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ISLAMIZATION OF ALBANIANS IN THE MIDDLE AGES: THE PRIMARY SOURCES AND THE

PREDICAMENT OF THE MODERN HISTORIOGRAPHY


Author(s): ATAULLAH BOGDAN KOPASKI
Source: Islamic Studies, Vol. 36, No. 2/3, Special Issue: ISLAM IN THE BALKANS
(Summer/Autumn 1997), pp. 191-208
Published by: Islamic Research Institute, International Islamic University, Islamabad
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23076194
Accessed: 29-09-2016 03:55 UTC
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Islamic Studies 36:2, 3 (1997)

ISLAMIZATION OF ALBANIANS IN THE MIDDLE AGES:


THE PRIMARY SOURCES AND THE PREDICAMENT OF
THE MODERN HISTORIOGRAPHY

ATAULLAH BOGDAN KOPASK1

Land of Albania! Let me bend my eyes


On thee, thou rugged nurse of savage men!
The cross descends, thy minarets arise. . .

(Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage)

So tear down minarets and mosques


and light up the Serbian candles. . .
(Petar Petrovic-Njegos II, Serbian monk and ruler of Montenegro, 1830
Fling to the sky our battle cry
where the black clouds of war will toss
victorious Crescent of Islam
over the cross!

With armor clash

and bow string twang


with saber slash

and shield clang


we come, the Ghazis come!
The Prophet's Law, the sultan's order
we guard Arnaut-ili border
Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!

(The battle song of Albanian Janissaries)


I

For a number of reasons the Islamization of Albanians in the Middle Ages is


still one of the least known events in the history of the European Muslims. Since
the fall of the Communist rule in Albania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, a significant

amount of research work has been done by many Muslim and revisionist
historians to verify numerous problems related to the past of the Albanian

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ataullah Bogdan kopaski/lslamization of Albanians in the Middle Ages

Muslims. They attempted to overcome the extremely biased trend in the modern

Communist and Christian nationalist historiography of Albania, Serbia,


Macedonia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Russia and Greece related to the
history of the Osmanli state and Islamic civilization in the Balkans. Such an
effort seems well timed since the Christian, nationalist and Marxist
historiographies of the last hundred years have generally portrayed the Osmanli
centuries as some kind of 'Dark Ages' of the 'enslaved' Balkan nations.
The sophisticated culture, literature and art of Islam were ignored by
the generality of historians who hardly even tried to conceal their anti-Muslim
bias. Their ferociously anti-Islamic and anti-Turkish attitude not only obscured

and distorted the amazing process of mass conversion of entire Christian


communities to Islam, but also provided an intellectual prop for the ultra

nationalist policy of ethnic and religious cleansing in Bosnia, Hum


(Herzegovina), Albania, Bulgaria and Greece. For against the backdrop of the

history of the Balkans, as generally portrayed, what appeared as a kind of


historical exoneration and an act of retaliation for the 'betrayal' of Christianity
in the Middle Ages.
The policy of destroying Islamic culture and way of life in Albania after
the World War II is the primary reason why the history of medieval Islam in
this land has not been properly studied. And when it was studied, it was studied

within the parameters of the Stalinist ideology which emphasized only the
mythical image of medieval Albanians as the 'heroic Illyrian proletariat'. The
handful of Muslim scholars in the Communist Eastern Europe who resisted the
anti-Islamic and anti-Turkish propaganda were ostracized and often penalized.

Albanian nationalist historians like Ramadan Marmallaku, Kristo Frashri


Skender Anamali, Stefanaq Polio, Skender Rizaj and Arben Puto in their books
deliberately emphasized ad nauseam only 'the Turkish savagery' and the 'heroic'
Christian resistance against the Osmanli state in Albania.1

Niazi Limanovski, a Macedonian teacher of history wrote in his


controversial book The Islamization and the Ethnic Problems of Macedonia
(1993) that:
the long influence and pressure of Islam on the spiritual life of
Macedonians suffocated their national conscience and their new Muslim

religion did not allow them to support the native Macedonian people in
the struggle against the Turco-Islamic feudal tyranny . . . The masses

of Islamized Macedonians alienated from the Macedonian nation by the


Turkish religion lost their Macedonian language and ethnic character

and they are known in the science (sic!) as Turcized or Albanized


Macedonians. They are lost forever for the Slavonic nation.2
II

In post-Yugoslav Macedonia, the absolute majority of Albanians (Shqeptart) are


Muslims. A tiny community of Slavic-speaking Muslims of Macedonia or the
so-called Torbeshi are descendants of the Islamized medieval Slavic tribes of

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Islamic

Studies

36:2,

(1997)

193

Timocani, Obodrici, Vainici, Veleg


the Byzantine provinces of Thessa
the seventh century.
After the fall of Pax Osmanica

of Macedonia was aggressively con


Serbian ultra-nationalists. Kosovo

Albanians
cradle

of

The

were

the

annexed

medieval

'Macedonian',

medieval

Islamization

by

the

Serbian

kin

Serbian

an

of

Albanians

the Balkans. Some nationalist Albanian historians like Hasan Kalesi from

Kosovo and Selam Pulaha from Tirana described the medieval Islamization of

Albania as a dialectic process which safeguarded the Shqeptart (Albanians)


against Slavization and Hellenization.3

The recent revisionist re-examination of the history of Muslim


Europeans as well as the investigation of the Osmanli defters invigorated the
medieval studies of the Muslim Albania.

