The Spanish Inquisition
The new Assassin’s Creed movie is an adaptation of the popular video game. The movie is set in a fictional version of real-world events – the real world events being the Spanish inquisition that followed the end of the Muslim rule of Spain in 1492. The film does poke a rude finger into the current discourse about the War on Terror – the good guys in this film draw their ancestry from the Muslim side of the ideological divide who are known as the Assassins, and the villains are the ones backed by the Vatican and the United Nations with America represented by the Knights Templars in the film. The aim of this article is neither to discuss the Knights Templars, who represented the Crusaders, nor the Assassins, who were linked to an extreme Shia group known as the Hashashins who targeted and killed many Muslims who resisted the crusaders, but rather it is to discuss the story behind the film, the Spanish inquisition.
The Fall of Muslim Spain
After nearly 800 years of ruling Spain, the Muslim rule came to an end in the 15th century at the hands of the crusading Christians. In 1469, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon had married to unite their kingdoms in order to occupy Spain and, little by little, they began conquering the Muslims’ lands. The great city of Cordoba was taken by Castile in 1236 and Seville in 1248. Only Granada remained as the last Muslim stronghold, was being ruled by the Nasrids as a vessel state of the Christians until 1492 when Granada was taken.
The leader of the Muslims in Granada was Muhammad XII, known as Abū ʿAbdullāh (‘Father of ʿAbdullāh’) and hence as “Boabdil”. It was January of 1492 that saw the capitulation of The Treaty of Granada which contained sixty-seven articles, among which were the following:
- – That the Muslims be secure in their persons, families, and properties;
- – That their Islamic laws should be preserved as they were before, and that no-one should judge them except by those same laws;
- – That their mosques, and the religious endowments appertaining to them, should remain as they were in the times of Islam;
- – That no Christian should enter the house of a Muslim, or insult him in any way;
- – That the Christians who had embraced Islam should not be compelled to relinquish it and adopt their former creed;
- – That no muezzin should be interrupted in the act of calling the people to prayer, and no Muslim molested either in the performance of his daily devotions or in the observance of his fast, or in any other religious ceremony; but that if a Christian should be found laughing at them he should be punished for it;
The Muslims who remained in Spain after its occupation by the Christians were referred to as the Mudejars, in Spanish Mudéjares, probably from the Arabic al-mudajjanun, “those permitted to remain” with a suggestion of the derogatory “tamed, domesticated” or perhaps from al-muta’akhkhirun, “those who stayed behind”.
The Muslims remained in relative peace for a number of years during which period King Ferdinand’s plan was to convert the Muslims by showing them kindness, assuming that they would see the alleged errors of their faith. Isabella, however, maintained a fierce quest to eradicate Islām from Spain altogether and when it became apparent that the Muslims were not interested in abandoning their faith, the now Christian state moved to more oppressive measures. Then, in 1499, only seven years after the treaty had been entered into, the state played its most extreme hand in setting out what they hoped to achieve when they appointed Cardinal Ximenez de Cisneros.
With Ximenez’s arrival in 1499, things took a turn for the worst for the Muslims in Granada as Ximenez, not satisfied with the slow progress of converting Muslims by Archbishop Talavera, sought to find loopholes in the Treaty by stating that they did not apply to elches – from the Arabic ilj (foreigner) – those who had converted to Islām on the false logic that they were still Christians. As such, harassment of these Muslims began, particularly against women and children of Muslim convert families. Inevitably, Muslims were not going to tolerate this injustice and a rebellion broke out from the Albaicín district and the Alpujjara mountains (Al-Bushra mountains), something that Ximenez had intended, and a Christian official was killed in the process. The revolt was quickly suppressed with one of the worst massacres taking place in Andarax. Thousands of women and children who sought refuge in a mosque were mercilessly killed. Using the revolt as a pretext, Ximenez now resorted to outright force and, in the year 1500, Muslims were presented with a stark choice: Convert to Catholicism or be expelled from Spain.
Thousands of Arabic manuscripts, including the Qur’ān—all that could be found in the city—were consumed by flames in a public square in Granada on the orders of Ximenez. The Christians began to increase the price of freights travelling from Spain to the Maghrib (North Africa) – this burdened many of the people that wanted to leave and, in fact, stopped many people from leaving since they were unable to afford the fees to do so. Of those that were able to leave, many were often required to leave behind their young children.
