Spanish's Arab Connection

Category: Europe, Featured, Life & Society Topics: Arabic, Muslim Spain Views: 16878

When you think of European culture, one of the first things that may come to your mind is the renaissance. Many of the roots of European culture can be traced back to that glorious time of art, science, commerce and architecture. But did you know that long before the renaissance there was a place of immense sophistication and beauty in Muslim Spain?

Not only was Muslim Spain artistic, scientific and commercial, but it also exhibited incredible tolerance, imagination and poetry. Moors, as the Spaniards call the Muslims, populated Spain for over 700 years (711 - 1492 AD).

If you speak either Spanish or English, you probably know more Arabic than you think you do.

After Latin and English, Arabic is probably the biggest contributor of words to the Spanish language, and a large portion of English-Spanish cognates (words that the two language share) that don't come from Latin come from Arabic.

The English words you're most likely to think of as Arabic origin are those that start with "al-," words such as "algebra," "Allah," "alkali" and "alchemy," and they exist in Spanish as algebra, Ala, alkali and alkimia, respectively. But these are not the only Arabic words in Spanish. A variety of other types of common words such as "coffee,' "zero" and "sugar" (cafe, cero and azucar in Spanish) also come from Arabic.

The etymology of English words goes beyond the scope of this article, but the introduction of Arabic words in Spanish began in the eighth century, although even before then, some words of Latin and Greek originally had roots in Arabic.


Constructed in the first third of the 13th century - The Torre del Oro (English: "Tower of Gold") is a dodecagonal military watchtower in Seville, southern Spain. It was erected by the Almohad Caliphate in order to control access to Seville via the Guadalquivir river.

People living in what is now Spain spoke Latin at one time but over the centuries Spanish and other Romance languages such as French and Italian gradually differentiated themselves. The Latin dialect that eventually became Spanish was highly influenced by the the Arabic-speaking Moors in 711. For many centuries, Latin/Spanish and Arabic existed side by side, and even today many names of Spanish places retain Arabic roots. e.g. The name Gibraltar derives from the Arabic Jabal-al-Tarik [mount of Tarik].

It wasn't until late in the 15th century that the Spanish inquisition expelled the Muslims, and by then literally thousands of Arabic words had become part of Spanish.

There are nearly 5000 words of Arabic origin in Spanish. Following are just some of the most common Arabic origin Spanish words you'll come across. As you can see, many of the words also are a part of English. Although it is believed that the English words like "alfalfa" and "alcove," which originally were Arabic, entered English by way of Spanish (alfalfa and alcoba), most Arabic words in English probably entered English by other routes.

Arabic-origin Spanish words English
aceite  oil
adobe  adobe
aduana customs - as at a border
ajedrez  chess
Ala Allah
al-acran scorpion
al-bacora albacore
al-bahaca  basil
al-cade  mayor
al-coba bedroom, alcove
al-cohol  alcohol
al-dea  village - alderman
al-fombra  carpet
al-garroba carob
al ghattas alcatraz - as pelican
al-godon  cotton
al-gontmo  algorithm
al-kimia  alchemy
al-macen storage
al-manaque almanac





al-qasr alcazar - fortress


















blue - azure












gossip, gadget






die - singular of "dice"

embarazada  pregnant
espinaca  spinach
fez  fez
fulano  what's-his-name
gacela  gazelle
guitarra  guitar
hachis  hashish
haren  harem
hasta  until
iman  imam
jaque  check - as in chess
jaque mate checkmate
jirafa giraffe
laca lacquer
lila lilac
lima lime
limon  lemon
macabro  macabre
marfil  marble
masacre  massacre
masaje  massage
mascara mask
mazapan marzipan
mezquita  mosque
momia  mummy
mono  monkey
naranja  orange
ojala  I hope, God willing
ole  bravo
paraiso  paradise
rehen  hostage
rincon  corner, nook
sorbete sherbet
sofa sofa
rubio blond
talco  talc
tamarindo tamarind
tarea  task
tarifa  tariff
toronja  grapefruit
zanahoria  carrot

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  22 Comments   Comment

  1. Denise from United States

    A very informative article. It just shows how Muslims were such an vital part of a country's development such as Spain.

