DETROIT FREE PRESS
Like all people, Arab Americans are too often described in simplistic terms. Although the Arab culture is one of the oldest on Earth, it is, in many parts of the United States, misunderstood. There are no easy, one-size-fits-all answers. Culture, language and religion are distinct qualities that act in different ways to connect Arabs, and to distinguish them from one another
The differences that seem to separate Arab Americans from non-Arabs can be much smaller than the variations that at times differentiate them from one another. It takes time to learn the issues and to understand them, but it is essential and rewarding for us to do that. Misunderstanding ultimately hurts each one of us.
At the Detroit Free Press, published in the city with the United States' most concentrated Arab-American population, we try to better understand and explain these issues daily. After consulting with others, we offer this guide as a step toward more accurate journalistic portrayals of Arab Americans.
The 100 questions and answers contained herein only touch on the issues. We urge you to give these issues the attention they deserve by continuing to read, to interview sources on all sides and to make a long-term commitment to increasing your understanding. For it is only with understanding that we can practice fair and accurate journalism.
1. Who are Arab Americans?
2. How many Arab Americans are there?
3. Where do Arab Americans live?
4. What are the population centers for Arab Americans?
5. Do Arabs have a shared language?
6. Do Arabs have a shared religion?
7. What is the Middle East conflict all about?
8. How does conflict in the Middle East affect
9. To which places do Arab Americans trace their
10. Is Palestine a country?
11. Shouldn't Iran be in that list?
12. So, not all people from the Middle East
13. Are there other groups from the Arab region?
14. Who are Chaldeans?
15. So, are Chaldeans Arabs, or not?
16. Is Arabic the only language spoken within
the Arab world?
17. So, do all Arab Americans speak one of these
18. Many recently immigrated Arab Americans
also know French. Why is that?
19. Do Arab schools teach other languages?
20. Is there any advice on pronouncing Arabic
21. Is there any trick to spelling Arabic words?
22. How is Arabic written?
23. Are characters in Arabic different than
those used to write English?
24. When did Arab people come to the United
25. Why did Arabs first come to the United States?
26. What prompted the second wave?
27. What race are Arab Americans?
28. Are Arabs a minority group?
29. Are Arab Americans more closely
tied to their country of origin, or to America?
30. Who are some well-known Arab Americans?
31. Does the U.S. Census Bureau collect data
on Arab Americans?
32. What is the educational level of Arab Americans?
33. What occupations do Arab Americans pursue?
34. How do Arab Americans fare economically?
35. What is the role of the family in Arab culture?
36. Do Arab Americans maintain ties with their
37. What are gender roles like for Arab Americans?
38. Do Arab Americans have large families?
39. What kind of relationship does cousin mean
to Arab Americans?
40. Do generations of Arab Americans live together?
41. Do Arab Americans typically get married
at a younger age than non-Arabs?
42. Are marriages arranged?
43. Do Arab Americans prefer to marry each other?
44. Are there any Arab conventions for naming
45. What does the title Umm or Abu mean as part
of a name?
46. What do Arabs mean when they refer to someone
47. Why do some Arab women wear garments
that cover their faces or heads?
48. What garments might a woman wear to practice
49. Some Arab men wear a checked garment
on their heads. What is that?
50. Why do some Arab women dress in black?
51. What is an appropriate way to greet an Arab
52. What are the customs for paying compliments?
53. What about gift-giving?
54. What is Middle-Eastern food like?
55. What is that pipe I sometimes see people
56. Do most Arab Americans belong to the same
57. Is Islam mostly an Arab religion, then?
58. What is the Quran?
59. What is the difference between Islam and
60. What are the five pillars of Islam?
61. What is Ramadan?
62. What is the proper greeting during Ramadan?
63. Must Arabs make a journey to Mecca?
64. What does hajj mean?
65. What is the difference between Sunni and
66. Are there restrictions on entering a mosque?
67. Is it OK to take pictures there?
68. Who is an imam?
69. What are important Islamic holidays?
70. Where is the headquarters for Islam?
71. Why do some Arab men decline to shake hands
72. Is the Nation of Islam related to Islam?
73. What is Eastern rite or Eastern Orthodox?
74. Who are Coptics?
75. What does Allah mean?
76. Why do Muslims face east when they pray?
77. What are the other two holy cities?
78. Are Arab Americans active in U.S. politics?
79. Have Arab Americans won major political
80. Who are some prominent Arab-American politicians?
81. Is there an Arab lobby?
82. Should I say Arab, Arabic or Arabian?
83. Is Arab American, or American Arab preferred?
84. How should I refer to an Arab-American individual?
85. What if the story is about Arab Americans
whose ethnicity is not relevant to the story?
