Arab identity

Arab identity (Arabic: الهوية العربية) is the objective or subjective state of perceiving oneself as an Arab and as relating to being Arab. Like other cultural identities, it relies on a common culture, a traditional lineage, the common land in history, shared experiences including underlying conflicts and confrontations. These commonalities are regional and in historical contexts, tribal. Arab identity is defined independently of religious identity, and pre-dates the spread of Islam and before spread of Judaism and Christianity, with historically attested Arab Muslim tribes and Arab Christian tribes and Arab Jewish tribes. Arabs are a diverse group in terms of religious affiliations and practices. Most Arabs are Muslim, with a minority adhering to other faiths, largely Christianity,[1] but also Druze and Baháʼí.[2][3]

Costumes of Arab men, fourth to sixth century
Costumes of Arab women, fourth to sixth century.
Artistic rendering of pre-Islamic costumes of Arab men and Arab women between fourth to sixth century

Arab identity can also be seen through a lens of national, regional or local identity. Throughout Arab history, there have been three major national trends in the Arab world. Pan-Arabism rejects the individual Arab states' existing sovereignty as artificial creations and calls for full Arab unity.


Near East in 565, showing the Ghassanids, Lakhmids, Kindah and Hejaz.

The Arabs are first mentioned in the mid-ninth century BCE as a people living in eastern and southern Syria, and the north of the Arabian Peninsula.[4]

Expansion of the Caliphate.
  Expansion under Muhammad, 622-632
  Expansion during the Rashidun Caliphate, 632-661
  Expansion during the Umayyad Caliphate, 661-750

The Arabs appear to have been under the vassalage of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–605 BCE), and the succeeding Neo-Babylonian Empire (605–539 BCE), Persian Achaemenid Empire (539–332 BCE), Greek Macedonian/Seleucid Empire and Parthian Empire. Arab tribes, most notably the Ghassanids and Lakhmids begin to appear in the southern Syrian deserts and southern Jordan from the mid 3rd century CE onwards, during the mid to later stages of the Roman Empire and Sasanian Empire.

The relation of ʿarab and ʾaʿrāb is complicated further by the notion of "lost Arabs" al-ʿArab al-ba'ida mentioned in the Qur'an as punished for their disbelief. All contemporary Arabs were considered as descended from two ancestors, Qahtan and Adnan. During the early Muslim conquests of the 7th and 8th centuries, the Arabs forged the Rashidun and then Umayyad Caliphate, and later the Abbasid Caliphate, whose borders touched southern France in the west, China in the east, Anatolia in the north, and the Sudan in the south. This was one of the largest land empires in history.


Arab nationalismEdit

Gamal Abdel Nasser was a symbol and significant player in the rise of Arab nationalism

Arab nationalism is a nationalist ideology that asserts the Arabs are a nation and promotes the unity of Arab people. In its contemporary conception, it is the belief that the Arab people are a people united by language, culture, ethnicity, history, geography and interests, and that one Arab nation will assemble the Arabs within its borders from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Sea.

Many Arabs believe that they are an old nation, exhibiting pride, for example, based on Arabic poetry and other forms of Arabic literature. In the era of the spread of Islam, nationalism was manifested by the identification of Arabs as a distinct nation within Islamic countries. In the modern era, this idea was embodied by ideologies such as Nasserism and Ba'athism, which were common forms of nationalism in the Arab world, especially in the mid-twentieth century. Perhaps the most important form of creating such an Arab state was the establishment of the United Arab Republic between Egypt and Syria, although it was short-lived. To some extent, Arab nationalism gained a new popular appeal as a result of the Arab Spring of the 2010s, calling for Arab social unity, led by the people on the streets, not the authoritarian regimes that had installed the historic forms of nationalism.

Arab socialismEdit

Arab socialism is a political ideology based on an amalgamation between Arab nationalism and socialism. Arab socialism differs from other socialist ideas prevalent in the Arab world.[5] For many, including Michel Aflaq, one of its founders, Arab socialism was a necessary step towards the consolidation of Arab unity and freedoms, since the socialist system of ownership and development alone could overcome the remnants of colonialism in the Arab world.[6][7]



Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser signing unity pact with Syrian president Shukri al-Quwatli, forming the United Arab Republic, February 1958.

