A mafia is a type of organized crime syndicate whose primary activities are protection racketeering, arbitrating disputes between criminals, and brokering and enforcing illegal agreements and transactions.[1] Mafias often engage in secondary activities such as gambling, loan sharking, drug-trafficking, prostitution, and fraud.

The term "Mafia" was originally applied to the Sicilian Mafia and originates in Sicily, but it has since expanded to encompass other organizations of similar methods and purpose, e.g., "the Russian Mafia" or "the Japanese Mafia". The term is applied informally by the press and public; the criminal organizations themselves have their own terms (e.g. the Sicilian Mafia and Italian-American Mafia refer to their organizations as "Cosa Nostra"; the "Japanese Mafia" calls itself "Yakuza"; and "Russian Mafia" groups often call themselves "Bratva").

When used alone and without any qualifier, "Mafia" or "the Mafia" typically refers to either the Sicilian Mafia or the Italian-American Mafia and sometimes Italian organized crime in general (e.g., Camorra, 'Ndrangheta, Sacra Corona Unita, Stidda, etc.).


The word mafia (Italian: [ˈmaːfja]) derives from the Sicilian adjective mafiusu, which, roughly translated, means "swagger", but can also be translated as "boldness" or "bravado". In reference to a man, mafiusu (mafioso in Italian) in 19th century Sicily signified "fearless", "enterprising", and "proud", according to scholar Diego Gambetta.[2] In reference to a woman, however, the feminine-form adjective mafiusa means 'beautiful' or 'attractive'.

Because Sicily was once an Islamic emirate from 831 to 1072, mafia may have come to Sicilian through Arabic, though the word's origins are uncertain. Possible Arabic roots of the word include:

  • ma'afi (معفي) = exempted. In Islamic law, Jizya, is the yearly tax imposed on non-Muslims residing in Muslim lands. And people who pay it are "exempted" from prosecution.
  • màha = quarry, cave; especially the mafie, the caves in the region of Marsala, which acted as hiding places for persecuted Muslims and later served other types of refugees, in particular Giuseppe Garibaldi's "Redshirts" after their embarkment on Sicily in 1860 in the struggle for Italian unification.[3][4][5][6][7]
  • mahyas (مهياص) = aggressive boasting, bragging[5]
  • marfud (مرفوض) = rejected, considered to be the most plausible derivation; marfud developed into marpiuni (swindler) to marpiusu and finally mafiusu.[8]
  • mu'afa (معافى) = safety, protection[6]
  • Ma àfir = the name of an Arab tribe that ruled Palermo.[9][5] The local peasants imitated these Arabs and as a result the tribe's name entered the popular lexicon. The word mafia was then used to refer to the defenders of Palermo during the Sicilian Vespers against rule of the Capetian House of Anjou on 30 March 1282.[10]

The public's association of the word with the criminal secret society was perhaps inspired by the 1863 play I mafiusi di la Vicaria [it] ("The Mafiosi of the Vicaria") by Giuseppe Rizzotto and Gaspare Mosca.[11] The words mafia and mafiusi are never mentioned in the play. The play is about a Palermo prison gang with traits similar to the Mafia: a boss, an initiation ritual, and talk of "umirtà" (omertà or code of silence) and "pizzu" (a codeword for extortion money).[12] The play had great success throughout Italy. Soon after, the use of the term "mafia" began appearing in the Italian state's early reports on the phenomenon. The word made its first official appearance in 1865 in a report by the prefect of Palermo Filippo Antonio Gualterio [it].[13]

Other Languages
العربية: مافيا
azərbaycanca: Mafiya
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Мафія
български: Мафия
bosanski: Mafija
brezhoneg: Mafia
català: Màfia
čeština: Mafie
Cymraeg: Maffia
dansk: Mafia
Deutsch: Mafia
eesti: Maffia
Ελληνικά: Μαφία
español: Mafia
Esperanto: Mafio
euskara: Mafia
فارسی: مافیا
français: Mafia
Frysk: Maffia
Gaeilge: Maifia
한국어: 마피아
հայերեն: Մաֆիա
हिन्दी: माफ़िया
hrvatski: Mafija
Ido: Mafio
Bahasa Indonesia: Mafia
italiano: Mafia
עברית: מאפיה
ქართული: მაფია
қазақша: Мафия
Latina: Mafia
latviešu: Mafija
lietuvių: Mafija
magyar: Maffia
македонски: Мафија
മലയാളം: മാഫിയ
Malti: Mafja
Bahasa Melayu: Mafia
မြန်မာဘာသာ: မာဖီးယား
Nederlands: Maffia
日本語: マフィア
Napulitano: Mafia
norsk: Mafia
occitan: Màfia
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Mafiya
polski: Mafia
português: Máfia
română: Mafie
русский: Мафия
sardu: Mafia
Scots: Mafia
shqip: Mafia
sicilianu: Mafia
Simple English: Mafia
slovenčina: Mafia
slovenščina: Mafija
کوردی: مافیا
српски / srpski: Мафија
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Mafija
suomi: Mafia
svenska: Maffia
Tagalog: Mafia
тоҷикӣ: Мафия
Türkçe: Mafya
українська: Мафія
اردو: مافیا
vèneto: Mafia
vepsän kel’: Mafii
Tiếng Việt: Mafia
Winaray: Mafia
ייִדיש: מאפיא
粵語: 黑手黨
中文: 黑手党