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Islam in Europe and the Legacy of el-Andalus




In the spring of 2004 Spain is hit by the worst terrorist attack the country has seen since the civil war, when a series of bombs are detonated on a commuter train in Madrid. Al-Qaeda is believed to be responsible for the attack. In November 2005 two young boys of African origin end up dead after a police chase in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, causing riots to break out all over France. In July 2011 Norway is struck by an act of right-wing extremist terrorism in Oslo and on the island of Utøya. While the ethnic and religious multiplicity of Europe is ever growing, right-wing extremist political parties are experiencing a simultaneous surge in support.

There is a common denominator that connects Madrid to Paris and Utøya: all of the incidents are allegedly linked to religion and reflect an apparently eternal struggle between Islam and Christianity, “us” and “them”, that is supposedly insurmountable. Some claim that there is no such thing as a mutual history for Christians and Muslims, only struggle and conflict. From the European point of view Europe is “ours” and the Middle East “theirs”. Yet can this be true? For almost eight hundred years, from 711 to 1492, Muslims ruled large parts of Spain and Portugal. Was this a period marked by happy coexistence, or by brutal and intolerant regimes?

The legacy of el-Andalus and the importance of Islam for European culture and history have been controversial themes for many years. We have invited authors, scholars, artists and intellectuals to an informed conversation about how we are to understand ourselves and the modern world in light of the past. We will also look closely at the work of the notable literary historian and theoretician Edward Said. Are his theories about the relationship between Europe and the Orient still valid? And is a conversation built around the opposition between “us” and “them” still relevant?




DOMINIQUE EDDÉ an author and essayist from the Lebanon who has written about themes such as photography, psychoanalysis, war and cultural differences. Through her work as an editor for the French edition of Orientalism, she developed close relationship with Edward Said, and has translated several of his other books. During the Saladin Days, Eddé will talk about her newest novels, Kite and Kamal Jann, in which the action ranges from the Beirut and Cairo of the past to present-day Syria, London and Paris, all the while allowing the dividing line between East and West to remain a central nerve in her stories.



... is a professor at the European University Institute in Florence and the author of several books on minority questions, Islam, and the relationship between religion and secularism, including The Failure of Political Islam (1994) and Secularism Confronts Islam (2005). Roy has acted as an advisor to the UN and the French government, and is a well-known commentator on Islam and minority questions in France.

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... is the director of the Centre for Global Humanities at the University of New England and a leading Islamic intellectual in the U.S. He has published several books that challenge prevailing notions of Islam among both Muslims and Christians. In his book We Are All Moors (2009) Majid establishes a connection between Moorish Spain and current views on minorities in the U.S. and Europe.


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... is an author and documentary filmmaker. Among other ventures, he has made the documentary Jews and Muslims. Intimate Strangers, which was screened by NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation) in the fall of 2013. He has also written the novel Arab Jazz, which describes the murder of a Jewish woman living in multi-ethnic Paris, and how her Muslim neighbour and good friend is forced to take matters into his own hands when the investigation identifies him as a suspect.

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... is a writer, historian and political activist of international standing, as well as a highly sought-after public speaker. He has written over 30 books, including, non-fiction, history and novels. Among his writings is the so-called Islam quintet, a set of five novels that utilise important historical events as their backdrop. At the time he was also one of the organisers of the large demonstrations against the Vietnam War in London and remains a central figure in the magazine The New Left Review.


... is a fiddle player with a highly personal and distinctive style. He has several releases on the legendary ECM behind him (Hardanger fiddle, violin, viola d’amore), and works at the colourful point of intersection between Norwegian folk music, improvisation and contemporary music.



... was born in south Senegal and is a griot – a family and caste of traditional Senegalese musicians. He is one of the foremost practitioners of his instrument in the world, in addition to being a formidable singer. He has won the BBC World Music Award and has performed with Youssou N’Dour and Ali Farka Touré, among others.



... plays his saxophones like no other and has invented several new ways of playing the instrument. Independently of genre, he moves from being a soloist with the Oslo Philharmonic to playing contemporary music, pop and rock with the ensemble Poing, in addition to working with some of the best folk musicians from around the world.



