King Ibn Saud of Arabia, who is credited with restoring his tribe's rule over the Arab heartland in the 20th century

Arabization or Arabisation (Arabic: تعريب taʻrīb) describes either the conquest of a non-Arab area and the migration of Arab settlers into the new domain or a growing Arab influence on non-Arab populations, causing their gradual adoption of the Arabic language and/or their incorporation of Arab culture and Arab identity. The religion of Islam and the associated Islamist (government and society ordered in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam) socio-political order, with their central Quran text written in Arabic language and tailored for Arab culture, had a central role in Arabization, which usually went hand in hand with Islamization of conquered lands. Generally, elements of Arabian origin were combined in various forms with elements from conquered civilizations and ultimately denominated "Arab". Arabization also continued in modern times, most prominently being enforced by the Arab nationalist regimes of Iraq,[1] Syria, Sudan,[2] Mauritania, Algeria[2] and Libya with policies which include expanding colonial Arab settlements, expulsion of non-Arab minorities and enforcement of Arab identity and culture upon non-Arab populations, in particular by means of not permitting autochthonous mother tongues other than Arabic in education. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, citing local witnesses, also claims that the aggressive persecution of non-Arab minorities by the terror group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is forced Arabization.[3][4]

After the rise of Islam in the Hejaz, both the Arabic culture and language were spread through conquest, trade and intermarriages between members of the non-Arab local population and the Arabs - in Egypt, Syria, Palestine and Sudan and Tunisia. The Arabic language became common across these areas; dialects were also formed. Although Yemen is traditionally held to be the homeland of the Arabs, most[5][6] of the Yemeni population in fact did not speak Arabic (but instead South Semitic languages) prior to the spread of Islam. The influence of Arabic has also been profound in many other countries, whose cultures have been influenced by Islam. Arabic was a major source of vocabulary for languages as diverse as Berber, Indonesian, Tagalog, Malay, Maltese, Persian, Punjabi, Sindhi, Somali, Swahili, Turkish, Urdu, Hindi, Bengali as well as other languages in countries, where these languages are spoken; a process that reached its high point in the 10th to the 14th centuries, the high point of Arab culture, and although many of Arabic words have fallen out of use since, many still remain.

Early Arab expansion in the Near East

After Alexander the Great, the Nabataean kingdom emerged and ruled a region extending from north of Arabia to the south of Syria. Nabateans were an amalgam of both Arabian and Aramean tribes, the former originating from the Arabian peninsula, who came under the influence of the earlier Aramaic culture, the neighbouring Hebrew culture of the Hasmonean kingdom, as well as the Hellenistic cultures in the region (especially with the Christianization of Nabateans in 3rd and 4th centurues). The pre-modern Arabic language was created by Nabateans, who developed the Nabataean alphabet which became the basis of modern Arabic script. The Nabataean language, under heavy Arab influence, amalgamated into the Arabic language.

The Arab Ghassanids were the last major non-Islamic Semitic migration northward out of Yemen in late classic era. They were Greek Orthodox Christian, and clients of the Byzantine Empire. They arrived in Byzantine Syria which had a largely Aramean population. They initially settled in the Hauran region, eventually spreading to modern Lebanon, Israel and Jordan, briefly securing governorship of parts of Syria and Transjordan away from the Nabataeans.

The Arab Lakhmid Kingdom was founded by the Lakhum tribe that emigrated from Yemen in the 2nd century and ruled by the Banu Lakhm, hence the name given it. They adopted the religion of the Church of the East, founded in Assyria/Asōristān, opposed to the Ghassanids Greek Orthodox Christianity, and were clients of the Sasanian Empire.

The Byzantines and Sasanians used the Ghassanids and Lakhmids to fight proxy wars in Arabia against each other.

