Islam in Italy

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In Christian (in the narrower sense Roman Catholic ) Italy , Islam was always present as a threat during the Middle Ages . From the 9th century to the naval battle of Lepanto in 1571, there were numerous raids against the coastal towns, sometimes also into the hinterland. Numerous cities were destroyed, including Taranto and Otranto in 927 , as well as the Benedictine Abbey of Montecassino, the mother monastery of Western monks, their inhabitants killed and women and children captured and enslaved. In almost every Italian town near the coast, the horrors are passed down in folk songs and stories.

Sicily experienced the most intense presence . Parts of the island were under Arab-Muslim rule for up to 250 years. In the 9th there was a brief, selective attempt at a Muslim bridgehead on the coast of Apulia. In the 13th century there was a temporary forced settlement of Muslims there in Lucera.

The 1.2 million Muslims living in Italy today are in no continuity with the medieval attacks or attempts to rule Sicily. With few exceptions, their immigration did not begin until 1990.

They make up about 2 percent of the 60 million inhabitants of Italy, less than in the UK (2-3 million), Germany (4.3 million) or France (4-5 million). At least 150,000 of them live in Italy without valid residence permits, estimates by church and human rights groups assume a further 250,000 illegal Muslim immigrants.

Former synagogue of Palermo, which first served as a church and has now been converted into a mosque

Around 50,000 Muslims in Italy have Italian citizenship , including a few converts . One of the most famous converts today is Torquato Cardilli , Italy's former ambassador to Saudi Arabia .


Arabs or Saracens

The island of Pantelleria was the first to be briefly conquered by Arabs in the year 700 , and from 720 onwards, Muslims briefly settled on the coast of Sardinia.


The first Arab attacks on Byzantine Sicily failed in 652, 667 and 720. Syracuse was briefly conquered for the first time in 708, but the invasion planned for 740 failed due to an uprising by the Berbers of the Maghreb and civil wars in Ifrīqiya that lasted until 771 (or 799) in today's Tunisia . It was only when Ibrahim I ibn al-Aghlab rose to the rank of emir of Ifriqiya in 800 and thus founded the Aghlabid dynasty, which was also recognized by the caliph Hārūn ar-Raschīd , that the resulting stabilization and independence of this region led to a targeted, energetic Muslim Policy of conquest against Italy from North Africa. In 806 the island of Pantelleria was taken again. The Christian monks living there were enslaved. Charlemagne himself tried to get these monks released. Several Arab attacks on Sardinia during this period were less successful.

In order to get rid of the constant mutinies of the army, the Aghlabid governor of Ifriqiya again sent Arab, Berber and Andalusian rebels to conquer Sicily in the years  827 , 830 and 875. a. under Asad ibn al-Furat . In 902 his successor led an army on the island himself. There the governor Euphemios, mutinous against Constantinople, called for help from Muslims, whom the Europeans referred to as Saracens . They got rid of Euphemios and took the opportunity to conquer the island, which was then part of the Byzantine Empire. Accordingly, the population spoke Greek and belongs to the Eastern Church. In 831 Palermo fell into their hands (since then the capital), then in 843 Messina , but only in 878 Syracuse , 902  Taormina , 918 Reggio in Calabria on the neighboring mainland and 965 with Rometta also the last Byzantine base on the island. While the southwest of the island remained fairly constant in Muslim hands, in other parts, especially in the northeast, the Christians and Byzantines were able to hold on. The Muslims repeatedly lost territories they had conquered, which they had to regain through military action. Formally, the whole of Sicily was under Muslim suzerainty from 965 onwards. The direct exercise of rule was only valid in two thirds of the island. The north-east, which had remained Christian, remained autonomous, although taxes and tribute had to be paid. In 1035, the last attempts to recapture the island by Byzantium began, initially successful when the east coast with Messina and Syracuse returned under the control of Constantinople. From 1061 the Normans took the place of the Byzantines. They recaptured the island and eliminated Muslim rule. At the same time the island was won over to the Latin Christianity of the Western Church.