There is no doubt that during the transition from the Latino-Byzantine


oikumene into the Muslim multi-ethnic ummah many people were confronted

with political violence, religious prejudices and military brutality, played a


significant role. The Christianization of Europeans was a very violent process,

involving the extermination of 'heathens'. The Baltic Yatzvings, Galindes,


Pruses, Kurs, the Slavo-Vendic Lutices, Obodrites, Ranes and others did not
survive the crusades proclaimed by the popes and grand masters of militiae
Christi. Those who survived the Christianization by ferro ignique were turned
into the feudal helots of the powerful orders of monks-knights. It is very clear
that the social dynamics of conversion/acculturation in the Middle Ages was
closely associated with political and religious supremacy. But was Islamization
of the Albanians correlated with Turkization, like the earlier and almost similar
Islamization of the Iberian Germans and Romanized Celts was tied to the

ecumenical process of Arabization of the Andalusians and Murcians? And are


the Osmanli deftars, siils and the charters from the Byzantine monasteries
reliable indicators of the so-called 'curve of conversion and continuity'?
The use of violence in the conversion of the Albanians to Orthodox

Christianity by the Serbian king Dushan met with ferocious resistance in


Kosovo, Albanian heartland and western Macedonia. In 719 ah/1319 ce,
Albanians revolted against the Serbian occupation from Tivar to Durrs. The
leaders of the anti-Serbian uprising wrote to the Pope John XXII that they are
"throwing off the yoke of tyrannical king of Rascia (Serbia), whose persecution

they could no longer endure". In 733 ah / 1332 ce, the Albanians from Zeta
(Montenegro) led by Dimitri Suma fought against the Serbian state and its

church until 737 ah / 1336 ce. The Serbs who are followers of the Orthodox

Church (pravoslavni) oppressed the Albanians who were Christianized by the


Roman and Greek churchmen. Albania remained a battlefield of two powerful
Christian theocracies since 577 ah / 1181 ce, when the Catholicized Normans

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ataullah Bogdan KOPASKi/lslamization of Albanians in the Middle Ages

invaded Drres (Dyrrachion). In February 21, 1272 ce, the fanatical Catholic
king Charles I d'Anjou occupied the Albanian shores of the Adriatic Sea and
proclaimed himself the king of Albania.4

The Latin occupation of the Byzantine Albania and despotate Epiros


initiated a long struggle between the Eastern Orthodox 'schismatics' and the
Roman Catholic 'heretics'. The Muslim Osmanli Turks from the emirate of

Aydin, who were asked by the Byzantine Emperor Andronicos III for help to
restore the rule of Constantinople over the Balkans, came to know Albania in
737 ah / 1337 ce. A small contingent of Muslim crack troops sent by Umur Beg
to Macedonia smashed the Albanian invaders of Thessaly and Epiros. When the

Serbian 'empire' of Czar Dushan collapsed in 1355, the local Serb, Albanian,
Latin and Greek warlords partitioned Shqeptaria. The Norman-Gegian clan of
Balsha (Balsa) in the north, and the Toskian feudals from Thopia family in the
south, emerged as the most bellicose parties in 'Arberia'. The Balsha warlords
who overran the coastland between Durrs (Durazzio, Dyrrachion, Dyrrachium)
and Shkder (Skadar, Skodra) came into conflict with Trvtko, a Slavic ruler of
Bosnia and they antagonized the Serbian feudals of Zeta (Montenegro). As long
as Balshas confronted the Slavic feudals, the Thopias were supportive allies of
their northern kinsmen, but when the Balsha warlords established their own
tribal statelet from Avlona to Prizen, the threatened Thopias asked the Muslim
Turks for military assistance against them. Carlo Thopia of Durrs asked for
direct Turkish intervention in 787 ah / 1385 ce. The Muslim ghazis from the
Turkish frontier corps (udj) remained stationed near Yanina in the southern
Albania since 783 ah / 1381 ce as the 'rapid reaction forces' of the Byzantines.
The Emperor John V Cantacuzenos, whose daughter Theodora was married to

the sultan Orhan, recognized the Osmanli suzerainty over the ex-Byzantine

Balkan 'Romaioi'.5

The Muslim udj-begs established their own 'security zones' between


despotate Epiros, Thessaly, controlled by the Catalan mercenaries and the
Albanian frontier land called by the Turkish chronicles as the Karl-ili, or "the
land of Carlo". They responded positively to Carlo Thopia's appeal for help and
several special mountain units of the Muslim peace-keeping troops from western
Macedonia intervened in the civil war of Albanians. Balsha II's forces were
routed and Balsha himself was killed by the Muslim troops in the fierce battle

of Savra on the bank of Vijose river on Sha'bn 12, 787 ah (Sept. 18, 1385).
After the crushing defeat of Balshas, the Albanian warring feudal families
acknowledged the power of the sultan Murad I over their fiefs. In 1387, Balsha

and Dukagjin clans recognized the Muslim rule over Albania. As the Muslim
sultan's vassals, the Albanian warlords participated in the military expeditions

aimed at the conquest of Serbia and Bosnia. Shihab al-DTn Shhln Pasha of
Kavala and Gjergi (George) Stratzimirovic of Shkder invaded Bosnia several
times but their raids were halted in 1388. However, one year later the Muslim
army of Murad I defeated the multi-ethnic Christian army led by the Serbian
prince Lazar in the first battle of Kosovo Polje in 791 ah / 1389 ce. The
Albanian Christian vassals of the sultan Bayezid I fought in the tragic battle of

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Islamic

Studies

Angora

The

36:2,

against

Albanian

Nicola

Zaccaria

the

(1997)

