4. Bearers of Islam: Muslim Women between Assimilation and Resistance in Christian Sicily

Sarah Davis-Secord

[print edition page number: 63]

The last few decades have seen a rise in interest in Muslim women’s and gender history, much of it inspired by political and social concerns in the modern world. The topic of “women and Islam” has been the basis for a great deal of academic and non-academic discussion in recent decades, but many questions remain about women and gender in particular contexts within Muslim societies in the premodern world. In the early years of Muslim women’s studies, much of the scholarship asked whether the coming of Islam fostered misogyny or brought about an improvement in the status of women. Therefore, much of the inquiry into the medieval period was directed toward an illumination or correction of the contemporary Muslim world, as when Fatima Mernissi wrote that “medieval religious history is crucial for contemporary Muslim politics.”[1] A second strain of scholarship has sought to move away from employing normative categories such as “women” and “Islam” and toward contextualized study of women’s lives within various medieval Islamic societies in order to bring to light the wide variety of[64] women’s roles in history.[2] Of particular interest is the question of women’s agency within intellectual, economic, cultural, and religious contexts.[3]

At the same time, and also fueled by contemporary interests within a globalized world, much of the recent scholarship on the medieval Mediterranean world has focused on questions of ethnic identity and the fates of minority populations in multicultural regions. Less scholarship, however, has examined the intersections between religious identity and gender within cross-confessional environments, with many questions remaining about how the people of the multicultural Mediterranean viewed their religio-cultural identities in terms of gender distinctions.[4] What has been written on gender and religion in minority populations has focused on the rich multicultural environment of later medieval Iberia, while virtually none of the scholarship has examined the equally complex multicultural context of Sicily, due in large part to the far smaller number of available sources for the study of medieval Sicily.[5] Although the source base for Sicily is not as deep as that for Iberia, bits of evidence remain that can shed light on how women there participated in the shaping and transmission of distinct religio-cultural identities within Sicily’s minority communities. This essay offers one perspective on how gender roles impacted cultural assimilation, or religious conversion, in the multicultural medieval Mediterranean, in particular within the minority Muslim population of twelfth-century Christian Sicily. For one male author,[65] Ibn Jubayr, a Muslim traveler who visited Christian Sicily during the late twelfth century, Muslim women played pivotal roles as the bearers and preservers of a minority religious culture that he viewed as threatened with extinction through assimilation or religious conversion.

Ibn Jubayr and the Muslims of Norman Sicily

Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn Jubayr (1145–1217 ce), a traveler and pilgrim from al-Andalus, composed his Riḥla, or travelogue, after his return from a two-year-long journey from Granada to Mecca and back.[6] His account purports to be a straightforward narrative of the journey to Mecca and back, but the genre of riḥla encompasses both a quest for knowledge and an accounting of the wonders and marvels (ʿajāʾib) that a traveler experienced in the world.[7] As such, Ibn Jubayr’s travelogue described a world of experiences that were often amazing, strange, and disconcerting, including his encounters with Christians and with Muslims of other sects. Beyond a simple description of sights and encounters, indeed, Ibn Jubayr presented his Andalusi readers with a confirmation that their world, of Almohad-ruled Islam in the western Mediterranean, was the only place where a true practice of Islam was to be found: “Let it be absolutely certain and beyond doubt established that there is no Islam save in the Maghrib [Western] lands . . .There is no justice, right, or religion in His sight except with the Almohades.”[8] The rest of the world, both within the dār al-Islām and in the recently conquered Christian regions of Sicily and the Levant, he found to be fractured by cultural and political disorder, poor practice of Islam, and a confounding (to him) mixture of religious traditions, all to the detriment of Islam.

The primary cause of this disunity in the world, even within the dār al-Islām, according to Ibn Jubayr, was fitna — a word that refers to disorder or civil war but also to “seduction” or “temptation” or anything leading to a breakdown in the proper order and unity of the universal Muslim community (umma). Inadequate Muslim leadership, which Ibn Jubayr called out in many of the regions he visited,[66] was one prominent source of fitna that was just as unsettling to him as unbelief or adherence to incorrect teachings. Conversion of lands or people from Islam to Christianity represented the ultimate chaos and upending of the proper order of things. Ibn Jubayr’s text thus reflects anxiety about the breakdown and fracturing of the dār al-Islām, arising either from assimilation and conversion or from poor Muslim leadership and lawlessness within.

The final stop on his return journey was the island of Sicily, which had been seized from Muslim rule by the Latin Christian Normans about 100 years earlier. His trip across the northern portion of Sicily, lasting from late 1184 into early 1185, occurred during the reign of King William II (1166–1189), known as “the Good.” Despite the fact that King William ruled over formerly Muslim territory, Ibn Jubayr initially thought highly of him as a ruler, having heard several rumors about the king’s fondness for Muslim servants and concubines and about the ability of Muslims to live comfortably, if secretly, at court. In comparison to the Crusader Levant, the other region in which Ibn Jubayr encountered subjected Muslim communities, Sicily appeared strange to this traveler as a place where Muslims were free to live and worship as they pleased. Nonetheless, by the end of his three-month-long sojourn in Sicily, Ibn Jubayr came to the conclusion that Muslims there were subject to numerous difficulties, indignities, and pressures to convert to Christianity. The very act of living side by side with Christians was, according to Ibn Jubayr, a source of fitna: the upending of the proper order of the world and a temptation for subjected Muslims to convert to Christianity.

After nearly two centuries of inclusion in the Islamic world, Sicily was home to a population that was highly Islamized and Arabicized, with significant minority communities of Greek Christians and non-Arab Berbers (who were religiously Muslim).[9] When the Latin Christian invaders, usually called Normans, began their conquest of the island in the mid-eleventh century, many of the Arabic-speaking Muslims fled to regions that remained under Islamic rule, such as Egypt, Iberia, or North Africa. But, due to financial constraints, missed opportunities, or lack of desire to leave a familiar homeland for the unknown abroad, many Muslims remained in Sicily even after the Christian takeover. These Muslim families lived as a subjected minority community in a Christian land, despite general Islamic legal pronouncements about the necessity of emigration rather than remaining under infidel rule. According to Islamic legal thinking, Muslims were not meant to live in a subjected state, in which they would be cut off from the religious and civil support systems that allowed them to practice Islam fully and to maintain their linguistic, cultural, and religious[67] customs.[10] The lack of a dominant Islamic culture presumably would leave these subjected Muslims vulnerable to various pressures to convert to Christianity or to lose their unique Muslim religious and cultural identity. These were the very fears expressed by both Ibn Jubayr and many of the Muslims whom he met in Sicily.

Despite these pressures and fears, Muslim communities remained in Sicily until the 1220s, when Frederick II forcibly relocated them to the mainland Italian colony of Lucera.[11] During the late eleventh and twelfth centuries, many of these Arabic-speaking Muslims in Sicily worked within the agricultural system of the island, and some served important roles in the Norman administration in Palermo.[12] The Norman royal court at Palermo also hosted Muslim scholars, poets, and scientists who contributed to a court culture that drew upon elements from both Sicily’s Greek and Arabic populations as well as Latin imagery and art.[13] These Muslim intellectuals and their influence on the elite culture of Christian Sicily have made the island famous for its supposed multiculturalism and for the Normans’ seemingly “tolerant” or even welcoming approach to the various religious communities in their realm.[14]

Many aspects of minority life in Sicily initially appeared to Ibn Jubayr to support this view of a tolerant Christian society. Under Norman rule, Muslim communities were allowed to practice their religious rituals, retain their local religious and civil leadership, and maintain many aspects of their unique cultural identity. During his time in Sicily, Ibn Jubayr witnessed much about life for the[68] native Muslims in this society that he described as good and fair. He noted, for example, that the Christians in one community allowed Muslims to celebrate a loud religious festival at the end of Ramadan. He remarked: “We marveled at this, and at the Christians’ tolerance of it.”[15] He also claimed that it was in one of these independent Muslim districts that he heard the call of the muezzin for the first time in many months:

