How To Guide: Creating Arab Characters

You’ve seen How To: Jewish, How To: LGTBQ, How To: Muslim and How To: Latino/a, but have you seen, How To: Create Arab Characters?

First, let’s start off with the basics.

Origin:

Of course, you have to pick an origin for your beloved character. I, myself, am from Palestine, which is in the Middle East.

The Middle East is in the Middle East part of the world, which is right in between Asia and Africa. It’s that little strip and a big melting pot for diversity and culture.

The Middle East contains countries that of; Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Morrocco, Iraq, to name a few. Remember, these are Middle Eastern countries, which are of Arab origins. We still have North-African countries, although they speak Arabic they would be considered North-African.

  • Reminder: Another thing to keep in mind is the arabic dialect your character speaks.

Morrocan Arabic is COMPLETELY different than Palestinian or Syrian Arabic.
This is very important because if you want two Arab characters to talk to each other in Arabic, they should be able to understand each other. Although there isn’t much difference between the dialects for Palestine, Jordan, and other Arab countries in the Middle East you should make sure it makes sense.

Religion:

I can’t even explain how big of a factor religion is in Arab characters lives.
A common stereotype is that all Arabs are Muslims or all Muslims are Arabs which is NOT true.
That does not mean you cannot find other religions. In Palestine, there are many Christian, but other religions are scarce, because there, religion is often tied to culture.

Though what is scarcer, is a secular person (someone who is not religious) in the Middle East. Not impossible, but it’s very hard to find non-religious people because of how much religion has influenced the country and its people. I mean there’s a lot of mosques.

Also, to finish, most of Arabs love their religion! Whether it be Islam, Christianity. Arabs love their religion so please don’t just assume that we’re “forced” to love or even have a religion.

Names:

NOT ALL ARABS ARE CALLED MOHAMMAD, OR YUSUF, OR FATIMA

Like please, please, please don’t call another character Mohammad I’m begging you.

Unless it’s for comedic purposes (because us Arabs joke about how so many of our cousins or relatives are named Mohammad)

then why name an Arab character Mohammad???

Even though a lot of Muslims and Arabs name their children Mohammad or Fatima they also name their children after religious meanings, since religious naming is very popular in the Middle East.
For boys, it’s also pretty common to name them after their father, or grandfather.

Here’s some common Arab names: (M = Muslim) (C = Christian)

Khadija (Female, M)
Hassan (Male)
Abdullah (Male, C)
Dua (Female, M)
Adam (Male)

And much more…

Skintone:

So as you know, Jasmine from Aladdin is a brown to olive shade.

But that does not mean every Arab you meet will have this shade, in fact, not at all.
I’m pretty sure we have some Mexicans and Italians in here that can relate when I say that just because people portray us as darker colored people does not mean all of us are! (Even though I fall into that category)

Since the Middle East contains so many countries, it depends on where your character is from. The closer you get to Europe, such as Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Northern Palestine, you’ll find lighter people. The people of Eastern Mediterrianian tend to look like Southern Europeans and the closer you get to Arabia, you’ll find your mix of light, olive skinned (me) and black arabs & africans.

My mother is of a lighter golden complexation, one similar to those from Spain. She’s from Palestine, born and raised, so naturally she has an accent. And of course, she’s been mistaken for being… well, Spanish. On multiple occassions. I’ve been looking through the photo album of when she was younger and I swear if she wasn’t Arab she definitely would’ve been Spanish or atleast Latina.

In fact, I’ve been mistaken for being Hispanic, Mexican and mixed.

So, all I’m trying to say is that Arabs do not have one look. Because we are such a diverse cast of people we have people ranging from pale to dark-skinned, (Sudanese)

Hair types:

Whew boy, I couldn’t wait for this.

So Arabs typically have big voluminious curls that fall in 2-3 type. Typically.
Then, you have those who have waves, and then you have those who have thick straight hair similar to those of Indians.

