“Professional People Recruited Professionally”BEING AWARE OF ARAB CULTURE & THE DIFFERENING CULTURES TO THE WEST
Guidance Notes• These guidance notes are to help you understand the cultural differences you will face when living in the Middle East. It must be highlighted that there is no Arab lifestyle or community. The Arabic world is full of wealthy and different areas, categories and societies. Variations are available not only among nations, but within nations as well.• NOTE: It is difficult to discuss categories of people without generalizing. It then follows that it is hard to discuss the lifestyle of a team without generalizing. These notes aim to be as precise and clear as possible, but may contain said generality. They offer an understanding into a lifestyle, but the reliability is determined by the perspective and particular circumstances.
BACKGROUND OF THE ARAB WORLD• The Arab world extends from Morocco across Northern Africa to the Persian Gulf. The Arab world is more or less equal to the area known as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), although this excludes Somalia, Djibouti, and the Comoros Islands which are part of the Arab world. It can also be defined as those countries where Arabic is the dominant language.• NOTE: Arab countries are religiously and ethnically diverse with Islam being the dominant religion in most countries. 22 Arab countries/areas: Algeria, Bahrain, the Comoros Islands, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Moroc co, Mauritania, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Iran and Turkey are not Arab countries.
• The Arab world comprises of 22 nations; several community belief systems and a variety of cultural and language categories. Nearly 60% of the world’s oil supplies are at or near the Arabian Peninsula, making Saudi Arabia the world’s largest oil reserve.• Contrary to common misconception all Arabs are not Muslims and all Muslims are not Arabs. In reality they are a religiously diverse group with many Arab Christians in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Iraq.
CULTURAL DIFFERENCES - WOMEN Respecting Women – Guidelines For Western Men.• Generally Arab women are typically considered to be secondary to men in their societies. The extent of subordination varies by country. In particular the most constricting conditions occur on the Arabian Peninsula with more relaxed conditions being in the inner-city areas of Egypt, Syria and Lebanon.• Western men need to respect the privacy and protected role of Arab women in Arab societies. Men should stand when women enter the room, accept the different living “areas” for men & women and not expect women to eat or socialise in the same room as men.
When in the company of Arab women there are a fewpoints to remember:-• Do not shake hands unless she offers her hand first• Do not flirt, touch, hug or talk in private• Do not talk in public to professional Arab women unless it is business related• Do not try to engage an Arab woman in conversation unless you have been formally introduced• Do not stare at an Arab woman or maintain eye contact• Do not ask Arab men any questions relating to their wives & family
CULTURAL DIFFERENCES - MENRespecting Men – Guidelines For Western Women.Bearing in mind Arab women are considered subordinateto men, Western women will need to keep this in mind.Therefore when in the company of Arab men remember:-• Do not stare or maintain eye contact• Do not flirt, touch, hug or talk in private• Note when out in public your shoulder to elbows should be covered.• You should wear long dresses or full length skirts and nothing see-through or tight.
CULTURAL PERSPECTIVES ARAB Vs. WESTERNFAMILY FAMILYCentre of everything. Important but not as central to individualFather has first & last word.FRIENDS FRIENDSPeriphery, but courteous to all. Core to some, important to mostHONOUR HONOURVery important amongst Arabs and will be protected & Typically not as important.defended at all costs.SHAME SHAMEEspecially against family – to be avoided at all costs. Typically not as important.Insults & criticism are taken very seriously.TIME TIMELess rigid. Approach to time is much more relaxed & Very structured, deadlines must be met.slower than that in Western cultures.RELIGION RELIGIONCentral to all things. Varies by individual, very personal, not discussed in polite conversation.SOCIETY SOCIETYFamily/tribe is most important Individual rights.GOVERNMENT GOVERNMENTMost are secular, but still emphasize religion. Purpose is to protect rights & improve standard of livingAGE & WISDOM AGE & WISDOMHonoured. Youth & Beauty praised.WEALTH WEALTHHonoured in both cultures. Honoured in both cultures.
FAMILY• “Family” is the key social unit influencing an Arabs life. Arabs honour and venerate their family and the larger the family the better. Having a large family offers possible economic benefits, particularly if a son is able to look after his parents in their later years. It is typical for women to have their own area in the family home which is separate to that of the men, especially in rural areas.• Fathers are the authority figure and Mothers have power over the house and the children. Young children are treasured, adored and indulged. Older boys are allowed to attend the gatherings of men, whilst older girls are carefully protected. Children are taught to conform to norms and conventional Arab society. Children are not encouraged to seek individuality as much as they are in the West. Children seldom leave home until they marry. It is expected that everyone will marry. Honour and dignity are tied to the good repute of one’s family. Children belong to their father’s family, and in the case of divorce the father is automatically awarded custody of boys at least nine years old and girls at least 12 years old. Younger children remain with their mother.
