|c. 420–450 million|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Predominantly Muslim. There are also some adherents of Christianity, Druze, Judaism, Samaritan, Yazidi or others.|
|Related ethnic groups|
|various Afro-Asiatic peoples|
The term Arab (Arabic: عربʻarab) generally refers to those persons who speak Arabic as their native tongue. There are estimated to be over 300 million people living in the Arab world. There are 22 nations holding membership in the Arab League, though not all are independent. Arabs form the majority of the populations of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Somalia, Djibouti, Mauritania, Comoros, and the state of Palestine are also included in the Arab League, although Arabs are not necessarily the majority of all their populations.
The Arab world should not be confused with the term "Middle East," which is a strategic designation birthed during the days of the British Empire, and encompasses such non-Arab countries as Israel, Iran, and Turkey.
An overwhelming majority of Arabs are Muslim, members of the faith founded by the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century. There are also Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians throughout the Middle East. However, though Arab history is closely intertwined with Muslim history, there are significant non-Muslim communities in the Arab world. As well, many Muslims are from non-Arab countries such as Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia and many Sub-Saharan African countries. There are also large Arab and non-Arab Muslim communities in North America.
Geographically, the Arab world is defined as extending from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic Ocean, from Iraq and the Gulf states in the east to Morocco's Atlantic coast in the west. From north to south, the Arab world extends from Syria to Sudan.
There are several ways to be considered an Arab. One is by lineage, considered to be "pure Arab," which can be traced as far back as Noah through his son Shem. Another group, considered to be "Arabized-Arabs," come from North African or Middle Eastern countries outside the Arabian Peninsula. This group includes anyone who speaks Arabic, follows Arabic traditions, and is loyal to Arabic politics.
Keeping the surname is an important part of Arabic culture as some lineages can be traced far back to ancient times. Some Arabs claim they can trace their lineage directly back to Adam. In addition to Noah and Shem, some of the first known Arabs are those who came from Petra, the Nabataean capital (today, Petra is an archaeological site in Jordan, lying in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Wadi Araba).
Other Arabs are known as "Arabized-Arabs," including those who came from some parts of Mesopotamia, the Levant, Berber lands, Moors, Egypt, The Sudan, and other African Arabs. Arab-origin is divided into two major groups, 'pure' and 'Arabized.'
Those considered 'pure' Arabs are those known as Qahtanite who are traditionally considered to be direct descendants of Noah through his son Shem, through his sons Aram and Arfakhshaath. Famous noble Qahtanite Arab families from this group can be recognized in the modern days from their surnames such as: Alqahtani, Alharbi, Alzahrani, Alghamedey, aws and khazraj (Alansari or Ansar), Aldosari, Alkhoza'a, Morra, Alojman, etc. Arab genealogies usually ascribe the origins of the Qahtanites to the South Arabians who built up one of the oldest centers of civilization in the Near East beginning around 800 B.C.E. These groups did not speak one of the early forms of Arabic language or its predecessors, however they did speak such South Semitic languages as Sabaic, Minaic, Qatabanic, and Hadramitic.
The term "Arabized-Arabs" can be used in three different cases:
- It is used for defining the Arabs who are traditionally considered to be descendants of Abraham through his son Ishmael through his son Adnan, and they are known as Adnanite; Abraham took his Egyptian wife Hagar (or Hajar) and his son Ishmael to Mecca. Ishmael was raised by his mother Hagar and one noble Arab family who departed from Yemen and settled in Mecca following the drought in Yemen. Ishmael learned the Arabic language and he spoke it fluently during his life, thus the main reason for calling this group Arabized. It is believed also that the Prophet of Islam Muhammad is descended of Adnanite Arab. Some famous noble Adnanite Arab families from this group are: Alanazi, Altamimi, Almaleek, Bani khaled, Bani kolab, Bani Hashim, etc.
- The term Arabized-Arabs is also used for defining the Arabs who spoke other Afro-Asiatic languages. They are Arabic speakers and are regarded as Arabs in contemporary times.
- The same term al-Musta'ribah or "Arabized-Arabs" is also used for the "Mixed Arabs," between "Pure Arabs" and the Arabs from South Arabia.
"Defining" an "Arab"
The term 'Arab' has had a wide variety of uses over the centuries. Throughout history, the Arabian Peninsula has been traditionally called 'Arabia.' This was particularly true during Greek, Roman, Persian, and Byzantine eras. At times Roman historians would refer to Arab rulers as "King of the Arabs." The use of this term has often proven confusing to the modern historians, who attempt to define the term according to modern history. 
Modern Arab nationalism is a product of nineteenth and twentieth century transformations. Prior to this time, most Arabic-speakers identified themselves with a particular family or tribe. Prior to the twentieth century, the term "Arab" designated the bedouin, tribal-based society of the Arabian Desert, which is the birthplace of the Arabic language.
