Arab American Heritage Month: Keeping Our Roots Alive
BY: Leila Diab/Arab America Contributing Writer
In the United States and around the world, government officials have designated April as Arab Heritage month to recognize, celebrate and acknowledge the cultural dignity and universal acceptance of Arabs, which goes beyond the cultural divide.
There are 22 countries that make up the Arab world. Stretching across many lines of reshaped boundaries overtime and conquests in the sand. Present day boundaries from the Middle East, and North Africa (Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Sudan), Mauritania, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, the Comoros Island, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Mauritania and Palestine. And each one of these countries holds on to their literate and non-literate cultural traditions.
Many Arabs have often proclaimed, living under the daylight or dark night of the same sky, there is no boundary line drawn between their commonality of speaking the Arabic language, remembering traditional stories told by their families and reciting memorable poems of joy, love, gardens, and their homeland for generations.
Arab American heritage month is a propitious time to become acquainted with the main figures in the Arab world who have impacted philosophers, and many individual thoughts, themes, art motifs, and literature.
For example, we can go back in time to the written Law Code of Hammurabi, dated 1728-1686 B.C. Babylon, Iraq and known as the oldest deciphered writings in ancient times.
Historically noted, Hammurabi, the Arab, wrote over 300 codes of law to preserve and unify the populace with law and order in his empire. Today, he is best known for his phrase, “Eye for an eye.”
Scholars have noted that Hammurabi’s codes of written laws had prospered long before the Bible was written or the civilizations of the Greek or Romans were magnified.
However, one of Hammurabi’s most significant rules of law was to seek a desire for justice for all. An incredible attribute, in today’ world, that has sown the common thread of humanitarian conscientiousness and work advocates for justice and universal human rights.
I asked one of my Palestinian friends who is now living in America what Arab American Heritage Month meant to him. He replied, “People can take my home, my land, my human rights, my food or water, etc., but they can never ever take away or deny me and my family our cultural identity and human dignity. I’m proud to be an Arab. I hope that non-Arabs will develop an understanding of our traditions and aspirations, during our Arab American Heritage Month as not separate, but equal people, of the same desires, freedoms, and future dreams of acceptance and belonging.”
Accordingly, Hammurabi stated in his writings that he wants “to make justice visible in the land, to destroy the wicked person and the evil-doer, that the strong might not injure the weak.” The laws themselves support this compassionate claim and protect widows, orphans, and others from being harmed or exploited.
Arab heritage is not a border that can be crossed without bridging the cultural divide. Presently, Arabs have already bridged the cultural divide with combined and tasteful images, from the foods Arabs eat, like hummus, falafel or baba ghannoush; to the poetry, songs, and artistic geometric designs on the Al Humbra palace in Morocco; to the embroidered village dresses in Palestine; and to science and mathematical achievements of Arabs.
And to be reminded that Shakespeare was influenced by the Arab literature of Kais wa Leila to write Romeo and Juliet. Arabs have crossed many borders to influence other cultures and to share their skillful knowledge of ideas and discoveries, all in the sense of belonging to humanity to change the world – and change the world they did…for the better.
Who are the Arabs? Their cultural heritage, philosophy, art, and poetry has defined them as people of creative stance for centuries.
During April, Arabs, whether Christian, Muslim or other, inside and outside of their country, will always keep their roots alive and maintain their proud cultural awareness and strong ties to their families and ancestral homeland.