The Muslim Expulsion from Spain:  An Early Example of Religious and Ethnic Cleansing
Posted Jan 9, 2008

The Muslim Expulsion from Spain:  An Early Example of Religious and Ethnic Cleansing

by Roger Boase

Everything declines after reaching perfection…/ The tap of the white ablution fount weeps in despair, like a passionate lover weeping at the departure of the beloved, / over dwellings emptied of Islam, whose inhabitants now live in unbelief, / where the mosques have become churches in which only bells and crosses are found…/ O who will redress the humiliation of a people who were once powerful, a people whose condition injustice and tyrants have changed? / Yesterday they were kings in their own homes, but today they are slaves in the land of the infidel! / Were you to see them bewildered, with no one to guide them, wearing the cloth of shame in its different shades, / and were you to behold their weeping when they are sold, it would strike fear into your heart, and sorrow would seize you. / Alas, many a maiden as fair as the sun when it rises, as though she were rubies and pearls, / is led off to abomination by a barbarian against her will, while her eyes are in tears and her heart is stunned. / The heart melts with sorrow at such sights, if there is any Islam or faith in that heart!  [1]

These words were written by the poet ar-Rundi after Seville fell to Ferdinand III of Castile (1199-1252) in December 1248. By that date many other Spanish cities, including Valencia, Murcia, Jaén and Córdoba, had already been captured and it seemed that the end of Muslim Spain was imminent. However, it was not until 1492 that the Moorish Kingdom of Granada surrendered to the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, and the final Muslim expulsion did not take place until well over a century later, between 1609 and 1614. This means that there was a very large Moorish population in Spain half a millennium after the high point of Andalusian culture in the eleventh century.

Ar-Rundi might well have been responding to the plight of his co-religionists after the fall of Granada or at the time of the expulsion when many similar atrocities were committed: homes were destroyed and abandoned, mosques were converted into churches, mothers were separated from their children, people were stripped of their wealth and humiliated, armed rebels were reduced to slavery. ‘With my own eyes,’ said Yuce Banegas, a scholar who had been one of the leaders of the Granadan aristocracy, ‘I saw…more than three hundred maidens put up to public auction; I will tell you no more, it is more than I can bear.’ [2]  But what makes these atrocities especially shocking in the seventeenth century was that by that time the Moors had become Spanish citizens; some were genuine Christian converts; indeed many, like Sancho Panza’s neighbour Ricote in the novel Don Quijote (1605-15), were deeply patriotic and considered themselves to be ‘más cristiano que moro.’  [3]  Yet, regardless of their religious convictions, all were the victims of a state policy, based on racist theological arguments, which had the backing of both the Royal Council and the Church, for which the expulsion of the Jews in 1492 provided an immediate legal precedent. The full extent to which the fate of Spanish Muslims and their descendants was bound up with the fate of the Jews will become apparent when I discuss some of the racist arguments used to justify the policy of expulsion.

According to the terms of the treaty drawn up by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492 when the Christian troops entered Granada, the new subjects of the Crown were promised that they would be allowed to preserve their mosques and religious institutions, to retain the use of their language and to continue to abide by their own laws and customs. [4]  But within the space of seven years these generous terms had been broken. When the moderate missionary approach of Hernando de Talavera (1428-1507), Archbishop of Granada, was replaced by the fanaticism of Cardinal Cisneros (1436-1518), who organised mass conversions and the burning of all religious texts in Arabic, these events resulted in the First Rebellion of the Alpujarras (1499-1500) and the assassination of one of the Cardinal’s agents. This in turn gave the Catholic Monarchs an excuse to revoke their promises. In 1499, according to Cisneros’ biographer, the Muslim religious leaders were persuaded to hand over more than 5000 priceless books with ornamental bindings, which were then consigned to the flames; only some books on medicine were spared. [5] In Andalusia after 1502, and in Valencia, Catalonia and Aragon after 1526, the Moors were given a choice between baptism and exile. For the majority, baptism was the easier and only practical option. Henceforward the Spanish Moors became theoretically New Christians and, as such, subject to the jurisdiction of the Inquisition, which had been authorised by Pope Sixtus IV in 1478.

