An email often goes around that warn Muslims again April Fool observation by claiming that this tradition originates from the event of Christians victory over Muslims in Andalusian Spain. It proposes that Europeans made fool of Muslims by introducing Liquor and Tobacco to them and thus gradually weaken them through its indulgence. The author busts the myth with correct version of history and common sense and explain the origin of April Fool’s Day.
I never knew that 1 April 2007 would be a day of reckoning, in a dubious style though. As a child I might have played the fool on the fool’s day by saying what I would believe was funny to someone I loved – like my brothers and sister. Nobody stopped me from those innocent escapades, for they were perhaps as innocuous, or as harmful, as watching an occasional movie – ordinarily at an interval of six-seven months – like Sohrab Modi’s “Pukar”, or Mehboob Khan’s “Humayun”, or Nanubhai Vakil’s “Hatim Tai”. But in later years the April fun did not amuse us older children any longer as we found the annual practice very boring. Gradually I realized that not many people around me were taking April Fool’s Day seriously: rarely anyone would try to make fun of gullible peers. This year, however, the day of fools dawned out of blue. I was astonished to know that some educated Muslims believed that the European tradition of All Fools Day was, in their view, to celebrate the fall of Spain’s last Muslim principality of Granada. What a funny story, I said to myself.
I don’t know when this “belief” had crept into Muslim “knowledge bank”, but some friends informed me that this grapevine might have spread about 20-30 years ago that Granada fell to the Christian forces on 1 April and since then the Christians have been remembering this as the day when they had “fooled” the Muslims. And how did those Christians make fool of the Muslims? Well, as the story goes, they sent to Granada “spies” to first study Andalusian Muslims’ habits and life-style and then making them addicted to liquor and cigarette smoking in order to recapture Granada.
What a wonderful way of winning battles and capturing countries. May I divulge the secret that most of the modern Spaniard drink alcohol and many of them smoke cigarettes too.
Do the Christians really believe that Muslims are and were stupid and they were easy prey to be made fool of? Even if such Muslim stupidity was really the primary cause of the loss of Andalusia in 1492, aren’t they showing a greater degree of imprudence now in 2007 to remind the Christian masses to mark April 1 as the day of Muslim foolishness with increased passion?
Nevertheless, rumors being circulated in the cyberspace on this issue point to two other dimensions: one academic and the other ethical.
Morally, no doubt, it is uncivilized to make fool of a normally intelligent person. From a Muslim perspective, too, it is unethical as a celebration, whatever its provocation, even if the prank is as harmless as telling someone his shoestring is untied. From this same perspective, it is all the more disgraceful as this practice encourages people to tell a lie, even if they are innocuous. Every Muslim may sometime refer to a Hadith of the Rasool-Allah, sall-Allah-u alaih-i wa sallam, and must be aware that Hadith scholars do not entertain a report from a liar. For a Muslim, therefore, it is the greatest punishment to be excluded from reporting a statement of the Rasool-Allah. Therefore, if the claim that April Fool’s Day is connected with the fall of Andalusia is untrue and historically unfounded, a narrator of this claim stands the risk of being disqualified of quoting from the Prophet Muhammad.
Academically, the issue requires investigation in order to ascertain the claim. When I rejected this claim on a Net-group, I was told by one friend hailing from Deoband, India, that he first heard this in his home-town in his childhood, and later in Aligarh, where the “misinformation was corrected at a gathering by a lecturer of Islamic Studies”. It is important to note that in Deoband – unlike Aligarh – it was not any professor or someone else connected with the Darul Uloom, but an ordinary townsman who would tell his nephew that the custom was about the fall of Muslim Spain. The narration might have been unforgivable if it was attributed to a teacher of Darul Uloom Deoband. But then the Ulama engaged in teaching Hadith and Tafseer know well what to report and what to trash.
