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Traditional Arabic dabke dance
Traditional Arabic dabke dance

11 Things to Know About Arab Culture

Picture of Jessica Harn
Updated: 17 January 2018

Arab culture stretches back thousands of years, and holds some of the most spectacular and colorful achievements and creativity in world history. From times of war and peace, creating literature and exploring the sciences, expanding the beautiful language of Arabic and trailblazing the way for modern medicine; Arab culture has a lot to be proud of. 

Arab culture stretches back thousands of years since the very first Arab peoples

Arab culture remains one of the oldest surviving cultures in the world, with a long and dynamic history that stretches across a colorful variety of lands. It’s important to note that while there are elements that have remained strong after thousands of years, culture as a whole will always change to adapt to its times and societies; as has Arab culture.

Arab culture can loosely be divided into different areas: North Africa, the Levant, and the Arabian Peninsula

While this is largely stereotyping and grouping into categories what is truly dynamic and varied, Arab culture can roughly be categorized into different areas of the Arab world. Arab North Africa share certain cultural similarities, while the same goes for Arab culture in the Levant areas and the Arabian Peninsula region.

Arabic literature emerged around the 6th century, with poetry and story-telling being mainly orally passed down before

Prominent Arabic literature began to appear around the 6th century, although it should be noted that this pertains to written literature. Coming from a strong oral background, Arab cultures originally passed down legends, stories, and poetry orally and through memorization.

Prior to Islam, poetry used to be one of the main ways of communication for Arabs

Before the coming of Islam and the growth of writing, poetry was one of the main ways of communication for Arabs. Whether it was passing on stories or the latest news, communication across far distances often took the form of spoken poetry.

The “Mu’allaqat” is a series of seven Arabic poems that originated before Islam, and is one of the most important works of writing in Arab culture

A series of seven epic poems all written by different authors, this perhaps is one of the most important works of literature in Arab culture before the Quran. A captivating expression of the beauty and depth of Arabic poetry, this should be a must-read for anyone interested in Arab culture and literature.

The Quran has had one of the greatest effects on Arabic literature and calligraphy

With the coming of the Quran, the Islamic holy book, many Arabs who became Muslim then learned how to read and write in order to understand the Quran. This led to a growth in consumption of written literature and Islamic calligraphy, which is still being appreciated today.

“One Thousand and One Nights” is a medieval folk tale collection from Iraq and it one of the most famous examples of Arab creativity and imagination

Perhaps one of the most famous folk tale series from the Middle East, “One Thousand and One Nights” is a collection of adventurous and colorful tales from Iraq. Some of the most famous stories from this collection have made it into Western culture, such as the adventures of Aladdin and his magic lamp, and Sindbad the sailor.

Arabic music has been heavily centered in the city of Cairo, which has long been the cultural heart of Arabs

Often characterized by its emphasis on melody and rhythm instead of harmony, Arabic music is one of the most charismatic parts of the culture. Although it varies based on the region and society of Arabs, Arabic music has a long history that connects poetry with dance.

Arabic dances and folk dances vary across the many different regions of the Arab world

Arabic folk dances are also an important aspect of the culture, just like any other culture. The traditional dabke is one of the most famous forms of Arabic folk dance, although most often seen in the Levant area of the Arab world.

Family is one of the most important aspects in Arab culture and society

Love, loyalty, and honoring one’s family is one of the most important aspects of Arab culture and society. Many Arabs even today will place their family before anything, and will continue to do anything they can to help support either their immediate or extended family through any hardship or strife.

Arab generosity and hospitality remain fundamental parts of this beautiful culture

One thing that almost everyone notices about Arab culture is how generous and hospitable Arabs can be to strangers. It is not uncommon to find Arab families rushing to invite total strangers over for tea or a meal if they are traveling, ready with an extra chair at the table for anyone who wants to get to know this beautiful culture and peoples.