For the most part, conversion was merely nominal: they paid lip-service to Christianity, but continued to practise Islam in secret. ‘By God, we did not willingly assent to that profession of faith, they lie in what they say, it was from fear of slaughter and fire, and we only said what we did against our will, and the religion of God’s Messenger continued to be ours.’ [6] They were able to lead a double life with a clear conscience because certain religious authorities ruled that, under duress or threat to life, Muslims might apply the principle of taqiyyah, or precaution, that made dissimulation and hypocrisy permissible. For example, after a child was baptised, he might be taken home and washed with hot water to annul the sacrament of baptism. In response to a plea from the Spanish Moriscos, the Grand Mufti of Oran, Ahmad ibn Abû Juma‘a, issued a decree in 1504, in which he stated that Muslims may drink wine, eat pork or do any other forbidden thing if they are compelled to do so and if they do not have the intention to sin. They may even, he said, deny the Prophet Muhammad with their tongues provided, at the same time, they love him in their hearts. [7]  Another North African jurist al-Wansharishî (d. 1508) decreed that Muslims who remained in Spain under Christian rule would necessarily cease to be Muslims because they would not be free to exercise their religious duties. The majority of Muslim jurists would in fact share al-Wansharishî’s opinion and would only countenance dissimulation as a temporary measure. As Pat Harvey points out, there is no parallel in Islamic history of a whole Muslim population nominally converting to another religion and continuing for several generations to practise Islam in secret. [8]

Thus the fall of Granada marked a new phase in Muslim-Christian relations. In medieval times the status of Muslims under Christian rule was similar to that of Christians under Muslim rule: they belonged to a protected minority which preserved its own laws and customs in return for tribute in money or kind. [9] The chief difference was that there was no Scriptural basis for the legal status of Jews and Muslims under Christian rule. Their status was not secure; it was subject to the whims of rulers, the prejudices of the populace and the objections of the clergy. Before the completion of the Reconquest it was in the interests of the kings of Aragon and Castile to respect such laws and contracts. As long as Granada existed as a Muslim city-state, Muslims had to be treated with respect to ensure that Christian captives were not mistreated. However, Spain now not only became, at least in theory, an entirely Christian nation but purity of faith came to be identified with purity of blood so that all New Christians or conversos, whether of Jewish or Muslim origin, were branded as potential heretics. [10]

As a member of a vanquished minority with an alien culture, the Morisco was despised. Every aspect of his way of life—including his language, dress and social customs—was condemned as uncivilised and pagan. The distinguished nobleman and Christian convert Francisco Núñez Muley argued, to no avail, in 1566 that there was nothing subversive about preserving these aspects of Moorish culture. [11]  A person who refused to drink wine or eat pork might be denounced as a Muslim to the Inquisition. In the eyes of the Inquisition and popular opinion, even religiously neutral practices, such as eating couscous, using henna, throwing sweets at a wedding and dancing to the sound of Berber music, were un-Christian activities for which a person might be obliged to do penance. [12]  Moriscos who were sincere Christians were also bound to remain second-class citizens, and might be exposed to criticism from Muslims and Christians alike. The mere existence of the Moriscos as a cultural minority was perceived as a threat to Spain’s national identity. Although morisco is a derogatory term, historians find it a useful label for those Arabs or Moors who remained in Spain after the fall of Granada and had been baptised as Christians.

In 1567 Philip II renewed an edict, which previously had never been strictly enforced, making the use of Arabic illegal and prohibiting Islamic religion, dress and customs. This edict resulted in the Second Rebellion of the Alpujarras (1568-70), which seemed to corroborate evidence of a secret conspiracy with the Turks.  The uprising was brutally suppressed by Don John of Austria. One of his worst atrocities was to raze the town of Galera, to the east of Granada, and to sprinkle it with salt, having slaughtered 2,500 people, including 400 women and children. [13]  To prevent organised opposition, Stalinist methods were adopted: some 80,000 Moriscos in the region of Granada were dispersed to other parts of Spain and Old Christians from northern Spain were settled on their lands.

The conflict between the two communities had now reached a point of no return, and as early as 1582 expulsion was proposed by Philip II’s Council of State as the only solution, despite some concern about the harmful economic repercussions of such a measure—the loss of Moorish craftsmanship and the shortage of agricultural manpower and expertise. But as there was opposition from some noblemen and the King was preoccupied by international events— subduing the Netherlands and preparing his Armada to invade England—no action was taken until 1609-10 when his successor, Philip III (r. 1598-1621), issued edicts of expulsion on the advice of his favourite, the Duke of Lerma (his first minister, 1598-1618), and with the full support of the Juan de Ribera, Archbishop of Valencia (1569-1611).