Another friend, Mustafa Kamal Sherwani, a law professor in Tanzania, informed me in another email that when he was doing LL.M. at Aligarh Muslim University, some students did some activity on April 1 to a senior professor in the Faculty of Law. The discomfited professor then scolded the ill-behaved students and narrated the same Andalus story about April Fool.
While making fun of a teacher is highly uncultured and deplorable, this Aligarh incident suggests the cancer is quite widespread. What is more painful is that even some modern Muslim scholars, having a discernible disinterest in scientific inquiry, would carelessly circulate disinformation which the less-informed or uninitiated public accept as truth coming as it does from supposedly learned people. This lack of interest in ascertaining the truth is unacceptable among the descendants of those who collected Hadith, checked the life and habits of every single narrator – numbering in thousands – evaluated every single statement on the basis of riwayah (the chain of narrators) and dirayah (contextual examination and logical/intellectual scrutiny) before writing it down in an authentic Hadith compendium. Today’s lackadaisical attitude about judging and analyzing reports is deplorable among the successors of those early scholars who had laid the foundations of modern epistemological order. Those were the persons whose consummate analytical prowess resulted in the emergence of about 26 systems of codified Islamic laws in the form of highly respected, admired and followed Fiqh schools, and set rules for academic inquiry that paved the way for advancement in philosophical theories and applied sciences.
But then this is what it is: Muslims seem to have stooped so low intellectually and academically as to believe in hearsay as historical truths!
I wish that the e-message about April Fool’s Day was not written by a Muslim, worse if it was an April Fool’s Day prank. It is a case of misinformation and a demonstration of abject ignorance of people pretending to be learned, innocent and pious, all at one and same time but being none of them.
A little insight into history tells a different tale about a Euro-Christian festival of foolishness.
To begin with, Spain’s last Muslim statelet of Granada, encompassing Almeira and Malaga as well, was lost not on April 1, as claimed by those who have been fooled by their ignorance of history, but on January 2, 1492. Referencres can be made to historians and encyclopedias, or at least Spanish tourism websites like http://www.spanish-fiestas.com, etc. Spain Travel Newsletter, for example, says: “On January 2nd 1492 Los Reyes Catlicos (The Catholic Monarchs – namely Isabella and Ferdinand) marched into Granada and the last stronghold of Moorish Spain came to an end”. According to cyber-encyclopedia Wikipedia, “On January 2, 1492, the last Muslim leader, Muhammad XII, known as Boabdil (Arabic: Abu Abdullah) to the Spanish, surrendered complete control of Granada, to Ferdinand and Isabella, Los Reyes Catlicos, (The Catholic Monarchs – the title given to the couple by Pope Alexander VI), after the city was besieged”.
“December had nearly passed away. The famine became extreme, and Boabdil determined to surrender the city on the second of January,” says M B Synge, in an article titled “Brave Men and Brave Deeds”, which is published by The Baldwin’s Project.
Vincent Barletta of University of Minnesota says in an article “About the Moriscos” (post-Granada nomenclature for Spanish Muslims, intended to belittle the Moors), with reference to ‘The Legacy of Muslim Spain’, edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi: “The Catholic Monarchs decisively put an end to over eight centuries of sporadic Christian Reconquest in January of 1492. They achieved this by finally taking by military force the isolated and very vulnerable Nasrid Kingdom of Granada”.
A Bangladeshi-American Muslim, Mohammad Abdullah, in a “Rejoinder to Columbus and America” , an opinion article in “News from Bangladesh”, of August 15, 2006, writes: “Regarding the fall of Granada, it is true that in early 1492 (possibly end of January) Isabella and Ferdinand’s army captured it but it was not completely conquered. … Several small pockets around Granada were still unconquered, and insurgency erupted which was totally demolished in October 1492. … At that time Isabella and Ferdinand began to sleep in peace”.
All, except one, of these historians are Europeans or Christians and none of them records the fall of Granada on April 1. Therefore, logic demands that if Christians really wanted to celebrate foolishness of Muslims, a suitable date was the New Year’s Day – 1 January – rather than 1 April.
