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Response to Review of Colonial al-Andalus : Spain and the making of modern Moroccan culture

I would like to thank July Blalack for her thoughtful review of my book, Colonial al-Andalus. In this brief response, I will take up some of the questions that Blalack poses in her review. I’ve chosen to respond to the questions in the order that they appear in Blalack’s review so that the reader may read her review and my response as a dialogue.

Chapter three of my book examines the elision of three geohistorical concepts: al-Andalus (medieval Muslim Iberia), Andalucía (a region in southern Spain), and Morocco. I trace this elision back to early twentieth-century Spanish writers, especially Blas Infante (1885–1936), who is hailed today as the father of Andalusian nationalism. In post-Franco Spain, Infante’s work has become inextricably linked with the idea of convivencia – that is, the idea that al-Andalus was a place of exceptional tolerance, where Muslims, Christians, and Jews coexisted in peace and harmony. Infante’s present-day reputation as a champion of intercultural tolerance has concealed a less appealing facet of his work and its afterlife: namely, the significant role that Infante’s andalucismo (Andalusian nationalism) played in promoting and justifying Spanish colonialism in Morocco. In chapter three, I explore the complex entanglements between Infante’s work and its afterlife in Spanish colonial Morocco.

In 1924, Infante traveled to Morocco in order to make a ‘pilgrimage’ (his word) to the tomb of al-Muʿtamid Ibn ʿAbbad (1040–95), a poet-king who was the ruler of Muslim Seville when it was conquered by the Almoravids in 1090. Al-Muʿtamid died in exile in Aghmat (near Marrakesh) in 1095. In Infante’s unpublished account of his trip to Morocco, he emphasizes the historical and cultural connections between Spain and Morocco.[1] He also describes his encounters with Moroccans who self-identified as ‘Andalusians’ – that is, as descendants of the Muslims who fled the Iberian Peninsula between 1492 and 1614.

In her response to my work on Infante and his ideological legacy, Blalack asks: ‘How exactly did Infante make contact with Andalusian-identifying Moroccans? How did he communicate with them? Did he have any access to Arabic texts, sayings, or poetry which referenced al-Andalus? In turn, did any Maghribis respond to Infante’s analucismo?’ Fortunately, I have answers to these questions:

Infante hired guides and interpreters to help him make his way through Morocco. For the trip to al-Muʿtamid’s tomb in Aghmat, Infante hired an Orani chauffeur and interpreter named Abu Ben Musa, who spoke Arabic, Spanish, and the Amazigh (Berber) language known as Shilha (which Infante calls the ‘dialecto del Alto Atlas’).[2] After visiting Aghmat and Marrakesh, Infante traveled to Rabat, where he hired a guide named ʿAbd al-Hamid al-Rundi. Arabic-speaking readers will note that the guide’s last name is a nisba adjective referring to the Spanish city of Ronda. This genealogical link to al-Andalus was not lost on Infante, who wrote of his guide: ‘His family, like mine, is from the mountains of Ronda.’[3] Al-Rundi brought Infante to a performance of Andalusi music in Rabat.[4] This experience would ignite Infante’s life-long interest in Moroccan Andalusi music and would lead him, in later writings, to propose that Spanish flamenco and Moroccan Andalusi music share a common origin. He would call Moroccan Andalusi music ‘the lyrical nostalgia for Andalucía in Exile.’[5] At the Andalusi music performance in Rabat in 1924, ʿAbd al-Hamid al-Rundi introduced Infante to several Moroccans who claimed Andalusi descent and boasted Spanish surnames, such as Crespo, Vargas, and Torres.[6]

After this initial contact with the Andalusi diaspora in Morocco in 1924, Infante would continue to investigate and write about this community, largely relying on the research of his andalucista colleagues Isidro de las Cagigas and Rodolfo Gil Benumeya.[7] This interest, in turn, would lead Infante, in his later writings, to imagine his native Andalucía as the center of a broad trans-Mediterranean political community. Along these lines, Infante wrote in 1931: ‘Knowledge of our History… also justifies our aspiration of getting to reestablish our cultural unity with the Orient… Here are the facts: one million two hundred thousand Muslim and Mosaic Andalusians stretch from Tangier to Damascus.’[8] This quote illustrates the expansionist tendencies of Infante’s work, tendencies that proved especially productive for advocates of Spanish colonialism in Morocco. Indeed, Infante himself advocated for the Spanish government to delegate control of the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco to Andalucía, making northern Morocco a state in a federal Andalucía.[9]