Royal legislation concerning the Moriscos was dictated at every stage by the Church. The aging Archbishop of Valencia, who had initially been a firm believer in the efficacy of missionary work, became, in his declining years—no doubt through disillusion and frustration—the chief partisan of expulsion as the Final Solution. In a sermon preached on 27 September 1609, he said that the land would not become fertile again until these heretics had been expelled. In one of his letters to the King, he quotes a passage from the apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus (12: 10-12):

Never trust your enemy; because, just as rust, labouring in secret, wears away iron, so his malice wears away the heart, and even if he appears poor and feigns humility, be on your guard against him, otherwise he will soon be on top of you; and do not place him in a good position, because, if you do, he will supplant you and sit down on your seat, and, too late, you will recognise that I counselled you well, and you will regret that you did not heed my advice.  [14]

This is a typical example of the way in which biblical passages were cited to lend authority to anti-Morisco sentiments. The Duke of Lerma also underwent a change of heart when it was agreed that the lords of Valencia would be given the lands of the expelled Moriscos in compensation for the loss of their vassals.

The decision to proceed with the expulsion was approved unanimously by the Council of State on 30 January 1608, although the actual decree was not signed by the King until 4 April 1609, five days before the conclusion of a peace treaty with England which enabled the Spanish to mobilise their army and navy to assist in the operation. Galleons of the Spanish fleet were secretly prepared, and they were later joined by many foreign merchant ships, including several from England. On 11 September, the expulsion order was announced by town criers in the Kingdom of Valencia, and the first convoy departed from Denia at nightfall on 2 October and arrived in Oran less than three days later. The Moriscos of Aragon, Castile, Andalusia and Extremadura received expulsion orders during the course of the following year. The majority of the forced emigrants settled in the Maghrib or Barbary Coast, especially in Oran, Tunis, Tlemcen, Tetuán, Rabat and Salé. Many travelled overland to France, but after the assassination of Henry of Navarre by Ravaillac in May 1610, they were forced to emigrate to Italy, Sicily or Constantinople.

There is much disagreement about the size of the Morisco population. Henri Lapeyre estimates from his study of census reports and embarkation lists that approximately 275,000 Spanish Moriscos emigrated in the years 1609-14, out of a total of 300,000. [15]  This conservative estimate is not consistent with many of the contemporary accounts that give a figure of 600,000. [16]  Bearing in mind that the total population of Spain at that time was only about seven and a half million, this must have constituted a serious deficit in terms of productive manpower and tax revenue. In the Kingdom of Valencia, which lost a third of its population, nearly half the villages were deserted in 1638.

There is an equal amount of disagreement about the number of Moriscos who perished either in armed rebellion or on the journey into exile. Pedro Aznar Cardona, whose treatise justifying the expulsion was published in 1612, stated that between October 1609 and July 1611 over 50,000 died resisting expulsion, while over 60,000 died during their passage abroad either by land or sea or at the hands of their co-religionists after disembarking on the North African coast. [17]  If these figures are correct, then more than one in six of the Moorish population must have perished in the space of two years. Henry Charles Lea, drawing on many contemporary sources, whose combined evidence cannot be lightly dismissed, puts the mortality figure at between two-thirds and three-quarters. [18] 

The demographic factor was certainly one of the decisive arguments in favour of expulsion employed by Juan de Ribera in three memoranda to Philip III in 1602. He warned the King that, unless he took swift action, Christian Spaniards would soon find themselves outnumbered by Muslims, as all Moriscos married and had large families, whereas a third or a quarter of all Christians remained celibate after taking Holy Orders or for other reasons; many, for example, entered military service and died in battle, while others travelled to the Indies. The Moriscos, Ribera said, think only of reproducing and savings their skins; and their temperance in food and drink gives them a high life expectancy (cited in Fonseca, pp. 161-62). Ribera’s fears were prompted by a census of the Valencian population that he himself had supervised in this same year, which revealed that the Morisco population had increased by one-third.