We passed the most pleasing and agreeable night in that mosque, and listened to the call to prayer, which long we had not heard. We were shown high regard by the residents of the mosque, amongst whom was an imam who led them in the obligatory prayers.[16]

Many of the Islamic cultural norms were apparent in Sicily’s Muslim community, from mosques and festivals to Muslim merchants’ prominence in the marketplace, and Ibn Jubayr summed up in regard to Palermo: “The Muslims of this city preserve the remaining evidence of the faith.”[17]

The Muslims of Christian Sicily were also allowed to retain a wide range of community leaders, such as the imam whom Ibn Jubayr mentioned. Like monotheist minority groups living under Muslim dominion (known as ahl al-dhimma, or dhimmīs, after the pact of protection under which they lived), the Muslims of Christian Sicily were granted the right to both religious and civil leadership. Ibn Jubayr described worship led by imams in the many mosques he visited, reported that there were numerous teachers of the Qur’ān in Palermo and muezzins to call the faithful to prayers.[18] It is also known from other sources that Sicily’s Muslims had a ḍī (judge) who would adjudicate civil and religious questions for the community.[19] In addition to these religious leaders, Ibn Jubayr made clear to his readers that there were a number of wealthy and noble families on the island[69] who would be considered the “sheikhs” of the island’s Muslim community.[20] This community leadership would have been essential for the correct practice of Islamic life and worship and for the preservation of an intact Muslim community on the island.

By the end of his visit to the island, however, Ibn Jubayr came to believe that these remainders of Islamic faith, culture, and leadership were being threatened by the dominant Latin Christian culture: “But in general these Muslims do not mix with their brethren under infidel patronage, and enjoy no security for their goods, their women, or their children. May God, by His favor, amend their lot with His beneficence.”[21] He noted that the Muslims of Palermo could not fully practice their faith, despite the appearance of religious freedom: “They do not congregate for the Friday service, since the khutbah [Friday sermon] is forbidden.”[22]

Despite the many familiar and friendly aspects of life for Muslims in Christian Sicily, we know that some of the conditions of minority life under this regime — such as the payment of an annual tax modeled on the Islamic jizya called in Sicily the gezia, and a travel ban restricting movement or communication between the Muslims of the island and those in the dār al-Islām — were considered onerous (as they may have been intended).[23] Ibn Jubayr recognized that the freedom of the Muslims in Sicily to own property and govern their own communities came at a price, both in monetary and cultural terms. He stated:

The Muslims live beside them [Christians] with their property and farms. The Christians treat these Muslims well and “have taken them to themselves as friends” but impose on them a tax to be paid twice yearly, thus taking from them the amplitude of living they had been wont to earn from that land. May Almighty and Glorious God mend their lot . . .[24]

He also learned of various pressures, both subtle and direct, placed on the island’s Muslim community by the Norman rulers. For example, some of the Muslim community’s leaders had been dismissed from royal favor and had their properties confiscated, and some had converted to Christianity under duress.

Indeed, Ibn Jubayr’s account of his experiences and the stories he heard demonstrates the problems with thinking in terms of “tolerance” in the multicultural medieval Mediterranean. By the time he ended his stay on the island, and after learning about the conditions of life for Sicily’s Muslim minority,[70]
Ibn Jubayr became convinced that living alongside Christians, no matter how peacefully, was quite harmful to the preservation of a distinct Muslim religious and cultural identity. And it is certainly the case that the population of Sicily’s Muslim community was steadily eroded across the twelfth century, at the same time that mosques and Greek churches and monasteries were transformed into Latin churches and monasteries. Exact numbers are difficult to establish, but we know that significant demographic decline within the Muslim population was occurring at the time of Ibn Jubayr’s visit to the island. One estimate is that at the time of the deportation of the island’s Muslims to Lucera, only about 20,000 individuals remained to be sent to the mainland colony. This represents a reduction in numbers estimated by one scholar to have been as much ninety percent of the Muslim population in only a century and a half.[25] That is, within forty years of Ibn Jubayr’s visit to Sicily, the Muslim community was exiled to Lucera after having been radically diminished by either religious conversion or cultural assimilation into the Latin Christian majority on the island.[26]

Religious Identity and the Problem of Assimilation

The possibility of religious and cultural assimilation arose in the medieval Mediterranean whenever a region was conquered by rulers from a different religious group or culture. Christians and Jews lived in Muslim al-Andalus, North Africa, and Sicily, while Muslims and Jews remained in Christian Castile, Aragon, the Crusader States, and Sicily. In each of these cases, minority populations lived as cultural and religious minorities under a foreign dominant culture and either maintained their unique religious and cultural communal identity or lost it through assimilation or conversion (either forced or voluntary). Maintaining a religious and cultural tradition as a minority community was not easy, for in most cases the minority group spoke a different language than the majority,[] utilized different religious rituals, buildings, and texts, and needed a distinct set of community leaders in order to maintain and transmit traditions and texts correctly. It was expected, and often the case, that conquered people would eventually assimilate into the religio-cultural identity of the new majority, and at times religious conversion was forced.[27] Indeed, minority religious populations were often subject to a continual tension between efforts to maintain their distinct religio-cultural identities and the benefits that would follow upon conversion or assimilation.

Religious identity for medieval people was both individual and communal, and, above all, it was ideally visible. What is considered personal and private for modern individuals was generally perceived as communal, public, and, if not immediately apparent, at least easily discernible. In locations where different cultural groups lived side by side, neighborhood walls and sumptuary laws were designed to clarify and reinforce the boundaries between the groups and to emphasize the visibility of religious identity. These cultural and religious boundaries were designed to help prevent sexual miscegenation and the problems attendant upon mixed-faith families; they simultaneously prevented confusion about the definition of the community that arose when sexual boundaries were crossed.[28] Anxieties about ambiguous or altered religious identity and the possibility of a “secret” identity also plagued many societies in which cultural mixing was prevalent. To take the most obvious example, the conversos of late medieval Iberia were feared by the Christian authorities because of the suspicion that,[72] although they appeared to act as Christians, their true “secret” identity remained unchangingly Jewish.[29]

Women’s roles within the family and as sexual beings were directly at the center of these cultural and communal definitions of identity. Women lay at the nexus of the tension between preservation of a Muslim identity and its disintegration within Christian Sicily’s Muslim population, which was faced in the twelfth century with the prospect of assimilation. Through marriage to Muslim men and raising Muslim children, as well as by appearing in public as identifiably Muslim, these women were central to the preservation of their unique cultural identity, both individually and as a community.

Ibn Jubayr included descriptions of women throughout his text, many of whom played special roles in the expression of cultural identity. He was closely attuned to the spectacle of women’s appearances and their visible and public identities. From the glittering processions of princesses on the ḥajj to chained and shackled female slaves in the Christian Levant, women do not lack for visibility in the Riḥla of Ibn Jubayr. It is not only women themselves, however, on which he remarked. Ibn Jubayr dwelt on their appearances, their dress and adornment, and what public female presence could tell the observer about her identity and that of her community. For instance, he spent long paragraphs on detailed descriptions of the gown of a Christian bride in Tyre, on the sparkling outfits and retinues of the princesses on pilgrimage, and on the very familiar accessories of Christian women in Palermo, and he surmised from these appearances such identifiers as class, religion, social role, and how the larger culture was reflected in these women’s external adornments.

