Unit 2: Pre-Colonial Africa (1 A.D. - 1899 A.D.)

Class 2: The The Moors in Spain & Europe (711 A.D. – 1492 A.D.)

Learning Objectives
After completing this lesson, students 
will be able to:
  • Discuss the rise and fall of the Kingdom of Aksum.
  • Discuss how the Kingdom of Aksum functioned socially, politically, spiritually, and economically. 

  • Understand the concept of cooperative economics and how it was used to build and sustain Mound Bayou.

  • Recognize the Kingdom of Aksum on a world map and know the names of the countries that now claim this territory.

VIDEO: Dr John Henrik Clarke The Rise Of Islam And The Fall Of Africa

Who Were the Moors?

Within the African American community there are many misconceptions and misinformation concerning the Moors. Some groups, such as the Moorish Science Temple founded by Noble Drew Ali, even claim that African Americans were descended from the Moors of North West Africa and therefore must be Islamic by faith. Who the Moors were is complicated because they were not a monolithic group of people, rather a mixture people from the same geographical area – North Africa and Arabia, and religion – Islam. This class provides a historical account of the Moors, including their relationship to Europe, Africa, Islam and the Middle East, and legacy of achievement. 

The term "Moors" is a generalization referring to people from a certain region, not a specific group of people. The early "Moors" were a Berber group, hence from Africa, that had a widely ranging phenotype that went from light skinned with light hair to very dark skin with dark hair. At least this is what modern researchers like Keita state. The groups that composed the "Moors" were conquered and then absorbed into the Muslim dynasties that inhabited northern Africa at this time.

The name Moor itself is derived from the the Latin "Mauri" which refers to the Africans that inhabited northwest Africa (and is the root of the country name Mauritania). Early post-Roman European writings refer to "Mauri" in a broad sense as anyone from Africa. When this Latin term made it into the romance language families it became "mouro" (or a version thereof) and generally referred to either people from Africa, but more generally people of "dark skin". The Spanish used the term "Moor" rather liberally. For instance the ones that occupied the Iberian peninsula are generally referred to as "Andalusian Moors". The term also came to refer to anyone who was "alien" aka non-Christian, even unbaptized children in Spain and Portugal were referred to as "moors".

If you look at the artwork and things you will often see wide ranging phenotype among the Moors who inhabited the Iberian peninsula. From "Arab" to "sub-Saharan African" to even "Mediteranean" or "Northern European". This is all simply a result of natural African Berber variation and admixture with Arabs and sub-Saharan Africans. In a strict genetic sense, they would be considered "black" aka "True Negro" as they certainly originated from Africa with a little bit of recent Arab admixture. However, in the social sense of physical appearance they would have ranged from "white" to "black" and everything in between. What perhaps makes some of it confusing is that they had what we associate with a distinctive "Arab/Muslim" dress and architectural style. This leads them to often be portrayed as "Arab" looking in modern times even though their actual physical appearance varied widely. They were also Muslim and when most people hear "Muslim" they instantly associate that with people who look Arab.

Sources: Who Were the Moors

Class Assignment

​History of the Moors & Their Rule of Spain, Portugal, Sicily & Malta (25 min)

​When Black Men Ruled the World: 8 Things the Moors Brought to Europe (15 - 20 min)

Video Lecture: John Henrik Clarke: The Rise of Islam (1:12 hour) 

24 of the Most Influential Black Muslims in History (10 -15 min)

Slideshow: Images of Moors Throughout History (5 min)

Map of The Reconquista 

Recommended Advanced Reading for grades 9+.

The Golden Age of the Moors, Journal of African Civilizations

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