Famous Historical Muslims of Hellenic/Greek Origin

Islamic civilization currently encompasses every major culture, ethnicity, race, and language on the planet. The pages of Islamic history are filled with the emergence of many different ethno-linguistic groups, from regions as far apart as West Africa and Central Asia, as important political and cultural forces, which greatly impacted the direction of Islamic civilization. Unfortunately, despite this reality, Muslim history has often been presented as a series of accomplishments revolving around Arabs, Persians, and Turks, to the exclusion of all other groups. The rich histories of hundreds of Muslim ethnic, racial, and linguistic groups have too often been overlooked or overshadowed by this mistaken approach towards Muslim history which has identified Muslim history with a very specific cultural and geographic context.

One particular group of Muslims that has played an important role within Islamic civilization as scholars, administrators and warriors have been Hellenes/Greeks. While the many contributions of Greek Christians to medieval and early modern Islamic/Islamicate/Middle Eastern civilization have been highlighted, especially in the context of intellectual exchange and the transmission of philosophical/medical knowledge, the history of Greek Muslims is all but unknown to most people. Greek, in the context of this post, is not meant in any ethno-nationalistic sense, but is intended to signify individuals or groups who belonged to lands and cultures where Hellenic languages and civilization predominated, whether 9th-century Sicily, 13th-century Anatolia, or the 19th-century Aegean. A variety of processes—ranging from enslavement and conquest to voluntary conversion and political opportunism—contributed to the integration of many Greeks into Islamic civilization from the seventh century to the present.

The following are only a handful of some of the most famous names of countless Greek Muslims who played an important role throughout Islamic history. As one will notice, a large number of the names come from the Ottoman period. This is largely due to the fact that there are far more historically-documented cases of Muslims of Greek descent during the period of Ottoman rule in western Anatolia and south-eastern Europe (areas where Greek speakers were concentrated most heavily) than there are for earlier periods of Islamic history. Significantly, many of the Greek Muslim men and women listed below who played an important role within this empire were a product of the devşirme system, which was one of the key aspects of the Ottoman imperial system during the pre-modern period. From the fifteenth century onwards, there was a major effort on the part of the Ottomans to lessen their reliance upon traditional military and political elites and concentrate power instead in the hands of those who had passed through the devşirme system. At a later date, I plan on providing some more concrete thoughts on the devşirme system, slavery and society in the pre-modern Islamic world. For now, however, I have attached a list of further reading below (feel free to recommend additional works) for those serious about learning more about the interrelationship between slavery, social mobility and socio-political developments in Islamic history. Continue reading

Intermarriage between Muslim and Christian Dynasties in Early Medieval Iberia (711-1100)

The following is my own summary translation of pp. 33 to 38 of Dr. ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Sālim’s book al-Jawānib al-Ijābiyah wal Silbīyah fī al-Zawāj al-Mukhtalaṭ fī al-Andalus (Rabat, 1994). Although it is heavily dependent upon the perspective of (later) Arabic primary sources and contains some errors, this is a particularly interesting passage that sheds light on the extent of the intermarriage between Muslim and Christian dynasties in early medieval Iberia,. The main primary sources relied upon by the author include the anonymous Akhbār Majmū‘ah, Ibn al-Qūṭīya’s Tā’rīkh Iftitāḥ al-Andalus, Ibn al-Khaṭīb’s A‘māl al-A‘lām, Ibn Idhārī’s Bayān al-Mughrib, al-Maqqarī’s Nafḥ al-Ṭīb, and Ibn Khaldūn’s Kitāb al-‘Ibar.
Continue reading

The Royal Edict of Expulsion (1609) and the Last Andalusi Muslims (“Moriscos”) of Spain

Historical Background

Following the forcible conversion of the Andalusī Muslims of Granada in 1501 (which I have described elsewhere https://ballandalus.wordpress.com/2015/06/05/castilian-reconquista-ottoman-expansion-and-the-christianization-of-al-andalus/ ), similar edicts of conversion were promulgated that forced the Muslims populations of Castile (1502), Navarre (1515) and the Crown of Aragón (1526) to convert to Christianity, thereby criminalizing Islam as a public religion in the Iberian peninsula for the first time in 800 years. The new population of New Christians, as they were called, were referred to (derogatorily) as Moriscos. The Spanish government as well as the Church and Inquisition threatened any who continued to adhere to Islam—in any shape or form—with the death penalty, which usually meant being burned at the stake.

