How Islam Really Spread to Europe

The testimony that “there is nothing worthy of worship except Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah” appeared in Western, Eastern and Central Europe through conquest, migration, births and conversion. It was brought to Western Europe by Arabs and Berbers and to Eastern Europe by Turks. The Arabs and Berbers (also known as Moors) first arrived in Spain in 710. The Turks became established in Eastern Europe in 1453.

Islam was spread to Europe through the heroics of three main forces, the Arabs, the Berbers and the Turks. These forces were initially led by two main figures, Abd al-Rahman Ibn Mu’awiya I (731–788) (reigned 756–88) and Sultan Muhammad Al-Fatih (1451-1481). Both were characters that would have had leading roles in a Star Wars movie. Even though both were conquerors and led with the sword, they did not spread Islam with it. Spreading Islam with the sword means forced conversion to Islam. The people in Western, Central and Eastern Europe were subdued, but they were not forced to convert to and practice Islam.

Abd al-Rahman I was a twenty-year old in line to become the next leader of Islam, world-wide. Instead he had to flee for his life from an opposing Abbasids. He had to find his way to North Africa from Syria to some members of his Arab clan, the Umayyads. The journey took five years of wandering, hiding, disguises, avoiding agents and spies. By the time he arrived in Spain, an invasion into it had already begun. Most people have heard of the Rock of Gibraltar. Well it was named after Tariq ibn Ziyad who entered Spain through that rock. During the invasion, such major Spanish cities as Toledo, Seville, and Cordova were captured after a year of fighting.
With this backdrop, Abd al-Rahman I arrived on the coast south of Granada toward the end of 755 to assume the position of Amir (leader) of Spain. Once he got to Spain, he was able to maintain his position of leadership with an army of 40,000 or more Berber soldiers from North Africa and using the arts of peace. His conquests are seen by some as an example of spreading Islam. Muslims view it as opening-up the land to a better life. Non-Muslims were not forced to convert. The ones who converted did it voluntarily. They wanted to share in the fruits of peace.

Those fruits included: the beautification of cities, purification of a city’s water, the introduction of exotic fruits like peaches, pomegranates and new varieties of dates. He not only tried to improve material things, but also people. He tried to bring together Arabs, Syrians, Berbers, Numidians, Spanish Arabs, and Goths. Christian communities were able to follow their own laws and native judges and maintain land rights. Despite having rights as Christians, they chose to convert to Islam. The language, literature and religion towards the end of Abd al-Rahman I’s reign was luring. No doubt, birth-rates added to the growth of Islam. Abd al-Rahman I contributed to that with forty-five sons. Spain became a starting point in the capture of Sicily in 902. It was the accumulation of 75 years of fighting. The Muslim rule there lasted 89 years.

The spread of Islam to Eastern and Central Europe took place under the Ottomans. The Ottomans were led by Sultan Muhammad Al-Fatih (1451-1481). He began his reign with the capturing of Constantinople in 1453, which was renamed Istanbul. The Ottomans brought Islam to what is now Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Albania and Romania in the Balkans, over all the islands in the Eastern Mediterranean. Just as the invasion and conquering of the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain didn’t lead to mass forced conversions, the same occurred in Eastern Europe.

What is the proof that there was no forced mass conversion to Islam after the conquests? The history of Muslims invading Egypt is proof that there were no mass forced conversions in Islam. Muslims began the conquest of Egypt around 639. After about 1380 years, Egypt remains 7-10% Christian. The reason behind a lack of mass forced conversion is that Muslims believe that Allah forbids forced conversion in (2:256) “Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from error. Whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks. Allah is the Hearer and Knower of all things.” In addition, it was financially irresponsible to seek mass conversions because non-Muslims had to pay a protection tax not paid by Muslims, called “jizya,” a tax exempting Jews and Christians from military service. The funds from that tax were needed to support different projects undertaken by the state. Non-Muslims converted to Islam even though they weren’t forced partly because it was to a non-Muslim’s advantage to convert to Islam, financially and socially. After conversion, they didn’t have to pay the protection tax and were eligible for prestigious social and government positions.

Not only was Muhammad Al-Fatih a dashing warrior, he was a statesman. He made Islam luring with the establishment of colleges that emphasized mathematics, science, astronomy, and theology. He encouraged debates among religious scholars. He established charitable foundations. Finally, he laid the foundation for Istanbul becoming the largest city in Europe in 1528. The growth of that city revealed how Islam spread in Europe and contributed to it flourishing.

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