Zhang Chengzhi (张承志), the white-hot Red Guard who mastered Mongolian and Japanese—and then converted to Islam—has written En las Ruinas de la Flor: Viajes por al-Andalus (鲜花的废墟). His Chinese-language travelogue takes us through Moorish Spain, Portugal and Morocco in search of the golden age of Islam in Europe (8th-15th centuries).
Freshly Flowering Ruins: Travels in al-Andalus
“The Arabs call Muslim Spain ‘al-Andalus.’ From the eighth century to the fifteenth century, the central and southern part of the Iberian Peninsula and the land south of Gibraltar was the site of a miraculous blossoming, and withering, of a civilization.The name ‘al-Andalus’ evokes that historical era. The reason for my deep-seated interest in it is quite natural: Not simply because Muslims vanquished the West—the sole instance of any people from the East vanquishing the West—but especially because it is a period of time when civilization vanquished the West.” (excerpt, author’s Preface)
If you are looking for a dispassionate, objective view of Muslim Spain, stop here. Zhang Cheng-Zhi is a pilgrim, not a historian. But definitely a pilgrim . . . with a difference.
Arguably the most well known, and certainly the most controversial Muslim writer in China today, Zhang Cheng-Zhi sports an extraordinary bio: Born into a Muslim Hui family, he was raised as an atheist; the first, self-proclaimed Red Guard in Beijing in the 1960s, according to The People’s Daily; “sent down” during the Cultural Revolution to the countryside in Inner Mongolia for four years, where he mastered Mongolian; after earning a degree in archaeology, he then studied in Japan, where he became fluent in Japanese; and in the 1980s, lived six years among the Hui of Xihaigu, Ningxia, and converted to Islam. Along the way he published writing in Mongolian, and his History of the Soul (心灵史), a work of historical fiction about the development of Sufism in northwest China, was a China best-seller in 1994. [Read more…]