Women’s public visibility itself presented no obvious problem in the eyes of Ibn Jubayr. He did not remark on the impropriety of women appearing in public but, rather, commented on more complex matters of how women’s roles and visible identities marked their communities, especially in religious (Muslim-Christian) terms. While he did explicitly complain about poor Muslim leadership, poor treatment of pilgrims and travelers, the lack of proper Islamic worship, and the dangerous mixing of Muslims with Christians, Ibn Jubayr did not complain about women appearing in public. His larger concerns were focused on the health of Muslim communities and the practice of proper Islam in the world. In Ibn Jubayr’s analysis, these issues were being threatened both within and outside the dār al-Islām. Women’s roles could, in Ibn Jubayr’s stories, either help or hinder Muslim community well-being, as we will see below.[73]

Norman Sicily, with its significant Muslim minority population, was a prime example of a Muslim community under threat. When Ibn Jubayr arrived in Sicily, which had been under Muslim dominion for two centuries ending in the mid-eleventh century ce, he found a Muslim minority community that was feeling pressure to convert to Christianity, despite the overall favorable conditions for Muslims on the island. In this time of transformation, after a political frontier had been breached by foreign conquest, Ibn Jubayr expressed his fears about the breaking down of cultural frontiers, which might ultimately lead to the disintegration of this minority Muslim community. Women were central to his concerns about the preservation of a unique Muslim community identity in a time of stress, acting as key figures in the struggle to retain a distinctive religio-cultural identity. Women in this minority community played roles that were both public and familial, as wives, daughters, marriageable young women, and concubines in the royal harem, who, although hidden from public view within the palace, were the subject of much public conversation and rumor; indeed, gossip about the Muslim women of the harem was the basis for much of Ibn Jubayr’s perception of the royal court and of King William’s treatment of his Muslim courtiers.

These roles that women played as bearers of Islamic identity and culture are crystallized in three forces that Muslim minority women exerted within their community in Christian Sicily: as sexual partners who formed the boundary between religious groups but also had the capacity to bring Islam physically into the sacred precinct of the royal household; as wives and mothers who preserved the Islamic identity of their families and transmitted religious knowledge and customs; and as publically visible representatives of Islamic culture on the streets of Palermo. All three of these forces had the potential to be either assets or liabilities for group identity. That is, the power of women to shape and exhibit their communal religious identity — to literally bear that identity within and on their bodies in order to ensure its continuation — meant that they could either positively assert a minority identity or be the weak point at which the breakdown — assimilation or conversion — could occur.

Religious conversion, whether of an individual or of larger social units, is nearly impossible to quantify and almost as difficult to explain.[30] Ibn Jubayr’s eyewitness account of Sicily’s Muslim community points to a variety of pressures acting upon that community that, he feared, might induce them to take on a Christian identity. His fears were founded on the notion that proximity, and especially friendly interaction, might seduce weak or vulnerable Muslims[74] (“ignorant souls,” as he calls them) into conversion to Christianity.[31] If the boundaries between Muslim and Christian culture were not maintained, these “weaker” Muslims might fail to recognize the important distinctions between the two religions and the superiority of Islam as a truth claim. These most vulnerable Sicilian Muslims included women and children, whom Ibn Jubayr highlights as among the most important players in this tension between the allure of the majority culture and the effort to maintain traditional Islamic religious practices, language, and customs. Especially for these vulnerable members of society, Ibn Jubayr came to believe that the dangers of living together were too risky to be tolerated, as he asserted in reference to Muslims in the Crusader Levant: “There can be no excuse in the eyes of God for a Muslim to stay in any infidel country, save when passing through it, while the way lies clear in Muslim lands.”[32] This was, he says, because in addition to being exposed to disturbing proclamations about Muḥammad, the sight of enslaved and shackled Muslim male and female prisoners, and the filthiness and “mixing with the pigs” in Christian lands, the cultural enticements of Christian society and could lead Muslim women and children to convert to Christianity.[33]

Ibn Jubayr provided an example of the insidiousness of this cultural seduction in the story of a young convert in the Levant. He claimed that the young man first spent time with Christians and learned their customs, and only after that did he convert to their religion. This young man “had mixed with the Christians, and taken on much of their character. The devil increasingly seduced and incited him until he renounced the faith of Islam, turned unbeliever, and became a Christian.”[34] It is thus apparent that Ibn Jubayr thought that cultural considerations as much as spiritual ones could lead a person to abandon his or her religion and religious identity. Cultural assimilation, therefore, preceded religious conversion in his mind and was a threat to the most suggestible members of society, including youth, the enslaved, and women. In situations where assimilation was encouraged or approved, Ibn Jubayr believed that the unique religious and cultural identity of the Muslim community was at risk through a process of seduction, or cultural attraction.[75]

Women as Bearers of Islam

Women, in particular, could either succumb to such seduction or play a significant role in resisting it. The association of women with fitna or seduction is not uncommon in medieval Arabic sources.[35] Women’s presence and physical beauty introduces disorder in many literary sources. Both women themselves — their sexualized bodies — and sexual relations could also define the boundaries of a religious community, and the crossing of such limits created disorder and disruption to the social order of a multicultural environment. Ibn Jubayr himself used the term in that manner, but he also associated fitna with any culturally seductive element, such as beautiful churches, that might make Christianity seem appealing. For example, he described one church in Palermo as “beyond dispute the most wonderful edifice in the world,” with windows that “bewitch the soul” (lit., “provoke fitna in souls”); he then went on to ask for God’s protection from this captivating sight.[36] In like manner, beautiful women and ornate buildings could both attract the eye and seduce the soul.

At times, these two uses of fitna overlap, as in Ibn Jubayr’s elaborate description of the wedding attire of the Christian bride processing through the streets of Tyre. Her captivating appearance, as she marched out between two men and followed by other richly dressed Christian nobles, accompanied by the sounds of trumpets, flutes, and other musical instruments, clearly caught Ibn Jubayr’s attention, given the length of his description of this procession. He then added:

Muslims and other Christian onlookers formed two ranks along the route, and gazed on them without reproof . . .We thus were given the chance of seeing this alluring sight, from the seducement of which God preserve us.[37]

The sights and sounds of Christian culture surrounded the bride, and she carried her Christian identity boldly through the public street, which was populated by both Muslims and Christians. Despite its clear attraction for the multicultural crowd and for Ibn Jubayr himself, the bridal gown was not described in terms of what parts of the woman’s body it covered or revealed but, rather, in terms of its sumptuousness as a Christian cultural artifact. He mentioned several times that her outfit was “according to their traditional style” and that her attendants were Christians: “Before her went Christian notables in their finest and most splendid[76] clothing, their trains falling behind them.”[38] He did not refer to the exposed skin or face of the bride but commented on the outfit itself and the spectacle surrounding the event. Ibn Jubayr most notably remarked on the “pride” involved in this exhibition of Christian culture, which was taking place in a once-Muslim land: “Proud she was in her ornaments and dress . . . God protect us from the seduction of the sight.”[39] The explicit focus of the text is not the sexual desire aroused by a beautiful woman so much as the cultural jealousy it might inspire Muslim onlookers to feel. This sight was surely sensually alluring, possibly capable of causing the male viewer to feel sexual desire, but it was also, more significantly for Ibn Jubayr, culturally attractive, demonstrating the appeal of the elite Christian culture and its triumph over Muslim culture in the region.

Ibn Jubayr’s text demonstrates that women not only participated in the creation and maintenance of cultural boundaries but also were key players in the formation and preservation of a unique minority religious identity in twelfth-century Sicily because they played a special role in demonstrating the superior appeal of Islamic culture. Indeed, women appear at the crux of many crises of religious identity in the multicultural Mediterranean. For instance, converso women figure prominently in the records of inquisition trials, as their religious identity was made ambiguous by domestic activities.[40] Likewise, many of the Christian martyrs in ninth-century Cordoba were wives and daughters, for whom both marriage and clothing figure prominently in their stories of altered religious identity.[41] For Ibn Jubayr, the status of Sicily’s Muslims hinged on several general factors, among which women were centrally important in large part because of the foundational roles they played in the Muslim family. Women were, in fact, a nodal point upon which the minority Muslim identity either was protected or attacked. Notably absent from Ibn Jubayr’s discussion is a concern for the common historiographical conceit of women’s seclusion as vital for “male honor.” Instead, for him, women’s status and position reflected the viability of the entire Muslim community under Christian dominion. The wives and daughters of this community were to be protected not in order to safeguard the males of that culture but to protect the culture itself.