On its formation in 1946, the Arab League defined an "Arab" as follows;
"An Arab is a person whose language is Arabic, who lives in an Arabic speaking country, who is in sympathy with the aspirations of the Arabic speaking peoples."
Similarly, according to Habib Hassan Touma, a Palestinian composer, "An 'Arab', in the modern sense of the word, is one who is a national of an Arab state, has command of the Arabic language, and possesses a fundamental knowledge of Arabian tradition, that is, of the manners, customs, and political and social systems of the culture."
The fourteenth century Islamic scholar Ibn Khaldun, did not use the word Arab to refer to the Arab people as defined by any of those definitions; but only to those continuing to live a bedouin (nomadic) life.
These are the varied definitions commonly accepted in determining "Arab" status:
- Islamic tradition: The Qur'an does not define who is an Arab, but there is a verse in the Qur'an stating "there is no difference between an Arab or Ajam (meaning a non-Arab speaker), only by their god-fearingness." The prophet Muhammad also noted that an Arab is anyone who speaks Arabic.
- Ethnic identity: someone who considers him or herself to be an Arab (regardless of racial or ethnic origin) and is recognized as such by others.
- Race: The term "Arab" does not refer to a particular race. Arabs include Caucasians and Africans with ancestral origins in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. The intermarriage of Arab seamen and their agents as far back as the first century  has left few 'pure' Arabs, racially. "Dark skinned" Arabs are Sudanese, Ethiopian and Somalian Arabs, and Arabs from Southern Egypt who are considered Africans. "Caucasian" Arabs are Arabs native to Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya among others.
- Linguistic: someone whose first language is Arabic (including any of its varieties); this definition covers more than 250 million people. Arabic belongs to the Semitic family of languages.
- Genealogical: someone who can trace his or her ancestry back to the original inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula or the Syrian Desert.
Arab nationalism declares that Arabs are united in a shared history, culture and language. Arab nationalists believe that Arab identity encompasses more than outward physical characteristics, race or religion. A related ideology, Pan-Arabism, calls for all Arab lands to be united as one state. Arab nationalism has often competed for existence with regional and ethnic nationalisms in the Middle East, such as Lebanese and Egyptian.
The Semitic peoples (those speaking Semitic languages), who trace their origins to the Arabian Peninsula, have had unprecedented influence on the world since recorded history. They are responsible for the first civilizations and a set of cultural practices that have been globalized to a larger extent than any other culture, including those of China and Europe. Three major world religions, the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, have sprung from them. These people had their beginnings on the Arabian Peninsula, but the most influential cultures and civilizations of early consequence are attributed to those who left the peninsula for Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Africa.
Historically, there have been three major instances of transformation and growth within the Arab world:
- the growth of Semitic civilizations in Mesopotamia four thousand years ago
- the spread of Christianity and Judaism two thousand years ago
- the emergence of Islam fifteen hundred years ago.
A sedentary way of life emerged among the Sabaeans (also known as Himyarites or Yemenites) in the lush climate of southern Arabia. This area was ruled through a city-states system by priest kings, but by the first millennium C.E., this had given way to a secular monarchy.
There were four major city-states within this area; the Saba' (Sabaeans), Hadramawt, Qataban, and Ma'in. These groups did not form a political or ethnic unity among themselves. Instead the Saba' grew to be the most powerful, eventually expanding its political influence to include all the major kingdoms of the south by 300 C.E.
The wealth of the Saba' territory was legendary throughout the Fertile Crescent and Northern Africa. Its luxury goods, exotic plants and spices commanded high prices in trade throughout the Mediterranean and Asia. Two major trade routes ran through this area; an ocean-trading route between Africa and India and a land-based trade route that ran up and down the coast of the peninsula. Major cities grew up along this route, one of them, Mecca was later the birthplace of Islam.
By the seventh century C.E., this southern area had fallen into political disarray. Long protected from invasion by a wall of mountains on one side and the ocean on the other, it eventually came to the attention of those who would not be deterred by such obstacles. Judaizing and Christianizing forces began to vie for the area.
Ethnically one people, the northern Arabs were composed of two culturally differing peoples; nomadic and sedentary Arabs.
A much harsher environment than in the south, a nomadic tribal existence was necessary. Agriculture was not possible; pastoralism was. These pastoral nomadic peoples came to be known as the Bedouins. These small tightly-knit tribes moved their herds from place to place in search of scarce resources and water.
A number of Bedouin tribes settled around the oases that surround the periphery of the Arabian Desert. Control of these areas came through military campaigns. These Bedouins were unable to seize possession of these areas until more powerful political rivals, such as Mesopotamia and the Sabaeans, had become weaker or more diffuse. It was not until the first millennium that many of the major sedentary Arab settlements were established, so by the time of Islam, the culture of sedentary Arabs was still very close to that of their nomadic cousins.
