The beginning of literature

in Aljamia language


by  Alfredo Leyva Almendros


“The people from Al-Andalus cultivated poetry in a remarkable form, in all styles, reaching a great degree of perfection and beauty. There was created a new style named moaxaja. To compose it they made correspond the verses with the strophes: the same measure and rime of the first strophe verses is reiterated in the following ones. In those poems, charm and beauty reach their limits. Everyone loved them in the country and the Andalusian people could recite them by heart, because they were very easy to learn.”


With these words, from the chapter dedicated to poetry of the book Introduction to the history, Ibn Jaldún defined the poetical riches of the last remains of the Arabic Al-Andalusian culture.


The Aljamia (Alyamia) takes his roots from a very heterodox language which surged from different wells. We could say that its origin is the Mozarabic, which is mixed with vulgar Arab and Romance, in whose script appear Hebrew and Arab characters.


The first reference we had from the Aljamian language is an anonymous treaty of botanic from the IX century.


Nevertheless, the first works entirely written in Aljamia are the Diwanes*: a collection of poems about a variety of topics. They were normally odes, loads and exaltations to the emir.


The poetical modality named Moaxaja* (Wassaha) was constructed by five strophes with a rhyming couplet at the beginning used sometimes as a refrain and that formed a link of reference with each of the following strophes, composed with three verses with proper rhyme, preceded by other two which reproduced the rhyme of the initial couplet. They called the last couplet: Jarcha*, that was the key or dénouement of the whole poem. Schematically, the rhyme would be: AA bbbAA (AA) cccAA (AA). A curiosity of this type of composition would be that they made reference to observations made by a woman, and that while the majority of the poems were written by masculine hand. Others poetical compositions written in Aljamia are the Zetel* (Zayal), and the Adab*.


After a long period of studies, the trove of manuscripts Mudéjar and Muslim, in the XIX and XX centuries, informed with precision about the different Mudéjar and Muslim languages along the geographical zones as Aragon, Castile, Valencia and Granada. Following the studies realized in 1949, and principally from 1962 on, by Antonio Domínguez Ortiz, it is believed that “the linguistic situation of the Spanish Muslims was not homogeneous. The Castilian Mudéjars must have completely forgotten the Arab, because in 1462, the major alfaqui of Segovia had to edit in Castilian language the Suma of the principal commandments of the Koran law.


Also in Aragon, the language was soon forgotten: those who wanted their children to learn it, they sent them to Valencia, where it was still spoken in many places. But still in those redoubts, there was not more than a few persons those who could manage and write the literary Arab language. The Arabic characters lasted with more vigour than the spoken language; this phenomenon persisted and gave stability to the Aljamian literature.


Aljamian written works were not important before the XV century. The lack of dates on the manuscripts can be supplied by the situation, mostly parallel, reflected in minutes and documents, all consequently dated.


Carmen Barceló told that the Arab language official situation in the Christian Kingdom of Valencia, until the middle of the XVI century, when it was no more officially recognised but was maintained until the expulsion, was “never prohibited in the Kingdom of  Valencia, in spite the ecclesiastic authorities insisting again and again to impede the Muslims to use it”.


And same, Ana Labarta affirmed clearly that “the Muslim population of the Kingdom of Valencia conserved, in the great majority, the use of the Arab language until the day of the expulsion; so it is indicated in the contemporaneous references, the following measures projected or undertaken by the authorities in order to eradicate it, the fact that most of the Muslim women processed by the Inquisition of Valencia needed an interpret, and the existence of Arabic written documents along the whole XVI century and beginning of the XVII.”


For all what is told above and in a few lines, the situation of the Aljami language would have basically the following results:


In Valencia and Granada, the Mudéjar and Muslim people were using the Arab language in their every day life. They spoke it and used it in all kind of written matters: public and private.


The Mudéjar people of Aragon and Castile, also maintained the utilization of Arab language for certain notarial documents in the XII and XVI centuries; and thus, after being banished from the every day life.


