We know that 19th century historians stylized Frederic II into an epitome of tolerance and diplomacy. This was just the end of centuries of history writing based on the assumption that he had been on friendly terms with Muslim rulers, an avid scholar of all things Arab, and accepting Islam as a religion equal to Christianity.
But to gain a perspective on Frederick II and his relationship with Islam, three questions need answers: How did he deal with Muslims living in Sicily? What was his relationship to Arab science? And finally, what policies did he pursue in the Holy Land?
In the 9th century, the Arabs had conquered Sicily and settled there. In the 11th century, the Normans took the island. The growing influence of the Roman Catholic Church under the new Norman kings pushed Islamic culture back little by little. A small portion of Muslims converted to Christianity while many others left Sicily for southern Spain, North Africa or the Middle East.
The remaining Muslims adhering to their traditional ways of life retreated into the mountains around Palermo at the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century. The area had long been settled mainly by Arabs. They settled there to live and fight in permanent opposition to the Christian conquerors. Somewhere after 1220, Frederick started to fight the insurgents to secure his rule and the commercial routes running out of Palermo. It heralded the beginning of a guerrilla war that lasted for almost his entire reign.
It was a war Frederic finally won. The Muslims were forced to leave the mountain regions of Sicily. Some may have fled to the Muslim dominions in Spain or North Africa. A significant part was resettled on the orders of the Emperor to further pacification. Depending on view point, one could also speak of deportation or of an ethnic-religious cleansing. The Muslims were given new lands on the Italian mainland in Puglia. It is estimated that between 15000 and 60000 people suffered this fate, the last of them after 1240. With the deportations ended the coexistence of Christians and Muslims on the island of Sicily.
We spell tolerance differently today. Yet for its time, Frederick’s relation to the displaced Muslims in Puglia was quite unusual. It was not that of a caring ruler over his followers, but he granted the Muslims a generous autonomy law regarding the practice of religion, self-government and jurisdiction. The very fact that they had survived the resettlement and had not been killed was an act of grace. It transformed enmity into devotion and loyalty. From the ethnic group of Muslims settled in and around Lucera, the emperor was able to recruit a loyal band of mercenaries. His advantage was that they were impervious to the whispers, insinuations and religious bulls of Pope and Curia with which Frederick was in an ongoing dispute. His Saracen archers were famous, and the prestige that they brought with them carried over his death to benefit his son Manfred and his grandson Conradin.
Reference: Book ‘Kreuzzug und Herrschaft unter Friedrich II. Handlungsspielräume von Kreuzzugspolitik (1215–1230), Mittelalterforschung Bd. 13’; Author ‘Bodo Hechelhammer’; Publisher ‘Thorbecke’; Published ‘Ostfildern, 2003’. Book ‘Kaiser Friedrich II. (1194–1250). Herrscher, Mensch, Mythos.’; Author ‘Hubert Houben’; Publisher ‘Kohlhammer’; Published ‘Stuttgart e.a. 2008’. Article ‘Der Staufer Friedrich II. und die Geschichtsschreibung des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts.’; Author ‘Hannes Obermair’; Publisher ‘Concilium Medii Aevi’; Published ‘Stuttgart, 2008’. Book ‘Stupor mundi. Zur Geschichte Friedrichs II. von Hohenstaufen. Wege der Forschung Bd. 101’; Editor ‘Gunther Wolf’; Publisher: ‘Wege der Forschung Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft’; Published ‘Darmstadt, 1982’.