The 700-year-old occupation of Spain by the Moors began in 711 AD, when an African army, under their leader Tariq ibn-Ziyad, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar from North Africa and invaded the Iberian Peninsula “Andalus” (Spain under the Visigoths) .
The term Moor is a historical rather than an ethnic name. It is an invention of European Christians for the Islamic inhabitants of the Maghreb (North Africa), Andalusia (Spain), Sicily and Malta, and has sometimes been used to refer to all Muslims.
It is derived from Mauri, the Latin name for the Berbers who lived in the Roman province of Mauretania, which stretched across modern Algeria and Morocco.
Saracen was another European name used to refer to Muslims, although it generally refers to the Arab peoples of the Middle East and derives from the ancient name for the Arabs, Sarakenoi.
The Muslims of these regions no more call themselves by this name than those of North Africa call themselves Moors.
Maghreb, or al Maghreb, is a historical term used by Arab Muslims for the territory of North Africa from Alexandria to the Atlantic coast. It means “West” and is used in opposition to Mashrek, “East”, used to refer to the land of Islam in the Middle East and Northeast Africa.
The Berbers refer to the region in their own language as Tamazgha. In a limited and precise sense, it can also refer to the Kingdom of Morocco, whose proper name is al-Mamlakah al-Maghribiyyah, “Kingdom of the West”.
Ethnically, the people of North Africa are mostly of mixed Arab-Berber ancestry, and the Berbers are a proud and noble group of people dating back to ancient times. The term Berber is still a foreign name, coming from the Greek “barbaro” meaning foreigner.
By implication, with regard to the Greeks and Romans, the word indicated that the people were uncivilized. From this comes the archaic English name Barbary, used to refer to the northern coast of Africa, and still used in “Barbary Ape” and the breed of horse known as Barb.
The Berbers call themselves Imazighen, although in truth they are a grouping of different tribes rather than a strictly homogeneous group. There are at least 12 language families spoken in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, parts of Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
The last, a large republic on the northwest coast of Africa, shares its name with the ancient Roman province, although they are unrelated; its former French rulers gave it the name.
In ancient times the Berbers established powerful and important kingdoms in North Africa and the kingdoms of Syphax and Gala ruled Numidia, now part of Algeria, until it was conquered by Carthage .
After the final fall of Carthage in 201 BC. J.-C., the Berber kingdom of Mauritania, not to be confused with the country created by the French, dominated the North-West of Africa before succumbing itself to the Romans in the 1st century BC.
Christian Europe generally gave the Berbers a reputation as a savage and barbaric people, while they had a long sophisticated and cultured history, and under Roman rule they made great contributions to civilization as we know it. today.
Augustine, Bishop of Hippo Regius in Numidia, was a Berber and one of the greatest philosophers and theologians, not only of his time, but of all time.
The theologian Tertullian was also from North Africa, and the Berbers produced three popes, Victor I, Miltiades and Gelasius I. Arius, the priest who denied the divinity of Christ and gave his name to a form of Christianity which rivaled Catholicism for over a year. 400 years old, called North Africa home.
In the 5th century AD, the northwest coast of Africa was conquered by the Vandals, a Germanic tribe originally from Eastern Europe, but they in turn succumbed to the Byzantine Empire in the 6th century AD. time.
The entire African coast, from the Sinai Peninsula to the Strait of Gibraltar, remained under Byzantine rule until the 7th century, when a major geopolitical shift elevated the Berbers once again to regional power status and inaugurated dominance. of Islam throughout the region.
Visigothic Spain was invaded by Muslim forces, mainly North African Berbers, in 711 AD, and increasing numbers of Berbers pushed the remaining Christians to the north and northwest of the peninsula, where they established small kingdoms.
The rest of Spain became part of the Umayyad Caliphate, which at its height stretched from Spain to the Caucasus and Central Asia. Spain was ruled by the Emirate of Cordoba from 756 to 929 AD.
The Caliphate of Cordoba collapsed in 1031 AD and the Islamic territory of Iberia fell under the rule of the Almohad Caliphate in 1153 AD. Al-Andalus split into several “taifas” (fiefdoms), which were partly consolidated under the Caliphate of Cordoba.
In 1480 the Spanish Inquisition was launched to exert social and religious control in Spain and those Muslims who resisted were expelled to North Africa.
The Spanish Caliphate saw remarkable architecture, a flourishing of scholarship when much of the population was illiterate, including the ruling class, and a certain level of tolerance towards Jews and Christians.
Moorish advances in mathematics, astronomy, art, and agriculture helped propel Europe out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance.
Córdoba, the capital, was the largest and most civilized city in Europe, with hospitals, libraries and public infrastructure. Other advances unique to Córdoba included the numbers we use today, gastronomy, the concept of romantic love, and paper.
Various European scholars dismissed the notion of this period of relative progress and civilization as a myth and over time sought to demonize the Moors as a barbaric, heretical, and superstitious people.
The legacy of this extraordinary period has been virtually erased from European history.