Understanding Arab society, their views, relations and basis of kinship
The term Arab generally refers to those persons who speak Arabic as their native tongue. A semitic people, there are estimated to be over 300 million people living in the Arab world.
An Arab world view is based on 6 concepts :
Arabs tend to see the world and events as isolated incidents, snapshots, and particular moments in time. This is a key psychological feature of Arab culture. Westerners look for unifying concepts whereas Arabs focus on parts, rather than on the whole. It also means the Western concept of cause and effect is rarely accepted by Arabs who may not necessarily see a unifying link between events. They do, however, maintain a long-term memory over actions and events. It is important to point out that it is memory, not necessarily history that is important.
Arabs usually believe that many, if not all, things in life are controlled by the will of God (fate) rather than by human beings. What might appear as fatalism initially is more deeply a belief in God’s power, sovereignty, active participation in the life of the believer, and authority over all things (business transactions, relationships, world events, etc.).
Arabs, express emotion in a forceful, animated and exaggerated fashion. Their desire for modernity is contradicted by a desire for tradition (especially Islamic tradition, since Islam is the one area free of Western identification and influence). Desiring democracy and modernization immediately is a good example of what a Westerner might view as an Arabs “wish vs. reality.”
Arabs value justice and equality more than anything else.
Arabs may seem to be paranoid by Western standards. Suspicion of US intent in their land and a cautious approach to American forces are a primary example. Some Arabs view all Westerners as agents of the government that may be “spies.” Especially in the ethnically diverse areas, mistrust runs deep amongst these various groups.
Arabic communities are tight-knit groups made up of even tighter family groups and most often, apart of tribes.
Arabs are a proud and sensitive people whose culture is mainly derived from three key factors: family, language, and religion. No adequate understanding of Arab culture is possible without first examining these three major elements and the pervading impact they have had on their culture. To begin to understand the Arabs, one must first understand the Arabic family since it has been regarded as the basis of the Arab social structure. Thus the first major factor overshadowing all other societal demands of an Arab is that of family and kin. The kin characteristic includes a set of group dynamics that are built around the family. Any discussion of Arab culture must also include their dominant cultural concerns, such as continuation of the close knit family.
Traditionally Arab Sociologists and religious legislators have stressed on the importance of the family unit as the basic social institution of society. The structure of the Arabic family is much more rigid and highly emphasized in comparison to the West. The peace and security offered by a stable family unit is greatly valued and seen as essential for the spiritual growth of its members.
Parents are greatly respected in the Islamic tradition. In Arab culture, parents are responsible for children well into those children’s adult lives, and children reciprocate by taking responsibility for the care of their aging parents—responsibilities that Arabs generally take on with great pride.
In the traditional Arab family, the father represents the authority figure (patriarchal tradition), and in return he shoulders the major responsibilities towards his family members. The wife joins the kin group of her husband (patrilocal kin), while the children take up the father’s family name (patrilineal descent). In that capacity, the father is assigned the role of the bread-winner or provider for his family. This role puts him at the top of the pyramidal structure of his family. Also this role carries with it unquestioning compliance with his instructions as well as respect from all family members. The mother is assigned the role of the housewife, and in that capacity, she is closer to the children and actually exercises power over them, though sometimes she may use the father to threaten them. Some scholars may interpret that as a matriarchal system alongside the patriarchal system in the Arab family. However, it is believed that this matriarchal system supports the existing patriarchy, as it solidifies the pyramidal structure of the family.
In Arabic families, younger fathers expected to provide for and support the other family members, while mother are to care for the children and the household. Then, once the children are grown, and the parents are aged, it is the children’s responsibility to care for their parents – even if it’s at the children’s own expense.
The structure of the Arabic family is composed of four types of family units. The first and most simple structure is the nuclear unit, which consists of the father, mother, and offspring. This type of family unit is the least significant in the culture of the Arab world and is used to specify the actual residence of a family or the group of people who live under the same roof most of the time. The second familial unit is the the extended family or the joint family. It consists of father, mother, unwed children, as well as wedded sons and their wives and children, unwed paternal aunts, and, sometimes, unwed paternal uncles. In short, this unit is composed of blood relatives plus women who were brought into the kin through marriage. This unit is an economic as well as a social unit and is governed by the grandfather or eldest male. The third type of blood kin unit is the or clan. It consists of all individuals, male or female, who claim descent from the same paternal ancestor. The Arab village community is normally composed of three or four such clans, and each of these units of clans are composed of several joint families.
The Arab family is the center of all loyalty, obligation, and status of its members. The individual’s loyalty and duty to his or her family are greater than any other social obligation. From birth until death, the Arab individual is always identified with other members of the joint family in name and social status. Once a child is born to a young couple, the people stop referring to the parents by their first names and begin calling them after the name of their child. Arabs used to call each others by using their euphemistic name ‘surname’ rather than the first name because such a euphemistic name will maximize and increase the honorific and respectable character of the person. Unlike the western culture, Women are related in the same fashion through the patrilineal line, and they maintain such identification even after marriage; though women do not add their husband’s name to their own after marriage.
Arab families are patrilineal, which designates descent from the father’s side, as well as patriarchal, meaning conferring male power, responsibility and privilege. Patrilineality defines social relations, inheritance, joint economic operations, occasionally one’s defense group, and control over female sexuality. Women continue to belong to their father’s family after marriage. Their fathers and brothers can be a defense against their husbands – significantly more so than is the English norm.
A Muslim marriage is both a sacred act and a legal agreement, in which either partner is free to include legitimate conditions. From an Islamic perspective, marriage legalizes sexual relations and provides the framework for procreation. From a social perspective, it brings together not only the bride and groom but also their nuclear families.
The main factors considered in the selection of a mate are the character, reputation, and economic and social status of the prospective in-laws, followed by the character and reputation of the spouses-to-be. Preference is usually given to relatives(cousins) in which such a marriage among relatives is not acceptable in western society. Unlike the western culture, Islam does not accept the relations of boyfriend or girlfriend or adultery before marriage since such relations are not allowed according to the Islamic rules and they will break the system of the society by giving birth to illegal children whom they have not any kin relations.