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Islam in Europe      <1%      1%-3% (Italy, Slovenia)      3%-4% (Greece, Norway, Serbia, Spain)      4%-5% (Austria, UK)      5%-10% (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland)      10%-20% (Russia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Cyprus)      20%-40% (Macedonia)      40%-60% (Bosnia and Herzegovina)      60%-80% (Albania)      80%-95% (Kosovo)      >95% (Turkey)

This article deals with the history and evolution of the Islamic religion in Europe. According to the German Central Institute Islam Archive, the total number of Muslims in Europe in 2007 was about 53 million, including 16 million in the European Union.[1]




Early history

Islam came to Europe in various ways, including through conquest. A wealth of new research has uncovered new details regarding Islamic inhabitants in Europe in the Middle Ages. For example, we now have reports of a Muslim community in 12th century Hungary with roots in Muslim merchants in commerce with Asia over the Silk Road. In addition, there are reports of an Islamic community worshiping in wooden Mosques near Vilnius in the 1500s, under the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Eastern Europe

Muslim Arabs fought the Byzantine Empire soon after the establishment of Islam. The then Christian Syrian, Armenian, Egyptian and North African provinces of the Byzantine Empire were overrun. Soon after, Constantinople was besieged twice, once in a long blockade between 674 and 678, and once again between 717 and 718. However, the Byzantines successfully defended Constantinople and were able to re-establish control over much of Anatolia. This blocked further expansion of the Arab Caliphate towards Eastern Europe.

The Arab armies also conquered much of the Caucasus from the Turkic Khazars during the Khazar–Arab Wars, but the instability of the Umayyad Caliphate made a permanent occupation impossible. The Arab armies withdrew and Khazar independence was re-asserted. This also prevented expansion into Eastern Europe for some time.

In 824 CE, Byzantine Crete fell to Arabs, who established an emirate on the island (see Al-Hakam I). In 960, Nicephorus Phocas reconquered Crete for the Byzantines.

In the early 10th century, in what is now part of European Russia, the Volga Bulgarians under Almış accepted Islam as the state religion. Ibn Fadlan was dispatched by the Abbasid Caliph al-Muqtadir in 922/3 to establish relations and bring qadis and teachers of Islamic law (sharia) to Volga Bulgaria, as well as to help build a fort and a mosque.

There are accounts of the trade connections between the Muslims and the Rus, apparently Vikings who made their way East towards current day Russia. On his way to Volga Bulgaria, Ibn Fadlan brought detailed reports of the Rus, claiming that some had converted to Islam. "They are very fond of pork and many of them who have assumed the path of Islam miss it very much." The Rus also relished their nabidh, a fermented drink Ibn Fadlan often mentioned as part of their daily fare.[2]

The Golden Horde began its conquest of present day Russia and Ukraine in the 13th century. Despite the fact that they were not Muslim at the time, the western Mongols adopted Islam as their state religion in the early 14th century. More than half[3] of the European portion of Russia and Ukraine, were under suzerainty of Muslim Tatars and Turks from the 13th century to the 15th century. The Crimean Khanate became a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire in 1475 and subjugated what remained of the Great Horde by 1502. The Khanate of Kazan was conquered by Ivan the Terrible in 1552.

Balkans during the Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire began its expansion into Europe by taking the European portions of the Byzantine Empire in the 14th-15th centuries up until the 1453 capture of Constantinople, establishing Islam as the state religion in the region. The Ottoman Empire continue to stretch northwards, taking Hungary in the 16th century, and reaching as far north as the Podolia in the mid-17th century (Peace of Buczacz), by which time most of Eastern Europe was under Ottoman control. Ottoman expansion in Europe ended with their defeat in the Great Turkish War. In the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699), the Ottoman Empire lost most of its conquests in Central Europe. The Crimean Khanate was later annexed by Russia in 1783.[4] Over the centuries, the Ottoman Empire gradually lost almost all of its European territories, until its collapse in 1922, when the former empire was transformed into the nation of Turkey.

