Monday, November 02, 2009

Who Are the Moors?

Hey, folks. I have been thinking lately about the term 'Moor'.

You see this term is used a lot to describe the Muslims who lived in Spain. It has several different meanings, and it seems that 'Moor' is the most widely used term to describe the Muslims Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain). But what does this term really means. Beside a term to describe the Muslims of Al-Andalus, it is sometimes used to describe the individuals who are of mixed Arab and Amazigh (Berber) peoples of Northern Africa.

Those of you know who do not know Arabic may be suprised to find out that this term is not used in books written in Arabic - the official language used in Al-Andalus. Therefore, what did the people of Muslim Spain and Portugal (Al-Andalus) call themselves? What did Muslims from other lands refer to those people who inhabited Al-Andalus when Islam was dominated that peninsula?

One thing is for sure, and that is that the Muslims of Andalus (Andalusis) did not refer to themselves in terms as people do today. Race as we know it today was not conceived as we conceive it today. The closest concept was ethnicity. Many of the Muslim people were part of tribes, and may have see themselves as part of a tribe first. The concept of nationalism (wataniyyah of qawmiyyah) was not as it is today. The Westerner concept of the 'nation' as defined it a people and a common land with cleary defined borders did not exist until the Westphalian Treaties of 1648, and did not enter the Muslim lands until after Napolean invaded the Muslim lands.

The tribes were indeed the bases of loyalty for most in Al-Andalus. The 'state' was made up of alliances that were not necessarily limited to a specific piece of land. However, people did have a sense of being from a certain land or descended from a particular place. This, however, did not lead people to have extreme patriotism, nationalism, and racism as we have today.

There was also the identity of religion which was much bigger then it is nowadays. Muslims viewed themselves as member of an ummah (worldwide Muslim community). They regularly look at other people as being part of clearly defined religious communities.

Then there was the linguistic identity of Arabs and non-Arabs. The Quran and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad - sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam - (May Allah mention him among His angels) explained that "there is not difference between an Arab and non-Arab...except by God-conciousness." Arabic is a blessed language since the revelation was brought down in this language and the Quran is preserved in that language. The Prophet Muhammad - sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam - (May Allah mention him among his angels) defined an Arab by those who speak Arabic and not as an identity based on descent.

Another matter I would like to touch upon is the fact that Islamic Spain (Al-Andalus) was a country that had a diverse ethnic community. The main ethnic groups in Al-Andalus were ethnic Arabs, Amazigh (Berbers), White Europeans, and Black Africans. Most of these population of Al-Andalus were Muslim. There was also a large Christian and Jewish population to which their was great tolerance towards them.

Having said all of this, I realize that I have not anzswered the question of who are Moors. It seems that this term relates mainly to the Amazigh people who are of various races (black, whites, and tans). The terms also can also be expanded to several other tribes of North and West African. The term also spread in Europe and came to refer to all Black Africans and also any of the Muslim peoples. The use of the term in this expansive meaning is really where a lot of the confusion comes into play.

So what about the fact that the Moors never called themselves Moors? Well it is true that this term was not used during the Andalusi days. The Romans prior to the introduction of Islam to Iberia refered to the land south of Iberia as Mauritania and the people as 'Mauros'. In fact, the term originated with the Greeks who used the term 'Maurus'. But from my research, there is evidence that the tern originated in Africa.

So one fact that I think should not be overlooked is that the Muslim of Spain, despite their ethnic origins, refered to themselves as Muslims and also refered themselves as 'Andalusi'. The inhabitants of Al-Andalus were indeed Andalusi. Further, they never refered to themselves as Moors from what I know.

Viewing themselves as 'Andalusis' should not be confused with any modern concept of nationalism. It simply is a matter of attributing themselves to the land in which they lived. The term Andalusi is much more inclusive than the term Moor and much more relevant to the history of Al-Andalus.