195

Turkoman

auxiliary
and

army

troops

Gjergj

Dukagjin

several Albanian feudals betraye


overlordship over western Alba
Kastrioti, Niketas Thopia and Ni
pax Islamica in Rumelia, Serbia a
of Uskub (Skopje) extorted a pl
Albanian code of honour called Leka Law) from Ivan Kastrioti, a Serbo
Albanian warlord who occupied a part of northern Epiros, where two powerful

feudal clans of Shpata and Toccas fought for supremacy over the Toskas
(southern Albanians).
During the First Turko-Italian War (812-820 ah/1415-1417 ce) against
the Venetians, who occupied the coastal Albania, the Osmanli state established

a new sandjak, Arnawud-ili, between Yanina and Akca-hisar (Kroia) with a


capital in Agryrocastro (later Ergiri). Conversion to Islam was not a condition
for proprietorship of timar, but many Albanian timar-holders embraced Islam
in the early stage of the Osmanli supremacy over Shqeptaria. In 834 ah / 1430
ce, the sultan Murad II took Yanina after the death of the despot Carlo Tocca

and supported his Serbian vassal Stephen Lazarevic against the Venetians in
Gegeria (the northern Albania). In 836 ah / 1432 ce there were no more than
800 Turkish settlers in Albania, they were mostly sipahis (knights), preaching
dervishes, and imams of mosques. Many of them were massacred by the Araniti
and Thopia Zenebissi clansmen who, incited by the papacy, Hungary, Venice
and king Alfonso V of Naples, rebelled against Ali Evrenos-zade, the Muslim

governor of Arnawud-ili. In 837 ah / 1434 ce. Sinan Beg, the governor of


Rumelia quelled the rebellion but the Araniti feudals fled to the mountains of the
north Albania. The Araniti mutiny did not affect the process of Islamization of
Albanians, when Gjergj i (George) Kastrioti, a son of Ivan Kastrioti and son-in
law of the rebellious Araniti chief, joined the anti-Muslim band of guerrillas.6
The young George Kastrioti was removed from the post of subashi of
Aka-hisar (Kriije) in 840 ah / 1440 ce by the sandjak-pasha of Ergiri, because
of his treacherous behaviour. He tried unsuccessfully to form a kind of anti
Muslim confederation with other Albanian feudals during the Alessio (Lzhe)
Gathering in March 1444, but the clans of southern and central Albania refused

to join his bands which never exceeded more than 3,000 outlaws. In the
beginning of his crusade, coordinated with the Hungarians and Venetians, the
sandjakbegs of Ohrida and Berat were able to cope with the terrorist attacks, but
when he became a vassal of the pope of Rome Eugenius IV and the Aragonese
king of Naples Alfonso V,7 and the rebellious Araniti clan joined his bands in
the south, the tiny Muslim forces in Albania were in trouble. The Kastrioti and

other seditious feudals received annually 1400 golden ducats, weapons and
gunpowder from the popes Nicholas V, Calixtus III, Pius II and the king
Alfonso V.

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ataullah Bogdan kopaski/lslamization of Albanians in the Middle Ages

Kastrioti's bands were very active during the Second Turko-Venetian


War in Albania (868-884 ah / 1463-1479 ce), but the Muslim forces were able
to recapture Aka-Hisar, Drivasto, Lzhe, Shkder and Durrs from the hands
of the Venetians and Kastrioti's rebels in the end of 907 ah /1501 ce.

In 1571 ce, the Muslim troops controlled the whole of Albania from

Yanina to Durrs. The end of the Venetian occupation of Albania was the
beginning of the era of peace and prosperity for Albanians. Thirty Grand Vezirs
of Albanian origin wisely ruled in Istanbul. The Kprli family was the most
famous of them all. Peter Mazreku, a legate of the Pope of Rome, who was of
Albanian origin, investigated the rapid decline of Christianity in Albania, wrote
in his report that in 1624, an absolute majority of the Albanians were Muslims.

His account was verified in 1638 by Gregory Bardhi, archbishop of Tivar. The
Albanian nobility and townfolk from Kosovo were totally Islamized in the end
of the 17th century.8
III

The mass conversion of Albanians to Islam raises the question: what motivated
these anarchic and bellicose highlanders to give up their Christian lifestyle? The
Muslim historians are inclined to explain that the new faith permitted them to
live in dignity and freedom from the constantly crusading churches of the East
and the West. Certainly, Islam appeared to the Albanians as the powerful force
of the Osmanli Turks capable of liberating them from the feudal yoke of the
Orthodox Serbs and the Catholic Venetians. The new converts in Albania

obtained a broad range of new intellectual and religious power which made it
possible for them to assimilate all vital components of the Muslim multi-ethnic
culture enjoyed by the Turks, Arabs and other Islamized peoples in Asia and
Africa.9
The papal legate, Marino Bizzi, who visited Albania in 1610, wrote that

the spreading of Islam among the Albanians by "zealous hodjas and sincere
mullahs is lively and exuberant".10 Between 1620 and 1650, more than 300,000
Christian Albanians embraced Islam."

The Islamization of Albanians was a gradual process involving the


embracing of Muslim civilization rather than a sudden rejection of Christianity.

The absence of a planned policy of coercive Islamizaiton in the 'Ottoman


Empire' contrasted very sharply with the Christian policy of cuius regio eius

religio in post-Islamic Spain, Sicily and Kandia (Crete), where Muslims were
totally exterminated. On the contrary, the Muslim authorities in Egypt and Syria

did not expel the Copts, Maronites and Syriac Christians after the collapse of the
Christian states. However, many of the native Christians zealously collaborated
with the Latin crusaders.