86. What does Mohammedanism mean?
87. Is it Muslim or Moslem?
88. Who is a sheik?
89. Are Arabs oil-rich?
90. Are Arabs mostly a nomadic people?
91. Do Arabs come from the desert?
92. Are Arabs frequently involved in terrorism?
93. What is meant by the phrase "Islamic
94. Is Islam a violent religion?
95. Are Arab-American women subservient to men?
96. What is that charm with the eye or an eye
on a hand?
97. How can I find Arab Americans in my community?
98. Are there issues about the way Arab
Americans are portrayed in the media?
99. Is there a coverage pitfall that reporters
100. How can I learn more?
Arab Americans are
U.S. citizens and permanent residents who trace their ancestry
to or who immigrated from Arabic-speaking places in southwestern
Asia and northern Africa, a region known as the Middle East.
Not all people in this region are Arabs. Most Arab Americans
were born in the United States.
many Arab Americans are there?
This is the subject of some debate. Estimates vary because
the U.S. Census Bureau does not use an Arab American classification
and because people identify themselves in various ways. Some
Arab Americans identify themselves as Middle Eastern, for
example. Recent immigrants from many countries are reluctant
to give personal and confidential information to the government,
and an increasing number of people have more than one ethnicity.
Estimates of Arab Americans living in the United States are
about 3 million.
do Arab Americans live?
Arab Americans live in all 50 states, but about a third are
concentrated in California, Michigan and New York. Another
third are in these seven states: Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts,
New Jersey, Ohio, Texas and Virginia.
are the population centers for Arab Americans?
About half of Arab Americans live in 20 metropolitan areas.
The top four are Los Angeles County in California; Wayne and
Oakland counties in Michigan; Brooklyn, N.Y., and Cook County,
Arabs have a shared language?
The Arabic language is one of the great unifying and distinguishing
characteristics of Arab people. Even so, colloquial Arabic
differs from place to place. There are several categories:
Levantine dialect (Jordan, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon), Egyptian
and North African dialect, and Khalijji, or Gulf, dialect.
Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is a pan-Arabic language used
in formal letters, books and newspapers. It is also spoken
at Middle East peace conferences and on television news. Quaranic
Arabic, like MSA, also is a widely spoken form of the language,
but it differs in style and lexicon from MSA. Not all Arab
Americans know Arabic, of course, as many are second-, third-
and fourth-generation Americans.
Arabs have a shared religion?
No. Arabs belong to many religions, including Islam, Christianity,
Druze, Judaism and others. There are further distinctions
within each of these, and some religious groups have evolved
new identities and faith practices in the United States. Be
careful to distinguish religion from culture. Although Arabs
are connected by culture, they have different faiths. Common
misperceptions are to think that Arab traditions are Islamic,
or that Islam unifies all Arabs. Most Arab Americans are Catholic
or Orthodox Christians, but this is not true in all parts
of the United States. In some areas most Arab Americans are
is the Middle East conflict all about?
This handbook cannot adequately answer that question. The
largest conflict in the Middle East is the Arab-Israeli conflict
and the struggle over Palestine. In addition to conflicts
between Arab countries and Israel, there is disagreement between
and within Arab countries. The roots of these conflicts are
in some of the world's oldest religions, ethnic differences
and boundaries drawn during 20th Century colonialism. For
more detailed answers, read some of the books listed in the
back of this guide.
does conflict in the Middle East affect Arab Americans?
Because Arabs maintain close family ties, even when separated,
and because many Arab-American communities include recent
immigrants, most people have a keen interest in news from
the Middle East. Remember, too, that one reason many Arab
American families immigrated was to escape the very conflicts
that continue today. Mideast issues can unify the Arab vote
in America. News coverage, including wire stories and headlines,
must be balanced, accurate, detailed and fair. Reporters and
editors must work to understand the issues.
which places do Arab Americans trace their ancestry?
Arab Americans trace their roots to many places, including
parts or all of Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan,
Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine,
Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United
Arab Emirates and Yemen. Some Arabs are Israeli citizens.
Palestine a country?
Not today. Historically, Palestine was a country east of the
Mediterranean Sea that includes Israel and parts of Jordan.
As a distinct region, Palestine was under Ottoman control
(a Turkish empire) and then British control until 1948, when
the nation of Israel was created. Areas of Palestine became
Israel and part of Jordan. Today, Palestinians share a collective
national identity and are toward independence and self-rule
as a country. The Palestinian National Council acts as the
Iran be in that list?