These settlements were on the land routes connecting Africa and India with the Mediterranean world. As such the sedentary Arabs became trade intermediaries, bringing them power and prosperity.
This group experienced three distinct historical periods prior to the advent of Islam.
- The first period began with the decline of the Greek Seleucids in the Middle East as well as of the southern Sabaeans.
- The second period began with the expansion of Roman, then Byzantine, and then Sabaean power and was the period of client-states. The Arab cities became client to three major world powers: the Byzantine empire in the north, the Persians in the east, and the southern Arabic kingdom of Himyar (the Sabaeans). Christianity and Judaism spread rapidly during this time.
- The third period concerned inner Arabia, particularly the city of Mecca. This was a great period of flowering and prosperity of Bedouin culture and military power. The Bedouins closely allied themselves with the central Arabian cities, such as Medina (Yathrib) and Mecca. At this time classical Arabic became the language of culture and poetry. This period saw the diffusion of Bedouin values and the widespread diffusion of Bedouin narratives and poetry.
Advance of Islam
During the eighth and ninth centuries, the Arabs (specifically the Umayyads, and later Abbasids) forged an empire whose borders touched southern France in the west, China in the east, Asia Minor in the north, and the Sudan in the south. This was one of the largest land empires in history. Throughout much of this area, the Arabs spread the religion of Islam and the Arabic language (the language of the Qur'an) through conversion and cultural assimilation. Many groups came to be known as "Arabs" not through descent but through this process of Arabization. Thus, over time, the term Arab came to carry a broader meaning than the original ethnic term: cultural Arab vs. ethnic Arab. People in Sudan, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and elsewhere became Arab through Arabization.
Today, the majority of Arabs are Muslim with sizable followers of both Christianity and Judaism. Arab Muslims are Sunni, Shiite, Ibadhite, Alawite, Ismaili, or Druze. The Druze faith is sometimes considered as a religion apart. Arab Christians follow generally one of the following Eastern Churches: Coptic, Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, or Chaldean.
Before the coming of Islam, most Arabs followed a religion featuring the worship of a number of deities, including Hubal, Wadd, Al-Lat, Manat, and Uzza, while some tribes had converted to Christianity or Judaism, and a few individuals, the hanifs, had apparently rejected polytheism in favor of a vague monotheism. The most prominent Arab Christian kingdoms were the Ghassanid and Lakhmid kingdoms. With the conversion of the Himyarite kings to Judaism in the late fourth century, the elites of the other prominent Arab kingdom, the Kindites, being Himyirite vassals, appear to have converted (at least partly) to Judaism too. With the expansion of Islam, the majority of Arabs rapidly became Muslims, and the pre-Islamic polytheistic traditions disappeared.
Sunni Islam dominates in most areas, overwhelmingly so in North Africa; Shia Islam is prevalent in Bahrain, southern Iraq and adjacent parts of Saudi Arabia, southern Lebanon, parts of Syria, and northern Yemen. The tiny Druze community, belonging to a secretive offshoot of Islam, is usually considered Arab, but sometimes considered an ethnicity in its own right.
Reliable estimates of the number of Arab Christians, which in any case depends on the definition of "Arab" used, vary. Today Christians make up less than 10 percent of the population of the Near East.
Jews from Arab countries - mainly Mizrahi Jews and Yemenite Jews - are today usually not categorized as Arab. Sociologist Philip Mendes asserts that before the anti-Jewish actions of the 1930s and 1940s, overall Iraqi Jews viewed themselves as Arabs of the Jewish faith, rather than as a separate race or nationality. Prior to the emergence of the term Mizrahi, the term "Arab Jews" (Yehudim ‘Áravim, יהודים ערבים) was sometimes used to describe Jews of the Arab world. The term is rarely used today. The few remaining Jews in the Arab countries reside mostly in Morocco and Tunisia. Between the late 1940s and early 1960s, following the creation of the State of Israel, most of these Jews left or were expelled from their countries of birth and are now mostly concentrated in Israel. Some also immigrated to France where they form the largest Jewish community, outnumbering Ashkenazi Jews, or European Jews, but relatively few to the United States.
"Arab Jews" is a term occasionally used for Mizrahim Jews originating in Arab lands. Because of political tensions stemming from the Arab-Israeli conflict, few Mizrahim now identify themselves as "Arabs" or "Arab Jews." At present the term is mainly used by official and journalistic sources in the Arab world, but it has been reclaimed by some Mizrahi activists.
Local Yemenite Jewish traditions trace the earliest settlement of Jews in this region back to the time of King Solomon. There are numerous legends placing Jews in ancient Yemen sent by King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba and even the Prophet Jeremiah. These "Yemeni Jews" are also Jews of Arab-origin.
