Open main menu

Islam was a widespread religion in what is now Spain and Portugal for nine centuries, beginning with the Umayyad conquest of Hispania and ending (at least overtly) with its prohibition by the modern Spanish state in the mid-16th century and the expulsion of the Moriscos in the early 17th century, an ethnic and religious minority of around 500,000 people.[1] Although a significant proportion of Moriscos returned to Spain or avoided expulsion through various means, the practice of Islam had faded into obscurity by the 19th century.[2]

Nevertheless, throughout modern history there has always been a constant presence of Muslims in Spain, many of which were former slaves (known as 'moros cortados') freed in the early 18th century. Furthermore, Spain's proximity to North Africa and its small land border with the Kingdom of Morocco (as well as a colonial presence in North Africa lasting between 1912 and 1975) made Muslim presence in Spain possible. Moroccan Muslims played a significant role in Spain's Civil War (1936–1939), fighting on the National side, including a Lieutenant General Mohamed Meziane, a close friend of General Francisco Franco, who later became Captain General of Ceuta, Galicia and the Canary Islands during his post-war career.

Moroccans did not require a visa to enter Spain until 1985. This however changed with Spain's growing economic development and its entry into the European Union, after which stricter immigration controls were imposed. Immigration to Spain exploded in the 1990s, with Moroccans of both sexes arriving in large numbers and becoming Spain's first important economic immigrant community. In the 2000s, migrants started arriving in some numbers from other Muslim-majority countries (as well as from Latin America and Eastern Europe). Moroccans are currently Spain's oldest and most integrated Muslim immigrant community and second-largest foreign population after Romanians.

As of 2016, Spain officially had 1,919,141 Muslims out of a total population of 46,438,422, or slightly above 4%, of the total population. Out of these, 1,115,124, or 58.7%, were immigrants without Spanish citizenship. Spain's Muslim community includes 804,017 Spanish citizens (42% of total) and 753,425 Moroccan citizens (39.2% of the Muslim community and over 67.5% of Muslim foreigners). Other smaller communities include Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Algerians, Senegalese and Nigerians. As for Muslims with Spanish citizenship, in 2016 these included 277,409 naturalized citizens (mainly from Morocco), 430,990 descendants of naturalized citizens, 64,334 Ceuta/Melilla Muslims (naturalized by decree in the early 80s) and 23,624 were Spaniards of Catholic Christian background who had converted to Islam for marriage or out of personal religious conviction.[3]


The Great Mosque of Córdoba one of many former mosques turned church after the Reconquista.


Hispania was the Latin name given to the whole Iberian Peninsula (covering the territories of present-day Spain and Portugal), and after the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476) the Teutonic tribe of Visigoths ended up ruling the whole peninsula until the Islamic conquest (during that time they pushed another Teutonic tribe out—the Vandals – and conquered another one—the Suevi). It is frequently stated in historical sources that Spain was one of the former Roman provinces where the Latin language and culture grew deep roots. After the fall of the Empire, the Visigoths continued the tradition by becoming probably the most Romanized of all Teutonic tribes.

On April 30, 711, Muslim General Tariq ibn-Ziyad landed at Gibraltar and by the end of the campaign most of the Iberian Peninsula (except for small areas in the north-west such as Asturias and the Basque territory) were brought under Islamic rule.[4] This campaign's turning point was the battle of Guadalete, where the last Visigothic king, Roderick, was defeated and killed on the battlefield. After this eight-year campaign, Muslim forces attempted to move north-east across the Pyrenees Mountains toward France, but were defeated by the Frankish Christian Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732.

It is commonly held that the relative ease with which the Great Muslim armies conquered the Iberian Peninsula was due to the centralized nature of government under the rule of the Visigoths. After the defeat of Roderick, the Visigoth dominion over the Iberian peninsula folded and fell apart from the Northern coast of Spain, and the province of Septimania (an area of France going from the Pyrenees to Provence), all areas previously under the rule of the Visigoths were under Islamic rule.