Ximenez began imprisoning Muslims until they forcibly converted – some of these were simply done by the splash of “holy water” and he even boasted of the number of converts in a letter to Pope Alexander VI. Christian Spain, with its inquisition, unleashed one of the world’s first organisations of terror which tortured and killed without regard of gender or age. They used many different methods of torture and the most famous was the ‘auto de fe‘ which was the burning at the stake of the accused. In fact, many of the torture methods, such as waterboarding, used today by the likes of the U.S. at black sites across the world and places such as Guantanamo Bay find their origins with the Spanish inquisition.
Thousands were forcibly converted but in name only and because of this they were given the insulting title “Moriscos” which means little Moor.
A number of prominent ulema (scholars) wrote of their concerns regarding what was unfolding in Spain. Imam Ahmad Al Wanshirisi of Fez, one of the most prominent Maliki Imams of the Maghrib (North Africa) at the time, issued a fatwa (edict) demanding that the Muslims leave Spain and emigrate to other parts of the Muslim lands.
The Grand Mufti of Wahran (now Algeria), Ahmad ibn Abu Juma’a, issued a fatwa in 1504 which offered guidance on how Muslims that were being forced to convert could appear as though they were Christians while maintaining their beliefs i.e. to accept the Christian faith on their tongues as long as they rejected it in their hearts. This fatwa was a dispensation given to the Muslims in Spain as theirs was a situation of life and death and included advice that they be allowed to eat pork or drink alcohol where they had no choice, though they must abhor having to do so in their hearts. His fatwa included the following which captures the desperate state of the Muslims:
“If, at the hour of prayer, they force you to prostrate yourself before their idols, or make you attend their prayers, maintain it as your firm intention to consider what they do as forbidden, and have it as your desire to carry out the prayer prescribed by Islamic law, bow down to whatever idols they are bowing to, but turn your intention towards Allāh. Even if the direction is not that of Makkah, that requirement may be disregarded, as it is in the case of prayer when in danger on the battlefield”.
The Christian occupiers understood full well that the majority of these new converts to Christianity remained cryptic Muslims. As such, they were made to keep their doors open during wedding, funerals and on the day of jummuah (Friday) to ensure that no one was assembling for Friday prayers. In addition, a Christian midwife had to be present during the birth of a child with the aim of preventing the call to prayer being announced into the newborn’s ear. Moriscos were invited to their Christian neighbours’ homes during Ramaḍān for lunch so as to ensure that they were not fasting. Bathing was also treated as a sign that a person remained a Muslim. New schools were set up to teach and indoctrinate Muslim children and Mosques were either demolished or turned into Churches.
The suffering was indeed unbearable. However, the pages of history show us that the conditions which the Islamic Call had to face in its first period of its existence, were not too dissimilar than the conditions of the Moriscos. In spite of all this, Islām remained a powerful call. The source of its real power is hidden in the very nature of this belief (Islām); that is why it can operate and has always thrived under the worst conditions, in the face of the most severe opposition and against all the odds through the resolve, striving and sacrifices of its adherents. The same applied to the Moriscos. Their striving to keep the spirit of Islām alive caused the Moriscos to develop the use of ‘Aljamiado’ that used the Arabic script for transcribing European languages such as Spanish to communicate. Aljamiado played a very important role in preserving Islām and the Arabic language in the life of the Moriscos.
Meanwhile, the Moriscos of the Alpujjara Mountains, like their fellow believers before them, once again took up armed resistance from 1568–7. What started out as a few thousand gathered a following of more than 25,000 Moriscos. After the brutal suppression of the revolt, a significant portion of the Morisco population was expelled from the former Kingdom of Granada. The total number expelled has been estimated at some 80,000, or roughly half of Granada’s Moriscos.
Points to Note:
While this article does not tell the tale of Assassin’s Creed, it certainly tells the tale of Muslims who were assassinated for their creed.
Spain from 1500 to 1614 tells the story of an early modern nation struggling to deal with diversity and multiculturalism. Retold in all its complexity and poignancy, this tale of religious intolerance, political manoeuvring, and ethnic cleansing resonates with many modern concerns. The treatment of the Moriscos and their expulsions were not simply the result of religious bigotry, but also have more modern resonances in the official language of security concerns about ‘alien’ populations who might have allegiances beyond the state in which they live which could result in treachery.
