Islam is not ‘Alien’ to Europe

Islam is not ‘Alien’ to Europe

The word ‘alien’ usually refers to something that is recognized as foreign, or possessing no roots in specified location, which is exactly how the majority of people in Europe perceive Islam. Muslim is mainly associated with the Middle East, and so are its roots. However, Mark Mazower disagrees with this fallacy, and in his publication of 2003, called Salonica, City Of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950 he argues that Islam had already existed in Europe – Salonica, Greece when the Ottoman Empire overran the Byzantine Empire in the 14th century.

The origin of Islam as a religion has been predominantly connected to Prophet Muhammad who is believed to be the last in the lineage of prophets including Jesus and Moses. He was born in 570 AD in Mecca among one of the powerful tribes – the Quraish (Swisher 72). At the age of around 40 years, he started experiencing visions and hearing voices which caused him to start mediating at Mt Hira in Mecca.

Together with his wife Khadija, Prophet Muhammad slowly began to attract followers, which was not received kindly since his tribe mainly consisted of pagans. As a result, he started experiencing hostility. Nevertheless, his influence and status significantly increased with the assistance of his uncle Abu Talib, who protected him from persecution of merchants in Mecca that belonged to his tribe as well.

For the sake of his new found religion, Prophet Muhammad at the age of 622 resorted to moving to an oasis town called Medina being accompanied by his followers. The main reason for such a decision was the promise of complete freedom of worship. However, the conflict between Muhammad and his followers with the Quraish back in Mecca continued. After several years of war, Mecca finally surrendered resulting in Prophet Muhammad returning there and getting control over the city. After that, he and his followers destroyed the pagan idols and spread their belief to the city inhabitants (Swisher 114).

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After his death at the age of 632, the question regarding who should succeed the Prophet raised a rift among his followers. One side thought that his closest surviving blood male relative should be their next leader, while the other thought that the successor should be elected by the three of his closest and most trusted companions. As the saying goes “a house divided cannot stand”, they split into two groups: the Sunnis holding in highest regard the four caliphs, constituting the majority and occupying the most of the Muslim world, and the Shi’i who regard Ali occupy Iran, Iraq with the numbers in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Greece and Kuwait.

Salonica, located in the northern part of Greece was recognized as a hotbed of different religions and diverse ethnicities. In his book, Mazower argues that Salonica was located in the place where Europe met the Middle East, originally occupied by Byzantine Empire perceived as an extension of the Greek speaking Roman Empire (21-23). It was one of the most powerful empires during its existence with strong economy, culture and military force. However, it could not bear the advancement of the Ottoman Turks in the 14th century. Having already captured the Salonica in the 13th century before losing it in the early 14th century, the Ottomans were not ready to release it this time. Such capture signified the end of the Roman Empire and was a huge misfortune to Christendom (Mazower 36).

This reconquest by the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century set the cental stage for a severe Islamization of Salonika. Mazower observes that the Ottoman Turks were much of a threat to the Greeks of Salonika due to the longstanding enmity with the Roman Catholic in Europe (160-161). This was due to the fact that their religion was in the middle of the two other ones, whereby they practiced traditional Islam but were also open to Christianity. In fact, when the Turks first captured Salonica in the 13th century, the transition was rather smooth, but since they were pushed out they made the bloody recapture and their rule ensured the spread of Islam over the next 400 years. The final straw was when the Turks expelled Jews from Catholic Spain and gave them the choice of joining Islam. Mazower notes that Salonika’s Greeks could not have been living easy as a minority in the city they regarded as theirs, and Jewish children laughed at the Orthodox priests (59).

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Mazower’s book Salonica, City Of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950 justifies that Muslim religion is not ‘alien’ to Europe since it existed as early as the 14th century in Turkey and Greece, after the reconquest by Ottoman Turks who expelled the Jews from the Catholic Spain. Their rule ensured spread of Islam in the next 400 years.

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