Several historical sources state that the Islamic caliphate had not actually targeted Spain for conquest, but that political divisions within the Visigothic kingdom created an opportunity that General Tariq and his army exploited successfully. For example, King Roderick was not considered a legitimate ruler by all the inhabitants of the Kingdom, and some Visigothic nobles actually aided the Islamic conquest. One name frequently mentioned is Count Julian of Ceuta in North Africa (this version calls him a Gothic noble), who according to some stories invited Tariq to invade because his daughter had been raped by King Roderick. Other sources instead consider Count Julian to be the last representative of the Eastern Roman Empire in North Africa.

Islamic rule in the Iberian peninsula lasted for varying periods ranging from only 28 years in the extreme northwest (Galicia) to 781 years in the area surrounding the city of Granada in the southeast. This Empire added contributions to society such as libraries, schools, public bathrooms, literature, poetry, and architecture. This work was mainly developed through the unification of people of all faiths.[5] While the three major monotheistic religious traditions certainly did borrow from one another in Muslim-ruled Spain, benefiting especially by the blooming of philosophy and the medieval sciences in the Muslim Middle East, recent scholarship has brought into question the notion that the peaceful coexistence of Muslims, Jews, and Christians — known as the convivencia — could be defined as "pluralistic."[6] People of other religions could contribute to society and the culture developed in this time. The Muslim Empire did not enslave any non-Muslim groups under its rule nor influence them to convert to Islam. One of the reasons for such great success under this empire was the legal terms they offered to the public, which were very different from the conditions implemented by the Visigoth kingdom that preceded [7]

Moreover, the appearance of Sufism on the Iberian peninsula is especially important because Sufism's "greatest shaykh," Ibn 'Arabi, was himself from Murcia.


In time Islamic migrants from places as diverse as North Africa to Yemen and Syria and Iran invaded territories in the Iberian peninsula. The Islamic rulers called the Iberian peninsula "Al-Andalus". That was the root for the name of the present-day region of Andalusia, the southernmost region of Spain.

For a time, the area that is today Spain and Portugal was one of the great Muslim civilizations, reaching its summit with the Umayyad Caliphate in the 10th century. Muslim Spain[4] had the following chronological phases:

(Note: the dates when the different taifa kingdoms were annexed by Almoravids and Almohads vary)

The Madrasah of Granada was founded by the Nasrid dynasty monarch Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada in 1349 and housed many of the most greatest prominent scholars of the period.[8]


Moorish and Christian Reconquista battle, taken from The Cantigas de Santa María

After the disintegration of the Caliphate, Islamic control of Spain was gradually eroded by the Christian Reconquista. The Reconquista (Reconquest) was the process by which the Catholic Kingdoms of northern Spain eventually managed to succeed in defeating and conquering the Muslim states of the Iberian Peninsula. The first major city to fall to Catholic powers was Toledo in 1085,[9] which prompted the intervention of Almoravids. After the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, most of Al-Andalus fell under control of the Catholic kingdoms, the only exception being the Nasrid dynasty Emirate of Granada. The Granada War (Guerra de Granada) of the Reconquista began in 1482 against the Emirate of Granada. It was not until 1492 that the Emirate of Granada with city of Granada and the Alhambra and Generalife Palaces, the last remaining Muslim territory in al-Andalus, fell in the Battle of Granada to forces of the Catholic Monarchs (los Reyes Catolicos), Queen Isabella I of Castile and her husband King Ferdinand II of Aragon.[10]

After the ReconquistaEdit

The conquest was accompanied by the Treaty of Granada signed by Emir Muhammad XII of Granada, allowing the Spanish crown's new Muslim subjects a large measure of religious toleration. They were also allowed the continuing use of their own language, schools, laws and customs.[citation needed] But the interpretation of the royal edict was largely left to the local Catholic authorities. Hernando de Talavera, the first Archbishop of Granada after its Catholic conquest, took a fairly tolerant view.[citation needed]

