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name originally applied to the Semitic peoples of the Arabian Peninsula. It now refers to those persons whose primary language is Arabic. They constitute most of the population of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, the West Bank, and Yemen; Arab communities are also found elsewhere in the world. The term does not usually include Arabic-speaking Jews (found chiefly in North Africa and formerly also in Yemen and Iraq), Kurds, Berbers, Copts, and Druze, but it does include Arabic-speaking Christians (chiefly found in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan). Socially, the Arabs are divided into two groups: the settled Arab [fellahin=villagers, or hadar=townspeople] and the nomadic BedouinBedouin
[Arab.,=desert dwellers], primarily nomad Arab peoples of the Middle East, where they form about 10% of the population. They are of the same Semitic stock as their sedentary neighbors (the fellahin; see Arabs) and share with them a devout belief in Islam and a distrust
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The derivation of the term Arab is unclear, and the meaning of the word has changed several times through history. Some Arab scholars have equated Joktan (Gen. 10.25) with the ancient Arab patriarch Qahtan whose tribe is thought to have originated in S Arabia. The Assyrian inscriptions (9th cent. B.C.) referred to nomadic peoples inhabiting the far north of the Arabian Peninsula; the sedentary population in the south of the peninsula was not called Arab. In classical times the term was extended to the whole of the Arabian Peninsula and to all the desert areas of the Middle East, and in the Middle Ages the Arabs came to be called SaracensSaracens
, term commonly used by medieval Europeans to designate the Arabs and, by extension, the Muslims in general, whether they were Arabs, Moors, or Seljuk Turks.
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The Arab Empire

It was the Muslims from Arabia, nomads and settled people alike, whose invasions in the 6th and 7th cent. widely diffused both the Arabic language and IslamIslam
, [Arab.,=submission to God], world religion founded by the Prophet Muhammad. Founded in the 7th cent., Islam is the youngest of the three monotheistic world religions (with Judaism and Christianity). An adherent to Islam is a Muslim [Arab.,=one who submits].
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. They founded a vast empire, which at its height stretched from the Atlantic Ocean on the west, across North Africa and the Middle East, to central Asia on the east. The Arabs became the rulers of many different peoples, and gradually a great Arab civilization was built up. Although many of its cultural leaders were not ethnically Arabs (some were not even Muslims, but Christians and Jews), the civilization reflected Arab values, tastes, and traditions. Education flourished in the Islamic lands, and literature, philosophy, medicine, mathematics, and science were particularly developed by the Arabs. At the same time in all the provinces of the huge empire, except in Persia, Arabic became the chief spoken language. The waves of Arab conquest across the East and into Europe widened the scope of their civilization and contributed greatly to world development. In Europe they were particularly important in Sicily, which they held from the 9th to the late 11th cent., and the civilization of the MoorsMoors,
nomadic people of the northern shores of Africa, originally the inhabitants of Mauretania. They were chiefly of Berber and Arab stock. In the 8th cent. the Moors were converted to Islam and became fanatic Muslims.
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 in Spain was part of the great Arabic pattern. Christian scholars in those two lands gained much from Islamic knowledge, and scholasticism and the beginnings of modern Western science were derived in part from the Arabs. The Arabs also introduced Europe to the Greek philosophers, whose writings they had already translated into Arabic. The emergence of the Seljuk Turks in the 11th cent. and of the Ottoman Turks in the 13th cent. ended the specifically Arab dominance in Islam, though Muslim culture still remained on the old Arab foundations.

The Arabs in the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries

In the 20th cent., some Arab leaders attempted to form an Arab nation, which would unite the whole Arabic-speaking world from Morocco on the west, across the Middle East, to the borders of Iran and Turkey. Since 1945 most of the Arab nations have combined to form the Arab LeagueArab League,
popular name for the League of Arab States,
formed in 1945 in an attempt to give political expression to the Arab nations. The original charter members were Egypt, Iraq, Jordan (then known as Transjordan), Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria.
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, its purpose being to consider matters of common interest, such as policy regarding Israel and colonialism. With 22 member states in the Arab League by the mid-1990s, attempts to forge a unity among the Arabs have continued. Perhaps the most significant economic factor for the Arabs has been the discovery and development of the petroleum industry; two thirds of the world's oil reserves are thought to be in the Middle East. Since World War II a continual problem for the Arab states has been their relations with the Jewish state of Israel, created out of former Arab territory; hostility between them has resulted in four Arab-Israeli wars.


See J. B. Glubb, A Short History of the Arab Peoples (1969); P. K. Hitti, History of the Arabs (10th ed. 1970); M. Khadduri, Political Trends in the Arab World (1972); M. Mansoor, Political and Diplomatic History of the Arab World, 1900–67 (7 vol., 1972); Z. N. Zeine, The Emergence of Arab Nationalism (3d. ed. 1973); W. F. Abboushi, The Angry Arabs (1974); A. S. Kantawi, Aesthetics and Ritual in the United Arab Emirates (1983); P. Mansfield, The Arabs (rev. ed. 1985); B. Pridham, ed., The Arab Gulf and the Arab World (1988); A. Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples (1991); E. Rogan, The Arabs (2009).

