One of the truly tragic events in Islamic history is the loss of al-Andalus, or Muslim Spain. For centuries, the Iberian Peninsula was a Muslim land with Muslim rulers and a Muslim population. At its height, Iberia had over 5 million Muslims, a majority of the land’s people. Muslim rulers built an advanced civilization based on faith and knowledge. In the 900s, the capital of Muslim Spain, Cordoba, had paved roads, hospitals, and street lights throughout the city. At the time, Christian Europe’s largest library had only 600 books, while Cordoba’s calligraphers were producing 6000 books per year. The society was a peaceful mixture of European and African cultures, represented by Muslims, Jews, and Christians living in harmony side by side.
This almost utopian society did not last forever. As the so-called Reconquista, or Reconquest, of Spain by Catholic monarchs progressed through the 11th to the 15th centuries, Spain’s Muslims became a marginalized group. In 1492, when the last Muslim state of Iberia, Granada, fell, Spain’s Muslims faced a new reality: genocide.
After the fall of Granada in 1492, most Muslims expected it to be a small setback. They thought Muslim armies from Africa would soon come to redeem the loss of Granada and re-establish a Muslim state. The new Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, had other plans, however.
They made their religious intentions clear early on. In March 1492, Spain’s monarchs signed an edict that effectively forced every last Jew out of the country. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were forced out, with the Ottoman Empire accepting many of them. Sultan Bayezid II of the Ottoman Empire sent his entire navy to Spain to pick them up and bring them to Istanbul, in order to avoid the mass killing that awaited them in Spain.
The Spanish policy towards the Muslims was not much different. In 1492, there were about 500,000 Muslims throughout Spain. The Catholic Church made it a priority to convert them all to Christianity now that they did not have the protection of a Muslim state.
The first attempts to convert Muslims to Christianity was through bribery. Converts were showered with gifts, money, and land. This approach proved to be unsuccessful, as most of these “converts” quickly returned to Islam after getting such gifts.