Image(Panels showing the Conversion of the Muslims of Granada in 1501, Altar, Royal Chapel, Granada) Continue reading

An Andalusi Muslim in Early Modern Europe: Shihab al-Din Ahmad al-Hajari’s Description of the 17th-Century Netherlands

Shihāb al-Dīn Aḥmad ibn Qāsim al-Ḥajarī al-Andalusī was an Andalusī Muslim born around 1570 in the village of al-Ḥajar, in the vicinity of Granada. He lived for most of his youth as a Morisco (crypto-Muslim) in Spain before escaping to Morocco around 1598, residing in Marrakech, where he remained until 1636 or so. While in Spain, he learned Spanish and Portuguese in addition to his native Arabic. As a result of his knowledge of the latter, he was enlisted in deciphering the so-called “Lead Books of Sacromonte” around 1588. During his time in Morocco, he entered the service of the Sa’adian Sultan Muley Zaydān (r. 1603–1627) as a translator and secretary. While in the service of the Sa’adian dynasty he also embarked on major journey to Europe, traveling to France and the Netherlands between 1609 and 1611. Around 1636, he departed to the Central Islamic Lands in order to perform the Hajj pilgrimage. Following his performance of the latter, he resided in Egypt for a time before departing for Tunis. Due to the absence of sources, it is unclear how he spent the remainder of his life. It is certain that al-Ḥajarī died sometime after 1638/1639, because he has a work (on gunpowder technology and cannons) that can be dated to these years. He was a erudite scholar, traveler and translator and the few of his works that have survived remain an important source of information for the Islamic West during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The purpose of his trip to Europe in 1609–1611 was diplomatic (on behalf of the Sa’adians) and was aimed at securing the properties and wealth that was confiscated from the Moriscos during their expulsion from Spain. The work in which this journey is recorded is given the heavily polemical title Nāṣir al-Dīn ‘ala al-Qawm al-Kāfirīn (“Making the Faith Victorious against the Disbelievers”).* His travelogue is interspersed with all the interesting details, fascinating personal exchanges and curious observations that can be expected from an Andalusī Muslim traveling in Early Modern Europe during the seventeenth century. However, the bulk of the work centers on the author describing (and likely exaggerating) his various theological and polemical exchanges with different Christian and Jewish scholars that he met in France and the Netherlands. The section translated below is excerpted from his description of the Netherlands and his meeting with the ruler/stadtholder of the Seven United Provinces of the Netherlands, Maurice of Nassau (r. 1585–1625).

**(It has just been brought to my attention that this book has been translated into English and published in Madrid in 1997 as “Kitāb Nāṣir al-Dīn ʻalā ʼl-qawm al-kāfirīn = (The supporter of religion against the infidels)” by P.S. van Koningsveld, Gerald Wiegers and Q. al-Samarra’i. However, since I only have access to the 2003 Beirut edition of the Arabic text, the translation below is my own. Update II: I now have access to the 1997 Madrid edition, of which scans are included below but have left my translation, based on Beirut 2003 edition, unchanged) Continue reading

Religious Propoaganda and Holy War in the 12th Century: The Friday Sermon following Saladin’s Conquest of Jerusalem in 1187