No. Iran is not an Arab country. Although Iran borders Iraq,
it is descended from the Persian empire and has a different
language and cultural history than the Arab countries. The
dominant language in Iran is Farsi, not Arabic, although other
languages are spoken there as well. Persian is sometimes used
to describe either the language or the ethnicity, but Farsi
and Iranian are not interchangeable. Iran's location, the
fact that it is an Islamic country and the similarity of its
name to Iraq may confuse people.
not all people from the Middle East are Arabs?
That is correct. The four main language groups in the Middle
East are Arabic, Hebrew, Persian and Turkish. Other significant
language groups are Kurdish and Berber. Arabs are largest
in terms of population and land holdings, and this handbook
focuses on people who have emigrated from or who are descended
from people in those areas.
there other groups from the Arab region?
Yes. Assyrians, Berbers, Chaldeans and Kurds have languages
rooted in pre-Arabic times. There also are religious differences.
The Chaldeans are the largest of these groups in the United
Chaldeans are Catholics from Iraq. A religious and ethnic
minority there, Chaldeans have some large communities in the
United States, the largest in Detroit. The Chaldean Catholic
Church has had connections with the Roman Catholic Church
since 1551, and has been affiliated since 1830. The Chaldean
Diocese of the Catholic Church in the United States has parishes
in Michigan, California, Chicago and Arizona. It also has
several missions. Churches offer Chaldean language services.
Chaldeans and Assyrians, along with Arabs, are Semite people.
The cultural foundation is similar, but the religious affiliation
are Chaldeans Arabs, or not?
Chaldeans and Arabs share some issues, but they have different
identities. The Chaldean language is different from Arabic
and, in Iraq, Chaldeans are religiously distinct from the
Muslim majority. While Chaldeans foster a separate identity,
they also have an Iraqi nationality and some shared concerns
with Arabs. These nuances are lost by federal classifications,
which sometimes reclassify Chaldeans as Arab or Iraqi. It
is best to ask people how they would like to be identified,
to be specific and, when relevant, to explain.
Is Arabic the only language spoken within the Arab world?
No. For example,
Assyrian and Chaldean services use a dialect of the original
Aramaic. Berber and Kurdish are other non-Arabic languages
of the Middle East.
do all Arab Americans speak one of these languages?
No. Remember that many Arab-American families have been in
the United States for generations. Do not assume that an Arab
American should know Arabic, any more than any other American
should speak the language of his or her ethnic group.
recently immigrated Arab Americans also know French. Why is
Part of the recent history of Arab people is colonization
by the French and British. In colonized countries, people
in business and government had to know one or more European
Arab schools teach other languages?
Definitely. It is much more common for Arab Americans to speak
more than one language than it is for non-Arab Americans.
Many countries place more emphasis on language than the United
States does. Many immigrants come to the United States having
learned two or three languages in their country of origin.
Arab countries emphasize the importance of knowing a foreign
language, and they are very familiar with Western media.
there any advice on pronouncing Arabic names?
Not really. It can be quite difficult to transliterate Arabic
words into English, a language that uses different sounds
and fewer letters. Unless you know the Arabic alphabet, it's
hard to know how to pronounce words correctly. The "r"
sound is rolled, and there are characters for three different
pronunciations of the "th" sound. If you are unsure,
respectfully ask a source to explain. Write down the pronunciation
and the spelling, so you can give readers both. Be aware that,
for these reasons, spellings vary.
there any trick to spelling Arabic words?
There are so many variations that it is crucial to ask, as
you would with any word. Because Arabic and English characters
and sounds are different, there is more than one way to transliterate
the words. The Associated Press, for example, recently changed
its style for the spelling of Mohammed to Muhammad, and it
has changed its style for Koran to Quran.
is Arabic written?
Arabic is one of several languages written from right to left.
It would be narrow-minded to think of this as backwards writing.
Think how you might feel if someone thought that you were
reading this sentence backwards.
characters in Arabic different than those we use to write
Yes. English is written in Latin characters. Arabic is written
in the 28-character Arabic alphabet. In Arabic, a character
may change depending on its placement in the word or sentence.
Arabic letters are connected like script. Fine writing is
called calligraphy and is held in high regard and appreciated
as an art form in the Arabic culture.
did Arab people come to the United States?
Today, most Arab Americans are native-born Americans. The
first significant wave of immigration began around 1875. It
lasted until about 1920. After a period in which the United
States restricted immigration, a second wave began in the
did Arabs first come to the United States?
