Last updated on: 5/16/2008 | Author:

Who Are the Arabs?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)


This site was archived on Aug. 3, 2021. The two-state solution is no longer the most popular solution among the jurisdictions involved. A reconsideration of the topic is possible in the future.

Steve Tamari, PhD, in a teaching module titled “Who are the Arabs?” on the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies website (accessed Feb. 13, 2004), wrote the following:

“Arabs are those who speak Arabic as their native tongue and who identify themselves as Arabs. The Arab world is not to be confused with the ‘Middle East,’ a strategic designation developed during the heyday of the British empire, which encompasses such non-Arab countries as Israel, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. And though Arab history is intertwined with Muslim history, the Arab world does not correspond to the Muslim world. There are significant non-Muslim Arab communities and most Muslims are, in fact, from large non-Arab countries such as Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, and many of the countries of sub-Saharan Africa.”

Feb. 13, 2004

Bernard Lewis, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, in his 1993 book The Arabs in History, wrote:

“The term Arab is first encountered in the ninth century B.C., describing the Bedouin of the north Arabian steppe [Syro-Arabian desert]. It remained in use for several centuries in this sense among the settled peoples of the neighboring countries. In Greek and Roman usage it was extended to cover the whole peninsula, including the settled people of the oases and the relatively advanced civilization of the south-west. In Arabia itself it seems still to have been limited to the nomads, although the common language of sedentary and nomad Arabians was called Arabic. After the Islamic conquests and during the period of the Arab Empire it marked off the conquerors of Arabian origin from the mass of the conquered peoples. As the Arab kingdom was transformed into a cosmopolitan Islamic Empire it came to denote — in external rather than in internal usage — the variegated culture of that Empire, produced by people of many nations and religions, but expressed in the Arabic language and conditioned by Arab taste and tradition.

With the fusion of the Arab conquerors and the Arabized conquered and their common subjection to other ruling elements, it gradually lost its ethnic content and became a social term, applied mainly to the nomads who had preserved more faithfully than any others the original Arabian way of life and language. The Arabic-speaking peoples of the settled countries were usually classed simply as Muslims, sometimes as ‘sons of the Arabs’, to distinguish them from Muslims using other languages. While all these different usages have survived in certain contexts to the present day, a new one born of the impact of the West has in the course of the twentieth century become increasingly important. It is that which regards the Arabic-speaking peoples as a nation or group of sister nations in the modern sense, linked by a common territory, language, and culture and a common aspiration to political independence and unity.”


Raphael Patai, PhD, the late Professor of Cultural Anthropology, in his 1983 book titled The Arab Mind, wrote:

“The term ‘Arab’ referred in pre-Islamic times to the people who inhabited the Arabian Peninsula and the Syrian Desert. It appears in Assyrian records: in 854 B.C. Gindibu the Arab with one thousand camel troops from Aribi territory joined Bir-‘idri of Damascus against Shalmanassar III in the Battle of Qarqar. In this first historical appearance of the Arabs they are associated with camels — evidently they were camel-herding desert Bedouins — and throughout the ensuing twenty-eight centuries, the association between Arabs and the desert has never ceased…The conceptual association between Arab and Bedouin was and remained so close that frequently when an Arab author uses ‘Arab’ what he actually means is ‘Bedouin.’ This is how Ibn Khaldun, the famous fourteenth-century historian, uses the term ‘Arab,’ and this is how the Bedouins refer to themselves to this day.

The foundation of Islam by the Prophet Muhammad (570-632) and the Islamization of Arabia during his lifetime marked the beginning of the large-scale Arab expansion outside the Arabian Peninsula and the Syrian Desert. From this time on, the term ‘Arab’ assumed a second meaning: it came to denote all the peoples who, after having been converted to Islam, gave up their ancestral languages and adopted Arabic instead. Simultaneously, the Arab conquerors of the new lands lost their originally tribal character, settled down, and became town dwellers. The fate of the Arabic language in these new countries differed from place to place, but in general it can be stated that in several countries the initial distinction between the Arab conquerors and the local populations gradually diminished and disappeared. Within a relatively short period the ‘Arabs’ had become the only, or the predominant, population element in a huge area in North Africa and in Southwest Asia.”