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.





An idiot is someone who interprets what they read in a way that fits their prejudice, and ignores the evidence presented. If you read carefully, I am asserting that the language of the Maltese is rooted in Arabic, not the genes. As for being Roman Catholic at present, this is not a fact that anyone disputed. We are stating that for about two centuries they were Muslims speaking Arabic. The Arabic remained, but the religion changed. Read before you insult. And understand after you read.

Don't we deserve to be called Maltese!

Calling someone a cocktail of cultures is fine, but at the end, after becoming a well known cocktail, that drink still deserves to be called by a proper name. And Yes people/language of Malta should be called Maltese, and even if the drink might taste like other cocktails nearby, it still is'nt any of the latter.

I'm no historian nor a barman but its obvious that Maltese and arabic both share common structure and sounds and probably have similar derivations. but its culture that makes all the difference. Maltese are people who learnt the hard way that they are so lucky of having had ancestors that stood up for a right of being called maltese. Our Language is unique not only for the way we write it but also for what it stands for historically.

All Maltese feel non Arabic as this implies being colonialised culturally, after all that we did to be an Island state, republic, independent and free.

Thanks Arabs for adding your part to our heritage too.
Thanks europe for acknowledging us as equal soverein state.grazzi lil kulhadd!

US Maltese Are Arab and also

US Maltese Are Arab and also mixed with other races I suppose we are a bastard race .because so many countries occupied it and impregnated our woman .Unfortunately Maltese people Think because we wear a suit we become untouchable and intelligent . Malta is a race of fishermen and farmers and when not accepting where our ancestors are from shows the rest of the world how primitive and ignorant we really are .

Maltese are not unique

Dear All,

As you all know Cyprus is part of the European Union.Kindly be aware that on Cyprus there is a small community of Maronites who speak an arabic dialect and are christians.They are christians from origin and not converts.
The arab world is a diverse one and not everyone is Muslim,a good part is christian especially in the diaspora(ex 5 million christian arabs in Brazil,1 million in Argentina ,etc)
The origins of the maltese people is still shrouded in mystry.Maltese could be descendants of muslim converts or possibly partly descendants of christian arabs from the middle east.In Palestine it is reported that they recount legends about malta.
It is hightime that our historians,folklorists and lingists carry out a comparative study of our religious terninology and traditions with other communities from the arab world.

Fact Finder

I'm just posting the link

I'm just posting the link below to restart the debate. Would the proud Maltese who vehemently deny any Arabic descendency tell me what they think about them having Phoenician descendency?

once again...

To the guy who said maltese DNA is arab..not to make you look stupid but it's not true ..that study was done by a lebanese person and biased.In maltese dna they found 2% arab from a study sample..
see genetics
This is the truth mate wikipedia..we are a lot like southern europeans..our complexion is different also it is olive skin..same as southern europeans like italians spanish fact the derogatory term(insulting) for all these three group of people is wog. They call us wogs as an insult all of us becuase we look similar to them ...they would have called us arabs if we looked exactly like arabs..I'm not saying there aren't some who do. But just 2% or so like the dna study. The rest is a mixture of romantic 35.55% Europe, Central Asia, South Asia, Egypt, Siberia, and Cameroon...28.90% south west asia or southern europe 12.20% Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Sweden, Norway, and Sardinia (Italy). the list is endless ...we're a mixed race..cant say were arab or european just maltese.Maybe the language similarities one assumes we're exactly the same..dont nothing against arab world except extremism use of islam..peacful islam I have no problem with.
Take care gn.

Maltese have semitic blood

Maltese have semitic blood arabs and phoenician and it wont go away face the fact. Maltese looks exactly like syrians, lebanese and palestinians their language is close to Tunisian. Maltese past is Phoenciian which comes from Syrian coast, Lebanon and Palestine, And the J marker in Malta is high and that an Arab DNA

But now they are simply Maltese :) leave it like that and we know our Arabs and Phoenicians linegages

hey..i'm paolo and i'm 28

hey..i'm paolo and i'm 28 y.o.,this is cool..tonite i was searching for my Saliba roots and i ended up here..well let's start from mum (a Saliba) is british from London and married my italian dad and i ve bornt in Italy.
The mysterious story starts with her father, Nicola Saliba, that was british (his father, Spirone, was a british "maltese", died in 1951) but bornt and grew up in Egypt in El Cairo where other members of his family lived till more or less 1966 (then moved to Italy maybe cause my gran gran mother,the wife of Spirone was Italian)..but he left before, joined the british navy and then lived in London from the 50's. As i said before I know that his father (my mum granpa, my gran granpa), Spirone, lived in Malta (not sure from when and maybe bornt in Cefalonia not even Malta..but he was "british") but in 1920 more or less they moved to El Cairo where all his children, my granpa too, were born. My question is: when my Saliba branch family arrived in Malta?From where?Lebanon?How can i know it??..Well maybe i ve been a bit confusing but that's cause i'm tired and dont even know if someone's going to read it hehe.
well thanx.

Salib = Cross

Saliba derives from the Arabic Salib صليب which means cross. Since the name is Christian, it is used by Christian Arabs. I know for sure that Egyptian Copts use it as well as Lebanese too. Others have indicated that Maltese use it too. No wonder because Maltese is a dialect of Arabic, and many of its religious terms are Arabic too (Raheb = priest/monk, ...etc.).

Beyond that, I cannot trace your families roots though.

thank u very much. well i

thank u very much.
well i will go on searching for info.