It’s me.

I’m the one with straight/wavy hair.

My cousins however have very curly hair, and I mean beautiful curly hair, absolutely stunning. In fact, it’s pretty common for Arabs to have curly hair because of colozination, and that’s why many Arabs (such as me and my mother) look Spanish or mixed. That’s probably because there’s a good chance we are.

As for hair type, Arabs can have from 1-4 type, depending on the region.
4? Yep, you heard me right. Did you forget Sudanese are Arabs too?

Lifestyle:

We Arabs are very social, and love to get together and have big parties or get-togethers.
There is a LOT of food, like a lot.
This is usually prepared by the women, but as always we get through it quickly and there’s not an issue.

Weddings:

As for weddings and engagement parties there is always a lot of upbeat arabic music playing, and a lot of fancy decorations, arabic-styled dancing, and of course FOOD.

For the bride, she typically wears henna on her wedding night and it can cover the legs and hands, as you know in Indian culture as well.

The dancing style “debke” is very popular, which most of the men do in weddings in the Middle East.


Another thing adults do at a gathering is something called shisha, which is hookah. You may see these a lot in America, known as “hookah lounges” and though they are incredibly dangerous a lot of grown-ups do them anyway, (specifically older men in the family)

Clothing:

No, not all Arabs wear hjiabs, or abayas.
Remember, not all Arabs are Muslim, so there are still a few that wear rip jeans and crop tops.

Even though! Arabs may wear these, most times than not they will wear western clothes but it really depends on their religion.

Are they Muslim or Christian? Then go from there.

Food:

I was waiting for this topic my entire life.

So rice is not the only thing we eat contrary to popular belief but it is featured in quite a bit of our meals. Not to mention at arabs households you will literally never be hungry. Ever.
Hospitality is a big key feature in who we are and we treat our guests with respect, so we expect the same when you visit us, or if you’re staying over.

Foods such as Sharwarma, Falafel, Hummus, Mansaf, to name a few; are huge traditional meals you will find at any arab-household and dare I say we drink black tea (chai) so much so our body is practically made of it?

More Cuisine: Baba Gnoush, Manakeesh, Tabouleh, Fattoush, Umm ali, Dolma/Wareek Enab, Kofta.

We have desserts, such as baklava, basbouseh, kanafeh, qatiff, and much much more!

These desserts have a Arabic syrup which is made of rose water and VERY sweet! It’s like taking a bite of heaven.

NEW:

Formalities:

When addressing a man in buisness:

Handshakes are often used when greeting a man in a formal environment and can last a long time. Be sure to use only the right hand as Muslims reserve the left hand for bodily hygiene and consider it unclean.

It is in your best interest not to approach a female Muslim colleague with a handshake or any other form of physical greeting – there is little to no contact between men and women during public greetings.

However, if you are a woman, and you’re introduced to a Muslim guy, wait to see if he’s reaching out his hand. If not, please refrain from initiating a handshake. If you meet another woman, wait for her to greet you – a kiss on the left cheek is almost always appropriate.

Conversations:

In conversation, it is always good to ask about the health and well-being of an Arab’s family (being careful not to directly ask a question about a wife or daughter). Appropriate questions include “How many children do you have?” and “Where do they study?”

Status is critical and must be acknowledged by using the appropriate title when addressing others.
It is common to use terms such as:

  • Sheikh (chief) (or Sheikha for a woman),
  • Sayed (Mr.), Sayeda (Mrs.), etc.

Bear in mind that Arabs generally address people by their first names, meaning that John Smith would be referred to as Mr. John. Islam is profoundly rooted in the United Arab Emirates, and casual conversations are full of religious words, such as “in’shallah,” which means “If God is willing.”