The first mention of Sicily’s Muslim women in the Riḥla concerns the concubines in King William’s harem. Ibn Jubayr noted that he had heard that “The[77] handmaidens and concubines in his palace are all Muslims.”[42] Women were not alone in carrying Islamic identity into the royal precinct, as William surrounded himself with Muslim courtiers and servants and patronized Arabic scholars, but, for Ibn Jubayr, the presence of Muslim women in the harem seemed especially noteworthy and signified an important presence for Islam within the king’s family. These women represented Islam within the private boundaries of the royal court and were said to be maintaining the tenets of their faith with the full knowledge of the king. Ibn Jubayr recounted a story that he had learned about William’s court in which, during the panic following an earthquake, William heard himself surrounded by Arabic lamentations calling upon Allah and the Prophet: the king “heard nothing but cries to God and His Prophet from his women and pages.” In response to this experience, William is reported to have made a statement about the admissibility of all types of worship and the comfort it brings, rather than an admonition about praying to the Christian God.[43] The religion and language of Islam were thus manifest in the private quarters of the royal household both aurally and physically due to the presence of these women.

While none of these Muslim women was his primary wife and none of their children would inherit William’s realm, it appeared significant to Ibn Jubayr that the Christian king maintained a harem of women whom he knew to be practicing their Islamic faith. He praised the steadfastness of these Muslim women and stated that: “Of the good works of these handmaidens there are astonishing stories.”[44] Ibn Jubayr even asserted that some Christian women who had been taken into the court household were converted to Islam by the Muslim women there, noting that one of the strangest stories he heard was that “the Frankish Christian women who came to his palace became Muslims, converted by these handmaidens.”[45] Ibn Jubayr believed that William’s court was a place filled with Muslims and Islamic worship, much of it focused on the activities of these women. These Muslim women had the power not only to represent Islam at court but even to perpetuate it through conversion of Christian women and by giving birth to children whom they could raise in the Islamic faith. They carried Islam into the Christian space of the king’s harem vocally, physically, and spiritually. In Ibn Jubayr’s view, therefore, women were important as bearers of Islam and links in the perpetuation of religious identity.

In truth, however, these Muslim women at the royal court had been bodily appropriated by the Christian ruler, just as the Muslim community as a whole existed at the whim of the Christian rulers. Ibn Jubayr, shocked by the encouraging stories he had heard about life at court for Muslims and William’s pro-Muslim stance, did not directly express concern about this problem. But the[78] reality would have been that these Muslim concubines were either slaves taken during raids in North Africa or young women from the native Muslim population appropriated for the king’s use and thus removed from the island’s population of marriageable Muslim women.[46] These women operated in the private, royal, Christian sphere, not within the public of the many Islamic settlements or the private domestic sphere of a Muslim household. In other words, Muslim women who otherwise would have publicly represented Islamic culture in their families and in the streets had been privatized for the king’s personal use. Nonetheless, Ibn Jubayr presented this situation as one that was commendable, showing King William’s positive attitude toward his Muslim subjects as well as the positive presence of Islam at his court. Keeping Muslim women was, for Ibn Jubayr, another marker of William’s acceptance of Muslim individuals, even though these women’s bodies had been co-opted by the Christian elite and were thus unavailable as marriage partners for the island’s struggling and demoralized Muslim population. Rather than being dismayed, however, Ibn Jubayr lauded these women for bringing Islamic rituals, the Arabic language, and Muslim children into the Christian court.

A second vital role that women played in preserving Islamic religious culture and identity was as wives and mothers within the Muslim family. Women from Muslim families would have been expected to marry Muslim men and raise their children in Islam. Mixed-faith marriages were not unknown in the medieval Mediterranean, but they were often the locus of conflict and tension over religious identity.[47] Muslim men, in both religious law and practice, at times married women from among subject dhimmī populations, with the common assumption that the children of those unions would be raised as Muslims.[79][48] According to common Islamic legal tenets, however, Muslim women would not be allowed to marry outside of the Muslim community. Yet women from distressed minority populations might find themselves pressured to marry men from the dominant group.

The possibility of inter-faith marriage appears to be the very problem faced by some of the young Muslim women in twelfth-century Sicily, as illustrated in a story Ibn Jubayr related from the end of his trip, heard while waiting for a boat from Trapani back to al-Andalus. This anecdote deals with a young Muslim woman desiring to leave Sicily as the wife of one of the Muslim pilgrims returning to Iberia.[49] This young woman’s father approached the group of travelers while they were delayed in Trapani, seeking to marry off his daughter to one of them so that she could flee from life as a subjected Muslim in Sicily. The young woman was a virgin approaching marriageable age whom the father wished to send to Spain in order that she might “escape from the temptation (of apostasy).”[50] The young woman herself was complicit in this request: “We were likewise amazed at the girl — may God protect her — and at her willingness to leave her kin for her love of Islam.”[51] This comment demonstrates that the problem did not lie with her; she was not a wayward child or one who had demonstrated an interest in converting to Christianity. Ibn Jubayr again related his sense of wonder at the willingness of this family to part from each other in order that she find a marriage partner and life in a Muslim land, noting the pity and compassion that he felt during this experience. He also stated that this young woman was motherless, making her the sole maternal figure in the lives of her three younger siblings, which made the family’s sacrifice even more significant.[52] The specific impetus for this request is unknown, as is the outcome, but the implication was that this girl was facing pressures to marry outside of the Islamic community. Perhaps she had already been approached by Christian men seeking her hand in marriage, or she could not find an eligible Muslim man to marry, or maybe the family had witnessed other young women marrying outside the Muslim community. Whatever the case, the overall picture is clear: at least for this one family, the choice to part from each other seemed preferable to the dangers lurking for this woman within Christian Sicily, and the religious identity of her future marital family was in some way more important than living with or near her natal family.[80]

Extrapolated to the larger society, it appears that marriage-age women from the Muslim community of Sicily were struggling to maintain their religious identities within their new families. Young Muslim women forced to marry Christian men would most likely have assumed a Christian religious identity, meaning that the issue of women’s marriage became a vital aspect of the preservation of a distinct Muslim religious identity. If married into a Muslim family, these women would have been able to preserve the customs of their natal families, including language, religious practice, and the domestic practices associated with Islamic belief and culture.[53] In addition, in all of the religious cultures of the medieval period, the education of the youngest children and most girls would have occurred at home at the mother’s feet. The child’s first introduction into the rituals and customs of the family’s religious culture occurred in the home, thus giving the mother a vital role to play in the handing down of this knowledge.[54] Muslim women married to Christian men would presumably have had to abandon their faith, at least publically, and raise their children as Christians.[55]

Women served as the primary transmitters of religious knowledge and custom in many at-risk religious communities. Renée Levine Melammed has argued that many late medieval Iberian crypto-Jewish families were able to maintain their secret Jewish rites only because of the mother/wife of the extended family.[56] As the male-dominated, text-based institutions of formal Jewish learning and law disappeared, the transmission of secret Jewish knowledge was left to the informal and oral pathways of the domestic sphere. This is not surprising, given the nature of many of the important rituals of medieval religious life that[81] occurred in or about the home: food preparation, cleanliness, birth and the ritual welcoming of babies, and preparation of the dead for burial.[57] Many of the inquisitorial accusations against suspected conversos were based on the domestic activities — sweeping on Fridays, lighting candles on Friday evenings, avoiding pork products and other food-based customs — that supposedly delineated the cultural boundaries between “true” Christians and those in name only.[58] Likewise for Muslim minority women, such domestic activities as food preparation, the education of young children in language, prayers, ablutions, the preparation of halal food or the abstinence from it during periods of fasting, and other particular Islamic religio-cultural practices originated in and were transmitted within the home.[59] A woman forced to marry outside of her natal religious community would need to learn a new set of customs and practices, leaving behind the traditions of her religion.[60] If too many of these Sicilian women married into Christian families, not only would they and their children further diminish the population of the embattled Muslim community but the distinctive customs that define an Islamic society would have been lost as well.