Putting apart the zones of Castile and Aragon, the maintain of the Aljamia language is something exceptional and logic. It was used during all the Mudéjar and Muslim period. The Mudéjars and the Muslims also used the Romance language and the Latin characters. They used frequently the two languages, depending of where and how; and the two alphabets too, with similar variations, not uniformely:


a) Arab language and Arab characters

b) Romance language and Arab characters (Aljamia)

c) Romance language and Latin characters

d) Arab language and Latin characters.


The linguistic situation of Mudéjars and Muslims influenced Juan Martínez Ruiz’ plans of investigation, because, as he says “it was thought that with the seize of Granada, Arab language and Muslim culture would have disappeared.  But modern studies,  we mention Miguel Griffin


(“An invisible wall: Muslims and old Christians in Granada”) in an act of honour to Peter Russel (Oxford, 198), it is remembered that until the last day of the Muslims dwelling in Granada, the Arab was the only vivid language of a great quantity of people, as for example the ones living in the Alpujarras”.


Following, a list of some important Muslim poets and writers:


Principal Arab poets of Granada:


a - Ibn al-Zybayr, from Ronda (1261-1308), cultiveted various literary styles and protected other writers. He wrote a History of Spain that did not reach our days.


a - Ibn al-Yayyab, from Granada (1274-1349), author of neoclassic casidas to Muslim emirs. His poems can be read today in Generalife plaster works.


a - Ibn Luyun, from Almería (1264-1372), wrote some rhymed proverbs and a treaty on agriculture.


a - Abu I-Barakat, from Velefique (1264-1372), wrote the History of Almería, curiously disappeared, like the one mentioned before. He was Ibn-al-Jatib’s teacher.


a - Ibn Jatima al-Ansari, from Almería (1323-1369), physician and history scholar. He left us a beautiful Diwán, adorned with Word wits, tawriyas or double sensed.


a - Ibn al-Murábi, from Málaga (¿-1349), from whom it is conserved a diverting maqáma of the fest.


a - Lisán al-Dín Muhammad Ibn al-Jatib, from Loja (1313-1375), disciple of Ibn-al-Yayyab. He was a Katib’s son, and Katib was a son of Yusuf I and Muhammad V. He alterned working as a poet and as a physician. He was also Ibn Zamrak’s teacher. He wrote a History of Granada. His poems remain printed in the more luxurious volume ever edited:  the Salon of Comares, in the Alhambra.  He collects poemas and moaxajas for the  Rayhanat al-tawsih; literary letters, chancellor style, in rhymed prose for the Rayhanat al-Kuttab; and also maqámas.


a - Ibn Zamrak, from Granada (1333-1393), disciple of Ibn al-Jatib. He is the author of an exquisite collection of casidas and classic moaxajas. He has the major  epigraphic representation in La Alhambra: the fountain of lions and the Salon of the Two Sisters (see illustration on page 000) are no more than a little example of his talent.


a - Mohammad al Lajmí, from Granada, author of the adab The reign of the bees.


a - Abu I-Hasan al-Nubahi, from Málaga (1313-1390) continued the History of the judges from Cordoba by al-Jusani, in his Kitab al-marqabq al ulya, and left us a maqáma: De la palmera (From a palm three)


a - Ibn Yuzai, from Granada (1321-1356) was Ibn Batuta travel polygraph and biographer.


a - Ibn Jaldún, from Túnez (1332-1406), descendant  from Andalusians,  author of some al-Muqaddimah  or Prolegomenon  to  an  universal  history.   His al-Muqaddimah




refer to settlements and conditions of the populations, geography, anthropology; ending with a classification of the sciences.  This work is the first volume of his Book of the examples.


a - Ibn Asim, from Granada (1359-1426), author of the adab Hada iq al-azhar, which includes Spanish-Arabic proverbs.


a - Ibn al-Qaysi al-Basti is considered as the last poet of Al-Andalus (Moorish Kingdom of Spain). His literary works reflect the imminent fall of the Moorish reign in Spain.





