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Islamic State of Sicily

Written by Abhijay Patel World Sep 22, 2009

“Both Milan and Venice were thriving commercial cities, thriving entirely from trade with Saracens. In fact the whole Renaissance, the “revival of learning in Europr”, inexplicably “arose” in Italy, that long, narrow peninsula with Saracen civilization brilliant at its tip, and its every port opening to the Saracens’ Sea,” – Rose Wilder Lane, in “Islam and the Discovery of Freedom”

An event most ignored in the Western history – is that the Southern part of Italy (Crete, Sicily) was under Muslim rule from 878 CE to 1072 CE. During this period of time the island became a ’smiling garden’, proud of its achievements in sciences, trade and industry. It in fact, the new state acted as a bridge between the Dark Age Europe and the great Islamic civilization which existed in Muslim Spain during that period.

Both Muslim and Christian historians have different interpretations of event which took place before the establishment of the Muslim state next door to the Vatican – but they do agree that it was one of Emperor Michael II by the name Euphemius (Fimi) who fell from the ruler’s grace and along with his loyal soldiers escaped to Muslim North Africa. He pleaded with the Emir Ziadat Allah for help to capture Syracuse. The emir acceded to Fimi’s request and in 827 CE, despatched his fleet commaded by the Qadi (Judge) of Kairowan, Asad ibn al-Forat, to capture Scily.

Asad ibn al-Forat entered the island from the east and beseiged Syracuse and Palermo. The Muslim soldiers (Mujahideen) fought several battles with the King’s army – winning some and loosing some – until they received help from Andalusia (Muslim Spain) which turned the tables against the Christian armies. The Muslims, then on, continued to conquer more cities and forts one after athe other namely Palermo, Castrogiovanni, Girgenteo, Catania, Messina, Crete and others. When after 200 years of glorious history – the state started showing its moral and military decay, the Franks made consecutive raids on the island till Duke Roger, the Norman, recaptured Sicily in 1072 CE.

In 846 CE, Emir Al-Fadl ibn Jafffar al-Hamazani of Sicily, sent a military expedition to capture the city of Rome. Pope Sergius II was the Guardian of Christian World at that time. The city of Vatican was not enclosed inside The Wall of Rome in those days. Muslims besieged the city, which terrorified the Pope and the Roman people. Emperor Louis II, King of the Franks and the Lombards, rushed their huge armies to save the City of Caesars from the Saracens. As usual, the disunity among the Muslim leaders, saved the Vatican – and after lossing some of their ships – the Muslim invaders returned to the south laden with spoils including a sikver altar from the tomb of St. Paul and captives in 850 CE.

Robert W. Lebling in his article, entitled The Saracens of St. Tropez, published in the Saudi Aramco World (September/October 2009), details the western view of the fascinating Muslim seamen’s adventures in that part of Europe and the lasting imprint of Islamic civilization in Italy many other parts of Europe. He writes:

“The Saracens, as Andalusis and other Arab Muslims were known in those days, were quite sensibly attracted to the Provence region, whose natural beauty and fertility were enhanced by the fact that no kingdom or empire currently ruled it. The Mediterranean coast from Marseilles to Italy, with its rocky headlands and lush, wooded coves, studded with palm trees and brilliantly colored flowers, must have been as alluring to Muslim adventurers of the ninth century as it is to travelers today.

The 20 Saracens set sail from a Spanish port or island, apparently intent on a military target in the east. Whether the Gulf of St. Tropez was their primary target cannot be said for certain. According to Liudprand, stormy weather forced them to retreat into the gulf, where they beached the craft without being spotted. The gulf opens toward the east; the present-day fishing port of St. Tropez, fashionable vacation spot of artists, film stars and the well-to-do, is situated on the southern shore. The Saracens landed northwest of there and, drawn by the torch lights of the manor house, headed up the mountain ridge known as the Massif des Maures. Some say the ridge takes its name from the invading Arabs, who were also known as Moors; others claim it derives from a Provençal corruption of the Greek word amauros, meaning “dark” or “gloomy”—an apt description of the mountain’s thick forests of cork oak and chestnut.

Not all Provençals feared the Andalusis of Fraxinet, however. Some formed alliances with them. “There are…reasons to believe that a number of Christians made common cause with the Muslims and took part in their attacks,” Reinaud notes in his Invasions des Sarrazins en France, et de France en Savoie, en Piémont et en Suisse. If the villagers and townsfolk of Provence and neighboring regions feared the Saracens as much as contemporary chroniclers claim, they somehow managed nonetheless to cooperate with them in a wide range of social, economic and artistic fields.

The Arabs of Fraxinet were not simply warriors; careful reading of the chronicles reveals that many Andalusi colonists settled peacefully in the villages of Provence. They taught the Franks how to make corks for bottles by stripping the bark every seven years from the cork oaks that proliferate in the forests of the Massif des Maures. Today, the cork industry is the area’s chief local enterprise. The Saracens also showed the Provençals how to produce pine tar from the resin of the maritime pine, and to use the product for caulking boats. Reinaud believes the Umayyads of Córdoba kept a naval fleet permanently based in the Gulf of St. Tropez, in part to facilitate communications throughout the western Mediterranean. The tar of Fraxinet would have been used by those sailors. Today in France, pine tar is called goudron, a word derived from the Arabic qitran, with the same meaning…..”

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