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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The term Arab originally meant a member of the Semitic race of people of the Arabian Peninsula east of Palestine. They were the nomadic Bedouins of the desert. Today, Arabs live throughout the world, including parts or all of Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Some Arabs hold Israeli citizenship. (Note that Iran is not an Arab country. Its roots go back to ancient Persia, with a totally different history and culture.) Although not all Arabs speak Arabic, the language is one of the great unifying and distinguishing characteristics of the people, even though dialects differ from place to place.

It is a common misconception that Islam is a unifying force in the Arab world. The truth is that only about 12 percent of Arabs worldwide are Muslims. Not all Arab traditions are Islamic, and Islam does not unite Arabs. Muhammad once commented, "The desert Arabians are most confirmed in unbelief and hypocrisy." There are more Muslims in Indonesia alone than in all Arab countries combined. Some thirty million Chinese are Muslim. In many countries, Muslim and Christian Arabs live side by side, although it is true that in most Arab countries, Islam is the predominate religion. In the Middle East it is not uncommon to meet Arab Muslims, Christians, Druze, and Jews all living within a few blocks of each other.

During the time of the Crusades in the Middle Ages, it became the custom of Christians to use the terms "Muslim," "Pagan," "Turk," "Infidel," and "Arab" almost interchangeably. Today, the Western "man on the street" usually thinks "Muslim" when he hears the word "Arab." This misapprehension is the result of mistaking religion for culture.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a group of peoples inhabiting the Arab countries of western Asia and North Africa. The Arabs comprise most of the population of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the People’s Republic of Southern Yemen, Oman and Muscat, Trucial Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Republic (UAR), Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, and Sudan. In addition, Arabs are found in Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Israel, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Somalia, the Republic of Chad, Tanzania, and other East African countries. There are considerable groups of Arab immigrants in North and South America, France, and other countries. The total number of Arabs, including those residing outside Arab countries, was estimated at about 96 million in 1967, of whom about 32 million were in Asia and 63 million in Africa. Their language is Arabic. Most Arabs are Sunnite Muslims. Some are members of other Muslim sects—for example, the Shiites in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon; the Druzes in Syria and Lebanon; and the Ibadites in North Africa. Others are members of various Christian churches—for example, the Coptic Church in the UAR and the Maronite, Orthodox, Uniate, and other churches in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.

It is thought that the ancient Semitic tribes from which the ancient Arab people later originated occupied the Arabian Peninsula as far back as the second millennium B.C. During the first millennium B.C., the first Arab state formations—Palmyra (Tadmore), Nabataea, and Lihyan on the northern borders of Arabia, and Kindah in Central Arabia—were established. A single Arab people was being formed. At that time the tribal system was disintegrating in Arab society and the process of class formation had begun among the sedentary tribes. However, the old patriarchal-clan relationships and the tribal ties persisted for a long time. Among the nomadic and semisedentary populations they have survived to the present day and have included such customs as the blood feud, avunculate, and cousin marriage.

In the fifth and sixth centuries, Arab tribes formed the greater part of the population of the Arabian Peninsula. The penetration by the Arabs of neighboring countries intensified in the first half of the seventh century with the rise of Islam; the period of Arab conquests began then, resulting in the formation of the vast Arabian Caliphate, extending from India to the Atlantic Ocean and from Central Asia to Central Africa, where the population, which spoke Hamito-Semitic languages close to Arabic, accepted the language, religion (Islam), and many elements of the material and spiritual culture of the Arabs and became quickly Arabized. The Arabs, for their part, absorbed a considerable amount of the culture of the peoples they had subjected. A distinctive Arab culture developed which has strongly influenced world culture. The Arabian Caliphate, which had been established by force of arms, disintegrated by the tenth century as a result of the struggle for liberation by the conquered peoples and of the growth of feudal separatism. In the 16th century the countries of Southwest Asia (except for a considerable part of the Arabian Peninsula) and of North Africa (with the exception of Morocco) became part of the Ottoman Empire.

From the 19th century, Arab territories were systematically subjected to plundering and aggression by the colonialist states of Great Britain, France, Italy, and Spain; a part of the territory of Morocco had already been seized by Portugal in the 15th and 16th centuries. However, the struggle waged by the Arabs against the colonizers never ceased, and it became particularly intense at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. From the 1940’s to the 1960’s the powerful surge of the anti-imperialist movement of national liberation ended in the achievement of independence by most of the Arab countries.