Agriculture flourished under the Arabs and was geared towards export, as did handicrafts in the cities. With around 300,000 inhabitants, the Arab island capital of Palermo alone had more inhabitants than all cities in Germany combined. The Muslim population on the island at the end of Muslim rule in the mid-11th century can only be estimated. The fact is that they settled two thirds of the island, with Arabs mostly dominating the north around Palermo and Berbers predominantly in the south around Agrigento , the Christians the northeast, most densely populated third of the island around Etna.

After the fall of the Aghlabids in Ifriqiya, Sicily fell to its Fatimid successors in the 10th century , but after fighting between Sunnis and Shiites among the Kalbites , Sicily soon declared itself independent.

Just as the Muslims converted the churches in the north and west of Sicily into mosques, including the Cathedral of Palermo and the famous church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti there, they were converted back into churches after the end of Muslim rule.

South Italian mainland

The naval battle of Ostia stopped the third Arab attack on Rome in 849
In 871,
Emperor Ludwig fought the Arabs off Bari

The Muslims crossed from Sicily to the mainland and devastated Calabria , in 835 and 837 the Duke of Naples had called the Muslims to fight the Duke of Benevento . In 840 Taranto and Bari fell into their hands, and in 841 Brindisi as well . Capua was destroyed, Benevento, which was under Frankish protection, was occupied (840–847 and again 851–52), Arab attacks on Rome failed in 843 and 849. A second attack by the Arab Aghlabids on Rome led to the sacking of the city and the destruction of the basilica St. Peter . The golden doors were stolen and the tomb of the apostle was desecrated. Sardinia fell briefly under Arab rule. Already in 847 Taranto, Bari and Brindisi declared themselves emirates independent of the Aghlabids . For decades, the Muslims ruled the Mediterranean Sea and raided the Italian and Adriatic coastal cities. In 868–70, the Dalmatian Ragusa (now Dubrovnik) was under Arab rule for a year and a half. In 856, Arab invaders attacked and destroyed Canosa Cathedral in Apulia. Arab-Muslim troops besieged the city of Ascoli in March 861 .

It was only after the fall of Malta in  870 that Western Christians succeeded in setting up an equivalent armed force on land. Emperor Ludwig II from the Frankish house of the Carolingians conquered Brindisi and defeated the Arabs near Bari in 871. The Byzantines were also able to recapture Taranto in 880. The last Arab bases (e.g. Santa Severina Crotone in Calabria) remained in the south until 885, and as early as 882 the Muslims had built a new base further north, at the mouth of the Garigliano between Naples and Rome, allied with Gaeta , and Campania and Sabinia in Lazio . A hundred years later, Emperor Otto II tried to stop the Saracen advance in southern Italy in 982 after the Duke of Benevent's Lombard associations failed to master the situation. The Muslims took advantage of the death of the Byzantine emperor and the subsequent government crisis in Constantinople. Before Taranto there was the battle of Crotone , in which the emir was killed, but the Muslims were victorious. The losses on both sides were so high that the Muslims withdrew to the parts of Sicily they controlled and the Imperial Army to the north.

Bari was conquered again by Arabs in 1002 and quickly recaptured by Byzantines. Against the Byzantines, however, that of the Longobard Meles (Melo) rose from 1009-1019 and called the Normans to help. He gives the gold-embroidered star cloak to Emperor Heinrich II . There Meles is immortalized under the pseudonym Ismael, which does not indicate Muslim descent, but served to protect him from the Byzantines. He died in Bamberg.

Northern Italy

For the first time in 729-765 Arabs and Berbers had undertaken raids as far as northern Italy after the conquest of the Spanish Visigoth Empire from Septimania and Narbonne , and in 793 they again invaded southern France ( Nice 813, 859 and 880). In 888, Andalusian Muslims established a new base in Fraxinetum near Fréjus in Provence, France , from where they carried out raids on the coast and inland.

In 926 Italy's King Hugo I called the Arabs into the country against rivals from northern Italy. In 934 and 935 Genoa and La Spezia were attacked, and in 942 Nice again. In the hinterland of Piedmont , the Muslims advanced as far as Asti and Novi Ligore and moved north along the Rhone Valley and the western flank of the Alps . After successes over Burgundy, they advanced to Savoy in 942–965 and into parts of today's Switzerland in 952–960. Against the Arabs, on the other hand, Hugo's opponent, Emperor Berengar I , had called the Hungarians to help, who then also devastated northern Italy. Under pressure from German kings, Fraxinetum had to be abandoned in 972, but the looting of Genoa in 1002 and Pisa in 1004 continued.

