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.




Maltese as Israelites

You are right in that we Maltese look very different than other African nations. There is so much confusion in this subject. The Israelites (the 12 tribes of Israel) spread elsewhere after the Assyrian invasion, by using the Phoenician routes and via the European continent. The Phoenicians are Israelites under a different name.

The British are Israelites too. The word 'ish' = means people in Hebrew and 'ha-brit' is the Covenant, hence the people of the Covenant.

As a Chinese living in the UK, you are being assimilated into an Israelite nation, but the true Israelite is that person who loves and obeys God with all his heart.

the phoenicians arent

the phoenicians arent israelist!! they are the next door neighbours , they are the caanaites , the israelists lived in ou territories for hundreds of years but it doesnt make us israelist!!

Maltese are a cock- tail

Ref Encyclopaedia Uni of Malta
Facts: Semitic = Descendants of Shem son of Noah = Phoenicians, Jews. Arabs
Facts: Malta was inhabited by Phoenicians (Carthagians), and Siculo-Arabs.
Fact: By intonation and word meanings = Maltese is very close to Lebonese and Egyptians (both seafaring peoples)
Fact: Since neolithic times the Maltese woman was fertilized by numerous seafaring sailors and indigenous male farmers
Fact: The Maltese mother passed on thoughts and words from generation to generations onto its natives
Fact: Maltese is doumneted in Serracino-Inglott's and Joseph Aquilina's Dictionaries - unlike Arab dialects which are not permitted by Koran to use modern terms but to retail the Classic arabic meaniongs
Fact: We have had the prehistoric temples - Boulder for Worshipping El Kabir - the creator - Fertility, eternal spiral design,the temples facing the Sunset (Sommerset, Gharb (ewrop) (Ewrop-a -the Phoenician goddess roving the West) - We welcomed St Paul with goodness (god-ness) and we were goodwilled people was welcomes shipwrecked sailors -MALAT = a sure place - shelter, Porto Salvo - un sur place - a safe haven.
Fact: No invader paid him to kill the inhabitants and the Arabs would kill the males and not the females

Now = Carthaginians were most probably ousted from Tunisian ports and sent to the mountanious dessert by the invading Turks (not Arabs)- Berbers (Bedouins) were ancient Carthaginians or Phoenicians.

Coming to Saliba = according to Dr Borg (University of Tel Aviv) a linguist staed that Saliba = Cross The = ie.e the Cross. Maybe Abela = The Abels (Jewish origins) _ I had read somewnre that there are alot of Abela tombs on top of Jewish burial places.
Spathari = Swordmen under the Bysantine empire Therefore Spiteri (Coat of arms bearing a lion wioth a sword) were bodyguards of the Empire - fighters
Bu Marrda
Bu Tigieg
Bu Suttil (Stallion)
Bu Hagar

Arab heritage in Malta

Ladies and gents, thanks for this very interesting discussion. I am not an Arab and I was born Muslim. I do not speak Arabic at all. (I am of East Indonesian stock). Whenever I look at Maltese or hear it, I must say that it sounds like it's derived from Arabic. (I'm familiar with the sound of Arabic through reading the Quran). Yes, I know that Maltese is not "Quranic" and I know I'm not an expert. I just felt that I'd like to give my opinion as a neutral outsider. I can also clearly see the modern inlfuence of Italian and English on the language. We all know that people cannot be forced to be what they don't want to be. Therefore, I find it strange how some Maltese here almost militantly do not want to be Arabic. Nobody but nobody can make you an Arab, SO TAKE IT EASY BROTHERS AND SISTERS. I think the original discussion was basically about the Arabic influence on Malta.

The Arabic language is today spoken by millions of folks who some centuries ago spoke other languages. Iraq, Egypt, Syria etc all had their own languages and today they've adopted Arabic. In today's Middle East, probably only Iran, Turkey, Some Syrian groups, Berbers and the Kurds did not adopt Arabic. So technically that would make a huge part of the Arabic speaking world, "non-Arab". But what's the big deal...? I do not have mongoloid features. I have dry kind of hair. I have a bearded face and I'm quite tall. However, because Malay is the main language of my people, (despite us having our own languages), I'm identified generally as Malay. That's cool isn't it? I know that I'm "Orang Maluku", but again I ask. What's the big deal?