In sum, between 1304 (when the Ottomans crossed into Europe at Gallipolli) and 1526, the Empire had conquered the territory of present day Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, the former Yugoslavia, and Hungary. The Empire pushed forward on, laying siege to Vienna in 1683. The intervention of the Polish King broke the siege, and from then afterwards the Ottomans battled the Hapsburg Emperors until 1699. The Treaty of Karlowitz that year obligated the Ottoman Empire to surrender Hungary, Croatia, and portions of present day Slovenia and Serbia. From 1699 to 1913, a series of wars and insurrections pushed the Ottoman Empire further back until it reached the current European border of present day Turkey.

For most of this period, the Ottoman retreats were accompanied by Muslim refugees from these province (in almost all cases converts from the previous subject populations), leaving very little Muslim inhabitants at all in Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, and the Transylvania region of present day Romania. In addition, contemporary Christian standards of tolerance would have made Muslim religious freedom practically impossible anyway. However, in those areas that did remain longer under Ottoman dominion, a larger proportion of the local population converted to Islam and a larger proportion as well did not flee with the retreat of the Ottomans.

Bulgaria remained under Ottoman rule until around 1878, and currently its population includes about 131,000 Muslims (2001 Census) (see Pomaks ).

Bosnia was conquered by the Ottomans in 1463, and a large portion of the population converted voluntarily to Islam in the first 200 years of Ottoman dominion. By the time Austia-Hungary occupied Bosnia in 1878, the Hapsburgs had shed desires to re-Christianize new provinces. As a result, a sizable Muslim population in Bosnia survived into the 20th century.

Albania and the Kosova area remained under Ottoman rule until 1913. Previous to the Ottoman conquest, the northern Albanians were Roman Catholic and the southern Albanians were Christian Orthodox, but by 1913 the majority were Muslim. In addition to the long time under Ottoman dominion, the large percentage of Muslims was a result of a deliberate conversion campaign by the Ottomans after 1680, as part of a policy to ensure the loyalty of the population against a potential Venetian invasion.

Western Europe

A manuscript page of the Qur'an in the script developed in al-Andalus, 12th century.

Muslim forays into Western Europe began shortly after the religion's inception, with a short lived invasion of Byzantine Sicily by a small Arab and Berber force that landed in 652. Islam gained its first foothold in Europe from 711 onward, with the Umayyad conquest of Hispania. The invaders named their land Al-Andalus, which expanded to include what is now Portugal and Spain except for the northern highlands of Asturias. Al-Andalus has been estimated to have had a Muslim majority by the 10th century.[5]:42 This coincided with the La Convivencia period of the Iberian Peninsula as well as the Golden age of Jewish culture in Spain. Pelayo, King of Asturias began the Christian counter-offensive known as the Reconquista after the Battle of Covadonga in 722. Slowly, Spanish Christian forces regained control of the peninsula. By 1236, practically all that remained of Muslim Spain was the southern province of Granada.

Southern France

In the eighth century, Muslim forces pushed beyond Spain into Aquitaine, in southern France, but suffered a temporary setback when defeated by Eudes (Duke of Aquitaine), at the Battle of Toulouse (721). In 725 Muslim forces captured Autun in France. The town would be the easternmost point of expansion of Umayyad forces into Europe; just seven years later in 732, the Umayyads would be forced to begin their withdrawal to al-Andalus after facing defeat at the Battle of Tours by Frankish King Charles Martel. The last Muslim forces were driven from France in 759, but maintained a presence all the way into Switzerland until the 10th c.[6] At the same time, Muslim forces managed to capture Sicily and portions of southern Italy, and even sacked Rome in 846 and later sacked Pisa in 1004.