... is one of Europe’s foremost baroque sopranos. She was born in Pamplona, Spain and educated at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. She performs with a number of ensembles, among them L’Arpeggiata, and has produced several recordings.


... plays the theorbe with several baroque orchestras in Europe and has recorded with Harmonia Mundi, Deutsche Grammophon and Naïve, to mention a few. He was educated at the Seville Conservatory and the Royal Conservatory of Music at The Hague.




5 PM - Europe and the Challenge of Islam
The Saladin Lecture 2014 by Anouar Majid

Since the defeat of Islam in medieval Spain, minorities in the West have in some ways become reincarnations of the Moor, an enduring threat to Western civilization.

Anouar Majid is one of the U.S.’s leading Islamic intellectuals and this year’s opening speaker for the Saladin Days. In his book We Are All Moors he investigates the historical roots of today’s enmity between the West and Islam, which he claims are to be found in the period when Spanish Andalucía was called el-Andalus and was ruled by Muslims.

If faith is a form of false consciousness that divides Europe and Islam, history is a force that can bring the two cultures closer together, claims Majid. How can actual historical knowledge about el-Andalus be utilised to overcome religious conflicts between Muslims and Christians? What happens when we strive to understand Islam as an essential part of Europe’s cultural and historical heritage rather than an eternal enemy?


7 PM - Intimate Enemies: Jews, Christians and Muslims
Karim Miské and Tariq Ali in conversation with Aslak Sira Myhre

Was el-Andalus a prosperous society for Christians, Jews and Muslims alike? Was their coexistence a happy one, or were the Jewish and Christian faiths only respected to the extent that they proved beneficial to the Muslim powers that be?

Karim Miské has a French-Mauritanian background and twenty years’ experience as a documentary filmmaker. Among other subjects, he has explored new fundamentalism as a phenomenon in Islam, Judaism and Christianity. In the documentary series Jews and Muslims, shown on NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation) in 2013, he tells the story of coexistence and conflict since the founding of Islam. The documentary will be screened again on NRK2 on March 1st-4th and is also available for online streaming.

Tariq Ali is a historian, author and one of the initiators of the Saladin Days when they were first established in 2009. In his quintet of novels about Islam he utilises historical events as a backdrop. The first of the quintet is set in Granada just before the expulsion of the Muslims and Jews.

How do Ali and Miské perceive the period of eight hundred years when Jews, Muslims and Christians shared the same territory? And can the el-Andalusian coexistence be used constructively to confront the challenges that Europe is faced with today? The conversation is moderated by Aslak Sira Myhre, director of the House of Literature.


9 PM - Al-Massir/Destiny
Film screening. Introduction by Kristian Takvam Kindt

The film Al-Massir tells the story of the Andalusian philosopher and scientist Ibn Rushd – in Europe better known as Averroës – the man who brought Aristotelian philosophy to Europe and laid the foundation for secularist thought. When Rushd is appointed as a judge by the caliph it enrages both the ignorant and fanatics. The film’s director, Youssef Chahine, is among the foremost in the Arab world. Before the screening Kristian Takvam Kindt, research scholar and director of the Arabic Film days, will give an introduction to Chahine and Averroës. The film is in Arabic, with English subtitles (orig. title: Al-Massir, 1997, 135 mins., dir: Youssef Chahine, 2013). Free tickets for the film screening will be handed out from 18.30. 


10 AM - Edward Said and the Legacy of Orientalism
Seminar with Anouar Majid, Dominique Eddé and Tariq Ali, among others

2013 marked the tenth anniversary of Edward Saids death, one of the 20th century’s most influential theoreticians. His 1978 book Orientalism is today considered a true classic, a fundamental contribution to post-colonial studies, and a key to our understanding of the relationship between Europe and the Orient.