The tragedy of the Moriscos was part of a recurring dynamic that has been repeated in many other contexts, in which a powerful majority seeks to remake or define its own identity through the physical elimination or removal of supposedly incompatible minorities whose presence is imagined as potentially defiling or corrupting their own “values”. Their story inevitably evokes the present Islamophobia which permeates so much current media and political posturing.
Christianity in Europe, as evidenced through the nation state, has transitioned towards Protestantism, with countries claiming to be secular and liberal. The effort to “reform” Islām is the latest conversion agenda which is repeatedly echoed today as present day designs seek to deconstruct Islām and reconstitute to into the latest iteration of Christianity. The political scientist Joseph Massad’s comments are applicable here:
“The liberal project is in effect a missionary project to convert Islam to the “highest stage” of Christianity reigning in the West [i.e. secularism rooted from Protestant Christianity], even if this is carried out under the banner of a “reformed” Islam” 
The European Court of Human Right’s latest judgement, in a series of similar such decisions, stating that Muslim girls must swim with boys in Switzerland after parents refused classes, comes amid continuing debate over the role of Islām in society in Europe. Other legal cases in recent times have focused on the requirement for male Muslim pupils to shake their female teachers’ hands in schools. A 15-year-old boy from Therwil lost his appeal on religious grounds in September 2016, meaning he and his fellow pupils will now receive fines of up to CHF 5,000 (£4,000) for refusing to comply. The European Court of Justice passed a decision last year which provided that an employer could ban a Muslim woman from wearing an Islamic headscarf on the basis of maintaining its religious and political “neutrality”. This, ironically, evidences the reality of the “civilised” secularism’s intolerance of Islām.
In the same way that the Moriscos were treated with growing suspicion and discrimination by the Catholic authorities, Muslims today are also treated as a suspect community and are being expected to and/or forced to conform to secular liberal values. Morisco converts were forced to eat pork or drink alcohol to prove that they had genuinely converted. Suspicious behaviour, which could result in being denounced to the Inquisition, included washing. Punishment for minor infringements of this new religious stringency could lead from lashes or fines to death.
Today, against regular public hype about banning halal meat, we find that ‘social integration’ is served by forcing families to put their children into very specific types of situations – even ones that only a few years ago, would have been segregated according to gender in many European countries. Muslims in Britain are being indoctrinated with the vague and nebular concept of “British values” as part of the PREVENT policy resulting in an attempted reformation of Islām by force. Beliefs and practices that are not considered to be in accordance with liberal British values are seen as “extreme” through which you are likely to be denounced to the inquisitorial powers of PREVENT.
The controversial Casey Review has further poured fuel upon the inflammatory situation by declaring traditional Islamic rulings “extremist” (therefore making a person vulnerable to “terrorism”) and giving comfort to far-right elements by endorsing their conspiracy theory narratives regarding the “Islamification of Britain”. Using the discourse of integration and extremism, Louise Casey has even endorsed ideas to make mosques look less like mosques. In an attempt to prove themselves, we have seen the extent that some Muslims have gone to, from making Christmas permissible to celebrate, de-Christianising Santa Claus, undermining the hijāb, the fasting of Ramaḍān and issues around sexuality and sex separation, to pledging allegiance to the British Army and advocating the government’s “messages” on Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.
It is a difficult proposition to counter indeed, that the PREVENT policy’s central objective is to create a domesticated and tamed community of Muslims with echoes of the Muddajar Muslims of Spain who, of course, were given this very label for appearing to be tamed and domesticated with the eventual hope of cutting them away from their Way of Life.
We pray that Allāh saves us from a similar fate to that of the Moriscos and pray for their mercy and forgiveness. As Allāh says:
“I will not suffer the work of any worker among you, male or female, to be lost… Therefore, those who emigrate and are driven out of their homes and suffer persecution in My cause, and fight and are slain [for it], I shall indeed expiate their bad deeds and admit them to gardens through which running waters flow, as a reward from Allāh. With Allāh is the best of rewards” Massad, J.A (2015), Islam in Liberalism  Qur’an 3:195
Harvey, L .P. (16 May 2005). Muslims in Spain, 1500 to 1614.
Carr, Matthew (2009). Blood and Faith: The Purging of Muslim Spain.
Lea, Henry Charles (1901). The Moriscos of Spain: Their Conversion and Expulsion.