This absence of the Osmanli policy of coercive Islamization was the


greatest success of the Turkish sultans and the most efficient instrument of
removing of the ecclesiae adscripti Catholics and the Orthodox Christians from
the clutches of bishops and patriarchs in Albania. The Turkish conquerors of the
Balkans were ghazis who fought for Islam and enthusiasticly welcomed every

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Islamic

single
order

The

Studies

36:2,

(1997)

197

new convert, but they did


increase the number of M

to

most

powerful

agent

of

victorious scimitar of the Turks nor the decadence of the Christian churches but

the missionary zeal of the Sufi dervishes and wandering hodjas, who tirelessly
preached the words of the Qur'n long before the Osmanli military conquest of
the Balkans.12
In the nineth century, the Sicilian, Andalusian and Maghribi Muslim

merchants established their trade colonies in the Illyrian and Dalmatian


coastland. Ulcinj, the medieval port between Albania and Montenegro, was held
by Muslims for two centuries. Many 'Sakaliba' from Carinthiaand Dalmatiaor

the Slavic Croats, Slovenians, Serbs, and definitely the Illyrian Albanians,
accepted Islam in Muslim Spain, where they served as the 'Mute Guard' of the
Ummayad amirs. After the fall of the emirate of Bari in Apulia, and later, after

the collapse of the Islamic state in Sicily, many Italian Muslim migrants
preferred to settle in the pastoral land of Albania and Dalamatia than to return

to the Islamic North Africa which had been ravaged by petty Arab and Berber

tyrants. Persecuted by the new Norman invaders of Albania, these Muslim


Sicilians and Lombards either became crypto-Muslims or moved further into the
Balkan wilderness. Probably the Muslim refugees from Sicily and southern Italy
influenced the anti-trinitarian founders of Bosanska Crkva (Bosnian Church),

incorrectly identified with the Bulgarian para-Christian sect of Bogomils, who


were themselves inspired by the Paulian dissenters deported by the Byzantine
Emperors from Asia Minor to Bulgaria and Macedonia. The medieval Albanians
and Bosnians were in fact introduced to Islam four centuries before the arrival
of the Turks.

In 979 AH / 1571 ce, the Albanian-origin sea-ghazi Ulj Ali from Algiers
recaptured the Montenegrin port Ulcinj from the Venetians and transformed it

into the navy base of Algerian Albanians and Moorish Africans. In Ulcinj, the
Sudanese Muslims from Bagrimi near Lake Chad intermarried with Albanians
and their dark-skinned descendants became the most numerous inhabitants in the

town until 1914, when the Serbs from Crnagora (Montenegro) massacred them.

The Black Albanians of Ulcinj spoke Arabic and "their women have always
covered and still cover their faces and refuse to give up that custom".13
IV

According to the popular legend of the eastern European Muslims, Baba Sari
Saltik was the first apostle of Islam in the Balkans, who converted in 1261 ce,
in Dobruja (Moldavia), several hundred Pecheneg Vlach and Bulgar noblemen.
The famous Ibn Batttah visited his tomb {turbe) in Babadag, a border town
between the Turkic-controlled Bessarab and the Byzantine Bulgaria. Baba Sari
Saltik travelled to Bosnia and Albania where he established his tekkes or Sufi

lodges under the facade of Christian hermitages. His disciples, disguised as the
Catholic or Orthodox monks, preached Islam to the Albanians and Bosnians who
were well known to the crusading popes of Rome as the heretical 'Babuns' and

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Isl

ATAULLAH Bogdan KOPASKi/lslamization of Albanians in the Middle Ages

'Theophiles'. Evliya Chelebi, the famous Turkish traveller and chronicler, who
visited Albanian sandjaks in the seventeenth century, identified the legendary
preacher Baba Sari Saltik as Muhammad BukhrT, a disciple of Shaykh Ahmad
Yasavi from Khorasan (d. 1137 ce). According to Chelebi and the local Muslim
legends, he came from Turkestan with forty Turkoman murzas as a beg of the
Tatar emir Nogay. Other oral traditions identified him with a Tatar aga of Berke
(Barakah) Khan, the Muslim ruler of the Golden Horde. He converted to Islam
many Poles, Lithuanians, Hungarians, Vlachs, Kumans, Pechengs, Bulgars and

Germans. Later he preached Islam in Albania and Bosnia. Like the Christian
saints in the Serbian and Greek legends, Baba Sari Saltik healed the sick, killed
dragons and worked miracles. Baba Sari Saltik is also declared a dede or pir by
the Albanian and Bosnian Bektashis. According to one of the numerous legends,
Sari Saltik killed 'Sviatiy Nicola' (the Western Santa Claus) and in his robes he
converted to Islam thousands of Russians and Prussians in the Baltic port of
Danzig (Gdansk). He also converted to Islam the prince of Georgia.14
A large number of rural Albanians were converted to Islam by the Sufi
preachers of Naqshbandiyyah and Qdiriyyah orders, mostly disciples of Shaykh
'Abd Allah al-Ihl and Shaykh Shams al-Dm al-BukharT.

The Osmanli census of 860 ah (1455 ce) in the sandjaks of Albania


authenticates the phenomenon of mass conversion of the Shqeptari peasants to

Islam in Kosovo, Metohija and Macedonia, particularly in the region of

Kustendil and Kretova.15

The spread of Islam brought to the almost illiterate Albania the Arabic
script in which the great works of Shqeptari 'Al-Jamiado' literature had been
written.16

Islamization in Albania had proceeded faster in the higher urbanized


sandjaks of Elbasan, Shkder, Prizen, Vlora, Devlina, and Ohrida than in the
remote regions of the northern Albanian Alpines, where a primitive form of
Catholicism prevailed among the nomadic Klementi and Mirditi tribes.17

