Frequently Asked Questions:

Language Issues:

Is it true that there are different dialects in Arabic?
Generally speaking there are four main dialects in spoken Arabic, each used in different geographical regions. The main dialects are: North African (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya), Egyptian (Egypt, Sudan), Levantine (Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria), and Gulf (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Yemen, Iraq). Within each major region there are different subcategories. The dialects differ from country to country and region to region based on speed, intonation, pronunciation, and vocabulary. The dialects reflect the differences and nuances of the Arab world.

Can people from different regions understand each other?
Someone from Morocco speaking with someone from Iraq would be the equivalent of someone from Alabama talking to an Australian. There would be times when they’re making an effort to try to understand each other but, generally speaking, they would be able to communicate effectively.

Is there a difference between spoken Arabic and written Arabic?
While the dialects are used to describe oral Arabic, the general standard for written Arabic is called Modern Standard Arabic, or MSA for short. MSA is the “glue” that bounds all the major dialects in the Arab world. It has strict grammatical rules that dictate how the language is written and spoken. MSA has recently become the lingua franca of the Arab world due to the mushrooming of Arab Satellite TV stations, which use MSA as a standard for news broadcasts, round panel debates, and other TV programs. Spoken MSA is more formal than the dialects and is used by politicians, journalists, scholars, and students to communicate with each other. In order for someone to navigate the Arab world effectively, it is necessary for them to master the fundamentals of MSA and have knowledge of one of the major dialects.

Is there an Arabic alphabet?
Yes. The Arabic alphabet is made up of 28 different consonants. Each consonant can be written in 4 different ways depending on its position in a word: stand-alone, initial, medial or final position. Unlike in English, where the vowels are actual letters, vowels in Arabic are symbols that you place above a particular consonant. There are three major vowels: fatha (“ah” sound), damma (“ooh” sound), and kasra (“eeh” sound).

How is Arabic written?
Like most Semitic languages (such as Hebrew) Arabic is written from right to left. While this might seem a little strange at first to non-native speakers, students of Arabic quickly overcome this hurdle and become used to this fact. However, it’s important to realize that numbers are NOT read/written right to left; they’re actually written left to write, just as in English!

Geography and Politics:

Are all Middle Eastern countries Arab?
The term Broader or Greater Middle East is used to describe the region that encompasses countries from Morocco in the West to Iran in the East. Using this broad definition, there are a number of non-Arab countries that are part of the Greater Middle East, and these include Iran, Israel, and Turkey. In addition, there is a large non-Arab population living in the Middle East, such as the Kurds, the Berbers, the Assyrians, the Persians, the Israelis and the Turks. So while a majority of the countries of the Middle East are Arab, there is a substantial portion of non-Arab countries and peoples living in the region as well.

Is Iran part of the Arab world?
No. Iranians have a different cultural and historical heritage than the Arab people. While the overwhelming majority of Arab countries are Sunni Muslims, most Iranians are followers of the Shia tradition of Islam. Iranians trace their roots differently than Arabs and most Iranians speak Farsi, not Arabic. So while Iran is not part of the Arab world, it is nevertheless considered to be part of the region known as the Broader Middle East.

Is Israel part of the Middle East?
Yes. Even though Israel is not considered part of the Arab world because a majority of its population and its heritage isn’t Arab, it is nevertheless considered to be part of the Broader Middle East region.


What’s the Qur’an (Koran)?
The Qur’an is the holy book for Muslims, who believe that it was revealed by the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad. It is the equivalent of the Bible in Christianity. The Qur’an, which means “recital” in Arabic, does not preach violence; rather it preaches understanding and peace among all of God’s creatures and between the People of the Book: Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

What’s the difference between the Qur’an and the Hadith?”
While Muslims believe that the Qur’an is literally God’s words, the Hadith is a collection of sayings by the prophet Muhammad recorded by his followers (Hadith literally means “saying” in Arabic). It also includes laws and other rulings decreed by Islamic scholars after the death of the prophet. The Hadith is second only to the Qur’an in its importance to Muslims.

What does Allah mean?
Allah is simply the Arabic word for God. The Arabic language is filled with references to God and you might have heard expressions that contain the word Allah. Some common expressions include: Allah Akbar (God is Great) and Al-hamdu Li-Allah (Praise to God).

What are the five pillars of Islam?
The five pillars of Islam are recommended to be followed by every Muslim. They include saying the shahada: “There is no God but God and the Prophet is his Messenger”; praying five times a day; fasting during the holy month of Ramadan; giving charity to the poor; and going to Mecca for the Hajj (pilgrimage). In order to become a Muslim all one has to do is say the shahada.

Is Islam a violent religion?
No. The word Islam literally means “to surrender” or “to submit” oneself to God’s will. Despite certain mischaracterizations, Islam’s Holy Book, the Qur’an, teaches nonviolence, tolerance, and peace. In addition, there is a large difference between the teachings of Islam and those who exploit the religious identity that Islam fosters to further their political aims which sometimes includes violence.

What’s a fatwa?
A fatwa is an Islamic religious decree issued by an individual who is authorized by the Council of Islamic Scholars to issue such rulings. The overwhelming majority of fatwas are on mundane matters and attempt to settle differences on issues such as inheritance and marriage. Fatwas that call for jihad against “infidels” are actually few and far between, but receive disproportionately large coverage by the media because of their shock value. Some of the recent fatwas that have received wide coverage include Osama Bin Laden’s fatwa against the United States. In 2005, the Shura Council of North America, which includes the highest and most well-respected Islamic scholars in the world, issued a fatwa against Bin Laden and against terrorism.

What’s an Imam?
An Imam is one who leads prayers at the local mosque. One of the Imam’s biggest responsibilities includes giving a sermon during Friday prayers.

What’s the difference between a mullah and an ayatollah?
A mullah is a member of the Islamic religious clergy who is an expert in Islamic jurisprudence, and has a solid grasp on the teachings of the Qur’an and the Hadith. In Arabic, mullah means “one who is with God”. An ayatollah, which means “the prayer of God” (Arabic) or “the sign of God” (Farsi), is a religious title given to Shiah mullahs who have gained the respect of the community of mullahs. Due to their expertise in Islamic law, ayatollahs tend to have large groups of faithful followers which gives them a lot of political clout. For more information on ayatollahs, check out Slate’s article: So, You Want to be an Ayatollah.


Can you be Arab and non-Muslim?
Yes. When you say that someone is Arab you’re referring to their ethnicity and racial background, and not their religion. A Muslim is someone who belongs to the Islamic religion. There’s a common misperception that all Arabs are Muslims because 85% of Arabs are in fact Muslims. But there are also people of Arab ethnicity who are Christians, Jews, Hindus, and even Atheists. For example, the former US presidential candidate Ralph Nader is of Arab ancestry since his parents are Lebanese; but he is not Muslim—he’s an Arab Christian. So being Arab does not necessarily mean that you’re Muslim.

Are all Muslims Arabs?
While Islam as a religion began in the Arabian Peninsula almost 1500 years ago, Arabs make up less than 25% of Muslims worldwide today. As a matter of fact there are almost as many Muslims in the Islamic country of Indonesia (250 million) than in the whole Arab world combined (270 million). There are currently 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide and a majority of them is located in South Asia.

Please keep checking back as we add more to our Question & Answer section. Have a question? Make sure to Contact us!

Visitor Number

All content © AL-BAAB.com 2005 - All rights reserved.
Site by Silverflux Design