However 1492 started the monarchy's reversal of freedoms beginning with the Alhambra Decree. This continued when Archbishop Talavera was replaced by the intolerant Cardinal Cisneros, who immediately organised a drive for mass forced conversions and burned publicly thousands of Arabic books (manuscripts).[11] Outraged by this breach of faith, in 1499 the Mudéjars rose in the First Rebellion of the Alpujarras, which was unsuccessful and only had the effect of giving Ferdinand and Isabella a pretext to revoke the promise of toleration. That same year, the Muslim leaders of Granada were ordered to hand over almost all of the remaining books in Arabic, most of which were burned. (Only medical manuscripts were spared; those manuscripts are in the Escorial library.) Beginning in Valencia in 1502, Muslims were offered the choice of baptism or exile. The option of exile was often not feasible in practice because of the difficulty in uprooting one's family and making the journey to Muslim lands in North Africa, the inability to pay the fee required by the authorities for safe passage, and the general tendency by the authorities to discourage and hinder such exodus.[12]

The Moors request permission from James I of Aragon

The majority therefore are forced to accept conversion, becoming known as "New Christians". Many of the New Christians (also called "Moriscos"), though outwardly Catholic, continued to adhere to their old beliefs in private as crypto-Muslims.[13] Responding to a plea from his co-religionists in Spain, in 1504 Ahmad ibn Abi Jum'ah, an Islamic scholar in North Africa, issued a fatwa, commonly named the "Oran fatwa", saying that Muslims may outwardly practice Christianity, as well as drink wine, eat pork and other forbidden things, if they were under compulsion to conform or persecution.[14] There were good reasons for this, for abstinence from wine or pork could, and did, cause people to be denounced to the Spanish Inquisition.

Coat of arms of Vélez-Málaga, Andalusia

The clandestine practice of Islam continued well into the 16th century. In 1567, King Philip II finally made the use of the Arabic language illegal, and forbade the Islamic religion, dress, and customs, a step which led to the Second Rebellion of Alpujarras, involving acts of brutality. In one incident, troops commanded by Don John of Austria destroyed the town of Galera east of Granada, after slaughtering the entire population. The Moriscos of Granada were rounded up and dispersed across Spain. 'Edicts of Expulsion' for the expulsion of the Moriscos were finally issued by Philip III in 1609 against the remaining Muslims in Spain. The expulsion was particularly efficient in the eastern region of Valencia where they made up 33% of the population and ethnic tensions between Muslim and non-Muslim populations were high. The corresponding expulsion of Muslims from the Kingdom of Castille and Andalusia was officially completed in 1614 although its success has been questioned by modern scholars. Unlike the Kingdom of Aragon and Valencia, Moriscos were highly integrated in the rest of Spain significant number of them avoided expulsion or returned en masse, with the protection of non-morisco neighbours and local authorities.

The decline in revenue, and loss of technical skills, from the expulsion of Muslims from Aragon precipitated the downfall of Aragon, and the prominence of Castille. Further, the loss of revenue and skills from Valencia led to a shift of Catalan power from Valencia to regions around Barcelona which had far fewer Muslims and were thus less-affected.

The last mass prosecution against Moriscos for crypto-Islamic practices occurred in Granada in 1727, with most of those convicted receiving relatively light sentences. By this stage, the indigenous Islam is considered to have been effectively extinguished in Spain.[2]

Nevertheless, communities of Morish freed slaves known as "moros cortados" continued to be present throughout various parts of Spain, many of which had been freed as a result of a reciprocal deal with Morocco in 1767. Such former slaves, although baptised continued to discreetly practice their religion. As a result of a second Treaty with Morocco in 1799, the King of Spain formally guaranteed the right of Moroccans in Spain to practice their religion in exchange for Spanish Catholics being granted the same rights in Morocco.[15]

Spain's Muslim community todayEdit

Mosque of Madrid, inaugurated in 1992.