The Albanian Muslim militia defended Algiers and Tunis against the
Christian pirates, the Knights of Malta, and the Spanish armadas of Charles V

and Philip II. Famous beylerbeys of Algiers, Ulj Ali, and Khayr-al-DIn

Barbarossa who defeated the Spaniards in Tunis (1569 ce) were of Albanian
origin. In Damascus, the Albanian Sufi shaykhs and scholars established their

own Sufi order, Sa'diyyah, so called because it was founded in 1335 by Sa'd al
DTn al-JibawT. This order had tekkes in every Albanian city. One of the best
known Albanian shaykh of Sa'diyyah order was Baba Suleiman Adzidzi from

Gjakova.
The curve of conversion of the medieval Albanians to Islam evaluated

by the 'defterological' surveying of the Muslim and Christian hanes or


households in selected districts is a highly speculative method of estimation of
the medieval Islamization, particularly in the urbanized areas, where madrasahs,
Sufi orders, and ghzi flituwwah, as well as 'srgned' Muslim settlers made
da'wah to the natives. Islamization of Albanians also cannot be assessed by the
number of timar-holders and described as an act of economic opportunism of

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Islamic

Studies

36:2,

(1

997)

199

those who embraced Islam and who


as 'renegades'. This is notwithstandi
otherwise.18
All

in

the

scholarly

efforts

medieval

to

reduce

Arnavut-ili

and

irremovable fact that about 65 per


nominal Muslims after the coup d'

In the Central State Archives of the Albanian Republic (Arkivat Qndrore


Shtetrore t Republiks s Shqipris), and in the Archives of the Institute of
History (Arkivat e Institut t Historis) there are more than eight hundred
Islamic manuscripts written in the Arabic script. Many of them are the works
of medieval Persian poets, Arab jurists, Indian Sufis, Albanian Muslim writers
and Turkish chroniclers. Among the fifteenth century manuscripts which have

survived the Communist book-burning are works of Albanian fuqaha' and


'ulama'. The most valuable documents of the medieval Islamic literature and

culture of the Albanians were donated to the state libraries by the Bushati
Muslim noblemen who were the administrators of Shkder. Kara Mahmud

Bushati's collection of manuscripts and Mustafa Pasha Bushati's corpus of


precious incunabula clearly demonstrate that in the fifteenth century ce, Albania
was an integral part of Islamic civilization which determined the cultural and
religious life of the Albanians."

The monuments of Islamic architecture and inscriptions which survived


the barbarious Enver Hoxha's 'cultural revolution' in 1967 also indicate that the

Osmanli sultans and 'ulama' took personal responsibility to carry on da 'wah and
preserve the Islamic way of life in Albania. They built whole new cities such as

Kore, Tirana, Elbasan, Ak-Hisar (Kriije) and Telepen and promoted the
urbanization of small villges and towns like Kavaj, Uskiib (Skopje), and Peqin.
A significant role in the Islamization of the ancient realm of Albania
and Macedonia was played by the members of the Osmanli lite of power who
were of Shqeptari-origin.
The narrative travel books and reports written by the Christian voyagers

and spies in the late Middle Ages authenticate the advanced process of
Islamization and urbanization of the Albanian pastoral society. Marino Sanuto,

Paolo Jovio, Pierre Belon, Nocolas Nicolay, Charlie de Pinon, Phillipo


Lonicero, Caesare Vecelli, Lorenzo Bernardo, Robert Whiters and other

Western European peregrinators who visited the Albanian sandjaks in the


sixteenth and seventeenth centuries corroborate the cultural and religious
transformation of Albanians from the Christian-dominated tribal populace into
the urbanized Muslim millet.

The best statistical illustration of the Islamization of Albanians are the

Osmanli year books (sanames), tax registers (tahrirs) of the Albanian vilayets,

religious directives of 'ulama' and muftis and registers of the qadt courts
(sidjils). Most of the medieval Turkish documents are located in the archives of

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ATAULLAH Bogdan kopaski/lslamization of Albanians in the Middle Ages

Istanbul (Basbakanlik Arsivi, Top-kapu arsivi), Ankara (Tapu ve Kadestro),


Skopje, Berat and Sarajevo. Halil Inalcik, a renowned Turkish historian,
published some of them which depict the medieval southern and central
Albania.20 Selami Pulaha, a historian from Tirana, published several tahrirs from
the northern Albania21 and compiled the Muslim Turkish descriptions of the
early Islamization of Albania. However, he abridged and censored the Osmanli
annals according to the exigencies of politics and the ideological directives of the
ruling Albanian leftist nationalists.22
One of the richest single sources for the Islamization of Albanians is the

famous travel book, Seyahat-name, written by the Muslim sojourner Evliya


Chelebi, who travelled to Albanian sandjaks in the seventeenth century.23
The medieval Muslim annalists like Ahmedi, Shukrullah, Oruch, the

anonymous Turkish author of Tevarikh-i al-i Othman, Dervish Ashik-pasha


Fashazade, Mehmed Neshri, Tursuni, Kevami, Idris Bitlisi, Kamal Pashazade,
Nishankhi, Hodja Sadeddin, Ali, Sollakzade, Hadji Calpha and Mynekhimbashi
lavishly described the political panorama and cultural demeanour of the
Albanians during the Osmanli conquests.
Many registers of the orders of sultans (muhimmes), and endowment
deeds (yakipiames) from the Albanian sandjaks located in the Turkish archives

still await careful and competent examination. The Osmanli governmental


departments collected several thousands of tax-registers and letters from the

Albanian provinces of the Islamic commonwealth and collected them in the


archives of Istanbul from the early decades of the fifteenth century until 1908.
Until recently, however, these extraordinarily rich sources of the history of

Islamization in Albania, Epiros, Macedonia, Rumelia, Bosnia and Herzegovina


were totally neglected. The Kemalist regime destroyed tens of thousands of
precious documents which illustrated the glorious past of Islam in Europe. In
1931, two tons of historical records and charters from the Osmanli State Council