The Comendador de León, who spoke at the Council of State on 30 January 1608, attributed the decline of the Old Christian population to their reluctance to shoulder the financial burden of marriage at a time of rising costs. He warned his listeners that soon the Moriscos would be able to achieve their objective simply by means of their high population growth, without either taking up arms or receiving help from abroad. [19]  He added that, with Turkey distracted by war and with Persia and North Africa weakened by plague, drought and civil war, it was an opportune moment to take firm action. The Count of Alba de Liste then said, in a further twist of the demographic argument, that if the King, in his clemency, were to send the Moriscos to North Africa, it would be a form of death sentence because, if they did not die of drought and starvation, they would become sexually impotent (Boronat, II, p. 473).

In the minds of many of the apologists for expulsion, the fertility of the Morisco population was associated with the myth of Islamic sensuality and licentiousness. The failure of the Church in its missionary efforts was attributed to this alleged aspect of Islam that offered—so they said—carnal delights both here and in the hereafter. Like the figure of the Negro in the Unites States of America, the Morisco came to personify the sins of the flesh, such as lechery and idleness, later romanticised in visions of oriental harems. But the Moriscos were considered equally susceptible to what Gordon Allport calls ‘the sins of the superego,’ such as pride, hypocrisy, cunning, avarice and grasping ambition, all features traditionally ascribed to the Jews. Allport has observed that prejudiced people will not hesitate to use mutually exclusive stereotypes to justify their dislike, [20] and this is certainly true of many Spanish writers in the seventeenth century: the Moriscos are lazy, yet industrious; abstemious, yet lascivious; miserly, yet extravagant; cowardly, yet belligerent; ignorant, yet anxious to acquire learning in order to rise above their station. It is interesting to observe how nowadays the tables have turned: Muslims tend to criticise Western culture for promoting hedonism and sexual promiscuity, while Muslims have become the sexual puritans.

There were, as we have seen, genuine grounds of fearing and envying the Moriscos: their numbers were increasing rapidly; some had become successful merchants and shopkeepers, despite attempts to exclude them from these occupations; they exemplified in their conduct the virtues of thrift, frugality and hard work; the majority outwardly conformed to the religious requirements imposed on them, but by subterfuge continued to celebrate their own festivals and practise the basic rituals of Islam. It was this refusal to renounce their religious and cultural identity that many Old Christians found offensive. There was no serious attempt to understand Morisco culture and religion. Any slanderous anecdote, any insulting remark, any distortion of the truth was acceptable if it served what these Christians considered to be the laudable aim of denigrating Islam. Cultural diversity was an alien concept and assimilation was equally unacceptable. This paradoxical situation illustrates the truth of Allport’s pronouncement: ‘A prejudiced dominant majority will favour neither cultural pluralism nor assimilation. It says in effect, “We don’t want you to be like us, but you must not be different”’ (Ibid. p. 240).

It needs to be said that the experience of the Moriscos varied enormously from one region to another. This makes it difficult to generalise. In some parts of Spain there were exceptionally good relations between Old and New Christians. Trevor Dadson, who discovered a bundle of letters written by Moriscos in a private Spanish archive, some posted on the French frontier, is writing a detailed study of Villarubia in La Mancha where the Moriscos comprised 20% of the population, owned the best farmland and were well integrated within the community, so much so they were protected by their Old Christian neighbours when they received unwelcome visits from government inspectors. The letters reveal that many of those expelled managed to slip back into Spain and travelled many hundreds of miles to reach their homes. [21]

The full tale of the sufferings endured by the Moriscos has never been told: how those who survived the journey arrived at their destination starving and destitute because the bare necessities and money that they were permitted to take with them had been extorted from them by thieves and swindlers; how those travelling overland to France were forced by farmers to pay whenever they drank from a river or sat in the shade of a tree; how thousands of those who resisted and survived ended their days as galley-slaves; how those waiting to board ship were starved so that they would agree to sell their children in exchange for bread; how it was the official policy of the Church to separate Morisco children from their parents.