MARRIAGEAlthough not mandatory it is normal for marriages to bearranged. Generally a man will only have one wife, but can ifhe is able to financially provide for them, have up to fourwives. A marriage celebration will last several days and caninclude the firing of guns into the air (his can occur during anycelebration). Typically a marriage contract is signed prior tothe actual ceremony which covers what the bride and groomwill contribute towards the marriage. It can also possiblyinclude the division of property and assets should a divorcetake place. Husbands are expected to provide housing,clothing and food to support his wife and future family.Westerners living in the Middle East are not allowed to livetogether if they are not married.
HOW TO GREET PEOPLE• Body Language is significant in Arabic culture. Gestures must be understood so as to enable a clear understanding of the intended message. Always shake hands with your right hand when you first meet and when you leave. The shaking of hands generally takes longer than in the West but without such a firm grip. Normally the left hand would grasp the elbow.• Close friends or contemporaries hug and kiss both cheeks when greeting one another. During the Hajj (pilgrimage), people may kiss only on the shoulders as a sign of friendship. A Bedouin gesture of friendship and respect is carried out by the touching of noses together three times. Another sign of respect is highlighted by placing a hand on your heart along with a slight bow.
Interactions among Arabs happen at a much closer distance thanwould normally occur in the Western world. Arabs touch morebetween the same sexes; they hold hands and hug each otheropenly. The outward display of affection between male friendsis overlooked by the Arab society therefore you may see Arabmen, even officials and military officers, holding hands as theywalk or converse with one another. If an individual Arab doesnot touch you, quite simply he does not like you, or he may betrying to restrain himself in the knowledge that this is not theaccepted normal behaviour in the West.Therefore, as a Westerner a full body embrace, accompaniedwith hugging, should not be initiated until you are sure that theArab is a close friend. If the Arab initiates it, participate andconsider yourself highly honoured and/or accepted. Eye contactduring discussions is often long and direct and staring is notnecessarily considered rude (except gazing at women).Alternatively, contact between the opposite sex in public isconsidered close to obscene.
COMMUNICATION• The affection of talking comes from the traditional rich nomadic greetings with travellers and the exchange of information. It is well known that Arabs love poetry and creative speech.• When conversing with Arabs remember they believe that Words have power. They dislike talking about any un-pleasantries and do not gossip, as is often the case in the Western World. It is their belief that speaking ill of someone or something will in return produce negative results.• The written word is important and is respected by both literate and the illiterate. Advanced education is considered to be a remarkable achievement and they greatly respect scholars and learned men and women.
INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THE ARABIC LANGUAGE & AUTHORITY• Arabic is the written and spoken language of more than 150 million inhabitants of the Arab world. Arabic script is also used by 1/7th of the worlds population. Millions of people in Africa and Asia write their languages in the Arabic alphabet. Arabic belongs to the Semitic family of languages of which Hebrew is also a member. Arabic script reads from right to left and its alphabet contains 28 characters. While it is universally written, read and understood in its classical form, spoken Arabic has undergone regional and dialectical variations.• Authority is generally related to age and sex throughout the Arab world. Arabs tend to associate age with experience and wisdom, with the head of the family or clan being the older male. Upon his death this position will be taken either by his eldest son or a brother. Should a son take over as head of the family he gains authority over his Mother.
ISLAMIC TERMINOLOGYFATWAH: A legal pronouncement in Islam usually issued at the request of a judge or individual to settle a question when Islamic law is unclear on the subject.IMAM: Community religious leader/clergy (bishop). In some contexts, “Imam” merely refers to the prayer leader.KHALIFA: Political Sunni leader chosen by elders.QURAN: Islamic Holy Book, given by Allah to the Prophet Mohammad.MADRASSAH: A school. Normally secular with some integrated Islamic subjects, sometimes purely Islam oriented.MOSQUE: Muslim place of worship similar to a church or temple.MUEZZIN: Person who calls faithful to prayer.MUFTI: A Sunni Islamic law scholar who is an interpreter of Islamic Law (Sharia) and capable of issuing a fatwah/fataawa
ISLAMIC TERMINOLOGYAYATOLLAH: A Shia Islamic law scholar who is an interpreter of Islamic Law (Sharia) and capable of issuing a fatwah/fataawa.MULLAH: Local religious leader/clergy (minister). QADI: Judge of the Sharia Islamic law.SHARIA: Islamic Law.SHEIK: Leader of a family/village/tribe or mosque.SUNNI and SHI’A: Two main branches of Islam.WAHABBIs: Puritanical Muslims from the Hanbali school of Sunni Islam. Never shave their beards.