Sicily was gradually conquered by the Arabs and Berbers from 827 onward, and the Emirate of Sicily was established in 965. They held onto the region until their expulsion by the Normans in 1072.[7][8]


Vikings are known to have traveled both East and South, raiding Muslim holdings in Europe on the one hand, and establishing trade on the other. In 844 a Viking raiding expedition reached the then Muslim dominated Iberian peninsula, the Norsemen sailed along the Guadalquivir River and attempted to capture Seville, but were repelled by the the Andalusian forces.[2]

Cultural impact and Christian interacton

The Christian conquests of the Iberian peninsula and southern Italy led to the Renaissance of the 12th century, when many aspects of medieval Islamic culture (including the arts, agriculture, economics, philosophy, science and technology) was introduced into Western Europe (see Latin translations of the 12th century and Islamic contributions to Medieval Europe for more information).

Muslim rule endured in the Emirate of Granada, from 1238 as a vassal state of the Christian Kingdom of Castile, until the completion of La Reconquista in 1492.[5]:41 The Moriscos (converts to Christianity) were finally expelled from Spain between 1609 (Castile) and 1614 (rest of Spain), by Philip III during the Spanish Inquisition.

Throughout the 16th to 19th centuries, the Barbary States sent Barbary pirates to raid parts of Western Europe in order to capture Christian slaves to sell at slave markets in the Arab World throughout the Renaissance period.[9][10] According to Robert Davis, from the 16th to 19th century, pirates captured 1 million to 1.25 million Europeans as slaves. These slaves were captured mainly from the crews of captured vessels[11] and from coastal villages in Italy, Spain and Portugal, and from farther places like France or England, the Netherlands, Ireland and even Iceland and North America.[9]

European interaction 18th century

The Great Mosque of Paris, built after the first World War.

Starting with the British in India in the 18th century, and then during the late 19th century and into the 20th century, European colonial empires colonized regions with a Muslim majority (in North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and Malay archipelago) or large Muslim populations (in the Indian subcontinent and sub-Saharan Africa). This brought the European population into contact with Muslim populations, both as the army and civil administration in these new colonies, and with Muslim immigrants who came to the colonizing country. During the colonial period, a large number of Muslims visited or migrated to the colonizing European nations for a variety of reasons, many as seamen (including lascars) and soldiers (including sepoys), some as royalty (including sultans and nawabs), and others to study and learn about new European methods.

After the colonies achieved independence, the European countries enabled mass immigration from their former colonies. In the 1960s and early 1970s, guest workers were brought over by the governments of France, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Scandinavia. Another class of immigrants were the descendants of those who moved internally inside a European colonial empire, and from their to the home country such as the descendants of indentured Indian labourers in the Caribbean. Once the European countries imposed an immigration ban, the type of immigration shifted. Today most Muslim immigrants come either as asylum seekers or as part of family reunification. Many of the second generation migrants marry spouses from their former homeland. Some countries have tried to cut down on such immigration by passing strict laws, such as the Danish 24 year rule.

Cultural influences

Islam piqued interest among European scholars, setting off the movement of Orientalism. The founder of modern Islamic studies in Europe was Ignác Goldziher, who began studying Islam in the late 19th century. For instance, Sir Richard Francis Burton, 19th-century English explorer, scholar, and orientalist, and translator of 'The Arabian Nights' The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, disguised himself as a Pashtun and visited both Medina and Mecca during the Hajj, as described in his book The Pilgrimage to Al-Medinah and Meccah

Islamic architecture influenced European architecture in various ways (for example, the Türkischer Tempel synagogue in Vienna). During the 12th century Renaissance in Europe, Latin translations of Arabic texts were introduced. The Qur'an was also translated (for example, Lex Mahumet pseudoprophete).

Current population

According to the German Central Institute Islam Archive, the total number of Muslims in Europe in 2007 was about 53 million, including 16 million in the European Union.[1]

