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Islam ‘In the Soul of Portugal’

Centuries after the end of the Islamic period in Al-Andalus, the Islamic monuments in Portugal have left a deep trace in the country’s language, culture, and soul, Albawaba reported.

“Al-Andalus was a golden age for humanity. Muslims, Jews, and Christians coexisted relatively peacefully and science and culture thrived,” says the writer, poet, and scholar Adalberto Alves.

“The influence of five centuries of Islamic presence is immense.”

Last year, Lisbon’s Islamic Community celebrated its 50th anniversary. The community was established by migrants in the 1960s.

Yet, Islam has deeper roots in the country which remained for 500 under the rule of Muslims in what was known as Al-Andalus.

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Standing at the entrance of the Central Mosque of Lisbon for the 50th-anniversary commemorations, Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said, “Islam is in Portugal’s soul.”

“We might at times not be fully aware of the profound heritage left by Arabs in Portuguese society and culture,” the president said. “But it was and continues to be very important.”

To bring Europe closer to the Islamic world, Adalberto Alves spent the last 45 years exploring the influence of centuries of Muslim rule in Portugal.

“My family is from the south of Portugal, from an area that was very influenced by the Islamic presence. So I grew up with this interest in the other and ended up discovering that the other is also part of us,” he says.

For 10 years, Alves also worked on a dictionary of Portuguese words of Arabic origin.

“I found there were almost 19 000 words of Arabic origin in the Portuguese language, and my dictionary keeps expanding,” he says.

“The European Enlightenment was prepared by the Arabs. It was their contribution in the Iberian Peninsula that made it possible,” he added.

According to the Instituto Nacional de Estatística (the National Statistical Institute of Portugal), there were, according to the 1991 census, 9,134 Muslims in Portugal, about 0.1% of the total population.

Yet, the Islamic Community of Lisbon presently points to a number of about 40,000 according to 2011 estimates.

Muslims ruled Spain and Portugal for centuries starting from 711 to 1492. Their last king was defeated by the Catholic king and queen, Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1492.

After that Muslims mosques were either left to ruin or converted into churches.