Christian countergains against Islam in Spain and Sicily

As we have suggested, the four centuries which followed the year 950 witnessed a substantial reclamation of territories lost to Islam in Spain and Sicily.

In Spain the Moslem Arab conquest had no sooner reached its high-watermark than the small states which survived in the North under Christian leadership began to regain the lost territory. This, like the Arab domination, was achieved by armed force. The first stage of the Moslem retreat is usually dated from a battle in 718 in which the Christians were victors. Various Christian States arose — Aragon, León, Navarre, Castile, Portugal, and in the Asturias, Galicia, and Catalonia. These states often fought among themselves and thereby gave breathing spaces to the waning Moslem power. In the latter part of the tenth century Almanzor, the great minister and general of the Caliphate of Cordova, inflicted defeat after defeat on the Christian armies. However, in 1034 the Caliphate of Cordova came to an end and with it disappeared what had been the main centre and rallying point of Moslem power. The tide of battle ebbed and flowed, but by the middle of the thirteenth century the Moslem political power had been reduced to the small state of Granada, in the extreme south-east.

In the territories reconquered by Christian from Moslem princes little force was employed to bring about conversion from Islam. As in the Moorish states Christians had been tolerated and Christian bishops and clergy had continued to minister to their flocks, so now, under Christian rulers, such of the Moslems as chose to do so were permitted the free practice of their religion and were left in possession of their mosques, houses, and estates and for a time had magistrates of their own faith. Similarly as under Moslem rule Christians had been subjected to certain disabilities and special taxation, so Christian princes required Moslems to live in segregated districts and to pay tithes to the Church and a special tribute to the state.

Under these circumstances Islam declined in the Iberian Peninsula. Some of its adherents migrated to Africa to be under Moslem rulers. Others deemed it expedient to conform to the religion of their new masters. Active missionary effort was directed to the Moslems, especially beginning in the thirteenth century with the rise of the great missionary orders, the Franciscans and the Dominicans, of whom we are later to hear much. On at least one occasion an over-zealous bishop said mass in a mosque in violation of a pledge given by the Christian conqueror at the time of the surrender. It was long after 1350 that the last remnants of Islam disappeared from the Iberian Peninsula, but by that year the outcome was fairly well assured.

The extinction of Islam in Sicily was the result of the Norman conquest of that island in the second half of the eleventh century. The Normans, as their name indicates, were the descendants of Northmen who had settled in the area, Normandy, which took its name from them. In Normandy they had become Christians. The religious motive seems either to have been absent or distinctly secondary in their invasion of Sicily. A minority, they deemed it the part of wisdom to grant religious freedom to the diverse faiths of their subjects. Jews, Moslems, Greek Orthodox, and Roman Catholics enjoyed equal rights. Towards the end of the twelfth century, after a hundred years of Norman rule, Moslems were still numerous and influential and held high posts at court. However, the early Norman magnates strengthened the Church and founded additional bishoprics, thus in part undoing the damage which had accompanied Moslem dominance. Islam, never represented by more than a minority, declined. By the middle of the thirteenth century it had almost disappeared.

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