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This article deals with the history and evolution of the Islamic religion in Europe. According to the German Central Institute Islam Archive, the total number of Muslims in Europe in 2007 was about 53 million, including 16 million in the European Union.


Early history

Islam came to Europe in various ways, including through conquest, exploration and trade.

Eastern Europe

Muslim Arabs fought the Byzantine Empire soon after the establishment of Islam. The Syrian, Armenian, Egyptian and North African provinces of the Byzantine Empire were overrun. Soon after, Constantinople was besieged twice, once in a long blockade between 674 and 678, and once again between 717 and 718. The Byzantines successfully defended Constantinople and were able to re-establish control over much of Anatoliamarker. This blocked further expansion of the Arab Caliphate towards Eastern Europe.

The Arab armies also conquered much of the Caucasus from the Turkic Khazars during the Khazar–Arab Wars. The instability of the Umayyad Caliphate, however, made a permanent occupation impossible; the Arab armies withdrew and Khazar independence was re-asserted. This prevented expansion into Eastern Europe for some time.

In 824 CE, Byzantine Cretemarker fell into the hands of Arabs, who established an emirate on the island (see Al-Hakam I). In 960 Nicephorus Phocas reconquered Crete for the Byzantines.

In the early 10th century in what is now part of European Russia, the Volga Bulgarians under Almış accepted Islam as the state religion. Ibn Fadlan was dispatched by the Abbasid Caliph al-Muqtadir in 922/3 to establish relations and bring qadis and teachers of Islamic law (sharia) to Volga Bulgaria, as well as help in building a fort and a mosque.

There are accounts of the trade connections between the Muslims and the Rus, apparently Vikings who made their way East towards current day Russia. On his way to Volga Bulgaria Ibn Fadlan brought detailed reports of the Rus, claiming that some had converted to Islam. "They are very fond of pork and many of them who have assumed the path of Islam miss it very much." The Rus also relished their nabidh, a fermented drink Ibn Fadlan often mentioned as part of their daily fare.

The Golden Horde began its conquest of present day Russia and Ukrainemarker in the 13th century. Despite the fact that they weren't Muslim at the time, the western Mongols adopted Islam as their state religion in the early 14th century. More than half of the European portion of Russia and Ukraine, were under suzerainty of Muslim Tatars and Turks from the 13th century to the 15th century. The Crimean Khanate became a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire in 1475 and subjugated what remained of the Great Horde by 1502. The Khanate of Kazan was conquered by Ivan the Terrible in 1552.

The Ottoman Empire began its expansion into Europe by taking the European portions of the Byzantine Empire in the 14th-15th centuries up until the 1453 capture of Constantinople, establishing Islam as the state religion in the region. The Ottoman Empire continue to stretch northwards, taking Hungarymarker in the 16th century, and reaching as far north as the Podolia in the mid-17th century (Peace of Buczacz), by which time most of Eastern Europe was under Ottoman control. Ottoman expansion in Europe ended with the Ottoman defeat in the Great Turkish War. In the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699), the Ottoman empire lost most of its conquests in Central Europe. The Crimean Khanate was later annexed by Russiamarker in 1783. Over the centuries, the Ottoman Empire gradually lost most of its European territories, until its collapse in 1922, when the former empire was transformed into the nation of Turkeymarker.

Western Europe

Muslim forays into Western Europe began shortly after the religion's inception, with a short lived invasion of Byzantine Sicily by a small Arab and Berber force that landed in 652. Islam gained its first foothold in Europe from 711 onward, with the Umayyad conquest of Hispania. The invaders named their land Al-Andalusmarker, which expanded to include what is now Portugalmarker and Spainmarker except for the northern highlands of Asturiasmarker. Al-Andalus has been estimated to have had a Muslim majority by the 10th century. This coincided with the La Convivencia period of the Iberian Peninsulamarker as well as the Golden age of Jewish culture in Spain. Pelayo, King of Asturias began the Christian counter-offensive known as the Reconquista after the Battle of Covadonga in 722. Slowly, Spanish Christian forces regained control of the peninsula. By 1236, practically all that remained of Muslim Spain was the southern province of Granadamarker.

