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 above "Ha nahxik f-sormok" ح نحشيك في صرمك and "Ha nifakjak f-sormok" ح نفقيك ؟ في صرمك are very vulgar terms, but similar to some terms used in the Egyptian dialect today.

In searching Google to confirm the vulgar use of this, I found this thread on Facebook for a football club in Sousse, Tunisia. On that thread the bulk of the comments are by Maghrebians using Arabic. But there seems to be some orthography that may be Maltese by some of the commenters, or perhaps Maghrebians residing in Spain or Spanish territories. Both sides exchanging all sorts of vulgarities.

What is interesting is that the information is written in Latin for both Maltese (Spanish?) and Arabic, the latter using the Arabic to Latin transliteration that I described here.

not funny

1st of all, Maltese are europeans, according to geneiologists european children are born with blue eyes, if you just take a stroll around our hospital maternity ward, youd notice that maltese children are born with blue eyes, of course, this is temporary until eye colour changes eventually to brown, green, or remain blue.....african born children are born with black eyes...and remain black eyed or brown. and 2nd of all, ur a loser.

Eurocentric Ignorance

Dear Anonymous "Dude", Forgive me but your posts are truly Eurocentric and Racist. I am Maltese and brown eyed, my sister is green eyed. Blood is the same colour whether Arabic or European. Frankly, I would be proud to have Arabic links as I am proud of my Italian/ Spanish (possibly Moorish)/ English and French Ancestry (Grandparents from all these countries). The Arab world has provided some of the most amazing historical gems, Mathematicians, Astronomy,Alchemy, Medicine and not to forget the amazing trade era across the Mediterranean. If there is a link between Maltese and Arab blood, I would truly welcome it. I am proud that my Maltese heritage has provided me with such interest into so many different countries be they Arab or European. I am proud that my mother tongue is Semetic.

I was also raised in Malta with Arab phobia but that only served to open up my curiosity. How amazed was I on a trip to the Middle East to discover I could converse (albeit awkwardly) with Arab people. I was made welcome and they were pleased I was trying to speak their language.
Oh and by the way, I met a camel herder with the darkest of skins but the bluest of eyes. You are certainly myopic to suggest that African Children are all born with black eyes and Europeans born with Blue eyes. There is no such thing as homogeneity.

It is only when we stop making distinctions between people will we have a truly cohesive society. It is only egotism and a misplaced yearning for power that makes us want to align ourselves with what or who we perceive is superior. As far as I am concerned Malta only became 'European' as part of the EU - political manipulations does not define who we truly are.

I say celebrate and embrace the Maltese genetic diversity even if that means some Arab blood.

Oh and by the way, fundamentalism takes many guises not just Arabic or Islam, for example, the current Christian Fundamentalism in Malta that believes Christianity is the only worthy religion. Similarly, the the Christian Fundamentalism in America that teaches its children 'creationism' which holds that the world is only 7000 years old - completely denying a process of evolution which is the foundation of our scientific knowledge. In truth, fundamentalism has nothing to do with religion but just as I mentioned earlier, it is a result of a misplaced yearning for superiority.

With kind regards to you all wherever you may come from.

Jacquina Inguanez de Ortigos

Very well-stated Jacquina! I

Very well-stated Jacquina! I wish everyone in the world was as educated and tolerant as you.

Well said!!

Well said!!

Arab influence in Malta

I'm half-English, half-Maltese, and you are a fascist prick

To all them so called maltese people who dare say we are italian

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 scent 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 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 100% fine with.

I seriously don’t understand why their is 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 true ethnic maltese. and these surnames haveno Arabic connection their for didn’t come to malta until the Arabs left which makes 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 scents 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 accepted 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.. )

thanks for this comment. I

thanks for this comment. I read your comment which is very enlightening and very honest.

Your Arabian brother,

Respect to Maltese

Hello my Maltese brother.
I really appreciate for your nice comment, and it's refresh me that we share the respect between Malta and Arab world! Thank you very much.
Your family (Attar) is famous in the Arab world, and it's Arab Semitic 100%.
Also it's very big, and it is spread around the Arab world, special Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine.
Ms. Najah al-Attar is the Vice President of Syria, and she Is the first woman who holds the position of Vice President of the Republic in the Arab world.

I hope that peace and love prevail on us
Also We wish that the Maltese and Arabs visit each others someday. You guys are always welcome.

The surname Attard first

The surname Attard first appears in Maltese Records in 1299 by a person named Tristianus who witnessed a deed in Gozo. Later Francesco Attardo was given the barony by the kind of Aragon. 'Attar' or Attard is not listed anywhere during the Muslim era and only appears after the Norman conquest.A friend of mine had dna tested and luckily another person with same surname and they were both part of the ev-13 group which is very prevalent in the Balkans (Albania, Kosova, Macedonia, Greece and Serbia) According to Steve Bird, this particular dna has been spread to other regions in Europe namely the UK and Germany due to Roman expansion who recruited many soldiers from the Balkan area. According to Pof Wettinger, the surname Attard is of Germanic name in origin and the only exact match we have is from a person who originates from the region of Baden Baden in South Germany. The perfume (attar) and the roses could very well be a myth, unless there were to names that amalgamated into one, which does not seem to be case. DNA is important when one is talking about ethnicity and humane migration routes.

السلام عليكم As-salamu alaykum.:)