Tracing the Muslim roots of modern-day Sicily.Aug 5, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 44 • By RICHARD TADA
A band of Muslim raiders sacked Rome in 846 a.d., plundering the city’s churches and getting clean away with their loot. They had come from Palermo, in Sicily, which had been in Muslim hands for 15 years. Sicily was then on its way to becoming a predominantly Islamic and Arabic-speaking island, and it remained under Muslim rule for over two centuries, until the Normans conquered it in the late 11th century.
Expressions of astonishment that the land of cannoli and the Mafia was once part of the Islamic world may be forgiven, since this is the first detailed book on the period to be written in English. Leonard Chiarelli directs the Aziz S. Atiya Library for Middle East Studies at the University of Utah; among his scholarly achievements is detecting the presence of the heterodox Ibadite sect in Muslim Sicily. His book is comprehensive and reliable—if at times dry and lacking in eye-catching detail. This is due, in part, to his sources: There were Arab historians who focused on Sicily, but their works have not survived; thus it becomes necessary to cobble together references to Sicily from later Muslim historians whose primary interest was North Africa. The sole contemporary source is the Cambridge Chronicle (so-called because the first copy to be studied in modern times was held by Cambridge University), which tersely recounts events from 812 to 964.
Sicily in the early 9th century was a backwater province of the Byzantine Empire, with a majority Greek-speaking population. The overwhelming bulk of the Byzantine army was in Anatolia, facing the Arabs on the empire’s eastern frontier. Only about 1,000 Byzantine soldiers defended Sicily, with another 1,000 nearby in Calabria. The Byzantines lost Sicily through the treachery of their local naval commander, Euphemius. According to a Byzantine source, Euphemius had married a nun against both the law and her will; he rebelled in 826 when threatened with arrest. But Euphemius could not hold the capital of Syracuse against loyal Byzantine forces, and he made the fateful decision to sail to Islamic North Africa.
North Africa was then governed by the Aghlabid dynasty based at Kairouan, in modern Tunisia. Euphemius arrived at the court of the Aghlabid emir Ziyadat Allah I and asked for assistance in retaking Sicily, promising to pay tribute in return. After some hesitation, the emir approved an invasion—possibly in order to keep Muslim zealots in his realm occupied with an overseas adventure rather than have them stir up trouble at home.
The invasion fleet landed at Sicily in June 827, and the Muslims quickly moved to besiege Syracuse in the southeast of the island. Syracuse, however, could be resupplied by sea, and the invaders were forced to lift the siege in 829. In that same year, Euphemius received his just deserts: When the Muslims sent him to negotiate with a Byzantine force in the inland stronghold of Enna, he was recognized as a traitor and stabbed to death.
The arrival of reinforcements from Islamic Spain in 830 enabled the Muslims to rally and take Palermo, which was to become the Islamic capital of Sicily the next year. The Muslims firmly controlled western Sicily by 860, after suppressing a revolt there. But Syracuse did not fall until 878, which still left much of the northeastern corner of the island (closest to Byzantine Calabria) in Christian hands.
The Byzantines lacked a strong fleet in Italian waters, and the Muslims were quick to take advantage of the opportunity by launching naval raids on southern Italy. The independent maritime states of Naples, Amalfi, and Gaeta, feeling threatened by their expansionist Lombard neighbors, made alliances with the Muslims, enabling the invaders to establish bases along the southern Italian coast and strike inland. In 883, Muslim raiders sacked and destroyed the great monastery at Monte Cassino. Southern Italy seemed on the verge of falling to Islam. In 885, however, the Byzantines scraped together enough troops for an expeditionary force and sent it west. This reasserted the empire’s control over southern Italy, although Calabria continued to be the target of raids from Muslim Sicily.
Sicily was transformed demographically by immigration from North Africa. Both Arabs and Berbers came to the island, with settlement heaviest in the western half, which had come earliest under Muslim control. A modern estimate has a half-million immigrants entering Sicily during the Islamic period. Their presence reinforced a process that began with the establishment of Muslim rule: the conversion of Sicilians to Islam. In the 10th century, western and southern Sicily appear to have been evenly balanced between Christians and Muslims; by the 11th century, both areas were majority Muslim.
To be young, Muslim, and American. Jun 24, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 39 • By PETER SKERRY
The Boston Marathon bombings highlighted, once again, the challenges of assimilating Muslim youth. And while the onus of accountability ought not rest exclusively on Muslim Americans, it understandably weighs most heavily on them. Indeed, any fair-minded assessment of recent events must underscore the inadequacies of Muslim-American leaders. Yet the usual criticisms are wide of the mark and fail to identify the institutional as well as intellectual weaknesses of these leaders.
