At least 90,000 descendants of Sephardic Jews have become citizens of Portugal or Spain since 2015, when those countries passed laws offering a naturalization process for such applicants. This has stimulated some Morisco descendants of expelled Spanish Muslims to call for similar treatment.
Moriscos are Muslims, forced to convert to Catholicism rather than be killed or expelled from Spain in the early 1500s, who were then later expelled from Spain in 1609, because like Spain’s Jews who were forced to convert, they remained true to their religion in secret. They, like Sephardic Jews, were scattered across North Africa.
The laws were meant to atone for the Inquisition, and a campaign of religious persecution unleashed at the end of the 15th century on the hundreds of thousands of Jews who had inhabited the Iberian Peninsula and flourished there for centuries. Many of the Jews who fled Spain and then Portugal as refugees settled in North Africa, including the ancestors of Rabbi Amar, a former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, who was born in Casablanca, Morocco.
Spain has received 153,000+ applications for citizenship, while Portugal has received 86,000+ applications, according to data published in Spanish and Portuguese media recently as part of annual reports on immigration trends.
Thousands of Sephardic Jews were forced off the Iberian peninsula, first from Spain in 1492 and then from Portugal five years later. The Portuguese government acknowledges that Jews and Muslims lived in the region long before the Portuguese kingdom was founded in the 12th century.
The Moriscos are cultural cousins of the Marranos. Like Sephardic Jews, the much larger number of Muslims were an integral part of Spain’s society for centuries before being forced to convert; and then later painfully uprooted by Spain’s Catholic rulers in 1609. Just as was the case for Marrano Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497; large numbers of the Moriscos expelled in 1609, perished at sea.
Spain has so far granted citizenship to 36,000 applicants, or about 23 percent of the total who applied. Portugal has granted citizenship to 63 percent of applicants, or 54,000+ people. Many thousands of applications are still pending review in both countries.
When they were expelled most Moriscos, like the Marranos 117 years before them, settled in North Africa and returned to the religion of their fathers. Like most Sephardic Jews, descendants of Moriscos, especially in Rabat, married only within their community and most continue to do so. Recently, more Morisco descendants are rediscovering their Iberian heritage.
Spain has rejected at least 3,019 applications, but Portugal has rejected only a few hundred individuals. The window for descendants of Jews expelled from Spain to complete their citizenship applications will soon close.
Those Moriscos, who made it to a port of call. “were not well-received,” said Hassan Aourid, author of a popular historical novel, “Le Morisque,” or The Morisco, set in that period. “Many locals looked down on them for being bad Muslims” said Aourid.
Like Marrano Jews who secretly held on to some Jewish religious rites and to a Judeo-Spanish language called Ladino, most of the Moriscos who had been coerced into becoming baptized, retained an awareness of and a connection to their Muslim ancestry.