Despite the vast research on Moriscos, Spanish Muslims who were forced to convert to Catholicism beginning in the 16th century, little is known about their writings that emerged in underground Muslim societies in spite of the Spanish Inquisition's scrutiny and burning sites. These clandestine texts produced between the 15th and the 17th centuries came to light in the 19th century discovered under false floors or hidden in walls of old structures. This study focuses on the following manuscript ms. 4963 located in the Biblioteca National in Madrid. The edition, transcription, and analysis of these documents are part of a growing body of research on the Aljamiado-Morisco literature and the Aljamiado language which employed Arabic script to write Romance. It was used and understood by members of the community which wrote, read, and covertly circulated them. Moriscos resorted to writing by means of the Arabic alphabet in a time of censorship when laws were being passed prohibiting the use of any form of Arabic and banning mosques that were the very place where Arabic had been taught.
In order to study this historical work produced at the margins of society, three areas are examined: identity (chapter one), language (chapter two), and faith (chapter three). This research would not be possible without an interdisciplinary approach using studies of Historical Linguistics, Linguistic Anthropology, Literature, History, Islamic Studies, Comparative Literature and Paleography. The latter was an essential component in assigning a place of origin, deciphering, reading, dating this historical manuscript, as well as situating it in its cultural context. The philologist or aljamiadist face two major difficulties: deciphering the Arabic characters and then converting them into Romance by means of a methodical system of transcription that would be scientific and would remain as authentic as possible to the original text. Besides the technical difficulties, this study requires the mastery of language of the text; the historical usages of various styles of Aljamiado handwriting, common writing customs, scribal handwritings and styles; and the philological knowledge of the language, vocabulary, and grammar generally used during 16th century Spain.
Through the process of transcription and analysis of textual evidence, ms. 4963 shows that Moriscos sought to preserve three components: an abbreviated Quran, an Islamic calendar as well as a guide to ablution—an Islamic ritual of purification necessary prior to performing the five daily prayers. These are significant since they display the aspirations and the annihilations of a community at the verge of extinction and its attempt to maintain its identity, language, and faith. Ms. 4963 shows that when the outer world was falling apart and shattered into pieces, Moriscos resorted to consolidating their inner peace through faith and identity markers. Their distinctive writing system is an evidence of what occurs when there are two languages in contact with their degrees of mixing, leveling, simplification and reallocation (Tuten 41-47). Siegel defines the product of such language contact as a koiné, "a stabilized contact variety which result from the mixing and subsequent leveling of features of varieties which are similar enough to be mutually intelligible, such as regional or social dialects" (175). The increased interaction and integration amongst bilingual Spanish Muslims, who were systematically losing Arabic competence, resulted in the creation of this koine language. The Aljamiado-Morisco writing became the medium connecting between language, faith, and identity so as to endure the waves of Islamic identity eradication in Spain during the 16th through the 17th centuries.