The Muslim population in Europe is extremely diverse with varied histories and origins. Today, the Muslim-majority regions of Europe are Albania, Kosovo, parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and some Russian regions in Northern Caucasus and the Volga region. The Muslim-dominated Sandžak of Novi Pazar is divided between Serbia and Montenegro. They consist predominantly of indigenous Europeans of the Muslim faith whose religious tradition dates back several hundred years. The transcontinental countries of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan also are Muslim majority. The Muslim population in Western Europe is composed primarily of peoples who arrived to the European continent from across the Muslim world during or after the 1950s.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that of the Albanian people, 39% to 70% of those in Albania[12][13][14] are Muslim, 91% of them in Kosovo, and 99% of them in Macedonia are Muslim. Bosnia has a Muslim plurality. In transcontinental countries such as 99% in Turkey, 93% in Azerbaijan and 57% in Kazakhstan[15] of the population is Muslim respectively. Muslims also form about one fifth of the population of Montenegro. In Russia, Moscow is home to an estimated 1.5 million Muslims.[16]

Muslims in West Europe settle in largely urban areas. Muslim population in selected European cities is as high as 25% in Rotterdam (Netherlands), 24% in Amsterdam (Netherlands), 20% in Marseille (France), 17% in Brussels (Belgium), 16% in Bradford (UK)[17] and in while in others, like Paris, London and Copenhagen, the figure is 10%.[18][19]


Don Melvin writes that, excluding Russia, Europe's Muslim population will double by 2020. He also says that almost 85% of Europe's total population growth in 2005 was due to immigration in general.[18][20] Omer Taspinar predicts that the Muslim population of Europe will nearly double by 2015, while the non-Muslim will shrink by 3.5%, due to the higher Muslim birth rate.[21] Esther Pan predicts that, by 2050, one in five Europeans will likely be Muslim.[21][22]

Professor Philip Jenkins of Penn State University estimates that by 2100, Muslims will compose about 25% of Europe's population. But Jenkins admits this figure does not take account of the large birthrates amongst Europe's immigrant Christians.[23] Additionally, this estimation depends more on the supposed inevitability of the increase of Muslim population in the West and one person's research on the future of Europeans. Therefore, while Jenkins' estimation should be considered in the process of predicting what it would be like to live in the West in the year 2100, it should also be raising doubts about the entire European population.

Other analysts are skeptical about the given forecast and the accuracy of the claimed Muslim population growth, since sharp decrease in Muslim fertility rates[24] and the limiting of immigrants coming in to Europe, which will lead to Muslim population increasing slowly in the coming years to eventually stagnation and decline. Others point to overestimated number and exaggeration of the Muslim growth rate.[25]

Contemporary issues

Civil and human rights

Freedom of speech

In recent years the debate over freedom of speech in Europe has intensified, especially in relation to what can or cannot be said about the Muslim religion.

Various Europeans have been threatened after voicing their criticism of Islam. In the Netherlands, movie director Theo van Gogh was killed by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch born Muslim. Bouyeri left a letter on the body threatening Western governments, Jews and Dutch Muslim critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was van Gogh's partner in creating the film Submission, which criticized Islam's treatment of women.

Another case in the freedom of speech debate was the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy. Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, published cartoons of Muhammad and Islam as a way of showing defiance against Muslim-related censorship. The cartoons caused an uproar in the Muslim world, leading to attacks against Danish and Norwegian embassies in some countries. Several newspapers across Europe reprinted the cartoons as a way of taking a stand in the debate.

British-Indian writer Salman Rushdie spent the better part of a decade in hiding after a fatwa calling for his execution was issued in response to his novel The Satanic Verses.

Honour killings

Numerous honour killings are reported from within Asian and Middle Eastern communities in Europe. A notable case in Germany was that of Hatun Sürücü (2005). Precise statistics on how many women die every year in such honor killings are hard to come by, as many crimes are never reported. The Turkish women's organization Papatya has documented 40 instances of honor killings in Germany since 1996.[26][27][28] In March 2009, Turkish immigrant Gülsüm S. was killed for a relationship outside her family's plan for an arranged marriage.[29] Every year in the UK, a dozen women are victims of honor killings, occurring almost exclusively to date within Asian and Middle Eastern families[30] and often cases are unresolved due to the unwillingness of family, relatives and communities to testify. A 2006 BBC poll for the Asian network in the UK found that 1 in 10 of the 500 young Asians polled said that they could condone the murder of someone who dishonored their family[31] In the UK, in December 2005, Nazir Afzal, Director, West London, of Britain's Crown Prosecution Service, stated that the United Kingdom has seen "at least a dozen honour killings" between 2004 and 2005.[32] While precise figures do not exist for the perpetrators' cultural backgrounds, Diana Nammi of the UK's Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation is reported to have said:"about two-thirds are Muslim. Yet they can also be Hindu, Sikh and even eastern European."[33][34] Another girl suffered a similar fate in Turkey.[35]

