The History of Islam in Europe
Europe and the realm of Islam have had close relations
with each other for centuries. First, the state of Andalusia (756-1492)
on the Iberian Peninsula, and later the Crusades (1095-1291) and
the Ottoman capture of the Balkans (1389), brought about a constant
interrelation between the two societies. Many historians and sociologists
assert today that Islam was the leading cause of Europe's movement
from the darkness of its Middle Ages to the brilliance of its
Renaissance. At a time when Europe was backward in medicine, astronomy,
mathematics, and many other fields, Muslims possessed a vast treasure
of knowledge and great possibilities of development.
The first event that made Europeans aware of Islam's
coming important place in their lives was the caliph 'Umar ibn
al-Khattab's capture of Jerusalem (638). This caused Europe to
realize for the first time that Islam was spreading and approaching
its own borders. The main reason for the Crusades, launched four
centuries later, was to take Jerusalem back from the Muslims.
But the Crusaders who set out for this purpose gained something
else, for the contact they made with the Muslim world was the
first step toward Europe's rebirth. Dominated by darkness, conflict,
war, and despotism, Europe encountered the Islamic world's advanced
civilization and saw that its inhabitants were both highly prosperous
and civilized, as well as quite advanced in the fields of medicine,
astronomy, and mathematics as in their social lives. They also
saw that values rarely found in Europe at that time (e.g., pluralism,
tolerance, understanding, compassion, and self-sacrifice) were
aspects of the high morality expressed by Muslims, who were aware
of their religious responsibilities.
A painting named "Sunset in Jerusalem
from the Mount of Olives.Jerusalem, when it entered the
Islamic fold during the reign of 'Umar ibn al-Kattab,
enjoyed a brand new period of peace and tolerance. The
Islamic morality formed the basis of this exemplary environment.
"Those who, if We establish them
firmly on the earth, will establish salat and pay alms,
and command what is right and forbid what is wrong. The
end result of all affairs is with God.(Qur'an 22:41)
Our Word was given before to Our
slaves, the Messengers, that they would certainly be helped.
It is Our army which will be victorious.(Qur'an, 37: 171-173)
Meanwhile, as the Crusades continued, European societies
also had relations with a Muslim society much closer to home:
the Muslim kingdom of Andalusia, located in the southern part
of their own continent. Andalusia had a great cultural influence
upon Europe until its demise in the late fifteenth century. Many
historians who have studied Andalusia's influence upon Europe
agree that this kingdom, with its social structure and high level
of civilization, was far more advanced than the rest of Europe,
and that it was one of the principle factors in the development
of European civilization. The prominent Spanish historian Blanco
Ibaņez writes that:
Spain's famous Cordoba Mosque, built
Rather We hurl the truth against
falsehood and it cuts right through it and it vanishes clean
away! Woe without end for you for what you portray! (Qur'an
Defeat in Spain
did not come from the north; the Muslim conquerors came from the
south. This was much more than a victory, it was a leap of civilization.
Because of this, the richest and most brilliant civilization known
in Europe was born and flourished throughout the Middle Ages between
the 8th and the 15th centuries. During this period northern peoples
were shattered by religious wars, and while they moved about in
bloodthirsty hoards, the population of Andalusia surpassed 30
million. In this number, which was high for the time, every race
and religion moved freely and with equality, and the pulse of
society was very lively.66
Interior view of one of the towers
of Andalusia's famous Alhambra Palace.
We appointed leaders from among
them, guiding by Our command when they were steadfast and
when they had certainty about Our Signs.(Qur'an. 32:24)
With its well-illuminated streets,
the capital Cordoba provided a striking contrast to the European
cities and according to the English historian John W. Draper,
"Seven hundred years after this time, there was not so much as
one public lamp in London. In Paris, centuries later, whoever
stepped over his threshold on a rainy day stepped up to his ankles
Andalusia finally ceased to exist in 1492 with the
fall of Granada, the last Muslim kingdom on the Iberian Peninsula.
But now, Europeans came face to face with the Ottoman Empire,
which was beginning to advance in the Balkans during the fifteenth
century as a result of several victories and mass conversions
among the Balkan people. This conversion was never forced or obtained
by pressure. In time, the Islamic morality put in place by the
Ottomans brought those who witnessed it to choose Islam freely.
Ottoman civilization, built on the Qur'anic moral values of justice,
equality, tolerance, and compassion, remained in the Balkans for
400 years, and its traces can still be seen there. (A large number
of these remains were destroyed by Serbian troops and missiles
during the war in Bosnia, but this does not change the facts of
history.) This Qur'anic-based civilization made Islam an important
part of Europe. Even today, quite a large number of European Muslims
live in the Balkans.
One person who believes that European civilization
has learned much from Islam and that the two civilizations have
always been intimately connected is Charles, Prince of Wales.
Prince Charles describes Islamic civilization and what Andalusia
and the Ottoman experience in the Balkans has taught Europe:
trade, open borders, the techniques of academic research, of anthropology,
etiquette, fashion, alternative medicine, hospitals, all came
from this great city of cities. Mediaeval Islam was a religion
of remarkable tolerance for its time, allowing Jews and Christians
to practice their inherited beliefs, and setting an example which
was not, unfortunately, copied for many centuries in the West.
The surprise, ladies and gentlemen, is the extent to which Islam
has been a part of Europe for so long, first in Spain, then in
the Balkans, and the extent to which it has contributed so much
towards the civilization which we all too often think of, wrongly,
as entirely Western. Islam is part of our past and present, in
all fields of human endeavour. It has helped to create modern
Europe. It is part of our own inheritance, not a thing apart.68
The Swedish ambassador Ingmar Karlsson, known in Turkey
for his book Islam and Europe, says that in the Andalusian
period, Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived together in peace
and that this should be taken as a model in Europe.
High representative for the International
Community in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Wolfgang Petritsch, stresses
in an article in the November 20, 2001 edition of the New
York Times that the struggle against terror must not be directed
against Islam and that it must never be forgotten that Islam is
actually a part of Europe. In his article, "Islam is Part of the
West, Too," he states: "When we step beyond the us-and-them paradigm,
we might remember that Islam is part of the European tradition."69
Keeping this historical fact in mind is one way to prevent the
chaos desired by those provocateurs who put forward the "clash
of civilizations" thesis. Differences in civilization are not
reasons for conflict; rather, they can be an important means of
Ibanez, A la Sombra de la Catedral, Madrid t.y., 22-23.
68. "Islam's Contribution to Europe's Renaissance,"
The Wisdom Fund, http://www.twf.org/Library/Renaissance.html.
69. The New York Times, November 20, 2001.