Christian Renegades and Barbary Corsairs

Stephen Clissold describes how many Christian prisoners in sixteenth and seventeenth century North Africa embraced the Islamic faith, willingly serving their new masters.

Every militant faith spreads at the expense of its rivals. A major source of Islam’s strength, and a cause of its rapid expansion, had been the ready welcome extended to its converts and the equality of status granted them.

By the end of the fifteenth century, the contrast between Islamic practice and that of Spain, now emerging as the foremost Catholic power, was marked. There the ‘new Christians’ - converts from Judaism or Islam - were regarded as suspect Catholics and were hounded by the Inquisition.

The promises of toleration made in 1492 to the defenders of Granada, the last Moorish enclave in Spain, were quickly broken, and an exodus of Moslems or nominal Christians swelled the number of those who had already migrated to North Africa. The process continued intermittently for over a century until the last Moriscos were driven from Spain.

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