Pan-Arabism is an ideology espousing the unification of the countries of North Africa and Middle East from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Sea, often referred to as the Arab world.[8] The idea is based on the integration of some or all of the Arab countries into a single political and economic framework that removes the borders between the Arab states and establishes a strong economic, cultural and military state.[9] Arab unity is an ideology that Arab nationalists see as a solution to the backwardness, occupation and oppression that the Arab citizens in all the individual states are suffering from.[10]

Arab LeagueEdit

The Arab League, formally the League of Arab States is a regional organization of Arab countries in and around North Africa, the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It was formed in Cairo on 22 March 1945 with six members: Kingdom of Egypt, Kingdom of Iraq, Transjordan (renamed Jordan in 1949), Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria.[11][12] Its charter provides for coordination among member states in economic matters, including trade relations, communications, cultural relations, travel documents and permits, social relations and health.[13]


A depiction of Hagar and Ishmael in the Arabian Desert by François-Joseph Navez.

An Arab can be defined as a member of a Semitic people, inhabiting much of the Middle East and North Africa.[14][15][16][17] The ties that bind Arabs are ethnic, linguistic, cultural, historical, nationalist, geographical, political, often also relating to religion and to cultural identity.[18] In their long history and with many local variations, Arabs have developed their distinct customs, language, architecture, fine art, literature, music, cinema, dance, media, cuisine, dress, societies, and mythology.[19]

According to both Judaism and Islam, Ishmael was the ancestor of the Ishmaelites and of the Arabs. Ishmael was the elder son of Abraham and the forefather of many prominent Arab tribes.[20]

By "Arab" I mean whoever describes himself thus … there, where he is - in his history, his memory, the place where he lives, dies and survives. There, where he is - that is to say, in the experience of a life which is both tolerable and intolerable for him.—Abdelkebir Khatibi

Arabs: name given to the ancient and present-day inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula and often applied to the peoples closely allied to them in ancestry, language, religion, and culture. Presently more than 200 million Arabs are living mainly in 21 countries; they constitute the overwhelming majority of the population in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, and the nations of North Africa. The Arabic language is the main symbol of cultural unity among these people, but the religion of Islam provides another common bond for the majority of Arabs.—Encarta Encyclopedia


The Arab world, formally the Arab homeland,[21][22][23] also known as the Arab nation or the Arab states,[24] currently consists of the 22 Arab countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. They occupy an area stretching from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Arabian Sea in the east, and from the Mediterranean Sea in the north to the Horn of Africa and the Indian Ocean in the southeast. In 2019, the combined population of the Arab world was estimated at 423 million inhabitants.[25]


Arab identity can be described as consisting of many interconnected parts:


Traditional Qahtanite genealogy.

Based on analysis of the DNA of Semitic-speaking peoples, some recent genetic studies have found Y-chromosomal links between modern Semitic-speaking peoples of the Middle East like Arabs, Hebrews, Mandaeans, Samaritans, and Assyrians.

Medieval Arab genealogists divided Arabs into three groups:

  • "Ancient Arabs" tribes that had vanished or been destroyed.
  • "Pure Arabs" descending from the Qahtan tribe, who existed before Abraham and Ishmael.
  • The "Arabized Arabs" descending from Ishmael, the elder son of Abraham through his marriage to Rala bint Mudad ibn Amr ibn Jurhum, an Arab Qahtani woman. Tribes descending from this alliance are also referred to as Adnani tribes.

Centuries later, the "Arabized Arabs" assumed the name "Pure Arabs" and the "Arabized Arabs" description was attributed to other peoples that joined Islam and created alliances with the Arab tribes.[citation needed]


Arab tribes before the spread of Islam

Concentrating on ethnic identity is another way of defining Arab identity, which can be subdivided in linguistic, cultural, social, historical, political, national or genealogical terms. In this approach, "being Arab" is based on one or several of the following criteria:

  • Genealogy: Someone who can trace his or her ancestry to the Arab tribes, from the Arabian Desert, Syrian Desert and neighboring areas.[26]
  • Ancestry: belonging to Arab people, inherited from grandparents, or denoting an ancestor or ancestors.
  • Self-concept: a person who defines himself as "Arab"
  • Attribution of identity: Someone, who is seen by others as an Arab, based on their notions of ethnicity (for example, people of northern Sudan, who can be seen both as African and/or Arab)
  • Linguistic: Someone whose first language, and, by extension, cultural expression, is Arabic.[27][28]
  • Culture: someone who was brought up with Arab culture
  • Political: Someone, whose country is a member of the League of Arab States and who shares political associations with the Arab countries. (for example, Somalis and Djiboutians)
  • Societal: Someone who lives in or identifies with an Arab society
  • Nationality: one who is a national of an Arab state


The flag of the Arab Revolt, its design and colors are the basis of many of the Arab states' flags.

