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18 December 2012: The UN holds first World Arabic Language Day

The 16th-century Qur'an found in a house in Cútar in 2003.
The 16th-century Qur'an found in a house in Cútar in 2003. / SUR
  • Around 4,000 words in modern day Spanish are believed to be derived from Arabic, which was spoken in Spain during its 700 years of Islamic rule

World Arabic Language Day has been celebrated every year on 18 December since 2012. The date coincides with the day in 1973 that the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted Arabic as the organisation's sixth official language.

Today Arabic is spoken by over 420 million people and is the sixth most common language in the world.

Arabic was spoken in Spain, and in particular Al-andalus, from the eighth to the fifteenth centuries during its period of Islamic rule.

The first group of Arabs that set foot on the Iberian peninsula arrived in 711 and went on to rule until 1492 when Ferdinand and Isabella reached Granada, the last Islamic Caliphate to be recaptured by the Spanish Catholic king and queen.

Over 500 years later, there are still words derived from Arabic in everyday use in the Spanish language. It is estimated that around 4,000 words of Arabic origin are used in the regional varieties of Spanish, and in particular in Andalucía.

For example, the expression, 'ojalá' meaning 'if only', or 'hopefully', comes from the Arabic 'insh'allah' meaning God-willing and even the cry of 'olé' heard during flamenco performances is derived from the Arabic 'wa'llah'.

Many place names in Malaga province and indeed Andalucía, have Arabic origins, for example villages with the prefix 'Al', like Almeria, Almáchar, Almargen. 'Ben', as in Benalmádena, Benagalbón and Benajarafe means 'son of'. Mulhacén, which is the highest mountain in mainland Spain, in the Sierra Nevada, is named after Ali Muley Hacén Abu al-Hasan, the Sultan of Granada in the 15th century.

In 2003, builder Miguel Lozano Ruiz and his son came across a sixteenth-century Qur'an and Arabic manuscript hidden in straw and mud inside the wall of a house that the pair were reforming in the village of Cútar in the Axarquía, whose name in turn has its origins in Arabic.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that Spain's official language school (Escuela Oficial de Idiomas) offers Arabic classes.