Guide to Arabic Traditions And Culture
Arabic traditions and culture refers to the culture and heritage of the Arab countries of West Asia and North Africa, from Morocco to the Persian Gulf. Like in all other traditions, language, literature, food, art, architecture, music, spirituality, philosophy and mysticism form the parts of the rich Arabic traditions and culture. Islamic culture is very deep rooted in Arab and Arabic traditions and culture is actually cannot be differentiated completely from Islamic culture.
Religion, the foundation of society and state
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia occupies most of the Arabian Peninsula, and it is considered to be the original abode of the Arab people and of Islam. The foundation and authenticity of the society and the state are linked to Islam. Muslims believe that God (Allah) sent His final revelation “in clear Arabic,” in the form of the holy Koran, through His Messenger, Muhammad. This occurred first in and around Mecca and then in Medina beginning in 622 C.E. By the time of Muhammad’s death in 632, almost all the tribal and local communities in Arabia had become loyal to Muhammad and converted to Islam. The religion was then carried by Arabian converts throughout the Middle East and North Africa. All the legal and political concepts are also determined by Islam and hence cross cultural and social borders and are recognized by universal Muslim identity. The constitution is the Koran, and Sharia (Islamic law) is the law of the land. The ruler has the title “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” which implies an Islamic role. At present, most Arabs are Muslims by religion, Sunni Islam being the most dominating sect in most of the Arabian countries while Shia Islam is prevalent in certain parts.
The Arabic language is the largest member of the Semitic branch of Afro-Asiatic language family. It is closely linked to Hebrew. It is the language of all Saudi Arabian citizens and about half the immigrants. The literary Arabic is different from the everyday spoken Arabic. Classical or Koranic Arabic is mostly used in prayers, religious rituals, poetry or other literature, speeches etc. Conversationally, people use colloquial Arabic. Arabic is also spoken in a variety of dialects. English is the main second language at present. It is difficult to translate the Islamic concepts and terms into any other language as they are too much rooted in Arabic terminology.
People engage in the creation of a national cultural heritage by preserving old houses and mosques, the use of traditional motifs in new buildings, the holding of camel races, and the setting up in museums and hotels of tents with rugs and paraphernalia typical of traditional Bedouin tented households. The conservative clothing worn by both men and women conforms to Muslim dress codes that prescribe modesty for both sexes but especially women. Most of the traditional celebrations are linked to Islam. The most important ritual celebrations are the holy month of Ramadan, the holy pilgrimage ( haj ) to Mecca, and the Muslim feasts of Id al-Fitr and Id al-Adha , which occur after the end of Ramadan and in conjunction with the pilgrimage, respectively. Other important rituals are the more private social celebrations of weddings, funerals, circumcision ceremony and other social get-togethers.
The traditional staple foods of Arab are dates; goat, camel, and cow’s milk; ghee, cheese, and other milk products; bread and other foods from wheat, millet, and barley. Vegetables are rare and a few species of vegetables like squash, eggplant, okra, pumpkin, beans, leeks and onions etc are found. Non-vegetarian food includes mutton, chicken, camel meat and fish. Rice and chicken have become very common. Light roasted Arabic coffee without sugar but spiced with cardamom remains the national beverage; tea is also popular. Foods that are taboo are those forbidden by Islam, notably pork and wine and other alcoholic beverages. Important occasions associated with Islamic feasts, weddings, reunions of family and kin, and other social events still require the sacrificial slaughter of sheep or, less commonly, goats or young camels.
Strict gender division is sanctioned by the state and society. Women may work outside the home but cannot communicate with unrelated men. Women are employed in girls’ schools and the women’s sections of universities, social work and development programs for women, banks that cater to female clients, medicine and nursing for women, television and radio programming, and computer and library work. Sections of markets are set aside for women sellers. Men have more rights than women. Women are generally dependant on men and have to wear a veil and remain out of public view. However, women can own property in their own names and study in schools and colleges. Arranged marriage is prevalent and mostly takes place among paternal cousins. Men are allowed to have four wives at a time. Divorce is relatively easy for men and difficult for women.
Arabic culture is a rich wide spread culture based on Islam. Since, Arabic traditions and culture is deeply religion based, it is mostly conservative. Anyway, a number of things are changing slowly with the adoption of western lifestyle and education. More and more women are walking out of their houses for studies and work. The increased role of the school in society represents a break with the past, yet the society is still very much rooted in religious tradition. Religious subjects and the Arabic language are still mandatory in education system along with the modern subjects. The most important factor in Arabic traditions and culture is that it goes beyond the nation’s borders and relate to the millions of people who identify them as Islam.