Persecution of Muslims

Persecution of Muslims is the religious persecution inflicted upon followers of the Islamic faith. This page lists incidents in both medieval and modern history in which Muslim populations have been targeted for persecution by non-Muslim groups.


Early Islam

In the early days of Islam at Mecca, the new Muslims were often subjected to abuse and persecution by the pagan Meccans (often called Mushrikin: the unbelievers or polytheists). Some were killed, such as Sumayyah bint Khabbab, the seventh convert to Islam, who was allegedly tortured first by Amr ibn Hishām.[1][2] Even the Islamic Prophet Muhammad was subjected to such abuse; while he was praying near the Kaaba, Uqba ibn Abu Mu'ayt threw the entrails of a sacrificed camel over him. Abu Lahab's wife Umm Jamil would regularly dump filth outside his door and placed thorns in the path to his house.[3]

Accordingly, if free Muslims were attacked, slaves who converted were subjected to far worse. The master of the Ethiopian Bilal ibn Rabah (who would become the first muezzin) would take him out into the desert in the boiling heat of midday and place a heavy rock on his chest, demanding that he forswear his religion and pray to the polytheists' gods and goddesses, until Abu Bakr bought him and freed him.[4][5]


The First Crusade was launched in 1095 by Pope Urban II, with the stated goal of regaining control of the sacred city of Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Muslims, who had captured them from the Byzantines in 638. The Fatimid Caliph, Al Hakim of Cairo, known as the "mad Caliph"[6] destroyed the ancient and magnificent Constantinian-Era Church of the Holy Sepulcher in 1009, as well as most other Christian churches and shrines in the Holy Land.

This, in conjunction with the killing of Germanic pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem from Byzantium, raised the anger of Europe, and inspired Pope Urban II to call on all Catholic Rulers, Knights and Gentleman to recapture the Holy Land from Muslim rule.

It was also partly a response to the Investiture Controversy, which was the most significant conflict between secular and religious powers in medieval Europe. The controversy began as a dispute between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Gregorian Papacy and gave rise to the political concept of Christendom as a union of all peoples and sovereigns under the direction of the pope; as both sides tried to marshal public opinion in their favor, people became personally engaged in a dramatic religious controversy. Also of great significance in launching the crusade were the string of victories by the Seljuk Turks, which saw the end of Arab rule in Jerusalem.

Capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders in 1099

On 7 May 1099 the crusaders reached Jerusalem, which had been recaptured from the Seljuks by the Fatimids of Egypt only a year before. On 15 July, the crusaders were able to end the siege by breaking down sections of the walls and entering the city. Over the course of that afternoon, evening and next morning, the crusaders killed almost every inhabitant of Jerusalem. Muslims and Jews alike. Although many Muslims sought shelter atop the Temple Mount inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the crusaders spared few lives. According to the anonymous Gesta Francorum, in what some believe to be one of the most valuable contemporary sources of the First Crusade, "...the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles...."[7] Tancred, Prince of Galilee claimed the Temple quarter for himself and offered protection to some of the Muslims there, but he was unable to prevent their deaths at the hands of his fellow crusaders. According to Fulcher of Chartres: "Indeed, if you had been there you would have seen our feet coloured to our ankles with the blood of the slain. But what more shall I relate? None of them were left alive; neither women nor children were spared."[8]

During the First Crusade and the massacre at Jerusalem, it has been reported that the Crusaders "[circled] the screaming, flame-tortured humanity singing 'Christ We Adore Thee!' with their Crusader crosses held high".[9] Muslims were indiscriminately killed, and Jews who had taken refuge in their Synagogue were killed when it was burnt down by the Crusaders.

