The invasion of Spain in the eighth century and the survival of the Muslim dynasties in the eleventh owe a great deal to African military prowess and leadership.
Chinyelu celebrates the military exploits of Tarik (who conquered Spain in 711 A.D.) of Yusuf Ibn Tashifin, leader of the Almoravides, who routed Alphonso VI's army in 1086 (15,000 Africans facing 70,000 Europeans) assuming leadership of Muslim Spain in 1091, and of Yakub al-Mansur who conquered Spain and Portugal on two separate occasions to become the most powerful ruler in the world.
The Moor, whom the classical Greek and the Roman authors called Berber were black, and affiliated with the then contemporary peoples of the East Africa area. The word Berber was used in fact to refer to peoples of the Red Sea area in Africa as well as North Africans.
It was an ancient belief that the nomads dwelling in Arabia were the same peoples whose ancestors had in earlier times roamed the deserts of East Africa. The original Black Berber, who were called moors, were the north African ancestors of the present day dark brown and brown Black peoples of the Sahara and the Sahel, mainly had always called Fulani, Tuareg, Zenagha of Southern Morocco, Kunta and Tebbu of the Sahel countries as well as other Black Arabs now living in Mauritania and throughout the Sahel. They also include Trarza of Mauritania and Senegal, the Mogharba as well as dozens of other Sudanese tribes, the Chaamba of Chad and Algeria.
According to Wayne Chandler, the Garamantes of the Sahara can be considered ancestors of the true Moors.
The Sahara, he contends, came to the occupied by two distinct groups the original Garamantes and the Berber who he later relates to as “Tawny or white Moors”.
However, this view is very problematic. The Arabs, themselves, rarely used the term Moor. They often used the term Berber for the non-Arabian people of Northwest Africa with whom they came in contact and who joined with them in the invasion of Europe. The early Christians also used the term "Saracen" indiscriminately to cover both "Moors" as well as other Muslim populations in general.
The Moors, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, are people who are commonly supposed to be black or very dark and it is synonymous with the word for "Negro" in many contexts. Rashidi and Brunson provides numerous examples of the synonymy of Moor with Black during the European Renaissance and earlier. The word runs like a ripple across a vast pool of languages.
During the European Renaissance, explorers, writers and scholars began to apply the term Moor to Blacks in general. A prominent example of this tendency can be found in the work of Richard Hakluyt, a fifteenth-century traveler.
Hakluyt recorded that, in old times the people of Africa were called Aethiopsand Nigritae, which we now call Moores, Moorens, or Negroes.In the Romance languages (Spanish, French and Italian) of Medieval Europe, Moor was translated as Moro, Moir, and Mor. Derivatives of the word Moor may be found even today in these same languages.
In Spanish, for example, the word for blackberry is mora a noun which originally meant Moorish woman. Also in Spanish, the adjective for dark-complexioned, which now means brunette, is moreno. We find a similar legacy in the French language. In French moricaud means dark-skinned or blackamoor, while morillon means black grape. Again, as in the Spanish, the Italian word mora means Negro or Moorish female. Also in Italian, mora means blackberry, while moraiola means black olive. In Arabic literature the word Moor was fairly non-existent and the term Berber was applied to practically all the inhabitants of the Maghrib (Islamic North Africa west of Egypt).
The Arab use of the word Berber presents further difficulty since the term embraces many clans, not all of whom are Black.
It is because of this that Rashidi and Brunson, as well as the anthropologist Dana Reynolds, have goneto the trouble in certain contexts to identify those Berber clans of Africoid or ' predominantly Africoid origin.
The most important identifier, of course, is to be found in medieval painting and sculpture.
It is claimed that certain Islamic traditions inhibited the representation of the human image in the work of Muslim artists and even in cases (some medieval Persian art, for example) where this inhibition does not seem to have obliterated portrait art, the human image is often frozen, non-individualistic and unreal.
We are grateful, therefore, that, in spite of their prejudices, the Christians left vivid images of the Black Muslims.
While the Black figure at times takes on a demonic quality or emerges as an exaggerated caricature of the African, these paintings and sculptures are an indisputable witness to his presence and importance in this period.
Such illustrations are to be found in the Cantigas of Santa Maria, allegedly written by Alphonso X (1254-1286). They are filled with images of the Moor and are mostly Black types.