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Common Misconceptions about Arab Identity and Culture

posted on: Oct 12, 2021

Arab identity
Source: The Arab Identity in a Broken Hourglass

By: Sara Tawfik/ Arab America Contributing writer

To much of the Western world, proper education and further understanding can eliminate many misconceptions about Arab culture and identity which, despite being unknown to most of the Western society, have a rich diverse history. Due to the lack of knowledge, Arabs are often misrepresented in western media, and subject to ridiculous entertainment. Unfortunately, it has become a common trend for the large crowd to base opinions and attitudes on stereotypes most of which have been fabricated and shown throughout entertainment and social media. Arab identity, which nowadays includes many ethnic groups with different tongues, is misunderstood and often confused to a mere race. Arab identity and culture are not what you might all assume!

Platforms such as Arab America give space to educate users and visitors on how to accurately portray the Arabs of American and their identity. Fortunately, there is a promising improvement in the way Arabs are portrayed, and we strive to break negative stereotypes of Arabs and Arab Americans. Hence, This article is intended to refute common misconceptions about the Arab identity, and answer some relevant questions about Arab culture.

Common Misconceptions About the Arab Identity

The media has created a negative image about Arabs depicting them as Terrorists and dessert-dwellers. Yet for centuries, Arabs have been messengers of constructive thoughts, and carriers of a rich civilization. Within this section, we’ll be critically analyzing and debunking these stereotypical misconceptions. In fact, Arab culture has flourished in many parts of world: Arabian peninsula, Iraq, Persia, Egypt, Maghreb, Africa, Andalusia, Turkey, India, Malaysia and Indonesia … Therefore, it is worth getting beyond this wrong stereotype and having its due estimation by recognizing many of the characteristics that make it authentic and powerful.

Source: Unsplash

All Arabs are Muslims, and All Muslims are Arabs

Although the majority of the Arab population is Muslim, there is still a wide population of Arabs of other beliefs and faiths. Arabs are religiously diverse: there are around 93% of Muslims residing within the Arab communities, but there is also a sufficient number of Eastern Orthodox or Catholic Arabs that reside in the Arab world as well. The largest community of Christians in the Arab world currently lives in Egypt, making up the largest Coptic Orthodox population. As for the Muslim population, Arabs make up around 15 – 18% of the Muslim world population. Countries with the largest Muslim population include Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey. Islam is also practiced within regions of Africa and Eurasia. Although many of these populations identify as Muslim, they are not of Arab decent.

Arabs are Uncivilized or Dangerous

Before analyzing this one, it is worth noting that depending on modern media, it’s easy to fit Arabs into this description because they are either depicted as desert-dwellers that don’t understand modern civilization, or dangerous terrorists. There are two major characters within Western cinema that depict Arabs as the vulgar villain, and this steadily increased after the attacks on September 11, 2001, or the dubious dessert-dweller who lacks understanding of science or civilization. However, we can definitely say that viewing Arab people as dangerous is an over-generalization that has occurred due to the negative influence of media on the Arab identity. The Arab civilization is highly developed and has a balance of both modern and ancient cities intertwined. This explanation of the Arab world debunks the stereotype that “Arabs are uncivilized”. In order to create characters of the Arab identity, one must actually study it and include Arab narratives within their story-lines.

The Siege is one example of a film depicting Arabs in a negative light
Source: RogerEbert.com

Arab is a Race

Arabs are comprised of a multi-ethnic people, that include over 20 separate and unique countries. Arabs are considered a Semitic people, this means that they speak one of three languages — Arabic, Hebrew, and Aramaic. However, the Arab world stretches out from the Middle East to North Africa, to include many races and origins: Copts, Europeans mainly Turks and Romans, Berbers, Tuaregs… who can have their different local tongues and specific culture and history. Thus, it’s important to recognize that Arabic speakers, nowadays, are from different origins and ethnic groups and not from one race.

Questions About Arab Culture

How is Arab Culture defined?

It should be emphasized that there isn’t one “true” Arab culture amidst the 22 seperate countries that are all considered Arab countries. There are over 200 million Arabs worldwide, and being Arab or having an Arab identity is based off of characteristics surrounding a specific Arab country. Because Arabs are such a diverse people, there are cultures within country and religion that should be considered when questioning the culture.

What land is Arab culture primarily located?

The Middle East and North Africa are the primary areas of location, and includes 22 different companies. The 22 countries include Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the UnitedĀ ArabĀ Emirates and Yemen.

How old is Arab culture?

The first time Arabs were ever mentioned was in the 9th Century BCE. Arabs were developed in west-central Arabian Peninsula around the 7th century. The manifestation of Arabic as a language was invented around the 8th century shortly afterwards.

The Arab Identity does not just fit a specific mold that Western society has put it in. There is still so much to learn about these wildly diverse ethnic groups of people that make up around 200 million of the world population. To put this specific group (or groups) of people in a box is separating them from their identity. To learn more about the Arab identity and culture, check out our blog!