The fate of the Morisco children, which has never been studied, is worth discussing in more detail. It was certainly Juan de Ribera’s original intention, approved by the Council of State on 1 September 1609, that all children aged ten or under should remain in Spain to be educated by priests or trustworthy persons whom they would serve until the age of twenty-five or thirty in return for lodging, food and clothing, and that even suckling babes should be given to Old Christian wet-nurses on the same conditions (Boronat, II, pp. 522-27). Later in the month the age limit was reduced from ten to five years or under. The embarkation lists show that this cruel policy was at least partially executed. Among the Moriscos who embarked at Alicante in Andalusia between 6 October and 7 November 1609, there seem to have been nearly 14,000 children missing. This is on the assumption that the average number of children per family was 2.5 (which is a conservative figure). According to a document dated 17 April 1610, there were 1,832 Morisco boys and girls aged seven or under in the Kingdom of Valencia, all of whom, against the wishes of their guardians, were to be sent to Castile to serve the prelates and other notables of the realm (Ibid. II, p. 575). In July 1610 the Church recommended that all Morisco children above the age of seven in the Kingdom of Valencia should be sold as perpetual slaves to Old Christians. These included the orphans of rebels, children seized by soldiers and others concealed and cared for by people who believed they were doing an act of charity. The five theologians who signed this document argued that slavery was not only morally justifiable (‘lícito en conciencia’) but spiritually beneficial: these children would be less likely to become apostates, since their masters would ensure that they remained Roman Catholics for fear of forfeiting their right to retain them, and, as slaves rarely married, this would be another method of ridding Spain of ‘this evil race’ (Ibid. II, p. 544).

What was the significance of the age limit? It was thought that above the age of six or seven a child begins to lose his innocence and becomes more difficult to indoctrinate, whereas a younger child would have no real knowledge of his Muslim origins. The policy was justified on the theological grounds that innocent children baptised as Christians should not be punished for the sins of their fathers, although, paradoxically, the principle of hereditary guilt was found quite acceptable as a justification for expelling all adults, whether or not they were practising Christians. Furthermore, it was said that to banish children with their infidel parents would be to guarantee their confirmation as Muslims and their consignment to hellfire in the hereafter. In the words of Juan de Ribera, ‘We cannot entrust the lambs to the wolves’ (Ibid. II, p. 707). But it was repeatedly emphasised that young Morisco children should not be educated above their proper station: apart from pupils preparing for the priesthood, they were to be brought up by artisans and farm labourers, otherwise there was a danger that they might aspire too high; and they should certainly not be allowed to study literature (‘cosas de letras’). In this way it was hoped that all memories of Islam in Spain would be wiped out forever. This point was much appreciated by Philip III (Ibid. II, p. 523).

Much has been written about the exodus of the Spanish Jews in 1492 and about the plight of the many Jewish conversos who suffered at the hands of the Inquisition, but the Spanish Arabs or Moors—an equally significant minority whatever one’s criteria (demographic, economic or cultural)—have still not received the kind of attention they deserve. In most people’s minds, the Spanish Inquisition is associated with the persecution of Jews. It is not so widely known that Muslims were terrorised by this institution and that they too were the victims of an anti-Semitic ideology. About 12,000 Moriscos were charged with apostasy by the Inquisition, 50 per cent of them in the last thirty years before the expulsion. [22]  That Muslims and Jews should have been tarred with the same brush is in a way appropriate when one considers how much—both existentially and theologically—they have in common.

As we have already shown, racial and religious intolerance is nowhere more evident than in the reports of some of the meetings of Philip III’s Council of State and in works written to justify the need for a policy of expulsion. In these works, most of them by frustrated Dominican missionaries, one finds not only the typical racist remarks discussed earlier but a highly unorthodox racist theology, supported by biblical precepts and precedents: there was an attempt to judaise Islam and to depict the Christian Spaniards of old Christian stock as the new Chosen Race engaged in a crusade to recover their Promised Land from the Antichrist Muhammad. One author, for example, claims that the Prophet was the offspring of an incestuous relationship between his mother and his uncle, both, he says, Jews, in fulfilment of the prophecy that the Antichrist would be born of a dishonest woman.  [23] 