Like many peoples who came to the United States, Arabs were
seeking opportunity. Factors in the first immigration were
Japanese competition that hurt the Lebanese silk market and
a disease that hurt Lebanese vineyards. Most early Arab immigrants
were from Lebanon and Syria, and most were Christian.
prompted the second wave?
After 1940, immigration to the United States was not for economic
reasons as much as because of the Arab-Israeli conflict and
civil war. This meant that people came from many more places.
The second immigration also had many more people who practiced
Islam, a religion that was not as familiar in the United States.
Immigrants in this group tended to be more financially secure
when they arrived than people who had come earlier for economic
opportunity. Many people in the second wave were students.
race are Arab Americans?
Arabs may have white skin and blue eyes, olive or dark skin
and brown eyes. Hair textures differ. The United States has,
at different times, classified Arab immigrants as African,
Asian, white, European or as belonging to a separate group.
Most Arab Americans identify more closely with nationality
than with ethnic group.
Arabs a minority group?
This depends, in part, on your definition of minority. The
U.S. government does not classify Arabs as a minority group
for purposes of employment and housing. Arabs are not defined
specifically by race, like some minority groups, but are united
by culture and language. Some Arab Americans see minority
classification as an impediment to full participation in American
life. Others are asking for protection from the same issues
affecting people in minority groups, such as profiling, stereotyping
Arab Americans more closely tied to their country of origin,
or to America?
This need not be an either-or issue. Arab Americans have dual
loyalties. While they may be closely tied to their countries
of origin, most Arab Americans were born in the United States,
and an even larger majority have U.S. citizenship. This is
reflected in the expression, "Truly Arab and fully American."
are some well-known Arab Americans?
Christa McAuliffe, the teacher/astronaut who died aboard the
space shuttle Challenger; Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal; Heisman
Trophy winner and NFL quarterback Doug Flutie; creators of
radio's American Top 40 Casey Kasem and Don Bustany; Mothers
Against Drunk Driving founder Candy Lightner; Jacques Nasser,
president and chief executive officer of Ford Motor Co., and
Helen Thomas, former dean of the White House press corps.
the U.S. Census Bureau collect data on Arab Americans?
While the census does not specifically classify Arab Americans,
it does collect enough data to present some population characteristics.
Some of that information is on the U.S. Census Bureau's Web
site at www.census.gov, and is reflected in this guide.
is the educational level of Arab Americans?
Arab Americans are, on average, better educated than non-Arab
Americans. The proportion of Arab Americans who attend college
is higher than the national average. Compared to the norm,
about twice as many Arab Americans, in percentage terms, earn
degrees beyond the bachelor's degree. Key factors in this
question are country of origin, length of time in the United
States and gender.
occupations do Arab Americans pursue?
Arab Americans work in all occupations. Collectively, they
are more likely to be self-employed or to be entrepreneurs
or to work in sales. About 60 percent of working Arab Americans
are executives, professionals, office and sales staff. At
the local level, Arab Americans are most likely to be executives
in Washington, D.C., and Anaheim, Calif.; sales people in
Cleveland and Anaheim, and manufacturing workers in Detroit.
As with all people, employment choices may be influenced by
nationality, religion, education, socio-economic status and
do Arab Americans fare economically?
Individually, Arab Americans are at every economic strata
of American life. Nationally, Arab-American households have
a higher than average median income. Like occupational patterns,
this varies by location. Arab-American earnings are below
the overall average income in Detroit and Anaheim.
35. What is the role of the family in Arab culture?
of family types among Arab Americans is vast, and influenced
by the same factors mentioned in the answer to Question 33.
Generally, family is more important than the individual and
more influential than nationality. People draw much of their
identity from their role in the family. Historically, this
has fostered immigration in which members of an extended family
or clan help one another immigrate.
Arab Americans maintain ties with their home countries?
Many do. They are very proud of their home countries and may
maintain regular contact with relatives or friends there,
as many Americans do. Arab Americans will sometimes joke with
one another over which of their home countries is the best,
but it is perfectly consistent to have loyalties both to their
place of origin and their country of citizenship.
are gender roles like for Arab Americans?
These vary tremendously. Some of the variables are country
of origin, whether the family came from a rural or urban area
and how long the person's family has been in the United States.
It is more accurate to ask the subject of the story about
his or her own experience than to apply a stereotype.
Arab Americans have large families?
Arab-American families are, on average, larger than non-Arab-American
families and smaller than families in Arab countries. Traditionally,
more children meant more pride and economic contributors for
the family. The cost of having large families in the United
States, however, and adaptation to American customs seem to
encourage smaller families.
kind of relationship does cousin mean to Arab Americans?
