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The Sacred and the Profane in Five Aljamiado Narratives

This dissertation points to where the scholarship on Aljamiado-Morisco literature falls short and remedy what I believe is a problem. Viewing the entire corpus of the literary production of a Muslim diaspora that lived under Christian rule after being forcibly converted, as being entirely religious with few profane exceptions is anachronistic. It corresponds to the imposition of modern standards on medieval texts. When approaching Mudéjar and Morisco texts, this study shows that either sacred or profane approach is not appropriate, for it prevents the reader from accessing a myriad of other possible readings there is to a given story. I believe every text is unique and reflects the sociocultural and linguistic realities of a given group of Moriscos, realities that are not shared by all. The only way to enter the mind of these authors and copyists is through their manuscripts and the literary treasures they hold. Since these Mudéjares and Moriscos were the first sizeable Muslim community living under Christian rule, their literary creations had to go through a process of cultural negotiation that adapted previous stories to their cultural reality. Critics have been approaching their texts with the previous knowledge of the Moriscos’ future expulsion. However, in order to fully explore the intentionality of a text and conjecture about the possible hopes and angsts experienced by the authors of the story and their audiences, we have to let go of our own socio-historical and geopolitical contexts as they blinder our critical eye.

These authors used a transformed Arabic script whose importance cannot be undervalued, but for them, Romance as a language was also part of their identity. Furthermore, the process of rendition of traditional texts into their language, Romance, is much more complex than statements made by critics in the field would lead us to believe. The familiarity of some Aljamiado authors with Christian texts is evident, but I believe a case-by-case study is necessary as the sociopolitical context of the various Mudéjar and Morisco communities widely depended on their geographical location. Additionally, the porosity of the frontiers in the Islamic world in the Middle Ages alimented a literary culture and literary tropes that traveled from West to East and vice-versa, whether it be for the pilgrimage to Mecca or search of knowledge. In the case of the Moriscos and Mudéjares, the new lingua franca they had to learn influenced them and the theories behind it shaped their literary production along with their Islamic cultural baggage. They were the first sizeable Muslim minority living under Christian rule and had to find and define themselves against a Christian majority. They had to rethink themselves and redefine themselves in accordance with their new circumstances. Some of them even developed a preference for the use of Romance in a literary context. The complexity of the literary production of these Moriscos deserves a better analysis and the process of adaptation that some of their traditional tales underwent is crucial to our approach of these texts. 

The five narratives analyzed in this study La estorya de la çibdat de cobre, El ḥadīẕ del árabe y la doncella, El ḥadīẕ de la serpiente, El ḥadīẕ de Bishr y Hind, El ḥadīẕ del baño de Zarieb present a side of the Mudéjar and Morisco literary production that is still understudied. These authors used their knowledge and the tools that were at their disposition to create a new genre, compounding series of stories, some entertaining and amusing, others gloomy and dreary, but almost always didactic and hortatory. These stories use non-religious figures and protagonists to promote Islamic tenets and appropriate behavior, in a sophisticated and literary way that sets them apart from the more official and orthodox material used by religious officials in Islamic centers. These stories are a window into the hopes and fears of these Morisco authors and their community and my aim in this study is to bring some of them to light.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016 at 10:00am to 12:00pm

Edward B. Bunn, S.J. Intercultural Center, 450, 37th and O St., N.W., Washington