Eurabia is nothing new – Arab Europe 1,000 years ago


An imaginary flag of a futuristic Islamic Euro...
An imaginary flag of a futuristic Islamic Europe (i.e. = Eurabia) 

In certain American and European newspapers, magazines and chat show hosts – like Glenn Beck – there are claims that Europe is being ‘islamified’ and that very soon we will be living in an entity they call ‘Eurabia’.  Well, I have news for these columnists, shock jocks and blow hards – we’ve been here before.  Parts of Europe were under Islamic rule for centuries and I’m talking about parts of Europe that subsequently became almost a hundred per cent Christian.

Spain and Portugal are the classic examples but Sicily, Greece, the Balkans and even southern France (in the period after the initial invasion of Iberia in 711 AD) were under the sway of Islamic emirs and ruled effectively by the Caliph – first in Damascus and then Baghdad.  The evidence is strongest in the architecture you can still see all over southern Europe but also in the language.  For instance, in Spanish – one can exclaim ‘ojala’.  In Portuguese, the word is ‘oxala’.  In front of a sentence it means ‘I do hope…” and then whatever you hope.  The word is undeniably derived from the Arabic ‘In sa Allah’ – God willing.

From 711AD, Spain and Portugal were mainly under Arabic/Berber Islamic rule.  There’s no ifs or buts about it.  And most of the large cities like Cordoba, Silves, Valencia and Seville were in the parts of the peninsula most effectively controlled by the Islamic authorities.  What is most controversial is that modern scholarship indicates that by 1000AD, most people in what is now Spain and Portugal were muslim.  Whether they were converted or had come over with the invading armies.  And I’m talking about 70 to 80 per cent of the population.

Likewise, Sicily still had a large Byzantine Greek community after it was invaded by the Arabs but by the time the Normans were conquering it in the eleventh century, most of the population was praying in a mosque.

Last year, I went to Cordoba for the first time and it’s simply incredible to see buildings constructed in the ninth and tenth century that were way ahead of anything being built at the time in northern Europe.  The great mosque of Cordoba is the most splendid example of this and was built from the eighth century onwards but more or less completed by 987AD under the rule of Al Mansur.  It’s not difficult to appreciate how the wealth and opulence of the Islamic world must have turned the heads of many Christians in the so-called Dark Ages – a term now largely out of favour.

Here are some photos I took of the Great Mosque in Cordoba and just think to yourself – this was built a thousand years ago…

Inside the columned hall of the Grand Mosque of Cordoba
Gold gate at Cordoba Mosque
Courtyard of the mosque in Cordoba
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6 thoughts on “Eurabia is nothing new – Arab Europe 1,000 years ago

    1. Thanks for your kind comments – I’m always happy to comment on other people’s blogs on this subject. I have a book with a strong Islamic theme coming out later this year – will tell you more when I can.

  1. The Arabs were killed and expelled out of Portugal and Spain, by the Templar Knights.
    During the Reconquest “Reconquista”

    1. Researching the conquest of Lisbon – or Al Usbunna as it was called under the Moors – it’s certainly said in the chronicle that the Islamic population had three days to leave the city. However, it’s clear many stayed as there was a ‘mouraria’ there for centuries – and of course a Jewish quarter. In fact, it’s clear that all over Spain and Portugal, Jewish and Muslim communities continued for longer than you might expect. The final expulsions took place under Ferdinand and Isabella and then again in the opening years of the seventeenth century. The Templars in the twelfth century were certainly the shock troops who often were the only Christian force in ‘nullius diocesis’- the lands between Islam and Christianity where no bishop or prince ruled. Preceptories like Calatrava were right on the front line between the two religions. The Templars are particularly important in the history of Portugal were they continued to exist as the renamed Order of Christ – after the Templars had been suppressed throughout the rest of Europe. The Order of Christ continued to use all the emblems and rituals of the Order and one of its most famous members was Henry the Navigator. All fascinating stuff! I can recommend some really good books on the subject.

  2. Thank you for this post, enjoyed reading it and thank you for the pictures.

    To be noted that Arabs in Europe let their imprint also in the European languages, through spanish and portuguese. Perticulartly, almost all words starting with “al” are of arabic origin (al- = “the” )
    Algebra
    Alcohol
    Alchemy / chemistry
    Algorithm
    Arsenal
    candy
    cotton
    lemon

    etc

    to be noted also that on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea the presence of European populations (not even talking about colonization) is assessed by many ways: italian speaking communities in Tunisia, Spanish speaking communities in North Morocco, high ethnical mixing between berbers and europeans (especially in the North Morroco and North Algeria), without even mentioning the Egyptian multicultural crossroad (Greek, Turkish, Arab, British, French cultures). Enrichment is mutual and if Europe havent christianized Arabs and Arabs havent islamized Europeans during the last 15 decades, there is absolutely no reason to fear an islamized Europe or US today.

    1. Thank you for those comments. Another good Arabic word that you find in Portuguese is “Almohada” for pillow. I find that word interesting because of course the Almohads were radical Berbers who swept aside the more moderate Almoravid caliphate in Al-Andalus in the twelfth and early thirteenth century. Lavender in Portuguese is ‘Alfazema’ – a very nice word.

      My mother comes from Portugal and when she was young the people in the north of that country would call the southerners ‘Arabs’ while the people in the south would call the northerners ‘Vikings’.

      I agree with what you say about the mixing of peoples around the Mediterranean. DNA testing in Spain has shown north African descendancy among much of the population which is inevitable as human being crossed from Africa in to Europe over millenia. But the Carthaginians, Greeks and Romans were Mediterranean empires – a Roman could travel from Rome to Alexandria and Antioch and still be within the same cultural world. The emergence of Islam was in a way another in a long line of Mediterranean empires and to conquer lands on the northern side of the sea was probably an obvious thing to do.

      The Templars of course fought the Saracens – not just in the Middle East but also in Spain and Portugal. But in the process, they undoubtedly came in to extensive contact with eastern culture. This is something that was used against them by their enemies. The Templar Grand Master in Jerusalem, for example, made a point of having a Saracen secretary. And we know there were Templars who spoke Arabic. Not to assimilate I realise, but to conquer more effectively.

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