Islam in Spain

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Islam was a widespread religion in what is now Spain and Portugal for nine centuries, beginning with the Umayyad conquest of Hispania and ending (at least overtly) with its prohibition by the modern Spanish state in the mid-16th century and the expulsion of the Moriscos in the early 17th century. Although a significant proportion of Moriscos returned to Spain or avoided expulsion through various means, and the decree never affected the country's large enslaved Muslim population, the indigenous practice of Islam is considered to have been effectively extinguished by the 19th century.[1]

Nevertheless, throughout modern history there has always been a constant presence of Muslims in Spain, many of which were former slaves (known as 'moros cortados') freed in the early 18th century. Furthermore, Spain's proximity to North Africa and its small land border with the Kingdom of Morocco (as well as a colonial presence in North Africa lasting between 1912 and 1975) made Muslim presence in Spain inevitable. Moroccan Muslims played a significant role in Spain's Civil War (1936-1939), fighting on the National side, including a Lieutenant General Mohamed Meziane, a close friend of General Francisco Franco, who later became Captain General of Ceuta, Galicia and the Canary Islands during his post-war career.

Moroccans did not require a visa to enter Spain until 1985. This however changed with Spain's growing economic development and its entry into the European Union, after which stricter immigration controls were imposed. In 1987, Spain's first Mosque was built since Islamic times in the province of Cordoba by the Ahmadiya community. Immigration to Spain exploded in the 90s, Moroccans of both sexes arriving in large numbers and becoming Spain's first important economic immigrant community. In the 2000s migrants started arriving in some numbers from other Muslim-majority countries (as well as from Latin America and Eastern Europe). Moroccans are currently Spain's oldest and most integrated immigrant community and second-largest foreign population after Romanians.

A cell of Moroccan terrorists were responsible for the Madrid 2004 bombings, Europe's deadliest terrorist attack in modern history. Nevertheless, Spain's long history with Basque terrorism, its highly polarized political atmosphere at the time, and the insistence by a significant portion of the Spanish right in blaming first ETA and then a police/socialist sponsored conspiracy for the bombing,[2] all played a role in neutralizing any potential backlash against the country's Moroccan/Muslim community.

As of 2015, Spain officially had 1,887,906 Muslims out of a total population of 46,449,565 or slightly above 4% of the total population. Out of these 1,108,826, or 58.7% were immigrants without Spanish citizenship. Spain's Muslim community includes 779,080 Spanish citizens (41% of total) and 749,274 Moroccan citizens (39.6% of the Muslim community and over 67% of Muslim foreigners). Other smaller communities include Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Algerians, Senegalese and Nigerians. As for Muslims with Spanish citizenship, in 2015 these included 251,517 naturalized citizens (mainly from Morocco), 433,030 descendants of naturalized citizens, 71,725 Ceuta/Melilla Muslims (naturalized by decree in the early 80s) and 22,808 were Spaniards of Catholic background who had converted to Islam for marriage or out of religious conviction.[3]


A summary of the history of Islam in Spain can be seen online at “Cities of Light, The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain, Part 1. and “Cities of Light, The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain, Part 2.

The Great Mosque of Córdoba turned church after the Reconquista.


Hispania was the Latin name given to the whole Iberian Peninsula (covering the territories of present-day Spain and Portugal), and after the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476) the Teutonic tribe of Visigoths ended up ruling the whole peninsula until the Islamic conquest (during that time they pushed another Teutonic tribe out—the Vandals – and conquered another one—the Suevi). It is frequently stated in historical sources that Spain was one of the former Roman provinces where the Latin language and culture grew deep roots. After the fall of the Empire, the Visigoths continued the tradition by becoming probably the most Romanized of all Teutonic tribes.

On April 30, 711, Islamic leader Tariq ibn-Ziyad landed at Gibraltar and by the end of the campaign most of the Iberian Peninsula (except for small areas in the north-west such as Asturias and the Basque territory) were brought under Islamic rule. This campaign's turning point was the battle of Guadalete, where the last Visigothic king, Roderick, was defeated and killed on the battlefield. After this eight-year campaign, Muslim forces attempted to move north-east across the Pyrenees Mountains toward France, but were defeated by the Frankish Christian Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732.