In the eighth century, Muslim forces pushed beyond Spain into Aquitainemarker, in southern France, but suffered a temporary setback when defeated by Eudes (Duke of Aquitaine), at the Battle of Toulouse . In 725 Muslim forces captured Autunmarker in France. The town would be the easternmost point of expansion of Umayyad forces into Europe; just seven years later in 732, the Umayyads would be forced to begin their withdrawal to al-Andalus after facing defeat at the Battle of Tours by Frankish King Charles Martel. The last Muslim forces were driven from France in 759. At the same time, however, Muslim forces managed to capture Sicily and portions of southern Italy, and even sacked Rome in 846 and later sacked Pisa in 1004.

Southern Italy was gradually conquered by the Arabs and Berbers from 827 onward, and the Emirate of Sicily was established in 965. They held onto the region until their expulsion by the Normans in 1072.

Vikings are known to have traveled both East and South, raiding Muslim holdings in Europe on the one hand, and establishing trade on the other. In 884 a Viking raiding expedition reached the then Muslim dominated Iberian peninsulamarker and attacked Lisbonmarker, Cadizmarker, Algecirasmarker and North Africa. On their way home, the Norsemen sailed along the Guadalquivir River and plundered Sevillemarker, destroying the city walls and burning the local mosque. Muslim sources tell of some "mayus" (pagans), who got lost in Spainmarker, and converted to Islam.

The Christian conquests of the Iberian peninsula and southern Italy led to the Renaissance of the 12th century, when many aspects of medieval Islamic culture (including the arts, agriculture, economics, philosophy, science and technology) was introduced into Western Europe (see Latin translations of the 12th century and Islamic contributions to Medieval Europe for more information).

Muslim rule endured in the Emirate of Granada, from 1238 as a vassal state of the Christian Kingdom of Castile, until the completion of La Reconquista in 1492. The Moriscos (converts to Christianity) were finally expelled from Spainmarker between 1609 (Castile) and 1614 (rest of Spain), by Philip III during the Spanish Inquisition.

Throughout the 16th to 19th centuries, the Barbary States sent Barbary pirates to raid parts of Western Europe in order to capture Christian slaves to sell at slave markets in the Arab World throughout the Renaissance period. According to Robert Davis, from the 16th to 19th century, pirates captured 1 million to 1.25 million Europeans as slaves. These slaves were captured mainly from the crews of captured vessels and from coastal villages in Italymarker, Spainmarker and Portugalmarker, and from farther places like Francemarker or Englandmarker, the Netherlandsmarker, Irelandmarker and even Iceland and North America.

Modern history

During the late 19th century and into the 20th century, European colonial empires colonized regions with a Muslim majority (in North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and Malay archipelago) or large Muslim populations (in the Indian subcontinent and sub-Saharan Africa). This brought the European population into contact with Muslim populations, both as the army and civil administration in these new colonies, and with Muslim immigrants who came to the colonizing country. During the colonial period, a large number of Muslims visited or migrated to the colonizing European nations for a variety of reasons, many as seamen (including lascars) and soldiers (including sepoys), some as royalty (including sultans and nawabs), and others to study and learn about new European methods.

After the colonies achieved independence, the European countries enabled mass immigration from their former colonies. In the 1960s and early 1970s, guest workers were brought over by the governments of France, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Scandinavia. Another class of immigrants were the descendants of those who moved internally inside a European colonial empire, and from their to the home country such as the descendants of indentured Indian labourers in the Caribbean. Once the European countries imposed an immigration ban, the type of immigration shifted. Today most Muslim immigrants come either as asylum seekers or as part of family reunification. Many of the second generation migrants marry spouses from their former homeland. Some countries have tried to cut down on such immigration by passing strict laws, such as the Danish 24 year rule.

Islam in European culture

Islam piqued interest among European scholars, setting off the movement of Orientalism. The founder of modern Islamic studies in Europe was Ignác Goldziher, who started studying Islam in the late 19th century. For instance, sir Richard Francis Burton, 19th-century English explorer, scholar, and orientalist, and translator of 'The Arabian Nights' The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, in 1853 disguised as a Pashtun visited Medina and Mecca during the Hajj, as described in his book The Pilgrimage to Al-Medinah and Meccah

Islamic architecture influenced European architecture in various ways (for example, the Türkischer Tempelmarker synagogue in Viennamarker). During the 12th century Renaissance in Europe, Latin translations of Arabic texts were introduced. As a result, the Qur'an was also translated (for example, Lex Mahumet pseudoprophete).