The same as for other Americans, though Arabs may differentiate
between maternal and paternal cousins when they refer to them.
generations of Arab Americans live together?
Sometimes, especially with people who have more recently arrived
in the United States, but this can be true of non-Arabs as
well and is not a distinguishing characteristic of Arab Americans.
Arab Americans typically get married at a younger age than
Yes, though this is changing. As women follow careers, they
are not expected to marry so young. Arab women might also
marry older men who can provide greater financial security.
Are marriages arranged?
This is very rare, except among the most recent immigrants.
Remember that most Arab Americans were born here, and that
they frequently marry people from other cultures. In the case
where a marriage is arranged, a parent may recommend someone
from another family or from the country of origin, but the
child is not forced to marry that person. More typically,
couples meet and ask their families' approval before getting
engaged, or make their own decision and then tell their families.
Arab Americans prefer to marry each other?
As with many people, in-group marriage may be encouraged as
a way to preserve heritage, but Arabs and non-Arabs frequently
marry one other. Religious differences among Arab Americans,
in fact, may make it more desirable to marry a non-Arab of
similar religious background than an Arab of a different religion.
there any Arab conventions for naming children?
Muslims often name their children after prophets in the Quran.
ShiÕa Muslims sometimes use Ali as a middle name. Christians
often name their children after people in the Bible. Although
names can give an indication of a person's religion, don't
assume. Arab tradition may call for the father's name to be
the middle name of sons and daughters.
does the title Umm or Abu mean as part of a name?
It is a common way of calling someone using their oldest son's
name. Umm means mother of. Abu means father of. "Umm
Muhammad" is "mother of Muhammad." This is
what friends might call her, as a sign of respect.
do Arabs mean when they refer to someone as Auntie?
It is a sign of respect, not necessarily family relationship.
An Arab American might call any older Arab male or female
"auntie" or "uncle." Many Arab Americans
do not use these terms at all. Journalists can show respect
by using courtesy titles.
do some Arab women wear garments that cover their faces or
This is a religious practice, not a cultural practice. It
is rooted in Islamic teachings about hijab, or modesty. While
some say that veiling denigrates women, some women say that
it liberates them. Covering is not universally observed by
Muslim women and varies by region and class. Some Arab governments
have, at times, banned or required veiling. In American families,
a mother or daughter may cover her head while the other does
garments might a woman wear to practice hijab?
One interpretation is that everything should be covered except
hands, face and feet. Long clothing and a scarf would accomplish
this and the head scarf might be called a hijab or chador.
The long, robelike garment is called an abayah, jilbab, or
chador. In Iraq and Saudi Arabia especially, a woman may wear
a cloak that covers her head. Beneath a robe, a woman may
be wearing a traditional dress, casual clothes or a business
suit. The veil, in particular, has been made controversial
by governments, gender politics and religious biases. Most
Muslim women in the United States do not wear veils.
Arab men wear a checked garment on their heads. What is that?
It is called a kafiyyeh and it is traditional, not religious.
Wearing the kafiyyeh is similar to an African American wearing
traditional African attire, or an Indian wearing a sari. The
kafiyyeh shows identity and pride in one's culture.
do some Arab women dress in black?
Remember that black is a popular color in contemporary American
fashion and may not have any special significance. When it
does, it may be a sign of mourning. Black, when worn in mourning,
may be worn for a few days to many years.
is an appropriate way to greet an Arab American?
This is not difficult or tricky. Remember that most Arab Americans
grew up here and do not require special greetings. Be yourself,
and let them be themselves. If they are practicing Muslims
or recent immigrants, watch for cues. A smile, a nod and a
word of greeting are appropriate in most situations. Some
Muslims feel it is inappropriate for unrelated men and women
to shake hands. Wait until the other person extends his or
her hand before you extend your own.
are the customs for paying compliments?
Again, be yourself and be observant. In most cases, there
is no reason to behave differently than you would with anyone
else. For some recent immigrants, be a little more reserved.
Complimenting a possession may be misunderstood and the person,
out of generosity and hospitality, may feel compelled to offer
you the object. There can be a lot of difference between one
person and another, even a parent and child, so don't assume
one way is always best.
The giving of token gifts is a polite practice in many cultures
and American businesses. A gift, then, can put journalistic
integrity and cultural sensitivity into conflict. You will
have to balance your journalistic ethics against the risk
of offending someone by refusing a gift. Consider your ethics
policy, the giver's intention, the effects of acceptance or
denial, as well as the value of the gift. You may need to
consult with your supervisor or explain yourself to the giver.
is Middle-Eastern food like?
