Middle East Encyclopedia

Encyclopedia of the Middle East


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The term "Arab" is variously applied to mean:

  • A member of the Semitic people inhabiting Arabia.
  • A member of an Arabic-speaking peoples. The Arabic language was spread by the Muslim conquests, in part because the Quran must be recited in Arabic, and the obligatory prayers are said in Arabic. Arab speaking people range from North Africa to Iraq. They use a large number of Arab dialects and do not have a common genetic or ethnic history for the most part.

    Arab culture did not take hold in Muslim conquests such as Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Persia (Iran) and the Central Asian Republics. These peoples do not consider themselves to be Arab in any sense and are not considered to be Arab by Arabs. Likewise, the Amazigh people of North Africa do not consider themselves to be Arabs, and try to maintain their own culture, as do the Kurds.  It is important to note that not all Muslims are Arabs in any sense. Arabs make up roughly 20-25% of the world's Muslim population.

    Synonyms and alternate spellings: 

    Further Information: See  History of Islam and the Arabs

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    Encyclopedia of the Middle East

    Note - This encyclopedia is a work in progress. It is far from complete and is being constructed and improved all the time. If you would like to contribute articles or expansions of existing articles, please contact news (at) mideastweb.org.  Suggestions and corrections are welcome. The concise version of this dictionary is at our Middle East Glossary.

    Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

    Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

    The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

    More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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