Over 4,300 Jews, including the Sephardic (Spanish) chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Shlomo Amar, have recently been awarded Spanish nationality under a law enacted to correct the historical wrong of the expulsion of all the Jews living in Spain.
Hundreds of thousands of Jews fled Spain after 1492, because the Catholic Church and the country’s king and nobility instituted a campaign of persecution and forced conversion to Christianity known as the Spanish Inquisition.
Many of the Jews who fled Spain and then Portugal as refugees settled in North Africa, including the ancestors of Rabbi Amar, a former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, who was born in Casablanca, Morocco.
These 4,300 Jews were made Spanish nationals by a decree as per legislation that passed last year, under which descendants of Sephardic Jews with proven ties to Spain may naturalize as Spanish citizens.
This has stimulated some Morisco descendants of expelled Spanish Muslims to call for similar treatment. Moriscos are Muslims, forced to convert to Catholicism rather than be killed or expelled from Spain in the early 1500s, who were then later expelled from Spain in 1609, because like Spain’s Jews who were forced to convert, they remained true to their religion in secret. They, like Sephardic Jews, were scattered across North Africa.
Thousands of Sephardic Jews were forced off the Iberian peninsula, first from Spain in 1492 and then from Portugal five years later. The Portuguese government acknowledges that Jews and Muslims lived in the region long before the Portuguese kingdom was founded in the 12th century.
The Moriscos are cultural cousins of the Marranos. Like Sephardic Jews, the much larger number of Muslims were an integral part of Spain’s society for centuries before being forced to convert; and then later painfully uprooted by Spain’s Catholic rulers in 1609. Just as was the case for Marrano Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497; large numbers of the Moriscos expelled in 1609, perished at sea.
Those Moriscos, who made it to a port of call. “were not well-received,” said Hassan Aourid, author of a popular historical novel, “Le Morisque,” or The Morisco, set in that period. “Many locals looked down on them for being bad Muslims” said Aourid.
Like Marrano Jews who secretly held on to some Jewish religious rites and to a Judeo-Spanish language called Ladino, most of the Moriscos, including those who had been coerced into becoming baptized, retained an awareness of and a connection to their Muslim ancestry.
When they were expelled, most Moriscos settled in North Africa and returned to the religion of their fathers. Like most Sephardic Jews, descendants of Moriscos, especially in Rabat, married only within their community and most continue to do so to this day. Recently, more Morisco descendants are rediscovering their Iberian heritage.
Aourid, the novelist, pointed out the differences between the expulsions of Spanish Jews in 1492 and of Muslims in 1609. He said that while Jews were expelled solely for their religious beliefs, Moriscos were also considered a fifth column at a time of tremendous Spanish struggle with the Muslim Ottoman Empire. Also the oppressed Moriscos in Spain had violently rebelled on two separate occasions.
Aourid suggested another way to right the wrongs of expulsion and build bridges between the faiths: by allowing Muslims to pray at the famed Mosque-Cathedral in Cordoba, originally a Muslim place of worship that was converted to a church.
Of course, then the Spanish would have to do the same for all the Jewish tourists who visit the famed Synagogue-Church in Toledo, originally a Jewish place of worship that was converted to a church; and the Turks would have to allow Christians to pray at the many Church-Mosques of Istanbul.
Not a bad idea of atonement for a world increasingly suffering from sectarian religious conflict.