Pisa and Genoa allied to wrest the Arab Muslims their bases in Corsica (Campomoro, Morsiglia) and in Sardinia . The latter, however, had been under the protection of the fleet of the Andalusian Emir of Dénia in Spain since 1015 , who was defeated again by the allied Italians in 1016 and after his renewed invasion in 1022. The Italians could not finally defeat the Sardinian Muslims until 1027; the last Muslim uprising did not end until 1050.

End of the Arab era

Palermo Cathedral , converted into a mosque under Muslim rule and converted back into a church after its end.
The Norman Palace , already the center of power under the Carthaginians, Romans and Byzantines, also the seat of the emirs. The oldest visible building fabric comes from the Norman era.
Model for the West: Idrisi world map (south)
Church of San Giovanni : built in Byzantine times, converted into a mosque under Muslim rule, after which it was converted back into a church. Example of the Byzantine-Norman symbiosis.
The cathedral of Lucera : an older church was converted into a mosque under Frederick II after the settlement of the Sicilian Muslims in 1220, after the end of the colony it became a church again in 1300.
Arabic inscription on the Norman coronation mantle , later part of the imperial regalia.
Fortress of Otranto
Paolo Veronese: The Battle of Lepanto from 1571

The rule that began in Sicily under the Kalbites was endangered by internal Muslim battles, in which 1027 Tunisian Zirids , 1030/35 Pisans and from 1035 Byzantines intervened. Eastern Sicily (Messina, Syracuse, Taormina) became Byzantine again in 1038-1042. In addition, in 1059, southern Italian Normans came under Roger I , who conquered Reggio in 1060 (taken from the Arabs by the Byzantines in 1027). Messina fell into Norman hands as early as 1061, and an invasion by the Algerian Hammadids to save Islam failed in 1063 when Genoa and Pisa intervened . In 1072 the Normans, supported by the Christian maritime republics, conquered Palermo. Most of the Muslims left the island in a hurry. Noto and some of the last Muslim bases could only hold out until 1091. In 1090/91 the Normans also conquered Malta; Pantelleria off the coast of North Africa fell into their hands in 1123.

Italy and the Norman Taranto became the starting point of the Crusades from 1095/99 . In the remote hinterland in the west of the island, the part of the Muslims that remained on the island was concentrated in the Piana degli Albanesi and southwest of it. The Norman kings first tried to tolerate the Muslims, to find a balance with the Greek population and to integrate Sicily into the West. The Sicilian Normans did not take part in the crusades to the Holy Land, but carried out their own wars of conquest and raids against Ifriqiya before they were subject to the Almohads there after 1157 .

In 1194 the Hohenstaufen followed the Normans by marriage . The Muslims who remained in the western interior proclaimed Ibn Abbad to be the emir of the island. In order to break this uprising, Emperor Friedrich II had the last 30,000 or so Muslims deported from Sicily to Apulia in 1220. There he settled them in the former border area between the Lombards and the Byzantines in the militarily organized colony of Lucera . When uprisings broke out there too, he had them suppressed and the Muslims in and around Lucera concentrated. In 1249 he also expelled the Muslims from Malta.

After the fall of the Hohenstaufen in 1266 ( Battle of Benevento , the Sicilian Muslims fought for Manfred , the son of Frederick II, following their oath ) and the defeat in the Crusades in 1291, Lucera became the new ruler in 1300 from King Charles II of Naples from the house of Anjou, destroyed.

An Arab-Byzantine-Norman symbiosis in art, which should better be called the Oriental-Byzantine-Norman symbiosis, continued as Sicilian Romanesque . Arabic does not stand for Muslim, but for oriental Christianity, as shown in the fleet commander of Roger II, a Syrian Christian.

