These Places in Europe Have an Unexpected Connection
Unbeknownst to many, Europe is home to a rich, varied, and ancient indigenous Muslim culture that is often left unexplored.
There are 14 centuries of Muslim history and heritage waiting to be explored in Europe and three indigenous Muslim-majority countries. Muslim Europe is a place where people pray in mosques older than the United States, where mystics meditate in lodges perched on the edge of mountains, and many Muslims are as blonde-haired and blue-eyed as their Christian neighbors. The following 10 slides unveil the story of this ill-explored and neglected part of Europe that only a few people know exists. Welcome to Muslim Europe.
Hala Sultan Tekke
WHERE: Larnaca, Cyprus
The story of Muslim Europe is as old as the religion of Islam itself, and this quaint little mosque overlooking two salt lakes in southern Cyprus is reportedly where it all began. Hala comes from the Arabic khala meaning “aunt,” for it is believed the beautiful Ottoman-style tomb on the site of this mosque is the final resting place of a woman called Umm Haram, which some accounts claim may have been an aunt of none other than the Prophet Muhammad himself.
Umm Haram is said to have been part of a fleet of Muslims that landed in Cyprus around 649 AD, which means Muslim Europe began in the 7th-century with the first generation of Muslims. That’s the same century Muhammad announced the religion to the world, and those first Muslims in Europe were his companions.
WHERE: Cordoba, Spain
Although it serves as a cathedral today, Mezquita is Europe’s oldest surviving mosque. When it was originally founded, there was no Spain, England, or France. When Abd ar-Rahman I began constructing Cordoba’s Grand Mosque in 785 AD, most of the nation-states of Europe had not been born. An offshoot of the earlier Muslim Umayyad dynasty in Syria, Abd ar-Rahman’s mosque sat at the center of a flourishing and enlightened Muslim culture, where all three Abrahamic faiths lived in relatively peaceful coexistence. This corner of Muslim Europe was known as Al Andalus and reached its zenith in 929 AD, when Abd ar-Rahman III declared himself Caliph of the entire Muslim world, thus making this Europe’s only Caliphate mosque.
Ivan Soto Cobos via Shutterstock
Alhambra Palace City
WHERE: Granada, Spain
One of the most visited tourist sites in the world, the Alhambra Palace City is yet another spectacular expression of European Islamic art that sat at the center of a flourishing and highly cultured Muslim-led society. The Emirate of Granada was yet another place where Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived in relative harmony.
Built by the Nasrid dynasty in the 13th-century, the Alhambra became the last outpost of Muslim Spain, and when it fell in 1492, this also saw the end of Jewish and Muslim life in the country. Today, the palace city is a sprawling network of dreamy Moorish courtyards, gardens, and rooms that have inspired recreations all over the globe in places as far apart as Colombia and Morocco.
Sultan Murad Turbe
WHERE: Pristine, Kosovo
Although the Muslim presence in Europe began in the continent’s southwest, that period is now consigned to history. There are no indigenous Iberian Muslims alive today. Muslim Europe’s living legacy is mainly found in the Balkans, and that particular chapter begins here on the plains of Kosovo, just outside the capital city of Pristine.
Lying in a stunning Ottoman tomb is the (partial) remains of Sultan Murad I, who was killed following his army’s victory at the Battle of Kosovo in 1398, which saw the Muslim Ottoman Empire enter Europe proper. The victory not only ensured Europe’s indigenous Muslim population continued to thrive but also its Sephardic Jewish communities, who were later brought to this region by the Ottomans following their expulsion from Spain. Kosovo is Europe’s most Muslim country, where over 95% of the population follow Islam.
nicointokio [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]/ Flikr
WHERE: Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sitting at the mouth of the aqua-blue River Buna, a sheer rock face looming overhead, the Blagaj Tekke is an example of the stunning Sufi (mystical Muslim) lodges scattered across Muslim Europe. This was built in the 15th -century by members of the Bektashi sect of Islam, but today is home to the Naqshbandi Sufi Order who also hosts tourists and visitors. Bosnia is another one of Europe’s “Muslim” countries with more than half the population practicing Islam and a place very much proud of its Muslim heritage.
Albania is yet another Muslim-majority country with a long history of interfaith coexistence, a living example of which can still be found in modern-day Berat. Here in the shade of the UNESCO world heritage historic quarters, in the original Muslim and the non-Muslim Gorica neighborhood, Muslims and Christians live in peaceful coexistence. Both historic mosques and churches contribute to the town’s wonderful skyline, while most of the houses in the old quarters date back to the 18th and 19th-centuries.
Skopje Clock Tower
WHERE: Skopje, North Macedonia
Built in the 16th-century, this was the first clock tower installed in mainland Europe by the Ottomans and offers an insight into the strategic importance of the city known as Uskup to the Muslim empire. The clock tower sits in the courtyard of the imperial Sultan Murad II Mosque in the city’s northeast. Skopje is home to a large Muslim community and one of Europe’s largest concentrations of historic Muslim monuments. The city has several hans (travel inns), hammams (baths), mosques, tombs, and fountains from the Ottoman period scattered throughout.
Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque
WHERE: Grozny, Chechnya, Russia
Built in a neo-Ottoman style, the modern Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque is based on Istanbul’s famous Blue Sultanahmet Mosque. It sits in a serene location on the west bank of the Sunzha River in the Chechnyan capital of Grozny. Islam in Russia stretches back to the 8th-century, with some Russian communities even claiming direct descent from the Prophet Muhammad. However, most of Russia’s 21 million Muslims live in the “Asian” part of the federation. The Republic of Chechnya is the largest Muslim-majority republic in European Russia.