Another aspect of a Muslim family life that Ibn Jubayr encountered in Sicily again highlights the difficulties with thinking of Norman Sicily as a tolerant society and further emphasizes the importance of women and children in maintaining the integrity of the Muslim community as a whole. Ibn Jubayr claimed that:[82]

The (Muslim) people of this island suffer, amongst other tribulations, one that is very sore. Should a man show anger to his son or his wife, or a woman to her daughter, the one who is the object of displeasure may perversely throw himself into a church, and there be baptised and turn Christian. Then there will be for the father no way of approaching his son, or the mother her daughter . . . The Muslims of Sicily therefore are most watchful of the management of their family, and their children, in case this should happen.[61]

Young people and women were again here the weak points on which the well-being of the Muslim community could founder.[62] This practice, which would potentially aid in converting impressionable and angry Muslim youth to Christianity, demonstrated to Ibn Jubayr that the seemingly favorable conditions for Muslims in Sicily were simply a cover for efforts to convert them to Christianity. The most distressing aspect of this situation for Ibn Jubayr, though, extended beyond the possibility of young people converting to Christianity, to the limitations that this fear placed on parental authority.[63] This restriction on parental sovereignty was not limited to mothers, and it in fact included a restraint on the freedom of a husband to discipline his wife. It is instructive, however, to note that Ibn Jubayr considered the mother’s authority over daughters a parallel to that of fathers over their sons. This anecdote also reinforces Ibn Jubayr’s earlier statement that, despite their apparently free and comfortable lives in Sicily, Muslims there “enjoy no security for their goods, their women, or their children.”[64] Property, women, and children — that is, land, home, and family — were the three most important weak points on which the Norman rulers, according to Ibn Jubayr, were putting pressure on the Muslim community in twelfth-century Sicily.

The final aspect of women’s agency in maintaining communal religious identity relates to the public visibility of an Islamic cultural presence, as opposed to private, domestic matters. As much as a private or secret religious identity could be preserved before God, without the knowledge of the larger society, the public demonstration of an obviously Muslim community bore witness to the triumph of Islam in the world. This public and visible presence of Islam was clearly of concern to Ibn Jubayr. When Ibn Jubayr first landed on Sicilian soil, he found himself in Messina, a city that he judged negatively due to the absence of a visible Muslim presence: “it is cheerless because of the unbelief, no Muslim being settled there. Teeming with worshippers of the Cross, it chokes its inhabitants, and constricts them almost to strangling.”[65] He also noted with dismay that no speakers of Arabic could be found in that city. The presence or absence of a Muslim community was judged on matters both visual and aural. Functioning mosques and madrasas, the sounds (or lack thereof) of the khutbah (Friday sermon)[83] and the adhān (call to prayer), and individuals walking in the streets speaking Arabic would all signal to a visitor that he had entered a land with a Muslim population — that is, a land that demonstrated the superiority of Islam. So too, for Ibn Jubayr, did the sight of women dressed in “the fashion of Muslim women,” whatever that meant in a particular context.[66] Thus, the elimination or even diminished presence of Muslim women with their overtly Muslim appearance would have signaled the disappearance of Muslim culture for Ibn Jubayr.

One of Ibn Jubayr’s most disorienting experiences in Sicily, in fact, arose from the confusion caused by his seeing Christian women dressed like Muslims. Walking to Palermo’s main cathedral on Christmas day, he witnessed groups of women wearing silk veils and henna, which Ibn Jubayr associated with the adornments of Muslim, rather than Christian, women:

The Christian women of this city follow the fashion of Muslim women, are fluent of speech, wrap their cloaks about them, and are veiled. They go forth on this Feast Day dressed in robes of gold-embroidered silk, wrapped in elegant cloaks, concealed by coloured veils, and shod with gilt slippers. Thus they parade to their churches, or rather their dens, bearing all the adornments of Muslim women, including jewellery, henna on the fingers, and perfumes.[67]

He then, again, called upon God to protect the viewer from this seductive sight. In this anecdote women were clearly central to the process of acculturation, although what is less clear is the directionality of this acculturation: it is uncertain in the text — and Ibn Jubayr must not have known — whether these women were Muslim converts to Christianity who had kept their pre-existing clothing style or whether they were Latin women who had adopted the common Mediterranean clothing styles that Ibn Jubayr associated with the lands of Islam.[68] His inability to decipher the answer produced confusion and threatened a breakdown in the distinctions that mattered in such a multicultural environment. Ibn Jubayr was confused by his inability to make a clear distinction between these women by looking at their outer dress, and he considered this another incident of cultural seduction. He held the expectation that such visual markers as veils, silk robes, henna, and perfumes should identify these women to him as Muslim, and he reacted with dismay and perplexity when they did not.

The potential of an individual’s appearance for confusing cultural boundaries was a common fear among Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the medieval world. So too was the concern about sexual relations between members of different religions that might arise from unclear visual identification of the other. Clothing and other personal adornments lay at the nexus between private, personal identity and the publicly portrayed identity that would be visible and “readable” to passersby. If one could not accurately read another person’s identity, the whole range of acceptable social behaviors and relationships would be unclear.[69] Perhaps the most famous medieval Christian expression of the need for identifiable exterior markers of religious identity is found in Canon 68 of the Fourth Lateran Council. It begins:

In some provinces a difference in dress distinguishes the Jews or Saracens from the Christians, but in others confusion has developed to such a degree that no difference is discernible. Whence it happens sometimes through error that Christians mingle with the women of Jews and Saracens, and, on the other hand, Jews and Saracens mingle with those of the Christians. Therefore, that such ruinous commingling through error of this kind may not serve as a refuge for further excuse for excesses, we decree that such people of both sexes (that is, Jews and Saracens) in every Christian province and at all times be distinguished in public from other people by a difference of dress, since this was also enjoined by Moses.[70]

Women and their bodies were thus the gatekeepers of religious identity, but male dress restrictions were also meant to protect the identity of a community through constraints on sexual border-crossing.[71] These fears of inter-confessional sexual union were shared between Muslims, Jews, and Christians of the Middle Ages,[85] as were prohibitions against minorities dressing like members of the dominant religion. The ninth-century so-called Pact of ʿUmar, which, perhaps misleadingly, has been used to describe restrictions on Christian dhimmīs throughout the Islamic world, also contains rules preventing them from wearing clothes like the Muslims: “We shall not seek to resemble the Muslims by imitating any of their garments.”[72] Sartorial distinctiveness allowed everyone in a situation to know exactly with whom they were interacting and was thus a means of preventing unwanted social mixing.

Culturally and religiously distinctive dress was both common and, in some contexts, legislated. At the same time, common Mediterranean styles of adornment were shared between Jews, Muslims, and Christians. The veil, today often viewed as a symbol of Islamic oppression of women, was in fact a common head covering for women of upper classes in many of the cultures of the Mediterranean, whether Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. It is commonly asserted that Muslim societies restrict the public activities of women in order to reduce the possibility of unlawful sexual contact, or unchecked sexual desire and the fitna that arises from it.[73] Within the Islamic context, regulation of bodily coverings — particularly, rules on female modesty within public spaces — was directed at controlling sexual desires and actions and at shaping public perception of one’s (or one’s family members’) identity.[74] Dhimmī women were not supposed to wear the veil, however, in order that they be clearly marked as non-Muslims. Likewise in Christian contexts, sumptuary laws were promulgated — although not always enforced — as a means of creating or maintaining an easily identified visual distinction between religious cultures or classes.