National identity is one's identity or sense of belonging to one state or to one nation.[29] It is the sense of a nation as a cohesive whole, as represented by distinctive traditions, culture, language and politics.[30] Arab nationalism is a nationalist ideology celebrating the glories of Arab civilization, the language and literature of the Arabs, calling for rejuvenation and political union in the Arab world. The premise of Arab nationalism is the need for an ethnic, political, cultural and historical unity among the Arab peoples of the Arab countries.[31] The main objective of Arab nationalism was to achieve the independence of Western influence of all Arab countries.[32] Arab political strategies with the nation in order to determine the struggle of the Arab nation with the state system (nation-state) and the struggle of the Arab nation for unity.[33] The concepts of new nationalism and old nationalism are used in analysis to expose the conflict between nationalism, national ethnic nationalism, and new national political nationalism. These two aspects of national conflicts highlight the crisis known as the Arab Spring, which affects the Arab world today.[34] Suppressing the political struggle to assert the identity of the new civil state is said to clash with the original ethnic identity.[35]


Pre-Islamic Arabian goddess Allāt from the Ba‘alshamîn temple in Palmyra, first century AD

Until about the fourth century, almost all Arabs practised polytheistic religions.[36] Although significant Jewish and Christian minorities developed, polytheism remained the dominant belief system in pre-Islamic, most Arabs followed a pagan religion with a number of deities, including Hubal,[37] Wadd, Allāt,[38] Manat, and Uzza. A few individuals, the hanifs, had apparently rejected polytheism in favor of monotheism unaffiliated with any particular religion. Different theories have been proposed regarding the role of Allah in Meccan religion.[39][40][41][42] Today the majority of Arabs are Muslims, identities are often seen as inseparable. The "Verse of brotherhood" is the tenth verse of the Quranic chapter "Al-Hujurat", is about brotherhood of believers with each other.[43][44][45]

However, there were divergent currents in Pan-Arabism - religious and secular.[citation needed] Ba'athism emerged as a secular countercurrent to the pan-Islamist ambitions of political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1960s.[46] Secular nationalism and religious fundamentalism have continued to overcome each other to this day. There are also different religious denominations within Islam leading to sectarian conflict and conflict. In fact, the social and psychological distances between Sunni and Shia Muslims may be greater than the perceived distance between different religions. Because of this, Islam can be seen both as a unification and as a force of division in Arab identity.[47]


Elegant Arab Ladies on a Terrace at Sunset

Arab cultural identity is characterized by complete uniformity. Arab cultural space are historically so tightly interwoven.[48] Arab cultural identity has been assessed through four measures that measure the basic characteristics of Arab culture: religiosity, grouping, belief in gender hierarchy and attitudes toward sexual behavior. The results indicate the predominance of the professional strategies that Arab social workers have learned in their training in social work, while indicating the willingness of social workers to benefit from established strategies in their culture and society, either separately or in combination with the professional.[49] There are different aspects of Arab identity, whether ethnic, religious, national, linguistic or cultural - of different fields and analytical angles.[50][51]

The family is still at the heart of traditional Arabic letters that the fact that the family is a basic unit of social organization in the traditional Arab contemporary society may explain why it continues to exercise a significant influence on the formation of identity. At the heart of social and economic activities, this institution is still very coherent. Exercise the early and most lasting influence on the person's affiliations.—Halim Barakat


Arabic epitaph of Imru' al-Qays, son of 'Amr, king of all the Arabs", inscribed in Nabataean script. Basalt, dated in 7 Kislul, 223, viz. December 7, 328 AD. Found at Nemara in the Hauran (Southern Syria).

For some Arabs, beyond language, race, religion, tribe or region. Arabic; hence, can be considered as a common factor among all Arabs. Since the Arabic language also exceeds the country's border, the Arabic language helps to create a sense of Arab nationalism.[52] According to the Iraqi world exclusive Cece, "it must be people who speak one language one heart and one soul, so should form one nation and thus one country." There are two sides to the coin, argumentative. While the Arabic language as one language can be a unifying factor, the language is often not united at all. Accents vary from region to region, there are wide differences between written and spoken versions, many countries host bilingual citizens, many Arabs are illiterate. This leads us to examine other identifying aspects of Arabic identity.[53] Arabic, a Semitic language from the Afroasiatic language family. Modern Standard Arabic serves as the standardized and literary variety of Arabic used in writing, as well as in most formal speech, although it is not used in daily speech by the overwhelming majority of Arabs. Most Arabs who are functional in Modern Standard Arabic acquire it through education and use it solely for writing and formal settings.