Southern Italy

The island of Sicily was conquered by the Aghlabids in the 10th century after over a century of conflict, with the Byzantine Empire losing its final stronghold in 965.[10] The Normans conquered the last Arab Muslim stronghold by 1091.[11] Subsequently, taxes were imposed on the Muslim minority called the jizya (locally spelled gisia) which was a continuation of the jizya imposed on non-Muslims in Sicily, by Muslim rulers in the 11th century, before the Norman conquest. Another tax on levied them for a time was the augustale.[12] Muslim rebellion broke out during the reign of Tancred as King of Sicily. Lombard pogroms against Muslims started in the 1160s. Muslim and Christian communities in Sicily became increasingly geographically separated. The island's Muslim communities were mainly isolated beyond an internal frontier which divided the south-western half of the island from the Christian north-east. Sicilian Muslims, a subject population, were dependent on royal protection. When King William the Good died in 1189, this royal protection was lifted, and the door was opened for widespread attacks against the island's Muslims. Toleration of Muslims ended with increasing Hohenstaufen control. Many oppressive measures, passed by Frederick II, were introduced in order to please the Popes who could not tolerate Islam being practiced in Christendom: the result was in a rebellion of Sicily's Muslims. This triggered organized and systematic reprisals which marked the final chapter of Islam in Sicily. The rebellion abated, but direct papal pressure induced Frederick to mass transfer all his Muslim subjects deep into the Italian hinterland.[13][14][15][16] In 1224, Frederick II expelled all Muslims from the island transferring many to Lucera (Lugêrah, as it was known in Arabic) over the next two decades. In this controlled environment they could not challenge royal authority and they benefited the crown in taxes and military service. Their numbers eventually reached between 15,000 and 20,000, leading Lucera to be called Lucaera Saracenorum because it represented the last stronghold of Islamic presence in Italy. During peacetime, Muslims in Lucera were predominantly farmers. They grew durum wheat, barley, legumes, grapes and other fruits. Muslims also kept bees for honey.[17] The Muslim settlement of Lucera was destroyed by Charles II of Naples with backing from the papacy. The Muslims were either massacred, forcibly converted, enslaved or exiled. Their abandoned mosques were demolished, and churches were usually built in their place. The Lucera Cathedral was built on the site of a mosque which was destroyed. The mosque was the last one still functioning in medieval Italy by that time.[18][19][20][21][22] Some were exiled, with many finding asylum in Albania across the Adriatic Sea.[23][24] Islam was no longer a major presence in the island by the 14th century.

The Aghlabids also conquered the island of Malta at the same time during their invasion of Sicily.[25] Per the Al-Himyari the island was reduced to an uninhabited ruin due to the conquest. The place was later converted into a settlement by Muslims.[26] The Normans conquered it as the same time as Sicily.[27] The Normans however didn't interfere in the matters of Muslims of the island and gave them a tributary status.[28] Their conquest however led to the Christianisation and Latinisation of the island.[29] An annual fine on the Christian community for killing of a Muslim was also repealed in the 12th century, signifying the degradation of the protection given to the Muslims.[30] Most of the Maltese Muslims were deported by 1271.[31] All Maltese Muslims had converted to Christianity by the end of the 15th century and had to find ways to disguise their previous identities by Latinizing or adopting new surnames.[32]

Mongol invasions

Genghis Khan, and the later Yuan Emperors of China imposed restrictive decrees which forbade Islamic practices like halal butchering and forced Muslims to follow Mongol methods of butchering animals. As a result of these decrees, Muslims were forced to slaughter sheep in secret.[33] Genghis Khan referred to Muslims as "slaves", and he also commanded them to follow the Mongol method of eating rather than the halal one. Circumcision was also forbidden.[34][35] Towards the end of their rule, the corruption of the Mongol court and the persecution of Muslims became so severe that Muslim generals joined Han Chinese in rebelling against the Mongols. The Ming founder Zhu Yuanzhang employed Muslim generals like Lan Yu who rebelled against the Mongols and defeated them in combat. Some Muslim communities were named "kamsia," which, in Hokkien Chinese, means "thank you"; many Hui Muslims claim that their communities were named "kamsia" because the Han Chinese appreciated the important role which they had played in assisting them to overthrow the Mongols.[36] The Muslims in the Semu class also revolted against the Yuan dynasty in the Ispah Rebellion but the rebellion was crushed and the Muslims were massacred by the Yuan loyalist commander Chen Youding.

Site where the Mongol ruler Hulegu Khan destroyed a mosque in Baghdad during the siege of Baghdad.

