Question: I was flipping through
this book the other day called ‘The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding
Islam’ and it is filled with fun facts. One of them concerns the term ‘Mosque’.
This book pointed out that the term ‘mosque’ is derived from the Spanish
word for ‘mosquito’. It was termed as such because during the Crusades,
King Ferdinand said they were going to go and swat the Muslims ‘like mosquitoes’.
Please let me know.
Answer: From my research, I
have found that there are four possible origins for the word ‘mosque’ in
the English language. The first possibility is that it derives from the
French word ‘mosquee’ that existed during the period in French linguistic
history known as ‘Middle French’. The second possibility is that it is
a derivative of the Arabic word ‘masjid’. The third possibility
is that it derives from the Old Italian word ‘moschea’ and the final possibility
is that it comes from the Old Spanish word ‘mezquita’. These various words
were used to describe the Muslim place of worship in the various languages
My research found no indication that
mosque was derived from the word ‘mosquito’. Regarding the appearance of
the term mosque in the English language, scholars suggest it was around
1711 AD. This is far after King Ferdinand and the Crusades. It might be
that the term ‘mezquita,’ used to describe a masjid in old Spanish,
came from the word ‘mosquito’ and then subsequently the term ‘mezquita’
was used to form the term mosque. However, this would not mean that the
term mosque was developed as a result of the story you related.
With the above in mind, I believe
it is important to keep a sensible perspective when approaching the origin
of words. Words are dynamic and over time often change their meanings from
what they originally may have been intended for. It is likely that there
are many words in all languages that result from the ignorance or hatred
that may have once existed between peoples, races, tribes or religions.
We should consider contemporary usage of words and the intention of their
current meanings as most important.
Two examples of this might help give
a better perspective. The term ‘picnic’ in the English language came under
fire some years back when certain scholars suggested that it was actually
a shortened version of ‘pick a nigger’. Some decades ago, in the US, there
was a racist and vulgar practice known as lynching, where a mob of white
people would torture and mutilate a black person (then derogatively called
a ‘nigger’), often under the false pretext that this person was guilty
of a crime. This lynching often involved an entire event where people brought
food and family to a park and watched the lynching. Subsequent to the lynching
they would take pictures next to the mutilated body! Some scholars contend
that the concept of a picnic, and the actual term, resulted from this practice
of ‘picking a nigger’ to lynch and having a small feast at the event. Now
despite the possibility of a treacherous background to this word, its usage
in common times connotes nothing of the sort.
Similarly, the Arabic term ‘ajami
has commonly been used, throughout Islamic history, to refer to non-Arabs
or those who did not speak Arabic. The meaning of this word is actually
in reference to those animals, like goats and cows, that make one syllable
sounds. Hence, the term contains cultural superiority and a arrogant insult
towards non-Arabic speakers. However, now this term has become synonymous
with non-Arabic speaking peoples, forsaking its original background.