For all that is told before, we could say that the Aljamia “is or could have been“ the authocthonous language of Andalusia.


Please, see this paper as an introduction, or preface, to what could be a major camp of investigation, taking into account the historic, linguistic and literary interest of such an important legacy left to us by our ancestors. Our land culture lies on a solid base in spite of sometimes being relegate to forgetfulness because of the super-position of other precedent cultures. It could be a good idea to investigate on inferior stratums without which we could not explain our actual idiosyncrasy and personality.


The aim of this paper  is  to stimulate other persons more accurate than I am in the matter, in order to bring light to

a period maintained, willingly and with so much craft, in the darkness, by the triumphant culture.



(In the Spanish original version, you can see a monument to the great Spanish-Arab philosopher, Averroes (Ibn Rusd).

This monument can be visited  in Cordoba, Spain.

Averroes taught a philosophical doctrine based on Aristotle’s thought, which provoked many controversies in European Universities.

He was born in Cordoba, in 1126; and died in Morocco, in 1198.)






ADAB. A word whose ethical and social dimension in the Medieval epoch would have its equivalence in the Latin word urbanitas, which means: courtesy, urbanity, good behaviour; later on, an intellectual component defined by the Latin word humanitas is added to it; meaning that the word adab relies to the combination of knowledge included under the spelling of humanities. In the Abasi epoch, its semantic area was restrained and took the specific sense of necessary general culture to apply to superior professions or functions (secretary, vizier, etc.). Resuming, the word would have a different signification depending the epochs. The principal signification would have been: rules for good social behaviour, general or specified culture; and, in the modern time: literature properly said.


CASIDA (qasida): A series of verses, or better said, double verses with the same rhyme, independent of the number of lines but with a uniform meter; normally with three strophes of different extension:


1)      The nasib, a sort of loving prelude remembering past happiness in the camp, together with the loved person.

2)      The rahil or description of a travel in the desert.

3)      The madih, panegyric; or hiya, satyr, in which the person or tribe to whom the composition is directed, is loaded or vituperated.


DIWÁN: Collection of poems, generally from an only author and mainly disposed in an alphabetical order.


JARCHA (Salida): Strophe of the end of a Moaxaja (Wassaha) Arab or Hebrew. The jarchas are short songs, from two to four verses. They represent the most ancient lyrical poetry conserved in a Romance language. His topic is love.


MOAXAJA (from the Arab: Wassaha): Poetical composition in Arab or Hebrew language, in which there was a strophe, taken from vulgar language, named Jarcha.


ZÉJEL (from the Arab: Zayal): A composition with a variety of strophes, very popular in the Moorish poetry of Andalusia. This is the diagram: a refrain with two rhymed or loosed verses, and a series of strophes composed with an eight syllabic mono-rhymed tercet; and another verse (return), that retakes the rhyme of the initial refrain.


On next page, you have two examples: the first is a Spanish-Hebrew jarcha; and the second, a Spanish-Arab one.





¿Qué faré yo o qué será de mibi?


                 non te tolgas de mibi.


(What shall I do, what shall I be?

                                                                                                                           My friend,

                                don’t go away from me!)






Garid vos, ay yermanelas,

¿Com’ contenere meu mali?

Sin el habib no vivreyu

ed volarei demandari.


(Tell me, ah me! little sisters

How can I bear my pain?

I cannot live without my friend,

I shall fly to be near!)




Alfredo Leyva Almendros

Málaga: noviembre de 2002


English version by Mariette Cirerol



(In the Spanish version, an illustration representing a Spanish- Muslim ethnic type from Granada is to be seen.

Detail of a painting from the XIV century, on the vault of the King’s Salon, in the Alhambra, Granada.)