Despite the 240 years of Muslim rule in Palermo, the Muslims have hardly left any traces. Reference is made to the use of buildings (cathedral, Norman palace) also during Islamic rule, but hardly anything can be localized in terms of the building fabric or art. The Norman Palace had already become the center of power for the city under the Carthaginians. The foundations from Phoenician times could be archaeologically secured. The Romans used the fortress as a castrum. Belisarius took it in 535 for the Byzantine Empire. The emirs used it as a residence, as did the Norman kings later.

Turks and Ottomans

Only 600 years after the fall of the Emirate of Taranto, 400 years after the loss of Sicily and around 180 years after the destruction of Lucera, a small part of Italy came under Muslim rule again for a short time.

Otranto bridgehead

Apulia belonged to the Kingdom of Naples and had been under the rule of the Spanish since the middle of the 15th century, who launched the final offensive to conquer Granada on their own peninsula in 1481 . This last base of Islam in Spain had sent desperate calls for help to all Islamic states in the Mediterranean region.

The empire of the Ottoman Turks , which under Sultan Mehmet II had conquered Constantinople and Galata in 1453 , Genoa's last bases in the Black Sea in 1475 and the Venetian island of Evia in Greece in 1479, then undertook a half-hearted diversionary attack on the Spanish possessions in southern Italy in 1480 after in northern Italy in 1479 Turkish advance units had invaded Friuli (1499–1503 again) and even threatened Vicenza . The Apulian port city of Otranto (just under 100 kilometers southeast of Brindisi) was conquered, but abandoned after a few months in 1481 when Mehmet died and battles for the throne broke out in Istanbul.

The defeated heir to the throne Dschem (Cem) fell into the hands of the Order of St. John on Rhodes. In return for tribute and free trade for Rhodes in the Ottoman Empire, the Johanniter pledged that Cem would not start any more wars against his brother, the Sultan. A grandson converted to Christianity and was elevated to Roman prince by the Pope in 1492 and 1509 and “Visconte di Said” by the King of Naples. The Sayd family in Malta claims him to be an ancestor.

Attacks in the 16th century

After the conquest of Ragusa and Hungary in 1526 and the siege of Vienna , the fall of the Austrian capital or German imperial residence in 1529 would have threatened Rome again. Even after the defeat of the Turkish army outside Vienna, Turkish fleets attacked again in the south. In 1512/1526 and 1537 Reggio and parts of Calabria were briefly conquered, and the Venetian fleet was defeated the following year. Nice was sacked by the barbarians in 1543 ( Siege of Nice (1543) ), but in the same year a Turkish landing in Sicily failed, as did the reconquest of Pantelleria in 1553, the assertion of Naples in 1563 and the siege of Malta in 1565 .

After Spain, the largest share in the maritime victory of the Christian " Holy League " at Lepanto in 1571 was played by the Republic of Venice , which fought eight Turkish wars against the Ottoman Empire between 1423 (intensively since 1463) and 1718, with many losses . Even after the defeat of Lepanto, the Ottomans crossed to Apulia , Castro was briefly occupied in 1575 (first in 1537), and Manfredonia in 1620 . Overall, however, the Ottoman naval rule was broken. Another invasion of Malta failed accordingly in 1614.

Italian converts in the Ottoman Empire

The time of the Turkish threat was also the time of the conversion of some Italians living in the Ottoman Empire to Islam. This did not affect some of the large number of Italians abducted and enslaved by Muslims, most recently by Muslim pirates from North Africa. Italians and other Europeans who committed themselves to piracy converted to Islam. Towards the end of the 16th century, Cigalazade Yusuf Sinan Pascha (Scipione Sinan Cicala) was an Italian convert Grand Admiral and Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Sultan. A Dalmatian convert named Hasan, the Sardinian Hasan Aga, the Corsican Hasan Corso, the Calabrese Uludsch Ali, born as Giovanni Dionigi Galeni, and the Venetian Hasan Pasha Veneziano became Bey of Algiers. Mourad Bey of Tunis, born in Corsica when it still belonged to Genoa, founded the Muradite dynasty, which ruled until 1705, in 1613. The Ligurian Osta Morat was a powerful admiral and Bey of Tunis (1638-1640). Even Ahmad Bey († 1855) mother was a stolen Sardin.

