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Arab people ( , ʿarabi) or Arabs (العرب al-ʿarab) are an ethnic group whose members identify along linguistic, cultural or genealogical grounds. Arabs are a Semitic-speaking people originating in Arabia, but today spread across most of Western Asia and North Africa, and many other parts of the world.

With the rise of Islam in the 7th century CE as the language of the Qur'an, the Arabic language became the lingua franca of the wider Mediterranean region|Mediterranean]] region, and Arabic language and culture were widely disseminated as a result of early Islamic expansion.

Though the Arabic language is older, Arabic culture was first spread in Western Asia beginning in the 2nd century, as Arab Christians such as the Ghassanids, Lakhmids and Banu Judham began migrating north from Arabia into the Syrian Desert and the Levant.


"Arab" is defined independently of religious identity, and pre-dates the rise of Islam, with historically attested Arab Christian kingdoms and Arab Jews. The earliest documented use of the word "Arab" as defining a group of people dates from the 9th century BCE. Islamized but non-Arabized peoples, and therefore the majority of the world's Muslims, do not form part of the Arab World but comprise what is the geographically larger and more diverse Muslim World.

Arab identity

In the modern era, defining who is an Arab is done on the grounds of one or more of the following three criteria:
Distribution of Arabic as sole official language (green) and one of several official or national languages (blue).

  • Linguistic: someone whose first language, and by extension cultural expression, is Arabic, including any of its varieties. This definition covers more than 300 million people. Certain groups that fulfill this criterion reject this definition on the basis of non-Arab ancestry, such an example may be seen in the way that Egyptians identify themselves.

  • Political: in the modern nationalist era, 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 (thereby having Arabic as an official government language, even if not used by the majority of the population). This definition would cover over 300 million people. It may be the most contested definition, as it is the most simplistic one. It would exclude the entire Arab diaspora outside of the Arab world, but include not only people with Arab ancestry (Gulf Arabs and others, such as Bedouins, where they may exist) or who identify themselves as Arabs, but would also include Arabized groups who do not identify themselves as Arabs (including many Lebanese and many Egyptians, both Christians and Muslims) and even non-Arabized ethnic minorities who have remained non-Arabic-speaking (such as the Berbers in Morocco, Kurds in Iraq, or the Somali majority of Arab League member Somaliamarker).
Traditional Bedouin
The relative importance of these three factors is estimated differently by different groups and frequently disputed. Some combine aspects of each definition, as done by Habib Hassan Touma, who defines an Arab "in the modern sense of the word", as "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." Most people who consider themselves Arab do so based on the overlap of the political and linguistic definitions.Few people consider themselves Arab based on the political definition without also having Arabic as a language. Thus few Kurds and Berbers identify as Arab, although for instance some Berbers also consider themselves Arab (see for example: Gellner, Ernest and Micaud, Charles, Eds. Arabs and Berbers: from tribe to nation in North Africa. Lexington: Lexington Books, 1972). Some religious minorities within Western Asia and North Africa who speak Arabic or any of its varieties as their primary community language, such as Egyptian Copts, may not identify as Arabs.

The Arab League at its formation in 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 and is complicated further by the notion of "lost Arabs" mentioned in the Qur'an as punished for their disbelief. All contemporary Arabs were considered as descended from two ancestors, Qahtan and Adnan.

Versteegh (1997) is uncertain whether to ascribe this distinction to the memory of a real difference of origin of the two groups, but it is certain that the difference was strongly felt in early Islamic times. Even in Islamic Spainmarker there was enmity between the Qays of the northern and the Kalb of the southern group. The so-called Himyarite language described by Al-Hamdani (died 946) appears to be a special case of language contact between the two groups, an originally north Arabic dialect spoken in the south, and influenced by Old South Arabian.

