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Abd al-Malik established Arabic as the official language of the Umayyad Caliphate in 686

Arabization or Arabisation (Arabic: تعريبtaʻrīb) is either the conquest and/or colonization of a non-Arab area and growing Arab influence on non-Arab populations, causing a language shift by their gradual adoption of the Arabic language and/or their incorporation of Arab culture or Arab identity. 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 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.

After the rise of Islam in the Hejaz, the Arabic culture and language were spread outside the Arabian peninsula through conquest, trade and intermarriages between members of the non-Arab local population and the peninsular Arabs. The Arabic language began to serve as a lingua franca in these areas and dialects were formed. Although Yemen is traditionally held to be the homeland of the Arabs, most of the Yemeni population in fact did not speak Old Arabic prior to the spread of Islam, but instead South Semitic languages.[3][4] 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 various languages. This process reached its zenith between the 10th and 14th centuries, the high point of Arab culture, and although many Arabic words have since fallen out of use, many still remain.

Early Arab expansion in the Near East[edit]

After Alexander the Great, the Nabataean kingdom emerged and ruled a region extending from north of Arabia to the south of Syria. 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 centuries). 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, Palestine 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[edit]

Arab conquests 622 AD to 750 AD

Arabization during the early Caliphate[edit]

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[edit]

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[5][6] of the sedentary Yemeni population did not speak Arabic (but instead South Semitic languages) prior to the spread of Islam.

Eastern Arabia[edit]

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.[7][not in citation given][8][not in citation given] 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".[9] In pre-Islamic times, the population of eastern Arabia consisted of partially Christianized Arabs, Aramean agriculturalists and, Persian-speaking Zoroastrians[10].[7][not in citation given][9]

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.[11]

Sasanian weaponry, 7th century.

The Fertile Crescent and Syria (region)[edit]

After the rise of Islam, the Arab tribes unified under the banner of Islam and conquered modern Jordan, Palestine, Iraq and Syria. However, even before the emergence of Islam, the Levant was already a home for several pre-Islamic Arabian 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. the indigenous Assyrians largely resisted Arabization in Upper Mesopotamia, 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 fell under the control of the Persian Empire and Roman Empire. Eventually it was conquered from the Eastern Romans by the Muslim Umayyad Caliphate 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 Islamic conquest. As a result of Egypt's cultural Arabization, the adopted Arabic language began to serve as a lingua franca. The Egyptian Arabic dialect has retained a number of Coptic words, and the grammar takes some influence from Coptic, as well. Currently the Ancient Coptic language only survives as a liturgical language of the Coptic Church and is fluently spoken by many Egyptian priests.

North Africa and Iberia[edit]

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. After the Arab invasion of North Africa, The Berber tribes allied themselves with the Umayyad Arab Muslim armies 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 Arab (East Algeria, Tunisia, and West-Libya). Centuries later some migrating Arab tribes settled in some plains while the Berbers remained the dominant group mainly in desert areas including mountains. 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 finishing the establishment of the Arab city of Al Mahdiya in Tunisia and spreading the Islamic Shiite faith, some of the many Arab Fatimids left Tunisia and parts of eastern Algeria to the local Zirids (972–1148).[12] 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.[12] The Arab historian Ibn Khaldun wrote that the lands ravaged by Banu Hilal invaders had become completely arid desert.[13][14]

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[edit]

After the Umayyad conquest of Hispania, under the Arab Muslim rule Iberia (al-Andalus) incorporated elements of Arabic language and culture. The Mozarabs were Iberian Christians who lived under Arab 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[edit]

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[edit]

Map showing the late medieval migration of Arabs into 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 Northern Sudanese and Nubians.[15][16] 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.[17] 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 Khaleeji Arabic, and not like the Egyptian Arabic which is very different from both. In Sudanese Arabic, the g letter is being the pronunciation for Kaph and J letter is being the pronunciation for Jim.[18]

Arabization in Sahel[edit]

Baggara belt

In Medieval times, the Baggara Arabs a grouping of Arab ethnic groups who speak Shuwa Arabic (which is one of the regional varieties of Arabic in Africa) migrated into Africa, mainly between Lake Chad and southern Kordofan.

Currently, they live in a belt stretching across Sudan, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic and South Sudan and numbering over six million people. Like other Arabic speaking tribes in the Sahara and the Sahel, Baggara tribes have origin ancestry from the Juhaynah Arab tribes who migrated directly from the Arabian peninsula or from other parts of north Africa. [19]

Arabic is an official language of Chad and Sudan as well as a national language in Niger, Mali, Senegal and South Sudan. In addition, Arabic dialects are spoken of minorities in Nigeria, Cameroon and Central African Republic.

Arabization in modern times[edit]

Status of Arabic language map
  Exclusive official language
  One of official languages, majority
  One of official languages, minority

Arabization in Algeria, Morocco, Libya, and Tunisia[edit]

Arabization means introduction of Arabic speech and education and an increased usage of Arabic where the Berber language 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.

