Regarding the topic of Islam on the European continent, the focus is usually exclusively on the period of Muslim Spain, al-Andalus, that lasted from 711 to 1492 (with a Muslim minority population that remained until 1609) and the Ottoman Empire, which crossed from Anatolia into Southeastern Europe in the early 1300s.
What is usually forgotten is the period of Muslim rule in Sicily, an island off the southern coast of the Italian Peninsula. It was here that Muslim dynasties ruled for over 200 years and a sizable Muslim populace called the island home. This article will explore the rise of Islam in Sicily under the Aghlabid Dynasty, subsequent Muslim control of the island, and the eventual Norman conquest of the 11th century.
Aghlabid Rule in North Africa
The Muslim conquest of North Africa can be seen as a continuation of on-and-off warfare between Muslim polities and the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire that dates back to the life of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. After the initial outburst of M...
Today, Mali is known as one of the poorest countries on earth. Life expectancy and literacy rates are dangerously low. A violent rebellion by the ethnic Tauregs in the North of the country that is threatening to split the country in half has been one of the few things that brought Mali to the news lately. But life in Mali has not always been this negative and depressing. Once, Mali was the shining example of a successful Muslim state. It was the envy of people around the world. It truly was a gold mine in the desert.
The region known as Mali is located in the southern extremities of the Sahara Desert. Here there is a transitional region between the arid and barren deserts to the North and the rain forests along the coast to the south. This is known as the Sahel.
What Mali lacks in fertile land, it more than made up for with valuable resources. Gold and salt mines have been the epicenter of Mali’s economy for hundreds of years. Trade routes extended north from...
One of the truly tragic events in Islamic history is the loss of al-Andalus, or Muslim Spain. For centuries, the Iberian Peninsula was a Muslim land with Muslim rulers and a Muslim population. At its height, Iberia had over 5 million Muslims, a majority of the land’s people. Muslim rulers built an advanced civilization based on faith and knowledge. In the 900s, the capital of Muslim Spain, Cordoba, had paved roads, hospitals, and street lights throughout the city. At the time, Christian Europe’s largest library had only 600 books, while Cordoba’s calligraphers were producing 6000 books per year. The society was a peaceful mixture of European and African cultures, represented by Muslims, Jews, and Christians living in harmony side by side.
This almost utopian society did not last forever. As the so-called Reconquista, or Reconquest, of Spain by Catholic monarchs progressed through the 11th to the 15th centuries, Spain’s Muslims became a marginalized group. In 1492, when the last Mu...
The 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan famously stated in a piece in the New York Times in 1993,
“May I offer you the advice of the 14th century Arab historian Ibn Khaldun, who said: “At the beginning of the empire, the tax rates were low and the revenues were high. At the end of the empire, the tax rates were high and the revenues were low.”
And, no, I did not personally know Ibn Khaldun, although we may have had some friends in common!”1
Although one may agree or disagree with the conservative economic policies of Ronald Reagan, there is no denying the genius of the man he is quoting – Ibn Khaldun. He was centuries ahead of his time. His monumental work, the Muqaddimah, published in 1377, is hard to categorize. All at once it is a resource on history, Islam, science, sociology, economics, politics, warfare, and philosophy. One article on the entire book would be a disservice to Ibn Khaldun and the great amount of knowledge he left for subsequent generations. Instead...
An unfortunate misconception among today’s American Muslim community is that Islam has only been present in America for less than 100 years. Many American Muslims are children of immigrants who came to the United States from the Middle East and South Asia in the mid-nineteenth century, and thus wrongly assume that the first Muslims in America were those immigrants. The reality, however, is that Islam has been in America for far longer than that. Besides possible pre-Colombian Muslim explorers from al-Andalus and West Africa, Islam arrived on America’s shores in waves through the Atlantic slave trade from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries. While hundreds of thousands of slaves arrived in America during this time, the stories of only a few have been preserved and are known today. One of the most enduring and unique is that of Bilali Muhammad.
The Slave Trade
A slave auction advertisement from Charleston, South Carolina in 1769.
As European nations began to colonize the New World in...
From during the era of slavery some three hundred pages of Arabic texts remain extant. A close study reveals that all but three manuscripts were autobiographic or excerpts from the Qur’ān. These were the writings of Bilali Muhammad of Sapelo Island, Georgia, the Qadriyya daily award as penned by Shaykh Sanaa See in Panama, and the work Kitab al-Ṣalāt by Muhammad Kaba of Jamaica.
Meditations from Bilali Muhammad
Bilali was originally from Timbo, Guinea where he studied in a traditional Jahanke Mektab. The Jahanke were a travelling clerical family that brought the Kitab al-Shifa (Qadi Ayyad’s biography of the prophet Muhammad), the Muwatta (the Hadith collection of Imam Malik), and the Jalalayn (the Qur’ān commentary co-authored by Imam Suyuti) to West Africa. Other texts that would have been studied would include the basic fiqh texts called the Risalah of Abi Zayd and the Mukhtasr al-Akdari on the basics of prayer.
Bilali was captured and sold into slavery as a teen in the 1780...