Just back from an interesting and stimulating two week travel through Spain and Portugal. Both fascinating countries on many levels. Both suffering through the possibility of becoming the next economic Greece.

Some of this tour involved Christian religious sites and pilgrimage routes such as Camino de Santiago, Santiago de Campest, Fatima and a plethora of churches, basilicas and even cathedrals. One of the fellow travelers from Australia used the term ABC (another bloody church). But I did find the experience worthwhile.

The religious drive is nowhere more evident than in the Iberian peninsula. At present it is a powerful historical center of Christian belief which retook the peninsula after a seven hundred year period of Muslim/Moorish Islamic control and dominance from 700 to late fifteenth century.

A brutal and barbaric religious Spanish Inquisition led to the confiscation of property, expulsion, forced conversion and death of those whose religious fidelity was questioned.

As usual, the Jewish population of Spain and Portugal suffered from the whims of its leaders. At times appreciated and even tolerated, at others expelled, killed, burnt at the stake for being infidels or insincere converts (marranos or conversos).

There were discussions by our extremely knowledgeable tour guide about the re-discovery in post-Franco Spain of their original "Golden Age", namely during the Muslim/Moorish occupation. This period had been purposely ignored because it was not based on Church domination.

Of note was the considerable achievements in art, science, architecture, medicine, chemistry, sanitation, scholarship, philosophy by a collaborative and collaborative efforts of the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity & Islam).

In fact much of the important Greek and Roman writings, philsophy and poetry, nearly forgotten and lost, was preserved and re-introduced into Europe by the Muslims. While much of Europe was struggling through its Dark Ages, civilization in Spain and Portugal was flourishing.

I found it interesting that one Spanish tour guide seemed to justify the Inquisition by stating that Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand found it "easier" to deal with only one religion. How sad that such a brutal and ultimately self-destructive period of European history could be rationalized and dismissed so casually.

If there was a clear historical lesson for all of us to be learned from Spanish and Portuguese history it seems to be this–embrace the benefits of diversity and the sharing and collaboration with those whose backgrounds and belief systems differ from your own. Lose the fear of learning from others. Seek cooperation rather than annihilation of those who differ from us. Reject xenophobia and fundamentalist beliefs.

There is much for the contemporary Islamic world to learn from their own history. Five hundred years ago they led the known world in intellectual pursuits. Today adopting a more moderate and collaborative relationship with nonbelievers might reap rewards for all concerned.

All groups can learn from their shared past. What worked then was collaboration, cooperation, sharing and mutual respect. With an enlightened awareness of history, it can happen once again.

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