This is What Happened to Muslims and Jews after the fall of Islamic Spain in 1492

On January 2, 1492, the Catholic royal powerhouse Queen Isabel of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon finally conquered Granada, the last Muslim stronghold of Spain, ending the 700 years of Moorish rule in the Iberian Peninsula. After decades of war between the Catholic monarchs and Boabdil, the last Sultan of Spain, Boabdil was sent into exile and was granted an enclave in the Alpujarra Mountains. Within a year, Boabdil buried his wife, Morayma, and his youngest son Yusuf. Broken and dejected, he finally left the Spanish peninsula and spent the rest of his days in Morocco until his death, 40 years later. Boabdil’s eldest son, Ahmed, stayed behind in Spain. After having spent years in the Spanish courts as a royal hostage of Isabella and Ferdinand, he later adopted Christianity and the customs and spent the rest of his days in Spain.

For the remaining Moors and Jews who wanted to stay in Spain, they were ordered to abandon their faith and convert to Catholicism. Despite the promise made to Boabdil on the surrender of Granada, and terms of the Treaty of Granada 1491, Muslims and Jews were initially allowed to continue practicing their faith. However, it was not long before the terms of the treaty were violated, and mosques were being converted into Christian churches.

There were various rebellions by the Moors due to religious repression. The uprisings were deemed a contravention of the Moor’s surrender terms. This culminated with the Muslims and Jews eventually being expelled from the Peninsula. Those that stayed behind in Spain were forced to convert to Christianity. The Muslim converts were known as the Moriscos, and the Jewish converts were known as the Marranos.

The final fall of Granada in 1492 was seen as a great triumph of Christianity and Catholicism. Queen Isabel of Castile deemed Granada’s fall from grace as her greatest triumph. A tired and disconsolate Boabdil had negotiated the surrender of Granada with the condition that Muslims and Jews be able to practice their religion without interference from Christianity. Both Boabdil’s sons were hostages of the Castilian court, and as a result of this, his wife, Moryama, had fallen into depression, while Boabdil’s mother Aisha was constantly plotting and scheming to overthrow his father Muley Hacen and his uncle Al-Zagal.

When Granada finally fell into the hands of the Christians little by little Castile began to revoke the more tolerant policies towards Muslims and Jews. Archbishop Cisneros (the famous Spanish inquisitor) ordered mass conversions of both Muslims and Jews. He ordered the burning tens of thousands of valued Arabic manuscripts on science, technology, astrology, agriculture, in fact, a vast amount of valuable knowledge written by Islamic scholars was destroyed. Only books on medicine claim to have survived the mass destruction of Islamic-based knowledge. The repressive measures led to revolts that ended in many Muslims being forced to choose between conversion, exile, or execution. To stop any future uprisings by the Muslims in Spain, Isabel also decided to put more resources into the Spanish Inquisition to suppress any further threats. By 1502 the Catholic monarchs had made the practice of Islam illegal in Spain.

The fall of Al-Andalus is seen as one of the most tragic events in Islamic history. At the height of the Moorish Empire, the Iberian Peninsula had a population of over 5 million Muslims. The Moors created an advanced civilization based on faith knowledge, tolerance, technology, scientific discoveries, and creativity. The capital of Muslim Spain – Córdoba –  boasted paved roads, hospitals, streetlights, and Europe’s first universities. While Europe’s largest Christian library contained 600 books, Moorish calligraphers in Córdoba were producing 6000 books per year. Al-Andalus was seen as a fusion of North African, European where Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived in relative peace and prosperity together.

The expulsion of the Moriscos at the port of Dénia, made by Vincente Mostre, 1613.

On March 1492 the Spanish monarchs signed an edict forcing the Jews out of Spain. There was a mass exodus and hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula went on to live in the Ottoman Empire. These Jews are now known as Sephardic Jews. In fact, Ottoman navy ships were sent to Spain to pick up the exiled Jewish people, and they were taken to Istanbul to avoid any further mass killing or genocide.

Over the next hundred years, many Moriscos were able to conceal the practice of Islam but still often suffered from harassment, looting, and kidnapping. By 1609 King Philip of Spain (the great grandson of Isabel and Fernando) signed an edict finally expelling all Moriscos from Spain. The Moriscos were given only three days to pack up all their belongings and leave for North Africa or the Ottoman Empire.

By 1614 all Moriscos and Marranos were expelled from Spain; Islam and Judaism were entirely eradicated from the Iberian Peninsula. It’s believed that the population of Muslims in Spain decreased from 500,000 to 0 within 100 years and has been described as one of the greatest acts of genocide.

Three books great to read on this topic are:

  • The Shadow of the Pomegranate Tree – Tariq Ali
  • Leo the African – Amin Maalouf
  • The Hand of Fatima – Ildefonso Falcones

Written by Sabera Ahsan

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Sabera Ahsan is a former Primary school teacher, police equality advisor and government policy officer. She currently dedicates her time to writing and reading about Moorish Spain.