Arabic is the largest member of the branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family and is closely related to Hebrew, Amharic, and Aramaic. It is spoken throughout the Arab world and is widely studied and known throughout the Islamic world.
Classical Arabic has been a literary language since at least the sixth century and is the liturgical language of Islam. Modern Standard Arabic derives from Classical Arabic. Because of its liturgical role, Arabic has lent many words to other Islamic languages, akin to the role Latin has in Western European languages. During the Middle Ages Arabic was also a major vehicle of culture, especially in science, mathematics and philosophy, with the result that many European languages have also borrowed numerous words from it. The Arabic script is written from right to left.
"Colloquial Arabic" is a collective term for the spoken languages or dialects of people throughout the Arab world, which can differ radically from the literary language. The main dialectal division is between the North African dialects and those of the Middle East, followed by that between sedentary dialects and the much more conservative Bedouin dialects. Speakers of some of these dialects are unable to converse with speakers of another dialect of Arabic; in particular, while Middle Easterners can generally understand one another, they often have trouble understanding North Africans (although the converse is not true, due to the popularity of Middle Eastern, especially Egyptian, films and other media).
The Arabic alphabet derives from the Aramaic script (Nabataean), to which it bears a loose resemblance like that of Coptic or Cyrillic script to Greek script. Traditionally, there were several differences between the Western (North African) and Middle Eastern version of the alphabet. After the definitive fixing of the Arabic script around 786, by Khalil ibn Ahmad al Farahidi, many styles were developed, both for the writing down of the Qur'an and other books, and for inscriptions on monuments as decoration.
Arabic calligraphy has not fallen out of use as in the Western world, and is still considered by Arabs as a major art form; calligraphers are held in great esteem. Being cursive by nature, unlike the Latin alphabet, Arabic script is used to write down a verse of the Qur'an, a Hadith, or simply a proverb, in a spectacular composition.
Much of the Arab world is characterized by a lack of clear separation between religious doctrine and social life. The teachings and example of the Prophet Muhammad's life tend to be used as a measurement in judging the conduct of both public officials and private individuals. Most modern Arab states have established civil codes which govern public affairs but Islamic canon law, the Sharia, remains of great importance, especially in domestic matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance.
Family honor is of great importance in the Arab world, and the obligations and responsibilities of kinship are not easily ignored. The chastity of women and obedience of children are matters of concern to all kinspeople as well as to husbands and wives. 'Honor killings' have taken place when a female family member was deemed to have acted inappropriately according to expected standards. Hospitality and generosity to guests is a source of pride, while assistance from kinsfolk in any crisis remains an expectation at all levels of Arab society.
In the past, urban women were encouraged to remain in the home as much as possible, while a 'virtuous' woman was expected to wear veils and concealing outer garments. In recent years this is not universally practiced, although vestiges of this outlook remain in certain areas of the Arab world.
Flowing robes, capes and head-cloths traditionally regarded as male dress are still worn in many of the Arab lands. Many men, however wear Western style clothing.
A vital aspect in the Arab life is music. Nomadic encampments in ancient times utilized music to celebrate every event in life. It served such purposes as inciting warriors, encouraging desert travelers, embellishing social meetings, and even calling the pilgrims to the black stone of the Ka'bah (in Mecca), a holy shrine even in pre-Islamic times. Periodic poetry competitions and musical performances were held in the market places, while in the king's entourage musicians occupied high rank. In the Mazdak sect (a dualistic Persian religion related to Manichaeanism) music was considered to be one of the four spiritual powers.
Arabic music has been influenced by many varying cultures, such as Ancient Greek, Persian, Turkish, Indian, African (such as Berber and Swahili) as well as European. As in other art and science fields, the Arabs translated and developed Greek texts and works of music and mastered the music theory of the Greeks. The common style that developed is usually called 'Islamic' or 'Arab', though in fact it transcends religious, ethnic, geographical, and linguistic boundaries," and it has been suggested that it be called the "Near East style" (from Morocco to India).
The world of modern Arabic music has long been dominated by musical trends that have emerged from Cairo, Egypt. The city is generally considered a cultural center in the Arab world. Innovations in popular music via the influence of other regional styles have also abounded from Morocco to Saudi Arabia. In recent years, Beirut has become a major center, dictating trends in the development of Arabic pop music. Other regional styles that have enjoyed popular music status throughout the Arab world include the Algerian raï, the Moroccan Gnawa, the Kuwaiti sawt, the Egyptian el gil and Turkish Arabesque-pop music.
Arabic religious music includes Christian and Islamic music. However, Islamic music, including the singing of Qur'an readings, is structurally equivalent to Arabic secular music, while Christian Arab music has been influenced by Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Anglican, Coptic, and Maronite church music.
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