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From Muslim to Moriscos

in Andalucia, Spain
By Nick Nutter | 24 Jun 2020
Modern Arabs in Murcia Modern Christians in Murcia Modern Moors in Murcia

I have been writing about Andalucia for some 15 years. A major part of the history of the province involves the period 711 to 1492 AD, from when the Moors invaded Spain until they were defeated following the reconquest. I have noticed on my journeys through time that, even in some Spanish sources, there remains some confusion about who was called what, from Muslim to Moriscos. I hope this summary helps.

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A Muslim is any person that practices any of the branches of the Islamic faith, the religion of the Quran, regardless of where they originate.


Arabs are people from the Arabian Peninsula. A Moroccan is not an Arab but a citizen from Yemeni is. Abd al-Rahman I (731 – 788 AD), from the Umayyad dynasty that ruled most of the Iberian peninsula as an independent Caliphate, was an Arab. Boabdil (Mohammad XII of Granada 1460 – 1533) on the other hand was a Moor.


Many people imagine the Moors to be Arabs. This is not so. Moors originate in Mauretania, in the north western part of Africa just south of Morocco. Tariq ibn Ziyad, the man who led the Moorish invasion of Spain in 711, was from the Berber tribe, from Mauretania, therefore a Moor. The Almoravid (1040 – 1147 AD) and Almohad dynasties (1130 – 1269) were both Moor, that is, they originated in Mauritania, and they were constantly hostile to each other. The civil wars between these two Islamic Moorish factions meant the beginning of the end for the Muslims in Spain.


The Christians that lived under Moorish rule were called Mozarabs. Many spoke Arabic and they adopted elements of Arabic culture. They were originally comprised of the Visigoth Christians remaining in Spain plus several Arab and Berber Christians who converted from Islam and later by a few Converso Sephardi Jews. A language of the same name developed amongst this group, a combination of Arabic, Latin and Hispanic. They should not be confused with Mudéjars and Moriscos.


Under the Moors, the Jewish community had flourished in Spain. As large parts of the Iberian Peninsula were reconquered the Jews were encouraged to convert to Christianity. In the late 14th century a series of brutal pogroms persuaded many Jews to be baptised, the alternative was death. Those that did convert were called Conversos. Persecution of the Jews in Spain culminated in the Spanish Inquisition.


Mudéjars were Muslims that choose to remain in Spain after the reconquest. They were not forcibly converted to Christianity and not forcibly expelled from their homes or country. Since the reconquest started in 718 AD, the year after the Moorish invasion, and lasted until 1492, Mudéjars and their descendants, existed in various places for varying lengths of time. In many places at different times Mudéjars had protected status under Christian laws.


Following the Battle of Granada in 1492, all Mudéjars kept a protected religious status. However, over the following decades those rights were eroded and Mudéjars were forced to convert to Christianity or be expelled from the country. Those that did convert were called Moriscos. The Christian monarchs were sceptical of the conversion, believing that many Moriscos still practised their Islamic faith in secret. Eventually the Moriscos were expelled between 1609 and 1614.

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Submitted by Jiri on 28 Jul 2020
This article skips over important historical detail. Jews are falsely portrayed again as a victims, where nothing can be further from the truth...... In last years of Christian reconquest, there were deadly fights between the two "brothers": Jews and Muslims. Raids on both sides has occasionally totally wiped out entire villages, including children. Both sides have conspired to involve the Christians in their eternal fights, lying and doing the attacks under "false flag". Hence Isabela and Fernando, decided to put the end to it and after final battle of reconquest in Granada in 1492 they gave the Muslims and Jews choice: Either convert to Christianity or leave the country. Some of them has stayed and converted as explained above in the article, but indeed, they have betrayed the Christians and while pretending, that they have converted, they actually prayed to their old Gods of Jewish and Muslim faith. That has prompted the government(Isabela and Fernando) to establish judicial system to catch these false converts and punish them. A man, named Torquemada, which he himself was a converted Jew, was put in charge of the entire investigation system. He devised the methods of torture and the procedures of the investigators...... It had originally nothing to do with prosecuting Jews....Only the lying and false converts/conversos, who were subverting the rule of law and Christian faith.......Their properties were expropriated, confiscated and the were increasingly harshly punished, which included torture and death by strangling or burning alive. The "hunt" for these converts/conversos have later turned into hunt for "whitches" in entire Christian world....But special thanks have to be given especially to the Jews for that. Jews were hunting robbing and killing Jews....NOT being victims!

Reply by Nick Nutter:
Hi Jiri, Thanks for the comment. This article only attempts to explain the terms, it is not intended to delve deeply into the politics or religion or motivations of people. You will have to wait for my article on the Inquisition for that.

Submitted by Keith on 6 Jul 2020
Hi Nick, love your stuff. The alternative for the Jews who did not convert was, 'expulsion or death'. Keep up the good work. Regards, Keith

Reply by Nick Nutter:
Hi Keith, thanks for the comment. It should have read 'expulsion or death' and, as it turned out, there were fewer deaths than is popularly imagined - bad enough though.

Submitted by Claire King on 26 Jun 2020
Very informative. Thank you. One question: were all Berbers Moors?

Reply by Nick Nutter:
Thanks for the comment. To answer your question: Berbers are a tribe bound by the Berber language. They live in a number of countries in Africa, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Niger and Mauritania. Those Berbers living in Mauretania are also Moors.

Submitted by Jim Wasserman on 25 Jun 2020
Good explanation. I might add Marranos, who were the Conversos who secretly tried to maintain Jewish practices. Later, the charge of being a Marrano (crypto-Jew) was used by the Inquisition.

Reply by Nick Nutter:
Hi Jim, Thanks for the comment. You are right, I should have included Marrano. I am writing a condensed history of the Inquisition in Spain, I will make sure the term is explained in that.

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About the Author

Nick has lived and worked in Andalucia for over 20 years. He and his partner, Julie Evans, have travelled extensively and dug deep into the history and culture, producing authoritative articles on all aspects of the region. Nick has written four books about Andalucia and writes articles for other websites and blogs.

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