The Islamic conquest and rule of Sicily, Malta, and parts of southern Italy was a process whose origin can be traced back through the general expansion of Islam from the 7th century onwards. Though the Muslim presence was ephemeral on the peninsula and limited mostly to semi-permanent soldier camps—the Emirate of Bari existed for only twenty years or so—their rule over the island was effective from 902, but their complete rule of Sicily lasted only from 965 until 1061, though they were not completely evicted until 1091.
The Muslim conquest of Sicily and the subsequent Christian reconquest by the Normans was the major event in the history of Islam in Italy. The conquests of the Normans established Roman Catholicism firmly in the region, where Eastern Christianity had been prominent during the time of Byzantine rule and continued with the natives during the time of the Muslim overlords. Widespread conversion ensued, which coupled with the re-latinisation of the inhabitants led to the disappearance of Islam in Sicily by the 1280s.
Norman conquest of Muslim Sicily (1061–1091)
Main article: Norman conquest of southern Italy
Southern Italy in 1084, showing the remains of the Kalbid emirate, then fought over by multiple claimants, on the eve of the final Norman conquest.
In 1038 a Byzantine army under George Maniaces crossed the strait of Messina. This included a corps of Normans which saved the situation in the first clash against the Muslim from Messina. After another decisive victory in the summer of 1040, Maniaces halted his march to lay siege to Syracuse. Despite his conquest of the latter, Maniaces was removed from his position: the subsequent Muslim counter-offensive reconquered all the cities captured by the Byzantines.
The Norman Robert Guiscard, son of Tancred, invaded Sicily in 1060. The island was split between three Arab emirs, and the sizeable Christian population rose up against the ruling Muslims. One year later Messina fell, and in 1072, Palermo was taken by the Normans. The loss of the cities, each with a splendid harbor, dealt a severe blow to Muslim power on the island. Eventually all of Sicily was taken. In 1091, Noto in the southern tip of Sicily and the island of Malta, the last Arab stongholds, fell to the Christians. By the 11th century Muslim power in the Mediterranean had begun to wane.
The Norman Kingdom of Sicily under Roger II was characterised by its multi-ethnic nature and religious tolerance. Normans, Jews, Muslim Arabs, Byzantine Greeks, Longobards and "native" Sicilians lived in harmony. Rather than exterminate the Muslims of Sicily, the Roger II's grandson Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen (1215—1250) allowed them to settle on the mainland and build mosques.[dubious – discuss] Not least, he enlisted them in his — Christian — army and even into his personal bodyguards.
A large scale Muslim rebellion broke out in 1190, triggering organized resistance and systematic reprisals and marked the final chapter of Islam in Sicily. The Muslim problem characterized Hohenstaufen rule in Sicily under Henry VI (1194-97) and his son Frederick II (1197-1250). In the 1220s, in order to stamp out the Muslim rebellion, Frederick adopted a programmatic system to remove Islam from Sicily entirely, as it had been prior to their invasion. This was achieved with the expulsion and forced deportation to the Apulian town of Lucera where they were isolated. The annihilation of Islam in Sicily was completed by the late 1240s, when the final deportations to Lucera took place.
Islamic and Arabic influence and legacy
See also: Arab-Norman culture
Ibn Hawqal, the eminent Arab traveler, visited Sicily in year 972 and described the city of Palermo in his book Al-Masalik wal Mamlik as "the city of the 300 mosques". This Islamic and Arabic identity of the island was still preserved even 100 years after the arrival of the Normans as described by the Spanish-Arab geographer Ibn Jubair who landed in the island after returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1184.
To his surprise, Ibn Jubair enjoyed a very warm reception by the Norman Christians. He was further surprised to find that even the Christians spoke Arabic, that the government officials were still largely Muslim, and that the heritage of some 200 previous years of Muslim rule of Sicily was still intact.[dubious – discuss]
Arabic art and science continued to be heavily influential in Sicily during the two centuries following the Christian conquest. Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily in the early 13th century, is said to have been able to speak Arabic (as well as Latin, Sicilian, German, French, and Greek) and had several Muslim ministers. The heritage of the Arabic language can be still found in numerous terms adapted from it and still used in Sicilian language.
A community of Muslims, especially fishermen from Tunisia, has deep roots in the history of the town of Mazara del Vallo, on the south-western coast of Sicily. During the 1970s, a prosperous Italian economy spurred the immigration of Muslims from Jordan, Syria and Palestine to the area.
Another legacy of Muslim rule is the survival of some Sicilian place-names of Arabic origin, for example "Calata-" or "Calta-" from Arabic Qal`at… (قلعة) = “castle of”.
Also, a genetic study in 2009 revealed a significant genetic contribution of Northwest African genes among today's inhabitants near the region of Lucera.
How the Moslems were driven out of Italy
Islamic period in Lucera, Italy
In 1224 AD, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, responding to religious uprisings in Sicily, expelled all Muslims from the island, transferring many to Lucera over the next two decades. In this controlled environment, they couldn't 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. Muslims in Lucera were predominately farmers. They grew durum wheat, barley, legumes, grapes and other fruits. Muslims also kept bees for honey.
The colony thrived for 75 years until it was sacked in 1300 by Christian forces under the command of Charles II of Naples. The city's Muslim inhabitants were exiled or sold into slavery, with many finding asylum in Albania across the Adriatic Sea. Their abandoned mosques were demolished, and churches were usually built in their place, including the cathedral S. Maria della Vittoria.
After the Muslims were removed from Lucera, Charles tried to settle Christians in the city. Those Muslims that converted to Christianity got part of their property back, but none was restored his former position of political or economic influence. As time progressed, grain production fell in the city, and in 1339 the city was hit by a famine. While Christians were allowed to farm as the Muslims, the loss of Muslim farmers may have been a cause of the famine.
A significant genetic Northwest African contribution among today's inhabitants near the region of Lucera was revealed by a very recent genetic study in 2009.