The history of Malta includes several centuries of Arab presence that were very influential in what its heritage today is, including language, and place names.
History of Arabs in Malta
From 870 CE to 1091 CE, the islands were almost exclusively Muslim by religion and Arab by language. Even after the Norman conquest, a significant Muslim segment in the society remained till the 13th century, since the initial Norman did not converted the population. This is similar to Sicily, where the Normans allowed the Muslims to remain Muslims for some time, and not forced to convert. For example, Al-Idrisi was a Muslim Arab nobleman who worked in the court of Roger, and wrote his geography book and named it The Book of Roger (Al-Kitab Al Rujari الكتاب الروجري).
Eventually the Muslim presence in Malta ceased to exist, perhaps after it came under the Spanish Empire.
Language of Malta
Their language remained Arabic though, and their family names remained Arabic, as well as most place names. Being non-Muslims the language slowly drifted to what it is today with heavy influence from Italian and Sicilian.
Why does the Maltese language remain spoken today and not vanish like Arabic in Iberia? I think that the more active suppression of Arabic by the Spanish authorities and the church is to blame here.
Nobility of Malta
Much of the Maltese nobility have Arabic names referring to place names (Djar = Dar = house, Bneit = Bent = daughter/girl, Benwarrad = Sons/Descendants of Warrad, Gnien = Ganayen = Gardens, Tuffieha = Apple(?), Qajjed = Qa'ed = commander).
Also, monuments and place names such as Hagar Qim are Arabic, in this case a "Stone" in Arabic. Other place names include Mdina (The City), Flifla (pepper), Rabat (camp), Birzebbuga (Bir = well), Gzira (Island or peninsula), Marsa (port), Ghar (cave), Qala (Fort), Gharb (west), il-Balluta (The oak), Triq (Way/Road), Isqaq (Lane), ...etc. A list of local councils of Malta reveal more.
It is interesting that the Maltese say that Zebbug and Birzebugga are derived from the name for olives, while there is a town called Zejtun زيتون, which is the Arabic name for olives.
If one looks at the Attard anthem, one can see the extent of Arabic in it which sounds like a north African dialect.
Dissociation from anything Arab
Although the facts are there, some Maltese genealogists go out of their way to affirm that the Maltese are European and Christian, and have nothing to do with Arabs. The author, Charles Said Vassallo claims descent from Cem, the younger brother of the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid II, who after a period of failed civil war, seeked refuge in Cairo, then Rhodes, then in Europe with the Pope.
This attempt to dissociate the Maltese from Arab influence is similar to the phobia in Iberia in the 1500s and afterwards, from anything to do with Moors and Islam, be it dress, language, customs, taking a bath, circumcision, ...etc.
This is an all too common phenomenon where people would like to stop history at a certain point for their own bias and ignore all other eras in history, religion, language and culture.
A common saying in Egypt today is : "Like a call for [Muslim] prayer in Malta زي اللي بيأذن في مالطة", which alludes to the fact that no Muslims are left there, and hence no one will answer the call. This must be an old saying indeed, given that this happened many centuries ago.
EE (not verified)
Not the true maltese continuedThu, 2020/04/23 - 21:38
Maltese are descended from meditteranean people not arabs and we will always be catholic because we always have been
Don't let facts stand in the way ...Thu, 2020/04/23 - 21:41
Don't let historical facts stand in the way of your bigoted deeply held beliefs ...
EE (not verified)
Maltese are descended from arab and other european christiansThu, 2020/12/24 - 01:15
What I was saying is that maltese are descended from christians because it is proved they are descended from christians, and yes a lot of those christians were arabs.
EE (not verified)
You slightly misunderstood my commentThu, 2020/12/24 - 05:19
I said that Maltese have always been catholic, and when I said maltese people descended from mediterranean people, I meant arabs as well so the part where I said not arabs, I was saying not only arabs. I find it hard to understand the I am bigoted for saying maltese descended from others as well as arabs. Sorry if you misunderstood the comment.
Anonymous (not verified)
The Maltese are not Arabs, Never have been and never will be.Sun, 2009/12/27 - 21:46
I think a lot of people are ignorant to say Maltese people are Arabs or descendents of Arabs. The many Arabic words in Maltese are also used in Sicilian dialects and the Maltese language has been reformed from old Sicilian dialects as the history of Malta is it was a territory of the Sicilian king when italy was divided into 8 republics, Malta was part of the Sicilian republic which means clearly the roots of Maltese people are from Scilly and the little Arabian blood is the same as you get in Scilly and Parts of South Italy. Islam never ruled Malta and the people of Malta are clearly christians with a very strong link to Scilly. Infact Maltese people the way they look and live remind me a lot of Scilly , Maltese people have a lot more in common with South Italians than with Arabs. If Maltese are Arabs then so are the Sicilians. Personally I think Malta has been reformed from the Sicilians more than anything. A lot of Italians from Catania move to Malta and already understand the language as it has a similarity to the Catanise dialect. I don't believe there is any connections with Maltese and Arabs, I recognise Maltese people as brothers of Scilly and the Arabian connection is not from Malta it's from the unwelcome introduces who got kicked out.