Following the brutal Mongol invasion of Central Asia under Genghis Khan, and the sack of Baghdad which occurred in 1258, the Mongol Empire's rule extended across most Muslim lands in Asia. The Abbasid caliphate was destroyed and the Islamic civilization suffered much devastation, especially in Mesopotamia, and Tengriism and Buddhism replaced it as the official religions of the empire.[37] However, the Mongols attacked people for goods and riches, not because of their religion. Later, many Mongol khans and rulers such as those of the Oljeitu, the Ilkhanid and the Golden Horde became Muslims along with their subjects. The Mongols made no real effort to replace Islam with any other religion, they just had the desire to plunder goods from anyone who didn't submit to their rule, which was characteristic of Mongol warfare. During the Yuan Dynasty which the Mongols founded in China, Muslim scientists were highly regarded and Muslim beliefs were also respected. Regarding the Mongol attacks, the Muslim historian, ibn al-Athir lamented:

I shrank from giving a recital of these events on the account of their magnitude and abhorrence. Even now I come reluctant to the task, for who would deem it a light thing to sing the death song of Islam and the Muslims or find it easy to tell this tale? O that my mother had not given me birth![38]

The detailed atrocities include:

  • The Grand Library of Baghdad, which contained countless precious historical documents and books on subjects that ranged from medicine to astronomy, was destroyed. Survivors said that the waters of the Tigris ran black with ink from the enormous quantities of books that were flung into the river.
  • Citizens attempted to flee, but they were intercepted by Mongol soldiers who killed them with abandon. Martin Sicker writes that close to 90,000 people may have died (Sicker 2000, p. 111). Other estimates go much higher. Wassaf claims that the loss of life was several hundred thousand. Ian Frazier of The New Yorker claims that estimates of the death toll range from 200,000 to one million.[39]
  • The Mongols looted and then destroyed mosques, palaces, libraries, and hospitals. Grand buildings which had taken generations to build were burned to the ground.
  • The caliph was captured and forced to watch as his citizens were murdered and his treasury was plundered. According to most accounts, the caliph was killed by trampling. The Mongols rolled the caliph up in a rug, and rode their horses over him, because they believed that the earth would be offended if it were ever touched by royal blood. All but one of his sons were killed, and the sole surviving son was sent to Mongolia.
  • Hulagu had to move his camp upwind from the city, due to the stench of decay that emanated from its ruins.

At the intervention of Hulagu's Nestorian Christian wife, Dokuz Khatun, the city's Christian inhabitants were spared.[40][41] Hulagu offered the royal palace to the Nestorian Catholicos Mar Makikha, and he also ordered that a cathedral should be built for him.[42] Ultimately, the seventh ruler of the Ilkhanate, Mahmud Ghazan, converted from Tengrism to Islam, and thus began the gradual decline of Tengrism and Buddhism in the region and its replacement by the renaissance of Islam. Later, three of the four principal Mongol khanates embraced Islam.[43]

Iberian Peninsula

Old Mosque in Mértola, Portugal. Converted into a church.

Arabs relying largely on Berbers conquered the Iberian Peninsula starting in 711, subduing the whole Visigothic Kingdom by 725. The triumphant Umayyads got conditional capitulations probably in most of the towns, so that they could get a compromise with the native population. This was not always so. For example, Mérida, Cordova, Toledo, or Narbonne were conquered by storm or after laying siege on them. The arrangement reached with the locals was based on respecting the laws and traditions used in each place, so that the Goths (a legal concept, not an ethnic one, i.e. the communities ruled by the Forum Iudicum) continued to be ruled on new conditions by their own tribunals and laws.[44] The Gothic Church remained in place and collaborated with the new masters. Al-Andalus or Muslim ruled Iberian peninsula, was conquered by northern Christian kingdoms in 1492, as a result of their expansion taking place especially after the definite collapse of the Caliphate of Cordova in 1031.

The coming of the Crusades (starting with the massacre of Barbastro) and similarly entrenched positions on the northern African Almoravids, who took over al-Andalus as of 1086, added to the difficult coexistence between communities, including Muslims in Christian ruled territory, or the Mozarabic rite Christians (quite different from those of the northern kingdoms), and further minority groups. The Almohads, a fanatic north African sect, pushed the boundaries of religious intolerance during their occupation of al-Andalus, affecting also the Jews.[45]

