Mosque
Mosque

Most people in the Western world have limited access to the traditions and customs of the Arab world. The Arab world is made up of 25 countries and territories that span the Middle East and northern Africa including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Arabic culture is rich in customs and traditions that focus largely on the importance of religion and family. Arabic food and traditions are greatly influenced by the geographic areas that make up the Arab world.

Religion

Muslims praying
Muslims praying

Islam is the central religion of the Arab world, which began with the prophet Mohammed's revelation and teachings in the 7th century. Followers of Islam are called Muslims. Islam is one of the three Abrahamic religions (additionally Judaism and Christianity) all of which believe in one God and the importance of practicing God’s will on earth, and follow the first four books of the Christian Bible, known as the Torah in the Jewish faith. The Qur’an is the holy book of the Islamic faith.

Minnesota State University notes the six articles of faith in Islam are: God (a single God above all others), Angels, Scriptures (the belief in the Torah, Psalms and Qur’an), Prophets (belief in Adam from Genesis to Mohammed and their teachings), and belief in the Divine Creed (predestination). Islam not only guides Muslims in their spiritual lives, but in social/political matters and personal relationships as well.

Family and Marriage

Veiled Muslim bride and groom
Veiled Muslim bride and groom

Arabs hold family in high esteem. While many people in the Western world are uncomfortable with a woman’s role in the Muslim world, these fears are greatly influenced by the misconception that the Muslim woman is restrained and has no say in the actions of her own life. While arranged marriages still exist in the Arab world, both partners must consent to the marriage on their own will. Professor Ismail Faruqi suggests that women in a traditional Islamic family are free from sexual objectification that is so common in the Western world, as strict Muslims (men and women alike) hold sex as a sacred act that is only legitimate in a marriage. Therefore the marriages are not subject to issues of infidelity or a loss of interest in one’s spouse because of a desire to be with multiple partners.

Professor Ismail also notes that traditional Islamic families use a patriarchal structure in which the patriarch (head male of the family) is responsible for the well being of his family in every way. Marriage and family play a significant role in the social lives of the Islamic world, as a marriage unites two families as much as it joins the two people being married.

Food

Falafel
Falafel

Many of us experience Arab-influenced foods on a daily basis without realizing where these foods or recipes originated from. Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the United States and has been a traditional drink in the Middle East for centuries. Chickpeas are used in patties (falafels) as well as as dips (hummus). Rice and dried fruits are also common place in Arab cuisine. While each nation has foods that are specific to that region, Mottaqun.com reminds us that the Qur’an has specific instructions on how food must be prepared and that certain foods are off limits entirely. Mottaqun.com explains that any animal sacrificed for others than Allah (God) cannot be eaten, and that pigs are completely forbidden. If a Muslim was to eat these foods unknowingly, he can ask for God’s forgiveness in the same way that a Christian would ask God to forgive her sins.