This misconception was put forward by Giovanni Francesco Abela, saying that the native Maltese population remained predominantly Christian during the Islamic period indicating a continuity between 870 CE and today. However, this narrative was contested by the late Profs. Godfrey Wettinger, a Maltese Medievalist who is considered the father of Malta’s Medieval period. Wettinger argued that there is no indication, historically or archaeologically. that there was a large Christian presence in Malta after 870 CE. Considering al-Himyarī’s statement that the islands were partly abandoned, this break in continuity regarding the Christian religion is plausible, considering the noted slaughtering and possible escape or slave captures during the siege. Wettinger refers to Bishop Burchard, who in 1175 CE was passing through Sicily on the way to Saladin's court, noting that Malta was in fact inhabited by Saracens and not Christians. This statement is backed up by the archaeological evidence, as, while no mosque ruins have ever been found on the islands, multiple Islamic graves have been found. Most notably, the Islamic cemetery which was excavated stratigraphically above the Roman remains at the Dovus Romana in Rabat, outside modern day Mdina, as well as the Maimuna tombstone found in Xewkija, Gozo. This indicated that at least from the 11th century onwards, a bustling Muslim population was present on Malta and Gozo.
The biggest legacy left on the Maltese islands from the Muslim period is, in fact, our language, Maltese, which uses a Latin script but is heavily influenced by Arabic. Modern Maltese derives a lot from Sicilian Arabic, alongside influence from Italian and English. Many of the place names around modern day Malta showcase the Arabic influence, such as the towns of Marsa ‘harbour’, Rabat ‘suburb’ (there are two, one in Malta and one in Gozo), and Marsaxlokk ‘southern harbour’, to name but a few.
While the Muslim period of Malta ended in 1091 CE, the culture did not. It was the Norman raid by Roger I of Sicily that started the Christianisation of Malta, but the Muslim population would not be exiled until 1127 CE by Roger II of Sicily. The period is a fascinating one and despite the setbacks due to the lack of clear evidence, its influence is clear to this day. Malta has a rich history with the Muslim period being an important part of our heritage.