Forced conversions of Muslims in Spain

The Moorish Proselytes of Archbishop Ximenes, Granada, 1500 by Edwin Long (1829–1891), depicting a mass baptism of Muslims

The forced conversions of Muslims in Spain were enacted through a series of edicts outlawing Islam in the lands of Spain. This effort was overseen by three Spanish monarchies during the early 16th century: the Crown of Castile in 1500–1502, followed by Navarre in 1515–1516, and lastly the Crown of Aragon in 1523–1526.[1]

After Christian kingdoms finished their reconquest of Islamic Spain in 1492, the Muslim population stood between 500,000 and 600,000 people. At this time Muslims who lived under Christian rule were given the status of Mudéjar, legally allowing the open practice of Islam. In 1499, the Archbishop of Toledo, Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros began a campaign in the city of Granada to force religious compliance with Christianity with torture and imprisonment; this triggered a Muslim rebellion. The rebellion was eventually quelled and then used to justify revoking the Muslims' legal and treaty protections. Conversion efforts were redoubled, and by 1501, officially, no Muslim remained in Granada. Encouraged by the success in Granada, the Castile's Queen Isabella issued an edict in 1502 which banned Islam for all of Castile. With the annexation of the Iberian Navarre in 1515, more Muslims still were forced to observe Christian beliefs under the Castilian edict. The last realm to impose conversion was the Crown of Aragon, whose kings had previously been bound to guarantee the freedom of religion for its Muslims under an oath included in their coronations. In the early 1520s, an anti-Islam uprising known as the Revolt of the Brotherhoods took place, and Muslims under the rebel territories were forced to convert. When the Aragon royal forces, aided by Muslims, suppressed the rebellion, King Charles I (better known as Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire) ruled that those forcible conversions were valid; thus, the "converts" were now officially Christians. This placed the converts under the jurisdiction of the Spanish Inquisition. Finally, in 1524, Charles petitioned Pope Clement VII to release the king from his oath protecting Muslims' freedom of religion. This granted him the authority to officially act against the remaining Muslim population; in late 1525, he issued an official edict of conversion: Islam was no longer officially extant throughout Spain.

While adhering to Christianity in public was required by the royal edicts and enforced by the Spanish Inquisition, evidence indicated that most of the forcibly converted (known as the "Moriscos") clung to Islam in secret. In daily public life, traditional Islamic law could no longer be followed without persecution by the Inquisition; as a result, the Oran fatwa was issued to acknowledge the necessity of relaxing sharia, as well as detailing the ways in which Muslims were to do so. This fatwa become the basis for the crypto-Islam practiced by the Moriscos until their expulsions in 1609–1614. Some Muslims, many near the coast, emigrated in response to the conversion. However, restrictions placed by the authorities on emigration meant leaving Spain was not an option for many. Rebellions also broke out in some areas, especially those with defensible mountainous terrain, but they were all unsuccessful. Ultimately, the edicts created a society in which devout Muslims who secretly refused conversion coexisted with former Muslims who became genuine practicing Christians, up until the expulsion.


The Capitulation of Granada by Francisco Pradilla Ortiz (1848–1921), depicting the 1492 surrender of Granada, the last Muslim-ruled kingdom in Spain.

Islam has been present in Spain since the Umayyad conquest of Hispania in the eighth century. At the beginning of the twelfth century, the Muslim population in the Iberian Peninsula – called "Al-Andalus" by the Muslims – was estimated to number as high as 5.5 million; among these were Arabs, Berbers and indigenous converts.[2] In the next few centuries, as the Christians pushed from the north in a process called reconquista, the Muslim population declined.[3] At the end of the fifteenth century, the reconquista culminated in the fall of Granada, with the Muslim population of Spain estimated to be between 500,000 and 600,000 out of a total Spanish population of 7 to 8 million.[2] Approximately half of the Muslims lived in the former Emirate of Granada, the last independent Muslim state in Spain, which had been annexed by the Crown of Castile.[2] About 20,000 Muslims lived in other territories of Castile, and most of the remainder lived in the territories of the Crown of Aragon.[4] These Muslims living under Christian rule were known as the Mudéjars.

In the initial years after the conquest of Granada, Muslims in Granada and elsewhere continued to enjoy freedom of religion.[1] This right was guaranteed in various legal instruments, including treaties, charters, capitulations, and coronation oaths.[1] For example, the Treaty of Granada (1491) guaranteed religious tolerance to the Muslims of the conquered Granada.[5] Kings of Aragon, including King Ferdinand II and Charles V, swore to protect the Muslims' religious freedom in their oaths of coronation.[6][7]

Three months after the conquest of Granada, in 1492, the Alhambra Decree ordered all Jews in Spain to be expelled or converted; this marked the beginning of intolerant policies.[8] In 1497, Spain's western neighbor Portugal expelled its Jewish and Muslim populations, as arranged by Spain's cardinal Cisneros in exchange for a royal marriage contract.[9] Unlike the Jews, Portuguese Muslims were allowed to relocate overland to Spain, and most did.[10]