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Philip II banned Arabic in an attempt to quash Moorish heritage. Detail from the ceiling of the Hall of Kings at the Alhambra in Granada. Source: Rumomo / CC BY-SA 4.0

Philip II Outlawed Arabic to Try to Erase Moorish Heritage in Spain

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The reign of Philip II of Spain stands as a pivotal era marked by religious fervor. In 1566, Philip II issued a decree that reverberated across the Iberian Peninsula. This edict not only outlawed the use of the Arabic language, both written and spoken, but also mandated that doors to homes remain open on Fridays to ensure no Muslim Friday prayers were conducted.

The new regulations included bans on Moorish names, mandated Castilian attire and outlawed face coverings for women. Muslims were barred from using Arab baths—essential for ritual purification and communal cohesion—reflecting Philip II's bid to assert Christian supremacy and erase Moorish heritage following nearly 800 years of Islamic rule in Spain.

The Suppression of Moorish Heritage After the Reconquista

Announced on January 1st 1567, the so-called Anti-Moorish Pragmatic followed the completion of the Reconquista in 1492, which saw the expulsion of Muslim Moors from Spain. The aim was to consolidate the authority of the Spanish crown, impose the use of the Castilian language and establish a homogenous Christian identity.

In the 16th century, Arabic was primarily spoken in the regions of Spain under Moorish rule where Islamic culture had flourished, such as Andalusia, Valencia and parts of southern Spain. The use of Arabic, intertwined with Moorish culture, posed a challenge to Philip’s vision of religious uniformity. By outlawing the language, he aimed to sever the connection between the  Moriscos–Muslims who converted to Christianity–and their ancestral roots, facilitating their assimilation into Spanish society.

The expulsion of the Moriscos in 1609, as depicted by Gabriel Puig Roda. (Codex / CC BY-SA 4.0)

The expulsion of the Moriscos in 1609, as depicted by Gabriel Puig Roda. (Codex / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Impact and Modern-Day Implications of Philip II’s Anti-Moorish Decree

The decree had profound implications for the Muslim population of Spain, stripping them of their linguistic and cultural heritage. The requirement for doors to remain open on Fridays was a blatant intrusion into their privacy, intended to monitor their religious practices.

“How can people be deprived of their own language, with which they were born and brought up? In Egypt, Syria, Malta and elsewhere there are people like us who speak, read and write in Arabic, and they are Christians like us,” wrote Francisco Núñez Muley, a leading Granada-based Morisco leader.

In response to Philip II's decree the Moriscos instigated the ultimately unsuccessful Rebellion of the Alpujarras between 1568 to 1571 in Granada's rugged Alpujarra region. After their suppression, about 80,000 Moriscos were expelled from Granada to be dispersed around Spain or sold into slavery, unless they managed to escape to North Africa.

As part of a resettlement program, they were replaced by Christians who lacked traditional farming expertise needed for cultivating the rugged terrain. The once-fertile and prosperous region never fully recovered.

Despite Philip II's efforts at ethnic cleansing, the legacy of Moorish influence persists in Spain to this day. While the Arabic language may have been suppressed during his reign, the cultural and architectural remnants of Moorish rule endure as reminders of Spain's multicultural past.

Top image: Philip II banned Arabic in an attempt to quash Moorish heritage. Detail from the ceiling of the Hall of Kings at the Alhambra in Granada. Source: Rumomo / CC BY-SA 4.0

By Cecilia Bogaard

 
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Cecilia

Cecilia Bogaard is one of the editors, researchers and writers on Ancient Origins. With an MA in Social Anthropology, and degree in Visual Communication (Photography), Cecilia has a passion for research, content creation and editing, especially as related to the... Read More

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