Arab Heritage in Malta

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).

Place Names

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. 

Closing Anecdote

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.




The name of the language is

The name of the language is not as important as its vocabulary and grammar.

The script is irrelevant: Urdu, Farsi and Ottoman Turkish were all written in Arabic letters, but none of them is even in the same language family as Arabic. In fact, Hebrew is closer to Arabic than any of the above examples, yet it has a totally different script. Do not confuse the script (written form) with the language (spoken form). They are different things. So Maltese being written in Latin does not making it Arabic.



interesting thing I noticed the use of the word Shayla to be specific to the Gulf region. Can anyone please confirm it?

Interesting ... in Maltese Xalla means a veil as well ...

The Italian version has nothing to do with head or body scarves even though there is a southern derivative, it means more like "relax":

So che Scialo nei dialetti del sud Italia indica il divertimento, la tranquillità "Ahieri ma SCIALAI" Ieri me la sono spassata.... Secondo me è deriva da quello. L'etimologia la devi quindi cercare tra parole analoghe spagnole o arabe... a occhio e croce

Hi, If you mean the Arabian

If you mean the Arabian Gulf, then no, your name is not just specific to that region only. It means veil in the Levantine Arabic region, also.

maltese have a root of arabic this is a fact

thanks for your article ,and i would like to say that one of famouse families in malta (Taboni) ,this surname alot of families in libya carry it.
second thing ; a lot of words used by maltese you can find them in libyan dialect ,i.e no relationship with Phoenician and the therory that say maltese language derivative from Phoenician language.realy this is not true

Taboni is a profession

In Libya and Tunisia, taboni طابوني is the name of a profession, maker of Tabona طابونة which is a clay oven used for making bread. Like the Indian Tandoori oven. Here is a photo of Tabona with bread in it.

In Egypt Tabona means something else, I think it means a mill where grain is ground into flour.


I didn’t know that. My maiden name is Taboni and my ancestors came from Malta ( whom I am trying to find)! So we were originally pot makers

I am maltese and i can prove

I am maltese and i can prove that we are arabs.

come over to malta and soon you will notice..

the lunar state of the roads...we never learned the art.... (bhall-Arab),
you will soon notice the cleanliness of our homes...because outside our houses is not ours so we don't care and we can problem (bhall-Arab),
you will soon notice that everybody tries hard to take you for a ride...(bhall-Arab),
you will soon notice that politicians do whatever they like, spend all the citizens money on themselves and some close friends and all the others can fend for themselves...(bhall-Arab),
you can also notice that if you're waiting in line in a shop or elsewhere, somebody that arrived after you did, always try to get the services before you...(bhall-Arab)

We can go on like this all day...

So there you have it!
This clearly proves that we Maltese are Arabs..

Come to the U.S.

It sounds just like the States, except the inside of the houses are not always clean. You want "lunar state of roads(LOL), go to New York! I guess it makes it easier for Maltese people to deny any Arab heritage and attribute all negative issues of their society to Arabs. It makes you guys feel even more superior.

Maltese are Israelites

As the Maltese language is Semitic, there is a great difficulty in understanding its origins. In my view the Maltese language stems from Caananite languages of the Holy Land. This includes Hebrew, Arabic dialects, Syriac and others.

For some reason the Arabic Semitic origins is overstated. I have proof that we are mainly Israelites, and have Hebrew origins.

Surname Hebrew (transliterated) English meaning
Sammut samkhootee authoritative
Scifo sheef | `ah plenty, multitude
Sciriha/Xiriha shreek | ah whistle

I have a whole list of surnames with possible Hebrew links.

Whilst Marsa is Arabic, and others, harraraw [from Hebrew hararee](Old name for Ghargur) means hilly or mountainous,
Ghaxaq, means subdued [Hebrew for ashak].

I have lots more to show you. May soon publish a book regarding all of this.