During the Muslim conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries, the Arabs forged an Arab Empire (under the Rashidun and Umayyads, and later the Abbasids) whose borders touched southern Francemarker in the west, Chinamarker in the east, Asia Minormarker in the north, and the Sudanmarker in the south. This was one of the largest land empires in history. In much of this area, the Arabs spread Islam and the Arabic language (the language of the Qur'an) through conversion and cultural assimilation. Many groups became known as "Arabs" through this process of Arabization rather than through descent. Thus, over time, the term Arab came to carry a broader meaning than the original ethnic term: cultural Arab vs. ethnic Arab. Arab nationalism declares that Arabs are united in a shared history, culture and language. A related ideology, Pan-Arabism, calls for all Arab lands to be united as one state. Arab nationalism has often competed for existence with regional nationalism in the Middle East, such as Lebanese, Syrian, Iraqi and Egyptian nationalism.


The Arab World is the largest geocultural unit in the world after Russiamarker and Anglo-America, with a population exceeding 300 million and spanning more than , from the Atlantic Oceanmarker in the west to the Arabian Seamarker in the east. The table below is based on Arabic-speakers (Arabophones).

Arab states
Flag Country Arab population Total Population % Arab Notes
Egyptmarker 82,667,004 82,999,000 99.6%
Algeriamarker 34,546,050 34,895,000 99%
Moroccomarker 31,705,063 31,993,000 99.1%
Saudi Arabiamarker 25,817,970 28,686,633 90%
Iraqmarker 24,206,350 31,234,000 75-80%
Yemenmarker 23,580,000 23,580,000 100%
Syriamarker 19,781,118 21,906,000 90.3%
Sudanmarker 16,486,080 42,272,000 39%
Somaliamarker 20,456,080 27,342,000 80%
Tunisiamarker 10,121,244 10,327,800 98%
Libyamarker 6,227,400 6,420,000 97%
Jordanmarker 6,189,680 6,316,000 98%
Lebanonmarker 4,012,800 4,224,000 95%
Palestine 3,716,608 4,148,000 89.6%
Kuwaitmarker 2,388,000 2,985,000 80%
UAEmarker 1,839,600 4,599,000 40%
Omanmarker 1,650,100 2,845,000 58%
Mauritaniamarker 1,645,500 3,291,000 30-70%
Qatarmarker 563,600 1,409,000 40%
Western Saharamarker 513,000 513,000 100%
Bahrainmarker 493,584 791,000 62.4%
- Total ~298,150,751 ~345,434,433 ~86.32%

The Arab diaspora is a global diaspora estimated at between 30 and 50 million people distributed across every continent and almost every country in the world. More than half of the Arabic diaspora is concentrated in Latin America. Other regions with high concentrations are Western Europe, Western Asia and North America.

Arab diaspora
Flag Country Arabic population Total Population % Arabic Notes
Brazilmarker 12,000,000 191,241,714 6.28%
Francemarker 6,000,000 65,073,482 9.22%
Argentinamarker 3,500,000 40,482,000 8.65%
United Statesmarker 3,500,000 307,473,000 1.14%
Iranmarker 2,225,880 74,196,000 3%
Italymarker 1,950,210 60,234,000 3.1%
Israelmarker 1,500,000 7,411,000 20.24%
Turkeymarker 1,200,000 74,816,000 1.60%
Mexicomarker 1,100,000 111,211,789 1%
Venezuelamarker 900,000 26,814,843 3.36%
Chilemarker 800,000 16,928,873 4.73%
Colombiamarker 700,000 44,928,970 1.56%
United Kingdommarker 500,000 61,113,205 0.82%
Australia 500,000 21,885,016 2.29%
Canadamarker 500,000 33,790,000 1.48%
Germanymarker 400,000 82,060,000 0.49%
Pakistanmarker 300,000 180,808,000 0.17%
Ecuadormarker 200,000 13,625,000 1.47%
Russiamarker 200,000 142,008,838 0.14%
- Total ~36,025,880 - -


