Islam and Europe

(Guardian, 26 July 2009)

Muslim relations with and within Europe have been complex. Periods of peaceful coexistence have alternated with war, commercial and intellectual exchange with expulsion and competition. The Muslim population within what came to be known as “Europe” has grown steadily.

• In the eighth century the Umayyad empire expanded along the northern Mediterranean shore into what is now southern Spain. The Muslim kingdoms of Andalucía survived until Granada finally fell in 1492.

• Between the 11th and 13th centuries European crusaders such as Richard the Lionheart fought their way across the Holy Land. Yet trading contacts thrived despite the hostilities. The famous spice and silk routes meant a flow of words, ideas and practices from the Islamic world into Europe.

• In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, sparking a new period of Islamic expansion. By 1529 the Turks were outside Vienna. This did not stop France’s monarch, Francis I, allying with the Muslim Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent to fight against Charles V of Spain. After many campaigns, the Ottoman Turks were beaten outside Vienna in 1683.

• By the 18th century, as European powers began carving up their empire, the Turks were no longer seen as a threat. Immigration to Europe grew steadily, especially towards the end of the 19th century as nations began to industrialise.

• After the second world war, Muslim colonies became a source of cheap labour for reconstruction. Later, restrictions were imposed on entry.

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