The khutba or Friday sermon, delivered in the al-Aqsa mosque immediately following the conquest of Jerusalem by Salah al-Din Yusuf b. Ayyub (d. 1174-1193) in 1187, is preserved by Ibn Khallikan in his biography of Muḥyiddīn ibn al-Zakī. Ibn Khallikan (1211-1282) served as chief qāḍī of the Shāfi‛īs in Damascus. His greatest achievement is his biographical dictionary of some 800 famous Muslims entitled Wafayāt al-a‛yān wa-anbā’ abnā’ al-zamān (Obituaries of the Notables and News of the Sons of the Age), fully translated here: https://ia601406.us.archive.org/17/items/ibnkhallikansbi00slangoog/ibnkhallikansbi00slangoog.pdf Continue reading

Castilian “Reconquista,” Ottoman Expansion and the Christianization of al-Andalus

Since its initial conquest by Arab and Berber armies in 711–715, most of the Iberian Peninsula (modern Spain and Portugal) had been under Umayyad Muslim political control between 756 and 1031.[1] Following the collapse of the Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba in 1031, however, al-Andalus, the Muslim-ruled portions of Iberia, had disintegrated into over two dozen emirates, known as taifas.[2]

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5b/Al_Andalus_%26_Christian_Kingdoms.png

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8b/Taifas2.gif

This fragmentation and weakening of Muslim political authority facilitated the rise of the northern Christian powers of Portugal, Navarre, Castile, León, and Aragón. Attempts by local (Andalusi) and foreign (“Berber” Almoravid, Almohad and Marinid) dynasties to resist the southward expansion of these Christian kingdoms ultimately failed, and the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, ending in an overwhelming defeat for the Muslims at the hands of a Christian coalition, sealed the fate of most of al-Andalus.[3] Beginning in the eleventh century, Castile and Aragón in particular had capitalized on the collapse of the Caliphate of Cordoba and succeeded in conquering major Andalūsī cities such as Toledo in 1085, Zaragoza in 1118, Lisbon in 1147, Cuenca in 1177, Majorca and Badajoz in 1230, Cordoba in 1236, Valencia in 1238, Jaén in 1246, and Seville in 1248, Algeciras in 1344, Antequera in 1410 and Gibraltar in 1462.[4]

https://ballandalus.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/mapa-reconquista-siglo-xiii.jpg

Continue reading

Mongol-Papal Encounter: Letter Exchange between Pope Innocent IV and Güyük Khan in 1245-1246

By the late 1230s, Mongol armies had begun raiding parts of Russia and eastern Europe. Between 1236 and 1242, these military campaigns–commanded by Subutai (d. 1248), Batu Khan (d. 1255), and Berke (d. 1266), among others–had wrought major devastation across Russia, Poland, Hungary and the Balkans. The cities of Kiev, Pereyaslavl, Chernihiv, Lublin, and other major population centers in eastern and central Europe were sacked and their populations massacred. The defeats of the Polish forces at the Battle of Liegnitz/Legnica (April 9th 1241) and the Hungarian military at the Battle of Mohi (April 11th 1241) opened up most of the Balkans and Central Europe to Mongol raids, leading to even more destruction, displacement and massacres. These alarming developments shook the foundations of Latin Christendom. Although the Mongols withdrew from most of the Balkans and east-central Europe soon after (as a result of internal dynamics in their empire), the shock of their invasions and conquests remained.

https://i1.wp.com/xenohistorian.faithweb.com/europe/images/MongolsinEurope.jpg

Seeking to gauge the intentions of the conquerors and convince them to cease their invasions of Latin Christendom, Pope Innocent IV (r. 1243-1254) sent an embassy with two letters to the Mongol Khan Güyük. The leading papal legate to the Mongols was the Italian Franciscan Giovanni da Pian del Carpine (d. 1252) who departed Lyon in April 1245 & arrived at the court of Güyük Khan near Karakorum in July 1246. He returned to Lyon by the end of 1247. Carpine composed the Ystoria Mongalorum, a detailed account of the mission & his extensive travels (more here). The Latin text & English translation of Carpine’s travel account and history of the Mongols can be found here (along with the writings of William of Rubruck).

