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Q: Arabs ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: Arabs
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: nels96-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 13 Apr 2003 11:32 PDT
Expires: 13 May 2003 11:32 PDT
Question ID: 190000
What or Who or Why is an Arab an Arab?
Subject: Re: Arabs
Answered By: mosquitohawk-ga on 13 Apr 2003 11:56 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Greetings nels96,

An interesting question I'm sure many people have wondered themselves,
I'll do my best to shed light on the situation for you.

We'll start with the dictionary, I consulted
( and came up with
the following definition(s):

1. A member of a Semitic people inhabiting Arabia, whose language and
Islamic religion spread widely throughout the Middle East and northern
Africa from the seventh century.
2. A member of an Arabic-speaking people. 

So according to definition number one, an arab is a person living in
Arabia, the Middle East or northern Africa and/or speaks an Arabic
language. My first question, where is Arabia exactly? That takes me to
my next step, using again, I queried for 'Arabia'. The
definition is:

"A peninsula of southwest Asia between the Red Sea and the Persian
Gulf. Politically, it includes Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, the United
Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait. Arabia has an estimated one
third of the world's oil reserves."

So now we know where Arabia is, but what does it mean to speak an
Arabic language? Again, I am consulting and find the
definition of 'Arabic' to be:

"A Semitic language consisting of numerous dialects that is the
principal language of Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, and
parts of northern Africa."

So the answer to your question is:

It seems the word 'Arab' tends to be more of an identifying word to
describe a person's place of origin. As such, an Arab is a person who
lives in or hails from any of the following countries/areas: northern
Africa, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar,
Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and/or Egypt.

nels96, I hope you've found this explanation helpful. Please remember
to request clarification if necessary, before rating my answer.

Best regards -- mosquitohawk-ga
nels96-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars

Subject: Re: Arabs
From: magnesium-ga on 13 Apr 2003 12:34 PDT
Excellent answer! From my many contacts with persons from the Middle
East, I would say that an Arab is anyone who considers himself/herself
to be an Arab. It is not a term which is easily defined in textbook
Subject: Re: Arabs
From: surajambar-ga on 13 Apr 2003 13:30 PDT
Magnesium-ga has the right idea.  Self-identification is what matters;
changes to self-identification through the course of history are
indeed the reason why there is such a diversity of dictionary answers.

A much simplified historical explanation, which ignores the complex
strands of identity within pre-Islamic Arabia itself, is that the
inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula (the region mosquitohawk-ga
defines above) were the first Arabs.  Today, Arab identity is much
wider geographically.  This happened because of the spread of Islam
outside of the Arabian peninsula beginning in the 630s.  The majority
of the local populations in certain conquered areas (like those that
would become modern Iraq) were by no means *replaced by* Arabs,
although there was much migration from the peninsula.  Rather, over a
process of centuries the populations began to speak Arabic, to take
part in Arabic cultural forms, and, most importantly, to identify
themselves as Arabs.  Most Arabs in places like Iraq and Egypt today
are descended both from migrants from the peninsula and local
populations who became Arabicized.  This process was not limited to
those who became Muslim.  For instance the Greek Orthodox Christians
of Palestine gradually began to identify themselves as Arabs as well. 
North Africa (and for centuries Spain) also became Arabized, though
the process was not complete and large populations (the majority in
some regions of Morocco and Algeria) are not Arabs but Berbers.

This process of Arabization did not happen, however, everywhere Islam
spread.  The whole of what is now Iran was conquered by the early
Islamic state by the 650s.  Though today the inhabitants of Iran are
largely Muslim, they are not Arab (except the population of the
southwestern province of Khuzestan).  Islam also spread into Central
Asia, West Africa, India, and island Southeast Asia, but converts in
these regions kept their languages and non-Arab identities, partly
because the spread of Islam into these regions was much later, partly
because the Arabic language was far more alien to these peoples than
it was to the peoples of the Fertile Crescent (Iraq, Syria, and
Palestine) who already had contact with Arabs and spoke a language
related to Arabic known as Aramaic.

So, to simplify, an Arab is either: 

1. A person from (or with family roots in) a broad swathe of land
stretching from the Atlantic coast of Africa to southwest Iran and
from Syria to Chad who has diverse ancestors of any number of
ethnicities - who identifies himself or herself as Arab.
2. A person from one of several small tribal ethnic minorities in the
countries of Central Asia with ancestral roots in the Arabian
peninsula - who identifies himself or herself as Arab.
3. An Arabic speaker with ancestral roots anywhere who self-identifies
with Arab society and culture (in Arabic: musta'rib)
Subject: Re: Arabs
From: isorg-ga on 27 Apr 2003 11:23 PDT
The Islamic State at its peak ruled an area from Southern France and
North Africa, through Arabia and the Middle East, into Asia upto
Indonesia. It ruled it on the basis of Islam and the people were
happy. The Islamic State was broken up over the course of many years
by foreign enemies who acted partly by instilling in the citizens of
the State a multitude of foreign, alien and false concepts which
worked to incite rebellion against the Islamic State.

One such concept was that of "Arab nationalism". The Arabs were
encouraged to think of themselves as being superior than the rest, by
virtue of their "Arab-ness". As a consequence, they were encouraged by
the British to fight with their assistance against the seat of the
Islamic State, which was Turkish. Following the fall of the Islamic
State in 1924, the Islamic State was divided into the Muslim States
that currently exist.

In the Middle East, the Arab rulers (who were agents of the colonial
powers Britain and France) tried to unite and rule their countries on
the basis of Arab nationalism, rather than Islam.

This Google question and answer of what exactly is "Arab" illustrates
the fallacy of trying to build a nation on the basis of Arab
nationalism. It is not possible even to clearly and unequivocally
define what an Arab is. How can you unite a nation on this basis?

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