barbarossa pirate or naval admiral

The Real Barbarossa Pirate or Naval Admiral?

In the English language, the mere mention of Barbarossa would bring up a mental image of a pirate. Many English books have titled Barbarossa as Pirates of the Mediterranean, including children’s books. Even the National Geographics have placed him in history as the ‘feared pirate of the Mediterranean’.

The Disney movies, “Pirates of the Caribbean” are based on historical Muslim characters. Barbossa Pirates of the Caribbean, the character Hector Barbossa was inspired on the real life Muslim character of Hayreddin Barbarossa whereas Captain Jack Ward/Jack Bird (known as the Christian turn’d Turk) who was an Englishman who converted into Islam and took on the name of Yusuf Rais.

Muslim historians have, on the other hand, placed Barbarossa as one of the greatest naval commander of the Ottoman Empire. Some Western historical accounts of Barbarossa have credited him as a commander of the Ottoman Empire although they placed his early life as that of a pirate.

Halalop Editor, Shahfizal Musa, spoke with Imam Abdullah Nana, who is a US-based Imam, about the real historical facts of Barbarossa. Born and raised in California, USA, Imam Abdullah has a business degree from the University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley) before pursuing an Islamic degree at an Islamic university in South Africa. He spent seven years studying various branches of Islamic Studies and he completed his post-graduate studies in fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), thereby earning him the title of ‘Mufti’ by his teachers in South Africa.

Imam Abdullah became interested to find out more about the historical facts behind Islamic figures, especially Barbarossa, as more drama series are produced about them by the Turkish entertainment industry. Imam Abdullah began to delve into research into Barbarossa, starting from English historical accounts and right into the classical texts as well as Barbarossa’s own journal and biography.

Imam Abdullah started by reading from the most unbiased English account of Barbarossa, a book titled “The Sultan’s Admiral, the life of Barbarossa”, by Ernle Bradford, which is now out of print, was written 400 years after Barbarossa’s death. Imam Abdullah is now working on translating into English, titled “The Official Biography of Hayreddin Barbarossa” which was dictated by Hayreddin Barbarossa himself during his lifetime and dictated to Muradi Rais, his comrade. Imam Abdullah’s translation, yet to be fully published, is based on the original Ottoman manuscript located in the Escorial Library in Madrid.

Muslims Need to Learn Islamic History

According to Imam Abdullah, “Unfortunately, historical drama series are not historically accurate. Their objective is not to show the real history. Their objective is to entertain people. In making the drama series exciting, they compromise on the historical accuracy. The drama series are also creating a revival and interest in Islamic history.”

“In most part of the world, history is taught from a Western perspective. The Western perspective is to focus on Europe. Unfortunately, for many of us Muslims, we don’t see history from another perspective, the Islamic perspective, and the Ottoman perspective.”

“Many of us would be shocked to learn of simple facts. Muslims ruled over Andalusia in Spain for over 700 years. The Ottoman Empire ruled for over 600 years and much of Eastern Europe.”

Muslim ruled over Andalusia, the Iberian peninsula in Europe, covering much of Spain and Portugal, from the years 711-1492 by the Moors, the Arabic-speaking Muslims of North Africa. The Ottoman Empire ruled over Middle East, Eastern Europe and North Africa for over 600 years, and only ended its rule in 1922. The last Ottoman sultan was removed and the country was converted into the Republic of Turkey.

Barbarossa Facts vs Fiction

According to Imam Abdullah, “Hayreddin Barbarossa was a wali of Allah s.w.t. He was a pious person and had miracles happened to him, which were documented.” Wali of Allah s.w.t is loosely translated as a ‘friend of Allah’ and in whom Allah s.w.t. has bestowed miracles for him to perform, and the English equivalent to that of a saint.

Imam Abdullah further explained that Barbarossa means red beard in Italian. Barbarossa consisted of four brothers, born to a Turkish father, Yakup and Greek mother, Katerina, on a Greek island. Aruj (Oruç ), Ishak, Khidr and Ilyas and all four of them had similar features with regards to their facial hair. Aruj, the elder brother, was the first to be known as Barbarossa and upon his martyrdom, Khidr took over the lead and became the famous Barbarossa as the Ottoman naval commander.

Khidr later became known as Hayreddin – Khairuddin خير الدين – which means the goodness of the faith in Arabic, on account of his piety. He was born in 1478 and died in 1546.

In a Youtube lecture, Imam Abdullah further explains the historical discrepancies between Western historical accounts and Muslim historical accounts of Barbarossa.

“In the West, Barbarossa was nothing more than a pirate that would rob people in the ocean.”