I find the history of Malta and its language really interesting. It's definitely a place where I would like to have been when all that history was being made.

why is every 1 offended by

why is every 1 offended by the comments in this article. Im lebanese Muslim and my best friend is Malties we live in Australia we respect each others religions. but malties is very similar to arabic when i speak arabic he always has a clue of what i said and i find it funny. live in peace

tat-tifigh fi-dahk (

tat-tifigh fi-dahk ( maltese)

burst out in laughter( english)

ta2 fa2i3 fil douhik ( lebanese)

technically the same as maletese but some different pronunciation!
does morrocans and tunisians say this ??

Some comments in this site

Some comments in this site make references to a certain self styled historian/Count/Prince? Charles Said Vassallo (when applicable DE BRANCHEFORTE SAID).

This is an extract from Mr Said Vassallo's website ( regarding Sultan Djem Osman: A small though familiar Maltese surname established on the Maltese Isles since the 16th century. Established the future for the Knights of the order of St John, which history hasn’t documented so well, which was of relevance to the next several centuries. A family of Imperial blood that played importance’s in Europe as the heirs of the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Djem Osman, the younger son of Sultan Mehmed III, though elder son born during the reign of his father, took the reins of the Empire. His eldest brother and heir were furious and left his governing province for the Empire’s capital to inherit what he had assumed his rightful legacy. Battle took place, brother against brother, though Djem failed to secure his believed rights of the Ottoman Empire. Djem fled first to Egypt, under the protection of the Sultan of Egypt, then to Rhodes Islands. The orders of St John were Masters of the Isles and had hoped to gain help to resecure his claim age. Djem stay on the Rhodes Islands was interesting as his union with an Italian Noblewomen produced several descendants. After several years, Djem found that he was no closer than when he arrived, so upon an invitation to the Papal States and the grace and favour of Pope Alexander VI Borgia which started Djem and his descendants their pretension of the Ottoman Empire in Europe. The Pope had acknowledged Djem’s sons as Princes of Royal and Imperial blood, with the title of “Prince de Sayd” in 1492.
Sultan Djem’s invitation to Rome was the start of his European tour to gain support for his “Christian” conversation of the Ottoman Empire from the European powers such as France, Holy Roman Empire, Spain and the Italian States and Kingdoms. During his tour he gained many acknowledgements and honours though support for a “Crusade” was lacking and uninteresting to the European Powers.

Mr Said Vassallo with all due respects has now become self styled Count Charles Said Vassallo. He notes that Sultan Djem was recognized by several Monarchs as H.I.H, Prince and Sultan Djem Sayd of the Ottoman Empire.

Self styled Count Charles Said Vassallo continues: Upon his return to Rome, he (Sultan Djem) settled his family outside Rome. His eldest son had married a daughter of a Genoese diplomat in Rome. Djem’s son, the Principe de Sayd moved to the Neapolitan capital of Naples. Djem was dead, poisoned by the Borgia household, though some suspect that it could have been the Pope or his sister. But this has been unproven, but sources have stated that Djem’s brother, the Sultan had paid off the Pope to kill Djem ‘off’.
The Knights of St John fought and lost Rhodes Islands then moved to the Neapolitan Kingdom waiting for a defence to retake their lost island. But under the Spanish succession, Malta, seemed to be the likely place where the Knights could move. Malta was a fief under the Spanish Neapolitan kingdom and was given as a token to the Knights. The family of Sayd had established in Malta by this stage, with the younger branch of the 1st Prince de Sayd. Initially the Younger branch established at Birgu, and then moved to Santi, and Zebbug.
Another family in Malta were of Arabic origin whom were scattered throughout Malta, a small family, which only a branch succeeds today. The descendants of Djem arrived in two stages. The elder branch moved from Naples to Sicily and the younger branch moved to Malta about the 1500’s. The elder branch was claimants to the throne of Ottoman Empire and intermarried with Sicilian families. In the mid 17th century, the head of the Imperial House moved to Malta and lived at Mdina as grace and favour of the Grand Masters. Though the elder line died out during the late 17th century, though in Sicily, an illegitimate heir took upon his pretensions to his claimant. The importance of having such Imperial family living in Malta was considered as a safe haven, but also as bait to the Ottoman Turks.