It is commonly held that the relative ease that the Arab armies conquered the Iberian Peninsula with was due to the centralized nature of government under the rule of the Visigoths. After the defeat of Roderick, the Visigoth dominion over the Iberian peninsula folded and fell apart from the Northern coast of Spain, and the province of Septimania (an area of France going from the Pyrenees to Provence), all areas previously under the rule of the Visigoths were under Islamic rule.

Several historical sources state that the Islamic caliphate had not actually targeted Spain for conquest, but that political divisions within the Visigothic kingdom created an opportunity that Tariq and his army exploited successfully. For example, King Roderick was not considered a legitimate ruler by all the inhabitants of the Kingdom, and some Visigothic nobles actually aided the Islamic conquest. One name frequently mentioned is Count Julian of Ceuta in North Africa (this version calls him a Gothic noble), who according to some stories invited Tariq to invade because his daughter had been raped by King Roderick. Other sources instead consider Count Julian to be the last representative of the Eastern Roman Empire in North Africa.

Islamic rule in the Iberian peninsula lasted for varying periods ranging from only 28 years in the extreme northwest (Galicia) to 781 years in the area surrounding the city of Granada in the southeast. While the three major monotheistic religious traditions certainly did borrow from one another in Muslim-ruled Spain, benefiting especially by the blooming of philosophy and the medieval sciences in the Muslim Middle East, recent scholarship has brought into question the notion that the peaceful coexistence of Muslims, Jews, and Christians — known as the convivencia — could be defined as "pluralistic."[4] Moreover, the appearance of Sufism on the Iberian peninsula is especially important because Sufism's "greatest shaykh," Ibn 'Arabi, was himself from Murcia.


Main article: Al-Andalus

In time Islamic migrants from places as diverse as North Africa to Yemen and Syria and Iran came to live in the Iberian peninsula. The Islamic rulers called the Iberian peninsula "Al-Andalus". That was the root for the name of the present-day region of Andalusia, the southernmost region of Spain.

For a time, the area that is today Spain and Portugal was one of the great Muslim civilizations, reaching its summit with the Umayyad Caliphate in the 10th century. Muslim Spain had the following chronological phases:

  • The Emirate directly dependent on the Caliph in Damascus (711–756)
  • The Independent Emirate (756–929)
  • The Caliphate of Córdoba (929–1031)
  • The first Taifas (1031–c. 1091)
  • The Almoravid rule (c. 1091–c. 1145)
  • The second Taifas (c. 1145–c. 1151)
  • The Almohad rule (c. 1151–1212)
  • The Kingdom of Granada (1212–1492)
  • The late Alpujarras revolt (1568–1571), with two monarchs appointed successively by the Morisco rebels (Note: the dates when the different taifa kingdoms were annexed by Almoravids and Almohads vary)

The Madrasah of Granada was the first university in Granada, Andalusia. It was founded by the Nasrid dynasty monarch Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada in 1349.[5]


Main article: Reconquista

After the disintegration of the Caliphate, Islamic control of Spain was gradually eroded by the Christian Reconquista. The Reconquista (Reconquest) was the process by which the Catholic Kingdoms of northern Spain eventually managed to succeed in defeating and conquering the Muslim states of the Iberian Peninsula. The first major city to fall to Catholic powers was Toledo in 1085,[6] which prompted the intervention of Almoravids. After the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, most of Al-Andalus fell under control of the Catholic kingdoms, the only exception being the Nasrid dynasty Emirate of Granada. The Granada War (Guerra de Granada) of the Reconquista began in 1482 against the Emirate of Granada. It was not until 1492 that the Emirate of Granada with city of Granada and the Alhambra and Generalife Palaces, the last remaining Muslim territory in al-Andalus, fell in the Battle of Granada to forces of the Catholic Monarchs (los Reyes Catolicos), Queen Isabella I of Castile and her husband King Ferdinand II of Aragon.[7]

After reconquista[edit]

Further information: Mudejar and Morisco

The conquest was accompanied by the Treaty of Granada signed by Emir Muhammad XII of Granada, allowing the Spanish crown's new Muslim subjects a large measure of religious toleration. They were also allowed the continuing use of their own language, schools, laws and customs. But the interpretation of the royal edict was largely left to the local Catholic authorities. Hernando de Talavera, the first Archbishop of Granada after its Catholic conquest, took a fairly tolerant view.