Muslim populations in Europe

According to the German Central Institute Islam Archive, the total number of Muslims in Europe in 2007 was about 53 million, including 16 million in the European Union.

The Muslim population in Europe is extremely diverse with varied histories and origins. Today, the Muslim-majority regions of Europe are Albaniamarker, Kosovomarker, parts of Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker, and some Russian regions in Northern Caucasus and the Volga region. The Muslim-dominated Sandžak of Novi Pazar is divided between Serbia and Montenegro. They consist predominantly of indigenous Europeans of the Muslim faith whose religious tradition dates back several hundred years. The transcontinental countries of Turkeymarker, Azerbaijanmarker and Kazakhstanmarker also are Muslim majority. The Muslim population in Western Europe is composed primarily of peoples who arrived to the European continent from across the Muslim world during or after the 1950s.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that of the Albanian people, 39% to 70% of those in Albania are Muslim, 91% of them in Kosovo, and 99% of them in Macedoniamarker are Muslim. Bosnia has a Muslim plurality. In transcontinental countries such as 99% in Turkey, 93% in Azerbaijan and 57% in Kazakhstan of the population is Muslim respectively. Muslims also form about one fifth of the population of Montenegro. In Russia, Moscowmarker is home to an estimated 1.5 million Muslims.

Muslims in West Europe settle in largely urban areas. Muslim population in selected European cities is as high as 25% in Rotterdammarker (Netherlands), 24% in Amsterdammarker (Netherlands), 20% in Marseillemarker (France), 17% in Brusselsmarker (Belgium), 16% in Bradfordmarker (UK) and in while in others, like Parismarker, Londonmarker and Copenhagenmarker, the figure is 10%.


Don Melvin writes that, excluding Russia, Europe's Muslim population will double by 2020. He also says that in 2005, almost 85% of Europe's total population growth in 2005 was due to immigration in general. Omer Taspinar predicts that the Muslim population of Europe will nearly double by 2015, while the non-Muslim will shrink by 3.5%, due to the higher Muslim birth rate. Esther Pan predicts that, by 2050, one in five Europeans will likely be Muslim.

Professor Philip Jenkins of Penn State University estimates that by 2100, Muslims will compose about 25% of Europe's population. But Jenkins admits this figure does not take account of the large birthrates amongst Europe's immigrant Christians. Additionally, this estimation depends more on the supposed inevitability of the increase of Muslim population in the West and one person's research on the future of Europeans. Therefore, while Jenkins' estimation should be considered in the process of predicting what it would be like to live in the West in the year 2100, it should also be raising doubts about the entire European population.

Other analysts are skeptical about the given forecast and the accuracy of the claimed Muslim population growth, since sharp decrease in Muslim fertility rates and the limiting of immigrants coming in to Europe, which will lead to Muslim population increasing slowly in the coming years to eventually stagnation and decline. Others point to overestimated number and exaggeration of the Muslim growth rate.

Contemporary issues

Freedom of speech

In recent years the debate over freedom of speech in Europe has intensified, especially in relation to what can or cannot be said about the Muslim religion.

Various Europeans have been threatened after voicing their criticism of Islam. In the Netherlands, movie director Theo van Gogh was killed by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch born Muslim. Bouyeri left a letter on the body threatening Western governments, Jews and Dutch Muslim critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was van Gogh's partner in creating the film Submission, which criticized Islam's treatment of women.

Another case in the freedom of speech debate was the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy. Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, published cartoons of Muhammad and Islam as a way of showing defiance against Muslim-related censorship. The cartoons caused an uproar in the Muslim world, leading to attacks against Danish and Norwegian embassies in some countries. Several newspapers across Europe reprinted the cartoons as a way of taking a stand in the debate.

British-Indian writer Salman Rushdie spent the better part of a decade in hiding after a fatwa calling for his execution was issued in response to his novel The Satanic Verses.

Dress codes

A growing Muslim identity and a wish to assert that identity by many, especially young, Muslims has led to a debate about the viability of Muslim dress in Europe. The major point of contention are the different female forms of clothing, such as the face veil (niqab) and over-cloak (abaya); see List of types of sartorial hijab. Note that the Arabic word hijab refers to modest behaviour in general, and pertains to men and women, but it is sometimes used in other languages to describe the Muslim headscarf.

