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"Moor" and "Mooristan" - The Big Distortion


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Author Topic: "Moor" and "Mooristan" - The Big Distortion  (Read 26 times)
Heba E. Husseyn
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« on: November 18, 2017, 12:39:21 pm »

To cut a long story short, the word is Muslim, not "Moor."

It's not known when exactly the Europeans began using the term "moor," but it has been around since ancient times though it wasn't synonymous with Muslims in that period.  Initially it alluded to indigenous Africans. 

"Moor" in English comes from a Greek word "mavro" which means "black" or "charred."  The English transliteration of "mavro" is "maurus" and its plural "mauri" which came from the vocabulary of ancient Romans referring to black Africans.  But that  approach gradually changed.  It's distortion isn't only extensive but just as illogical and imaginary as the myths and misconceptions of the harem.

The North African Berbers who lived near Mauretania (south of Morocco) were called "Mauri."  The word "Mauri" was, in the course of time, corrupted by Europeans into "Moors" (conforming with the ancient Greek and Roman lexica) even though "Mauri" was simply a label for a particular segment of Berbers that had no ethnographic definition.  Initially in the minds of European historians, "Moors" included North African Muslims of  Morocco (including Moroccan Berbers), Tunisia and Algeria.  Gradually it became a term for all Muslims of the world (definitely in a derogatory sense) including the Muslim rulers of Spain though they were not of North African origin.  They were an offshoot of the Ommayads who were ethnically Arabians (from the Arabian Peninsula).   Ommayad rule with its capital in Damascus was from 661 to 750 AD.  During this period, Spain was ruled by the Omayyad caliphs in Damascus.  When the Abbasids came to power, a member of the Ommayad family named Abdur Rehman fled to Spain and established an independent Ommayad dynasty in 756 AD.  But he and his successors continued to recognize the Abbasid caliphs as the religious authority for the next 200 years.  It was in the year 930 AD when the eighth ruler of Muslim Spain, Abdur Rehman al-Nasir (or Abdur Rehman III)  declared Muslim Spain (or Al-Andalus) independent of the Abbasids in Baghdad with Cordoba as its capital. The actual splendor of Al-Andalus began from this period known as the rule of the Nassirids.  The assumption that the "Moors" of Morocco and Mauretania ruled Muslim Spain is another baffling misconception.

Later during the reign of the Turkish Ottomans, the racist British artist, David Roberts, invented the term “Mooristan” (extension of an already existing fiction) he persistently used for describing the landmarks of Cairo.

David Roberts was born in Scotland in 1796 and was the son of a shoemaker.  With an inborn talent to sketch, his career as an artist prospered and he became an associate of the Royal Academy.  But his basic academic education was scant.  Despite the rise in his social status, his mentality never rose above that of a cobbler's son.  He never gave up nurturing an attitude-problem that dwelt in the illusion of cultural superiority. That was evident from the style in which he conversed about the great city of Cairo during the era.  He visited Egypt, Palestine and Lebanon between 1838 and 1840 and returned home with a bundle of sketches published in several volumes in the mid 1840s.  His visit to the Middle-East was reportedly patronized by the despotic queen, Victoria Saxe-Gotha.

Roberts' defamation of Cairo as described in the book “Making Cairo Medieval” throws enough light to expose where he came from.   Quoting Roberts’ rants about the streets of Cairo:  "filthy and impertinent mob who jostle and stare at me" …. “of the need for guard to keep back the crowd” .... “a half-sucked orange thrown from a window above me” .. “of the risk of being squeezed to a mummy by the loaded camels” ..... “of a mid January sun so hot I could hardly sit out the day” .... “of wind and dust” and “of constant diarrhea.”  Yet he arrived back in Britain in 1840, fit as a fiddle.  A half-sucked orange flying out of a window would be a huge relief compared to excrement, an 'epoch' when in London they threw royal feces of the Tudors and Hanovers down  the windows of Palace lavatories into the bylanes for the passers-by to enjoy a turdy royal bath.

Roberts was given the permission by the Ottoman Pasha, Muhammed Ali, governor of Cairo, to draw images of mosques.  About it, he remarked: "I must espouse the Turkish dress and divest myself of my whiskers. That is too bad but my object can be accomplished in no other way."  While mentioning of his visit to the Middle-East in “The Life of David Roberts" compiled from his journals and other sources, there are passages where he is completely unable to conceal his fanatical ethnocentricity.   He describes the  pilgrimage to Makkah (Hajj) as “a fool's errand.

