Recreating the peaceful co-existence of Al-Andalus

I first met Nizar Liemlahi in May when I was looking for an oud player for the Granada launch of Secrets of the Pomegranate. A Moroccan living in Granada, Nizar is not only a musician but also a qualified psychologist and the founder and director of Dar Loughat here in Granada. Dar Loughat offers Arabic language courses and cultural immersion programmes for an international clientele.

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In Arabic, Dar Loughat means ‘Home of Languages’ but its meaning is broader than that. Dar has classical connotations and Loughat includes the idea of cultures, the civilisations where the language is spoken. It’s an apt name because the school’s aim is to broaden people’s knowledge of Andalusian culture and create dialogue between different cultures as a way of promoting coexistence and tolerance. Students can be accommodated with local Arab families to increase their immersion in both language and culture. To this end, they can learn about Moroccan cookery or music or how to write in Arabic calligraphy. Various activities and visits are laid on, designed to show the Arab legacy in Europe – including, of course, the Alhambra.IMG_5071

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When I met Nizar last week he talked enthusiastically of a new weekend course he is designing: a practical workshop to be called The Andalusian Way to Happiness. ‘It’s a practical workshop,’ he told me. ‘The idea is for participants to share their own experiences while exploring the beautiful human experience of al-Andalus, where people of all religions lived peaceably together.’

This history of peaceful coexistence – along with the difficulty of achieving it in our times – is a theme that figures prominently in my novel, Secrets of the Pomegranate, where Deborah, the main protagonist, discovers the richness and advanced knowledge of the Arab civilisation in Granada and begins to research it in more depth, in particular the role of women. Dar Loughat would have been right up Deborah’s street.

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For Nizar, a Sufi Muslim, the spiritual aspect of al-Andalus is the most important. Since 2007 he has been making connections with spiritual teachers from all over the world, not all of them Muslims. ‘Sufism connects with something that existed long before Islam,’ he says. ‘Islam teaches us to recognise and accept other religions. We come from a big energy that some may call God, others nature, others the universe, but it’s all the same thing. He talks about exploring the meaning of life and finding the beauty in ourselves; about how we can feel happiness in our hearts and share it; about purifying our souls.

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Most importantly perhaps, he sees language as an instrument for peace between cultures, language as a way of preventing wars and conflicts. ‘We need to believe change is possible, to recognise that those of us who want peace and the chance to live in dignity and fulfil ourselves as human beings are in the majority. We must stop feeling fear and be positive. Beautiful things happen every day.’

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At one of Granada’s many teterías (the Moroccan tea-shops that also figure in Secrets of the Pomegranate), a group of Nizar’s students and friends from Spain, Morocco, and several European countries meet to make music, converse, read poems… We drink tea and nibble delicious Moroccan pastries. It is another of Nizar’s ideas for sharing experience between cultures. See http://www.darloughat-granada.org

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