(Divan-i Humayun and the Chancery of Grand Vezir (Bab-i Asalfi) were sold
as a waste paper for recycling to the Bulgarian paper-mills. Hundreds of
documents signed by the Osmanli sultans comprising priceless medieval ahti
names, fermans, berats, hatt-i humayuns, personal epistles written by veziers,
governors, and agas, 'ulama' directives, registers of fiefs (timar defterleri) from

Albanian and other European sandjaks, perished in the annus terribilis of 1924.
Fortunately, in 1929 P.Dorev, a Bulgarian orientalist and then in 1936

a group of Bosnian historians S. Stanojevi, G. Elezowic, F. Bajraktarevic


and B. Durdev copied hundreds of Muslim manuscripts from the archival
collections of Istanbul.24 Microfilms of these documents that were subsequently
destroyed are now available in Skopje, Belgrade and Sarajevo.
Unfortunately, hundreds of these invaluable microfilms perished in the
devastated Oriental Institute of Sarajevo during the savage bombardment of the

capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1994. The Serbian self-appointed 'defenders


of antemurale Christianitatis Europae' deliberately targeted the monuments and

documents of the Islamic heritage in Bosnia, hoping thereby to annihilate all


traces of the medieval Islamic cultural presence in Eastern Europe.

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Islamic

Studies

36:2,

(1997)

201

Machiel Kiel, a Dutch schola


systematic examination of the

inscriptions in Albania.25 The mo


medieval primary sources for the
documents known as Acta et Dipl
was published in a two-volume ed

Suffay

in

Vienna

(1913-1918).

XV, edited in 24 volumes by J. V


and 1977, is an indispensible corp
the Albanian past.
Many historical events which
Ages are recorded in annals and m

G.M. Thomas and R. Predelli in


Levantinum, sive Acta et Diplo
illustrantia a 1330-1454, publish

interesting charters, letters and s


the State Archives of Venice (Arc
conserved by
Signoria (the

the Venetian archivi


Republic of Venice)

with a rather unique data


Magno's chronicle Annali

abou
Vene

Christian coverage of Islamization


details about the Muslim conquest

in Ake-Hisar (Krje, Kroia) in


however, are questionable and o
Nedim Filipovic and Bronislav D
(kanun-name)

Historiam

from

the

Slavorum

sandjak

Meridional

Turkish records of history of the


The Macedonian historian, Ale
collection of the travel
Christian visitors.28

reports

on

VI

In European archives, the Christia


the anti-Islamic hate-literature r

significant
curriculum

in

the

part
vitae

of
of

turcica.

George

psychological

'Skanderbeg'

papacy,

was

Venice

war

tribal

and

the

Am

Kastri

agains

leader

king

of

against the Muslims in the moun


Alfonso V and supported financia
Albanian Muslims. He was oppose
his own Muslim nephew Hamza K

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ataullah Bogdan KOPASKi/lslamization of Albanians in the Middle Ages

Kastrioti was rewarded by the pope with a large sum of money and political

asylum. Called by the Catholic Church athleti Christi or the 'champion of


Christ', he collaborated with Janos Hunyadi, the Hungarian 'athleti Christi',

who massacred the Muslim settlers in Slavonia, Banat and Srijem. Kastrioti
failed to unite the Christian tribal chieftains of Albania and Epiros against the
victorious Turks, who defeated a great pan-Christian coalition in the battle of

Varna in 1444. Kastrioti-Skanderbeg's close ally, the atrocious Vallachian


hospodar Vlad Tepes Dracula 'Impaler' (son of Vlad Devil), was totally defeated

by Murad II's Janissaries. In 1560, Marino Barleti (Barlezio, Barletius), a


Christian expatriate from 'Arbenia' published in Venice his Historia del
Magnanimo et Valoroso Signor Gergie Castrioto detto Scanderbego, dignissimo
Principe de gli Albani. Barleti's bombastic biography of the Albanian rebel was
an Italian version of his original manuscript written in Rome probably in 1509.
There are numerous well-preserved copies of Barleti's biography of Kastrioti
Skanderbeg printed in the sixteenth century in all European languages. Those
incunabula are plagiarist renditions of Barleti's Latin original Historia de Vita

et Gestis Skanderbegi Epirotarum Principis. The large numbers of this 16th


century 'bestseller' suggest that it was the favourite book of the Christian war
propagandists designed to stimulate a violent resistance against the Muslims in
the era of the triumphal expansion of Islam.29
Interestingly, in the original Latin version of Barleti's book, the anti
Turkish rebel is called a 'prince of Epiros'. His mother was a Serbian woman.
In the later European translations he is the 'Albanian prince'. The name Iskander
given to George Kastrioti by his followers recalls the memory of Alexander the
Great, the ancient Macedonian slayer of the Persians who was also 'Albanized'
by the modern Albanian nationalists.
Revered by the Christian propagandists as a new Albanian incarnation

of the mythical Spanish el-Cid, Kastrioti-Skanderbeg was depicted by the


Muslim chroniclers, Ashikzade Pasha and Munadjidjim Pasha, as a petty,
perfidious traitor and papal stooge. He died as a broken old man after the fall
of his last ramparts on January 18, 1468 and his family embraced Islam. He was
a petty feudal warlord from Central Albania who was skilfully used by popes,
by the king of Naples, and by the Venetians. He switched political sides several
times during the Turco-Venetian war when cash did not come to him from Italy.
He was definitely not an Albanian Roderigo Diaz de Vivar 'el-Cide' or the semi
legendary Spanish slayer of Muslims in Valencia; rather he was 'Ibn Hafsun' of
Albania.