Other contexts also show that dress could be one of the most significant markers of an individual’s religious identification. Some of the women who died among the Cordoban martyrs, the group of Christians (both natal and converted) who sacrificed themselves to the Islamic authorities by publicly denouncing Muḥammad and the Islamic religion in ninth-century Spain, provide an[86] instructive analogue. For example, two secret Christian women from mixed-faith families, named Sabigotho and Liliosa, who were martyred along with their husbands, provoked their arrest by appearing in a Christian church without veils on their faces.[75] They had been living as Muslims and chose to publicly reveal their adherence to Christianity by removing their veils and entering the church. Their revealed faces, as much as their presence in a Christian place of worship, marked them as non-Muslims because of the restrictions on veiling for dhimmīs and the use of the veil as a sign of Muslim identity in that context. Another example is Leocritia, a young girl who was born to an elite Muslim family but who converted to Christianity and initially sought to keep her new spiritual identity a secret. In order to appear to her family that she was still a Muslim, she adorned herself with certain clothing and jewels that marked her as Muslim, despite her private Christian faith.[76] Whether this refers to the veil alone or to other distinctive markers of Islamic dress, the lesson is clear: clothing and appearance were meant to be sure signs of a woman’s religious identity.

External adornment was supposed to reflect internal identity; it was particularly problematic for Ibn Jubayr when it instead obscured that identity. He made it clear that more was at stake in this matter than simply knowing the religious identity of one’s interlocutor. He expressed the fear that if cultural borders were dissolved, then weak-willed Muslims (“ignorant souls”) might be tempted to convert to Christianity.

This was also the fear, and the interpretation of contemporary events, in the reverse situation in ninth-century Islamic Cordoba. Eulogius and Paul Albar, writing about the tensions among the Christian community in early Islamic Spain and the Cordoban martyrs movement, focused on problems of cultural assimilation among the Mozarab population. These authors lamented the attractions presented by the dominant Arabo-Islamic culture, language, and styles of dress. In both ninth-century Muslim al-Andalus and twelfth-century Christian Sicily, members of the minority community feared that cultural assimilation would lead to religious conversion, not the opposite — for example, one did not learn the language after converting but converted after recognizing the appeal of speaking the dominant language. Likewise intermarriage, social and sexual mixing, and adoption of the dominant culture’s clothing style might lead to religious conversion. As in Ibn Jubayr’s anecdote about the young Muslim convert to Islam in Crusader Acre, too much cultural integration with the dominant community was bad for the soul. And, as such, it was bad for the community and its[87] prospects for continued existence. As mothers, wives, transmitters of religious customs, and visible performers of a Muslim identity, women in particular had the power to either succumb to these temptations or resist them in order to maintain the unique religious identity of the family and community.


For Ibn Jubayr, encountering the Muslims of Sicily was a true frontier experience. At once familiar and foreign, Norman Sicily retained several of the hallmarks of a Muslim society and population, but the Christian society there also exerted pressure on actual Muslim people to convert or assimilate to Christian culture. The sound of the adhān but not of the khutbah, the sight of mosques but also of churches that looked like mosques, and the appearance of Christian women dressed like Muslim ones all created the disorienting effect of dislocation for the observer, foregrounding contemporary Muslims’ anxieties about living as minorities under Christian rule. The Sicilian Muslim community lived just beyond the edge of the dār al-Islām, in a land that had been wrested from Islamic political control and was on the verge of losing all vestiges of its Muslim cultural identity. This was a region that had been recently in the hands of Muslim rulers but was now irrevocably Christian, at least in political terms. Despite Ibn Jubayr’s fervent and repeated prayers that Allah return the island to Muslim dominion, Sicily would remain under Christian control. In cultural terms, the minority Muslim community in this Christian-controlled land was likewise at a crossroads between assimilation and resistance. They could either assimilate and convert to Christianity or struggle to maintain their Islamic faith and culture despite pressure and isolation. Women’s roles and lives stood at the front line of this tension.

Ibn Jubayr appears less concerned about the personal spiritual impact that conversion might have on an individual soul than with the spiritual and cultural health of the dār al-Islām as a whole. His account could be read as a screed against Christians, but his comments seem to have been inspired less by prejudice than by fear. Whenever he expressed a disparaging remark about Christians, or the prayer that God might deliver Sicily back into Muslim hands, he communicated his fears about the dangers associated with lowered social boundaries between religious groups. He wrote not of his hatred for Christians themselves but of his concern for Muslims and the Muslim community; for Sicily he prayed, “May it be that God will soon repair the times for this island, making it again a home for the faith, and by His power delivering it from fear to security.”[77] At the same time, whenever he encountered true kindness from Christians, or sound[88] leadership by Christian rulers, he praised them sincerely. But the problem, as he came to see it, was that this kindness was potentially destructive to the unity of the Muslim community, eroding boundaries and threatening to dissolve the unique religious identity of this minority group.

Rather than being a source of disruptive or seductive allure, women were especially equipped to resist these destructive tendencies by providing the foundation for strong Muslim families and by carrying an Islamic identity into society or into the royal household. We can imagine the fear a Muslim male observer might feel about female co-religionists mixing freely in public with men of a different religious community, and the anxiety about sexual boundaries this might inspire. For Ibn Jubayr, though, the fear was broader than the individual honor attached to a particular Muslim woman or family. He feared, indeed rightfully, for the continued existence of the entire Muslim community on the island, which would outlast his visit by less than a half-century. As in stories like that of the young Trapanese woman seeking marriage to a stranger in Iberia, women played a pivotal role in this question. Women, in their functions as mothers, wives, sexual partners, and publicly visible representatives of Islamic culture, literally embodied Islam within the majority Christian society of Sicily. In positive terms, these women demonstrated and transmitted the faith of Islam into a Christian culture. In negative terms, if those women disappeared — as wives or concubines to Christian men instead of Muslims, as émigrés from the island, or because there was no visible distinction between Christian and Muslim women’s appearances — so too might the presence of a distinctive Muslim minority community disappear from the majority Christian society.


