Al-Andalus in Brazil

By Wail S. Hassan
Submitted to Session P4839 (Transnational Andalus, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
Al-Andalus has long fascinated Brazilians. Among Arab immigrants in Brazil, the first large-scale literary movement called itself “Al-‘Usba al-Andalusiyya” (the Andalusian League); it was formed in São Paulo in 1933 by poets such as Shukralla al-Jurr, Mishayl Ma‘luf, Rashid Salim al-Khuri, and others, who left a mark on the development of modern Arabic poetry and are considered the second most important school of Mahjar (immigrant) writers, after Al-Rabita al-Qalamiyya (the Pen League) of New York in the 1920s. The São Paulo poets looked to al-Andalus as a sort of Mahjari golden age in which immigrant Arabs established a civilization on foundations of cultural mixing and hybridization—the same values that Brazil embraces as defining features of its own national character. This idea of Brazilian identity was given powerful, celebratory articulation, also in 1933, by influential sociologist Gilberto Freyre in Casa grande e senzala (The Masters and the Slaves), in which he argued that Moorish influence pervades Portuguese culture as one of the three main sources of Brazilian culture and society (the others being the Amerindian and the African). This convergence of two kinds of nostalgia for al-Andalus—one mainstream and one minority, the former expressed in Portuguese and the latter in Arabic—has numerous implications for Brazilian identity and for the position of Arabs and Arab immigrants both in Brazilian society and in the Brazilian imaginary. Cultural expressions of that nostalgia have also been abundant. In previous work, I have analyzed the representation of Morocco, colored by the legacy of al-Andalus, in the popular Brazilian telenovela O Clone (The Clone); in this presentation, I offer a reading of Gilberto Abrão’s novel O escriba de Granada (2014, The Scribe of Granada) as the latest manifestation of that nostalgia and a more direct linkage than ever before between Muslim Spain and contemporary Brazil.