Article 302: Modern Arab Identity through Nationalism

August 6, 2011
National League East
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Hasan A. Yahya, Ph.Ds, a writer from the Holy Land

 Many readers have less knowledge of the Middle East Arab countries. In the 20th century., Arab leaders have 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 League, 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.

Arabs comprise less than one-quarter of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. Arabic is a Semitic language, as are Aramaic, Hebrew, Amharic, and some other languages. In its original Arabic meaning, an Arab is a pastoral nomad. Before the introduction of Islam in the seventh century C.E., Arabs participated in most ancient Near Eastern civilizations as traders, auxiliary warriors, and as providers of camels and other desert produce. They migrated with their extended kin and animals, following seasonal patterns of available water and vegetation, and made a sophisticated adaptation to arid environments.

The roots of Arab as any other people was primitive with different names. Arabs were known as nomads, or Bedouins who live in a harsh dry air, and salty hot unfriendly environment with little limited essential resources of food and water to survive.  It is not a choice to be a Bedouin, but by force of location and environment:

“The Bedouin is no gypsy roaming aimlessly for the sake of roaming. He represents the best adaptation of human life to desert conditions. Wherever grass grows, there he goes seeking pasture. Nomadism is as much a scientific mode of living in the Nufud as industrialism is in Detroit or Manchester.” (Hitti, 1996)

The land was almost completely desert with only a narrow strip of habitable land round the periphery large island surrounded by water on three sides and by sand on the fourth(Red See, Arab See, and Persian(or Arab) Gulf.

According to historical and linguistic resources An Arab  means Arabi, a person who is identified as such on three ethnic grounds: genealogical, linguistic and cultural The plural is (Arabs – al-Arab) , refers to the ethnic group at large. In term of race, however they are considered caucashian. Ethnically they were distinguished from Persians and Romans, Their roots go back to three one or more of the following three factors: Genealogical, Linguistic and Political

The genealogical factor: someone who can trace his or her ancestry to the tribal roots – the original inhabitants of the Arab Peninsula. This definition covers fewer self-identified Arabs used in medieval times, for example by Ibn Khaldun. Who distinguish between two types of  Arabs, one of savage ‘araab, and city dwellers Arab. 
The linguistic factor: someone whose by cultural expression, is Arabic. This definition covers most Arabs in modern times. Certain groups that fulfill this criterion reject this definition on the basis of genealogy, such an example may be seen in the
The political factor: any person who is a citizen of a country where Arabic is either the national language  or one of the official languages and/or a citizen of a country which may simply be a member of the Arab League. This definition may exclude the entire Arabs outside Arab countries, but include Bedouins, and other non-Arab ethnic groups such as the Berbers, the Kurds, the Arminians, the somali and tha Pagant tribes of south Sudan.

So, an Arab is a  member of a Semitic people inhabiting Arabia, whose language and Islamic religion spread widely throughout the Middle East and northern Africa from the seventh century.

According to the Arab League (1946) defined Arab as “a person whose language is Arabic, who lives in an Arabic speaking country, who is in sympathy with the aspirations of the Arabic speaking peoples”.

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. Therefore they are called al-Adnaniyyun, or al-Qahtan.

Arab population in modern times are  estimated to be approximately between 350 and  422 million according to researchers methodologies. The  Arabic language gained greater prominence with the rise of Islam in the 7th century AD as the language of the Qur’an, and Arabic language and culture were more widely disseminated as a result of early Islamic expansions.

Arabs as Bedouins were best described as democratic as well as aristocratic person by Hitti, he wrote:

“The Arabian in general and the Bedouin in particular is a born democrat. He meets his sheikh on equal footing. The society in which he lives levels everything down. The Arabian until recently never used the title malik (king) except in referring to foreign rulers. But the Arabian is also aristocratic as well as democratic. He looks upon himself as the embodiment of the consummate pattern of creation. To him the Arabian nation is the noblest of all nations. The civilized man, from the Bedouin’s exalted point of view, is less happy and far inferior. In the purity of his blood, his eloquence and poetry, his sword and horse, and above all his noble ancestry, the Arabian takes infinite pride. He is fond of prodigious genealogies and often traces his lineage back to Adam.( Hitti, 1996)

This self image remains in the culture of the city as well. The family have taken this pride and defended morality and honor on the same basis. However, 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 South 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 Saracens.

Geographically, Arab states   are 22 states today. They are: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Juzur al-Qamor, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, 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 , Kurds, Berbers, Copts, and Druze. but it does include Arabic-speaking Christians (chiefly found in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan). Socially, the Arabs are divided into two groups: the settled Arab [Fallaheen=villagers, or hadar=townspeople,] and the nomadic Bedouin. according to Ibn Khaldun’s terminology.(1230 words)

Professor, Dr. Hasan A. Yahya is an Arab American writer, scholar, and professor of Sociology lives in the United States of America,  originally from Palestine. He graduated from Michigan State University with  2 Ph.d degrees. He published 65 books plus (45 Arabic and 20 English), and 300 plus articles on sociology, religion, psychology, politics, poetry, and short stories. Philosophically, his writings concern logic, justice and human rights worldwide. Dr. Yahya is the author of Crescentologism: The Moon Theory,  and  Islam Finds its Way, on Amazon. He’s an expert on Race Relations, Arab and Islamic cultures, he is also, interested in religion, world affairs and  global strategic planning for justice and human rights.

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