a guest, within my breast, "My soul was spread. Love banqueted." They are lines which, once again, recall the Metaphysicals of England. These two scholars, Moslem and Jew, stand out from the others. Ibn Hazim moved in "establishment" circles, was involved in the conflicts of the 11th century and imprisoned, but eventually settled in seclusion and attracted men of letters from all parts.
He worked at purity in language, God's gift to man, and he abhorred deceit and concealment of meaning. Unhelped by God, he thought, the human soul could only
degenerate: with God alone was refuge from evil. He recognised the power of the sub-conscious, and his cordial though combative relations with men of other faiths led to accurate criticism on their religions.
He longed to purify his own from human additions. His scientific standards were high, and it is said that he planted a "grain of mustard seed" to measure the growth from it. Familiar with the writings of Judaism and Christianity, to him the Gospels seemed shakily un-authentic, not based as firmly even as the traditions of Islam, let alone the Koran itself. He was a courageous exponent of a noble creed.
Moses ben Maimon was known in Arabic as Abu Imran Musa bin Maimun and was born a century later. Jews were then especially indebted to Arab learning, writing their treatises in Arabic. Maimonides was forced to leave Cordoba and Fez, but settled safely in Cairo as physician to Saladin's vizier.
The story that he rejected the post of physician to Richard I, then fighting at Askelon, is probably untrue. A theologian, philosopher and astronomer, he wrote in Arabic and his progressive ideas were attacked by the more conservative Jews of France and Spain. To him ethical virtue lay in the mean courage between cowardice and temerity, temperance between desire and indifference. His greatness was celebrated in verse by the poet Al Said ibn Surat el Mulk: "Galen's art heals only the body, "But Abu Imran's the body and the soul."
When he died, Jews and Moslems in Fustat, Old Cairo, observed public mourning for three days, and his tomb in Tiberias became a place of pilgrimage.
Now for seven centuries Andalusia has been a part of Christian Spain, part of this empty land with its wide skies and its lost empire. A century ago Cordoba was the scene of Merimee's romance "Carmen." Matadors are still honoured here.
One can envisage brigands in the lonely hills, the gypsy life so attractive to Carmen after labouring in the sultry cities, or imagine the Hermit who agreed to say Mass for Carmen's soul not knowing of her tortured lover's fplans for her death.
Nowadays the Great Mosque still stands. The visitor can approach its ornamented walls, 40ft. high, and may enter the peaceful garden courtyard through one of several noble doorways, perhaps through the Gate of Divine Pardon. High above soars the minaret, now a bell tower with a fine peal. Passing beneath orange and palm trees to the sound of running water he enters, through huge doors, a dim interior unlike any other in the world.
Nineteen great aisles of incomparable grandeur lead down to the eastern wall. Slim pillars of jasper and marble display a variety of Romanesque, Visigoth, or Arab capitals. The whole is drawn in to superb uniformity by magnificent arches, coral and white, which cluster before and on all sides in the quiet, mellow light silent, unreal, but always friendly.
Supporting the highest part, of the roof the arches fly upwards in a double span. Passing down one of the outer aisles one could easily miss the cathedral in the central part, since it is largely without walls. The wanderer comes unexpectedly upon this well of Christian worship with its glorious 18th century choir stalls strangely interrupting his voyage into the heart of Islam.
In the eastern wall is the Mihrab, indicating the direction of Mecca a masterpiece of glowing colours, intricate design and formal script. A fitting comment upon it came from a Chinese student who turned to an English pilgrim with the words, "We have nothing Ilk this in all China . . ."
This was the setting for the ecumenical gesture made recently by the Spaniards to their Moslem friends. This holy site which has already experienced shared religious practice would be ideal for further efforts towards reconciliation.
One conference suggestion was that more attention be paid to re-writing textbooks so that harmful myths could be swept from our classrooms and children brought up to appreciate that other religions, with their saints and scholars, have contributed to God's glory and learnt from Him.
Western books are full of prejudice against both Judaism and Islam, against Jews and Moslems. We appreciate Judaism better now, but Islam is too often a closed book. Yet the very word means submission to the will of God, the acknowledged aim of every Christian.
May reconciliation flourish in Cordoba so that both scholar} and humble believer may join in saying: "We believe we are right, you believe you are right. With God all things are possible."