Tentative Global Timeline of Contacts between the World of Islam and Western Europe: 7th -20th Cent.

The following timeline presents a survey of Muslim presence in Europe from the 7th century CE until the 20th century. It lists the various and different contacts that shaped the relations of Muslims with Western Europe. 

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By Omar Mubaidin*

The following timeline [1] presents a survey of Muslim presence in Europe from the 7th century CE until the 20th century. It lists the various and different contacts that shaped the relations of Muslims with Western Europe and gave rise to perceptions and labels of Muslims in the West during several centuries. These relations were various, religious, military, diplomatic, through trade and commerce, by intellectual exchanges in different domains. It is by thinking about these events of the past that we can understand the actual state of complexity of the relationships between these two major components of our world.

Table of contents

1. Introduction
2. Conquest of Spain and campaigns into France
3. Andalusian caliphate
4. Post Caliphal Spain through the Reconquista
5. The last Muslim power in Spain
6. Muslims in the Iberian peninsula after Granada's fall
7. Early Excursions into Sicily and Other Mediterranean Islands
8. Muslim Sicily
9. Muslims in non-Muslim Sicily
10. Mediterranean Islands after Sicilian conquest
11. Muslims in Italy
12. Nordic-Muslim relations
13. Muslims in Britain
14. Franco-Muslim relations
15. Muslims in Alpine nations
16. Benelux-Muslim contacts
17. German-Muslim contacts
18. Converts, corsairs, renegades and rebels (14th-20th centuries)
19. Monks, historians, scholars
20. Literary and artistic presence
21. Glossary
22. References

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Figure 1: Remains of Fabriano (Italy) paper mill where handmade paper is still produced. This paper mill was one of the first to produce paper in Europe since 1276, after it was introduced by direct contact with the Muslim world (source).  

The image that results from such a survey builds a rich and somewhat colorful scheme of a forgotten shared history, that of 14 centuries of exchanges and mutual enrichment between two major civilisations of the ancient and modern world.

Since the majority of the timeline revolves around Middle Eastern Muslims in Western Europe, the timeline uses the term 'Muslims' instead of 'Islam' to emphasize the persons and cultural contacts. Also, the word 'presence' was preferred as a good portion of the timeline does not necessarily include Muslims as people but Muslim presence as a cultural entity (i.e. scholarship, scientific contributions).

1. Introduction

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Figure 2: Part of the permanent exhibition Al-Andalus y la Ciencia on the Andalusian scientific heritage at the Fundación El legado Andalusí and el Parque de las Ciencias de Granada in Spain (source).  

Both the designations Muslim and Western Europe frequently prove to be very loose definitions that serve to divide and create exclusivist tensions that are historically exaggerated. Often the exchange between Muslims and Western Europe will be redefined as Islam vs. Christendom, Islam vs. the West, East vs. West, etc.; all being both useful and useless in their own way. In this work, the terms are employed as conventional means of expressing historical connection between worlds that, due to varying (vastly political) reasons, are unfairly separated. Muslims from one era obviously will not have everything in common with Muslims of another era, including certain religious values, especially regarding political goals. To say that the Barbary corsair raids against European and American shipping are ancestors to the contemporary War on Terror would be a misconception and an overemphasis on an aspect of identity. Similarly, countries designated as Western Europe are often not homogenous in many realms (political, economic, etc.), especially not over the course of a millennium. Many regions of Western Europe share more in common with Eastern Europe (especially true historically) than with each other.

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Figure 3: Map showing the extent of the Almoravid Empire.  

The term Muslim used in this work is utilized as a dynamic aspect of identity and not to necessarily imply political unity or inherited cultural values. Although the subject of this timeline revolves around some kind of Muslim identity within the history of Western Europe, the intention is to exhibit a continuity of history between the Muslim world and Western Civilization when often their histories are seen as mutually exclusive. This work does not claim to be a sum total of all the significant events regarding Muslims in Western Europe; it is limited in its exclusive use of English sources. Its intended use is a somewhat comprehensive starting point and leisure reference regarding the subject. The time period dealt with is the 600s CE to 1900s. Just a listing of books printed within this period in Western Europe regarding Islam and its followers would take up numerous more pages. The timeline is not the total history, but hopes to be a sufficient vindicationalist history from which further inquiry may stem.