Modern Colonialism

In the on Lepanto next 300 years until the completion of the unification of Italy in 1861, there were almost no contact with Islam, although Sinan Pasha in 1594 again attacked Reggio, another Italian convert named Goloppo in 1700 for the Turks on the Crimean fortress Yenikale built ( Islam in Ukraine ), in 1722 an uprising by Turkish prisoners and Said descendants failed in Malta , Venice waged war against Tunis until 1792 or isolated attacks, mainly by Algerian pirates on Italian and Spanish Mediterranean cities and ships, continued up to a maximum of 1827 (last attack in 1815 Sardinia).

From 1885 the newly founded Kingdom of Italy with the colony of Eritrea , in 1905 with Italian Somaliland , from 1911 with Italian Libya and in 1939 with the Kingdom of Albania acquired predominantly Islamic colonial areas. Somali auxiliaries in the Italian army helped complete the conquest of Libya in 1931 and the victory over Ethiopia in 1936 (and thus the unification with Somalia and Eritrea to form Italian East Africa ).

Summary (timetable)

  • 7th century - first Arab attacks on Sicily
  • 8th century - brief establishment of Islamic bases in Sardinia
  • 9th century - Byzantine rebels and Neapolitan princes call the Arabs into the country, Islamic conquest of parts of Sicily and short-lived emirates also on the southern Italian mainland, looting in many coastal cities in Italy
  • 10th century - Burgundian kings (against Italians) and Byzantines (against Germans) call the Arabs, Arab attacks on northern Italy, Sicily falls to the Fatimids
  • 11th century - Reconquest of Sardinia and Sicily by Normans (Sicily), Genoese and Pisans (Sardinia), most Muslims return to Africa and southern Spain
  • 12th century - Byzantine-Norman symbiosis with oriental elements in architecture and science
  • 13th century - Deportation of the last Sicilian Muslims to Apulia, establishment of the Lucera military colony, destroyed in 1300
  • 15./16. Century - Attacks by the Turks (1480–1620), Ottoman naval rule broken in the 1571 naval battle of Lepanto
  • 20th Century - Italian acquisitions of Islamic colonies and minimal Muslim immigration from the colonies
  • Little Muslim immigration from the Maghreb since the 1970s
  • Since 1990 massive Muslim immigration from North Africa (especially Morocco), Albania and South Asia (especially Bangladesh)

Islam in Italy today

The Islamic Center in Rome

Muslim immigration

About a quarter of all immigrants with or without residence permits are Muslim. Most of them come from Morocco , which is why, from the point of view of many Italians, all Arab and North African Muslims are simply “ Moroccans ” ( marocchini ). The second largest group comes from Albania . The next largest groups of Muslims are Tunisians and Egyptians , followed by Bangladeshis and Senegalese .

The following table shows the number of Muslim immigrants in 2010. It only takes into account foreign citizens, not those who have already been naturalized in Italy, although their number is quite small.

Item country Number
estimate by Caritas / Migrantes
among the migrants regularly living in Italy on December 31, 2010
1 Morocco 448,000
2 Albania 364,000
3 Tunisia 106,000
4th Senegal 75,000
5 Pakistan 73,000
6th Bangladesh 71,000
7th Macedonia 30,000
8th Algeria 25,000
9 Kosovo 21,000

In Libya, over two million more, mostly Muslim, refugees are said to be waiting for the opportunity to make their way to the coast and from there to Pantelleria , Lampedusa or Sicily .

In addition, numerous parties and politicians from Muslim countries had and have found asylum in Italy. B. Iraqis , Iranians , Somalis , Libyans , Kurds and 1973-2002 the Afghan ex-King Mohammed Sahir Shah .

In the past, Muslim immigrants mainly stayed in southern Italy, but in recent years they have mostly moved on to northern Italy from their first places of arrival in Sicily ( Maghrebians ) or Apulia (Albanians) . Around 62% live in northern Italian industrial centers, another 25% in central Italy - 110,000 Muslims live in Rome and the provinces alone. Only 13% live in the regions of southern Italy and work e.g. B. in the fishing sector Palermos, Marsalas etc.

On January 1, 2016, 367,700 Muslims (25.8% of all Italian Muslims) lived in Lombardy , 183,000 (12.8%) in Emilia-Romagna , 142,200 (10%) in Veneto , 119,000 (8.4%) in Piedmont , 113,000 (7.9%) in Lazio and 104,400 (7.3%) in Tuscany . 395,300 (27.8%) live in the other regions, mostly in the center and south.