History of Arabization

Arab conquests 622 AD to 750 AD

Arabization during the early Caliphate

The earliest and most significant instance of "Arabization" was the first Muslim conquests of Muhammad and the subsequent Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates. They built a Muslim Empire that grew well beyond the Arabian Peninsula, eventually reaching as far as Spain in the West and Central Asia to the East.

Southern Arabia

Further information: Southern Arabia

Old South Arabian was driven to extinction by the Islamic expansion, being replaced by Classical Arabic which is written with the Arabic script. The South Arabian alphabet which was used to write it also fell out of use. A separate branch of south semitic, the Modern South Arabian languages still survive today as spoken languages.

Although Yemen is traditionally held to be the homeland of Arabs, most[7][8] of the sedentary Yemeni population did not speak Arabic (but instead South Semitic languages) prior to the spread of Islam.

Eastern Arabia

The sedentary people of pre-Islamic Eastern Arabia were mostly Aramaic speakers and to some degree Persian speakers, while Syriac functioned as a liturgical language.[9][10] According to Serjeant, the indigenous Bahrani people are the Arabized "descendants of converts from the original population of Christians (Aramaeans), Jews and ancient Persians (Majus) inhabiting the island and cultivated coastal provinces of Eastern Arabia at the time of the Arab conquest".[11] In pre-Islamic times, the population of eastern Arabia consisted of Christian Arabs, Aramean Christians, Persian-speaking Zoroastrians[12] and Jewish agriculturalists.[9][11] The Dilmun civilization of Eastern Arabia was not Arab; however, Dilmun was still a Semitic civilization.

Zorastarianism was one of the major religions of pre-Islamic eastern Arabia, the fire-worshippers of eastern Arabia were known as Majoos in pre-Islamic times.[13]

Sasanian weaponry, 7th century

The Fertile Crescent

After the rise of Islam, the Arab tribes unified under the banner of Islam and colonized modern Jordan, Palestine, Iraq and Syria. However, even before the emergence of Islam, the Levant was already a home for several pre-Islamic Arabian colonies and kingdoms. The Nabateans kingdom of Petra which was based in Jordan, the Ghassanids kingdom which was based in the Syrian desert. Some of these kingdoms were under the indirect influence of the Romans, Byzantines, and the Persian Sassanids. The Nabateans transcript developed in Petra was the base for the current Arabic transcript while the Arab heritage is full of poetry recording the wars between the Ghassanids and Lakhmids Arabian tribes in Syria. In the 7th century, and after the dominance of Arab Muslims within a few years, the major garrison towns developed into the major cities. The local Arabic and Aramaic speaking population, which shared a very close Semitic linguistic/genetic ancestry with the Qahtani and Adnani Arabs, was somewhat Arabized. In Mesopotamia-Assuristan (modern Iraq, north east Syria and south east Turkey), the indigenous Assyrians largely resisted Arabization in Upper Mesopotamia, although the south of Iraq (what had once been Babylonia) quickly became Arabized. The Assyrians of the north continued to speak Akkadian influenced Neo-Aramaic dialects descending from the Imperial Aramaic of the Assyrian Empire, together with Syriac which was founded in Assyria in the 5th century BC, and retaining Assyrian Church of the East and Syriac Orthodox Church Christianity. These linguistic and religious traditions still persist to the present day. The Gnostic Mandeans also retained their ancient culture, religion and Mandaic-Aramaic language after the Arab Islamic conquest, and these too still survive today.


Since the foundation of the Ptolemaic kingdom in Alexandria, Egypt had been under the influence of Greek culture, and later under the control of the Roman Empire. Eventually it was conquered from the Eastern Romans by the Arab Muslims in the 7th century CE. The Coptic language, which was written using the Coptic variant of the Greek alphabet, was spoken in Egypt before the Arabic Islamic conquest. As a result of Egypt's Arabization, the native language of all Egyptians including the pre-Arab Copts is now Arabic with the Egyptian Arabic dialect. Currently the Coptic language only survives as a liturgical language of the Coptic Church.

