Origin of the Word ‘Mosque’
Question asked by .
Answered by Adnan Zulfiqar

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.


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 mentioned.

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 ‘ajamī 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.

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