  2. Gerardo from Mexico

    I read this article and found it very interesting. I speak spanish as first language and we know that the arab language was very important in the development of modern spanish. I just liked to comment that in the list of words in the article, the word paraso (paradise) is not from arab origin but pharsi (farsi). And also there are some words that are mispelled, but besides that I enjoyed reading it.

  3. hayim philippart from usa

    very pleasant wish to find words origins, etymology from arabic, persian, sanskrit in spanish

  4. tariq from UK

    Dear my name is Tariq I'm Arabic, I live in UK,I'm looking to get AL Quran ALQareem with means transelated by Spanish Language And I prefer save in DVD or CD please

  5. Umm Khulood Al-Badani from USA

    AOA, This is a very interesting article. I love the website!!! I Forwarded this article 2 all of my friends!!!!!! Salaams everybody

  6. bamigboye risqah from nigeria

    well Ithank u for every thing u have being doing concerning islam. May ALLAH continue to bless u.

  7. maryamkim from manama

    As salam alaikum, jazakilahu khairin ameen. this is a wonderfull artical with many usefull words that i shall gather and use upon my travels.


    fee aman Allah . as salam alaikum

  8. Surrayya from USA

    Assalam Alekum

    I want to draw your attention to the comment made by editor at the end of my first post(2nd last comment on this list), in which he has made a case in point that mosque is not derived from mosquito, wallah Aalim

  9. Zinedine from Morocco

    Salaamu alaikum,

    Sister Surayya,

    As far as I know from the 2004 statistic 60 French a day revert to Islam. I don't know what the figures are for the past year.

    Re: the word mosque, a word I hate to use and I rather use the word masjid instead because it derives from the derogatory Spanish word mosquito, the middle ages word used to insult bayt Allah the (masjid).

    So please use this word masjid and refuse to use the word mosque.

    To all of you brothers and sister in Islam and humanity: Did you know that French Mocha, a coffee with specific flavour, is made popular after Napoleon Bonaparte had it in Mocca', a port in Yemen. Coffee was unknown to non-Muslims & was brought to France thru Napoleon Bonaparte.

    Note that the first man to make coffee in the history of mankind was Ibnu Sina aka (Avicena) and the first man to create a toothbrush and toothpaste was an Moorish scientist and Louis 14 was the first non Muslim king to use this Andalusian innovation.

  10. Surrayya from USA

    Assalam Alekum

    I am thankful to the editor for giving the explanation of the term "mosque".

    As to brother Saleem's comment, I would like to add that yes we have become a pale shadow of our former selves due to lack of adherence to the Holy Law the sharia but yet Allah is working wonders by making the heartland of the west turn to Islam, the average rate of reversion to Islam in U.K. is 2 people per day and in Europe as a whole is 6 people per day. In USA its about 100 people per day!! just look at the staggering figures!!!

  11. Juan Navarrete-Harrelson from USA

    Just a few corrections:

    Mayor is ALCALDE

    Algorithm is ALGORITMO

    Fortress is ALCAZAR


    Juan aka Yahya

  12. Zinedine from Morocco

    Just forgot to correct:

    Guadalquivir is spanish for Wadi Akabir, the great river and Guadalajara is Spanish for Wadi lakhera, the river of the heareafter. There is no need to say River Guadalquivir is guad is Spanish for Wad, river.

    Jabal Tariq must be translated as Mount Tariq and not as Mount al-Tariq because al-Tariq is a star.

    Note that army general Tariq ibn Ziad after whom the word Jibraltar came to us was partly Arab partly Berber from Morocco and his leader Mussa Ibn Nussair is from Arabia.

  13. Zinedine from Morocco

    Salaamu alaikum,

    There are 1000 words of Arabic origins in English according to Meriam Webster some of them are part of English by way of French. Note that French was the language used in courts in England at one point in England's history just in case you wonder how...i.e the word sirop (French)original word is sharab (Arabic).

  14. mohammed nawaz from u.k

    Well done saleem. I agree entirely.

    We need to get out of the victim mentality and have to rediscover out roots. We need to learn to treat human beings as abdulRahman II did in spain and the great sufi of Indian sub continent Khwaja mohuddin ghareeb nawaz. We need to learn from the muslim traders who went to the Malaysian peninsular and people adapted their ways through the humble ways of the muslims.