Organization and direction

The Islamic community in Italy represents different religious and political directions. Closed but rejected Italy's participation in the Iraq war . The vast majority of Muslims in Italy are Sunnis , the Shiites only make up about 1.5% of the community.

In 1988 the first mosque of modern times on Italian territory was built in Catania, Sicily , and in 1988 in Segrate near Milan the first mosque with a dome and minaret. Another followed in 1990 in Palermo , and in 1995 a “Great Mosque” was opened in Rome with Saudi money, which until 2005 was the largest mosque in Europe. There are now other mosques in Albenga ( Liguria ), Aulla (Tuscany), Bologna , Catania, Cremona , Colle Val d'Elsa (Tuscany), Florence , Gallarate (Lombardy), Genoa , Padua , Perugia , Naples and Villabate (Sicily) a total of more than 1000 mosques and prayer rooms exist in Italy, of which only a few are architecturally recognizable as such. The case of a Milanese imam, Abu Omar , who was kidnapped in the street in 2003 - allegedly by CIA agents - and taken to Egypt caused a sensation.

Islamic prayer and cultural centers ( Centri Islamici ) have also sprung up all over Italy, especially in the north . An important organization is the Islamic Center in Milan, which operates a political Islamism . There is also the Unione delle comunità e organizzazioni islamiche in Italia , which is close to the Muslim Brotherhood and was founded in 1971 as an association of Muslim students in Perugia. Other smaller Muslim organizations, mostly separated according to immigrant nations (e.g. the “Islamic Center” in Rome sponsored by the Saudis ) deal more with religious and socio-cultural everyday issues such as maintaining traditions, dietary regulations and freedom of religion .

In 2017, an agreement was signed between the Italian state and nine representatives of the largest Muslim associations in Italy called the “National Pact for an Italian Islam”. The associations represent 70% of the Muslims in Italy. The background was to prevent terrorist currents. Among other things, the agreement stipulates that non-Muslim people are also allowed to enter mosques, Friday prayers must be held in Italian and the financing of the mosques is disclosed.

Controversy over the construction of a mosque

In Colle di Val d'Elsa near Florence, minaret opponents took action in spring 2007 against the building of a mosque with a minaret that was supposed to be eight meters high: They put a pig's head on the construction site to profane the site . There was a minaret dispute in the community . The mosque was opened in 2013 anyway.

See also

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Alfred Schlicht: The Arabs and Europe. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-17-019906-4 , p. 42.
  2. DLF : IS propagandists use trauma: 846 Muslims conquer Rome ( memento of the original from April 2, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , broadcast on March 23, 2015. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  3. ^ Castro (Puglia) in the Italian language Wikipedia
  4. ^ Franco Cardini : Europe and Islam - History of a Misunderstanding , pp. 217-220. Beck Munich 2004
  5. Ahmad Bey Husayn
  6. Kettermann, page 169
  7. ISTAT, Demographic Indicators, p. 8 (PDF; 141 kB)
  8. Beginning of Ramadan, 110,000 Muslims gathered in prayer in Rome and the province , Corriere della Sera , August 21, 2009
  9. ISTAT, Demographic Indicators, p. 8 (PDF; 141 kB)
  11. "How Italy is trying to curb radicalization" , accessed February 12, 2017.
  12. Pig heads on the minaret . In: Berliner Zeitung , March 13, 2007


  • Günter Kettermann: Atlas on the history of Islam. WBG, Darmstadt 2001, ISBN 3-534-14118-0 .
  • Burchard Brentjes : The Moors. Leipzig 1989
  • Ulrich Haarmann: History of the Arab World. Beck, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-406-38113-8 .
  • Sigrid Hunke : Allah's Sun over the West, Our Arabian Heritage. DVA, Stuttgart 1960; Fischer-Taschenbuch, Frankfurt am Main 2001, ISBN 3-596-15088-4 .
  • Ibn Ğubair: Report on the city of Messina on the island of Sicily. In: The Travels of Ibn Jubayr. Leyden 1906

Web links