Tasty! It is varied, but has some staples. Wheat is used in
bread, pastries, salads and main dishes. Rice is often cooked
with vegetables, lamb, chicken or beef. Lamb and mutton are
more common than other meats. Arab recipes use many beans
and vegetables, including eggplant, zucchini, cauliflower,
spinach, onions, parsley and chickpeas.
is that pipe I sometimes see people smoking?
It is a water pipe that filters and cools tobacco smoke, which
often is flavored with apple, honey, strawberry, mint, mango
or apricot. Such pipes are used in several parts of the world
and are not an exclusively Arab apparatus. They are known
by several names, including sheesha, hookah and argilah, or
most Arab Americans belong to the same religion?
Most Arab Americans are Christian, though this varies by region.
In many communities, Muslim and Christian Arabs live side
by side with each other and with non-Arab religious communities.
Most Arab countries are predominantly Muslim.
Islam mostly an Arab religion, then?
No. Only about 12 percent of Muslims worldwide are Arabs.
There are more Muslims in Indonesia, for example, than in
all Arab countries combined. Large populations of Muslims
also live in India, Iran, other parts of East Asia and sub-Saharan
Africa. Islam has a strong Arab flavor, though, as the religion's
holiest places are in the Middle East, and the Quran was originally
written in Arabic.
is the Quran?
The Quran is the holy book for Muslims, who believe it contains
the word of God revealed to the prophet Muhammad. The Quran
has many passages that are similar to those in the Bible,
which Muslims also regard as a holy book. The Quran has been
translated into many languages, including English, and is
available on the Web. Quran is Associated Press style. Other
spellings are Qur'an and Koran. Variations come from transliterating
Arabic into English.
is the difference between Islam and Muslim?
Islam is the religion, and a Muslim is a follower of the religion.
It is like the difference between Christianity and Christian.
The adjective form is Islamic.
are the five pillars of Islam?
The five pillars are minimum sacred obligations for followers
who are able to observe them. They are: belief in the shehada,
the statement that "There is no god but God, and Muhammad
is his prophet"; salat, or prayer five times a day; zakat,
the sharing of alms with the poor; fasting during the holy
month of Ramadan, and the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca in
Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, is a month
of fasting whose end is marked with the celebration of Eid
al-Fitr. During this month of self-discipline and purification,
Muslims abstain from food, drink and sex from before sunrise
until sundown. At night, however, they may feast. The Islamic
calendar is based on the cycles of the moon and has 354 days,
so Ramadan does not always occur at the same time of year
according to the 365-day civil calendar.
is the proper greeting during Ramadan?
You may say, "Ramadan Mubarrak." You could also
say, "Salaam," which means "peace" and
is useful at any time. If you are planning to meet with Muslims
during Ramadan, be aware that they may be fasting and a meal-time
meeting may be awkward.
Arabs make a journey to Mecca?
This relates to Muslims, not all Arabs. Learn to keep that
distinction in mind. Muslims who are financially and physically
able to do so are expected to make the journey at least once
in their lifetime.
does hajj mean?
Al hajj refers to the pilgrimage to Mecca by millions of Muslims
once each year. It is a milestone event in a Muslim's life.
A man who makes the trip is recognized with the title hajji,
which means pilgrim. For women, the title is hajjah.
is the difference between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims?
Historically, these are the two main branches of Islam, and
their distinction has to do with the successor of the prophet
Muhammad. Sunnis believe his successors were elected religious
leaders; Shi'a believe that the prophet appointed Ali ibn
Abi Taleb. The answer is much more complicated than this,
though, because there are other differences and new ones have
arisen over the years. There also are separate groups and
movements within each branch. In the United States, Muslim
unity often overshadows the divisions. Most Muslims worldwide
and in the United States are Sunni, though Shi'as dominate
in some communities. Most Muslims in Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon
and the non-Arab country of Iran are Shi'a.
there restrictions on entering a mosque?
One generally must enter without shoes. Look for a sign from
your host, or for a place to leave your shoes. Women should
dress modestly and may be asked to cover their heads. Men
should wear long pants and shirts. Men and women generally
pray in different areas.
it OK to take pictures there?
Each mosque has its own rules. Ask in advance and do not assume
it will be OK to photograph at will. Be prepared to make some
accommodations if certain angles or parts of the mosque are
is an imam?
The leader of prayer at a mosque. He might also be called
a sheik. One of an imam's responsibilities is to give sermons
on Friday, the holiest day of the typical Islamic week. In
many American mosques, the imam is also the administrator.
