Arabic Language Blog

Basic Cultural Values القيم الثقافية الأساسية Posted by on May 24, 2011 in Arabic Language, Culture, Vocabulary

        Arab societies share so many values that include: endurance, loyalty, dignity, generosity, self-respect, pride and revenge. Today, we are going to discuss three basic values that are still prevalent in most Arab societies.

  • Collectivism الجماعية : It is an approach to life among Arabs which is opposed to the individual centered approach in Western societies. Social life in the Arab region is characterized by situation centeredness. Loyalty to one’s extended family and larger group is superior to individual needs and goals. The strong emphasis on mutual interdependence influences social interaction patterns throughout the life span. All educational institutions reinforce the values and attitudes in which the family socializes its members. The principal technique for child-rearing is shaming where a child is made to feel ashamed because others see him as having acted wrongly. Because of the emphasis on extended family relations, Arab children grow up more intimate with and sensitive to their elders than to their peers. The collective family unit is the critical institution that guarantees economic well-being and influences association among kinsmen. That is why the strong sense of indebtedness to family is generally maintained.
  • Hospitality الضيافة : Nomadic hospitality or diyafa dates back to pre-Islamic times and emerged as a coping mechanism in the desert environment where individuals were utterly dependent on the assistance of others during travel or for protection from avengers or oppressors. To a foreigner, hospitality is probably the most outstanding Arab trait. It reflects a desired personal quality and symbolizes status. Certain occasions require elaborate displays of hospitality. During marriage, baby birth, burial, completion of house-building and during the holy month of Ramadan, village wide visiting and sharing of meals is common. Hospitality in the guest-host relationship is guided by unmentioned and subtle cultural rules which depend on territoriality and the financial and social status of the people involved. Arabs expect hospitality from others and one’s personal status and reputation may be affected by the absence of such behaviour.
  • Honourالشرف / العِـرض  : It is a controlling value legitimating the family structure and the modesty code required for both men and women. One’s honour determines one’s image and the key to saving face is the constant avoidance of shame. Honour or ‘ird appears to be a secular rather than a religious value although many religious teachings have indirectly supported it. Fathers, brothers, uncles and paternal cousins strictly enforce norms related to honour by ensuring that the women in their family conduct themselves properly and thus maintain a chaste reputation. The network of norms surrounding ‘ird extends to many actions that are only remotely connected with sex; e.g. loud speaking or laughter appearing in public places alone. The penalty for loss of ‘ird is related to public acknowledgment of the violation. Light to severe penalties – including death – must be enacted to protect the ‘ird of the family.

     To sum up, the collective nature of Arab peoples and their emphasis on hospitality and honour function to ensure cohesion and group survival. Maintenance of basic values depends on the conformity of group members to preferred modes of behaviour. The above values also illuminate the role of cultural and social context in providing more detailed information about these values.


Adapted from : “Arab Cultural Communication Patterns” by Ellen Feghali.


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About the Author: Fisal

Well, I was born near the city of Rasheed or Rosetta, Egypt. Yes, the city where the Rosetta Stone was discovered. It is a small city on the north of Egypt where the Nile meets the Mediterranean. I am a Teacher of EFL.