Answeringthe question ‘who are the Arabs?’ has long been a tiring task for me. I haveconstantly thought of what makes me an Arab, but couldn’t limit myself to a setof precise criteria. That is because the people we call Arabs nowadays havemany differences, each conflicting with one of the criteria used foridentifying them.
After long meditation, I was able to settle on two criteriathat could be used for identifying Arabs. Even though the two criteria aresubject to some inconsistencies and contradictions, they are the best one coulduse to categorize Arabs from non-Arabs. Thefirst criterion is definitely the language. Arabs derive their name from theArabic language, and that is because the majority of people, considered to beArab nowadays, write and/or speak the Arabic language.
In agreement with my choice of language beingthe obvious criterion, Rodinson states, “the most visible criterion of anethnos is language” 1. Additionally, and regarding the specific case of theArabs, Rodinson mentions, “the people known as Arab are normally set apart bythe Arabic language”1.Nonetheless,lots of people argue that Arabic should not be used as a valid criterion forthe identification of Arabs because of the presence of different dialects ofArabic, spoken across all of the Arabic speaking countries. That is true. Buteven if the Arabic language is very heterogeneous, Arabs from differentcountries are still able to communicate easily with each other.
Thesecond major criterion revolves around history and culture. The non-presence of specific boarders in thepast has played in favor of the spread of both a shared history and culture. Gelvin states, “the Arab world is made oftwenty-two states” 2.
But long time ago, the boarders were not present, andmany locations, which belong to two different states nowadays, were consideredto be one region in the past. Hence, there are many cultural elements inaddition the historical events, embraced by more than two states, if not theentire Arab world nowadays. One important factor to mention when talking abouta shared culture and history within the Arab world is the role played by manyacademic entities and intellectuals in order to fortify the Arab awareness.
Gelvin states, “there is a sense of shared history and experiences that schoolsystems and intellectuals encourage” 2. This same sense, as expressed byGelvin, is profoundly stimulated through the presence of regional associationsas well as shared TV channels and other broadcast material 2. One importantfactor that emerges to my mind when trying to answer the question ‘Who are theArabs?’ is the related time frame.
Including the time component in my answerhas been a wearing task for me, for the simple reason that trying to preciselyput boundaries to when the Arab nationality has started is very difficult. Nonetheless,I am certain that there are important components of the Arab history thatbelong to ‘Jahiliyya’. Many people tend to consider the start of the Arab historyas the direct implication of the start of Islam, and consequently ignore allwhat may have come before.
Berkey states that many of the pre-islamicreligious, linguistic and cultural components are usually ignored 3, while infact many of those same components are seen as major constituents of the Arabideologies.