A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith
T.W. Arnold Ma. C.I.F
Professor Of Arabic, University Of London, University College. Written in 1896, revised in 1913
Rearranged by Dr. A.S. Hashim

The kingdom of Serbia first paid tribute to the Ottomans in 1375 and lost its independence after the disastrous defeat of Kossovo (1389), where both the king of Serbia and the Turkish sultan were left dead upon the field.

The successors of the two sovereigns entered into a friendly compact, the young Serbian prince, Stephen, acknowledged the suzerainty of Turkey, gave his sister in marriage to the new sultan, Bayazid, and formed with him a league of brotherhood.

At the battle of Nikopolis (1394), which gave to the Turks assured possession of the whole Balkan peninsula, except the district surrounding Constantinople, the Serbian contingent turned the wavering fortune of the battle and gave the victory to the Turks.

On the field of Angora (1402), when the Turkish power was annihilated and Bayazid himself taken prisoner by Timur Leng, Stephen was present with his Serbian troops and fought bravely for his brother-in-law, and instead of taking this opportunity of securing his independence, remained faithful to his engagement, and stood by the sons of Bayazid until they recovered their fathers throne.

It is not impossible that the Serbians who had embraced Islam after the battle of Kossovo had knowledge of the fate of the little Muslim community that had been rooted out of Hungary about a century before, and therefore preferred the domination of the Turks to that of the Hungarians.

Yaqut gives the following account of his meeting, about the year 1228, with some members of this group of followers of the Prophet in medieval Europe, who had owed their conversion to Muslims who had settled among them.

“In the city of Aleppo, I met a large number of persons called Bashkirs, with reddish hair and reddish faces. They were studying law according to the school of Abu Hanifa. I asked one of them (who seemed to be an intelligent fellow) for information concerning their country and their condition.

He told me, ‘Our country is situated on the other side of Constantinople, in a kingdom of a people of the Franks called the Hungarians. We are Muslims, subjects of their king, and live on the border of his territory, occupying about thirty villages, which are almost like small towns. But the king of the Hungarians does not allow us to build walls round any of them, lest we should revolt against him.

We are situated in the midst of Christian countries, having the land of the Slavs on the north, on the south, that of the Pope, i. e. Rome (now the Pope is the head of the Franks, the vicar of the Messiah in their eyes, like the commander of the faithful in the eyes of the Muslims; his authority extends over all matters connected with religion among the whole of them); on the west, Andalusia; on the east, the land of the Greeks, Constantinople and its provinces.

He added, Our language is the language of the Franks, we dress after their fashion, we serve with them in the army, and we join them in attacking all their enemies, because they only go to war with the enemies of Islam.’

I then asked him how it was they had adopted Islam in spite of their dwelling in the midst of the unbelievers. He answered, I have heard several of our forefathers say that a long time ago seven Muslims came from Bulgaria and settled among us.

In kindly fashion they pointed out to us our errors and directed us into the right way, the faith of Islam. Then God guided us and (praise be to God!) we all became Muslims and God opened our hearts to the faith. We have come to this country to study law; when we return to our own land, the people will do us honor and put us in charge of their religious affairs. “[77]

Islam kept its ground among the Bashkirs of Hungary until 1340, when King Charles Robert compelled all his subjects that were not yet Christians to embrace the Christian faith or quit the country.[78]

The Serbian Muslims may, therefore, well have been pleased to escape from the rule of Hungary, like their Christian fellow-countrymen, for when these were given the choice between the Roman Catholic rule of Hungary and the Muslim rule of the Turks, the devotion of the Serbians to the Greek Church led them to prefer the tolerance of the Muslims to the uncompromising proselytizing spirit of the Latins.

An old legend thus represents their feelings at this time :—The Turks and the Hungarians were at war; George Brankovich sought out John Hunyady and asked him, ” If you are victorious, what will you do ? ” ” Establish the Roman Catholic faith,” was the answer. Then he sought out the sultan and asked him, “If you come out victorious, what will you do with our religion? “By the side of every mosque shall stand a church, and every man shall be free to pray in whichever he chooses.”[79]

The treachery of some Serbian priests forced the garrison of Belgrade to capitulate to the Turks;[80] similarly the Serbians of Semendria, on the Danube, welcomed the Turkish troops who in 1600 delivered them from the rule of their Catholic neighbors.[81]

The spread of Islam among the Serbians began immediately after the battle of Kossovo, when a large part of the old feudal nobility, such as still remained alive and did not take refuge in neighboring Christian countries, went over voluntarily to the faith of the Prophet, in order to keep their old privileges undisturbed.[82]

In these converted nobles the sultans found the most zealous propagandists of the new faith.[83] But the majority of the Serbian people clung firmly to their old religion through all their troubles and sufferings, and only in Stara Serbia or Old Serbia,[84] which now forms the north-eastern portion of modern Albania, has there been any very considerable number of conversions.