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  1. Mernissi, “Women in Muslim History.” See also Spellberg, “History Then, History Now”; and Meisami, “Writing Medieval Women.” Foundational works of Islamic feminism include Mernissi, The Veil and The Male Elite; Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam; Barlas, “Believing Women” in Islam; and Wadud, Qurʾān and Woman. Contemporary defenses of feminist readings of the medieval Islamic past include Afsaruddin, “Literature, Scholarship, and Piety”; and the response by Abugideiri, “Revisiting the Islamic Past, Deconstructing Male Authority.” 
  2. For the argument of why such contextualized study of women is necessary, see Kandiyoti, “Islam and Patriarchy”; and Doumato, “Hearing Other Voices.” For contextualized studies of women and gender in a wide swath of times and places, see the various essays in Keddie and Baron, Women in Middle Eastern History; and Sonbol, Beyond the Exotic. Starting points for the historical study of women in medieval Islam are Berkey, “Women in Medieval Islamic Society”; Hambly, “Becoming Visible”; and Keddie, “The Past and Present of Women in the Muslim World.” 
  3. For one study of the legal and economic agency of Muslim minority women in Spain, see O’Connor, “Muslim Mudejar Women in Thirteenth-Century Spain.” Also relevant are many of the works of David S. Powers on the ways in which Muslim women utilized the legal system to their advantage. For one example, see his “Women and Courts in the Maghrib.” 
  4. For analysis of this problem, possible avenues into the study of intercultural women’s relationships, and references to some of the literature that has been published, see Green, “Conversing with the Minority.” Good examples of the small body of literature on this topic for Iberian history include Fuente, “Christian, Muslim and Jewish Women in Late Medieval Iberia”; Melammed, “Crypto-Jewish Women Facing the Spanish Inquisition”; Perry, “Behind the Veil”; Perry, “Moriscas and the Limits of Assimilation”; and the articles in a special journal issue about cultural dialogue between Jewish, Muslim, and Christian women edited by Green. 
  5. There exist several comprehensive studies of women in medieval Iberia: Marín, Mujeres en Al-Ándalus; López de la Plaza, Al-Ándalus, mujeres, sociedad y religión; Viguera, “Aluu liʾl-Maʿālī”; and Viguera Molins, La Mujer en Al-Ándalus
  6. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr; English translation in Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr. The passages concerning Sicily are found in Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 292–316; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 335–60. Biography and background on Ibn Jubayr the man and his travels can be found in Pellat, “Ibn Djubayr,” 755; Netton, “Ibn Jubayr”; and Netton, “Basic Structures and Signs of Alienation in the Rila of Ibn Jubayr.” 
  7. For the basic description of rila as a journey in search of knowledge, see Netton, “Riḥla”; and Beckingham, “The Rila: Fact or Fiction?” For further elaboration of the development of this genre and its relationship to Islamic epistemology, see Touati, Islam and Travel in the Middle Ages. For the concept of “marvels,” see Dubler, “ʿAdjāʾib.” 
  8. Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 73. 
  9. On the problems with the characterization of these invaders as Normans, see Loud, “The ‘Gens Normannorum’ — Myth or Reality?”; and Loud, “How ‘Norman’ Was the Norman Conquest of Southern Italy?” For the Berber contribution to Islamic Sicily, see Chiarelli, Islamic Sicily
  10. The Islamic legal consensus on this topic was referred to as the “obligation to emigrate.” Scholarship on the topic, including medieval juristic debate on its necessity, includes Abou El Fadl, “Islamic Law and Muslim Minorities”; Davis-Secord, “Muslims in Norman Sicily”; Gertz, “Permission to Stay in ‘Enemy’ Territory?”; Lewis, “Legal and Historical Reflections”; Miller, “Muslim Minorities and the Obligation to Emigrate to Islamic Territory”; and Molénat, “Le problème de la permanence des Musulmans dan les territoires conquis par les Chrétiens.” 
  11. On this relocation and the colony of Muslims established at Lucera, see Taylor, Muslims in Medieval Italy; and Abulafia, “Monarchs and Minorities in the Christian Western Mediterranean around 1300.” 
  12. The seminal study of the Muslim agricultural workers on the estate of Monreale in western Sicily is found in Bercher, Courteaux, and Mouton, “Une abbaye latine dans la societe musulmane.” For more recent work, see Johns, “The Boys from Messoiuso.” On the role of Muslims officials, the Arabic language, and Islamic customs in Norman administrative system, see Metcalfe, “The Muslims of Sicily Under Christian Rule,” esp. 300–302. A fuller examination of the Norman use of Islamic-style governmental practices is found in Johns, Arabic Administration in Norman Sicily
  13. See, for example, Tronzo, The Cultures of His Kingdom; and Tronzo, Intellectual Life at the Court of Frederick II Hohenstaufen
  14. Peyronnet, “Coexistence islamo-chrétienne en Sicile et au Moyen-Orient”; Dalli, “Contriving Coexistence.” 
  15. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 309–10; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 353. For a general approach to considering aural environments within Islamic history, see Fahmy, “Coming to our Senses.” Specifically on the topic of “religious noise” and its regulation within multicultural environments, see Constable, “Regulating Religious Noise.” 
  16. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 303; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 346. 
  17. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 305; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 348. 
  18. For the description of the imam leading Ramadan prayers in the community at Qasr Saʿd, see Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 303; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 346. It is there that Ibn Jubayr and his companions heard the call to prayer for the first time on the island. Muezzins are also described in Palermo, along with the ī and teachers of the Qurʾān. See Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 305–6; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 348–49. 
  19. For example, we hear about the chief judge of the Sicilian Muslims from a fatwā in which the North African jurist Imām al-Māzarī (d. 1141) discussed the legality of the judgments of the ī al-iqilliya, who had been appointed by the Christian king. See Davis-Secord, “Muslims in Norman Sicily.” 
  20. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 313; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 357. 
  21. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 306; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 349. 
  22. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 305; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 348. 
  23. Johns, “The Boys from Messoiuso.” 
  24. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 297; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 339–40. 
  25. Abulafia, “The End of Muslim Sicily,” believes that from a quarter of a million Muslims (representing initially more than half of the total population of the island) who lived there in the mid-eleventh century, only 20,000 were deported to Lucera in the 1220s; see esp. 104. Likewise Taylor, Muslims in Medieval Italy, 1, estimates an initial Luceran population of between 15,000 and 20,000 Muslims.
  26. [71] While possible, it is highly unlikely that this population decline was the result of violence or pogroms against the Muslims of Sicily. There were very limited occasions of large-scale violence against the Muslim population of Sicily; for the most part, the Norman rulers and the Latin elite were too invested in the economic services rendered by the significantly Muslim population of agricultural laborers to wish them dead. On the question of the conversion of Sicily’s Muslims, see Johns, “The Greek Church and the Conversion of Muslims in Norman Sicily?”; and Metcalfe, Muslims and Christians in Norman Sicily. A general overview of some of the historiography on the Christianization of Sicily is provided in Dalli, “From Islam to Christianity.” 
  27. Cultural assimilation and religious conversion can, of course, be distinct processes, and one can happen without the other, but to many medieval observers they were equally to be feared. Much recent scholarship has examined in more depth the processes of assimilation and conversion in medieval Iberia; for two of the most recent, see Zorgati, Pluralism in the Middle Ages; and Safran, Defining Boundaries in al-Andalus. For an early discussion of acculturation as a large-scale process in multicultural Spain, see Glick and Pi-Sunyer, “Acculturation as an Explanatory Concept in Spanish History.” For a brief discussion of the differences between forced assimilation and multidirectional acculturation, see Perry, “Moriscas and the Limits of Assimilation,” 274–77. 
  28. It is widely recognized that sexual relations and sexual taboos were common cultural boundary markers in many premodern societies. For examples from the medieval Mediterranean, see, for example, Barton, “Marriage Across Frontiers”; Furst, “Captivity, Conversion, and Communal Identity”; Nirenberg, “Religious and Sexual Boundaries in the Medieval Crown of Aragon”; Nirenberg, “Conversion, Sex, and Segregation”; and Meyerson, “Prostitution of Muslim Women in the Kingdom of Valencia.” Nirenberg writes of the system of honor, as expressed through the bodies of women, as preserving the coherence of the corporate Christian body, the Ecclesia: “the sexualized boundaries inscribed on the bodies of women in order to demarcate familial honor could be generalized to heighten the cohesion of larger units of society.” Nirenberg, “Conversion, Sex, and Segregation,” 1071. See also his Communities of Violence, chap. 5: “Sex and Violence between Majority and Minority.” 
  29. For more on the intersection of gender and the “secret” identity of conversos, see Melammed, “Crypto-Jewish Women Facing the Spanish Inquisition” and below. For the intersection of gender and the Islamic tradition of “taqiyya,” or dissimulation about religious identity, among the Moriscos of sixteenth-century Spain, see Perry, “Moriscas and the Limits of Assimilation,” 279. 
  30. For an introduction to the literature on medieval conversion, see Bulliet, Conversion to Islam in the Medieval Period. Responses to and revisions of Bulliet’s methodology include Morony, “The Age of Conversions”; Penelas, “Some Remarks on Conversion to Islam in Al-Andalus”; and Harrison, “Behind the Curve.” 
  31. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 302; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 345. 
  32. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 279–80; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 321–22. It is perhaps noteworthy that he did not repeat this sentiment in reference to the Muslims of Sicily. 