    Why are not there more research papers and books widely circulated about early muslims in malaysia and the positive influences of sufism on humanity?

  15. Anabell from Mexico

    Great article........... just 2 observations:

    al-gontmo ( is algoritmo in spanish ) algorithm

    al-cade ( is alcalde in spanish ) mayor

  16. Maoul-Ayene from U.K

    Assalamou Aleikoum

    Brothers & Sisters

    I for one, am not surprised at all, with these connections between these European Languages and those spoken by the "Aali-Ibrahima"(pbh): Benu-Isra-ila, Yahudi and Al-Aarab. In to day's world especially here in the West, I believe, that 99% of people are descendant of these three family member of Al-Nabi-ul Allah, Halilu Allah, IBRAHIMA(Aleyhi Salatu wa Salam).

    As for the connections between Arabic and English, the most important part resides in the MYSTIC World. There are few Arabic Letters, that are used as full word in English, joint together in Arabic, they become the MOST SOUGHT AFTER word in the SUFI (mystics) world, known only by few. Whilst in English, these letters are the MOST USED word, especially by Children and those who SEEKS(researchers, students, intellectuals...etc). In this Word, the letters are the Shapes, Sound and Value of THINGS around US, ourselves included. The Word is a "PRAISE" to Allah. The "WORD" consist of: two consonants and two vowels. The two vowels are repeated twice to taking it a "SIX" letter word. Its value is "66", which is incidently, the value for ALLAH(swt).

    Another thing is for example:

    Arm-Leg-Leg-Arm-Head.This is Us(human-beings)

    Either taken clock wise or anti-clock wise, this is the very spelling of A-L-L-A-H(swt). So here, what most English speaking person does not realise, is his/her own body parts are spelling the name of the Most Gracious. And indeed, today we know that English and Arabic are the FASTEST growing languages in the world. Infact, I believe, before the End-time, these two languages will dominate our affairs: Arabic-for worship of Allah(swt) and English-for work(in the way of Allah(swt). Allah(swt), says that, "...EVERYTHING HE HAS CREATED GIVE PRAISES TO HIM...".

    With the dominance of "REASON", more and people from these European Nations, will turn to Islam because,the very language that drives Islam, drives them too.

    Allahu Akbar!!!


  17. hussain verachia from south africa

    It is very interesting to refer to the glorious past of the muslims. Articles like these can ignite the unity that muslims the world over are seeking .Continue with this noble work of dawah. ALLAH will provide your team the insight and research capabilities to ensure that this century becomes the defining one in spreading the true deen of ALLAH.My sincerest duas are with you.

  18. rene quijada alvarenga from canada

    Assalaam u Allahykum: respetables hermanos grandioso es nuestro Altisimo Padre Allah que en cada instante guia a su redil con su gracia sabia y benefactora. Gracias hermanos por su infatigable labor de educar. designorar y cultivar lo mas sublime del Islam. Alhamdulillah!... respetuosamente su hermano Rene Neftali.(un Muslim de origen Salvadoreno revertido en esta nacion).

  19. Tavo from EE.UU.

    Salam alaikum...Como me da alegria saber que en este sitio estan poniendo historia de lengua espa~nola. Me gustaria si podian escribir un ariticulo de la historia de los Moros o de apellidos en origen.


  20. saleem from Canada

    It is wonderful to recount muslim history and its accomplishments. However, muslims need to stop living in the past and look to the future. We have gone from being one of the most accomplished civilizations to the most ignorant, uneducated, intolerant societies. Until we become tolerant of others and educate ourselves we will never see muslims rise to its former self. Muslims need to be counted and we will not until we stand up against violence and intolerance be it in Palestine or Dafur. We must speak out against violence and intolerance committed by non-muslims and muslims alike. And ofcourse we need to stop blaming others for our failings.

  21. Surrayya from USA

    I believe the word mosque in English came into existence when the Spainards used the term to squash muslims like mosquitos. Hence we should not use this term! there are muslim websites that automatically change the word to "Masjid" if you try to type the word "mosque" on them.

  22. maryah from USA

    Paz, Salaam:

    Arabe ha tenido una gran influencia en el mundo en total. no es las noticias que lo tuvo un gran efecto en mi patria, Espaa! It is the origen of my surname, Ruiz. Good article, and good comparisons!