In recent decades, immigration has resulted in a resurgence in the presence of Islam, with nearly two million Muslims currently residing in Spain,[16] a significant portion of whom have obtained Spanish citizenship; of those who do not have it, the majority are from Morocco; other sizeable Muslim communities include Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Algerians, Senegalese and Nigerians.[16] The Autonomous Communities with a higher Muslim population are Catalonia, Andalusia, Madrid and the Valencian Community.[16]

Muslims in Spain make up over 4% of the population. A good example of its integration in the country are attitudes towards mixed marriages, to which only 14% of Spaniards were opposed as of 2010.[citation needed] 59% of Muslims claimed that there is no particular hostility to their community within the country.[17]

There are a number of converts to Islam, estimated at between 20,000[18] and 50,000,[19] from a total number of almost 2,000,000 Muslims.

Many converts to Islam have a tendency to converge in the southern Andalusia region, notably Granada, due to its long historic ties to this religion. Some have opened Muslim learning centers drawing visitors from across Europe, Canada and the United States.[20] The majority of Muslims in Spain are Sunni, with a minority of Shiites.

Mosques have increased dramatically in Spain in the 21st century, culminating in about 1400 mosques in Spain as of 2016 (which according to the Observatory of Religious Pluralism in Spain represents approximately 21% of all places of worship of any denomination in Spain).[21] Some of the mosque building plans have been ambitious. For example, in 2014 Qatar's Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani tried to purchase the iconic former bullfighting arena, La Monumental Arena in Barcelona (which is only blocks away from the Sagrada Família basilica), to turn it into Europe's biggest mega-mosque.[22]

According to the Spanish intelligence agency CNI, Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Morocco provide funding and aid to Islamic associations and congregations in Spain.


Jihadists were present in Spain from 1994, when an al-Qaeda cell was established.[23] In 1996, the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria, an organisation affiliated with al-Qaeda, founded a cell in the province of Valencia. In 2004, Madrid commuters suffered the 2004 Madrid train bombings, which were perpetrated by remnants of the first al-Qaeda cell, members of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group plus a gang of criminals turned into jihadists.[23] In the 1995-2003 period, slightly over 100 people were arrested for offences related to militant salafism.[23]

Population by yearEdit

Year Muslim population (x 1000) Total population (x 1000) % of total population
2007[24] 1 000 44 784 2.23
2012[25] 1 671 46 818 3.57
2013[26] 1 732 46 728 3.71
2014[27] 1 858 46 508 4.00
2015[28] 1 887 46 449 4.06
2016[29] 1 919 46 440 4.13
2017[30] 1 946 46 528 4.18
2018[31] 1 993 46 658 4.27