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9d/Pope_Innocent_IV_sends_Dominicans_and_Franciscans_out_to_the_Tartars.jpg(Pope Innocent IV sends Dominicans and Franciscans out to the Mongols. Vincent of Beauvais, Le Miroir Historial Vol. IV, Paris, c. 1400-1410.
Continue reading

Imperator Totius Hispaniae? Military Leadership, the “Reconquista” and Imperial Authority during the Reign of Alfonso VII (r. 1126-1157)

This is the third and final installment of my short series on the Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris (for part I: https://ballandalus.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/the-coronation-of-1135-and-the-question-of-empire-in-kingdom-of-castile-leon-in-the-12th-century/ and part II: https://ballandalus.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/the-chronica-adefonsi-imperatoris-ca-1148-cluniac-historiography-and-imperial-sovereignty-in-12th-century-iberia/) which has sought to explore some of the implications of Alfonso VII’s imperial coronation in 1135 in both contemporary chronicles as well as modern scholarship. In this piece, I want to look a bit more concretely at how the Chronica seeks to represent the authority of Alfonso VII by looking particularly at two elements: the role of military leadership and the role of Alfonso VII as a “holy warrior” against Islam in the Iberian peninsula.

Royal Authority and Rebellious Nobles: Alfonso VII as Virtuous Christian Prince and Pacifier of the Realm

From the outset, it is important to note that the Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris is not the only source in which Alfonso VII is designated as imperator, since this title appears to have been utilized quite regularly from 1126 onwards in royal charters issued in the kingdom of León. [1] However, the Chronica is perhaps the most important twelfth-century text which clarifies in concrete terms what this title was intended to convey with regard to royal sovereignty. The chronicler declares that God worked His will through Alfonso VII “so that the salvation of the people of Christ in the midst of the earth might be achieved” in order to underscore the relationship between his sovereign’s reign and the divinely-ordained destiny of the Christian peoples in the Iberian peninsula.[2] Alfonso is also depicted as succeeding his mother, Queen Urraca (r. 1109–1126), and acceding to the throne of León with divine endorsement.[3] He is represented throughout the text as a just sovereign who is concerned with peace and security throughout the realm since it was conducive to Christian unity in the face of an increasingly-powerful Muslim threat.[4]

https://i1.wp.com/images.fineartamerica.com/images-medium-large/alfonso-vii-1105-1157-granger.jpg Continue reading

The Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris (ca. 1148): Cluniac Historiography and Imperial Sovereignty in 12th-Century Iberia

In my previous post, I attempted to highlight the significance of the imperial coronation of Alfonso VII in 1135 and highlight the various historiographical debates surrounding this moment in Iberian history (https://ballandalus.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/the-coronation-of-1135-and-the-question-of-empire-in-kingdom-of-castile-leon-in-the-12th-century/). In this piece, I want to shed further light on one particular text–the Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris–which is essentially a pro-Alfonsine historical chronicle that can greatly illuminate how Alfonso VII and his court sought to represent the sovereign’s imperial claims in light of the complex cultural and geo-political reality of 12th-century Iberia.

https://ballandalus.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/iberia_1150.gif?w=500 Continue reading

Mavia’s Revolt: An Arab Warrior Queen and the Roman Desert Frontier during the Late Fourth Century

This short piece follows from my previous post about the Limes Arabicus in Late Antiquity (https://ballandalus.wordpress.com/2015/04/19/limes-arabicus-and-saracen-foederati-the-roman-byzantine-desert-frontier-in-late-antiquity/) and seeks to revisit the sources for Mavia’s revolt in order to explore the various dimensions of the Arab-Roman relationship in the Limes Arabicus during the fourth century. Although the existing textual sources are quite limited in what they can tell us, they can still shed light on several aspects of the role of the Arab tribal confederations on the south-eastern frontier of the Roman Empire.

https://i2.wp.com/www.edmaps.com/roman_empire_350.jpg
Continue reading