Freedom of religion

While there are concerns that the right of freedom of religion as granted by the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) is violated by repression against apostates within the Islamic communities, there are also concerns to the effect that the religious freedom of Muslims may be infringed upon by laws on secularity and laicité in some European countries. The Swiss minaret ban of 2009 has particularly been interpreted as violating the religious freedom of Swiss Muslims.

Women's rights

This debate about women's rights is related to the debate about Muslim dress, but is much wider and involves many subjects which are culturally inherent to the new Muslim immigrants. It includes such topics as honor killings, forced marriage which is prohibited by religion but present in the traditions of civilization as well as topics that have been addressed by European feminist organizations in their own struggle for equality, such as a women's right to education and work. However, others have suggested that these fears are largely misplaced, and with adequate academic scholarship a comparable framework for women's rights in Islam can be created. [36]


A growing Muslim identity and a wish to assert that identity by many, especially young, Muslims has led to a debate about the viability of Muslim dress in Europe. The major point of contention are the different female forms of clothing, such as the face veil (niqab) and over-cloak (abaya); see List of types of sartorial hijab. Note that the Arabic word hijab refers to modest behaviour in general, and pertains to men and women, but it is sometimes used in other languages to describe the Muslim headscarf.

Different countries approach the issue differently. For example, France has banned the hijab in the public education system (French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools), while other countries, such as Sweden, see the wearing of the hijab as a basic right derived from the freedom of religion[37].


In several other EU countries, such as Sweden[38] and the United Kingdom,[39] Muslim groups had asked to apply Islamic inheritance, marriage and divorce laws. Such requests have brought up considerable controversy in those countries.

Due to the growth of Muslims, the business of selling 'halal' meat (which is slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law) has grown to be a multi-billion euro-industry. A 2005 estimate placed halal meat sale at 15 billion euros in the European continent, with five billion euros of those sales coming from France, where it is growing 15% annually. The industry has been under criticism for being unorganized and ill-developed.[40]

In 2004 Europe's first bank to offer Sharia compliant financial services, the Islamic Bank of Britain, opened its doors in Britain.[41] Other countries which have Islamic banking institutions are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina [42], Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland and Ireland.[43]

Tribunal courts

In the United Kingdom there exist officially sanctioned Sharia Courts which pass legally binding Sharia judgement. While legal Muslim tribunal courts had been starting in August 2007, the first official Sharia court was opened in September 2008.[44] By June 2009 the existence of at least 85 official Sharia courts was revealed. A report stated that Sharia courts "operate behind doors that are closed to independent observers and their decisions are likely to be unfair to women and backed by intimidation". Rulings include:[45] [46]

  • "that no Muslim woman may marry a non-Muslim man unless he converts to Islam and that any children of a woman who does should be taken from her until she marries a Muslim".
  • approval of "polygamous marriage and enforce a woman's duty to have sex with her husband on his demand".
  • "a male child belongs to the father after the age of seven, regardless of circumstances".