Although Infante’s communication with Moroccans in 1924 was certainly facilitated by his Moroccan guides, it is also important to note that Infante was a polyglot who devoted himself to the study of the Arabic language, both its standard form (al-fuṣḥā) and the Moroccan dialect (dārija). In his personal library, Infante owned many grammars, textbooks, and reference works for the Arabic language, including (but not limited to) García Ayuso’s Gramática árabe (1871), Ben Sedira’s Grammaire d’arabe régulier (1898), Aldecoa’s Cours d’arabe marocain (Paris, 1921), and Navas de Alda’s Modelos de conversaciones árabes (1924).[10] Later in life, Infante would even teach Arabic classes at the Alcázar in Seville.[11] Infante was also an avid reader of European scholarship about the history and culture of al-Andalus. He was particularly influenced by the work of Reinhart Dozy, Julián Ribera, and Miguel Asín Palacios, all of whom are frequently cited in his works. In Infante’s unpublished account of his trip to Morocco in 1924, there are frequent references to Dozy, as well as to many literary luminaries from medieval al-Andalus, such as al-Muʿtamid, Ibn Tufayl, and Ibn al-Khatib (who also figures prominently in Infante’s play Motamid).[12] All of this information leads me to conclude that Infante, while somewhat reliant on his Moroccan guides, was by no means an uninformed or passive observer in Morocco.

Infante’s brand of andalucismo stressed the historical and cultural continuity between medieval al-Andalus and modern Morocco. One of the goals of the second half of my book is to show how this historical imaginary made its way into Moroccan culture, largely through the work of Moroccan scholars and politicians who began their careers in the Spanish colonial administration and then moved, after independence, into Morocco’s newly created national institutions. In the process, al-Andalus became a centerpiece of Moroccan national identity and the artistic practices associated with al-Andalus became something akin to a Moroccan national style. The Moroccan adoption of a Spanish colonial discourse was a complicated process, whose history I examine in detail in the book.

Although I cannot trace each step in that complex cultural relay here, I can offer some evidence to suggest that Moroccans responded positively to the discourse of andalucismo, which was introduced in Morocco through the work of Infante’s colleagues Isidro de las Cagigas and Rodolfo Gil Benumeya. The former served as Spanish consul in Tetouan, and in that role, he helped to facilitate Shakib Arslan’s visit to Tetouan in 1930, a watershed moment in the history of Moroccan nationalism, one that helped to galvanize Moroccan opposition to France’s Berber policy.[13] Moroccan nationalists in Tetouan had close personal relations with the consul Isidro de las Cagigas and saw him as a political and cultural ally. For instance, in 1930, the Moroccan nationalist intellectual M’hammad Binnuna wrote that De las Cagigas was ‘one of the readers of [Shakib Arslan’s] La Nation Arabe and one of the lovers of Arab-Andalusi history’.[14]

The Spanish promotion of Morocco’s Andalusi identity intensified under the Franco regime, particularly during the years of the Spanish Civil War (1936–9) and its immediate aftermath. In my book, I analyze the Franco regime’s extensive efforts to present itself as a defender of the Andalusi heritage and as a friend to the Muslim world. One of the most surprising examples of this phenomenon was Franco’s sponsorship of the Moroccan pilgrimage to Mecca, an initiative that began in 1937 and continued intermittently through the 1940s and 1950s. In chapter four of my book, I focus on Franco’s outreach to the Muslim world and, in particular, on an Arabic-language account of the first Moroccan hajj sponsored by Franco in 1937: Ahmad al-Rahuni’s Journey to Mecca (al-Rihla al-makkiyya), published by the General Franco Institute in 1941.

In her review, Blalack asks for more information about how al-Rahuni’s travelogue was received in Morocco and beyond. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find much information about the circulation and reception of al-Rahuni’s Journey to Mecca in Morocco and beyond. I imagine, though, that the book was distributed and promoted by its publisher, the General Franco Institute, and by the other institutions that the Franco regime created to promote cultural exchange between Spain and the Arab world, such as the Mulay al-Hasan Institute in Tetouan and the Morocco House (Bayt al-Maghrib) in Cairo.[15] Beyond the question of textual circulation, I think that it is important to note that Franco’s hajj pilgrims were themselves important vectors for carrying new ideas about Francoism and Spanish colonialism to a broad Arab and Muslim audience. On the journey to Mecca in 1937, al-Rahuni and his fellow pilgrims made stops in Tripoli, Benghazi, Port Said, and Jidda, where they met with political and cultural leaders from Libya, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. The culmination of these meetings was an audience with King ʿAbd al-ʿAziz b. Saʿud, the founder of the modern kingdom of Saudia Arabia, who welcomed al-Rahuni in a public event in Mecca in February 1937. There, al-Rahuni informed the Saudi king that Franco ‘has a complete love for Muslims, in general, and for your Majesty, in particular.’[16] As this quote demonstrates, the Franco regime used its sponsorship of the pilgrimage to Mecca as a platform for presenting itself as a friend to Morocco and Islam.

