Sicily, the biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea, early attracted the Muslims’ attention, owing to its strategic location. They succeeded in conquering the island and constructing monuments of relative endurance. The closest distance between Sicily and Ifriqiyyah, given suitable wind conditions, was a cruise of two days or less. The vertex of this triangular island connects to the mainland Italy through a strait at the city of Messina. The island was a base for the Roman forces fighting against Muslims in Egypt and Ifriqiyyah. Some of those who retreated in the face of the invading forces of `Amr b. `As took refuge in Corsica. In 36 AH, Ibn Hadij was placed, by Mu`awiyah, at the head of a large Muslim naval force tasked with the conquest of the island. As the first commander to take Muslim arms to Corsica, Ibn Hadij returned with a large amount of spoils. Ten years on, Ibn Hadij appointed `Abd Allah b. Qays as the head of Muslim fleet which also came to a considerable wealth of booty from its invasion of the island. With the accession of Musa b. Nusayr as the governor of Ifriqiyyah, Muslim raids on Corsica gathered increased momentum. In 122 AH (740 AD), a Muslim force, headed by Habib b. Abi `Ubaydah, captured a part of the island and imposed tribute on the inhabitants of Sarqusah (Syracuse). They succeeded in penetrating deep into Corsica before a Berber revolt in Tangier forced them to cut short their expedition. Muslim military activity in Sicily resumed in 135 AH, however, it failed to make any headway owing to the internal crisis in North Africa together with the defensive actions of the Byzantines in the island as well as in southern Italy, which not only succeeded in defending Sicily from Muslim attacks, but transformed the island into a base for Byzantine military actions against the Muslims in the Mediterranean.
In Islamic sources, the credit for the definitive conquest of Sicily is given to the rulers of the Aghlabid dynasty (184 – 296 AH / 800 – 909 AD). The buildup of Byzantine naval forces in Sicily and the same move by the Aghlabid leaders of Ifriqiyyah, on the one hand, and the amicable ties between the court of Charlemagne and those of Baghdad and Qayrawan, especially the Aghlabid-Byzantine treaty of 197 AH (803 AD), on the other hand, had given rise to a state of stability in the relations between Sicily and Ifriqiyyah. However, the Aghlabid invasion of Sicily in 204 AH (819 AD) put an end to this state of affairs, in the course of which the Muslim invaders managed to net a large number of captives. In 211 AH (826 AD), the dispute between Constantine, the bishop and military governor of Sicily, and Euphemius (Faymi, in the Arabic sources), the commander of the Byzantine naval forces in the island, prompted the latter to stage a rebellion against the emperor, Michael II, and to, eventually, have to seek refuge with the Aghlabid ruler of Ifriqiyyah, Ziyad Allah. Later, Euphemius encouraged Ziyad Allah to launch an attack on the island, provided he was appointed as the emperor of Sicily, while paying tribute to the Aghlabid ruler. Qadi Asad b. Furat was all for this design and, in spite of his advanced age (70) and lack of military experience, was given the command of a Muslim army made up of soldiers of varied extraction, including Iranians.
Asad b. Furat overcame the opponents of Euphemius in a fierce battle fought at the port of Mazara and set out for Sarqusah (Syracuse). The siege of the city became a protracted affair, during which a plague took the lives of many Muslim soldiers, including that of Qadi Asad. His successor, Muhammad b. Abi al-Jawari, burned the ships so as to prevent any thoughts of a retreat. The Muslims, then, moved on to capture the city of Minaw (Mineo) in the northwest of Syracuse. They also conquered the fortified city of Girgenti and defeated the reinforcements sent from Constantinople. However, their advance came to a near halt until in 214 AH when a Muslim fleet came to their assistance. The Romans were vanquished and the city of Palermo, in the northwest of the island, was captured in 216 AH.
In the coming years, Muslim forces launched several attacks on Qasraniyyah and Sarqusah, from their base in Palermo. They also struck the islands of Qusarah and Sicily, all the way to Jabal al-Nar (Etta), from Ifriqiyyah. During his three-year reign, Abu Aqal, the brother of Ziyad Allah Aghlabi, also managed to conquer other cities, such as Ablatnu (Palatni), the fortress of Balut, Qurlun (Corleone), and, possibly, Marw (Marineo) and Jarajah (Geraci).
In 228 AH (843 AD), the Muslims trained their gaze on the eastern part of the island and, thanks to an alliance with Naples, succeeded in capturing the port of Messina and repulsing the Byzantine navy from the western Mediterranean. Abu Aghlab Ibrahim b. Muhammd Aghlabi spread his powerful sway over the island for some sixteen years, during which he established Palermo as the capital of Sicily and dispatched his military commanders to various parts of the island.
Upon his accession as the leader of Sicily, `Abbas b. Fadl Wali renewed attacks on the cities of Qataniyah (Catania), Sarqusah, Nutus (Noto) and Tabarmin (Taormina). In 243 AH (858 AD), the fortress of Jufludhi, and, in the following year, the fortress of Qasraniyyah (the Byzantine capital of Sicily) fell to the Muslims. `Abbas b. Fadl had previously conducted military expeditions in southern Italy and established a number of Muslim settlements. During the reign of Khafajah b. Sufyan (beginning in 248 AH, 862 AH), a number of important cities, such as Nutus and Shiklah (Scicli), were captured by Muslims, revolts in previously conquered regions, such as Raghus (Ragusa), were put down, and Muslim forces became active throughout the island. Syracuse was finally conquered in 263 AH, following a long and arduous siege.
In the next quarter of the century very little was achieved by Muslim attacks on the Byzantine cities of Sicily. Among the seminal events of this period was the civil war with the Berbers and the insurrection of the Muslim inhabitants of the island against the vassals of the Aghlabid ruler. Finally, in 287 AH (899 AD), the Aghlabid emir, Ibrahim II, dispatched his son, `Abd Allah, at the head of a powerful army, to reestablish order in the island. After bringing calm to Sicily, `Abd Allah continued his march along the Strait of Messina and captured the city of Riw (Reggio), after razing its walls. In 289 AH, before embarking on a hajj pilgrimage, Ibrahim Aghlabi came to Sicily for conducting jihad.
Among the important events of the period was a fierce battle between Ibrahim and the Romans fought at Tabarmin, in 289 AH, which resulted in a Muslim victory. The defeat so enraged the Byzantine emperor that he personally took an army to the island. In the meantime, Ibrahim dispatched expeditions to the Roman regions, such as Miqush (Mico), Dimnush (Demone), Ramtah and Baj, where the fortresses were destroyed and the inhabitants were forced to surrender. Ibrahim fell ill and died in the 19th of Dhi ’l-Qa`dah of 289 AH (October 25, 902 AD), during the siege of Kusnatah (Cosenza). Thus, at the death of Ibrahim II, the entire island of Sicily had been brought under Muslim control.
The conquest of Sicily, from the invasion of Asad to that of Ibrahim II, spanned a period of some eighty years. None the less, the eastern part of the island was never fully subjugated. During the reigns of the `Ubaydis and Kalbis, it once again became necessary to dispatch Muslim forces to Demone and Taormina. In fact, the Muslim rulers of Sicily became resigned to collecting tribute from the inhabitants of these regions, while directing their energies toward Italy and the defense of the island against Roman invasions. Muslim rule over Sicily lasted until the second half of the 5th century AH (11th cen. AD), when it was brought to an end by the Normans