What makes an Arab an Arab? This is a question whose answer has filled books and lecture halls for centuries. Indeed, this question also requires a more thorough answer than one can easily provide in a simple blog post. Nonetheless, today we attempt to give you an overview of the more common traits that make up an Arab. It is therefore hoped that the reader will use this information to gain a better understanding of the Arabic language, Arab culture and Arab character.
The Greek Philosopher Heraclitus once said that “character is destiny”. If that is indeed the case, then we start our journey today with the Arab destiny. There are many facets which make up the character of a people, and Arabs are no different. However, there can be no doubt that Islam plays the most important role in developing the character of an Arab.
Islamic Culture and Arab Character
While the West values the individual, the East values teamwork to reach a common goal. However, in between these two, is the Middle East and Islam which sort of adopts both sets of values. That is, Islam stresses individual virtues that are jointly expressed as works of the divine. In other words, Arabs place value on submission and unity.
In Arab culture, Muslims should submit to Allah and the laws of their holy book, the Quran. These laws, revealed by divine will, cover a whole host of actions of everyday Muslim life. As a result, each Muslim must be thankful and show respect for the general guiding principles expressed within their holy book.
Part of what Muslims believe also entails complete submission to the will of God and his mercy. In Islam each Muslim stands alone in their direct relationship to God. This comes with the promise of peace to those who walk the straight path shown in the Quran.
Besides the Quran, Arab Muslims are also guided by the rules and advice of Hadith. These are a collection of sayings of Prophet Muhammad that guide Muslims on everyday issues ranging from child rearing to prayer. Further, the everyday life of Arab Muslims is divided into prayer and Quran recitation. As a result, one can see how it affects the character of Arabs living.
Bedouin Culture and Arab Character
Along with Islam, Bedouin culture also greatly affects Arab character. This is partly due to having to live in harsh desert climates. Even today, you can find Bedouins roaming the deserts of the Middle East. They lead a life of nomads, living in tents, and eking out a living as herding sheep or trading. If nothing else, this way of life has taught them how to become more self-reliant.
However, living as Bedouin doesn’t mean it’s as simple as it seems. That is, Bedouins have rather complex ideas when it comes to Arab loyalty, hospitality, and revenge. However, out of all these, it’s hospitality that they’re most famous for. Evidence of this is shown through Bedouins often sacrificing their best lambs for their dinner guests. And these days, throughout the Arab world, it’s that same hospitality that’s still a part of the modern Arab personality.
HOSPITALITY IN THE ARAB WORLD
There is no more sacred duty to an Arab than being hospitable. Thus, whether it’s traveler or stranger, Muslim or non-Muslim, all are treated as “guests of Allah” in the Middle East. Indeed, as a guest of an Arab, you will be greeted with warm welcomes and given the best spot at the table. Even the poorest of hosts will treat their guest to a feast featuring the family’s finest sheep. What’s more, Western travelers lucky enough to be guests of an Arab say they’ve seen nothing like Arab hospitality.
All of this hospitality began in the Arabian deserts where guests are few and far between. Still, there is a karmic “do unto others” belief here where you should help someone because you never know. You just might need help yourself someday.
Today, this idea even reaches into villages where special guest house just for visitors exist. Also, in cities, the more hospitable a host or hostess is, the higher their status is likely to be.
One more thing to note is that an Arab is obliged to honor hospitality even over concerns about time. That is, you may find an Arab spending hours sharing tea with a stranger. This is true even if he or she risks be late for another commitment with family or friends. Thus, keep in mind that, should you get an invite to an Arab’s house, it’s rude to refuse the offer. In the end, allow for some room for your host to save face if you absolutely cannot make it.
HONOR AND SHAME IN ARAB COUNTRIES
Speaking of saving face, Arabs, and chiefly men, hold honor in very high regard. To an Arab, nothing is more important than the honor of their Arab family and especially their Arab women. They will surely do whatever it takes to preserve both.
Perhaps equally as important as honor, however, it the idea of saving face. Never shame an Arab in public. They will consider it an attack on their honor and seek vengeance. Indeed, for an Arab, there is nothing more painful than losing their dignity. To an Arab of honor, it is better to refuse to suffer in shame and die in dignity. In other words, it’s better to prevent this and make a friend than to suffer from regret by making an enemy.
FRIENDSHIP AND PERSONAL SPACE
Arabs are very friendly and sociable lot. They like to be around others. What’s more you won’t often find Arabs looking for a little “alone time”. They find that a bit strange.
Arabs love a good conversation. Indeed, Arab men love nothing more than to sit around a café drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and chatting. Likewise, you’ll often find Arab women chatting with family and friends at their homes. Sometimes raising their voice, it may seem like their having a debate rather than a little chat. However, rest assured this is normal for Arabs.
Also important to note is that friendships are often based on a “give and take” relationship. Remember that honor thing? Well, the worst possible way to betray an Arab friend is to refuse a request for a favor. Thus, if an Arab friend asks you for something, you should never refuse. A simple “I’ll try, my friend” will suffice if you’re unsure whether you can carry out their request or not.
Likewise, Arabs you’re friend will find it very difficult to tell you “no” if you ask them for a favor. What you’ll most likely get is an inshallah (“God willing”), which means “maybe” in many Arabic communities. As a Westerner, this answer may confuse you. Nonetheless, take it as a “no” and be pleasantly surprise if it turns out it was a “yes” after all.
Again, these are just a few of the common traits that most Arabs share among one another. It should be noted that this doesn’t mean that ALL Arabs act in this way. As many Arabs say: “Not all fingers on the hand are the same.”
LEARN MORE WITH KALEELA
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