Franco also hosted a lavish reception in Seville to greet al-Rahuni and the other Moroccan pilgrims, upon their return from Mecca in April 1937. The event took place in Seville’s Alcázar, once the residence of al-Muʿtamid Ibn ʿAbbad and still, to this day, an important symbol of Spain’s Islamic heritage. The event set an important precedent for Franco’s strategic use of Spain’s Islamic heritage sites. From the time of the Spanish Civil War until the 1970s, the Franco regime would often use Spain’s Islamic heritage sites as settings to host dignitaries from the Muslim or Arab world. Perhaps the most famous beneficiary of this practice was King Faysal of Saudia Arabia, who visited the Mosque of Cordoba and the Alhambra several times during official visits to Franco’s Spain in the 1950s and 1960s.[17]

In Journey to Mecca, al-Rahuni deploys hajj-related terminology in order to cast Spain (and, in particular, the Islamic heritage sites of al-Andalus) as a second Mecca to which all Muslims should make pilgrimage. Al-Rahuni’s attempt to conflate al-Andalus and Mecca was part of a broader discourse that is found in modern Arabic travel narratives about Spain. Many modern Arab visitors to Spain, particularly in the first half of the 20th century, imagined their sojourn in Spain’s Islamic heritage sites (especially the Mosque of Córdoba) as a ‘pilgrimage’ or a ‘return’ to a place that evoked a period of splendor for Arabs or Muslims.[18] (I mention both Arabs and Muslims because there are secular and religious versions of this motif.) Perhaps the most explicit example of this motif appears in Safaʾ Khulusi’s travel narrative Bint al-Sarraj (1952), whose cover page features the following statement: ‘I bear witness before God that I have fulfilled the duty of the nationalist pilgrimage [al-hajj al-qawmi] by visiting Arab-Muslim Spain.’[19] Khulusi, like al-Rahuni, casts his journey to Spain as a hajj, a term usually reserved for the pilgrimage to Mecca. To be clear, I am not suggesting that Khulusi was directly influenced by al-Rahuni. Rather, what I’m suggesting is that both authors are participating in a widespread tendency to cast al-Andalus as a second Mecca for modern Arab and Muslim writers.

I would like to turn, now, to Blalack’s final question, which concerns the Moroccan response to the French Protectorate’s Berber policy. At the root of Blalack’s question is a long tradition of French colonial thought about the essential differences between Berbers and Arabs. The main assumption undergirding this tradition is that Berbers are culturally, politically, and perhaps even racially closer to Europeans.[20] Based on this assumption, the French Protectorate in Morocco enacted a series of laws that attempted to codify the ethnic distinction between Arabs and Berbers and to distance Berbers from Islamic and Arabic-language institutions. This issue came to a head in May of 1930, when the French Protectorate issued the so-called ‘Berber dahir’, which established separate legal systems for Moroccan Berbers and Arabs. The Berber dahir provoked a massive backlash among Moroccans, who interpreted it as an assault on Morocco’s cultural and religious unity. In my book, I argue that the Spanish Protectorate capitalized on the widespread Moroccan opposition to the French Berber dahir and used it as an opportunity to present Spain as the defender of Morocco’s cultural and religious unity.[21] Addressing this historical context, Blalack asks: ‘The idea of “the Berber question” must have registered a response on the ground, and it would be pertinent to know whether Moroccan intellectuals in the Spanish protectorate – some of whom must have identified as Amazigh or spoken the language – were fairly united in their opposition of an Amazigh identity and written language. We know a lot about the backlash against the Berber Dahir, but was there any visible native support for it?’

The short answer to Blalack’s question is no: I have not found any evidence of Moroccan support for the Berber dahir or, more broadly, for the French Protectorate’s Berber policies. I do not, of course, discount the possibility that there might have been isolated cases of self-identifying Moroccan Imazighen (Berbers) who supported the French Protectorate’s efforts to promote a distinct Berber identity. In general, though, Moroccans interpreted the French policy as an attempt to sow division among Moroccans and to distance Berbers from Islam and a Muslim identity. To illustrate this view, I offer the following excerpt from an article published by Ahmad Balafrij in the journal Maghreb in 1933:

Moroccans demand that the spiritual and temporal unity of their country be protected…

History gives us proof of the existence of a Moroccan national spirit that was formed through the centuries of trials and struggles against the Christian Portuguese and Spanish kingdoms, and against the Turks, who, despite being Muslim, harassed the country without respite.