The great majority of the Arabs are sedentary in their mode of life and a considerable proportion of them (fellahin) live in villages and engage in agriculture and horticulture. In the towns of most Arab countries a national bourgeoisie, working class, and intelligentsia have developed; there is a considerable stratum of handicraftsmen among the urban Arab population. Some Arabs have retained a seminomadic way of life, combining agriculture with herding and grazing of livestock (sheep and goats). There are also entirely nomadic Arabs engaged mainly in camel raising (Bedouins). In the past the main source of income for nomads was servicing caravan trails. The economic, material, and spiritual ways of life of the Arabs of different countries vary considerably. Agriculture is, as a rule, irrigational among the Arabs. Camels, asses, horses, and, less frequently, buffaloes (in southern Iraq) or zebus (eastern Arabia and the Hejaz) are used as draft animals. Modern agricultural techniques are being introduced in a number of Arab countries, including Syria, Iraq, the United Arab Republic, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. Traditional dwellings vary in different countries and regions. The Mediterranean type of house—a closed-off complex of rooms around a small inner courtyard—is prevalent; in southern Arabia, the houses are tower-like structures with several stories; the rural poor live mainly in one-room structures with an outer courtyard; huts made of palm leaves or reeds are also found, particularly in southern Iraq. The nomadic or seminomadic population still lives in four-cornered tents, sewn out of wide strips of woolen cloth, and nowadays also frequently out of tarpaulin.

In the towns, European clothing is increasingly replacing the traditional costume of white shirt, woolen cloak, and headcloth, almost identical for men and women. The women wear many metal and glass ornaments, such as necklaces and rings, on their fingers, in their ears, and sometimes in their noses. In Central Arabia and to some extent in North Africa, girls tattoo their foreheads and chins, and sometimes also their cheeks, lips, breasts, and feet, with blue dye. The diet consists mainly—depending on the locality—of barley or wheat bread; wheat, millet, maize, or rice porridge; figs; beans; lentils; peas; and, among the pastoral population, dairy products.

The growth of industry in the Arab countries, the adoption of a sedentary way of life by the nomads, and the growth in the number of rural and urban workers are all dealing a severe blow to the survival of family-tribal and feudal relationships. In a number of Arab countries (United Arab Republic, Algeria, Syria) important social and economic changes of an anticapitalist nature have occurred as of the 1960’s. A movement is developing to unite Arab peoples in the struggle against imperialism and for social progress.


Beliaev, E. A. Araby, islam i Arabskii Khalifat ν rannee srednevekov’e. Moscow, 1965.
D’iakonov, I. M. “Narody drevnei Perednei Azii.” In Peredneaziatskii etnograficheskii sb., vol. 1. Moscow, 1958.
Krachkovskii, I. Iu. “Istoricheskii roman ν sovremennoi arabskoi literature.” Izbr. soch., vol. 3. Moscow-Leningrad, 1956.
Lutskii, V. B. “Problema arabskogo edinstva.” Sovetskaia etnografiia, 1957, no. 1.
Narody Afriki. Moscow, 1954.
Narody Perednei Azii Moscow, 1957.
Pershits, A. I. Khoziaistvo i obshchtestvenno-politicheskii stroi Severnoi Aravii ν XIX-pervoi treti XX v. Moscow, 1961.
Tahir Abd al-Jalil. Al-badu wa al-ashair fi al-bilad al-Arabia (Bedouins and Tribes in Arab Countries). Cairo, 1955.
“Al-Arab.” In Encyclopédie de l’Islam, vol. 1. Paris, 1960.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
With a creaking and rending of breaking wood it collapsed beneath the Arabs, leaving Tarzan, Abdul, and the girl alone upon the frail platform at the top.
Alone he could have sprung into the midst of that close-packed mob, and, laying about him after the fashion of Numa, the lion, have struck the Arabs with such consternation that escape would have been easy.
At Oran he spent a day wandering through the narrow, crooked alleys of the Arab quarter enjoying the strange, new sights.
Here Tarzan purchased a better mount than the one he had selected at Bouira, and, entering into conversation with the stately Arab to whom the animal had belonged, learned that the seller was Kadour ben Saden, sheik of a desert tribe far south of Djelfa.
"I caught only a glimpse of an Arab in a dark-blue burnoose and white turban," replied Tarzan.
Joe, who had immediately sprung up after his fall, just as one of the swiftest horsemen rushed upon him, bounded like a panther, avoided his assailant by leaping to one side, jumped up behind him on the crupper, seized the Arab by the throat, and, strangling him with his sinewy hands and fingers of steel, flung him on the sand, and continued his headlong flight.
We'll carry him off in the very teeth of those Arab rascals!
He met the death he deserved, and he met it with the stoicism of the Arab.
Playing before one of the Arab tents was a little girl of ten--a black-haired, black-eyed little girl who, with her nut-brown skin and graceful carriage looked every inch a daughter of the desert.
She shrunk aside in an attempt to scramble from the path of the leathern-faced old Arab; but she was not quick enough.
"There are some things dearer to an Arab, Jenssen, than money," returned the first speaker--"revenge is one of them."
Both were tall and bearded, and the exposure to sun and wind had given an almost Arab hue to the European's complexion.