A map of the Arab world.

Arab political identity characterized by restraint, compassion, hospitality, generosity, and proper conduct. Arab countries to redefine politics are linked to the fact that the political culture behind the Arabs has been overrun for centuries by successive political.[54][55] The vast majority of the citizens of the Arab countries view themselves and are seen by outsiders as "Arabs". Their sense of the Arab nation is based on their common denominators: language, culture, ethnicity, social and political experiences, economic interests and the collective memory of their place and role in history.[56]

The relative importance of these factors is estimated differently by different groups and frequently disputed. Some combine aspects of each definition, as done by Palestinian Habib Hassan Touma:[57]

"One who is a national of an Arab state, has command of the Arabic language, and possesses a fundamental knowledge of Arab tradition, that is, of the manners, customs, and political and social systems of the culture.

The Arab League, a regional organization of countries intended to encompass the Arab world, defines an Arab as:

An Arab is a person whose language is Arabic, who lives in an Arab country, and who is in sympathy with the aspirations of the Arab peoples.[58]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Religious Diversity Around The World – Pew Research Center". Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project. 4 April 2014.
  2. ^ Ori Stendel (1996). The Arabs in Palestine. Sussex Academic Press. p. 45. ISBN 1898723249. Retrieved March 4, 2014.
  3. ^ Mohammad Hassan Khalil (31 January 2013). Between Heaven and Hell: Islam, Salvation, and the Fate of Others. Oxford University Press. p. 297. ISBN 9780199945412. Retrieved March 1, 2014.
  4. ^ Myers, E. A. (2010-02-11). The Ituraeans and the Roman Near East: Reassessing the Sources. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781139484817.
  5. ^ TORREY, GORDON H.; DEVLIN, JOHN F. (1965). "Arab Socialism". Journal of International Affairs. 19 (1): 47–62. JSTOR 24363337.
  6. ^ "No Arab Bolivars: As region implodes, Arab socialism fizzles out". Middle East Eye. Retrieved 2017-11-22.
  7. ^ "Coping with the Legacy of Arab Socialism". Cato Institute. 2014-08-25. Retrieved 2017-11-22.
  8. ^ "Pan-Arabism Is Not Dead | Opinion | The Harvard Crimson". Retrieved 2017-11-22.
  9. ^ "pan-Arabism". Oxford Reference. Retrieved Jan 4, 2021.
  10. ^ "Pan-Arabism | ideology". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-11-22.
  11. ^ "Arab League". The Columbia Encyclopedia. 2013. Archived from the original on 2019-05-13.
  12. ^ Sly, Liz (12 November 2011). "Syria suspended from Arab League". Washington Post. Archived from the original on 21 May 2013.
  13. ^ "Profile: Arab League". BBC News. 2017-08-24. Retrieved 2017-11-22.
  14. ^ Naylor, Chris (2015). Postcards from the Middle East: How our family fell in love with the Arab world. Lion Books. ISBN 9780745956503.
  15. ^ "Arab | Definition of Arab in US English by Oxford Dictionaries". Oxford Dictionaries | English.
  16. ^ BOARD, V&S EDITORIAL (2015). ENGLISH - ENGLISH DICTIONARY (in German). V&S Publishers. ISBN 9789350574195.
  17. ^ "member of a semitic people spread throughout middle east, n africa etc. Crossword Clue, Crossword Solver".
  18. ^ *
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ Khan, Zafarul-Islam. "The Arab World – an Arab perspective".
  22. ^ Phillips, Christopher (12 November 2012). Everyday Arab Identity: The Daily Reproduction of the Arab World. Routledge. ISBN 9781136219603.
  23. ^ Mellor, Noha; Rinnawi, Khalil; Dajani, Nabil; Ayish, Muhammad I. (20 May 2013). Arab Media: Globalization and Emerging Media Industries. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0745637365.
  24. ^ "Majority and Minorities in the Arab World: The Lack of a Unifying Narrative". Jerusalem Center For Public Affairs.
  25. ^ "Arab Countries 2021". Retrieved 2019-11-26.
  26. ^ (Regueiro et al.) 2006; found agreement by (Battaglia et al.) 2008