To journalists, an imam can be an important community leader
and a good source of information about local Muslims.
are important Islamic holidays?
The most important Muslim observance each year is Ramadan.
Muslims also celebrate Eid al-Adha on the last day of the
hajj -- the pilgrimage to Mecca -- and Eid al-Fitr, at the
end of Ramadan. Depending on the makeup of your area, these
are worthy of consideration as news events. There are other
holidays, as well, but do not assume that a holiday or practice
observed at one mosque is observed by all.
is the headquarters for Islam?
Islam does not have the same kind of hierarchy as some other
religions. There is no top official or ruling board for Islam.
Muslim mosques, or masjids, and associations are independent.
Muslims are not required to be members of a mosque.
do some Arab men decline to shake hands with women?
Some Muslim men, for religious reasons, avoid physical contact
with women other than close relatives. This is not true for
all Muslims and exceptions are made to help women who are
injured, crossing the street, etc.
the Nation of Islam related to Islam?
This African American religious group is closely related to
Islam, but evolved in the 20th Century with some different
practices than those followed by most Muslims. Most African-American
Muslims in the United States are not part of the Nation of
is Eastern rite or Eastern Orthodox?
Be careful. These are designations for Christian churches
that share some similarities, but that have different histories.
Eastern rite churches are part of the Catholic church with
roots in the Middle East and include Maronites, Melkites and
Chaldeans. Eastern Orthodox churches, which are independent
from Vatican authority, include the Syrian and Coptic churches.
The word Copt is derived from the Greek word for Egyptian
and Coptic was the native language of Egypt before Arabic
prevailed. Today, the word refers to Coptic Christians. Although
linguistically and culturally classified as Arabs, many consider
themselves to be ethnically distinct from other Egyptians.
What does Allah mean?
Allah means God. The same word is used by Arabic-speaking
Christians, Muslims and Jews. When translating Arabic expressions,
translate all the words, for consistency. The translation
of "Allahu Akbar," for example, would be "God
is great," not "Allah is great."
do Muslims face east when they pray?
They are facing Kaaba (the House of God) at Mecca, the holiest
of the three cities of Islam. Muslims in other countries face
different directions, depending on where they are in relation
are the other two holy cities?
Medina in Saudi Arabia and Jerusalem.
Arab Americans active in U.S. politics?
Yes. For decades, Arab Americans have voted, run for office
and been elected. According to John L. Zogby, a pollster who
is Arab American, 86 percent of voting-age Arab Americans
in early 2000 were registered voters. In 1996, exit polls
said 54 percent of the Arab-American vote was for Bill Clinton,
38 percent went for Bob Dole and 7.7 percent went for independent
candidate H. Ross Perot. The 2000 campaign was the first in
which both major presidential candidates addressed Arab Americans.
Arab Americans won major political offices?
Yes. In 1998, for example, 12 Arab Americans campaigned for
the U.S. Congress in 10 states.
are some prominent Arab-American politicians?
They have included U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell,
D-Maine; Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham; former secretary
of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala; former New Hampshire
governor and White House chief of staff John Sununu, and 2000
presidential candidate Ralph Nader.
there an Arab lobby?
There is not an Arab lobby in the sense of a monolithic, controlling
body. There are several organizations that lobby in behalf
of a variety of issues, including domestic and international
concerns. One is the Arab American Institute, which supports
presidential and congressional candidates who are receptive
to Arab-American concerns. Another is the American Arab Anti-Discrimination
Committee, a civil rights group.
Should I say Arab, Arabic or Arabian?
Arab is a noun for a person, and is used as an adjective,
as in "Arab country." Arabic is the name of the
language and generally is not used as an adjective. Arabian
is an adjective that refers to Saudi Arabia, the Arabian Peninsula,
or as in Arabian horse. When ethnicity or nationality are
relevant, it is more precise and accurate to specify the country
by using Lebanese, Yemeni or whatever is appropriate. We suggest
that you hyphenate when using Arab-American as an adjective,
as in Arab-American issues, but do not hyphenate when saying
that someone is an Arab American.
Arab American, or American Arab preferred?
Arab American but, again, if you can be more specific, do
should I refer to an Arab-American individual?
Preferably by the country that person is from, for example,
"of Lebanese heritage," or "of Jordanian descent,"
but only if ethnicity is relevant. Remember that Arab Americans
come from many places, and you should include the relevant
perspective. If the story is about an issue that affects Yemenis,
for example, don't treat other Arabic perspectives as interchangeable.
if the story is about Arab Americans whose ethnicity is not
relevant to the story?
