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Historical Background

It should be borne in mind that the introduction of Islam in western Europe was concomitant with its introduction in north Africa. A short while after the conquest of the southern shores of the Mediterranean, Tariq b. Ziyad crossed the Gibraltar, in 92 AH (711 AD), and succeeded in a swift conquest of Spain. A hundred years after the advent of Islam, the Iberian Peninsula, or the Andalus of Muslim geographers, was annexed to dar al-Islam, a situation that endured for the next eight hundred years. In the 2nd century AH (8th cen. AD), Muslims extended their reach to Poitiers, near Paris, and remained in control of Narbonne and Carcassonne, in southern France, for the next two hundred years. Throughout the 3rd to 5th centuries AH (9th – 11th centuries AD), the island of Sicily was part of the Islamic territory and held a large number of Muslims, who also resided in the southern parts of Italy, a situation that persisted until the occupation of the peninsula by the Normans. 

However, after the 4th and 5th centuries AH, Muslim power in the region fell into decline. First, the Muslims lost control of southern Italy and Sicily. This was followed by the period of Reconquista, when Spanish Christians embarked on a campaign to recapture the Iberian Peninsula, a move which culminated in the overthrow of the last Islamic government in Cordoba, in 897 AH (1492 AD). The Muslims of the region were either expelled or forced into conversion, which served as a cover for those who surreptitiously practiced their Islamic faith. This group of Muslims, who went by the name of Moriscos, continued their precarious existence in the area until the 11th century AH (17th cen. AD) when the entire affair was brought to a close. 

The Christians were bent on maintaining Europe as a purely Christian continent, an objective that in spite of their victories in Italy and Spain failed to materialize, since the Ottomans succeeded in breaking through the eastern European borders and establishing their control over Bulgaria, Macedonia and Bosnia, which had previously been opened up to Muslim influence through the activities of the followers of the Baktashiyyah and Qadiriyyah Sufi orders. A number of existing khanaqahs in Bosnia date back to the period before the conquest of the region by Ottoman soldiers. Beginning in the 9th century AH, the inhabitants of Bosnia, Albania and large parts of Macedonia as well as certain areas in Bulgaria and Greece converted to Islam. Today, Islam continues its presence in these regions, which, in effect, mark the border between eastern and western Europe. 

In the colonial era, Britain, France and the Netherlands possessed the most important colonies located in Muslim territories, with Spain and, in the later period, Italy also maintaining a few Muslim colonies of their own. This set in motion a movement of migration from the colonies to the land of the colonizers. Groups of Muslims from Java and Sumatra immigrated to the Netherlands. France became the target of Arabs and Berbers from North Africa. Britain was the destination for Muslims from the Indian subcontinent. The total number of these immigrants remained insignificant throughout the period preceding the Second World War, except in France where there existed several hundred thousand immigrants from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia who settled in Paris, Lyon, Marseilles and other major cities, and who worked as laborers. 

After the conclusion of World War II and with the end of the colonial period, in its outward and political form, western countries came to feel a need for a low-cost labor force and thus swung open their borders to immigrants from their erstwhile colonies. As regards France, the war of independence in Algeria played a significant role in bolstering the immigration trend. Even countries such as Belgium, Sweden and Switzerland which had no Muslim population started to admit groups of Muslims as either workers or asylum seekers. The defeated Germany, which had lost some ten million soldiers, had the most acute need for a fresh workforce. However, since it had no history of significant colonization, as compared to Britain, France and the Netherlands, it was compelled to turn to Turkey to meet its demand for labor. A considerable number of Turkish Muslims, of Turkish and Kurdish extraction, were allowed into Germany as guest workers. Thus, in the span of a few decades, Germany came to house a significant Muslim population.

* source: Nasr , Seied Hossein "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.581 - 582

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