  27. ^ Jankowski, James. "Egypt and Early Arab Nationalism" in Rashid Kakhlidi, ed., Origins of Arab Nationalism, pp. 244–245
  28. ^ Quoted in Dawisha, Adeed. Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century. Princeton University Press. 2003, ISBN 0-691-12272-5, p. 99
  29. ^ Tajfel, H; Turner, J.C (1986). "The Social Identity Theory of Inter-group Behavior". Psychology of Intergroup Relations.
  30. ^ "Definition of National Identity in English". Oxford Dictionaries. Archived from the original on 2015-11-17.
  31. ^ Dawisha, Adeed (2003-01-01). "Requiem for Arab Nationalism". Middle East Quarterly.
  32. ^ "Arab Nationalism: Mistaken Identity | Martin Kramer on the Middle East". 9 January 2010. Retrieved 2017-03-27.
  33. ^ "Rise of Arab nationalism - The Ottoman Empire | NZHistory, New Zealand history online". Retrieved 2017-03-27.
  34. ^ "The Rise and Fall of Arab Nationalism". Retrieved 2017-03-27.
  35. ^ "A short history of Arab Nationalism |". Archived from the original on 2017-03-28. Retrieved 2017-03-27.
  36. ^ Robert G. Hoyland (11 September 2002). Arabia and the Arabs: From the Bronze Age to the Coming of Islam. Routledge. p. 139. ISBN 978-1-134-64634-0.
  37. ^ "Is Hubal The Same As Allah?". Archived from the original on 25 March 2010. Retrieved 13 April 2010.
  38. ^ Dictionary of Ancient Deities. Oxford University Press. 2001. ISBN 0-19-514504-6.
  39. ^ Jonathan Porter Berkey (2003). The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600-1800. Cambridge University Press. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-521-58813-3.
  40. ^ Neal Robinson (5 November 2013). Islam: A Concise Introduction. Routledge. p. 75. ISBN 978-1-136-81773-1.
  41. ^ Francis E. Peters (1994). Muhammad and the Origins of Islam. SUNY Press. p. 110. ISBN 978-0-7914-1875-8.
  42. ^ Daniel C. Peterson (26 February 2007). Muhammad, Prophet of God. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-8028-0754-0.
  43. ^ Elias, Abu Amina (Jan 20, 2014). "Brotherhood in the Quran and Sunnah". Retrieved Jan 4, 2021.
  44. ^ "The Bonds of Brotherhood". Archived from the original on 2015-06-27. Retrieved 2017-11-19.
  45. ^ "Al-Hujurat chapter".
  46. ^ Lefevre, Raphael. Ashes of Hama: The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. Oxford University Press.
  47. ^ García-Arenal, Mercedes (2009-01-01). "The Religious Identity of the Arabic Language and the Affair of the Lead Books of the Sacromonte of Granada". Arabica. 56 (6): 495–528. doi:10.1163/057053909x12544602282277. JSTOR 25651684.
  48. ^ "Cultural Identity in the Islamic World | MR Online". MR Online. 17 May 2009.
  49. ^ Sabry, Tarik (2012). Arab Cultural Studies: Mapping the Field. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 9781848855595.
  50. ^ Sabry, Tarik, ed. (2012). Arab cultural studies : mapping the field. London: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1848855595.
  51. ^ Anishchenkova, Valerie (2014). Autobiographical Identities in Contemporary Arab Culture. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 9780748643417.
  52. ^ "Arab Origins: Identity, History and Islam - British Academy Blog". British Academy Blog. 2015-07-20. Archived from the original on 2017-05-16. Retrieved 2017-03-26.
  53. ^ D., Phillips, Christopher, Ph. (2013-01-01). Everyday Arab identity : the daily reproduction of the Arab world. Routledge. ISBN 9780415684880. OCLC 841752039.
  54. ^ "Arabs at the Crossroads: Political Identity and Nationalism | Middle East Policy Council".
  55. ^ Hoyt, Paul D. (1998). "Legitimacy, Identity, and Political Development in the Arab World". Mershon International Studies Review. 42 (1): 173–176. doi:10.2307/254461. JSTOR 254461.
  56. ^ Eid, Paul (2007). Being Arab: Ethnic and Religious Identity Building among Second Generation Youth in Montreal. McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP. ISBN 9780773577350.
  57. ^ 1996, p.xviii
  58. ^ Dwight Fletcher Reynolds, Arab folklore: a handbook, (Greenwood Press: 2007), p.1.