Mudéjars was the name given by Christians to Muslims living in Christian Iberia. They were variously descended from indigenous people (who had converted to Islam after the Muslim conquest), from Arab and Maghribian immigrants (who continued to arrive even after the Christian conquest), and from African slaves. Mudéjar converts to Christianity and their descendants were known from the late sixteenth century as Moriscos, an adjective derived from moro, Castilian for “Muslim” (referring originally to Maghribians). Previously, converts had been known as New Christians, in contrast to Old Christians, that is, those of pure ancestry.
In Catalonia, Castile, Navarre, and Portugal the numbers of Muslims were fairly modest, but in Aragon, Valencia, and Granada they formed a significant minority. In Valencia and Granada Mudéjarsociety was broadly variegated and resisted acculturation, whereas elsewhere cultural integration was more profound. Until the last years of the fifteenth century Muslims had, for the most part, escaped the types of pressures to which the Jewish minority of the Iberian peninsula had been subjected, although in that century laws relating to “purity of blood” that restricted professional and social activities made it increasingly difficult to sustain a middle class. In Castile Muslims tended to be an urban minority, while in Aragon and Valencia they were primarily craftsmen and farm laborers, comprising nearly the whole of the population in some areas. Arabic was spoken alongside Christian vernaculars throughout the peninsula, and Islamic legal and religious practices persisted, although not without local variations (and increasing syncretism from 1500 onward). Acculturation can be seen in the literature of Mudéjars and Moriscos, which was known as aljamia: literary, polemical, devotional, and private works written in Romance languages but with Arabic characters.
With the conquest of Granada by Castile in 1492 the entire Iberian Peninsula was brought under Christian rule, heralding a hardening of attitudes toward non-Christians and coinciding with restrictive legislation aimed at Jews. In Portugal in 1497 Muslims were given the option of conversion, expulsion, or death, leading many to emigrate to Castile. In 1498 Archbishop Cisneros of Toledo increased pressure on Castile’s Muslims to convert, sparking rebellions in Granada and resulting in a decree like the Portuguese one in 1502. When Navarre came under Castilian control in 1515, the same law was enacted there, prompting many to flee to Aragonese lands.
In Aragon social tensions led to popular uprisings, which scapegoated Muslims and resulted in violence and forced baptisms in 1521. In 1526 the Muslims of the Crown of Aragon were ordered to be baptized, prompting rebellions in Valencian territories. Once converted, Moriscos suffered fiscal discrimination as well as deliberate campaigns intended to destroy their culture. Tensions in Granada eventually provoked a serious uprising, whose suppression in 1570 was followed by mass forced exile.
From that time on Moriscos came to be viewed with increasing suspicion, regarded as a fifth column of the Moroccans and the Turks. Further repressive policies, such as restrictions on movement and residence, were enacted, and it was only the Moriscos’ value as agricultural producers that saved them from wholesale expulsion at this time. The persistence of Muslim beliefs inflamed the church, which responded with the Inquisition, although the most reactionary measures were discouraged by the papacy. In 1609 King Philip III resolved to expel from Spain all remaining Moriscos, a process that took some five years and resulted in the exile of approximately 300,000 individuals. This had profound implications for the economy of the peninsula. The abandonment of agricultural lands in Aragon, Valencia, and Murcia plunged these regions into long-term depression. Despite the compensation that the Crown paid to the affected parties, creditors suffered through the flight of debtors, as did nobles and municipalities through the loss of tenants and taxpayers. In areas of mixed population some Old Christians may have benefited through the appropriation of abandoned lands. Despite the expulsion, some Moriscos managed to stay on in Spain, and into the eighteenth century the Inquisition continued to root out alleged cases.
As a result of their diaspora Moriscos settled throughout the Mediterranean Islamic world, but most intensively in northern Morocco and Tunisia. Received with varying enthusiasm by local populations, they maintained a distinct identity even in exile. Aljamia literature continued to be written in Tunis, anti-Christian polemic being a favorite subject, and some Moriscos found work as translators in the service of Muslim princes.