It is indeed ironic that those same Old Testament passages which have been used to support the theory that Palestine is the Jewish promised land from which the native Palestinians should be deported were not only cited by apologists for a policy of mass expulsion for the Moriscos but were cited by anti-Jewish theologians, such as Diego de Simancas and Balthasar de Porreño, in advocating the need for statutes of purity of blood. ‘No Ammonite or Moabite, even down to the tenth generation,’ they said, ‘shall become a member of the assembly of the Lord’ (Deut. 23: 3). These authors regarded the Spanish Old Christians as the spiritual heirs of the Children of Israel and compared Philip III with Abraham, Moses or King David. They called him a second Abraham because, they said, he was obliged to banish his illegitimate son, that is to say the Moriscos, the descendants of Hagar, the Egyptian slave-girl. One of their favourite biblical passages was God’s message delivered by Moses to the Israelites as they were about to enter the Promised Land: 

In the cities of these nations whose land the Lord your God is giving to you as a patrimony, you shall not leave any creature alive. You shall annihilate them—Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites—as the Lord commanded you, so that they may not teach you to imitate all the abominable things that they have done for their gods and so cause you to sin against the Lord your God. (Deut. 20: 16-18)

The above passage has been cited by Jewish zealots campaigning for a Greater Israel stretching from the Euphrates to the Red Sea and was used by the Puritans in North America in the seventeenth century to justify massacring the native American Indians. [24]  Following the Jewish-Morisco analogy, one contemporary poet presented the expulsion of the Moriscos as a reversal of the Hebrew Exodus:

No ha de abrir para vos el mar camino,
ni en la tierra estaréys, santa y sagrada,
mas en tablas de robre y tosco pino,
a la Egipto infernal y desdichada.  [25]

(The sea will not have to open up a way for you, / nor will you be in the holy and sacred land, / but on planks of oak and coarse pine, / bound for miserable and infernal Egypt.)
The Portuguese Dominican Damián Fonseca, who published a treatise justifying the Morisco expulsion in Italian in 1611, translated into Castilian in 1612, even suggested that God expected a burnt offering from His Catholic Majesty to appease His divine wrath. The unfortunate phrase that he used was ‘el agradable holocausto’ (‘the agreeable holocaust’).  [26]

In the minds of these Spanish anti-Semites, the Jews were descended from Judas, who betrayed Christ, not Judah, son of Jacob. It was conveniently forgotten that it was Pilate who permitted the Crucifixion, that Christ’s executioners were Roman soldiers, and that the mob of bystanders was not entirely Jewish. Nor would they have admitted that Jesus himself was a Jew sent by God to preach to the ‘lost sheep of the House of Israel’ (Matthew 10: 5-6; 19: 9-10). As a result of the role that God had apparently predestined them to play in His plan of human redemption, the Jews ceased to be God’s Chosen People and inherited the sin of deicide for which, in popular mythology, they were condemned to wander the earth. It is only against this theological background that the peculiar virulence of European anti-Semitism becomes explicable. The Holocaust or Shoah, when the Jews became a scapegoat for the ills of Germany, seemed to vindicate the Zionist argument that, to be secure, the Jews needed a national homeland. The guilt generated by the Nazi atrocities, committed in the name of a doctrine of racial superiority, gave the Jews the moral authority and sympathy that they needed to establish a Jewish state in Israel.

It is indeed paradoxical that the victims of a racist ideology should themselves take refuge in a narrow nationalistic interpretation of God’s Promise to the Children of Israel, seeing themselves still as victims, yet sometimes behaving like oppressors. Nationalist Zionism, which relies on a selective reading of the Bible, is obviously contrary to the spirit of both Judaism and Christianity. Jews and Christians who are guilty of racism need to be reminded that there is a very different biblical traditional of peaceful coexistence, which is even expressed in the Book of Deuteronomy: ‘You too must love the stranger, for you once lived as strangers in Egypt’ (Deut. 10: 19; cf. Exod. 22: 21, and Lev. 19: 33-34). And, to quote the Book of Exodus: ‘One law shall be to him that is homeborn and unto the stranger that dwells among you’ (12: 49). God warned Moses that the Israelites could not claim rights of ownership to the Promised Land; all of us are merely tenants, temporary lodgers in the land which we have to share as best we can: ‘The land shall not be sold forever: for the land is Mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with Me’ (Leviticus 25: 23). Similarly, according to the Qur’ân, no single people can claim a monopoly of the revealed truth since every people has been blessed with prophets and messengers.