See also

Part of a series on
Islam by country




  1. ^ a b In Europa leben gegenwärtig knapp 53 Millionen Muslime; see also and CIA World Factbook 2007
  2. ^ a b Vikings in the East, Remarkable Eyewitness Accounts
  3. ^ "Encarta, Mongol Invasion of Russia". Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. 
  4. ^ Soldier Khan
  5. ^ a b Hourani, Albert, History of the Arab Peoples, Faber & Faber, 2002, ISBN 0-571-21591-2
  6. ^ Manfred, W: "International Journal of Middle East Studies", pages 59-79, Vol. 12, No. 1. Middle East Studies Association of North America, Aug 1980.
  7. ^ Roger II - Encyclopædia Britannica
  8. ^ Tracing The Norman Rulers of Sicily
  9. ^ a b "British Slaves on the Barbary Coast". 
  10. ^ "Jefferson Versus the Muslim Pirates by Christopher Hitchens, City Journal Spring 2007". 
  11. ^ Milton, G (2005) White Gold: The Extraordinary Story of Thomas Pellow And Islam's One Million White Slaves, Sceptre, London
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Albania". Religious Intelligence. United States Department of State. Retrieved 2008-07-27. 
  15. ^ "Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the UK, Country Profile 2007, p.4" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-06-21. 
  16. ^ The rise of Russian Muslims worries Orthodox Church, The Times, 5 August 2005
  17. ^ "When town halls turn to Mecca". 2008-12-04. 
  18. ^ a b DON MELVIN, Europe works to assimilate Muslims, Atlanta Journal Constitution, 2004-12-17, Archive copy at the Internet Archive
  19. ^ Tolerance and fear collide in the Netherlands, UNHCR, Refugees Magazine, Issue 135 (New Europe)
  20. ^ Migration Information Source - Europe: Population and Migration in 2005
  21. ^ a b Omer Taspinar, Europe's Muslim Street, Brookings Institution, march 2003
  22. ^ Esther Pan, EUROPE: Integrating Islam, Council on Foreign Relations, 2005-07-13
  23. ^ Philip Jenkins, Demographics, Religion, and the Future of Europe, Orbis: A Journal of World Affairs, vol. 50, no. 3, pp. 533, summer 2006
  24. ^ Mary Mederios Kent, Do Muslims have more children than other women in western Europe?, Population Reference Bureau,, February 2008; for fertility of Muslims outside Europe, see Farzaneh Roudi-Fahimi and Mary Mederios Kent, Fertility Declining in the Middle East and North Africa,, April 2008, Mohammad Jalal Abbasi-Shavazi, Recent changes and the future of fertility in Iran
  25. ^ see Eurabia#Criticism
  26. ^ ""The Whore Lived Like a German"". Der Spiegel, Germany.,1518,344374,00.html. 
  27. ^ "Muslim girls in Austria fighting forced marriages - Program for women helps them escape from family pressures, unwanted weddings -- and violence". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  28. ^ "Turkish man in Berlin jailed for 'honour killing' of sister".  here
  29. ^ "Erschlagen, weil sie schwanger war? - Killed, because she was pregnant?". Der Bild. 
  30. ^ "BBC: Honour killings in the UK". BBC. Retrieved 2008-09-27. 
  31. ^ "One in 10 'backs honour killings'". BBC. Retrieved 2008-09-27. 
  32. ^ Lily Gupta. "Multicultural sensitivity is no excuse for moral blindness ...". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  33. ^ James Button. "My family, my killers". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2008-09-27. 
  34. ^
  35. ^ "A Feminist analysis of Honour Killings in rural Turkey". 
  36. ^ "The Role of Islamic Shari’ah in Protecting Women’s Rights". 
  37. ^ article from Le Monde, 24 January 2007
  38. ^ 'Separate laws for Muslims' idea slammed, The Local, 26 April 2006
  39. ^ Muslim second wives may get a tax break, Times Online, 26 December 2004
  40. ^ Yahmid, Hadi (8 June 2005). "Halal Industry Steals Limelight at Paris Food Conference". Islam Online. 
  41. ^ Europe’s first Islamic bank opens its doors, The Banker, 2 September 2004
  42. ^ Bosna Bank International Islamic Banking
  43. ^ Islamic Financial Institutions, Institute of Islamic Banking and Insurance
  44. ^ Taher, Abul (14 September 2008). "Revealed: UK’s first official sharia courts". TimesOnline. 
  45. ^ Doughty, Steve (29 June 2009). "Britain has 85 sharia courts: The astonishing spread of the Islamic justice behind closed doors". MailOnline. 
  46. ^ report

Further reading

External links


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