Islam in Europe: Rise and Fall of a Civilization

By Irfan Nugroho
Of 37 European countries, Islam has become the second-largest religion in 16 countries (this includes the Baltic state but not the other former Soviet republic and Turkey) (Savage, 2004). According to the German Central Institute Islam Archive, the total number of Muslims in Europe in 2007 was about 53 millions (

For the above reason, Islam has also become an interesting subject to learn and study by the number of researchers. One of those interesting parts from Islam is its history. Islam has its own history. It was first introduced by the Prophet Muhammad than it now has spread widely throughout the world, including Europe.

Now matter what, the history of Islamic civilization in Europe has never been stagnant and without any obstacles. The history of Islamic civilization in Europe has ever suffered from rise and fall.

In this article, there would a very brief historical explanation about the rise and fall of Islamic civilization in Europe. The historical facts are going to be explicated in a historical time-line with hope that you want to make further investigation.

652 - First arrival
Islam first arrived in Europe in 652 CE following a short-lived invasion of Byzantine Sicily by a small barber force.

711 – 1492 – La Convivencia
Islam then reached its heyday from 711 to 1492 AD. This period is mostly known as La Convivencia. La Convivencia is the time when Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived side by side in harmony, even though Jews and Christians were ruled with the Islamic Law upheld highly by the Umayyad conquest of Hispania. The territories of La Convivencia period encompassed Al-Andalus (now Portugal and Spain) and Iberian Peninsula.

722 – 1236 – La Reconquista
This is the time when Christians undertook counter offensive movement, such a separatist movement. In 1236, all that remained of La Convivencia’s territories was only southern province of Granada.

1238 – 1492 – The Ruin of Islamic empire in Europe
Christian Kingdom of Castile continuously conducted rebellion to the Umayyad Islamic government starting in 1238 before it found its success in 1492.

1453 – Ottoman Empire of Turkey Conquered Constantinople
The Ottoman Empire began its expansion to Europe by taking European portion of the Byzantine Empire. The Ottoman Empire than established Islam as the state religion of the region. By 16th century, the Ottoman Empire captured Hungary and particular areas of Poland in the mid of the 17th century.

1699 – Treaty of Karlowitz
The ruling period of Ottoman Empire in Europe endured only until 1699 following its defeat in the Great Turkish War. In 1699, the Treaty of Karlowitz was signed causing the Ottoman Empire lost most of its territories in Europe.

1924 – Ottoman Empire Ruins
The Ottoman Empire found its ruin in 1922. The onset was indeed the biggest betrayal on earth ever conducted by Mustafa Kemal Pasha (Ataturk). He poisoned the Caliph of Ottoman Empire, but the history, on the contrary, called him the father of Turk.

The Late 19th – 20th centuries
The Islamic empires of either Umayyad or Ottoman invaded Europe physically. No matter what, the Islamic invasion had brought those conquests to the advanced civilization. Of course, this is different from the European invasions to the Muslim populous regions like North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and the Malay Archipelago. The European invasions at those regions then resulted in great suffering by the indigenous people.

1950s – Massive Arrival of Muslim People to Western Europe
Massive arrival of Muslim people to Western Europe happened during of after the 1950s. They reside in France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. Most of those Muslim people coming to these western European countries were from the countries they invaded. In the Netherlands, most of the Muslim people came from Indonesia, Morocco, and Turkey.

1970s – European closes door to Labor Immigration
In the 1970s, Europe issued policies on Arab oil embargo thus resulted in subsequent economic downturn (savage, 2004).

1980s-1990s – The Second Wave of Muslims’ Arrival at Europe, Especially Denmark
Thousands of Muslims arrived at Europe during the 1980s-1990s following the stop of Arab oil embargo by the Europe. Most of them were refugees and asylum seekers from Iran, Iraq, Somalia, and Bosnia.

1988 – Salman Rusdhie’s Satanic Verses
A British-Indian writer Salman Rusdhie published his controversial novel the Satanic Verses in 1988. It clearly insults the Islamic teaching of the Quran.