Both modern Marxist and Christian nationalist Albanian myth-makers


elevated this feudal insurgent to the position of their greatest idol. Karl Marx
considered Georgius Castriotus Epirotarum de Turcis Skanderbeg dictus as the

defender of Europe against the most powerful Asiatic state which "opposed
historical development and progress".
There are many realistic and allegorical portraits of Kastrioti in various
museums and castles of Europe.30 There are also several 16th century woodcuts,
book illustrations and drawings which present Skanderbeg 'the King of Albania'

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Islamic

Studies

fighting

biblical

36:2,

'against

king

of

(1997)

the

203

Persians'

Judea

wh

(vide.

Bianchi). Some 18th and 19th cen


Spartan King Leonidas, turbaned
Italian painter S. Polarolli presen

knight

in

crusader's

mantle.

received political asylum in USA


and artists who will write or pain
this award was received by Jeron

painted many anti-Turkish pic


Albanian freemason, published

Skander Beg. Earlier, in 1833, Be


England, wrote his fictitious stor
Skanderbeg' who fought the 'Tur
politicians and historians were an

against
huge

the

Osmanli

number

refuted

the

of

the

myth

Caliphate.
medieval

of

Lat

coercive

Preaching of Islam, published in


power lite in Tirana wanted to e

Islamic hero. They applied to fo


Italian R. Romanelli and Bulga
refused to undertake such a work. Enver Hoxha, the Stalinist dictator of
Albania, ordered to place a bronze monument of the anti-Islamic rebel in front

of a mosque built in Tirana by Hadji Edhem Beg in 1208 ah / 1794 ce.


After the fall of Communist dictatorship in Albania, several Muslim
revivalist and revisionist historians refuted the myth of the 'national hero'.
Recently, some Western historians have written very balanced and objective
books on Islam in Albania. Their historical inquiries have contributed much to
correcting the previous 'Ottoman studies'. These scholars tend to describe the
Islamic culture of Albanians as a unique contribution to European civilization.31

'R. Marmallaku, Albania and the Albanians (London: Routlege & Kegan Paul, 1975); I.
Kocollari, Arvanitet (Tirana: Albin, 1994); S. Pollo and A. Puto, History of Albania from its
Origins to the Present Days, tr. C. Wiesman and G. Hole (London: Routlege & Kegan Paul, 1981).
2N. Limanovski, Islamizatzya e etnichkite promeni vo Makedonya (Skopje: Makedonska Kinga,

1993), p. 417.
3H. Kalesi, "Das trkische Vordringen auf dem Balkan und die Islamisierung Faktoren fur

der Erhaltung der ethinsche und nationalen Existenz des albanischen Volkes" in G. Stadmller,
Sdosten Europa unter dem Halbmond, zum 65. Geburtstag gewidmet, ed. P. Bart) and H. Glassi

(Mnchen: 1975), pp. 135-138.


'Acta et Diplomata res Albaniae mediae aetetis illustrantia, ed., L. de Thalloczy, C. Jiricek,

E. de uffay, vol. 1, nos. 269, 283, pp. 77,81.


5D. Dennis, "The Reign of Manuel II Paleologus in Thessalonica, 1382-1387", Orientalia
Christiana Annalecta, no. 159 (Rome: 1960), p. 35.

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ataullah Bogdan KOPASKi/lslamization of Albanians in the Middle Ages

6H. Inalcik, "Arnawutluk", in ISlam Ansiklopedisi (Istanbul: Milli Egitim, 1940), vol. 1,
pp. 582-586.
7C. Marinesco, "Alphonse V, roi d'Aragon et de Naples, et l'Albanie de Scanderbeg" in
Melanges de l'ecole Roumanie en France (Paris: 1923), pp. 34-56; J. Radonic, "Djordj Kastrioti
Skanderbeg i Arbaniya u XV vyeku", SAN no. 35 (1942), pp. 20-21; F. Pall, "Skanderbeg et lanco
Hunedoara" in Revue des tudes sud-est europens, vol. 6 (1968), pp. 10-14.
"E. Rossi, "Saggio sul dominio turco e l'introduzione dell' islam in Albania" in Revista
d'Albania, 1942, fsc. 4; N. Borgia, l monaci basiliani d'Italia in Albania. Appunti di storia
missionaria, secoli XVI-XVIII, (Rome, 1935), vol. I, pp. 34-67.
"S. Skendi, 'Religion in Albania during the Ottoman Rule' in Sdostforschungen, vol. 15,
(1956), pp. 311-327.
'""Relatione della visita fatta da me, Marino Bizzi, Arcivescoro d'Antivari, nelle parti della

Turchia, Antivari, Albania, e Servia, alla Santita di Nostro Signore Paolo Quinto", Roma:
Bibliotheca Barberina, 1610, MS No. LXIII, 13, passim. (Croatian translation of Marino Bizzi's
report, vide: F. Racki, 'Izvjestaj Barskoga Nadbiskupa Marino Bizzi o svoyem putovanyu god. 1610
po Arbanskoy i Staroy Srbyi' in Starine (Zagreb, 1888), vol. 20, pp. 12-29.
"Voyages de Pietro Della Valle, Rouen: R. Machuel, 1745, vol. I, p. 37. See also Notize
universali dello stato di Albania de Monsignore Vincenzo Zmaievich, arcivescoro di Antivari
esaminate nelle Congregationi Generali de Propaganda Fide di tt Debr. 1703-1712, Feb. 1704,
Bibliotheca Barberina, Rome, MS. No. L. 126.
I2P. Bartl, Die Albanischen Muslime zur Zeit der naktionalen Unbhngigkeitsbewegung
(Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassovitz, 1968), pp. 16-26.
I3A. Lopasic, "A Negro Community in Yugoslavia", Man, vol. 58, (1958), p. 171. See also
D. Petrovii, "Crni u Ulcinju", in Etnologski Preglad (1972), vol. 10, pp. 31-36.