Ancient Near East

Many scholars derive the entire population of the Near East from population movements out of Jazirat al-Arab ("island of the Arabs") - an area between the Red Seamarker and the Persian Gulfmarker, with Hadramawt its southern perimeter, extending northward up to the area just east of the Dead Seamarker (Jordanmarker). Early Semitic peoples from the Ancient Near East, such as the Arameans, Akkadiansmarker and Canaanites, built civilizations in Mesopotamia and the Levant; genetically, they often interlapped and mixed. Slowly, however, they lost their political domination of the Near East due to internal turmoil and attacks by non-Semitic peoples. Although the Semites eventually lost political control of Western Asia to the Persian Empire, the Aramaic language remained the lingua franca of Mesopotamia and the Levant. Aramaic itself was replaced by Greek as Western Asia's prestige language following the conquest of Alexander III of Macedon.

The first written attestation of the ethnonym "Arab" occurs in an Assyrian inscription of 853 BCE, where Shalmaneser III lists a King Gindibu of mâtu arbâi (Arab land) as among the people he defeated at the Battle of Karkarmarker. Some of the names given in these texts are Aramaic, while others are the first attestations of Proto-Arabic dialects. In fact several different ethnonyms are found in Assyrian texts that are conventionally translated "Arab": Arabi, Arubu, Aribi and Urbi. Many of the Qedarite queens were also described as queens of the aribi. The Hebrew Bible occasionally refers to Arvi peoples (or variants thereof), translated as "Arab" or "Arabian." The scope of the term at that early stage is unclear, but it seems to have referred to various desert-dwelling Semitic tribes in the Syrian Desert and Arabia.

Proto-Arabic, or Ancient North Arabian, texts give a clearer picture of the Arabs' emergence. The earliest are written in variants of epigraphic south Arabian musnad script, including the 8th century BCE Hasaeanmarker inscriptions of eastern Saudi Arabia, the 6th century BCE Lihyanite texts of southeastern Saudi Arabia and the Thamudic texts found throughout Arabia and the Sinaimarker (not in reality connected with Thamud).

The Nabataeans were nomadic newcomers who moved into territory vacated by the Edomites -- Semites who settled the region centuries before them. Their early inscriptions were in Aramaic, but gradually switched to Arabic, and since they had writing, it was they who made the first inscriptions in Arabic. The Nabataean Alphabet was adopted by Arabs to the south, and evolved into modern Arabic script around the 4th century. This is attested by Safaitic inscriptions (beginning in the 1st century BCE) and the many Arabic personal names in Nabataean inscriptions. From about the 2nd century BCE, a few inscriptions from Qaryat al-Faw (near Sulayyilmarker) reveal a dialect which is no longer considered "proto-Arabic", but pre-classical Arabic. Five Syriac inscriptions mentioning Arabs have been found at Sumatar Harabesimarker, one of which has been dated to the 2nd century CE.

Early migrations

In Sassanid times, Arabia Petraea was a border province between the Roman and Persian empires, and from the early centuries AD was increasingly affected by Arab influence, notably with the Ghassanids migrating north from the 3rd century.

The Ghassanids, Lakhmids and Kindites were the last major migration of non-Muslims out of Yemen to the north.

  • The Ghassanids revived the Semitic presence in the then Hellenized Syria. They mainly settled in the Hauran region and spread to modern Lebanonmarker, Palestine and Jordan. The Ghassanids held Syria until the expansion of Islam.

Greeks and Romans referred to all the nomadic population of the desert in the Near East as Arabi. The Romans called Yemen "Arabia Felix". The Romans called the vassal nomadic states within the Roman Empire "Arabia Petraea" after the city of Petramarker, and called unconquered deserts bordering the empire to the south and east Arabia Magna.

  • The Lakhmids settled the mid Tigris region around their capital Al-hiramarker they ended up allying with the Sassanid against the Ghassanids and the Byzantine Empire. The Lakhmids contested control of the Central Arabian tribes with the Kindites with the Lakhmids eventually destroying Kinda in 540 after the fall of their main ally Himyar. The Sassanids dissolved the Lakhmid kingdom in 602.