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Dadson, Trevor J. (15 October 2018). "Tolerance and Coexistence in Early Modern Spain: Old Christians and Moriscos in the Campo de Calatrava". Boydell & Brewer Ltd – via Google Books.
  2. ^ a b Soria Mesa, Enrique (1 January 2012). "Los moriscos que se quedaron. La permanencia de la población de origen islámico en la España Moderna: Reino de Granada, siglos XVII-XVIII" [The Moriscos who remained. The permanence of Islamic origin population in Early Modern Spain: Kingdom of Granada, XVII-XVIII centuries]. Vínculos de Historia (in Spanish) (1): 205–230. ISSN 2254-6901. Retrieved 18 May 2019 – via Dialnet.
  3. ^ Herrero, Anastasio (2019). Consejo Musulmán de Cooperación en Europa (ed.). "Estudio demográfico de la población musulmana. Explotación estadística del censo de ciudadanos musulmanes en España referido a fecha 31/12/2019" (PDF). Observatorio Andalusí (in Spanish). Unión de Comunidades Islámicas de España. Retrieved 18 May 2019.
  4. ^ a b Bouchard, Constance Brittain, Chief Consultant. (Distinguished Professor of Medieval History, University of Akron) "Knights in History and Legend" Firefly Books Ltd.. 2009. ISBN 978-1-55407-480-8 . Page 202
  5. ^ "BBC - Religions - Islam: Muslim Spain (711-1492)". Retrieved 2018-12-31.
  6. ^ O'Shea, Stephen (2006). Sea of Faith: Islam and Christianity in the Medieval Mediterranean World. New York: Walker & Company.
  7. ^ "BBC - Religions - Islam: Muslim Spain (711-1492)". Retrieved 2018-12-31.
  8. ^ Robinson, Cynthia; Pinet, Simone (10 December 2008). Courting the Alhambra: Cross-Disciplinary Approaches to the Hall of Justice Ceilings. BRILL. p. 52. ISBN 978-90-474-2688-2.
  9. ^ "Muslim Spain (711-1492): Decline and fall". BBC. 4 September 2009. Retrieved 13 August 2008.
  10. ^ "The City of Granada, Andalusia, Southern Spain". Retrieved 13 August 2008.
  11. ^ Eisenberg, Daniel (1992). "Cisneros y la quema de los manuscritos granadinos". Journal of Hispanic Philology (16): 107–124. Archived from the original on 15 October 2014. Retrieved 7 August 2014.
  12. ^ Harvey 2005, p. 48.
  13. ^ Harvey 2005, p. 270.
  14. ^ Harvey 2005, p. 60.
  15. ^ Martínez Almira, Magdalena (2013). Masferrer, Aniceto; Obarrio Moreno, Juan A.; Ramos Vázquez, Isabel; Franco Chasán, José; Aitslin, Anna; Cañizares, Juan B.; Mirow, Matthew; Simpson, Andrew (eds.). "El intercambio de moros cortados entre España y Marruecos tras la firma del Tratado de 1767. La Comunidad de Musulmanes de Cartagena" [The Rescue of Moors (Moros Cortados) Between Spain and Marocco after the 1767 Treaty. The Case of Moorish Community Cartagena] (PDF). Glossae. European Journal of Legal History (in Spanish). Institute for Social, Political and Legal Studies (10): 226–252. Retrieved 18 May 2019.
  16. ^ a b c EP (10 April 2016). "Los musulmanes aumentan en España en 300.000 en cinco años". El País (in Spanish). Madrid: Prisa. Retrieved 18 May 2019.
  17. ^ Ministerio de Justicia; Ministerio de Trabajo e Inmigración (eds.). "VALORES, ACTITUDES Y OPINIONES DE LOS INMIGRANTES DE RELIGIÓN MUSULMANA. Quinta oleada del Barómetro de Opinión de la Comunidad Musulmana de origen inmigrante en España". Metroscopia. Estudios sociales y de opinión (in Spanish). Ministerio del Interior: 96.
  18. ^ Pingree, Geoff; Abend, Lisa (7 November 2006). "In Spain, dismay at Muslim converts holding sway". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 18 May 2019.
  19. ^ Burnett, Victoria (18 December 2006). "Islam returns to a tolerant Andalucia". Islam Daily. Archived from the original on 16 April 2014. Retrieved 18 May 2019.
  20. ^ Gilgoff, Dan (18 August 2010). "Inside Muslim summer camp in southern Spain". CNN. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. Retrieved 18 May 2019.
  21. ^ Alba, Carlos (4 October 2016). "Radiografía del Islam en España: 1.400 centros de oración y un 6% con mensaje radical". El Mundo (in Spanish). Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  22. ^ Kassam, Ashifa (25 June 2014). "Barcelona bullfighting ring may become Europe's largest mosque". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  23. ^ a b c Vidino; et al. (2018). De-Radicalization in the Mediterranean - Comparing Challenges and Approaches (PDF). Milano: ISPI. pp. 24, 35–36. ISBN 9788867058198.
  24. ^ "Muslims in Europe: Country guide". 23 December 2005 – via
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^

Further readingEdit

  • Harvey, L. P. (16 May 2005). Muslims in Spain, 1500 to 1614. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-31963-6.
  • W. Montgomery Watt and Pierre Cachia, A History of Islamic Spain. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2007.
  • Brian A. Catlos, Kingdoms of Faith: A New History of Islamic Spain Hurst/Basic Books, 2018. Review: Nicola Clarke: "Abraham's Descendants in Love, Life and War". History Today Vol. 68/10, October 2018, pp. 98–99.