I4H. Kalesi, "Albanische Legend um Sari Saltik", De tudes Balkaniques et Sud-Est


Europens, Actes du Premier Congrs Internationale (Sofia, 1971), vol. 7, pp. 11-149; Also G.M.
Smith, "Some Turbes and Maqams od Sari Saltuq an early Anatolian Turkish Gazi Saint" in Turcica,

vol. 15 (1982), pp. 216-225. See also F.W. Hasluck, Christianity and Islam under the Sultans
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1929), vol. 2, p. 577.
"A. Stojanovski, I. Eren, "Kretovskata nahija voXVI vijek", GlasnikNacionalnogoInstitua
u Skopje, vol. 15 (1971), no. 1, pp. 60-92.
". KaleSi, "Albanska Aljamiado knizevnost", Prilozi za Orientalnog Filologji, no. 17
(1966-67), (Sarajevo: 1967-67), pp. 49-61.
I7S. Rizaj, "The Islamization of the Albanians during the XVth and XVIth Centuries", Studia

Albanica (1985), vol. 1, pp. 129-130.


'"H.W. Lowry Jr., Studies in Defterology. Ottoman Society in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth
Centuries (Istanbul: Isis Press, 1992).

"G. E. Lohja, "Islamic Manuscripts in Albania", Gazi Husrev Beg, vol. 1, no. 3 (1994),
pp. 23-24.
"'H. Inalcik, Hiri 835 tarihli Siiret-i Defter-i Sanak-i Arvanid (Ankara: T.T.K, 1988).
2,S. Pulaha, Defteri i Regjistrimi t sanxhakut t Shkodrs i Vitit 1485 (Tirana: TU, 1974).

22S. Pulasha, "Matriaux en langue Osmano-Turque des Archives Albanaises concernant

l'Albanie du XVIe au XIXe siede", in Studia Albanica, vol. 3 (1966), pp. 187-198; Idem, Le
Cadastre de l'an 1485 du Sandjak de Shkoder (Tirana: 1974); Idem. Lufta Shqiptaro-Turke ne
Shekullin XV. Burime Osmane (Tirana: Universiteti Shttror i tirans, 1968).

23E. Celebi, Ptepis, trans, and ed. S. Dimitrov, BAN (Sofia: Institut za Balkanstika),
pp. 223-56.
24J. Reychman, "Archiva tureckie i ich znaczenie dia nauki europejskiej" in Archeion, no. 34,

(1961), Warsaw, pp. 123-135. See also A. Sacerdoteanu, "ArhiveledeStatdin Peninsula Balcanica"
in Balcania, no. 4 (1941), pp. 440-444.
25M. Kiel, Ottoman Architecture in Albania (1385-1912) (Istanbul: Research Centre for
Islamic History, Art and Culture, 1410/1990).
2"S. Magno, Annali Veneti e del Mondo, vol. IV, Bibliotheca Correr, Venice, MS, Cicogna,

3529-3533.

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Islamic

27B.

Studies

36:2,

Dzurdzev,

(1997)

205

Filipovi,

Hadzib

Zvornicki, Kliski, Crnogorski i Skadarski


Meridionalium Illustrantia (Sarajevo: 1957)
Makedoniya vo delata na stranskitepat
1991).

"There are many printed copies of M. Barlezio's biography of Skanderbeg in several


European libraries and archives. The best guide to these albanica is C. Gollner's Turcica, Die
europaischen Turkendrucke des XVI Jahrhunderts, II Band, MDL-MDC, Bucarest-Baden-Baden:
Editura Academiei Romania & Verlag Librairie Heitz Gmbh, MCMIXVIII (1958). In my research
work I cite his book translated into the 16th century Polish language by Cyprian Bazylik in 1569,
vide: Historya o Zywocie y Zacnych sprawach Jerzego Kastryota, ktorego pospolicie Szkanderbegiem

ZWQ., Ksiazecia Epirenskiego, na Trzynascie ksiag rozdzielona, napisana od Maryna Berlecyusa.


Przydane sa ktemu o oblezeniu y dobywaniu Szkodzy Ksiegi Troie. *Lacinskiego jezyka na Polski
przetozone przez C. Bazylika, MDLXIX, MS, no. XVI, folio, no. 223 in the National Library at
Warsaw (Narodowa Biblioteka w Warszawie).
"'In the 16th century castle at Beauregard, France. In Bytca Castle at Zlin, Slovakia, in the
German castle of Waldburg. In Danzig (Gdansk) in Poland. In Rome, in the gallery of Uffizi of
Florence, in the town hall of Fermo, Italy.
The Albanian Communist and nationalist propagandists do not hesitate to lie about the authors

of several Kastrioti portraits. Ferid Hudhri in his Albania and Albanians in World Art published in
Athens, Greece by Christos Giovants (1990) declared Bellini and Rembrandt as the supervisors of

'painting of the great hero Skanderbeg' (op. cit., pp. 26-27).


31Vide; H. T. Norris, Islam in the Balkans: Religion and Society between Europe and the Arab

World (London: Hurst, 1993) and T. Winnifrith, Perspectives on Albania (London: Macmillan,
1992).

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atauliah Bogdan kopaski/lslamization of Albanians in the Middle Ages

E.Durham,"Albani sintheshop",19 ,
watercolur,RoyalAnthroplgicalInstiue,Lond

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Islamic

Studies

36:2,

(1997)

207

E. Lear, "Vlora", 184 , oil

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ataullah Bogdan kopaski/lslamization of Albanians in the Middle Ages

C. Gordon, "Elbasan", 1927

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