Why choose to rely on the principle of race in order to separate us and divide us? We are all, more or less, Berbers, some more Arabized than others. The Arab element in Morocco is tiny. But one fact is certain: that all of Morocco is Muslim.[22]

I think that Balafrij’s statement illustrates the consensus view of Moroccan political and intellectual elites, who recognized the essential Berber (Amazigh) contributions to Moroccan identity but nonetheless refused to allow an ethno-racial category to take precedence over Morocco’s Muslim identity. Even ʿAbd al-Karim al-Khattabi, the most famous figure of Riffian resistance, did not frame his political project in ethnic terms. After proclaiming the creation of the Rif Republic in 1921, ʿAbd al-Karim banned the use of tribal customary law in the Rif and replaced it with a judicial system based on Islamic jurisprudence. He also depicted his anticolonial struggle against the Spanish in religious, not ethnic terms.[23] In short, I have not been able to find evidence of Moroccan support for France’s Berber policies, even when I have looked beyond the urban centers that have often been seen as bastions of elite Arab culture.

In closing, I would like to thank July Blalack again for her thoughtful engagement with my book. I’m grateful to have this opportunity to discuss the work.


[1] Infante’s account of the trip to Morocco is partially reproduced in Enrique Iniesta Coullaut-Valera’s Toda su verdad: Blas Infante, vol. 2, 1919-1933 (Granada, 2003), pp. 205–30.

[2] Ibid., 217.

[3] Ibid., 227.

[4] Morocco’s Andalusi music repertoire underwent a revival during the colonial period.  For an introduction to the history and uses of Andalusi music in the context of colonial Morocco, see Eric Calderwood, Colonial al-Andalus: Spain and the Making of Modern Moroccan Culture (Cambridge, 2018), pp. 230–50; Jonathan Glasser, The Lost Paradise: Andalusi Music in Urban North Africa (Chicago, IL, 2016).

[5] Quoted in Iniesta Coullaut-Valera, Toda su verdad, p. 230.

[6] Ibid., p. 229.

[7] See, for instance, Isidro de las Cagigas, ‘Andaluces en África’, Boletín de la Real Academia de Córdoba, de Ciencias, Bellas Letras y Nobles Artes, 25 (1929), 103–41.

[8] Blas Infante, La verdad sobre el complot de Tablada y el Estado libre de Andalucía, 2nd ed. (Granada, 1979), p. 82.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Miguel Cruz Giráldez, ‘La biblioteca’, in La Casa de Blas Infante en Coria del Río, 2nd ed. (Seville, 2004), p. 91.

[11] ‘Centro de Estudios Andaluces: Ha sido ampliada la matrícula para las clases de árabe’, Correo de Andalucía, 29 May 1932, 5.  I thank Eva Cataño García for bringing this article to my attention.

[12] Calderwood, Colonial al-Andalus, pp. 116–18; Iniesta Coullaut-Valera, Toda su verdad, pp. 205–18.

[13] Calderwood, Colonial al-Andalus, pp. 251–66.

[14] Quoted in Muhammad Ibn ʿAzzuz Hakim, Wathaʾiq sirriyya hawla ziyarat al-amir Shakib Arslan li-l-Maghrib (Tetouan, 1980), p. 35.

[15] For these institutions, see Calderwood, Colonial al-Andalus, pp. 167–285.

[16] Ahmad al-Rahuni, al-Rihla al-makkiyya (Tetouan, 1941), p. 112.

[17] P. García-Baquero, ‘El monarca saudí enamorado del Mirhab [sic]’, ABC (Córdoba edition), 23 June 2014 <>; ‘El Rey Faisal de Arabia Saudí llegará a Madrid el próximo miércoles’, ABC, 12 June 1966, p. 79.

[18] Nieves Paradela gives several examples of this motif in her magisterial study El otro laberinto español: Viajeros árabes a España entre el siglo XVII y 1936 (Madrid, 2005).

[19] Safaʾ Khulusi, Bint al-Sarraj (Baghdad, 1952).

[20] This topic has generated a vast body of scholarship.  For a helpful introduction, see Jonathan Wyrtzen, Making Morocco: Colonial Intervention and the Politics of Identity (Ithaca, NY, 2015), pp. 136–78.

[21] Calderwood, Colonial al-Andalus, pp. 167–205.

[22] Ahmad Balafrij, ‘Et maintenant?’, Maghreb (May-June 1933), 50.  I thank Jonathan Wyrtzen for bringing Balafrij’s article to my attention.

[23] Wyrtzen, Making Morocco, pp. 124–32.