The expulsion of the Muslims in several moves
Within ten years of the Alhambra Decree, a Morisco rebellion against Archbishop Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros's decisions was quailed in the Albaicin (1501). Whereupon the Catholic Monarchs decreed the expulsion of the Muslims over 14 years of age, from Granada to start with, then, in 1502, from all the territories under the Crown of Castile. Thus, the decree targeted the Mudéjares in Castilian cities who had lived for several centuries – and in peace – under Christian domination. In 1526, faced with another expulsion decree, most Aragonese Muslims became Christians : they would henceforth be known as Moriscos, as would their descendants. A minority resolved to leave for North Africa. Thereafter the only unconverted Muslims tolerated in the Spanish states were slaves who were not affected by expulsion decrees.
Philip II's accession to the throne increased the uncertainty of the Moriscos' situation. The young king was determined to implement Catholic Reform in his realms and to fight “heresy”, be it among the Calvinists in the Low Countries or, in Granada and Valencia, among the Moriscos whose conversion to Christianity was deemed suspect. To this end, from 1559 he deployed a program of expulsion and reclamation of the land. This policy was met with the 1568-1571 revolt started with a riot in the Albaicin in Granada. The leader of the rebellion was of Umayyad descent, no less, in the person of Fernando de Valor, who changed his name to Aben Humeya. His movement spread to the whole Lecrin valley eventually reaching Las Alpujarras. He was routed by Don John of Austria and Granada's Moriscos were scattered throughout Spain. This event confirmed the Catholic populace in the belief that they were collectively at risk : Moriscos were painted as a potential danger, the greater since they were accused of complicity with the Catholic Monarchs' age-old foes : the Turks and the Barbary pirates.
Throughout the last third of the 16th century, distrust of the Moriscos grew. Some Spanish churchmen ascribed the failure of the Inquisition 's measures, and more broadly the failure of evangelisation – whether demonstrable or not – partly to methodological failure. For the rest, they blamed the mode of implementation of the Granada reddition agreement negotiated with the defeated king Abu abd-Allah and which provided permission for the Muslims to uphold their faith. Other churchmen, possibly with ulterior conversion ambitions, promoted a model of religious tolerance. They were supported in this by Aragon and Valencia's landed gentry, conscious of the opportunities for cheap labour it would afford them. Conversely, Catholic poor peasants perceived the Muslims and Moriscos as rivals. Meanwhile, the economic and social situation was deteriorating for a number of reasons : cost of the wars undertaken by Philip II ; drop in income flowing in from the New World colonies ; tax rises ; demographic drops (15% of the Castilian population, according to some sources) caused by epidemics and famine. The Duke of Lerma 's efforts to consolidate the regime could not suffice to assuage a social unrest which, exacerbated by the financial crises sought an outlet in the stigmatisation of a scapegoat.
Historian Fernand Braudel has analysed the Old Christians' state of mind, moved not by
« racial hatred but by religious and cultural enmity » at the thought that the Moriscos were
« embedded right at the heart (or as the Spanish say ‘the kidney') of Spain » in ever increasing number and, according to some claims, regrouping around fortresses and alcazars. Gone is the model of cohabitation between the believers of the three monotheist faiths, which, with its compromises and its episodic violent flare ups, had prevailed in Andalusia for nearly nine centuries (between the early 8th and late 16th centuries). During the summer of 1580 Seville is abuzz with rumours of a vast conspiracy supported by Morocco. The rumour is not entirely unfounded. The Saadian sultan Ahmad Ist al-Mansur Eddahbi was indeed mounting a military expedition, but towards the Sudan, not directly towards Spain. Al Mansur justified his expedition on the basis of his need of Sudanese riches in order to reclaim Al-Andalus. For the purpose, he relied on the caution of Ulama quoting Shihâb al-Dîn al-Qarâfî, a revered Egyptian Maliki scholar who, three centuries earlier had promulgated a fatwa authorizing the conquest of “Muslim land” if the aim was to build up military strength against the ultimate foe : Christian Spain. In the event Moroccan sources show that Al Mansur had neither the will nor the military capability to carry out such a project. His aim was to break the de facto stranglehold on Morocco wrought by Spanish Christians to the North and the Ottomans to the East in order to give it a fresh impulse.
In the summer of 1588 troubles in Aragon lead the Council of State to debate the internal danger to be fought without delay in order to avoid a repeat of the 1568 revolt. In 1600 a report was laid before King Philip III referring to negotiations between France and the Moriscos presenting them as “the enemy within”. At the beginning of the following year the Council of State received from a Spanish captive detained in Tétouan a letter begging Philip to act and cast all Moriscos out of Spain. Prisoner Bartolomé de Llanos y Alarcon, passed on information intended as a warning :
« Many Spanish Moriscos are planning a revolt supported by the king of Morocco, indeed a Toledo Morisco, visiting the Turkish Sultan tries to convince him to mount a military expedition against Spain for it is home to more than 500,000 Muslims all committed to his success ». The Council of State's answer is plain: in substance
« the Morisco question has to be dealt with once and for all for they are becoming an ever greater threat for the security of the Spanish States. They can make good any opportunity to rebel. They are truly Muslims ». Other reports reinforced this perception. In 1604 Spain signed a truce with England and, in 1609, with the United Provinces. The necessary conditions to take radical steps towards the Moriscos were now met.
The political decision was taken after a memorandum was set forth by Father Soprano driving three key arguments: the expulsion is described as a “divine” action adopted on “heavenly” counsel ; the Moriscos remain in thrall to their “Islamic Sharia” and their devotion to the Muslim faith is very deep ; the decision to expel them must be final. In his decree dated 1609, Philip III states his motives: the fruitless attempt of Christianisation of Iberian Moriscos ; the unsuccessful resort to the clergy and catholic scholars to settle the matter according to Divine wil ; the need to keep the Iberian Peninsula safe, starting with the kingdom of Valencia. The decision fell irrevocable : he had decided
« to expel all the Moriscos from this kingdom and to have them exiled to Barbary ». The Muslim scholar Al-Hajjari, who lived through these events, also alludes to Morisco resistance to the Evangelisation and assimilation endeavours undertaken by the clergy and their Catholic Majesties. But in his view the real motives of expulsion owe much to demographic calculations in that, never being exposed to warfare since they were forbidden to carry weapons, nor to celibacy since they did not join the clergy, the moriscos would eventually have become numerically superior.