ISLAMS FIVE PILLERS OF FAITH• SHAHADAH - Declaration of Faith – This declaration of faith is called the Shahadah. The significance of this declaration is the belief that the only purpose of life is to serve and obey God, and this is achieved through the teachings and practices of the Last Prophet, Muhammad.• SALEH-Prayer – Saleh is the name for the obligatory prayers that are performed five times a day, and are a direct link between the worshipper and God.• ZAKAH-Alms – An important principle of Islam is that everything belongs to God, and that wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust. The word Zakah means purification. Possessions are purified by setting aside a proportion for those in need and for the society in general.
ISLAMS FIVE PILLERS OF FAITH• SAWM- Fasting – The fourth pillar of faith affects every Muslim who observes the Islamic month of Ramadan. This is a month where during daylight hours they fast from food, drink, smoking and sexual intercourse. All these activities take place during the evening hours. Westerners must respect that it is considered bad manners to carry out any of the above in front of someone who is fasting. In very strict regions it has been noted that Westerners have and can be arrested and deported if they don’t adhere/respect the above.• HAJJ-Pilgrimage – The pilgrimage to Mecca is an obligation only for those who are physically and financially able to do so. Over two million people go to Mecca each year from every corner of the globe providing a unique opportunity for those of different nations to meet one another. The Hajj culminates on the 10th day of Dhu-al-Hijja and begins the 4-day festival known as Eid al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice) celebrated by Muslims around the world exchanging gifts and prayers.
PRAYER• FRIDAY PRAYER – Friday is the Muslim Sabbath. I devout Muslim countries e.g. Saudi Arabia, most business will shut down. However, this is generally not the case in Turkey, Cairo and Egypt. With the Sabbath being observed on a Friday, rather than on a Sunday as in the West, the weekend is therefore held over Thursday and Friday with the working week starting on a Saturday.• RESPECT FOR PRAYER – During Prayer (Salat) everything shuts down/stops. As a Westerner it is wise to stop what you are doing and be respectful of the Salat and remain indoors until the Salat is completed. If you are outside do not stand directly in front of anyone in the prayer position.
THE QURAN• Means Recitation, Honourable to memorize, Allahs infallible word and is 114 chapters arranged by length i.e. longest to shortest, the size of the Gospels.• Handling the Quran – some points to respect/remember. – Anyone who touches the Quran must have clean hands. – Keep Qurans out of latrines. – Keep the Qurans off the floor. – Use a cloth or plastic dustcover for the Quran when not in use. – Muslims will keep Quran texts on the highest bookcase shelf. – Place nothing on top of the Quran. – Prior to reading the Quran, Muslims will often recite the following:- • "I seek refuge in God from Satan, the rejected enemy [of mankind]." – When reading while sitting on the floor Muslims place the text on a book rest or holder. If no holder is available they hold the Quran above the lap or waist.• Note the spelling of the Quran (common mistake is to spell it Koran).
WHY THE COLOUR GREEN IS SO SIGNIFICANT IN ISLAM• Green is the symbolic colour of Islam• it is considered the colour of nature.• It is also the colour used for banners on battlefields as well as being the colour of the first Islamic flag.• Other traditional important colours are black, red and white.
KEY ARABIC CALENDAR HOLIDAYS 2013• Ramadan - Ramadan is expected to begin on or around July 9th 2013 and will finish on or around 8th August 2013.• Leyla Al-Qadr - the Night of Power. Leyla Al-Qadr is expected to fall during the last ten days of Ramadan: around 29th July – 7th August 2013• Eid al-Fitr – marking the end of Ramadan. Eid Al-Fitr is expected to be on or around 8th August 2013.• Hajj - the pilgrimage to Mecca. Hajj is expected to fall between 13th -18th October, 2013.• Eid al-Adha - is a holiday at the end of the Hajj. Eid Al-Adha will fall on or around 15th October 2013.• Islamic New Year - The Islamic New Year 1434 H./2012 is expected to fall on or around 4th November 2013.
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