The conventional view is that Malta has been on the ‘forgotten frontier’ of Christian maritime resistance to Islamic expansionism since the Islamic invasions of North Africa in the seventh century. The limited archival and archeological evidence suggests that, up to the arrival of the Order of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem in Malta in 1530, this picture is not accurate. The Islamic occupation of the Maltese archipelago in 870 created a cosmopolitan Muslim society which persisted until the mid-thirteenth century, despite the Norman conquest of the region in 1090. Indeed, the formal end of Muslim society in Malta only came in 1224, as a side-result of the Hohenstauffen suppression of a Muslim rebellion in Sicily.
Even under the Order of St John contacts with the Muslim world were far closer than is conventionally supposed. The Grand Master of the Order maintained close contacts with the Qaramanlis in Tripoli and the Beys of Tunis during the eighteenth century, despite the continuation of the corso. In reality, contacts had always existed and had been recognised as essential by the Holy See because Malta could not sustain its population once it had exceeded 10,000 persons. Sicily, the obvious source of supply, often exerted undesirable political pressure and the Barbary coast was the only other alternative. The main legacy of the close contacts between Malta and the North African Muslim world, however, is to be found, even today, in the Maltese language, which is really a Medieval variant of North African Arabic.