The simplest method of vilifying the last remnants of Arab Spain was to depict Islam as a form of pseudo-Jewish heresy. The Royal Chaplain Jaime Bleda, the chief anti-Morisco polemicist and a Dominican in the service of Juan de Ribera, even suggests that the Moorish invasion of Spain was a divine punishment for the pro-Semitic policies of the Visigothic King Wittiza (698-710), who had revoked the decrees of his father by liberating the Jews from slavery and restoring to them their lands and privileges. This was cited as a legal precedent applicable to the Moriscos at the Council of State held on 30 January 1608. However, the immediate historical precedent was, of course, the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. In a letter dated 10 April 1605, Bleda urged Philip III to follow the example of his royal predecessors Ferdinand and Isabella, who had been persuaded by Fray Thomás de Torquemada to banish the Jews from their realms and would have done the same to the Moors had they refused baptism. God, he says, rewarded the Catholic Monarchs for their Christian zeal by giving them the New World. By this analogy Bleda was clearly emulating the example of the Grand Inquisitor.

Much of the vituperation that he and other polemicists levelled against the Moriscos had previously been levelled against the Jews. Of both peoples it was said that they were inherently sinful and inferior, that they were incorrigible in their obstinate infidelity, and that their heretical depravity was a contagion or leprosy that would have to be removed. [27]  Philip III is even described as a Catholic Galen charged with the task of purging the poison and corruption of heresy from the mystical body of Christian Spain. [28] Thus Christianity, with its universalistic creed and its doctrine of the brotherhood of man, became a repressive racist ideology. It was in the name of this perversion of Christianity, and in the alleged interests of the state, that the Jews and the last Muslims of Spain were persecuted, segregated and finally expelled.

Spain has paid a heavy price for denying so long the Jewish and Muslim components of its cultural identity in order to be accepted as part of Europe. Since the death of Franco in 1975, freedom of worship has gradually been established in Spain. There are now more than 30 million Muslims in Europe and about 1.5 million Jews. Given the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and increasingly inter-connected world of today, it is obvious that a new and more truthful version of European history needs to be written, which will include an account of the achievements and tribulations of European Jews and Muslims. This would show Jews and Muslims that not only in their experience of prejudice and persecution but even in their beliefs, rituals and cultural values they have much more in common than they realise. Such an account might generate better understanding between people of the three Abrahamic faiths.

The Vatican might perhaps do more to admit the atrocities done in the name of the Church. It is hard to believe that the decision to canonise Juan de Ribera was taken as late as 1960. [29]  At least we should be grateful that a proposal to canonise Queen Isabella was recently dropped. The real saints were those who risked their lives to protect people who were persecuted because of their beliefs or the beliefs of their ancestors, those who died because they refused to betray their friends and neighbours to the Inquisition, those who would not renounce their faith and died in armed resistance. These people were engaged in what Muslims call jihâd, which means both the inner struggle, the duty to resist evil and strive in the mystical path, and the outward struggle, the duty of those who are oppressed, or who have been unjustly driven from their homelands because they refuse to renounce their faith, to fight in self-defence and in defence of their people. For, paraphrasing the Qur’ân, ‘If people did not have this right to defend themselves, monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques, in which God’s name is much remembered, would surely have been destroyed by now’ (22: 40).

This paper, based on my contribution to a festschrift for Professor Pat Harvey (see fn 16), was first given in a joint lecture with David Abulafia, in the 7th Jewish-Muslim Annual Lecture Series, sponsored by Leo-Baeck College and the Maimonides Foundation, at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, on 25 Oct. 2000. It was also given at the Historians of Medieval Spain Conference, at Pollock Halls, Edinburgh, on 17 Sept. 2002, and at a meeting of the Association of Muslim Researchers, London, on 18 Jan. 2003. An abridged version of the paper, without footnotes, was published in History Today, vol. 52, no. 4 (April 2002). This is the full unexpurgated version.