The subdivisions of the timeline are loose guidelines by which to follow an inconsistent history more easily. The majority of the subdivisions include national or regional specifications (such as Muslim Sicily, Spain's Caliphate, etc.) In these groupings, the interaction between/presence of Muslims has primarily been restricted to diplomatic, commercial, military, and political spheres. Due to the existence of an extensive recognized Muslim political unit within the lands, Spain and Sicily each have a number of subdivisions split up based on shifts in power. Muslims in Britain, in Italy, Franco-Muslim, and German-Muslim contacts are self-explanatory and based on a specific national experience. The Nordic region refers to the Scandinavian nations of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland. Benelux is the term used for Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Although including more countries, the term Alpine Nations, for the purposes of this work, refers primarily to Austria and Switzerland. Certain events in Eastern European history have been included where they bear relevance to Western European history in matters of Muslim presence. Islam in Eastern Europe could be a large project all in itself. Due to Greece's role in Western European tradition, as well as many other Mediterranean islands not considered part of Western Europe, it has been included in the timeline.

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Figure 4: Front cover of Rethinking World History: Essays on Europe, Islam and World History by Marshall G. S. Hodgson (Cambridge University Press, 1993, Paperback).  

The section titled "Converts, Corsairs, Renegades, and Rebels" simply showcases a few key individuals from only 14th-20th centuries that were on the forefront of the Islamic-Western European exchange. A section on "Monks, Historians and Scholars" intends to present the dynamics of discourse regarding such an exchange through a short description of the role of various academics on both sides of the experience. The section on "Literary and Artistic Presence" seeks to identify key masterpieces and popular works of cultural value that both facilitated a more harmonious social environment or perpetuated discriminatory myths.

2. The conquest of Spain and campaigns into France

The Arabs, under the Ummayad dynasty, continued their rapid westward expansion with the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula early in the 8th century. Following the Abbasid rise to power in the middle of the same century, the Ummayads saved their base in Spain establishing an emirate. France was able to withstand the coming of the Muslim power and establish its strongholds and dynasties, among the most famous the Carolingians.

648 In the first reference of Muslims in Spain, Abdullah ibn Nafe ibn Haseen lands on the shores of the future al-Andalus.
710 As one account relates, after the dishonoring (rape) of his daughter Florinda in Toledo, Ceuta’s Byzantine governor Julian appeals for aid to Umayyad official Musa ibn Nusayr against the Visigothic usurper, Roderick, in Spain. Musa dispatches a reconnaissance force under Tarif ibn Malluk to Spain’s southern coast.
711 Muslims (largely Berber), under Tariq ibn Ziyad, land on Gibraltar (the name Gibraltar is a corruption of Jabal Tariq, Arabic for Mountain of Tariq) and begin the conquest of Spain. Tariq’s force of 12,000 defeats the 25,000 strong force of Roderick at the Battle of Guadalete; large contingents of the Visigothic army led by Bishop Oppas, the uncle of the ruler dethroned by Rodrick, break away contributing to the Muslim victory. Musa ibn Nusayr comes to complete Spain’s conquest and becomes the first Muslim governor of al-Andalus (the Arabic’s name for southern Spain).

Mughith Rumi is appointed governor of Cordova (Qurtubah).

712 Muslims first begin to raid north of the Pyrenees.
714 Musa, believed to have been conceiving plans for an eventual crossing into Italy, and Tariq are recalled to Damascus by Caliph al-Waleed. This move by the Caliph hurts the progress of the Islamic armies; the lands immediately bordering the newly conquered Spain are left vulnerable to attack and it gives Pelayo of Asturias the opportunity to recover and consolidate his holdings for later use against the Muslims.

Musa appoints his son Abd al-Aziz ibn Musa to the governorship of al-Andalus. Abd al-Aziz forms a council for introducing Islamic law from the settlers coming from Hijaz, in southern Arabia. He promotes the intermarriage of the native peoples and the Muslims; the governor himself wedded Roderick’s widow, Egilona (Umm Aasim to the Muslims). Muslim rule is very much accepted by the non-Muslim subjects of Spain: taxes are light or nonexistent, freedom of religion is granted to all, and former serfs and slaves are given lands. Arabs from all over the Arabian peninsula and Egypt as well as Persians have settled throughout the newly gained territory.

