Introduction / History The word "Arab" may bring to mind images of white-robed Bedouins riding across the desert on their camels; however, this is not a very accurate picture. There are more than 380 million Arabs who make up the majority populations of 22 nations. They represent the largest, most diverse, and most politically influential Muslim ethnic grouping in the world.
While there are several characteristics that determine whether or not a person is a true Arab, one trait is always evident: a proud sense of being an Arab. Their physical, geographical, and religious aspects all vary greatly; however, the ability to speak Arabic (or an Arabic dialect) and identification with the Arabian cultural heritage are, perhaps, the two most essential elements.
In the modern Arab world, traditional values have been altered. This can be attributed to the pressure to urbanize, industrialize, and de-tribalize. Today, few modern Arabs live as desert shepherds, and significant Arab communities can now be found in almost all of the western world.
What are their lives like? It is difficult to adequately describe the Arab culture since it draws upon several thousand years of history. Through the centuries, they have experienced some periods of glory, but mostly seasons of travail.
Today, many of the Arabs live in cities and towns. This has caused traditional family and tribal ties to be broken down somewhat. Women, as well as men, now have greater educational and employment opportunities. These and other changes have created a new "middle class" within their society.
The Diaspora Arab communities fit into this new "middle class" category. Because the Diaspora Arabs have been exposed to western culture on a grand scale, their traditional culture and way of life have undergone many changes. As a result, they have experienced much tension.
For most of the Diaspora Arabs, there have been a greater variety of job opportunities. This has greatly aided their poor living conditions. However, it has also weakened their traditional family ties. There is greater freedom for women to leave the home, fewer arranged marriages, and less social pressure to conform to traditional religious practices.
In comparison to the traditional desert or village Arab, the social structure of the Diaspora Arab is very complex. Today, most Diaspora Arabs identify themselves by nationality rather than tribal affiliations.
Though political unity is still a dream among Arabs, the Arabic language remains the greatest common tie. In an attempt to preserve their original language, Arabs have maintained two forms of Arabic. The first is "classical Arabic," the religious and literary language that is spoken and written uniformly throughout the Arab world. The second is "colloquial Arabic," the informal spoken language which varies by dialect from region to region. Both forms are used by educated Arabs.
There have been similar attempts to preserve other cultural traditions such as the naming of children. It is customary for an Arab child's name to reflect the three dominant elements of Arab life: kin, home, and religion. Thus, a boy might have a name such as "Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al Hamza." "Muhammad" represents his religious name. "Ibn Ibrahim" is his father's name. "Al Hamza" means that he is from the village of Hamza. Girls are given similar names, which they keep even after marriage. This reflects the Muslim Arab tradition that even though women are subservient to men, they retain their identities, separate legal rights, and family ties.
Circumcision for boys continues to be a universal practice among Arabs. This ritual is performed around the seventh year, and is celebrated as the formal initiation of the boy into the religious community. Girls are rarely circumcised, except in a few isolated locations.
The early Islamic period was a time when "Arab identity" meant that all Arabs had descended from a common male ancestor. Thus, being an Arab brought recognition, honor, and certain privileges.
What are their beliefs? It was early in the seventh century that Mohammed first preached the tenets of Islam to the Arabs. His successors quickly spread the word of Allah far and wide. Wherever Arabs went, they left elements of their Arab culture, including their religion.
The historical link between Arabs and the Islamic religion is still very strong. Today, most Arabs are Muslims, belonging to a number of sects: the Shia ("Ithna Ashari" or "Ismaeli"), the Alawi, the Zaidi, and the Sunni. Sunni Muslims are the majority group.
What are their needs? Fundamentalist Muslims are very outspoken against Christianity. Much prayer is needed to break down the barriers that separate them from Jesus.
Resources in the various Arabic dialects are available; however, a greater effort must be made to effectively minister to them since they are so widespread.
Prayer Points Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to reach out and share the love of Christ with them.
Pray that God will raise up faithful intercessors who will stand in the gap for the Arabs.
Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of Arabs who have decided to follow Christ.
Pray that the softening of their traditional culture will create open doors for the Gospel to be preached among them.
Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Arabs towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Diaspora Arabs.