1.  James T. Monroe, Hispano-Arabic Poetry: A Student Anthology (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1974), pp. 332-37.
2.  Leonard Patrick Harvey, ‘Yuse Banegas, un moro noble en Granada bajo los Reyes Católicos,’ Al-Andalus, 23 (1956), 297-302. Banegas warned that King Ferdinand’s failure to abide by the terms of the capitulation of Granada did not bode well: ‘Si el rey de la Conquista no guarda fidelidad,  qué aguardamos de sus suzesores?’
3.  Part 2, chap. 54.
4.  Miguel Garrido Atienza, Capitulaciones para la entrega de Granada (Granada: Ayuntamiento, 1910), pp. 269-95.
5.  Alvar Gómez de Castro, De las hazañas de Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, trans. José Oroz Reta (Madrid, 1984), p. 99.
6.  From an appeal to the Ottoman sultan of Egypt, Bayazid II (1481-1512), written soon after 1500. See L. P. Harvey, ‘The Political, Social and Cultural History of the Moriscos,’ The Legacy of Muslim Spain, ed. Salma Khadra Jayyusi (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1992), p. 207.
7.  James Monroe, ‘A Curious Morisco Appeal to the Ottoman Empire,’ Al-Andalus, 31 (1966), 281-303.
8.  L. P. Harvey, in The Legacy of Muslim Spain, p. 209.
9.  Francisco Fernández y González, Estado social y político de los mudéjares de Castilla (Madrid: Real Academia de la Historia, 1866), pp. 118-28.
10.  Albert A. Sicroff, Les Controverses des statuts de ‘pureté de sang’ en Espagne du XVe au XVIIe siècles (Paris: Didier, 1960).
11.  R. Foulché Delbosc, ‘Memoria de Francisco Núñez Muley,’ Revue Hispanique, 6 (1899), 232. He defends the use of Arabic as the language employed by the Christians of Jerusalem and Malta.
12.  Cf. Louis Cardaillac, Morisques et chrétiens: un affrontement polémique (1492-1640) (Paris: Klincksieck, 1977).
13.  Henry Charles Lea, The Moriscos of Spain: Their Conversion and Expulsion (London: Bernard Quaritch, 1901), p. 255.
14.  Damián Fonseca, Justa expulsión de los moriscos de España (Rome: Iacomo Mascardo, 1612), p. 154. This is a faithful translation of the Spanish and bears little relation to the original text.
15.  Henri Lapeyre, Géographie de l’Espagne morisque (Paris: SEVPEN, 1959), pp. 204-06.
16.  Roger Boase, ‘The Morisco Expulsion and Diaspora: An Example of Racial and Religious Intolerance,’ Cultures in Contact in Medieval Spain: Historical and Literary Essays Presented to L. P. Harvey, ed. David Hook and Barry Taylor (London: King’s College, 1990), pp. 9-28, at p. 12 and p. 25 n.11.
17.  Expulsión iustificada de los moriscos españoles, 2 parts (Huesca: Pedro Cabarte, 1612), I, fol. 190v.
18.  The Moriscos of Spain, p. 464.
19.  Pascual Boronat y Barrachina, Los moriscos españoles y su expulsión, 2 vols (Valencia: Real Colegio de Corpus Christi, 1901), II, p. 464.
20.  The Nature of Prejudice, 25th anniversary edition (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1979), pp. 194-95.
21.  He read a paper about this at a Colloquium in Memory of Professor Roger M. Walker at Birkbeck College, University of London, 21 Oct. 1999, entitled ‘Co-existence and Co-operation: The Practical Realities of Convivencia.’
22.  Ricardo García Cárcel, ‘The Course of the Moriscos Up to Their Expulsion,’ in The Spanish Inquisition and the Inquisitorial Mind, ed. Angel Alcalá (Boulder, Colorado: Social Science Monographs, 1987), p. 81.
23.  Jaime Bleda, La corónica de los moros de España (Valencia: Felipe Mey, 1618), p. 5.
24.  Karen Armstrong, Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today’s World (London: Macmillan, 1988), p. 347.
25.  Juan Méndez de Vasconcelos, Liga deshecha por la expulsión de los moriscos de los Reynos de España (Madrid: Alonso Martín, 1612), fol. 44v.
26.  Justa expulsión, p. 169.
27.  See the Aragonese Decree of Expulsion, 31 March 1492, in Rafael Conde y Delgado de Molina, La expulsión de los Judíos de la Corona de Aragón: Documentos para su estudio (Saragossa: Institución Fernando el Católico, 1991), pp. 41-44.
28.  Cardona, Expulsión iustificada, fols 62v-63r.
29.  Francisco Márquez Villanueva, El problema morisco (desde otras laderas) (Madrid: Lebertarias, 1991), p. 201.