Oman: Understanding Arabs                                 

Oman and the UK

Oman has prospered on Indian Ocean trade for a long time. In the late 18th century, a newly established sultanate in Muscat signed the first in a series of friendship treaties with Britain. Over time, Oman's dependence on British political and military advisors increased, but it never became a British colony. In 1970, Qaboos bin Said al-Said overthrew the restrictive rule of his father. His extensive modernization program has opened the country to the outside world while preserving the longstanding close ties with the UK. Oman's moderate, independent foreign policy has sought to maintain good relations with all Middle Eastern countries.

Who are the Arabs?

By definition, Arabs are people who speak Arabic as a native language. Arabic is a northern Semitic language spoken by 220 million people and the official language of some 20 countries in southwestern Asia and northern Africa, a region known as the Middle East. Arabic is one of the 6th official languages of the United Nations and the 4th most widely spoken language in the world (after Mandarin Chinese, English and Spanish). Arabic is the language of the Qur'an and, as a result, Islam is heavily influenced by Arabic culture. The Qur’an is the Islamic holy book (similar to the Bible for Christians).

Are all Arabs Muslims?

Muslims and Arabs are different populations. Not all Arabs are Muslims and not all Muslims are Arabs. (Only about 12% of Muslims are Arab.) For that matter, not all Mid-Easterners are Arabs (that is, native speakers of Arabic—for example, the Assyrians, Berbers, Chaldeans, Turks, Kurds, Iranians and Israelis are not Arabic speakers). Likewise, not all Mid-Easterners are Muslim. For instance, the Christian Chaldeans and Assyrians, who are Semitic and share some cultural foundations, have different languages and religion.

Many Arabs believe...

  • The family is the focal point of social existence. Children are highly valued.
  • Men and women are inherently different.
  • Wisdom increases with age.
  • Much of life is controlled by fate.

On the other hand, many US Americans believe...

  • The individual is the focal point of social existence.
  • Rules should apply equally to everyone in all circumstances.
  • People have a right to various kinds of privacy.
  • People can control their environment and destiny.

Common Arab Values

  • A person's dignity, honor and reputation are primary and are to be protected at all costs. Honor (or shame) is collective—pertaining to the entire family or group.
  • All behavior must create a good impression on others.
  • Loyalty to family takes precedence over personal needs and desires.
  • Social class and family background are the major determiners of personal status, followed by individual character and achievement.

Common Arab Religious Attitudes

  • Many Arabs believe in God, acknowledge His power, and hold a religious affiliation.
  • Humans cannot control all events; much depends on God's will—that is, fate.
  • Piety is one of the most admirable of personal characteristics.
  • Church and state should not be separated. Religion should be taught in school and promoted by the government. (This is the Islamic view which is not necessarily shared by Arab Christians.)

Common Arab Self-Perception

  • They are generous, humanitarian, polite and loyal.
  • They have a rich cultural heritage, as illustrated by their significant contributions to religion, philosophy, literature, medicine, architecture, art, mathematics and the natural sciences. Many Arabs believe that most of these accomplishments are unknown in the West.
  • They are a clearly defined cultural group and perceive themselves as members of the Arab Nation.
  • They often believe they have been victimized and exploited by the West.
  • Some believe that indiscriminate imitation of Western culture may have a corrupting influence on Arab society—weakening traditional family ties and social and religious values.
  • Some feel they are misunderstood and wrongly characterized by Westerners. And some feel that many Westerners do not distinguish between Arabs and Muslims.