It is not surprising that the Spaniard remember the exact date when they retook the last Muslim statelet in Andalusia, but it is strange that even the educated Muslims do not know the date of their last major defeat in a country which they love so much that Iqbal’s best poem, Masjid-i Qurtuba, came only thanks to our Andalusian nostalgia.
One cannot be so nave as to believe that Christians needed to send “spies” to Muslim Spain to study Muslim life-style and based on those studies worked out a strategy about exporting alcohol and “cigarettes” (sic) in order to corrupt Muslims and retake Andalusia. In Spain Christians and Jews lived in a mixed, pluralistic society under Muslims and they were well aware of Muslim life-style, many of them even emulating it.
Turning to alcohol, it was not unknown to Muslims. The Qur’an mentions it as impure and harmful. And cigarette was not yet invented when Isabella and Ferdinand were planning to take over Granada in the 1480s. In fact, tobacco itself was not yet known to the Europeans. Nonetheless, Reconquista was not so easy as to have been accomplished by making Andalusian Muslims addicted to smoking cigarettes. It took almost 500 years of ceaseless Christian military campaigns in spite of anarchy and dispersion of power that had prevailed in Muslim Spain since the fall of Andalusia’s Umayyad dynasty in 1031 CE, and 11 years of cleverly crafted strategy of Ferdinand-Isabella team to unseat an incompetent Muslim monarch.
David Nicolle writes in “Granada 1492”, a well-documented study of the last 11 years of Muslim rule in Spain, that the forces of Granada’s last Muslim king Abu Abdullah (Boabdil) Muhammad XII were “no match” to the might of the Spanish royal army that was “revitalized and lavishly equipped with modern artillery”. However, Nicolle adds that “despite this mismatch of strength it took 11 years of hard campaigning before the Spanish troops could bring their guns to bear on the walls of Granada”.
As for tobacco-smoking, according to historians, it did not begin in Europe before the nineteenth century, when it was enjoyed by “gentlemen only” in the form of cigars. Cigarettes (literally meaning small cigars), which were “basically the sweepings off the floor of the cigar factory, were only smoked by the very poor” and their mass production began only in the 1880s – almost 400 years after the fall of Granada.
Historically, there is no indication of habitual tobacco use in the Ancient World, on any continent save the Americas. During his two voyages in 1492 and 1493, Columbus and his sailors became the first Europeans to see tobacco in South America. In his diary for 12 October 1492, Columbus writes, according to tobacco historian Gene Borio, that on the beach of San Salvador Island or Samana Cay in the Bahamas, or Grand Turk Island, the indigenous Arawaks offered gifts which included fruit, wooden spears, and certain dried leaves which gave off a distinct fragrance…. “The fruit was eaten; the pungent ‘dried leaves’ were thrown away”, writes Columbus.
In 1498, Columbus visited what he named as Trinidad and Tobago, “naming the latter after the native tobacco pipe”, says Borio.
Borio further records in “The Tobacco Timeline” (www.tobacco.org), that Christian monk Ramon Pane had accompanied Columbus on his second voyage in 1493 and he described the New Worlders using snuff and inhaling smoke “through a Y-shaped tube”. Borio says Pane was “the first man to introduce tobacco to Europe” in the closing years of the fifteenth century.
France had come to know of tobacco in the mid-16th century, but according to Wikipedia, Europeans believed then that the use of tobacco was good “to cure ulcers and heal wounds along with other such benefits”. Christians would not allow this “useful medicine to infidel Moors”. To make things easy to understand, Encyclopadia Brittanica records that French Admiral Gaspard II de Coligny, a Huguenot (Protestant) leader, “supported a war in the Low Countries (southern France) against Spain as a means to prevent a resumption of (France’s Catholic-Protestant) civil war”.
Even if there is a historical reference to the use of tobacco as a weapon in France’s hostilities against Spain, one may be reminded that Admiral de Coligny’s proposal to engage Spain in a war came in the 1570s, about 80 years after the end of Spain’s last Muslim regime.