North Africa and Iberia

Neither North Africa nor the Iberian Peninsula were strangers to Semitic culture: the Phoenicians and later the Carthaginians dominated parts of the North African and Iberian shores for more than eight centuries until they were suppressed by the Romans and by the following Vandal and Visigothic invasions, and the Berber incursions. The Berbers allied themselves with the Umayyad Arab Muslims in invading Spain. Later, in 743 AD, the Berbers defeated the Arab Umayyad armies and expelled them for most of West North Africa (al-Maghreb al-Aqsa) during the Berber Revolt, but not the territory of Ifriqiya which stayed Arabic (East Algeria, Tunisia, and West-Libya). Centuries later some migrating Arab tribes settled in some plains while the Berbers remained the dominant group almost everywhere. The Inland North Africa remained exclusively Berber until the 11th century; the Iberian Peninsula, on the other hand, remained Arabized, particularly in the south, until the 16th century.

After conquering Cairo, the Fatimids abandoned Tunisia and parts of eastern Algeria to the local Zirids (972–1148).[14] The invasion of Ifriqiya by the Banu Hilal, a warlike Arab Bedouin tribe encouraged by the Fatimids of Egypt to seize North Africa, sent the region's urban and economic life into further decline.[14] The Arab historian Ibn Khaldun wrote that the lands ravaged by Banu Hilal invaders had become completely arid desert.[15][16]

While maternal ancestry lineages of Arab countries are highly diverse, in the paternal ancestry lineage Haplogroup J (Y-DNA) follows the history of Arab conquests

Arabization in Islamic Iberia

After the Umayyad conquest of Hispania, under Muslim rule Iberia (al-Andalus) incorporated elements of Arabic language and culture. The Mozarabs were Iberian Christians who lived under Islamic rule in Al-Andalus. Their descendants remained unconverted to Islam, but did however adopt elements of Arabic language and culture and dress. They were mostly Roman Catholics of the Visigothic or Mozarabic Rite. Most of the Mozarabs were descendants of HispanoGothic Christians and were primarily speakers of the Mozarabic language under Islamic rule. Many were also what the Arabist Mikel de Epalza calls "Neo-Mozarabs", that is Northern Europeans who had come to the Iberian Peninsula and picked up Arabic, thereby entering the Mozarabic community.

Besides Mozarabs, another group of people in Iberia eventually came to surpass the Mozarabs both in terms of population and Arabization. These were the Muladi or Muwalladun, most of whom were descendants of local Hispano-Basques and Visigoths who converted to Islam and adopted Arabic culture, dress, and language. By the 11th century, most of the population of al-Andalus was Muladi, with large minorities of other Muslims, Mozarabs, and Sephardic Jews. It was the Muladi, together with the Berber, Arab, and other (Saqaliba and Zanj) Muslims who became collectively termed in Christian Europe as "Moors".

The Andalusian Arabic language was spoken in Iberia during Islamic rule.

Arabization in Islamic Sicily, Malta, and Crete

A similar process of Arabization and Islamization occurred in the Emirate of Sicily (as-Siqilliyyah), Emirate of Crete (al-Iqritish), and Malta (al-Malta), albeit for a much shorter time span than al-Andalus. However, this resulted in the now defunct Sicilian Arabic language to develop, from which the modern Maltese language derives.

Arabization in Sudan

In the 12th century, the Arab Ja'alin tribe migrated into Nubia and Sudan and formerly occupied the country on both banks of the Nile from Khartoum to Abu Hamad. They trace their lineage to Abbas, uncle of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. They are of Arab origin, but now of mixed blood mostly with upper Egyptians and nubians.[17][18] They were at one time subject to the Funj kings, but their position was in a measure independent. Johann Ludwig Burckhardt said that the true Ja'alin from the eastern desert of Sudan are exactly like the Bedouin of eastern Arabia.