The Citadel of Saladin in Cairo was a fortified area of the city since the era of the Fatimids and Ayyubids (from 10th to 13th centuries) for protection against the invasions of  the Crusaders.  It continued to be so in the reign of the Ottomans.  It is located on Mokattam Hill near the center of the city, famous for its fresh breeze and grand views of medieval Cairo.  It is now a preserved historic site, with mosques and museums.  Roberts describes this landmark with the famous tourist attraction of Mokattam Hill as the "streets of Mooristan."    In the Ottoman period 1848, the Citadel was also called Mohamed Ali Pasha Citadel or Qila Mohammed Ali because of the location of the Mosque of Muhammed Ali Pasha built on the summit of the Citadel.  This was the period when Roberts visited Egypt, spending most of his time in Cairo and the captions of his paintings of the Citadel of Cairo and Muhammed Ali Pasha Mosque read as “Street scene el-Mooristan” and "el-Mooristan Mosque.”  Even the wily Google doesn't recognize "mooristan" as a search code.    It does not exist in history in relation to Cairo nor Egypt.  It does not exist in the Middle East at all nor in the history of any Muslim community.  But the insinuation is derogatory and that's the major attraction. 

"Moor" is used by Western historians as a prefix for every sphere of life of medieval Muslim society for example: "Moorish courtyard," "Moorish garden," "Moorish fountain," "Moorish cuisine" and so on.   These are common captions on artworks by orientalists - contemporaries and successors of David Roberts such as Edwin Weeks and Adrien Dauzats.  Intellectualism is often embedded in traditions as blindly as illiteracy.  Well-read authors of modern times with positive intent seldom refrain using the term "Moors."  It hasn't yet struck them to probe, why "Moors?"  What is the saga behind this strange expression in the lexicon of history?

Last but not least, orientalist historians and artists of the middle ages had no idea of the differences in ethnicity between North Africans and Sub-saharan Africans. They depicted Muslims of North Africa (they called "moors") often as black Africans identical to those those of the sub-Saharan region. Indigenous North Africans are of very different ethnicity, with paler skin, some paler than Europeans (like the Moroccan Berbers), though needless to say, skin color - pale or dark - is completely irrelevant both ethically and progressively.  The point is only to state a fact so often overlooked.










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Zeynab
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« Reply #1 on: November 20, 2017, 05:57:27 pm »

This is so interesting.  You've perceived and dissected it very accurately.  There seems to be absolutely no logical justification to connect that expression  with Muslims.  Factually, even addressing Moroccans or Mauretanians as "moors" makes no sense.  There's also likely that the derogatory connotation of that mere term as a vocabulary is the idea behind it.  In simple English 'moor' means a boggy and infertile land.  That could be the innuendo as well.  Otherwise I see no reason to continue the use of this word in modern times when there are so many evidences to assert its spurious origin.

Many thanks for the absorbing read Sister Heba.
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« Reply #2 on: November 24, 2017, 09:44:55 am »

Beautifully penned piece Sis Heb.  But what's best is the exposure of conceptual semantics devoid of logic and authenticity.  It opened my eyes.   I mean, we come across the word "moor" so often implying Muslims and every time we get engrossed with the contents of every such story, but overlooking the faulty origin of the word "moor" itself.

That point Sister Zeynab mentioned about the European approach of linking the dictionary definition of moor (boggy land) with Muslims may also have a role to play in establishing this disinformation.

I certainly do adore those paintings except for the titles.
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Heba E. Husseyn
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« Reply #3 on: November 24, 2017, 09:50:04 am »


Many thanks for the appreciation my dear sisters.  From now on, let us keep correcting every dumbo who uses this term. 
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« Reply #4 on: November 25, 2017, 02:23:10 am »


I'm gonna print this and take it for our monthly discussion of December 2017 InshAllah.  This must be seen as a separate agenda.  There are plenty of segments in history indispensable for exposing the gross myths splattered on the Muslim world.  Ancient introduction of the baseless word "moor" is one example.

Thank you Sister Heba.  Absolutely superb work.  May Allah, The Greatest, reward you.
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Heba E. Husseyn
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« Reply #5 on: November 25, 2017, 02:29:30 am »


My pleasure brother TS!  Smiley    I'm glad you've picked it as an agenda for your next discussion.  People need to separate fables & fictions from reality.
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