Within several years of the Princely family settlement in Malta, the Grand Siege of Malta had begun. The Ottoman Empire knew the threats of the pretentsive family and what it meant to an Empire that was strong and mighty. All enemies to an Empire were needed to be exhausted.
The Grand Master knew of what fate lay ahead, though through determination and strength from the Maltese, Knights and the European powers to overpower the Turks once and for. Success was achieved eventually and the Turks left to never be heard of again. Upon the succession of the Grand Siege of Malta, the imperial family lost favour and respect. There was no further need of them and slowly and eventually moved into civilian life. The elder line died out at the end of the 17th century, with succession and acknowledgement by the Grand Master of Malta, of Salvatore Sayd, as the Prince de Sayd e Bibino Magno with rights as “His Highness”, instead of “His Imperial Highness”. (Mr Charles Said Vassallo has purposely forgotten to insert footnotes. Actually the only reference submitted by the self styled Count Charles Said Vassallo is the book "History of Malta-convictions and conjectures volume four" pages 80-84, by Giovanni Bonello, Patrimonju Publishing, Malta, 2003, which does not have a whiff of a mention of any connection with the said family).
Mr Charles Said Vassallo continues that fortunately (for himself, maybe), the elder line kept key documentation and data, which survived, to the present family. Moreover, he continues that today, acknowledgement has been plenty some (referring to the letter of acknowledgement received by Baron George Said Zammit in 2002 from the late Head of the House of Osman). Further yet Mr Vassallo claims to be the Head of the family...

Self styled Count Charles Said Vassallo, The Most Noble one, the educated historian didn’t have the decency and politeness, or perhaps he failed to remember to safeguard the Baron’s privacy by putting the letter of acknowledgement from the present Heir (\libro d'Oro\said2.html) online without even covering the Baron’s address. Where is the privacy Mr Charles Said Vassallo!

Moreover, interestingly enough two thirds of the Maltese population descends from Nicolai Sayt and /or Prince Djem ('Oro/said.html).

Let it be known that half of the family trees included in are fictional, story-bound, and illusory whereas several other legitimate ones are depicted as illegitimate, (published family trees endorsed by genealogist Mary Lanfranco), yet I do humbly pray that pristine and accurate data be published in his destined site…

N. Said

Maltese as Israelites

The Arabs during the 2 and a half centuries of rule in Malta, does not mean that the populace has spoken Arabic, but only the ruling class, and their soldiers.

In some literature the rulers could not even communicate with the Maltese, proving that the Maltese language is not an Arabic one. Of course, they did influence our language to some degree.

Let it be known that as a Semitic language this may be theoretically be Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, Arabian and other Canaanite languages too (during the period when Israel was in the promised land). This is not the same as the lands now occupied by the counterfeit-state of Israel.

Do not mix up the Jewish people (as these are peoples that practice Judaism mainly). Only some 3% of people calling themselves Jews are of the original 12 tribes of Israel.

Let me explain. Noah (of Noah's ark) had 3 sons. Japheth, Ham (the blacks) and Sem (or Shem the Semites). Some 85 to 95% of Jews come from Ashkenaz, from Gomer and are Japhethites. Hence these are not Semites at all!

The Semites, are called so, because they stem from Shem. Abraham had two sons: Ishmael progenitor of the Arabs, and Issac (progenitor of both Edomites (from Esau [practicing Judaism] and Jacob = 12 tribes of Israel).

The Edomites are however Semites and these usually are practicing Judaism. The Israelites on the other hand, do not practice Judaism, and most of them are Christians.

i was checking out a website

i was checking out a website on the net that states the similarities in SAYINGS between the malteses and Lebanese ( only both ppl say these sayings)
in both the sayings are similar but ofcourse a little difference in pronounciation.
we as lebanese speak arabic in general but around 40% of our arabic isnt arabic but a different semite lang. ( i dunno which)
the sayings that is similar in lebanon and malta are not arabic, you cannot find them in the arabic dictionary.
meaning that the lang. the maltese speak doesnt have arabic in it , it have syriac or aramaic or canaaite lang.