In 1846, many Arab Rashaida migrated from Hejaz in present-day Saudi Arabia into what is now Eritrea and north-east Sudan after tribal warfare had broken out in their homeland. The Rashaida of Sudan and Eritrea live in close proximity with the Beja people. Large numbers of Bani Rasheed are also found on the Arabian Peninsula. They are related to the Banu Abs tribe.[19] The Rashaida speak Hejazi Arabic.

In 1888, the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain claimed that the Arabic spoken in Sudan was "a pure but archaic Arabic". The pronunciation of certain letters was like Syrian, and not Egyptian, such as g being the pronunciation for Kaph and J being the pronunciation for Jim.[20]

Arabization in Sahel

In Medieval times, the Baggara Arabs who speak Shuwa Arabic migrated into Africa, currently they live in a belt stretching across Sudan, Chad and Niger. Arabic is an official language of Chad.

Arabization in modern times

Status of Arabic language map
  Exclusive official language
  One of official languages, majority
  One of official languages, minority
Further information: Arab nationalism

Arabization in Algeria, Morocco, Libya, and Tunisia

See also: Berberism

Arabization means introduction of Arabic education and an increased usage of Arabic where French was used before. Governments in North African countries have long promoted Arabization as a nationalist platform. Both Literary Arabic and Dārija are on the rise.

In Algeria, there is some tension between some Berber groups (such as the Kabyle people) and the government on formalizing their language which feeds the Berbers feelings that their ancestral culture and language are threatened and that Arabic is given more focus at the expense of their own identity.

Arabization in Iraq

Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party had aggressive Arabization policies involving driving out many pre-Arab and non-Arab races mainly Kurds, Assyrians, Yezidis, Shabaks, Armenians, Turcomans, Kawliya, Circassians and Mandeans, replacing them with Arab families. This policy drove out 500,000 people in the years 1991-2003. The Baathists also pressured many of these ethnic groups to identify as Arabs, and restrictions were imposed upon their languages, cultural expression and right to self-identification. The Anfal campaign destroyed many Kurdish, Assyrian and other ethnic minority villages and enclaves, and their inhabitants were often forcibly relocated to large cities in the hope that they would be Arabized.

Arabization in Islamic State of Iraq and Levant campaign

While formally committed to Islamism and polyethnicity, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) has frequently targeted non-Arab groups such as such as Kurds, Assyrians, Armenians, Turcomans, Shabaks and Yezidis.[3][4]It has often been claimed that these (ISIL) campaigns were a part of an organized Arabization plan.[3][4] A Kurdish official in Iraqi Kurdistan claimed that in particular the ISIL campaign in Sinjar was a textbook case of Arabization.[21]

It has been suggested in academia that modern Islamism in general and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) in particular would be motivated and driven by a desire to reinforce Arab cultural dominion over the religion of Islam.[22]

Arabization in Mauritania

Mauritania is an ethnically-mixed country that is economically and politically dominated by those who identify as Arabs and/or Arabic-speaking Berbers. About 30% of the population is considered "Black African", and they suffer high levels of discrimination.[23][23] Recent Black Mauritanian protesters have complained of "comprehensive Arabization" of the country.[24]

Arab Janjaweed tribes have been accused of killing hundreds of thousands of non-Arab Sudanese in a 2004/05 genocide in Darfur

Arabization in Sudan

Sudan is an ethnically-mixed country that is economically and politically dominated by the society of central northern Sudan, where many strongly identify as Arabs and Muslims. The population in southern Sudan consists mostly of Christian and Animist Nilotic people. The Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005) is typically characterized as a conflict between these two groups of people. In the 2011 Southern Sudanese independence referendum, the latter voted for secession and became independent.

