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27 sept. 2011

The Moriscos by Mercedes García-Arenal

Mercedes García-Arenal

The term Moriscos is used to refer to those Spanish Muslims who were, under various degrees of duress, converted to Christianity at the beginning of the sixteenth century, and continued to live in Spain until the general expulsion of the Moors that occurred from 1609 to 1614. Muslims had been a minority in Christian Spain during the Middle Ages, at which time time they enjoyed a legal status that allowed them to practice Islam, retain their own communal authorities, and be ruled by Islamic Law. This minority was known as the Mudejar. In Castile, the Mudejar population was small, predominantly urban, and highly acculturated. In Aragon and Valencia, the Mudejar population was much more numerous and mainly rural. For the most part, they lived on the estates of large landowners, to whom they owed labor and who protected them from the interference of Church and State. The Mudejars of Valencia spoke Arabic, whereas the Muslims of Castile and Aragon produced a literature known as Aljamía, which combined Castilian or Aragonese vernacular with an Arabic script.
In 1469 King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile had wed, uniting their two formerly independent kingdoms. Together they launched measures aimed at the creation of an homogeneous country ruled under a single body of law and loyal to a single religion. Spain became a territorial nation, with new social classes and new institutions. Among these institutions was Inquisition, established in 1478 for the purpose of creating an all-Catholic nation. Jews were the first victims of the homogenizing policies of this new state, for in 1492 they were obliged to choose between conversion to Catholicism and exile. The majority chose exile. In that same year, Castile conquered the Kingdom of Granada, which was the last region in the Iberian Peninsula to be ruled by a Muslim political power. This had enormous consequences for minorities in the whole of Spain.
In capitulating to the Spanish Christian forces, the Moorish population of the Kingdom of Granada was guaranteed certain rights which gave them a status similar to that of the Mudejar. Nevertheless, the upper classes quickly emigrated to North Africa, The Crown encouraged this emigration during the first two years after Granada fell by paying the costs of transport across the Straits of Gibraltar for all those who wished to go, and by permitting the émigrés to take their movable property with them.
The situation deteriorated rapidly after the end of the fifteenth century, however, when new Christian settlers arrived in Granada. In a country in which the state tended to intervene in every aspect of its subjects' lives, society was becoming increasingly intolerant of difference. In February 1502, the Muslims of the Kingdom of Castile (which now included Granada) were offered the choice between conversion or emigration by a decree very similar to the one previously applied to Jews. This time, however, conditions were added which made emigration practically impossible. In 1512 the Castilan decree was extended to Navarre, whose Mudejar communities fled to Aragon (including Valencia), where the practice of Islam remained, for a time, legal. During the Germanías rebellion against landlords and crown (1521–1522), the rebels turned against the Mudejar vassals who supported their lords and subjected them to forced baptism. The validity of these baptisms was contested by theologians, but in 1526 the general conversion of all Muslims in the lands of Aragon and Valencia was decreed. From 1526 on, therefore, no Muslim could legally be a subject of the kings of Spain.
Only their legal status separated Mudejars, who were permitted to practice Islam, from Moriscos, who were forcibly converted to Christianity. Of course, most of the new converts, in spite of missionary efforts, continued to practice Islam in secret. If they were caught they were persecuted by the Inquisition as apostates or as heretics, for, after all, they had been baptized, however unwillingly. Inquisitorial persecution of Moriscos was particulaly intense in the 1550s and 1560s. Inquisition documents reflect the pressure that Christian society exerted upon the Moriscos communities, and its efforts to eradicate all cultural, social, and religious differences. The Crown, in the person of Philippe II, took new and radical repressive measures. In 1567 a law was passed forbidding the spoken or written use of Arabic, the publication or possession of Arabic books, the use of Arabic names, the wearing of Arabic clothing, and the patronage of Arabic bathhouses.
This decree, together with other factors such as the crisis in the silk industry, which employed many Granadan Moriscos, ignited a Morisco rebellion in the mountains of Granada, known as War of the Alpujarras (1568–1570). This was a long and cruel war, with all the atrocities which are inherent to civil wars. The outcome was a difficult and costly Christian victory and the deportation, in the winter of 1569 and 1570, of the entire Morisco population of Granada to the territories of northern Castile. There the Moriscos were settled in small, scattered groups. Many of these impoverished and uprooted Granadan exiles turned to outlawry, and tension between Moriscos and Christians, hitherto unknown in those territories, grew considerably.
The Spanish government grew to fear the prospect that Moriscos might seek to ally themselves with North African pirates, with Morocco, or with the Ottoman Empire. This concern led to a ban on Moriscos residing near the coasts. From 1582 onward, the expulsion of Moriscos was an idea that grew increasingly attractive to the Spanish government. When the final decision to expel all Moriscos was reached in 1609, it was mainly justified on grounds of national security. Moriscos were considered unrepentent Muslims, regardless of their conversion status, and were thought likely to conspire with foreign powers—mainly Muslim, but also with French Protestants. Some Moriscos were Muslims, of course, but by this time many had fully assimilated to Christian society and were sincere Christians. The authorities did not trouble to make such fine distinctions.
Between 1609 and 1614, about 320,000 Moriscos were expelled in phases. The first to be obliged to leave were the Moriscos of Valencia, considered the most dangerous. The last to go were those of Castile. Some communities were directly transported to North Africa via the harbors in the south and east of Spain. Others crossed to France, from where they went (sometimes via Italy) to the Ottoman Empire and Egypt. The majority of Morisco exiles to North Africa settled in Morocco and Tunisia, but some settled in Algiers. In their new countries they had a distinct personality, which was manifest during the first century after their arrival. Most of these first generation of exiles did not speak Arabic, and their knowledge of Islam was scant. Their integration into the societies of North Africa was generally difficult. Only in Tunisia did they find an easy entry, for the Tunisian Dey (governor), Uthman, applied a generous settlement policy to these newcomers.
In their new countries, Moriscos tended to settle in small, ethnically homogeneous enclaves near the coasts. Many turned to the sea for their livelihoods, and considerably increased the ranks of the corsairs and pirates that plied the shipping lanes. In the Moroccan port of Sale, a group of Moriscos founded a pirate republic, which maintained its independence for a time. Other Moriscos settled in the agricultural plains of North Africa, where they introduced the irrigational techniques that they had used in spain. They also introduced new crops, some of which had only recently come to Spain from the Americas. Moriscos also settled in the capital cities, near the courts, where their knowledge of Spanish and of European ways helped some of them to become secretaries, interpreters, translators, and ambassadors. Before the end of the seventeenth century, the Moriscos were totally assimilated to North African societies. By the early twenty-first century, only a few family names and some fragments of folklore remained of their once distinctive culture.

Benítez Sánchez-Blanco, Rafael (2001). Heróicas decisiones. La Monarquía Católica y los Moriscos valencianos. Valencia: Institut Alfons el Magnanim.
Cardaillac, Louis, ed. (1990). Les Morisques et l'Inquisition, Paris: Publisud.
Domínguez Ortíz, Antonio, and Bernard Vincent (1997). Historia de los Moriscos. Vida y tragedia de una minoría. Madrid: Alianza.
García-Arenal, Mercedes (1996). Los moriscos. Granada: Universidad.
Lea, Henry Charles (1931). The Moriscos of Spain: Their Conversion and Expulsion. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Wiegers, G. A. (1994). Islamic Literature in Spanish and Aljamiado: Iìa de Segovia (d. 1450) His Antecedents and Successors. Leiden: E. J. Brill.


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