A Morisco Appeal to the Ottoman Sultan

Islamic political history can been seen as a cycle that oscillates between power and weakness. The Abbasid caliphate that contributed much to math and science in from the 8th to 11th centuries eventually came to violent end with the Mongol destruction of Baghdad in 1258. The Ottomans, who rose out of the ashes of that destruction at one point became the most powerful European empire, but eventually ended with a whimper in the aftermath of the First World War. Numerous examples illustrate the rise and fall of Muslim societies.

In this rise and fall cycle, there have been times when one society’s decline coincided with the rise of another, leading to interesting interactions between the two. One such case happened in the late 15th/early 16th century, when al-Andalus lost its independence in the western Mediterranean while the Ottoman Empire was becoming a major power in the East.

In 1492, the last Muslim polity in Iberia, the Emirate of Granada, fell to the Union of Castile and Aragón that would later form Spain. The remaining Muslim inhabitants, known as Moriscos, were originally promised religious freedom by the Catholic Monarchs, but by 1502, a royal decree imposed Catholicism on the entire population and Muslims had to publicly profess to have converted or face severe punishments.

In this atmosphere of religious oppression, in 1502 an anonymous Andalusian poet wrote an appeal for aid to the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II (r. 1481-1512). A portion of this appeal is copied below:


So when our cavalry and foot soldiers had perished and we observed that no rescue was forthcoming from our brethren,

And when our victuals had diminished and our lot had become hard indeed, we complied, against our will, with their demands, out of fear of disgrace,

And fearing for our sons and daughters, lest they be taken captive or cruelly slaughtered,

On the condition that we were to remain like the Mudejars [Andalusian Muslims] before us, namely the inhabitants of the old territory,

And that we were to be allowed to remain in enjoyment [of the right] to call to prayer and [to celebrate] our ritual oration, while we were not [to be required] to abandon any of the prescriptions of the Religious Law;

And that whosoever among us desired [to cross] the sea was to [be allowed to] do so in safety, to the land of the [African] coast with all the property he wished,

As well as many other stipulations, surpassing fifty by the number of five.

Then their Sultan [Fernando of Aragón] and grandee said to us: “What you have stipulated is granted to you in more than its entirety,”

Showing us documents containing a pact and a treaty, saying to us: “This is my amnesty and my protection [over you],

So remain in enjoyment of your possessions and homes as you were before, unharmed.”

Yet when we came under their treaty of protection, their treachery towards us become apparent for [he] broke the agreement.

He broke the compacts he had deceived us with and converted us to Christianity by force, with harshness and severity,

Burning the books we had and mixing them with dung or with filth,

Though each book was on the subject of our religion. Yet whey were cast into the fire with scorn and derision,

Nor did they spare a single volume belonging to any Muslim, or any tome which one could read in solitude.

Whosoever fasted or prayed and his state came to be known, was in every instance cast into the fire,

And whosoever of us failed to go to their place of unbelief, him did the priest severely punish,

Slapping him on both cheeks, confiscating his property, and imprisoning him in a wretched state.

Moreover, during Ramadan, they spoiled our fast time after time with food and drink,

And they ordered us to curse our Prophet and to refrain from invoking him in times of ease and hardship.

They even overheard a group chanting his name, and the later suffered a grievous injury at their hands,

For their judges and governors punished them with beatings, fines, imprisonment, and humiliation.

Whosoever lay dying, and did not have in attendance one who could preach [their religion to him], in their deceit, they would refuse to bury him,

Instead he was left lying prostrate on a dung heap like a dead donkey or animal.

[They committed] many other similar, shameful deeds, as well as numerous wicked acts.

Our names were changed and given a new form with neither our consent nor our desire.

Therefore, alas for the exchanging of Muhammad’s religion for that of the Christian dogs, the worst of creatures!

Alas for our names when they were exchanged for those of ignorant non-Arabs!

Alas for our sons and daughters who go off every morning to a priest

Who teaches them unbelief, idolatry, and falsehood while they are entirely unable to circumvent [the Christians] by any trick!

Alas for those mosques that have been walled up to become dung heaps for the infidel after having enjoyed ritual purity!

Alas for those minarets in which the bells have been hung in place of the Muslim declaration of faith!

Alas for those towns and their beauty! Through unbelief they have grown very dark!

They have become strongholds for the worshippers of the Cross, and in them the latter are safe against the occurring of raids.

We have become slaves; not captives who may be ransomed, nor even Muslims who pronounce their declaration of faith!

Hence, were your eyes to see what has become of our lot, they would overflow with abundant tears.

So alas! Alas for us! Alas for the misfortune that struck us, namely harm, sorrow, and the robe of oppression!

Source: “Morisco Appeal to the Ottoman Sultan.” Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources. Ed. Olivia Constable. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania, 2012.