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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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Muslim

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

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.

Moors

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.

Mozarabs

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.

Conversos

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

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.

Moriscos

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 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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