12:45 PM, Feb 13, 2013 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Kosovo, the Albanian-majority Balkan republic, is probably best known for its fervent pro-Americanism, understandable given the role of U.S.-led NATO forces in assisting its 1.8 million inhabitants against Serbian oppression in 1999. American troops in Kosovo are drawn from National Guard units and have fallen below a thousand, but continue to symbolize a commitment that Kosovars consider indispensable to their future.
10:43 AM, Jan 3, 2013 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
The small republic of Kosovo, with a population of less than two million—90 percent ethnic Albanians, of whom 80 percent are Muslim—is the Balkan zone offering the greatest resistance to radical Islam. Some vignettes from recent interviews may impart the flavor of the debate over Islamism in the country:
10:50 AM, May 6, 2011 • By LEE SMITH
Tariq Ramadan is the latest in a long chorus to criticize the Obama administration for killing Osama bin Laden. The organization that his grandfather Hassan al-Banna started, the Muslim Brotherhood, along with its Palestinian branch Hamas, mourned the death of the holy warrior, while more moderate voices, like the Sheikh of Al Azhar Ahmed al-Tayeb, simply complained that his death rites were inappropriate. Ramadan seems to align himself with the latter. “It's very strange,” Ramadan told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, “that we drop his body in the sea, against all the Islamic rituals, and we are told the Islamic rituals and principles are respected.”
And he's a golfer, too.Aug 30, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 47 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
"Ike’s not a Communist, he’s a golfer." That was Russell Kirk’s succinct response to the claim by John Birchers in the 1950s that President Eisenhower was a Communist.
So what?7:18 PM, Aug 19, 2010 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
In March 2009, a Pew poll found that 11 percent of Americans incorrectly believed President Obama was a Muslim. A new Pew poll shows that that number has increased to 18 percent. Does this seven-point jump have any significance? Maybe. Maybe not.
From Pakistan to Bosnia.4:00 PM, Aug 9, 2010 • By IRFAN AL-ALAWI and STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
The people of Pakistan, and Muslims as well as non-Muslims around the world, were horrified when, at midnight on July 1, three bombers struck the Data Darbar Sufi shrine in Lahore.
12:00 PM, Apr 14, 2010 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
The young Kosovo Republic, with an overwhelming Muslim majority but a tradition of moderate Islam and a secular constitution, has joined Tunisia and France in prohibiting girls attending public schools from wearing the headscarf (hijab). As in Turkey, where the ban on headscarves, instituted in the 1920s, has become a matter for judicial controversy, decisions against the headscarf by local and school authorities have produced a legal case and complaints of discrimination.
The niqab problem.12:00 AM, Feb 11, 2010 • By IRFAN AL-ALAWI and STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Proposals to ban niqab, the face veil worn by some Muslim women, are gaining support in France and Britain. France saw its first crime by “burqa bandits” on February 6, when two men wearing head-to-foot female “Islamic” garments robbed a post office in the Parisian suburb of Athis-Mons. The men gained entrance by convincing the clerks that they were women, then lifted their veils to disclose that they were not, drew at least one firearm, and stole about $6,000.
Khaled Abou El Fadl's mysterious Egyptian interview.Dec 22, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 15 • By KATHERINE MANGU-WARD
DR. KHALED ABOU EL FADL'S reputation as a moderate Muslim thinker earned him a seat on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom last May. He is an accomplished legal scholar and an expert on Islamic jurisprudence. Born in Kuwait and bred in Egypt, Abou El Fadl is a professor at UCLA Law School with degrees from Yale, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, remarks made in an unguarded moment--and subsequently distorted by the Egyptian press--have just landed him in trouble.
From the November 3, 2003 issue: Meet Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, a voice for human rights in the Muslim world.Nov 3, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 08 • By AMIR TAHERI
Editor's Note: The Nobel Committee's decision to name Iranian human-rights lawyer and activist Shirin Ebadi the 2003 peace laureate has turned her into a household name throughout Iran and the Muslim world.
Moreover, the 56-year-old Ebadi has become an alternative source of moral authority in Iran--and a rare figure of consensus in that fractious society. With the exception of the hardline Khomeinists who have branded her "an enemy of Islam," Ebadi has won praise from virtually all Iranians--from left to right.