Then there is no need to identify their ethnicity. It is important
to include Arab Americans even when the story is about issues
unrelated to heritage or culture. Arab Americans are teachers,
lawyers, grocers, executives and students. Their views are
important to many stories. If journalists confine Arab Americans
to stories about Arab issues, other facets of their experience
are ignored and the overall portrayal is one-dimensional.
does Mohammedanism mean?
Do not use Mohammedan and its derivatives. Instead, use Islam
for the religion, Muslim for a follower of the religion and
derivatives of these words.
it Muslim or Moslem?
is a sheik?
A sheik can be the leader of a family, a village, a tribe
or a mosque. Press accounts popularized the term "oil-rich
sheik." This contributed to the misconception that the
people who became wealthy from oil were sheiks, and that sheiks
had oil money. Neither is true.
Some are, most aren't. The area around the Persian Gulf is one
of several oil-producing areas in the world, but not all Arab
countries produce oil, and very few Arabs are rich from oil.
Arabs mostly a nomadic people?
No. Most live in urban areas, but portrayals of Arabs as desert
dwellers have distorted the picture. Bedouins, nomadic people
depicted in movies, make up only about 2 percent of Arab people.
One of the largest Arab cities is Cairo, with a population
of more than 6 million.
Arabs come from the desert?
Most do not. To begin with, most Arabs live in cities. Secondly,
Arab countries have a range of climates. Many have coastal
areas and some have mountainous areas that get snow. Arab
people come from a variety of latitudes that extend from as
far south as just below the equator to as far north as approximately
about the stereotype pf Arabs as terrorists?
Terrorists of many ethnicities operate all around the globe.
High-profile attacks have brought U.S. attention on terrorists
in or from the Middle East, and the U.S. State Department
has identified many groups with Arab connections. However,
it is inaccurate to assume that, because people are Arab or
Arab American, they are involved in terrorism or, when an
attack occurs, that Arabs must be behind it.
is meant by the phrase "Islamic fundamentalist"?
This is complex. The term fundamentalist, whether applied
to Muslims or Christians, is a largely American construct
that implies politically conservatism and, sometimes, extremism.
Some groups make no distinction between their cause and their
interpretation of the religion. Careful reporting doesn't
assume that religion is the sole basis for political actions.
The term "Islamic fundamentalist" has been used
to refer to people who cite Islam to justify political actions.
Fairness and accuracy mean attributing political actions to
the group, government or party responsible, and not just to
the religion, which may have millions of followers with different
beliefs. Avoid constructions like "Muslim bomb."
Islam a violent religion?
The Quran teaches nonviolence. Throughout history, political
groups and leaders have used Islam and other religions to
justify many things, including violence
Arab-American women subservient to men?
No sweeping statement can reflect all the roles of Arab women.
They range from leaders of matriarchal societies to independent
businesswomen to women living under extreme repression. In
the United States, their roles are affected by their country
of origin, whether they are from urban or rural areas, religion,
degree of assimilation and, of course, their own individual
is that charm with the eye or an eye on a hand?
Often worn as jewelry, the hamsa is a non-religious symbol
for protection or good luck. The eye, usually blue when colored,
wards off the evil eye or evil spirits. For example, the charm
may be put on a baby to protect the child from harm. This
cultural tradition is shared by many people of different religions.
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can I find Arab Americans in my community?
In cities where there are large populations, this is easy.
You can find restaurants, stores, markets and other businesses
with Arabic names or writing on them. Look for organizations,
community centers, churches and mosques that might be Arab-related.
Use these as beginning points, and don't keep going back to
the same people, or focus only on recent immigrants.
there issues about the way Arab Americans are portrayed in
Yes. In some cases, journalists seem to prefer to publish
or air images of people who look different, or exotic. In
trying for a more interesting image, they may emphasize the
difference between Arab Americans and non-Arab Americans.
Most Arab Americans do not wear traditional clothing. News
organizations whose collective reports give the impression
that Arab Americans generally dress differently than non-Arab
Americans are being inaccurate.
there a coverage pitfall that reporters should avoid?
Like many groups, Arab Americans say that reporters stay away
unless there is a problem to report, or if there is a national
or international crisis for which they want reaction. This
keeps people out of sight except when they are associated
with trouble. The solution is to cover Arab Americans consistently
and continuously. By paying attention to what communities
say are significant news issues, reporters offer deeper and
can I learn more?
We're glad you asked. This resource guide is just an introduction.
Any one of the 100 questions in it has answers that would
fill a book. We have listed some resources for further study
in the following pages. We also encourage you to get out and
talk to people, and to invite them to visit your newsroom.
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