Attard (not verified)
To all them so called maltese people who dare say we are italianSun, 2010/03/28 - 14:32
Hello to all my Arabic brothers, iam 100% ethnic maltese and my surname is Attard iam very proud to say that my surname comes from the Arabic word Attar which means sent maker or perfume, (people might say that the word attard comes from the Sicilian surname attardo but that is 100% false because they were also ruled by the Arabs the at hey also had the surname attard but changed it and made it look more Italian) To all them so called maltese people that think we are not arab your 100% false we are an Arabic people that are roman-catholic and there is plenty of evidence to show it, first of all our language is basically north African Arabic but in the Latin script, Tunisian and Libyan people can 100% perfectly all the Arabic in our language and if they new Italian a little Italian they could totally understand and speak Maltese perfectly . Real Ethnic Maltese surnames are Ebejer, Attard, Balzan, Mifsud, Zahra, Zammit, Samut, Xriha, Axiak,Farrugia, Bugeja, Buhagiar, Cassar, Fenech, Ghirxi, Misaje, Muscat,Saliba, Brincat, Xara all these surnames have Arabic meanings, Also my family don’t look like anglo looking maltese but look more of Arabic descent which iam 1005 fine with I seriously don’t understand why theirs many maltese out their trying to stir up our history and make it more Italian and English and say we don’t have Arabic but the truth is that we all, there are many maltese who think they are maltese but are not .. like Vella’s, Camerleri’s and Gaucci’s and Xerri and Calleja and Azzorpardi but they are just Italian or Spanish descended surnames and these people are not tru ethnic maltese . and these surnames haveno Arabic connection their for didn’t come to malta until the arabics left which mkes them not the first people.. but us Arabic maltese are the tru ethnic maltese. Iam from Attard and I have adopted my surname because I am attard and in my village of attard we make perfume and sents and many flowers grown here that’s why the village is called Attard. Which is directly from Arabic word attar. We call god- alla, friend-habib, road-triq and sun-xemx (shemsh) which is 100% Arabic but yet people say we aren’t Arabic?... just look at all the history our language we are and iam very happy about that I hate Italians.. they wanted to destroy and take malta in ww2 and the Spanish and French also treated us bad, but the only people that accpected us and taught us maltese where the arabs so we shouldn’t erase this from us! (also many maltese towns and villages are Arabic words.. )
Anonymous (not verified)
The very first people whoTue, 2011/09/20 - 04:50
The very first people who settled on the island were Sicilian and I believe that the Maltese are descendants of all those who conquered the island. Does anyone out there agree with me?
Stephen Asciak (not verified)
To all them so called maltese people who dare say we are italianSun, 2011/12/18 - 19:46
In reference to the comment :Real Ethnic Maltese surnames are Ebejer, Attard, Balzan, Mifsud, Zahra, Zammit, Samut, Xriha, Axiak,Farrugia, Bugeja, Buhagiar, Cassar, Fenech, Ghirxi, Misaje, Muscat,Saliba, Brincat, Xara all these surnames have Arabic meanings:
I must correct the above in respect to the origins of my family name Axac. Axiak which is a derivative only came into being over the last 200 years...The issue with Malta is that it has different rulers at different times>
From 12 century Norman (old french), Hohenstaufens (German), Angevin (French), Spanish latin,Spanish) Then The Knights of St.John from 1550s (latin, italian, french) Then short period French again, then from 1800s The British, Till 1964 when Malta become a republic.
I have done extensive research into my family origins and can establish the heritage being from central Europe. The period was the late 13th century early 14th century AD when there was Chritianisation of souther Italy and Malta, with influx of Migrants from Northern Italy as well as germans (Swabians0 under the House of Hohenstafen.
To futher ad evidence to the matter I have understaken genetic testing which confirms my paternal heritage is not of the Arab period of the 9th to 11th century AD. It confirms my genetics originate from central europe during the middle ages.
Futher true records in Royal texts of the Hohenstafens show the name recorded as De Aschac, which originates from the medieval village/town/catle Aschach in Germany. there is also medieval family note in the 10th 11th century AD "De Ascha"
We must remember that liguistics change as foreign rulers install their doctrine.
The evolution of my family names begins with De Ascha=De Aschac=Axac=Axach=Axiach=Axiak & Asciak
There are other derivatives...it just happens to show people wrote down how they pronounced the name.
From early german to french == german phoentics SCH = french X, when the British came in the 1800s we see from X to SC, and just the way it is written sometime sc looks like an X when handwritten.
So Axiak is not the origial name....get your fact right...its been spelt how people pronounced it.... In Francesco Abela's description of Malta, note he wrote this book in the 16th century.. and the fact written records were hard to comeby...poilitically on the island...yes there was claim that certain families were described as ancient families on the ilsand...and yes families that established rule from the 12th/13th century from European families would over the centuries lay claim to being the origing Maltese....you need to question Abela's source...but he does note that these families were pre Arab ie pre 870AD...but their true origin is still a question.
If you really want to determine the orgins of being Maltese...underatke a Genetic Test ...then lay your claim to your heritage.
I for one have done so and established my true heritage and can lay claim to the fact that my paternal fathers immigrated to Malta as a Knight under the House of Hohenstaufen and settled around the 13th Century AD.
eddy (not verified)
i know for sure, as aFri, 2011/01/21 - 07:40
i know for sure, as a lebanese that maltese ppl are my far far far away relatives and u as a maltese person cant deny that .
in terms of religion , we have the same religion .
we have the same expressions and sayings not found in any place except malta and lebanon.
we look the same
we act the same
we have the same mentality for GOD SAKE.
Anonymous (not verified)
we are all the sameWed, 2011/02/09 - 17:36
yes ... quite ... and we all have 2 hands and feet ... of course we all look alike ... the mediterranean ... same face different people say the turkish.
lebanon and malta do look different though ... for starters stop tearng each other apart first chance you get.
I'm very proud of our Tunsian cousins at the moment ... great to see citizens standing shoulder to shoulder for a common cause ... thats called modernization.