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.




im libyan and i find it not

im libyan and i find it not fair that all libyans are associated with a stupid minority who do drugs..and drugs are everywhere..but i am sorry for the trouble they have caused you...its always a small amount that ruin it for everyone. just pray for us gaddafi goes ;);) btw ive been malta on countless occasions and i love it beautiful culture and people. peace

attard as an arabic surname

my family has been in malta hundreds of years and i consider myself to be maltese. not italian, french, english, arab or belonging to any other nation. cultures and nations come and go but as a maltese i am proud to have such a varied language which includes not just classical arabic words spoken in its own quaint dialect but also french, italian, english, latin, phoenician and even our own particular home grown maltese words. to the attard person i say show us your family tree going back to hundreds of years and let us see the mix of surnames from whom you are descended. definitely you cannot be an attard all the way from the fathers side and also from the mothers side. in my opinion just because you have an arabic surname it does not qualify you to say you are an arab. and to that person who said the maltese people should all one day be muslims, i say shame on you. we are living in a democratic society where no one person can dictate what another persons religion should be. if you are not happy in malta with the way it is, i say to you leave the island and go and live with your muslim brothers and sisters and let us lead our lives how we please. we definitely do not want to live under sharia law or even under roman catholic law but we want to remain secular for ever. viva malta u il - maltin

Post by Miss Barbara

Reference to the post by Franklin Barbara . Mr. Barbara says that “half of the family trees included in are fictional, story-bound, and illusory”.

This accusation is not true. All genealogical data on my sites and can be verified with records. Please see the data for yourselves and make your own appraisals.

I do not know of any errors unless brought to my attention. Whenever this is the case, the matter is dealt with as swiftly as possible.

Mr. Barbara is free to contact me directly on . See also the Policy Page at

I take this opportunity to invite everyone to look at “Notes on Arab/Muslim Heritage of the Maltese People (project in development)” . The idea is to break it up into more detailed sections like the project at


Maltese People

I am sorry, but often people seem to mistake Arab with Muslim. Not all Arabs are Muslim. Furthermore, Arab is now more a linguistic and cultural term, and does not denote a race unless you are speaking of the natives of the Arabian Peninsula. An Algerian would in all likelihood be of Kabyle descent and in terms of race have nothing in common with a Syrian, yet they are both known as Arabs because of a common language and similar culture. Lebanese are Phoenicians (Semites like Arabs), Palestinians are Canaanites (especially Christian Palestinians, since Muslim Palestinians are a mixture of Canaanite and Arab from the Arabian Peninsula who migrated into Palestine in the 7th century) yet they are all covered under the linguistic term Arab.
Maltese are afraid of being called Arabs, even though other Europeans see them as Euro-Arabs, or Arabs trying to be European. Part of it is because they equate Arab with Muslim, not realising that in both the Levant, Mesopotamia and north Africa (more specifically Egypt), there are million of Christian Arabs.
Of course some if it can get quite ironical. The Maltese word for Lent, which is "Randan", is derived from the Muslim word "Ramadan", while Christian Arabs use the term "Sawm al Kabeer" (The Great Fast).
Now, some Maltese words, like "hanut", do actually come from the Phoenician language and not Arabic...very similar to the Hebrew word "khanut" which also means "store" like in Maltese, as Phoenician and Hebrew are very similar (Phoenician is no longer a spoken language of course). Nonetheless, Maltese IS a variety of Arabic, albeit a very bastardised variety of Arabic that has borrowed heavily from Sicilian and Italian (Sicilian being a regional variety of Italian)...Maltese has taken Latin words and forced Arabic forms of conjugation on them, creating verbs that are conjugated in the Semitic fashion, but which are derived from Latin words...The Maltese phrase, "Int ipparkjat hazin"..."you have parked badly" is a good example...the word "park" is not of Semitic origin, yet conjugated in the Semitic fashion, and while "hazin" means "sad" in most Arabic countries, in Malta it has come to mean "bad"...

