Society

Why blacks’ reign over Europe was obliterated

berber

A group of Berber people hold their flag as they gather for a protest in Rabat, Morocco. PHOTO | AFP

The 700-year occupation of Spain by the Moors began in 711 AD, when an African army, under their leader Tariq ibn-Ziyad, crossed the Straits of Gibraltar from northern Africa and invaded the Iberian Peninsula “Andalus” (Spain under the Visigoths).

The term Moor is a historical rather than ethnic name. It is an invention of European Christians for the Islamic inhabitants of Maghreb (North Africa), Andalusia (Spain), Sicily, and Malta, and was sometimes used to designate all Muslims.

It is derived from Mauri, the Latin name for the Berbers who lived in the Roman province of Mauretania, which ranged across modern Algeria and Morocco.

Saracen was another European name used to designate Muslims, though it usually referred to the Arabic peoples of the Middle East, and derives from the ancient name for the Arabs, Sarakenoi.

The Muslims of those regions no more refer to themselves by that 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, “The East,” used to refer to the land of Islam in the Middle East and north-eastern Africa.

The Berbers refer to the region in their own language as Tamazgha. In a limited, precise sense, it can also refer to the Kingdom of Morocco, the proper name of which is al-Mamlakah al-Maghribiyyah, “Kingdom of the West.”

Ethnically, the people of North Africa are mostly of mixed Arab-Berber descent, and the Berbers are a proud and noble group of people dating back from ancient times. The term Berber is again a foreign designation, coming from the Greek “barbaroi” meaning stranger.

By implication, as far as the Greeks and Romans were concerned, the word indicated that the people were uncivilised. From this comes the archaic English name Barbary, used to designate the north coast of Africa, and still used in “Barbary Ape” and the breed of horse known as the Barb.

The Berbers call themselves Imazighen, though in truth they are a grouping of different tribes rather than a strictly homogeneous group. There are at least 12 linguistic families spoken in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, parts of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania.

The last, a large republic on the north-western African coast, shares its name with the ancient Roman province, though they are unconnected; its former French rulers gave it the name.

In ancient times, the Berbers established powerful and important kingdoms in northern Africa and the kingdoms of Syphax and Gala ruled Numidia, now part of Algeria, until conquered by Carthage.

After the final fall of Carthage in 201 BC, the Berber Kingdom of Mauritania, not to be confused with the country created by the French, dominated north-west Africa before itself succumbing to the Romans in the first century BC.

Christian Europe has generally given the Berbers reputation of wild and barbaric people, whereas they have had a long, sophisticated, and cultured history, and under Roman rule, they made great contributions to civilisation 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 also hailed 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 that rivalled Catholicism for more than 400 years, called North Africa home.

In the Fifth Century AD, the north-western coast of Africa was conquered by the Vandals, a Germanic tribe originating from Eastern Europe, but they, in turn, succumbed to the Byzantine Empire in the 6th century AD.

The whole of the African coast from the Sinai Peninsula to the Straits of Gibraltar remained under Byzantine rule until the 7th Century when a major geopolitical change elevated the Berbers one again to the status of regional power and ushered in the domination of Islam across 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 into the north and northwest of the peninsula, where they established small kingdoms.

The rest of Spain became part of the Caliphate of Umayyad, which at its height stretched from Spain to Caucasus and into central Asia. Spain was dominated by the Emirate of Cordoba from 756 to 929 AD.

The caliphate of Cordoba collapsed in 1031 AD and the Islamic territory in Iberia fell under the rule of Almohad Caliphate in 1153 AD. Al-Andalus broke up into a number of “taifas” (fiefs), 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 the Muslims who resisted were expelled to North Africa.

The Spanish caliphate saw remarkable architecture, a flourishing of scholarship when a huge part of the population was illiterate, including the ruling class, and some level of tolerance of Jews and Christians.

The Moors advances in mathematics, astronomy, art, agriculture helped propel Europe out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance.

Cordoba, the capital city, was the largest and most civilised city in Europe, with hospitals, libraries, and a public infrastructure. Other advances unique to Cordoba included the numbers we use today, fine dining, the concept of romantic love, and paper.

Various European scholars have called the notion of this period of relative progress and civilisation a myth and have over time sought to demonise the Moors as a barbaric, heretical, and superstitious people.

The legacy of this extraordinary period was all but erased from European history.