These historical records offer evidence that tobacco was unknown to the world before Columbus’s voyages. And Columbus reached the shores of South America nine months after the fall of Granada. Therefore, this negates the claim that cigarette was used for ending of Muslim rule in Spain.
Those who have a little understanding of history know well that the European Christians regarded Andalusian Muslims as “infidel” but did not consider them “fools” to be ridiculed even on a particular day in the year. Even today, extremist Christians or Westerners may dislike Muslims, but they do not denounce them as stupid people. On the contrary, they recognized Muslims’ superior intelligence, and did save a few books, by risking their own lives, from the raging “bon fires” (meaning good fires) stoked every night by Spain’s Cardinal Ximenes, who had full personal support of Isabella, and perhaps Ferdinand. These books written by Muslim scientists, philosophers and jurists – most of them burnt and destroyed by Ximenes and his subordinate priests – would not have been translated into Latin, Dutch, French, and English if Europeans had thought Muslims were fools.
April Fool’s Day or All Fools Day is in fact connected to the Old World’s New Year celebrations. In olden times in the Roman Empire, New Year of the Julian calendar would fall on April 1 and the weeklong celebrations would begin on March 25, culminating on what was recognized as the First Day of Spring, April 1. Not surprisingly, this compares with today’s weeklong celebrations beginning on December 25 and culminating on January 1 under the reformed Gregorian dating system.
The “most probable time” accepted as the beginning of April Fool’s Day tradition was in 1582, according to Jerry Wilson, an American science teacher and newspaper columnist who specializes in US tobacco industry. In the early 1570s, he says, France’s King Charles IX (reigned 1561-1574) adopted the Gregorian dating system and sent out orders around his kingdom (Iberian Peninsula, including Granada, was outside Charles IX’s realm) to change the New Year’s Day from April 1 to January 1. Jerry Wilson underscores a common European lore that in those days when mail in Europe was still carried by footmen, many people did not receive the news for several years. “Others, the more obstinate crowd, refused to accept the new calendar and continued to celebrate the New Year on April 1. These backward folk were labeled as ‘fools’ by the general populace. They were subject to some ridicule, and were often sent on ‘fools errands’ or were made the butt of other practical jokes”. It is common knowledge in Europe that this change in the dating system, says Wilson, “is where we get April Fool’s Day”.
It may be noted that Slavic people of Eastern Europe, denominationally known as (Russian) Orthodox Christians, still do not accept Gregorian dating system and continue to mark their religious ceremonies like Christmas and Easter according to the Julian calendar, named after Rome’s Julius Caesar.
It appears that Rome’s pre-Julian New Year’s Day actually fell in March, to mark summer equinox on March 20 or 21, which was originally dedicated to Ishtar, the pagan Semitic (not Jewish) goddess of fertility. Ishtar’s festival would mark the advent of Spring, the time of new harvests. Ishtar was worshipped in ancient Sumeria (part of Syria) and Babylonia (part of Iraq). Astarte and Esther are alternative names for Ishtar (Arabic letters: ayn, sheen, ta, alif, ra). Early Christians who had made Rome as their religious focal point, had adopted many Roman and pre-Rome pagan rites, rituals and festivals, among them the Festival of Fertility, which was probably adopted by the Romans as a result of their political and economic contacts with West Asia. Another theory is that the lore of Ishatar was brought to Rome and rest of Europe by early Christian immigrants from West Asia. Interestingly, the Anglo-Saxons of British Isle also had the “spring goddess” they called Eostre.
Christian sources like the Dictionary of the Encyclopedia Britannica recognize that the festival of Easter, marked in March-April, actually has its roots in this Semitic festival of Ishtar. This explains the traditions of Easter Eggs, symbols of fertility, and Easter Bunny, the rodent known for a high rate of procreation and its re-emergence from the holes as snow begins to melt in March and green leaves begin to sprout again on denuded tree branches in cold climes of Europe. The Anglo-Saxon Eostre also had the hare and eggs as icons of Easter, “because both of them were regarded to be emblems of fertility”.