  • The Kindites migrated from Yemen along with the Ghassanids and Lakhmids, but were turned back in Bahrain by the Abdul Qais Rabi'a tribe. They returned to Yemen and allied themselves with the Himyarites who installed them as a vassal kingdom that ruled Central Arbia from Qaryah dhat Kahl (the present-day Qaryat al-Faw) in Central Arabia. They ruled much of the Northern/Central Arabian peninsula until the fall of the Himyarites in 525AD.

Early Islamic period

Muslims of Medinamarker referred to the nomadic tribes of the deserts as the A'raab, and considered themselves sedentary, but were aware of their close racial bonds. The term "A'raab' mirrors the term Assyrians used to describe the closely related nomads they defeated in Syria.

The Qur'an does not use the word , only the nisba adjective . The Qur'an calls itself , "Arabic", and , "clear". The two qualities are connected for example in ayat 43.2-3, "By the clear Book: We have made it an Arabic recitation in order that you may understand". The Qur'an became regarded as the prime example of the , the language of the Arabs. The term has the same root and refers to a particularly clear and correct mode of speech. The plural noun refers to the Bedouin tribes of the desert who resisted Muhammad, for example in ayat 9.97, "the Bedouin are the worst in disbelief and hypocrisy".

Based on this, in early Islamic terminology, referred to the language, and to the Arab Bedouins, carrying a negative connotation due to the Qur'anic verdict just cited. But after the Islamic conquest of the 8th century, the language of the nomadic Arabs became regarded as the most pure by the grammarians following Abi Ishaq, and the term , "language of the Arabs", denoted the uncontaminated language of the Bedouins.

Levant and Iraq

Map detailing Rashidun Caliphates invasion of Levant.
The arrival of Islam united many tribes in Arabia, who then moved northwards to conquer the Levant and Iraqmarker. In 661, and throughout the Caliphate's rule by the Ummayad dynasty, Damascusmarker was established as the Muslim capital. In these newly acquired territories, Arabs comprised the ruling military elite and as such, enjoyed special privileges. They were proud of their Arab ancestry and sponsored the poetry and culture of pre-Islamic Arabia whilst diffusing with Levantine and Iraqi culture. They established garrison towns at Ramlamarker, ar-Raqqahmarker, Basramarker, Kufamarker, Mosulmarker and Samarramarker, all of which developed into major cities.

Caliph Abd al-Malik established Arabic as the Caliphate's official language in 686. This reform greatly influenced the conquered non-Arab peoples and fueled the Arabization of the region. However, the Arabs' higher status among non-Arab Muslim converts and the latter's obligation to pay heavy taxes caused resentment. Caliph Umar II strove to resolve the conflict when he came to power in 717. He rectified the situation, demanding that all Muslims be treated as equals, but his intended reforms did not take effect as he died after only three years of rule. By now, discontent with the Umayyads swept the region and an uprising occurred in which the Abbasids came to power and moved the capital to Baghdadmarker. The Abbasids were also Arabs (descendants of Muhammad's uncle Abbas), but unlike the Ummayads, they had the support of non-Arab Islamic groups. Through the adoption of the Arabic language and Islam, the Levantine and Iraqi populations became Arabized.

North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula

Inland in North Africa, the nomadic Berbers allied with Arab Muslims in invading Spain. The Arabs mainly settled the old Phoenician and Carthagenian towns, while the Berbers remained dominant inland. Inland north Africa remained partly Arab until the 11th century, whereas the Iberian Peninsula, particularly its southern part, remained heavily Arab, until the expulsion of the Moriscos in the 17th century.

