An open door to the Arab world


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The Arab people


Who are the Arabs? It's an easy question to ask, but a difficult one to answer. 


Shared language is generally recognised as one of the defining characteristics of Arabs. The word "Arab" may be derived from a verb which means to "speak clearly" (i.e. be easily understood by other Arabs). However, many Arabs speak local dialects which are not always mutually intelligible. 

Within the Arab world there are also distinct groups - the Berbers, the Kurds, etc - whose main language is not Arabic, though they may have absorbed some of the prevailing Arab culture.

There is no doubt that Islam has played a major part in shaping Arab culture. The prophet of Islam was an Arab and Arabic is the language of its holy book, the Qur'an; the Arab people were the nucleus for the expansion of Islam. But it would be wrong to assume that Muslims are mainly Arabs or that Arabs are necessarily Muslims. 

Today, there are almost a billion Muslims worldwide; the largest group live in the Indian sub-continent, and only 20% of the total are Arabs. Among the Arabs, there are substantial Christian communities in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. Many of the older Arab cities also have a Jewish quarter, though the number of Jews in Arab countries today is small.

For some Arab writers, the proud heritage of the past contrasts starkly with the present. In the 20th century the failed dreams of Arab unity, successive defeats in the conflict with Israel and corrupt or oppressive regimes in many countries mean that a shared perception of suffering has also become one of the Arabs' defining characteristics.

There is room for argument about which countries should be regarded as "Arab". For the purposes of this website, AL-BAB decided to consider "Arab" countries as those which belong to the Arab League

See Wikipedia: Arab; Arab world



Understanding Arabs: 
A Guide for Modern Times 

by Margaret Nydell. 

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History of the Arab Peoples 

by Albert Hourani. 

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Defining 'an Arab'


An Arab is whoever speaks Arabic,
wishes to be an Arab and calls himself an Arab.

- Sati Husri

Those who belong to the Arab ethnic group, the Arab people or the Arab nation, speak a form of Arabic and consider it their "natural" language; regard the history and cultural characteristics of the Arabs as their inheritance; assert an Arab identity or consciousness.

- Maxime Rodinson

By "Arab" I mean whoever describes himself thus … there, where he is - in his history, his memory, the place where he lives, dies and survives. There, where he is - that is to say, in the experience of a life which is both tolerable and intolerable for him.

- Khatibi

Arabs: name given to the ancient and present-day inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula and often applied to the peoples closely allied to them in ancestry, language, religion, and culture. Presently more than 200 million Arabs are living mainly in 21 countries; they constitute the overwhelming majority of the population in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, and the nations of North Africa. The Arabic language is the main symbol of cultural unity among these people, but the religion of Islam provides another common bond for the majority of Arabs.

- Encarta Encyclopedia


Last revised on 05 August, 2015