Here it may be of some interest to note that even though Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585) moved the Christian New Year to January in order to identify it with what Christians believe is birth-date of Jesus Christ, apparently doing away with a pagan Semitic ritual of the advent of Spring, the earlier celebration still retained religious sanction in the form of Easter. Also, Gregory XIII, who began his papacy 80 years after the fall of Granada, did not give new names to the months identified with Roman deities like Mars (March) and Juno (June), and Roman dictators such as Julius Caesar (July) and Augustus Caesar (August). It is understandable that a pope living under the Roman empire, was loath to or scared of christening months named after earlier emperors and deities, but ironically, he did not give thought to the names of four month which still sound ridiculous to the knowledgeable: the ninth Gregorian calendar month is called September which literally means Seventh (newspapers often report that a sept-uagenarian is a person in his/her seventies), tenth month is still known as October (meaning Eighth – and a schoolchild knows that an eight-point geometric pattern is called an oct-agon?), eleventh month remains to be November (meaning Ninth) and the twelfth month is still called December (linguistically meaning the Tenth – people may recall dec-imal point, or dec-ade, that’s ten-year period, to understand the meaning of Dec-ember). These names indicate that the Romans, being proud warriors, would start their year from March 1, named after their god of war, who was actually a carbon image of earlier pagan Greek god of war, Ares.
Now, how should a Muslim behave in dealing with matters like this?
Only illiterate or ignorant people having no civilizational tradition of academic and scientific inquiry would spread hearsay without caring to check the facts. But ignoring the facts is not a modern Muslim tradition only. Even though today’s Muslims are a far cry from what their illustrious ancestors had been, they are apparently influenced by the prevailing order: this approach of pseudo-scholarship is not an attribute of Muslims alone. This is given currency by the modern media – radio and television channels, newspapers and magazines – that may gleefully disseminate any untruth or pretty obvious falsehood with little inclination to verify the details, provided the error is unintentional. I recall just one example: The day India’s prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated I was visiting the US city of Boston. The next morning’s Boston Globe newspaper, a widely read and “respectable” national daily of the United States, reported in an “obituary-cum-news analysis” that Rajiv Gandhi was son of Indira Gandhi (right) and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi (?) and first prime minister of India! Traces of this culture are sometimes detectable in modern academia, too, especially in times when they are serving interests of multinational or other corporations. After all they need funds for research which can be conveniently oriented to suit corporate interests of the engines of the global economy.
As against this, Muslim academic culture of the yore would not allow any doubtful piece of information to spread before all narrated facts were thoroughly checked and tested on the anvil of logic as well as Islamic tenets and belief system. The last reporter in the chain would check the trustability of each and every single preceding reporter if the report passed through more than one narrator. This led to the initiation of the science of biography, Islamically called Ilm Asma ar-Rijal, the Science of the Names of Men. This style of scientific inquiry is the legacy of Muslims. Today’s “reporters” who carelessly post and “discuss” unproven statements are in no way representatives and successors of those who had initiated and instituted the science of scientific investigation just when Muslims were about to be driven out of Spain, sociologically speaking. Nonetheless, the world still expects Muslims to be the most authentic when they report some facts.
Reacting to the inane cyberumor about April Fool’s Day, a Black American Muslim, Abdul-Halim V, has rightly remarked on Planet Granada blog: “…sometimes I get the feeling that as a group, Muslims need to develop a lot more critical-thinking and need to learn not to pass on everything we hear from so-and-so as the truth”.
Muhammad Tariq Ghazi, based in Ottawa, Canada, is a veteran journalist and historian. He has been editor of several Urdu and English newspapers and journals published from India and Saudi Arabia. He is author of ‘The Cartoons Cry’, a book on the blasphemous Danish cartoons. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
MMG (Muslim Media Group)