Islamic Golden Age

View of the Alhambra from the Mirador de San Nicolás in the Albaycin of Granada.
During the Muslim conquests of the 7th and early 8th centuries, Rashidun armies established the Caliphate, or Islamic Empire, one of the largest empires in history. The Islamic Golden Age was soon inaugurated by the middle of the 8th century by the ascension of the Abbasid Caliphate and the transfer of the capital from Damascusmarker to the newly founded city Baghdadmarker. The Abbassids were influenced by the Qur'anic injunctions and hadith such as "The ink of the scholar is more holy than the blood of martyrs" stressing the value of knowledge. During this period the Muslim world became the unrivalled intellectual centre for science, philosophy, medicine and education as the Abbasids championed the cause of knowledge and established the "House of Wisdom" (Arabic:بيت الحكمة) in Baghdad; where both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars sought to translate and gather all the world's knowledge into Arabic. Many classic works of antiquity that would otherwise have been forgotten were translated into Arabic and later in turn translated into Turkish, Persian, Hebrew and Latin. During this period the Muslim world was a cauldron of cultures which collected, synthesized and significantly advanced the knowledge gained from the ancient Mesopotamian, Roman, Chinesemarker, Indian, Persian, Egyptian, North African, Greek and Byzantine civilizations. Rival Muslim dynasties such as the Fatimids of Egyptmarker and the Umayyads of al-Andalusmarker were also major intellectual centres with cities such as Cairomarker and Córdobamarker rivaling Baghdadmarker.

Arabs of the Caucasus and Central Asia

In 1728, a Russian officer described a group of Sunni Arab nomads who populated the Caspianmarker shores of Mughan (in present-day Azerbaijanmarker) and spoke a mixed Turkic-Arabic language. It is believed that these groups migrated to the Caucasus in the 16th century. The 1888 edition of Encyclopædia Britannica also mentioned a certain number of Arabs populating the Baku Governorate of the Russian Empiremarker. They retained an Arabic dialect at least into the mid-19th century, but since then have fully assimilated with the neighbouring Azeris and Tats. Today in Azerbaijan alone, there are nearly 30 settlements still holding the name Arab (e.g. Arabgadimmarker, Arabojaghymarker, Arab-Yengijamarker, etc.).

From the time of the Arab conquest of the Caucasus, continuous small-scale Arab migration from various parts of the Arabic-speaking world was observed in Dagestanmarker influencing and shaping the culture of the local peoples. Up until the mid-20th century, there were still individuals in Dagestan who claimed Arabic to be their native language, with the majority of them living in the village of Darvag to the north-west of Derbentmarker. The latest of these accounts dates to the 1930s. Most Arab communities in southern Dagestan underwent linguistic Turkicisation, thus nowadays Darvag is a majority-Azeri village.

According to the History of Ibn Khaldun, the Arabs that were once in Central Asia have been either killed or have fled the Tatar invasion of the region, leaving only the locals . However, today many people in Central Asia identify as Arabs. Most Arabs of Central Asia are fully integrated into local populations, and sometimes call themselves the same as locals (e.g. Tajiks, Uzbeks) but they use special titles to show their Arabic origin such as Sayyid, Khoja or Siddiqui.

Iranian Arab communities are also found in Khorasan Province.

Tribal genealogy

Medieval Arab genealogists divided Arabs into three groups:
  • "Ancient Arabs", tribes that had vanished or been destroyed, such as 'Ad and Thamud, often mentioned in the Qur'an as examples of God's power to destroy wicked peoples.

  • "Pure Arabs" of South Arabia, descending from Qahtan. The Qahtanites (Qahtanis) are said to have migrated the land of Yemenmarker following the destruction of the Ma'rib Dammarker (sadd Ma'rib).

Book of Jubilees 20:13 And Ishmael and his sons, and the sons of Keturah and their sons, went together and dwelt from Paran to the entering in of Babylonmarker in all the land which is towards the East facing the desert.
And these mingled with each other, and their name was called Arabs, and Ishmaelites.

Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddima distinguishes between sedentary Muslims who used to be nomadic Arabs and the Bedouin nomadic Arabs of the desert. He used the term "formerly-nomadic" Arabs and refers to sedentary Muslims by the region or city they lived in, as in Egyptians, Spaniards and Yemenismarker. The Christians of Italy and the Crusaders preferred the term Saracens for all the Arabs and Muslims of that time. The Christians of Iberia used the term Moor to describe all the Arabs and Muslims of that time.