Albanian colonists from the south pressed into the country vacated by the fugitives : these Albanians at the time of their arrival were Roman Catholics for the most part, but after they settled in Old Serbia they gradually adopted Islam and at the present time the remnant of Roman Catholic Albanians is but small, though from time to time it is recruited by fresh arrivals from the mountains : the new-comers, however, usually follow the example of their predecessors, and after a while become Muslims.[86]

After this Albanian immigration, Islam, began to spread more rapidly among the remnant of the Serbian population. The Serbian clergy were very ignorant and unlettered, they could only manage with difficulty to read their service-books and hardly any had learned to write; they neither preached to the people nor taught them the catechism, consequently in whole villages scarcely a man could be found who knew the Lords Prayer or how many commandments there were; even the priests themselves were quite as ignorant.[87]

After the insurrection of 1689, the Patriarch of Ipek, the ecclesiastical capital of Serbia, was appointed by the Porte, but in 1737, as the result of another rebellion, the Serbian Church made dependent upon the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople. The churches were filled with Greek bishops, who made common cause with the Turkish Beys and Pashas in bleeding the unfortunate Christians: their national language was proscribed and the Old Slavonic service-books, etc., were collected and sent off to Constantinople.[88]

In the district of Opolje, the present Muslim population of 9500 souls is probably for the most part descended from the original Slav inhabitants of the place.[90] At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Bizzi found in the city of Jagnevo, 120 Roman Catholic households, 200 Greek and 180 Muslim;[91] less than a hundred years later, every house in the city was looked upon as Muslim, as the head of each family professed this faith and the women only, with some of the children, were Christian.[92]

About the middle of the eighteenth century, the village of Ljurs was entirely Catholic; in 1863 there were 90 Muslim and 23 Christian families, but at the present day this village, together with the surrounding villages, has wholly adopted Islam.[93] Until recently some lingering survivals of their old Christian faith, such as the burning of the Yule-log at Christmas, etc., were still to be met with in certain villages, but such customs are now fast dying out.

After the battle of Kossovo and the downfall of the Serbian empire, the wild highlands of Montenegro afforded a refuge to those Serbians who would not submit to the Turks but were determined to maintain their independence. It is not the place here to relate the history of the heroic struggles of this brave people against overwhelming odds, how through centuries of continual warfare, under the rule of their prince-bishops,[94] they have kept alive a free Christian state when all their brethren of the same race had submitted to Islamic rule. While the very basis of their separate existence as a nation was their firm adherence to the Christian faith it could hardly have been expected that Islam would have made its way among them, but in the seventeenth century many Montenegrins in the frontier districts became Muslims and took service with the neighboring Pashas.

But in 1703, Daniel Petrovich, the then reigning bishop, called the tribes together and told them that the only hope for their country and their faith lay in the destruction of the Muslims living among them. Accordingly, on Christmas Eve, all the converted Montenegrins who would not forswear Islam and embrace Christianity were massacred in cold blood.[95]

[77]Yāqūt, vol. i. p. 469 sq.
[78]Géographie d’Aboulféda, traduite par M. Reinaud, tome ii. pp 294-5.
[79] Enrique Dupuy de Lôme; Los Esclavos y Turquía, pp. 17-18. (Madrid, 1877,)
[80] De la Jonquière, p. 215.
[81]Id. p. 290.
[82] Kanitz, p. 37.
[83] Id. pp. 37-8.
[84] A map of this country is given by Mackenzie and Irby (p. 243) : it contains Prizren, the old Serbian capital, Ipek, the seat of the Serbian Patriarch, and the battle-field of Kossovo.
[85] Kanitz, p. 37.
[86] Mackenzie and Irby, pp. 250-1.
[87] Farlati, vol. vii. pp. 127-8.
[88] Mackenzie and Irby, pp. 374-5. Kanitz, p. 39.
[89] Id. pp. 39-40.
[90] Kanitz, p. 38.
[91] Bizzi, fol. 48, b.
[92] Zmaievich, fol. 182.
[93] Kanitz, p. 38.
[94] Montenegro was ruled by bishops from 1516 to 1852.
[95] E. L. Clark, pp. 362-3.