Different countries approach the issue differently. For example, France has banned the hijab in the public education system (French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools), while other countries, such as Sweden, see the wearing of the hijab as a basic right derived from the freedom of religion.

Women's rights

This debate about women's rights is related to the debate about Muslim dress, but is much wider and involves many subjects which are culturally inherent to the new Muslim immigrants. It includes such topics as honor killings, forced marriage which is prohibited by religion but present in the traditions of civilization as well as topics that have been addressed by European feminist organizations in their own struggle for equality, such as a women's right to education and work.


In several other EU countries, such as Sweden and the United Kingdom, Muslim groups had asked to apply Islamic inheritance, marriage and divorce laws. Such requests have brought up considerable controversy in those countries.

Due to the growth of Muslims, the business of selling 'halal' meat (which is slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law) has grown to be a multi-billion euro-industry. A 2005 estimate placed halal meat sale at 15 billion euros in the European continent, with five billion euros of those sales coming from France, where it is growing 15% annually. The industry has been under criticism for being unorganized and ill-developed.

In 2004 Europe's first bank to offer Sharia compliant financial services, the Islamic Bank of Britain, opened its doors in Britain. Other countries which have Islamic banking institutions are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina , Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland and Ireland.

European Islam

According to several scholars, a new branch of Islam is coming into existence in Europe. This is Islam outside of Arabia. In short, it allows Muslims to integrate into European society while enjoying the freedom to live their religious social values, as regards, for example, the question of Muslim women being prohibited from marrying Christian men. This is an injunction of the Qur'an that Muslims in Europe could choose to follow or not. Thus, European Islam follows the American model of the 'melting pot' to give Muslims living in Europe the freedom to live their beliefs. As the Qur'an states, "There is no compulsion in religion."


See also

Further reading


  1. In Europa leben gegen­wärtig knapp 53 Millionen Muslime; see also and CIA World Factbook 2007
  2. Soldier Khan
  3. Hourani, pg.42
  4. Roger II - Encyclopædia Britannica
  5. Tracing The Norman Rulers of Sicily
  6. Vikings in the East, Remarkable Eyewitness Accounts
  7. Hourani, pg.41
  8. Milton, G (2005) White Gold: The Extraordinary Story of Thomas Pellow And Islam's One Million White Slaves, Sceptre, London
  9. In Europa leben gegen­wärtig knapp 53 Millionen Muslime; see also and CIA World Factbook 2007
  12. The rise of Russian Muslims worries Orthodox Church, The Times, 5 August 2005
  13. DON MELVIN, Europe works to assimilate Muslims, Atlanta Journal Constitution, 2004-12-17,
  14. Tolerance and fear collide in the Netherlands, UNHCR, Refugees Magazine, Issue 135 (New Europe)
  15. Migration Information Source - Europe: Population and Migration in 2005
  16. Omer Taspinar, Europe's Muslim Street, Brookings Institution, march 2003
  17. Esther Pan, EUROPE: Integrating Islam, Council on Foreign Relations, 2005-07-13
  18. Philip Jenkins, Demographics, Religion, and the Future of Europe, Orbis: A Journal of World Affairs, vol. 50, no. 3, pp. 533, summer 2006
  19. Mary Mederios Kent, Do Muslims have more children than other women in western Europe?, Population Reference Bureau,, February 2008; for fertility of Muslims outside Europe, see Farzaneh Roudi-Fahimi and Mary Mederios Kent, Fertility Declining in the Middle East and North Africa,, April 2008, Mohammad Jalal Abbasi-Shavazi, Recent changes and the future of fertility in Iran
  20. see Eurabia#Criticism
  21. Euro-Islam, article from Le Monde, 24 January 2007
  22. 'Separate laws for Muslims' idea slammed, The Local, 26 April 2006
  23. Muslim second wives may get a tax break, Times Online, 26 December 2004
  24. Europe’s first Islamic bank opens its doors, The Banker, 2 September 2004
  25. Bosna Bank International Islamic Banking
  26. Islamic Financial Institutions, Institute of Islamic Banking and Insurance

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