However 1492 started the monarchy's reversal of freedoms beginning with the Alhambra Decree. This continued when Archbishop Talavera was replaced by the intolerant Cardinal Cisneros, who immediately organised a drive for mass forced conversions and burned publicly thousands of Arabic books (manuscripts).[8] Outraged by this breach of faith, in 1499 the Mudéjars rose in the First Rebellion of the Alpujarras, which was unsuccessful and only had the effect of giving Ferdinand and Isabella a pretext to revoke the promise of toleration. That same year the Muslim leaders of Granada were ordered to hand over almost all of the remaining books in Arabic, most of which were burned. (Only medical manuscripts were spared; those manuscripts are in the Escorial library.) Beginning in Valencia in 1502, Muslims were offered the choice of baptism or exile. The option of exile was often not feasible in practice because of the difficulty in uprooting one's family and making the journey to Muslim lands in North Africa, the inability to pay the fee required by the authorities for safe passage, and the general tendency by the authorities to discourage and hinder such exodus.[9]

The majority therefore are forced to accept conversion, becoming known as "New Christians". Many of the New Christians (also called "Moriscos"), though outwardly Catholic, continued to adhere to their old beliefs in private as crypto-Muslims.[10] Responding to a plea from his co-religionists in Spain, in 1504 Ahmad ibn Abi Jum'ah, an Islamic scholar in North Africa, issued a fatwa, commonly named the "Oran fatwa", saying that Muslims may outwardly practice Christianity, as well as drink wine, eat pork and other forbidden things, if they were under compulsion to conform or persecution.[11] There were good reasons for this, for abstinence from wine or pork could, and did, cause people to be denounced to the Spanish Inquisition.

The Basharat Mosque in Pedro Abad, of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, was the first mosque to be built in modern Spain.

The clandestine practice of Islam continued well into the 16th century. In 1567, King Philip II finally made the use of the Arabic language illegal, and forbade the Islamic religion, dress, and customs, a step which led to the Second Rebellion of Alpujarras, involving considerable brutality on both sides. In one incident, troops commanded by Don John of Austria destroyed the town of Galera east of Granada, after slaughtering the entire population. The Moriscos of Granada were rounded up and dispersed across Spain. 'Edicts of Expulsion' for the expulsion of the Moriscos were finally issued by Philip III in 1609 against the remaining Muslims in Spain. The expulsion was particularly efficient in the eastern region of Valencia where they made up 33% of the population and ethnic tensions between Muslim and non-Muslim populations were high. The corresponding expulsion of Muslims from the Kingdom of Castille and Andalusia was officially completed in 1614 although its success has been questioned by modern scholars. Unlike the Kingdom of Aragon and Valencia, Moriscos were highly integrated in the rest of Spain significant number of them avoided expulsion or returned en masse, with the protection of non-morisco neighbours and local authorities.

The decline in revenue, and loss of technical skills, from the expulsion of Muslims from Aragon precipitated the downfall of Aragon, and the prominence of Castille. Further, the loss of revenue and skills from Valencia led to a shift of Catalan power from Valencia to regions around Barcelona which had far fewer Muslims and were thus less-affected.

