The Expulsion of the Moors

To this day, the Muslims of the world lament the loss of Andalus, the Arabic name for their Spanish Kingdom. While every Muslim knows what a mortal blow the loss of Spain was, few in the West are aware that even after the fall of Granada, the Spanish were not so easily rid of Islam.

On January 2, 1492, the Islamic Kingdom of Granada was surrendered to the Catholic majesties of Ferdinand and Isabella. After 781 years, Spain was free. However the capitulation was negotiated. Ferdinand and Isabella did not want a bloodbath of a frontal assault on a fortified city, and so granted generous terms.

Muslims who remained in Spain were to be given religious freedom. They were to be exempted from all taxes for a number of years. No one was permitted to insult a Muslim. Christians were to be punished for laughing at muezzins. Muslims were only to be judged by their own laws. (Essentially sharia). No Christian could enter a mosque. The pope was required to agree to these terms. (Though that was never acted on) (Click here for a list of the terms)

Even in the midst of defeat and collapse, the Muslims insisted on maintaining some aspects of Islamic supremacy. One also wonders at the mindset of the Muslims that they could insist on such outrageous exemptions. One wonders why Ferdinand and Isabella agreed to these terms at all; or whether they ever had any intention of keeping them.

Initially, the Spanish tried persuasion and debate to try and convert the remaining Moors. However, in 1499, the Spanish Archbishop [and later Cardinal] Cisneros took the more ruthless approach of forced conversions; and burned Arabic manuscripts. His brutal methods let to open revolt, which was quickly suppressed. The Spanish then considered the treaty of capitulation voided, and suspended freedom of religion.

By 1500, Cisneros reported, "there is now no one in the city who is not a Christian, and all the mosques are churches." As later events would show, the remaining Moors in Spain would not surrender Islam so easily.

These new Christians were called Moriscos [Moorish ones]; however their conversions were less than sincere.

For the most part, conversion was nominal: the Moors paid lip-service to Christianity, but continued to practice Islam in secret. For example, after a child was baptized, he might be taken home and washed with hot water to annul the sacrament of baptism. The former Muslims were able to lead a double life with a clear conscience because certain Islamic religious authorities ruled that, under duress or threat to life, Muslims might apply the principle of taqiyyah ... (ClickHere) (Click Here for video)

They continued to speak Arabic, and continued to wear Moorish clothes. In 1526, the King of Spain sought to suppress the Arabic Language, and Moorish clothing; but the Moriscos paid a bribe of 80,000 ducados to have the law suspended for forty years, during which time they maintained their quasi-Islamic practices.

In 1565, some Moriscos were caught trying to arrange a revolt which would seize the coast, and call in the Ottoman Turkish navy for help. Phillip II decided to play tough.

[I]n 1566 the forty-year suspension of the Edict ran out. It was revised by a "Pragmatica" -- even more severe as it required the Moriscos to learn Castilian within three years, after which no-one would be allowed to use Arabic. Moorish names were not to be used; Moorish garments were forbidden. And in 1567 Philip II issued a decree ending all toleration of Moorish culture. He banned the Arabic and Berber languages, prohibited Moorish dress, required Moriscos to adopt Christian names, ordered the destruction of all books and documents in Arabic script, and decreed that Morisco children would be educated only by Catholic priests. (Click here)

Open rebellion broke out across Granada. They abandoned their faux-Christianity. The war was savage with the burning of churches, the killing of Christian laymen and priests, and the taking of Christian hostages. Spain had to bring in outside help to crush the jihad.

After the revolt, the rebels were dispersed throughout Spain in the hopes that they would assimilate. This would backfire.

Philip expected that this would fragment the Morisco community and accelerate their assimilation into the Christian population. However, the Moriscos from Granada, having been dispersed throughout the Kingdom of Castile ... actually had some influence on the local Moriscos who had until then become more assimilated. (Click Here)

Though reduced to peasants, their numbers grew. Overall, they were 4% of the population, but in some provinces they could reach to 20%. Worse yet, their growth rate was substantially higher than the Christian population.

Spain was fighting wars with Ottoman Turkey, England, and Protestants in Northern Europe, some of whom attempted an alliance with the Moors and the Turks against the Catholic Spain. This potential fifth column of secret Muslims terrified the Spanish.

In 1576, the Ottomans planned to send a three-pronged fleet from Istanbul, to disembark between Murcia and Valencia; the French Huguenots would invade from the north and the Moriscos accomplish their uprising, but the Ottoman fleet failed to arrive. (Click Here)

By 1609, Spain had had enough. Though some nobles suggested giving them more time to assimilate, it was obvious that after a hundred years most were not going to do so. Others among the aristocracy wanted them as a source of cheap labor; but again, their demographic threat was considerable.

Phillip III declared that he wanted an expulsion of all the Moriscos left in Spain. This lead to another rebellion, also crushed. They were allowed to take only what they could carry; and they were forced to pay for their own passage. Upon landing in North Africa, some were attacked as invaders. From 1609 to 1614, almost the whole Morisco population was deported. Many to North Africa, some to France.

There is even a school of thought that some of these Moriscos made it to South America and became instrumental in forming the gaucho culture of that area. (Click Here)

Of 325,000 Moriscos, only 10,000 remained when the expulsions were over.

No one denies that innocents were hurt in this forced expulsion. Some who had been sincerely converted to Catholicism were caught up in the dragnet; but neither can it be denied that, in general, the Moriscos were unassimilable, nor that they were a threat to Spain.

Oddly, today this same Spain criticizes the far less harsh methods practiced by the Israelis. Ironically, Israel, in order to save itself, in the end may have to resort to the same approach used by the Spanish.

Let's hope that a more amicable settlement will be reached without resort to such methods.

Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who is not Jewish, Latin, or Arab. He runs a website, where he discusses the subculture of Arabs in Latin America. He wishes his Spanish were better.

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