1990s – Islam Recognized in Albania and 8,000 Muslims Killed in Serbia and Montenegro
During the reign of Stalinist state in Albania, the Islamic worshiping practices were not allowed at all. In the 1990s, the regime ruined and the state governance was altered into democratic system, Consequently, since the 1990s, Islam has been acknowledged the country’s major religion. Indeed, this also refers to the chain of history between Albania and the Ottoman Empire.

Also at this time, thousands died and hundreds of thousands fled following the late 1990s saw in Serbia and Montenegro. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic ordered the country’s Armed Forces to conduct an “ethnic cleansing.” The targets of the massacre were Kosovo Albanian Populations. The conflict ended in March 1992 with a 78 day bombing campaign to push back the Serb Forces.

1992-1995 – The Europe’s Worst Atrocity since the World War II
An ethnic war blew up during 1992 to 1995 in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Around 250,000 people died in the conflict between Bosnian Muslims, Croats, and Serbs. In 1995, about 8,000 Muslims were killed by the Bosnian Serbs at Srebrenica.

2004 – France’s Banning of Islamic Headscarves and First Islamic Banking in the UK
Since 2004, the French Government has prohibited the wearing of headscarves in schools. The Act 2004-228 of 15 March 2008 prohibits “the wearing of symbols or clothing by pupils that clearly demonstrate a religious affiliation” in public primary and secondary schools in France.

Also in 2004, the Islamic Bank of Britain was established in the United Kingdom. The trend of Islamic banking then broadens up to Albania, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Ireland.

2004 – Theo Van Gogh’s Submission
A movie director Theo Van Gogh made a movie titled Submission. This is addressed to criticize Islamic law about women. Finally, he was killed by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch Muslim, who also threatened Western governments, Jews, and the Dutch Muslim critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali – Van Gogh’s partner in creating Submission.

2005 - Jyllands-Posten Muhammad Cartoons
Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad and Islam as a way of showing defiance against Muslim-related censorship. Several other newspapers then reprinted the cartoons as a way of taking stance in the debate over the Muslim-related censorship in term of freedom of speech.

2008 – Fitna (film)
A movie directed by a Dutchman entitled Fitna sparked outrage from the international world, especially from Muslim populous countries.

2009 – Sarkozy’s Suggestion to Ban the Wearing of Burqa, and the Martyr of Hijab Marwa el-Sherbini
A group of 65 cross-party MPs, led by the Communist Andre Gerin, wanted a parliamentary commission set up to investigate the spread of the burka in France. French President Nicolas Sarkozy on June 22nd, 2009, has spoken out strongly against the wearing of the burka by Muslim women in France.

On July 1st, 2009, Marwa El-Sherbini was stabbed deadly 18 times under the court ceiling amidst the presence of German Police. She was slandered by the male stabber with “terrorist,” because she wore Islamic headscarves. She brought him to the law court for justice, but at the hearing, he was stabbed by the man. Worse, she was stabbed 18 times in front of her four-year boy. And, her husband was shot indeliberately by the German Police. The stabbing lured outrage from many Muslim populous countries, especially from Egypt – El-Sharbini’s hometown. Unfortunately, the German and other European media are just silent over the stabbing.

Finally, this is a very short historical timeline of Islam’s dynamics in Europe. Islam first came to Europe bringing peace, harmony, and prosperous thus Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived side by side without any conflict.

The Ottoman Empire, which also contributed greatly to the advanced civilization in Europe found its ruin from the greatest betrayal of Muhammad Kemal Pasha.

About 8,000 Muslims were killed in Bosnia-Hercegovina by the Bosnians Serbs.

Islam was several times insulted through movies, literature, and newspaper.

The Muslim women’s right of wearing the hijab and burqa was also considered radical instead of being obedient to the Islamic teachings.

Then, what we can conclude after reading the above historical facts?

Further readings:

  • Savage M Timothy, 2004. “Europe and Islam: Crescent Waxing, Culture Clashing.” The Washington Quartely: 2004.

  • Anonym, ---. “Islam in Europe.” Available online at http://www.wikipedia.og/Islam_in_Europe.htm, retrieved on July 11th, 2009.

  • Anonym, 2005. “Muslims in Europe: Country Guide.” Available online at, retrieved on July 11th, 2009.