The description Moors has referred to several historic and modern populations of Berber, Black African and Arab descent from Northern Africa, some of whom came to conquer and occupy the Iberian Peninsula for nearly 800 years. At that time they were Muslim, although earlier the people had followed other religions. They called the territory Al Andalus, comprising most of what is now Spain and Portugal.
"Moors" are not a distinct or self-defined people. Medieval and early modern Europeans applied the name primarily to Berbers, but also at various times to Arabs, Muslim Iberians and West Africans from Mali and Niger who had been absorbed into the Almoravid dynasty. Mainstream scholars observed in 1911 that "The term 'Moors' has no real ethnological value."
The Andalusian Moors of the late Medieval era inhabited the Iberian Peninsula after the Moorish conquests of the Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates, and the final Umayyad conquest of Hispania. The Moors' rule stretched at times as far as modern-day Mauritania, West African countries, and the Senegal River. Earlier, the Classical Romans interacted (and later conquered) parts of Mauretania, a state that covered northern portions of modern Morocco and much of north western and central Algeria during the classical period. The people of the region were noted in Classical literature as the Mauri.
The term Mauri, or variations, was later used by European traders and explorers of the 16th to 18th centuries to designate ethnic Berber and Arab groups speaking the Hassaniya Arabic dialect. Today such groups inhabit Mauritania and parts of Algeria, western Sahara, Morocco, Niger and Mali. Speakers of European languages have historically designated a number of associated ethnic groups as "Moors". In modern Iberia, the term is applied to people of Moroccan ethnicity living in Europe. "Moor" is sometimes colloquially applied to any person from North Africa. Some people to whom it is applied consider the term pejorative and racist.
Although the Moors came to be identified as Muslim, the name Moor pre-dates Islam. It derives from the small Numidian Kingdom of Maure of the 3rd century BCE in what is now northern central and western part of Algeria and a part of northern Morocco. The name was applied to people of the entire region. "They were called Maurisi by the Greeks", wrote Strabo, "and Mauri by the Romans." During that age, the Maure or Moors were trading partners of Carthage, the independent city state founded by Phoenicians. During the second Punic war between Carthage and Rome, two Moorish Numidian kings took different sides, Syphax with Carthage, Masinissa with the Romans, decisively so at Zama.
Thereafter, the Moors entered into treaties with Rome. King Jugurtha responded to violence against merchants with war. Juba, a later king, was a friend of Rome. Eventually, the Roman Empire incorporated the region as the provinces of Mauretania Caesariensis and Mauretania Tingitana. The area around Carthage was already part of the province of Africa. Roman rule was effective enough so that these provinces became integrated into the empire.
During the Christian era, two prominent Berber churchmen were Tertullian and St. Augustine. After the fall of Rome, the Germanic kingdom of the Vandals ruled much of the area.
Neither Vandal nor Byzantine could extend effective rule; the interior remained under Moorish Berber control. For more than 50 years, the Berbers resisted Arab armies from the east. Among its memorable resistance were the forces led by Kahina, the Berber prophetess of the Awras, during 690–701. By 700 CE, or the 92nd lunar year after the Hijra, the Arab Muslims dominated North Africa.
This book goes into great detail about the history of the Moors and their influence as well as historical significance around the world. It is a must have for anyone who would like to study the historical roots of Moors in the East as well as the Americas, and Asia.
- Z El Bey,
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