After the Evian Accords, while trying to build an independent and unified nation state, the Algerian government under Ahmed Ben Bella’s rule began a policy of “Arabization”. Indeed, due to the lasting and deep colonization, French was the major administrative and academic language in Algeria, even more than in neighbor countries. The unification and research of a true Algerian identity was to be found in language and religion, as stated in the 1963 constitution : “La langue arabe est la langue nationale et officielle de l’État.” (Arabic is the official state language) and “L'islam est la religion de l'État [...]” (Islam is the state religion) and confirmed in 1969, 1976, 1989, 1996 and 2018. In 1964 the first practical measure was the Arabization of primary education and the introduction of religious education, the state relying on Egyptian teachers – belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and thus religious[20] – due to its lack of literary Arabic-speakers. In 1968, during the Houari Boumediene regime, Arabization was extended, and a law[21] tried to enforce the use of Arabic for civil servants, but again, the major role played by French was only diminished. Many laws followed, trying to ban French, Algerian Arabic and Berber from schools, administrative acts and street signs, but this revived Berber opposition to the state and created a distinction between those educated in Arabic and those in French, the latter still being favored by elites. The whole policy was not efficient, French had kept its importance[22] and Berber opposition was growing, contributing to the 1988 October Riots. Some Berber groups (such as the Kabyle people) felt that their ancestral culture and language were threatened and that Arabic was given more focus at the expense of their own identity. After the Algerian Civil War, the government tried to enforce even more the use of Arabic,[23] but the relative effect of this policy after 1998 (the limit fixed for complete Arabization) forced the heads of state to make concessions toward Berber languages, recognising it in 2002[24] as another national language that will be promoted. But because of the unicity of literary Arabic, which gives an advantage to it over divided Berber languages, Arabization is still an objective for the state, for example with laws on civil and administrative procedures.[25]

Arabization in Iraq[edit]

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[edit]

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.[26][27] It has often been claimed that these (ISIL) campaigns were a part of an organized Arabization plan.[26][27] A Kurdish official in Iraqi Kurdistan claimed that in particular the ISIL campaign in Sinjar was a textbook case of Arabization.[28]

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.[29]

Arabization in Mauritania[edit]

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 other 40% are Arabized Blacks and they suffer high levels of discrimination.[30][30] Recent Black Mauritanian protesters have complained of "comprehensive Arabization" of the country.[31]

Arabization in Sudan[edit]

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

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.[32][33] 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.[34] Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell described the situation as a genocide or acts of genocide.[35] 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.[36][37][38][39]

Arabization in Syria[edit]

Since the independence of Syria in 1946, the ethnically diverse Rojava region in northern Syria suffered grave human rights violations, because all governments pursued a most brutal policy of Arabization.[40] 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:[41] "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.[40][41][42] Children as well as businesses could not be given Kurdish names.[40][41] Books, music, videos and other material could not be published in Kurdish language.[40][42] Expressions of Kurdish identity like songs and folk dances were outlawed[41][42] and frequently prosecuted under a purpose-built criminal law against "weakening national sentiment".[43] Celebrating the Nowruz holiday was often constrained.[40][42]

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.[41][44] 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.[41] These and other expropriations of ethnic Kurdish citizens followed a deliberate masterplan, called "Arab Belt initiative", attempting to depopulate the resource-rich Jazeera of its ethnic Kurdish inhabitants and settle ethnic Arabs there.[40]

Reversing Arabization[edit]

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[edit]

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 re-conquered al-Andalus and re-Romanized and re-Christianized the region.

Reversions in modern times[edit]

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

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ a b Reynolds, Dwight F. (2 April 2015). The Cambridge Companion to Modern Arab Culture. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521898072.
  3. ^ Nebes, Norbert, "Epigraphic South Arabian," in Uhlig, Siegbert, ed. Encyclopaedia Aethiopica (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2005), p. 335
  4. ^ Leonid Kogan and Andrey Korotayev: Sayhadic Languages (Epigraphic South Arabian) // Semitic Languages. London: Routledge, 1997, p[. 157-183.
  5. ^ Nebes, Norbert, "Epigraphic South Arabian," in Uhlig, Siegbert, Encyclopaedia Aethiopica (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2005), p. 335
  6. ^ Leonid Kogan and Andrey Korotayev: Sayhadic Languages (Epigraphic South Arabian) // Semitic Languages. London: Routledge, 1997, pp. 157-183.
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  21. ^ ordonnance n° 68-92 du 26 avril rendant obligatoire, pour les fonctionnaires et assimilés, la connaissance de la langue nationale (1968)
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  23. ^
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  25. ^ loi du 25 fevrier 2008 Bttp://°_08-09_du_25_février_2008_portant_code_de_procédure_civile_et_administrative_
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  30. ^ a b [3] Archived 2 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
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External links[edit]


  • Wikisource Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Jā'alin". Encyclopædia Britannica. 15 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 103.
  •  This article incorporates text from Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 17, by Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, JSTOR (Organization), a publication from 1888 now in the public domain in the United States.
  •  This article incorporates text from Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 17, by Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, JSTOR (Organization), a publication from 1888 now in the public domain in the United States.