Arab Muslims are generally Sunni, Shia, Ismaili and Druze. Arab Christians generally follow Eastern Churches such as the Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches and the Maronite church. The Greek Catholic churches and Maronite church are under the Pope of Rome, and a part of the larger worldwide Catholic Church.
Before the coming of Islam, most Arabs followed a pagan religion with a number of deities, including Hubal, Wadd, Allāt, Manat, and Uzza. A few individuals, the hanifs, had apparently rejected polytheism in favor of monotheism unaffiliated with any particular religion. Some tribes had converted to Christianity or Judaism. The most prominent Arab Christian kingdoms were the Ghassanid and Lakhmid kingdoms. When the Himyarite king converted to Judaism in the late 4th century, the elites of the other prominent Arab kingdom, the Kindites, being Himyirite vassals, apparently also converted (at least partly). With the expansion of Islam, polytheistic Arabs were rapidly Islamized, and polytheistic traditions gradually disappeared.
Today, Sunni Islam dominates in most areas, overwhelmingly so in North Africa. Shia Islam is dominant in southern Iraqmarker, Bahrainmarker and Lebanonmarker. Substantial Shi'a populations exist in Saudi Arabiamarker, Kuwaitmarker, northern Syriamarker, the al-Batinah region in Omanmarker, and in northern Yemenmarker. The Druze community, concentrated in the Levant, follow a faith that was originally an offshoot of Ismaili Shia Islam, and are also Arab.

Christians make up 5.5% of the population of the Near East.In Lebanon they number about 39% of the population. In Syria, Christians make up 16% of the population. In Palestine before the creation of Israelmarker estimates ranged as high as 25%, but is now 3.8% due largely to the 1948 Palestinian exodus. In West Bankmarker and in Gazamarker, Arab Christians make up 8% and 0.8% of the populations, respectively. In Israel, Arab Christians constitute 1.7% (roughly 9% of the Palestinian Arab population). Arab Christians make up 6% of the population of Jordanmarker. Most North and South American Arabs are Christian, as are about half of Arabs in Australia who come particularly from Lebanon, Syria, and the Palestinian territoriesmarker.

Jews from Arab countries – mainly Mizrahi Jews and Yemenite Jews – are today usually not categorised as Arab. Sociologist Philip Mendes asserts that before the anti-Jewish actions of the 1930s and 1940s, overall Iraqi Jews "viewed themselves as Arabs of the Jewish faith, rather than as a separate race or nationality". Prior to the emergence of the term Mizrahi, the term "Arab Jews" (Yehudim ‘Áravim, יהודים ערבים) was sometimes used to describe Jews of the Arab world. The term is rarely used today. The few remaining Jews in the Arab countries reside mostly in Moroccomarker and Tunisiamarker. From the late 1940s to the early 1960s, following the creation of the state of Israel, most of these Jews left or were expelled from their countries of birth and are now mostly concentrated in Israel. Some immigrated to Francemarker, where they form the largest Jewish community, outnumbering European Jews, but relatively few to the United Statesmarker. See Jewish exodus from Arab lands.


Arab culture is an inclusive term that draws together the common themes and overtones found in the Arabic-speaking cultures, especially those of the Middle-Eastern countries. This region's distinct religion, art, and food are some of the fundamental features that define Arab culture.

Arabic music is the music of Arabic-speaking people or countries, especially those centered around the Arabian Peninsula. The world of Arab music has long been dominated by Cairomarker, a cultural center, though musical innovation and regional styles abound from Morocco to Saudi Arabiamarker. Beirutmarker has, in recent years, also become a major center of Arabic music. Classical Arab music is extremely popular across the population, especially a small number of superstars known throughout the Arab world. Regional styles of popular music include Algerian raï, Moroccanmarker gnawa, Kuwaiti sawt, Egyptian el gil and Turkishmarker Arabesque-pop music.

See also

Arabic-speaking world Geography

Language and culture

Arab Organizations


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