The Muslim island of Crete in the Aegean Sea
Compiled By: Syed Ali Shahbaz
On March 6, 961 AD, Byzantine Greek forces occupied the Muslim island of Crete in the Aegean Sea, thus ending the nearly 135-year rule of the Islamic emirate founded by Spanish Muslim migrants under Abu Hafs after their eviction in 827 from the Egyptian port city of Alexandria by the Abbasid Iranian general, Abdullah ibn Taher Khorasani, who equipped them with ships and supplies for the expedition to Iqritish – as the island was called in Arabic.
The Greek invaders led by Nikephoros Phokas pillaged the cities, destroying mosques, libraries, baths, bazaars, and irrigation canals. The capital Rabz al-Khandaq, where currently the city of Heraklion stands, was totally destroyed. Cretan Muslims were either killed or carried off into slavery, while the emir, Abdul-Aziz ibn Shu’ayb, and his son Nu’man were taken captive to Constantinople and forced to become Christians.
The survival of numerous gold, silver and copper coins, of almost constant weight and composition, testifies to a strong economy and a high living standard among the population of the Emirate of Crete, which had extensive trade ties with the rest of the Muslim world. The Muslims developed a flourishing agriculture, introducing a variety of crops including sugarcane. It was in 654 that Islam made its first advent in Crete, the 5th largest island of the Mediterranean, where Muslims have seen fluctuating fortunes for the past millennium.
The last period of Muslim rule – 252 years – ended in 1898 when West European powers seized Crete from the Ottoman Empire and merged it with Greece. The more than 60-percent Cretan Muslims, many of whom followers of the Bektashi Sufi order founded in the 13th century in Khorasan by Iranian mystic of the school of the Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt, Haji Bekash Vali of Neishapour, were expelled and the island was Christianized. The Cretan Muslim Diaspora today lives in Turkey, Syria and Lebanon. It is worth noting that the Hussainid Dynasty (1705-1957) of Tunisia was Cretan Muslim and originally governors of the Ottoman Empire.