715 Umayyad Caliph Suleiman begins what seemed to be a prosperous reign, but falls to suspicions of intrigue; his reign sees the execution of the conqueror of northern India Muhammad ibn Qasim, the banishment of Musa ibn Nusayr and Tariq ibn Ziyad, the assassination of Central Asia’s conqueror Qutayba ibn Muslim, and the murder of Abd al-Aziz ibn Musa.
716 Ayyub al-Lakhmi governs al-Andalus before being deposed this same year.

Musa ibn Nusayr dies performing the Hajj.

717 Al-Hurr al-Thaqafi attains the governorship of al-Andalus. He transfers the capital from Seville to Cordova.
717-719 Muslim armies penetrate into Aquitaine and the south of France.
718 Visigothic Prince Pelayo, ruler of the Asturias, defeats Muslims at the Battle of Covadonga. This victory endures through the ages more for its symbolism as a nationalistic victory rather than a military one, considered by some to be the beginning of the Reconquista.

Mughith Rumi dies.

719 Al-Samah al Khaulani becomes governor of al-Andalus. Al-Samah brings order back to Spain and defeats many rebel forces in Septimania.
720 Tariq ibn Ziyad dies.
721 Duke Eudo of Aquitaine defeats the forces of Samah, who dies from wounds, at the Battle of Toulouse, also known as the Plateau of the Martyrs. The Muslim army is driven back. Abd al-Rahman al-Ghafiqi marches the remnants back to Narbonne and governs Muslim Spain until the arrival of Anbasah. This battle is considered of high significance in halting the expansion of Muslim power further into Europe.
725 Under the leadership of Anbasah, Muslims invade southern France and subjugate Carcasonne and all Septimania reaching up the Rhone Valley as far as the Vosges. Following the death of Anbasah at the hands of an ambush up until the reappointment of Abd al-Rahman as governor, affairs in Spain will be in disorder during the reign of the next five governors.
726 Adhrah al-Fihri reigns as governor of al-Andalus.
727 Reign of Uthman ibn Abi Nasah as al-Andalus governor begins.
728 Hudhaifah al-Qaisi governs al-Andalus.
729 Haithem al-Kalbi ascends to the seat as governor of al-Andalus. Lyons, Macon, and Chalons-on-the-Saone are captured by Muslims.
731 Muhammad al-Ashja‛ becomes al-Andalus’s governor. Abd al-Rahman al-Ghafiqi soon returns to the governorship. The citizens and soldiers like Abd al-Rahman, who is considered the best and most patriotic ruler of this Umayyad dominion at the time. He makes the leadership in Spain a meritocracy, revises the economy, and has mosques unjustly taken from the Christians reconverted into churches; he holds al-Andalus together.

The Muslim governor of Cerdagne, Uthman ibn Abu Nessa (Munuza to the Christians) weds Duke Eudo’s daughter Lampegie and is now in alliance with Aquitaine. Abd al-Rahman crushes Uthman’s attempted insurrection at al-Bab, near Puycerda west of Mount Louis.

732 Arles capitulates and the Muslims, under Abd al-Rahman, take Bordeaux. Duke Eudo is defeated at the Battle of Dordogne. Muslims entered Burgundy, Lyons, Besancon, and Sens. The victory over Eudo may have had adverse results, as now the Muslims force him to ally with his rival Charles Martel; effectively, this forges a Christian unification against a Muslim army that had been exhausted by battles by the time it reaches Tours.
733 Battle of Tours, known by the Muslims as the Pavement of the Martyrs, takes place. The Franks, under Charles Martel, defeat the Muslim army under Abd al-Rahman. Abd al-Rahman dies while attempting to restore order after his troops became occupied with protecting the loot gained in previous battles instead of fighting. Lacking a leader to maintain control, the Muslim army retreats.

Abd al-Malik al Fihri becomes al-Andalus governor.

734 Deputy governor of Narbonne, Yusuf, allies with Maurontius, Duke of Marseilles, and captures St. Remi and Avignon.

Uqbah al-Saluli replaces the deposed Abd al-Malik as al-Andalus governor. He enters France many times with attacks on Dauphiny and capturing St. Paul, Trois Chateaux, Donzère, Valence, and New Lyons. Narbonne is made into a large citadel and Languedoc is fortified. Muslims invade Burgundy.