Maltese has taken some interesting turns of course...the Maltese word for "viper" is "lifgha" (pronounced "lif'a")...this comes from the Arabic words "l-" (the shortened form of the Arabic article "al" meaning "the" before words starting with vowels, and "if'a" meaning viper) yet THE viper in Maltese is "il lifgha" an Arab that sounds like using the article "al" ("the") twice...

Come on Maltese people, your language is Arabic, like it or not.

Maltese - a Semitic language that includes Hebrew, Arabic, etc

Just because someone that give examples of the Arabic component in the Maltese language, I can do the same with the Hebrew component. True the Gozitan village of Gharb, comes from the Arabic word West.

Here are some villages/towns that have a Hebrew origin:-

Qormi from the Hebrew (H.) kormee meaning hole.

Qawra from H. meaning concave

Delimara from H. meaning mirror to the West.

Rabat from H. meaning the larger town (ok it could also be of Arabic origin, but there is a Rabbath in the previous location in Lebanon were the Israelites were).

I have 15 other examples, but will publish this material for all to see.

Annibale Preca in 1880 had published a book called (Assay on the Similarities of the Hebrew language to Maltese).

Let us face it, the Maltese language has the following Semitic components: Hebrew, Syriac, Canaanite, Arabic, and Chaldean parts. There is no in depth study on the percentages of the above languages.

The Hebrew, Syriac and Canaanite came over at around 722 BC, whilst the Chaldean part after the Second Temple period of Jerusalem. The Arabic component was then present before Count Roger came to Malta. That is the logical historic part that so far I can assess.

It is not an easy journey, I can assure you, but I wish to state one important thing:

The Semitic-Arabic component is over-stated/rated by linguists of the Maltese language, and the Hebrew component is under-estimated.

Did you consider that all

Did you consider that all semitic languages share the same roots including arabic? i.e. arabic and hebrew are not the root but they actually share the same source.

Yes of course, the Arabic and

Yes of course, the Arabic and Hebrew languages stem from the same root. Abraham's son Ishmael is where the Arabs came from and Jacob is where the Hebrews came from.

So in the first few centuries, the langauge was quite similar. Nowadays the language has gone apart, but some basic grammer rules are the same and also quite a lot of words,

Maltese Arabs

Thank you very much for this information. I have always believed that we have decended from Arabs. I enjoy history and after studying Arabic realised that the huge influence from Arabic both language and culture on the Maltese population could not be purely coincidence. Our words, mannerisms and ideology often remind me of Arab cultures, albeit with an Anglo/Italian slant. I think we would like to believe that we desend from Europe, but this is clearly not true. We seem to feel ashamed that we have desended from Arabs. I don't know why, I don't find it shameful but fascinating. We are denying a huge element of our history and trying to twist it to show that we are civilised, elegant Europeans with a Christian background and quickly dismiss the notion that Arab nations had any influence on our history. We are not Italians, our complexions, height and dark eyes are evidence of this, we may aspire to be Italian, but we are not. Also looking at our islands and landscape it would be easy to think that this was an Arab nation. Please continue with your informative posts. I for one am most grateful.

We Maltese are Israelites not

We Maltese are Israelites not Arabs, in the main.

Do not mix people with the Jewish religion and the tribes. Just as not all Arabs are Muslims, only some 3% of people claiming to uphold Judaism (as a religion) stem from true Israel.

So the Maltese as Phoenician, are Semitic. Most Phoenicians are Israelites and form independant states. Archeologists often do not make the Hebrew-Israelite to the Phoeniciain link.

I am not against any race, but the truth be told, we are from the tribes of Israel. Why do we have a third of coat of arms having the star of David on them?

Why do so many coat of arms having symbols of Israelite tribes? Take Borg for example. On its coat of arms it has a tower with 5 mounts. This is very similar to the Israelite tribe of Gad.

I've never heard so much

I've never heard so much rubbish! Israelites my foot!

I'm sorry to have to say this but you have no idea what you are talking about ... no background in history, neither heraldry. You're just making things up basing your logic on selected bits and pieces of disconnected information