Categories: INTERNATIONALTravel

Islamic History and Heritage in Malta

Despite being a small archipelago, Malta sure does pack a punch when it comes to impressing visitors. It’s one of the smallest countries in the world, yet visitors will find so much to do here. From stunning scenery to pristine beaches and UNESCO World Heritage sites to its Islamic heritage, Malta is ready to surprise you at every turn.

For Muslim travellers, Malta has its own way of revealing itself. With the Islamic history on the islands dating back to the late 9th century, Muslims will find traces of Islam and Muslims throughout the country. Whilst many Muslims travel to the south of Spain for its Andalusian history and Turkey for its Ottoman history, Malta is often overlooked. 

Image Credit: Ferenc Horvath [Unsplash]

But here’s why Muslims should visit. 

Islam first arrived in Malta almost 1200 years ago in the year 870 CE, when Muhammad Ibn Hafagab, the Arab governor of Sicily, occupied the islands. But this was not a conquest. It was more of an invitation by the local Christian inhabitants who welcomed the Muslims, knowing well that they would relieve them from the ugly ways of Byzantine rule.

Their rule lasted a lengthy 200 years until 1090 when the Normans defeated them. Now even though they were there for only two centuries, the Muslims of Malta left behind a legacy that is cherished by many Muslims today. 

In the period of Malta’s 200 years worth of Islamic history, all the islands reached great heights in terms of economy, housing, education and much more. This was an age of development. It was an age of growth, success and above all, expansion. 

Throughout these many years, Malta became an epicentre for successful trading. A hub in its own way, the islands also were extremely successful when it came to business, economy and commerce. New irrigation techniques were brought to light and the country produced some incredible scholars including animal-powered technology. In fact, things were so good that one Arab chronicler who was living at that time wrote, “Malta is rich in everything good… a blessing from God… well populated, with towns and villages, trees and fruits.”

But it wasn’t just success in commerce, irrigation and education. The Muslims at the time displayed perfect character, which has been recorded in history as one of the great features of Malta at the time. “Besides the many economic benefits the Arabs brought to the islands, the advanced culture they carried with them greatly influenced all other aspects of Maltese life,” David W. Tschanz writes. 

He also adds that “they were tolerant rulers where Christians and Muslims lived in relative harmony – an important achievement in that epoch of world history.”

Mdina, Malta – Image Credit: Reuben Farrugia [Unsplash]

Traces of Islamic History in Malta

Whilst Malta may have a strong Catholic influence today, there is no denying that it massively retains its Arab and Islamic influences, which have permeated its way through the fabric of society. In fact, 43% of the words of the Maltese language have an Arabic origin according to the definitive Malti dictionary compiled by Joseph Aquilina. 

Walk along the old town Mdina (meaning city in Arabic) and you’ll find the Triq Miskita. This street was named thus as it means the street of the mosque. Its believed that a mosque once stood on this street which is no longer there today. 

The old town of Mdina is the perfect place to get lost and explore the heritage of Islam in Malta. With the walls overlooking you as a protector, and the many stunning examples of splendid architecture, this was once the capital of the island. Many of the structures here including the interior of St John’s Co-Cathedral have fine examples of Islamic architectural influences.

Juber Ahmed

Juber Ahmed is our Digital Editor and travel enthusiast with a keen interest in Islamic history and heritage. He travels with his wife to various places around the world and writes about his experiences.   Juber's favourite Quote... "The World Is a Book and Those Who Do Not Travel Read Only One Page" [Saint Augustine]

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