The last mass prosecution against Moriscos for crypto-Islamic practices occurred in Granada in 1727, with most of those convicted receiving relatively light sentences. By this stage, the indigenous Islam is considered to have been effectively extinguished in Spain.[12]

Nevertheless, communities of Morish freed slaves known as "moros cortados" continued to be present throughout various parts of Spain, many of which had been freed as a result of a reciprocal deal with Morocco in 1767. Such former slaves, although baptised continued to discreetly practice their religion. As a result of a second Treaty with Morocco in 1799, the King of Spain formally guaranteed the right of Moroccans in Spain to practice their religion in exchange for Spanish Catholics being granted the same rights in Morocco.[13]

Spain's Muslim community today[edit]

Mosque of Madrid, inaugurated in 1992.

In recent decades, immigration has resulted in a resurgence in the presence of Islam, with nearly two million Muslims currently residing in Spain,[14] a significant portion of whom have obtained Spanish citizenship. Of those who are yet to obtain it the majority are from Moroccans; other sizeable Muslim communities include Pakistanis, Algerians, Senegalese and Nigerians.[14] The Autonomous Communities with a higher Muslim population are Catalonia, Andalusia, Madrid and the Valencian Community.[14]

Muslims in Spain make up over 4% of the population although, unlike other countries in Europe, integration has been surprisingly successful and they do not constitute a cohesive nor visible minority.[citation needed] A good example of integration are attitudes towards mixed marriages, to which only 14% are opposed as of 2010. 59% of Muslims claimed that there is no particular hostility to their community within the country.[15]

There are a number of converts to Islam, estimated at between 20,000[16] and 50,000,[17] from a total number of almost 2,000,000 Muslims. A majority are Spanish Christian men and women who have married North Africans, and many are simply nominal converts complying with family convention.

Others convert out of religious conviction. Conversion to Islam was also linked to a marginal current in Andalusian nationalism known as "Islamizing Andalusianism" which never gained much support but has existed since the country's transition to democracy. Many converts to Islam have a tendency to converge in the southern Andalusia region, notably Granada, due to its long historic ties to this religion. Some have opened Muslim learning centers drawing visitors from across Europe, Canada and the United States.[18] The majority of Muslims in Spain are Sunnites, with a minority of Shiites.

The first Mosque after the Fall of Granada in 1492, in modern Spain, was built after approximately 500 years in 1982 by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vínculos Historia: The Moriscos who remained. The permanence of Islamic origin population in Early Modern Spain: Kingdom of Granada, XVII-XVIII centuries (In Spanish)
  2. ^ (Spanish)Los agujeros negros del 11-M El Mundo, 19 April 2004. Article defending a number of conspiracy theories related to the bombings.
  3. ^
  4. ^ O'Shea, Stephen (2006). Sea of Faith: Islam and Christianity in the Medieval Mediterranean World. New York: Walker & Company. 
  5. ^ La Madraza, Accessed online 2010-01-23.
  6. ^ "BBC - Religion & Ethics - Muslim Spain (711-1492): Decline and fall". Retrieved 2008-08-13. 
  7. ^ "The City of Granada, Andalusia, Southern Spain". Retrieved 2008-08-13. 
  8. ^ Eisenberg, Daniel (1992)' "Cisneros y la quema de los manuscritos granadinos", Journal of Hispanic Philology, 16, 1992, 107-124,
  9. ^ Harvey 2005, p. 48.
  10. ^ Harvey 2005, p. 270.
  11. ^ Harvey 2005, p. 60.
  12. ^ Vínculos Historia: The Moriscos who remained. The permanence of Islamic origin population in Early Modern Spain: Kingdom of Granada, XVII-XVIII centuries
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b c Los musulmanes aumentan en España en 300.000 en cinco años|España|EL PAÍS
  15. ^,%20actitudes+y+opiniones+de+los+inmigrantes+de+religi%C3%B3n+musulmana+(NIPO+126-11-022-1).pdf/0bf98a9b-bd97-490f-8e53-0e6885a34e0a
  16. ^ In Spain, dismay at Muslim converts holding sway
  17. ^ Islam returns to a tolerant Andalucia
  18. ^ Inside Muslim summer camp in southern Spain
  19. ^ "Who are Ahmadi?". BBC News. 2010-05-28. Retrieved 2011-01-09. 

Further reading[edit]