Posted on June 7, 2017

Portugal and Islam

Mike Konrad, American Thinker, June 7, 2017

In a videotape broadcast on American TV after 9-11, Osama bin Laden once referred to the tragedy of Andalusia, considered the greatest disaster in Muslim history before the re-birth of Israel. The subtitles conveniently forgot to note that Andalusia meant the Iberian Peninsula, and that Muslims want it back.

Let the whole world know that we shall never accept that the tragedy of Andalusia would be repeated in Palestine. – Slate

When I saw that videotape on TV in 2011, I nearly jumped out of my chair.  As an amateur historian, I knew what was meant. I could not believe that no one noted the connection.

We tend to associate Andalusia with Spain, because Spain’s southern most province is called Andalusia, an homage to the invaders’ former presence.  In reality, the Arab word Andalusreferred to the whole peninsula, not just Spain, and that is what Bin Laden had in mind. Except for a small sliver of land on the Northern Coast of Spain, the whole territory had been conquered.

The question naturally arises: What about Portugal?

In 1249, the Moorish rulers were finally defeated in Portugal, about 243 years before the last of the Moorish rulers were defeated in Spain. All the while, Spain was liberating its country in stages, but sort of stalled when it came to retaking Andalusia (The Emirate of Granada). Why?

The Emirate of Granada had been reduced to a vassal state of Spain, and paid considerable tribute in gold – from central Africa — to the Christians in the north.  In spite of that, Grenada prospered. It was only after Portugal opened up ocean routes in the 15th century, that Grenada’s economic fortunes declined.

Until Ferdinand and Isabella, Spain was content to profit of this cash cow. Near the end, profits dropped, and the Moors got aggressive.  The rest is history.  But the damage was done.

Anyone who has studied Spanish becomes immediately aware of odd words, which don’t look European. One of Spain’s longest rivers, the Guadalquiver(Wadi al kabir), is testimony to Arabic’s influence.  A simple word like mayor, which in Portuguese is prefeito (similar to prefect, coming from Latin praefectus)  is contrasted with the Spanish alcalde, which comes from the Arabic word for judge (alqadi).  In simple terms, Spanish was more strongly influenced by Arabic.  Anyone who speaks Spanish immediately hears the difference between Spanish and Portuguese. Though they are written similarly, they sound completely different.  That 243 years of extra Moorish occupation significantly shifted the Spanish language.

While seven centuries of Arab rule in Andalusia produced architectural treasures like the Giralda in Seville, Córdoba’s Great Mosque and the Alhambra palace in Granada, the Islamic period in Portugal left few major monuments. The Andalusian cities developed as major centers of Islamic culture to rival Damascus or Marrakesh, but Portugal was always on the outer edge of the Muslim world and its frontier rulers invested little in grandiose construction. – The Islamic heritage in Portugal’s past – PRI

What we notice is that by getting rid of Moorish rule earlier, Portugal minimized Arab influences, even as Portuguese incorporated more French words. The result is substantial. When we think of the Moorish invasion of Iberia, we tend to emphasis its impact on Spain. With good reason. The Arabs left less of a footprint in Portugal; while Spain dallied far too long in getting rid of the Moors.

The difference lingers to this day.

Spain is over 4% Muslim today, with almost 2 million Muslims.  Portugal by contrast is roughly at 40,000 or so – and that number is taken from Islamic sources, which may be exaggerating – or 0.4% (charts can vary a bit).   In absolute numbers, Portugal has 22% the population of Spain, yet only roughly one fiftieth (1/50th) the number of Muslims.  This mean that Portugal has one of the lowest Muslim populations in Western Europe. Even Ireland has a higher percentage of Muslims. So what is going on?

Why is Islam ignoring Portugal (relatively speaking)?  I doubt the Muslims are singularly averse to Fado Music, or feijoado.

The general consensus seems to be that the Muslims are following the money. Portugal is the poorest nation in Western Europe.  But that would not explain Ireland, which is one of the richest nations in Western Europe, with a relatively small population of Muslims – though that seems to be changing fast.

According to Irish figures, the number of Muslims increased 29% in Ireland from 2011 to 2016.  Ireland is catching up to the rest of Western Europe.

Nor is it that Portugal’s government is anti-Muslim. Portugal wants immigrants to replace a population that is emigrating due to a bad economy. It seems that most Muslim refuse to go to Portugal, as this commentary shows:

Luís Gouveia, the national deputy director of borders and immigration service SEF, has told Diário de Notícias that Portugal may be ready to receive 4,754 refugees (as part of EU quotas) but is unlikely to see more than 50 arrive before Christmas, and even that isn’t set in stone.

The problem, he explained, is not simply bureaucratic. People are actively refusing to come here.

“The crushing majority of asylum seekers coming into Europe want to get to Germany and Sweden where they have family, or where they know they can find work and have a good lifestyle. Preferences are always for northern countries,” said Gouveia. “The Iberian Peninsula is unknown.”

He added that of 40 asylum seekers recently offered refuge in Spain, only 12 agreed to it. [Note: Spain had an economic crisis recently] – Refugees don’t want to come to Portugal, 2015

It can’t be a case of family ties. Spain has 2 million Muslims and should be a destination for more Muslims, who prefer Northern Europe  It is certainly a case of the economy.

Is that all there is to it?  No! Unlike Spain, Portugal’s post-Islamic Catholic empire often tended to be in non-Muslim majority regions of Africa and Asia. There were exceptions, though, like Portuguese Guinea.

However, post-Islamic Catholic Spain took control of Morocco, which supplied troops to Franco; and still has Ceuta and Melilla on the North African coast. Ceuta is already half Muslim. Spain did not so much get rid of Muslims as trade positions of ruler and vassal. Spain did expel Muslims from Iberia, but did not break connections with them. Spain had a lingering strong historical connection to Islam that Portugal did not. This is also true of England and France, especially France, where a lot of the Muslims are of Algerian origins.  Of course, history is not the only reason.  Sweden, with lots of Muslims today, had a empire which was generally confined to the Baltic. Lutheran Sweden’s historical religious opposition was Catholic, not Islamic.  Money is the factor in Sweden.

Portugal has the unenviable position of being the poorest nation in Western Europe.  However, it has the enviable position of being the least Muslim nation in Western Europe. Money and benefits are certainly a factor, but not the only one.