During the expansion south of the northern Christian kingdoms, depending on the local capitulations, local Muslims were allowed to remain (Mudéjars) with extreme restrictions, while some were forcefully converted into the Christian faith. After the conquest of Granada, all the Spanish Muslims were under Christian rule. The new acquired population spoke Arabic or Mozarabic, and the campaigns to convert them were unsuccessful. Legislation was gradually introduced to remove Islam, culminating with the Muslims being forced to convert to Catholicism by the Spanish Inquisition. They were known as Moriscos and considered New Christians. Further laws were introduced, as on 25 May 1566, stipulating that they 'had to abandon the use of Arabic, change their costumes, that their doors must remain open every Friday, and other feast days, and that their baths, public and private, to be torn down.'[46] The reason doors were to be left open so as to determine whether they secretly observed any Islamic festivals.[47] King Philip II of Spain ordered the destruction of all public baths on the grounds of them being relics of infidelity, notorious for their use by Muslims performing their purification rites.[48][49] The possession of books or papers in Arabic was near concrete proof of disobedience with severe repercussions.[50] On 1 January 1568, Christian priests were ordered to take all Morisco children between the ages of three and fifteen, and place them in schools, where they were forced to learn Castillian and Christian doctrine.[51] All these laws and measures required force to be implemented, and from much earlier.

Between 1609 and 1614 the Moriscos were expelled from Spain.[52] They were to depart 'under the pain of death and confiscation, without trial or sentence ... to take with them no money, bullion, jewels or bills of exchange ... just what they could carry.'[53]

Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth

The Lipka Tatars, also known as Polish Tatars or Lithuanian Tatars, were a community of Tatar Muslims who migrated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and became Polonized.

The Counter-Reformation of the Catholic Church in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth led to persecution of Muslims, Jews, and Orthodox Christians. The ways the Muslims were persecuted included banning the repair of old mosques and preventing new ones from being constructed, banning serfdom of Christians under Muslims, banning marriage of Christian females to Muslims, putting limitations on property ownership among Tatars and the Polish–Ottoman Wars fed into the discriminatory atmosphere against them and led to anti-Islamic writings and attacks.[54]

Sikh Khalsa and Sikh Empire

Following the Sikh occupation of Samana in 1709, the Sikh army participated in a massacre of the city's residents. 10,000 unarmed Muslim men and women were slain.[55] Following the Siege of Sirhind, Banda Singh Bahadur ordered that all men, women and children be executed.[55] All residents of Sirhind, whether they were men, women or children were all burned alive or slain.[55] In December 1757, Sikhs pillaged the Doab and the city of Jullunder.[55] During this pillaging, "Children were put to the sword, women were dragged out and forcibly converted to Sikhism" and Mosques were defiled by pigs blood.[55] The body of Nassir Ali was dug out by Sikhs and flesh was thrust into it.[55]

Ranjit Singh went to Peshawar and pillaged the city, cut down trees for which the city was famous, burnt the palace of Bala Hissar and its mosque was defiled.[citation needed] Diwan Chand became the first Hindu Governor of Kashmir after 1354 and enacted dozens of anti-Muslim laws. He raised the tax on Muslims, demolished the Jama Masjid of Srinagar and prohibited cow slaughter. The punishment for cow slaughter was the death penalty without any exception. He abducted all the Pashtun and Uzbek women and infamously sold them at Hira Mandi, a very popular market in Lahore (the Sikh Empire Capital).[56][57][58] Maharaja Ranjit Singh in lieu of helping Shah Shuja the grandson of Ahmad Shah Durrani asked for the ban of cow slaughter in Afghanistan and with Ranjit Singh's help, Shuja regained the Kabul Throne and imposed a ban on cow slaughter in Kabul.[59]

Sayyid Ahmed Barelvi declared war against Maharaja Ranjit Singh and recruited many Muslims from madrassas. However the Yousufzai and Muhammadzai Khawaneen didn't like his egalitarian ideals and betrayed Sayyid Ahmed Shahid and his army at the battle of Balakot and supported the Sikh Army in the Battle of Balakote in 1831, and Barelvi's head was severed by Sikh General Hari Singh Nalwa.[60][61]

Muslims still revered Sayyid Ahmad, however he was defeated and killed in the battle by Sikh Forces commanded by Hari Singh Nalwa and Gulab Singh.[62] Raja Aggar Khan of Rajaouri was defeated, humiliated by the Ranjit Singh commander Gulab Singh and was brought to Lahore where he was beheaded by Gulab Singh of Jammu.[63]