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).
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.
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.
Vella (not verified)
SurnamesWed, 2015/12/02 - 19:17
My father is a Vella & my mother. Farrugia...so what does that make me. I say like the rest of the maltese people I am a diverse mix of European & Arabic heritage.
EE (not verified)
Arabic = Maltese, Everything else = Not maltese?Thu, 2020/04/09 - 21:03
Hello, I am just saying that Maltese people are maltese, you dont have to have an arabic history to your surname to be maltese because I am half maltese ..., they can come from either italian or arabic words. ... And my dads part of my family have all been born in Malta, so you dont have to have an arabic surname to be maltese because what about your other ancestors who had italian surnames? I just thought Id say because that is just absolute crap.
Joanne Attard (not verified)
Origin of the name AttardFri, 2023/01/06 - 19:42
Whilst Attard may have some Arabic influence the name was actually derived (shortened) from the surname Name Attardo
Milite Francesco Attardo was granted a nobile fiefdom 1360-1366 of Ginelfar e miqulup and the privilege of Royal familiarites in 1372 by the King of Sicily. Attard was of Jewish origin and came from Sicily and in the service of the Aragona royal family
Attardo: The Milite Francesco Attardo, was granted the fief of Saccaya in Malta in 1360 and given the privileged status of a royal familiaritas in 1372. his descendant Giulio Attardo settled in Gozo and in 1601 married Mattea or Marietta Dimech, with issue. he thus started the Gozitan line of the family which intermarried with other noble Maltese families such as Viani and Fiteni and with the Gozitan gentry (Jurat) families such as d’Anastasio, Seychel, Agius and Pace.
kg malti (not verified)
Calling triangles strange squares?Fri, 2009/05/01 - 13:39
Maltese are called so because they were able to stand out from any conquerers and have their own identity, sorry for those who can't still get it. If somewhere along the line Arab culture was an influence, thats all it ever relates the two cultures. Otherwise we Maltese have nothing against being Arab for those that are arab! By the way are all arabs keen of being called Africans? Its a similar wrong generalisation.
Pausanias (not verified)
The Maltese are not ArabsMon, 2008/12/01 - 16:24
I'm more offended by you calling me ignorant of my history than these postings saying I'm Arabic.
Get off your high horse first ...
Anonymous (not verified)
we are arabs u dick head urWed, 2009/01/28 - 16:57
we are arabs u dick head ur just one of those maltese who wanna be like italian or english look at our history we are arabs an inshallah we will one day be all muslims again
booilisios (not verified)
look ***, LOTS of MalteseSun, 2009/04/19 - 07:40
look ***, LOTS of Maltese are PROUD to be roman christian soo don't interfere in other peoples religions. if u r muzlim i respect that. i have a friend that is mulslim, but respect that u can't change peoples belifes and that we believe what we want to believe! and Maltese are not arabs!
kingswell abdilla (not verified)
phoeciniciansSun, 2011/05/22 - 09:19
your all so so wrong the maltese people are originally a semetic people from a area around modern day syria and lebanon. they were NOT Arabs they were phoecinians who arrived before the roman and mixed with the original people. the foundation of the Maltese language is arabic due to three centuries of Arab domination. the Arabs tried not to mix with the locals meaning that the direct bloodline of nearly all real Maltese people is phoecian so we are a middle eastern people but we cant say we are Arabs. how can an Arab be a Roman catholic and speak a italian mix arabic language. Malta isn't even considered to be an Arab nation its a european nation with stronger ties to the western world than the Arab world. the people are not arab by name or middle eastern but there is no question that they are middle eastern by BLOOD but the arab bloodline could be there due to my family name being Attard a well known name in malta coming from the arabic word attar and also abdilla is a family name of mine meaning abdullah ( servant of god) so what are the Maltese. they are simply Arab, Italian maybe, sicilain most definitly, french and definetly phoecinian.
thank by kingswell attard abdilla
maltese_knight (not verified)
maltese were never muslimsTue, 2013/01/08 - 07:58
malta was ruled by muslims but the maltese people never were muslims,and were forced to pay tax in there own country cause they remained christians no proof of maltese or any written history that maltese converted to islam if you have read that the maltese rase were muslim it is ''false" please re research this topic cause you a wrong my freind.i agree that islamic rule was in malta but the only muslims are the invaders and they were expelled by normans a short time later,,malta was saved.
EE (not verified)
Not the true malteseThu, 2020/04/09 - 21:05
Not the true maltese!