“Hayruddin Barbarossa was highly educated and wrote books. He knew six languages: Turkish, Arabic, Greek, Spanish, French and Italian. According to Ottoman historians, he was a wali of Allah s.w.t”

“Think about the spectrum and the variation of truth: one version considered him as a saint, a wali, whose du’as were always answered and another version considered him as an evil person, a pirate, a robber.”

In the Battle of Preveza in 1538, that sealed the Ottoman Empire rule over the Mediterranean sea for the next three centuries, saw the miracles given to Hayreddin Barbarossa that helped him win the battle. “In this historic and decisive battle between the combine forces of Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire, Barbarossa defeated them despite being outnumbered – 100 ships against over 400 ships.”

“In that morning, Barbarossa noticed that the wind was against him. The wind was coming towards him and gave advantage to his enemies. This was documented. Hayreddin Barbarossa took a piece of paper and wrote several verses of the Quran, having full faith and dropped them into the ocean. The moment the paper were in the ocean, the wind changed direction and went against the enemy. Even the non-Muslim chronicles documented this. Allah s.w.t. changed the direction of the wind, and the direction of the battle.”

“It was documented by various people that Hayruddin Barbarossa was a wali, a saint, and very close to Allah s.w.t. where he spent in life in worship of Allah s.w.t.”

The Real Barbarossa History

Barbarossa saved thousands of Andalusian Muslims (Muslims residing in Spain) from the Spanish Inquisition, the Spanish Persecutions of Muslims and Jews. This is based on another Muslim historical account by Hicham and Mohammed Ibnalkadi.

The Spanish Inquisition began in 1478 and lasted until 1834, where Catholic Monarchy of Spain wanted to consolidate Spain under their rule and rid of Muslims and Jews living in Andalusia, which was then under Muslim rule. Muslim rule over Spain ended by 1492. Western historians have estimated that at least 300,000 have died during the Spanish Inquisition and some have even estimated it to be more than a million deaths.

During this period, Portuguese and Spanish kingdoms conquered several Moroccan and Tunisian cities, whereas the Knights of the Hospitalier would attack the Muslim ships, the Turkish and Mamluk ships in the eastern Mediterranean sea.

The Barbarossa brothers started as sea merchants. However, two of the brothers, Oruç and Ilyas were captured by the Knights of the Hospitalier, remnants of the Christian Crusaders, who would attack any Muslim ships in the Mediterranean. Ilyas was killed and Oruç was made a slave, who worked as a rower on the ships. Khidr managed to help Oruç escaped after two years in captivity.

This experienced changed the brothers, where they later traveled to the Sultan of Egypt at the time, the Mamluks, offering their services as a Rais, or sea captains. They later moved to Tunisia and worked with the Hafsid Dynasty of Tunisia. Their motivation was to protect the Muslim inhabitants and cities in North Africa from the Christian empire as well as protect Muslim ships in the Mediterranean sea.

From 1504 until 1510, Oruç and Khidr were part of the operations that saved thousands of Andalusian Muslims from the Spanish Inquisition, where Muslims were tortured to death. Thereafter they continued to battle with Spaniards at sea. However, the Barbarossa brothers realized that they could not defeat the Spaniards by themselves, and by 1515, they sought to ally with the Ottoman Empire to protect North Africa.

The Ottoman Sultan at the time, Sultan Selim, sent reinforcements. In 1516, the Barbarossa brothers recaptured the city of Algiers from the Spaniards. By 1530, Barbarossa offered Algiers to be part of the Ottoman Empire as a move to protect the city against Spain. In 1517, Oruç and Ishak were martyred during a battle with the Spaniards in another city in North Africa.

Upon Oruç‘s death, Khidr inherited his brother’s title, the name Barbarossa, position in the Ottoman Empire and mission to save North Africa from Christian conquest. By 1520, Sultan Selim had died and was succeeded by Sultan Suleiman, known historically as Suleiman the Magnificent. In 1522, Khidr Barbarossa helped the new Sultan to rid the East Mediterranian sea of the pirates, the Knights of Hospitalier.

Over the course of the years, he would continue to rescue Andalusian Muslims and helped the refugees settled in Algeria and Tunisia by giving them land.

In 1530, Sultan Suleiman appointed Khidr Barbarossa as the Chief Admiral of the Ottoman navy, having realized that the Ottoman Empire needed a strong foothold in the Mediterranean sea.

Muslim Heroes as Muslim Role Models

“We need to introduce our children to good Islamic role models,” Imam Abdullah emphasized.

“We know children aspire to be famous people. So instead of them just knowing about celebrities and sports personalities, they should know about Muslim heroes.” According to Imam Abdullah, celebrities don’t always show good morals, and as such Muslims should inspire our children to be good muslims through Muslim heroes as the real role models.

Based on Barbarossa’s own diary, where he told his brother Oruç when they arrived in Tunis, “If death were the end of each human being, let it be for the sake of Allah s.w.t.”

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