The unrelated War in Darfur was an uprising in the western Darfur region of Sudan, caused by oppression of Darfur's non-Arab Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit ethnic groups.[25][26] The Sudanese government responded to the armed resistance by carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Darfur's non-Arabs. This resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, in mass displacements and coercive migrations, and in the indictment of Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.[27] Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell described the situation as a genocide or acts of genocide.[28] The perpetrators were Sudanese military and police and the Janjaweed, a Sudanese militia group recruited mostly among arabized indigenous Africans and a small number of Bedouin of the northern Rizeigat.[29][30][31][32]

Arabization in Syria

Since the independence of Syria in 1946, the ethnically diverse region of northern Syria suffered grave human rights violations, because all governments pursued a most brutal policy of Arabization.[33] While all non-Arab ethnic groups within Syria, such as Assyrians, Armenians, Turcomans and Mhallami have faced pressure from Arab Nationalist policies to identify as Arabs, the most archaic of it was directed against the Kurds. In his report for the 12th session of the UN Human Rights Council titled Persecution and Discrimination against Kurdish Citizens in Syria, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights held:[34] "Successive Syrian governments continued to adopt a policy of ethnic discrimination and national persecution against Kurds, completely depriving them of their national, democratic and human rights — an integral part of human existence. The government imposed ethnically-based programs, regulations and exclusionary measures on various aspects of Kurds’ lives — political, economic, social and cultural."

The Kurdish language was not officially recognized, it had no place in public schools and was outlawed at the workplace.[33][34][35] Children as well as businesses could not be given Kurdish names.[33][34] Books, music, videos and other material could not be published in Kurdish language.[33][35] Expressions of Kurdish identity like songs and folk dances were outlawed[34][35] and frequently prosecuted under a purpose-built criminal law against "weakening national sentiment".[36] Celebrating the Nowruz holiday was often constrained.[33][35]

In 1973 the Syrian authorities confiscated 750 square kilometers of fertile agricultural land in Al-Hasakah Governorate, which were owned and cultivated by tens of thousands of Kurdish citizens, and gave it to Arab families brought in from other provinces.[34][37] In 2007 in another such scheme in Al-Hasakah governate, 6,000 square kilometers around Al-Malikiyah were granted to Arab families, while tens of thousands of Kurdish inhabitants of the villages concerned were evicted.[34] These and other expropriations of ethnic Kurdish citizens followed a deliberate masterplan, called "Arab Belt initiative", attempting to depopulate the ressource-rich Jazeera of its ethnic Kurdish inhabitants and settle ethnic Arabs there.[33]

Reversing Arabization

The multilingual flag of Syrian Democratic Forces expresses the polyethnic agenda of the faction in the Syrian Civil War as opposed to Arabization policies

Historic reversions

The Reconquista in Spain is the most notable example for a historic reversion of Arabization. The process of Arabization and Islamization was reversed as the mostly Romance speaking Christian kingdoms in the north of the peninsula gradually conquered al-Andalus and re-Romanized and re-Christianized the region.

Reversions in modern times

In modern times, there have been various political developments to reverse the process of Arabization. Notable among these are:

