Arabic Heroes Who Helped Change the World

Gary Greer 7/5/2020
Arab Culture

When you decide to learn Arabic language skills, you’re deciding to join the ranks of people who share a language and indeed a culture and identity. However, more importantly, you’re sharing a language with the people of from the Arabic speaking countries. Arabs surely left their footprints on the world’s stage in areas from science to politics. These people went on to become unforgettable in our collective history. It is only proper and fitting that we should celebrate them here today, so without further ado, here’s our list of the historical Arab figures that helped change the world as we know it.

Fatima Al-Fihri

While Europe was living in the Dark Ages, the Arab World was experiencing its golden years. In 859 AD Fatima bint Muhammad Al-Fihriya Al-Qurashiya started what we now know as the oldest existing, continually operating and first degree-awarding university in the world. This would be the University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco.

She was born in the town of Kairouan, in present-day Tunisia around 800 A.D. Then, Fatima and her family later migrated to Fez. She and her sister Miriam were both fortunate enough to get a good education. Even though her father started out poor, he eventually became a wealthy merchant. When he died, he left Fatima and Miriam a substantial sum of money. The two sisters used the money to build mosques. Fatima founded the Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque and Miriam founded Al-Andalus Mosque, both located in Fez.

Upon the completion of the Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque, Fatima used the rest of her inheritance to start the University of Al-Qarawiyyin as an extension to the mosque. Today, it is often called the world’s oldest university. Also, it was the first university in the world to award degrees in Islamic Studies, mathematics, grammar, and medicine.


Abu Yusuf Yaʻqub ibn ʼIshaq as-Sabbah al-Kindi, sometimes referred to as “Abu Al-Kindi” or simply “Al-Kindi”, was an Arab Muslim philosopher, polymath, mathematician, physician and musician and often hailed as both the “father of Arab philosophy” and one of the fathers of cryptography or the art of writing or solving codes.

Born in Kufa and educated in Baghdad, Al-Kindi would become a prominent scientist. He was one of the first Arabs to learn about Hellenic philosophy and integrate it with his own views on Muslim ideology. He was also one of the first scientists to introduce Indian numbers to world of Arab mathematics.

Later years would find him as notable figure in Baghdad’s major intellectual center known as the House of Wisdom.


Born about 240 AD, Septimia Zenobia, while still in her teens, married Odenatheus. He would later become King of Palmyra in Syria. During his reign, Odenatheus triumphed over the Persian Sassanids, which elevated the province of Palmyra into a regional power. As a consequence, Odenatheus’s influence also grew along with the influence of his wife, Zenobia.

Unfortunately, would soon be assassinated and Zenobia would assume the de facto rule of Palmyra afterwards. In the events that followed, she lobbied for the independence of Palmyra from the Roman Empire, naming herself Empress and ushering in an era of prosperity in the history of the Levant.

Her ruling

While she was Queen, Zenobia launched an invasion in 270. This would provide her with even more influence over the Roman East and end with Egypt’s annexation. Her rule extended from Ancyrain central Anatolia to southern Egypt by the next year. A year later, Zenobia and her son would declare themselves as emperors of Palmyra, thereby formally seceding from Rome. In consequence, the Romans went to war with the Empress, besieging her capital and exiling her to Rome in defeat. She would spend the rest of her life there dying around 274.

However, Zenobia’s legacy as a cultured monarch was left intact. She was known for promoting an environment of intellect in her court. She treated her subjects kindly and gave refuge to religious minorities, and maintained a multicultural, multiethnic government with a stable administration. Ushering in an era of prosperity never seen before in the history of the Levant during her reign, her rise and fall have inspired historians, artists and novelists. She is a patriotic symbol in Syria. Here is where a Queen Zenobia statue sits about 100 meters off of the shores of Latakia in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

Qasim Amin

Qasim Amin was an Egyptian philosopher, reformer, and judge. Born in Alexandria in 1865, Amin was a child prodigy who finished law school at age 17. Afterwards, he received a scholarship to University of Montpelier in France. It was there the seeds of feminist thoughts were planted. He returned to Cairo a learned man and started his crusade for more women’s rights.

Amin’s advocacy of greater rights for women sparked debate over women’s issues including the veiling, seclusion, early marriage, and lack of education of Muslim women in the Arab World. This led him to often be considered the first feminist of the Middle East countries. Later, he became one of the founders of Cairo University in 1908. The institution began to accept women students twenty years after its founding.

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan

Dubai and indeed, all of the UAE have Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan to thank for their success. Sheikh Zayed was a fair and liberal ruler who believed in the freedom of worship and the freedom of the press. He also believed in diplomacy, opting to build diplomatic ties with aggressive nations instead of warring endlessly against them. Known as “the father of the Emirati Nation”, Sheikh Zayedwas the catalyst behind the unification of the United Arab Emirates and was proclaimed the UAE President for 33 years from 1971 until his death in 2004. His vision helped build the UAE into the economic force that it is today.

Indeed, this is just a small list of Arabs who have not only changed the Middle East countries, but also changed the world. Can you think of anyone you’d like to add? Let us know in the comments section.

Now that you’ve learned a little about some of the movers and shakers of Arab history, why not learn to speak Arabic and be a mover and shaker of your own? Studies have shown that the best way to learn Arabic is through Arabic learning apps like the Kaleela Arabic learning app which lets you learn Arabic language skills on your own, at your own pace, whenever and wherever you want. Visit our website and find out how you can download our Arabic learning app to your IOS or Android mobile device and start to learn Arabic language skills today.

Kaleela – Learn Arabic the Right Way!