  33. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 279–80; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 321–22. 
  34. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 281; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 323. 
  35. For women as disruptive influences in public and political life, see, for example, Lutfi, “Manners and Customs of Fourteenth-Century Cairene Women”; and Spellberg, Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past. For women inciting fitna within the literary tradition, see Kruk, “The Bold and the Beautiful.” 
  36. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 306; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 349. 
  37. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 278–79; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 320–21. 
  38. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 278; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 320. 
  39. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 278; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 320. 
  40. For example, see Melammed, “Crypto-Jewish Women Facing the Spanish Inquisition.” 
  41. For the very similar function of marriage and domestic activities among Moriscos (Muslims who had converted to Christianity) in early modern Iberia, see the works of Perry: “Behind the Veil,” “Moriscas and the Limits of Assimilation,” and The Handless Maiden
  42. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 299; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 341. 
  43. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 299; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 341. 
  44. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 299; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 341. 
  45. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 299; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 341. 
  46. For a study of enslaved Muslim women in a different Mediterranean Christian context, see Winer, Women, Wealth, and Community in Perpignan, c.1250–1300
  47. The Cordoban Mozarabs of ninth-century al-Andalus are just one example of the tension created within communities when Christians and Muslims attempted to negotiate mixed families or when children of one religious culture converted to the other. For the Cordoban martyrs movement as a family issue, see Coope, The Martyrs of Cordoba; see also Safran, Defining Boundaries, 81–124. For general study of the Mozarabs, see Epalza, “Les mozarabes: État de la question,” Revue du monde musulman et de la Méditerranée 63 (1992): 39–50; Epalza, “Mozarabs: An Emblematic Christian Minority in Islamic al-Andalus”; and Kassis, “Arabic-speaking Christians in al-Andalus.” 
  48. Quʾrān 5:5 states: “And lawful are the chaste Muslim women, and the women of the people of the Book who are chaste, (for marriage) and not fornication or liaison, if you give them their dowries.” Ali, al-Quʾrān: A Contemporary Translation, 98. For the Islamic legal position on marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims, see Schacht, An Introduction to Islamic Law, 132; Spectorsky, “Women of the People of the Book”; Yamani, “Cross-Cultural Marriage within Islam”; and Shatzmiller, “Marriage, Family, and the Faith.” For the Christian canon legal position on inter-faith marriages, see Brundage, “Intermarriage between Christians and Jews in Medieval Canon Law.” For Christian cultural considerations about mixed-faith marriages, see Birtwistle, “Daylight and Darkness.” 
  49. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 315–16; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 360. 
  50. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 315–16; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 360. 
  51. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 315–16; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 360. 
  52. Ibn Jubayr also noted that the family wished to use the woman as an anchor for their own emigration, if the travel ban imposed by the Norman rulers were lifted. 
  53. The importance of marriage for all Muslim youth was further highlighted by Ibn Jubayr when discussing the good works done by the Muslim servants at King William’s court: “They redeem prisoners and bring up their young ones, arranging for their marriage and giving them assistance, and doing all the good they can.” Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 299; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 342. 
  54. For women as transmitters of religious culture and knowledge in medieval Iberia, see Fuente, “Christian, Muslim and Jewish Women in Late Medieval Iberia”; and Blasco Martínez, “Queen for a Day.” 
  55. It is interesting, although perhaps irrelevant, to note that during the period of Islamic dominion over Sicily, a tenth-century Muslim observer, Ibn Ḥawqal, criticized the prevalence of mixed-faith families in this frontier region of the dār al-Islām. It was common, he claimed, for Muslim men to marry Christian women and for those women to retain their religious identities. The children of these unions were equally mixed: boys were to be raised Muslim, but girls could be baptized as Christians. See Ibn Ḥawqal, Kitāb ūrat al-ar, trans. in Kramers and Wiet, Configuration de la terre. If indeed this was true for Muslim Sicily in the tenth century, it does not appear to have been the prevailing custom in Christian Sicily in the twelfth century. For more on Ibn Ḥawqal, see Gabrieli, “Ibn Hawqal e gli Arabi di Sicilia”; and Tlili, “La Sicilia descrita della penna de un autore del X secolo.” 
  56. Melammed, “Crypto-Jewish Women Facing the Spanish Inquisition.” 
  57. For women’s roles in various religious rituals and customs, see Melammed, “Noticias sobre los ritos de los nacimientos”; Melammed, “Some Death and Mourning Customs of Castilian Conversas”; and Halevi, “Wailing for the Dead.” 
  58. For the experiences of women in the Inquisition trials of suspected crypto-Jews in late medieval Iberia, see Melammed, Heretics or Daughters of Israel? 
  59. Perry, The Handless Maiden, esp. 65–87; Fuente, “Christian, Muslim and Jewish Women in Late Medieval Iberia,” esp. 321–25. 
  60. For the possibility that intermarriage could be used to force assimilation upon a minority population, see Perry, “Moriscas and the Limits of Assimilation,” 275. 
  61. Ibn Jubayr Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 315; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 359. 
  62. On the prevalence of young people among voluntary Jewish converts to Christianity in Europe, see Jordan, “Adolescence and Conversion in the Middle Ages.” On the topic of women’s conversion, in this case to Islam, see Shatzmiller, “Marriage, Family, and the Faith.” 
  63. I have written elsewhere about the assault on the Muslim family in Norman Sicily, and the utility of the metaphor of family for thinking about the Muslim minority community as a whole. See Davis-Secord, “Focusing on the Family: Ibn Jubayr on The End of Muslim Culture in Norman Sicily.” 
  64. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 306; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 349. 
  65. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 296; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 338. 
  66. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 307; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 349–50. 
  67. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 307; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 349–50. One implication of this passage may be that these women were speaking Arabic but were clearly Christians. He was likewise perplexed by Christians who spoke to him and his group in Arabic while passing them in the road. 
  68. [84] He did clearly identify them as Christians, not as Muslim women participating in a Christian festival. For women’s shared participation in cross-religious rituals, see Cuffel, “From Practice to Polemic,” esp. 411–12 on the need for a prohibition on Muslim women entering Christian churches. For an interpretation of this passage as evidence that Muslim and Christian women in Sicily had found ways to dialogue about matters of importance to them as women — in this case, cosmetics and fashion — see Green, “Conversing with the Minority,” 106–7. Green suggests “the possibility that religious boundaries may have functioned differently for women than for men” and that “Christian women were looking to their Muslim counterparts as models for gendered concepts of beauty and fashion,” 106.
  69. This confusion appears often in cases of prostitution, as when a Christian prostitute accidentally offered her services to a Jewish or Muslim man because she could not read his identity accurately. See Meyerson, “Prostitution of Muslim Women”; Nirenberg, “Religious and Sexual Boundaries”; and Nirenberg, Communities of Violence, chap. 5. 
  70. Schroeder, Disciplinary Decrees of the General Councils, Latin, 584, English trans., 290. 
  71. For more on the role of dress and personal appearance in social relationships writ large within the Muslim world, see Hirsch, “Personal Grooming and Outward Appearance.” 
  72. English translation in Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World, 14–16. Cohen, “What Was the Pact of ʿUmar?” For more on the clothing restrictions placed on dhimmīs, see Lichtenstadter, “The Distinctive Dress of Non-Muslims in Islamic Countries”; and Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross, 62–64. 
  73. For an overview of premodern Islamic legal thinking on gendered space, see Tucker, Women, Family, and Gender in Islamic Law, 175–217. 
  74. Eli Alshech argues against the feminist interpretation of veiling and other modesty regulations as means of male control over a supposedly or potentially disruptive female sexuality. Instead, he argues that these laws and norms were meant to more broadly define one’s public image and to delineate a public/private distinction: “Specifically, I maintain that, by regulating physical and visual access to women’s bodies and by restricting the flow of sensitive information about them, Islamic law allowed people (primarily the male members of a woman’s family) to protect and control their social image and public reputation.” Alshech, “Out of Sight and Therefore Out of Mind.” 
  75. Eulogius, Memoriale Sanctorum, b. 2, c. 10, in Gil, Corpus Scriptorum Muzarabicorum, 2:416–30. For the particular story of their unveiled visit to the church, see b. 2, c. 27, in Gil, Corpus Scriptorum Muzarabicorum, 2:427–28. See also Coope, The Martyrs of Cordoba, 27–29. 
  76. Paul Albar, Vita Eulogi, c. 13–16, in Gil, Corpus Scriptorum Muzarabicorum, 1:337–41. See also Coope, The Martyrs of Cordoba, 28–31. 
  77. Ibn Jubayr, Rilat Ibn Jubayr, 305; Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 348. 

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