Author Dominique Eddé was Said’s French editor and has also translated a number of his works. Scholar Anouar Majid utilises Said’s work in his own research, including the book We Are All Moors. Tariq Ali was a close friend of Said and published the book Conversations with Edward Said in 2005. In this seminar they are joined by Elisabeth Oxfeldt and Rana Issa from the University of Oslo, in attempting to shed light on Said’s legacy. How have his writings withstood the test of time, thirty-five years after the publication of Orientalism? The seminar is moderated by Ellen Svendsen. Registration at


5 PM - Reconstructing religion
Olivier Roy on European Islam

What happens when a religious identity is constructed in isolation from one’s country of origin or the rest of the society which one inhabits? Second- and third generation Muslims in Europe have adapted to their respective countries through a deculturation process. At the same time, Muslim intellectuals have made it possible for believers to live in secularised societies while maintaining their identity as true believers.

Olivier Roy is professor at the European University Institute in Firence and the author of several books on minority issues, Islam and the relationship between religion and secularism. He claims that European Islam today is being reconstructed as a religion, and that faith is no longer seen in relation with the social and cultural circumstances in which it arised. The same pattern can be seen in Christian groups. Both places faith is now seen as independent of context. What dangers are associated with this development?


7 PM - Arabic Blues
Dominique Eddé and Karim Miské

The first time? The first time was in Cairo, at the Fahmihs’ house in Garden City.

Dominique Eddé’s novel Kite is a fragmented story about the privileged lives led in an Egyptian-Lebanese community from before the Lebanese civil war erupts and until the present day. Mali and Farid first meet in Cairo, after which their lives are marked by war and politics. Eddé has also written the novel Kamal Jann about a protagonist who is a successful businessman with a Syrian background who learns that his brother is heading for Paris to carry out a terrorist attack. A blood-soaked family history is gradually revealed.

After twenty years as a documentary filmmaker, Karim Miské has written his first novel, Arab Jazz. The setting is a multi-ethnic neighbourhood in Paris where a Jewish woman is found murdered. Could the homicide be religiously motivated?

Eddé was the French editor of Said’s Orientalism. Does she believe that Said’s thinking concerning the ‘other’ has influenced her own fiction writing? And what do she and Miské think about writing novels where major political issues affect ordinary people’s lives and where such lives become entangled with religious conflict, war and bloodied hands? Ellen Svendsen, a philosopher and political science scholar, will lead the conversation, which will take place in French with simultaneous translation into Norwegian.



10 AM - Secularism vs. Islam
Seminar with Olivier Roy, among others

Is the opposition between Islam and the West derived from the fact that the West is Christian? Or is it rather because the West is secularised and no longer places religion at the heart of its self-definition? Is it Christianity or secularism that makes the West so distinct?

According to the French religious historian Olivier Roy, different forms of secularism in Europe have the effect of marginalising religious communities of all kinds, transforming the faithful into minorities and creating a fertile breeding ground for religious extremism. Roy will start by pointing out what he believes to be a major paradox: rather than liberating the world from religion, the secularisation of Western societies has allowed an anti-intellectual arrogance to dominate those few who practise their beliefs – whether they be Protestant Evangelicals, Islamic Salafists or Haredi Jews. In this seminar Roy presents his own research about secularism and Islam, in dialogue with Anouar Majid, director of the Center for Global Humanities at the University of New England, and Petter Nesser, research fellow at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment’s Terrorism Resarch Group. The seminar is moderated by Hanne Eggen Røislien, associate professor at the Norwegian Defence Cyber Academy. Registration at


7 PM - The Moorish Beat of the Baroque
Concert with Nystrøm/Økland/Andueza/Baena/Cissokho
(Tickets: 150,- NOK)

Throughout the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the baroque period many musicians travelled extensively and collected impressions and inspiration from other cultures. In el-Andalus, musicians from Europe, Africa and the Arabic world would meet before they carried their inspiration further afield, incorporating new scales and rhythmic patterns even into Norwegian folk music.

The internationally renowned saxophonist Rolf-Erik Nystrøm is joined by a team of amazing musicians in inviting the audience to join them in a musical journey in Renaissance, baroque and folk music from several corners of the world. The Spanish musicians Raquel Andueza (soprano) and Jesús Fernández Baena(theorbe) specialise in baroque music, but also in Spanish folk music. Nils Økland remains one of Norway’s most distinctive fiddle players, while the addition of West African singer and koramaster Solo Cissokho tops off the promise of a truly extraordinary concert experience. 



The programme has been developed with support from the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF) and with financial support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.