737-739 Charles Martel repulses Muslim attacks in France. Martel’s forces take the fortified city of Avignon and rout the Muslims at the Battle of Berre near Narbonne. Martel cannot finish consolidating his victories as he has to quell disturbances in his northern lands. Before he leaves, he destroys Nimes, Maguelone, and other towns, some Christian that may have been sympathetic to the Muslims. On his trip back, Martel takes not just Muslim prisoners, but Christian ones as well.
740 Dissension between Arabs and Berbers in Spain allows Christian kingdoms to mount some recovery.

Visigothic Princess Sara, granddaughter of penultimate king of Visigoths Witiza, travels to Damascus to plead her case to the Caliph for restitution of estates in Spain that had been confiscated by her uncle. Islamic law confirmed her right of inheritance. Later, she marries Isa ibn Muzahim at the Caliph’s court.

Abd al-Malik seizes power in Spain. His rebels kill Uqbah.

741 Balj al-Qushairi, escaping the wars in Northern Africa, takes the governorship in Spain by killing Abd al-Malik. Balj soon dies from wounds sustained in fighting Abd al-Malik’s son.
742 Thalaba ibn Sallamah becomes governor of al-Andalus. Between the Syrians (who support Balj and Thalaba), the supporters of Abd al-Malik’s sons, and the Berbers, Muslim Spain is wrought with disunity.
743-759 Pepin the Short drives Muslims from France.
745 Abul Khattar Husam ibn Zarar Kalbi attains governorship of al-Andalus.

A civil war between the Mundhar and Yemeni tribes in Spain breaks out. The Yemenis support the rising Abbasid movement of the east.

747 The governorship of al-Andalus passes to Yusuf al-Fihri following the death of his predecessor.
748 War rages between Mundhar and Yemeni tribes with heavy losses on both sides.
755 The Basques defeat a Muslim army sent against them.
756 The Umayyads, under the fugitive prince Abd al-Rahman I, maintain power as an emirate (after their deposition by the Abbasids) in Spain after Abd al-Rahman defeats Yusuf at the battle of Masarah.
758 At the Battle of Loxa, the forces of Abd al-Rahman I defeat the army of Yusuf al-Fihri, who dies in battle.
759 Muslims lose Narbonne to the Franks.
763 The Abbasids send Ala ibn Mughith Yahsubi against Abd al-Rahman I in Spain. At the Battle of Seville, Abd al-Rahman defeats the Abbasid forces. Abd al-Rahman comes to be known as the Falcon of Andalus.
764 Emir Abd al-Rahman I suppresses a revolt in Toledo.
765-768 Abbasid Caliph Jafar al-Mansur and Pepin the Short exchange ambassadors.
774 Rulers of Barcelona and Saragossa revolt against Abd al-Rahman.
776 Abd al-Rahman founds the Grand Mosque at Cordova. This will be the largest mosque of Western Islam rivaling the sanctuaries in the East. In 1236, Ferdinand III will convert it into a cathedral.
777 Suleiman ibn al-Arabi, a rebel governor, crosses the Pyrennes and implores Charlemagne to fight against Abd al-Rahman.
778-801 Charlemagne leads attacks on Spain during this period.
778 Charlemagne delegates leadership to his nephew Roland while he goes and deals with rebels in the north. Basques ambush Roland and his party in the pass of Roncesvalles. The fallen Roland and his knights will be commemorated in one of best known Old French epics the Chanson de Roland. In this piece, written around 1100, the Muslims of Spain (depicted as idolatrous pagans) play the role of the ambushers.
788 Abd al-Rahman I dies. The reign of the charitable Hisham I (788-796) in Spain commences.
792 In the war against the Franks, Hisham’s forces recapture Narbonne, defeat the Count of Toulouse, and gain a victory over the Galician tribesmen.
793 Abdullah ibn Farukh, a prominent jurist of al-Andalus, dies.

After a victory at the battle of Villedaigne, Muslims advance up to Carcassonne in France.

795 A Christian navy from south France invades Alexandria in Egypt, under the Abba