See also


  1. Iraq, Claims in Conflict: Reversing Ethnic Cleansing in Northern Iraq.
  2. 1 2 Reynolds, Dwight F. (2015-04-02). The Cambridge Companion to Modern Arab Culture. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521898072.
  3. 1 2 3 "Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic: Twenty-seventh session". UN Human Rights Council.
  4. 1 2 3 "Selected testimonies from victims of the Syrian conflict: Twenty-seventh session" (PDF). UN Human Rights Council.
  5. Nebes, Norbert, "Epigraphic South Arabian," in Uhlig, Siegbert, ed. Encyclopaedia Aethiopica (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2005), p. 335
  6. Leonid Kogan and Andrey Korotayev: Sayhadic Languages (Epigraphic South Arabian) // Semitic Languages. London: Routledge, 1997, p[. 157-183.
  7. Nebes, Norbert, "Epigraphic South Arabian," in Uhlig, Siegbert, Encyclopaedia Aethiopica (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2005), p. 335
  8. Leonid Kogan and Andrey Korotayev: Sayhadic Languages (Epigraphic South Arabian) // Semitic Languages. London: Routledge, 1997, pp. 157-183.
  9. 1 2 "Tradition and Modernity in Arabic Language And Literature". J R Smart, J. R. Smart. 2013.
  10. "The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity". Averil Cameron. 1993. p. 185.
  11. 1 2 "Dialect, Culture, and Society in Eastern Arabia: Glossary". Clive Holes. 2001. pp. XXIV–XXVI.
  12. "E.J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936, Volume 5". M. Th. Houtsma. 1993. p. 98.
  13. "Glossary Of Islamic Terms". Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  14. 1 2 Stearns, Peter N.; Leonard Langer, William (2001). The Encyclopedia of World History: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, Chronologically Arranged (6 ed.). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 129–131. ISBN 0-395-65237-5.
  15. Singh, Nagendra Kr (2000). International encyclopaedia of islamic dynasties. 4: A Continuing Series. Anmol Publications PVT. LTD. pp. 105–112. ISBN 81-261-0403-1.
  16. "Populations Crises and Population Cycles, Claire Russell and W.M.S. Russell". Retrieved 19 January 2013.
  17. Chisholm 1911, p. 103.
  18. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, JSTOR (Organization) (1888). Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 17. p. 16. Retrieved 8 May 2011.
  19. "Eritrea: The Rashaida People". Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  20. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, JSTOR (Organization) (1888). Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 17. p. 11. Retrieved 8 May 2011.
  21. "Unviability of Islamic Caliphate: Ethnic Barriers - Part 1". Huffington Post. 2016-01-07. Retrieved 2016-06-21.
  22. 1 2 Archived 2 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  23. Alicia Koch, Patrick K. Johnsson (8 April 2010). "Mauritania: Marginalised Black populations fight against Arabisation - : Africa news, Maghreb news - The african daily newspaper". Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  24. "Q&A: Sudan's Darfur conflict". BBC News. 8 February 2010. Retrieved 24 March 2010.
  25. "Reuters AlertNet – Darfur conflict". Retrieved 24 March 2010.
  26. "The Prosecutor v. Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir". International Criminal Court. Retrieved 24 April 2016.
  27. Adam Jones (27 September 2006). Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. Routledge. p. 373. ISBN 978-1-134-25980-9.
  28. de Waal, Alex (25 July 2004). "Darfur's Deep Grievances Defy All Hopes for An Easy Solution". The Observer. London. Retrieved 13 January 2011.
  29. "Rights Group Says Sudan's Government Aided Militias". Washington Post. 20 July 2004. Archived from the original on 4 January 2006. Retrieved 14 January 2007.
  30. "Darfur – Meet the Janjaweed". American Broadcasting Company. 3 June 2008. Retrieved 16 July 2008.
  31. Uppsala Conflict Data Program Conflict Encyclopedia, Sudan, one-sided conflict, Janjaweed – civilians
  32. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "SYRIA: The Silenced Kurds; Vol. 8, No. 4(E)". Human Rights Watch. 1996.
  33. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Persecution and Discrimination against Kurdish Citizens in Syria, Report for the 12th session of the UN Human Rights Council" (PDF). Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 2009.
  34. 1 2 3 4 Tejel, Jordi; Welle, Jane (2009). Syria's kurds history, politics and society (PDF) (1. publ. ed.). London: Routledge. pp. X–X. ISBN 0-203-89211-9.
  35. "HRW World Report 2010". Human Rights Watch. 2010.
  36. "A murder stirs Kurds in Syria". The Christian Science Monitor.
  37. "Declaration of Establishment of State of Israel". Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 14 May 1948. Retrieved 2016-10-29.
  38. "After 52-year ban, Syrian Kurds now taught Kurdish in schools". Al-Monitor. 6 November 2015. Retrieved 2016-10-29.

External links


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