By Dr Ahmed Kamal Zaghloul, Egypt
Spanish people have an image of Arabs and Muslims based on the historical connection between the two cultures. This image is reflected in folk heritage and folklore, especially in proverbs and idioms that include the word ‘Moro’ (which means Moors in English). According to recent studies, the image of the Muslim or Arab in these phrases varies; sometimes the image of the ‘Moro’ is positive, sometimes it is negative and it can also be neutral, especially when the word ‘Moro’ is associated with a geographic location.
Phrases with positive connotations are the result of the peaceful coexistence of the Arab and Spanish civilisations, and of Muslim advancements in a variety of sciences in the Medieval Ages. These phrases emerged naturally to convey Muslims’ positive characteristics as perceived by the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula. The positive image of the Muslim focus on experience, wisdom, trustworthiness, skilfulness, strength and courage. Current studies show that the positive connotation of the term ‘Moro’ appears more frequently in folk proverbs than in idiomatic expressions, and that most of these proverbs have been neglected!
In contrast, most idiomatic expressions attribute negative characteristics to Muslims or Arabs, reflecting an inherent stereotype about Arabs and Muslims. A considerable number of these expressions are still widely used in Spain to this day.
The negative image reflected in these expressions appears to have been contrived deliberately as a result of historical conflict and a desire to distort the image of the Muslim (enemy) in order to create a moral justification to expel Muslims, even Spanish Muslims, from the Iberian Peninsula. The most important negative characteristics that these idiomatic phrases associate with Muslims is that the Muslim or Arab is dangerous or a defeated enemy or a war trophy and that he is chaotic, undisciplined, difficult to control, jealous, dishonest, unreliable and untrustworthy.
Based on what we mentioned in the previous paragraphs – most folk proverbs that reflect a positive image of the Muslim or Arab have been neglected, while most of the idiomatic expressions that reflect a negative image of the Muslim are still common in contemporary Spanish – it is clear that the negative image of the Muslim or Arab is the one that persists to this day in the minds of the Spanish people, while the positive image has faded, just as the Muslims’ great past has faded.