Family:

Here are some terms for family

Family Member Arabic letiral Trans. Arabic Trans.
Father Ab (Abu = My father) or “Baba”
Mother Um (Umi = My mother) or “Mama” أم
Parent (father) Wālid والد
Parent (mother) Wālidah والدة
Parents Abā’ أباء
Child (m) Tifl طفل
Child (f) Tiflah طفلة
Children Atfāl أطفال
Son Ibn ابن
Daughter Ibnah ابنة
Brother Akh أخ
Sister Ukht أخت
Uncle (paternal) ‘Am/Amou = Father’s brother عم
Uncle (maternal) Khāl/o = Mother’s brother خال
Aunt (paternal) ‘Ammah = Father’s sister عمة
Aunt (maternal) Khālah = Mother’s sister
Grandfather Jad/Sido (Sido is more of a slang) جد
Grandmother Jaddah/Tete (Tete is more of a slang) جدة
Grandson Ḥafīd حفيد
Granddaughter Ḥafīdah حفيدة
Grandchildren Aḥfād

Extra:

Family Member Arabic letiral Trans. Arabic Trans.
Fiance Khatīb خطيب
Fiancee Khatībah خطيبة
Bride ‘Arūss عروس
Groom ‘Arīss عريس
Wife Zawjah زوجة
Husband Zawj زوج
Spouse (m) Qarīn قرين
Spouse (f) Qarīnah

Another thing is, we usually address our friend’s mom or our mom’s friend as Khalto (f) which is “aunt” or 3ami/3am (m) which translates to “my uncle” for respect, even if they aren’t actually related to us by blood.
For older men, we’ll call them Abo/Um (and their first son or daughters name) or if their childless it’ll be their father’s name.

Parents usually call their sons or daughters “baba”/“mama”. Don’t ask why, it’s just a thing that was passed down from generation. Arabs call their children by their titles (mama for mother and baba for father) to express love and affection. There is an array of other words and phrases used to convey love for one’s children. In English, those words will be: love, pal, my princess.

Why do we call our sons or daughters like this? Because our parents did so. It is deep in the culture that even in drama series you will find it there.
It is not only father and mother, an uncle will call his nephews “Ammo" which is uncle in arabic, same for aunts and grandparents.

When a kid calls his mom saying “ mama” she might want to show her affection and love to him by saying back “ yes mama “ which means “ yes, who is beloved to mama “

Stereotypes to avoid:

When you have an Arab character, remember that Arab characters in movies are frequently viewed as villains or stereotypes more than 90% of the time. Do something different. We don’t like seeing every Arab character in movies and books known to man to be apart of something evil, because that is not who we are.

Muslim and Arab tend to be synonymous in the West. This is not the case. In fact, Indonesia has the most Muslims.

When writing an Arab character, it is common for people to write them as “loud, snobby, rich, and/or exotic” people who are very social. While this may be the case, it is not ALWAYS the case. Not every Arab is loud and obnoxious. Just like not every Latina is “spicy” you shouldn’t base your characters off their ethnicity. Their ethnicity is apart of them, yes, but it does NOT contribute to their entire personality. Influence them? Maybe, but you shouldn’t generalize every Arab character for being loud, because it’s only damaging them.

In simple terms:

Ethnicity/Race ≠ Personality

What does it feel like for Arab American children to grow up surrounded by a community that doesn’t accept their ethnic heritage in a positive way?

More often than not, growing up in America as an Arab you will be looked at weirdly, rude comments, questions, and sometimes just blatant ignorance.

I remember for me, sitting down at the dinner table in 6th grade, to open my history book. They taught everything from Black History, to Spanish and Latin History, America’s History, Jewish History,
but never Arab’s. It was never talked about, or mentioned.

Like a lot of other ethnics, we Arab’s get a lot of rude and hateful comments made to us disguised in the form of “humor”. When we object, we are told that the derogatory comments were “not meant to be taken seriously.”

Do what you please with this information, whether you want to make it something your character goes through, or feels strongly for, do it. But please don’t spread hate about us, don’t make them a villian. Sure, we aren’t perfect but we would never kill.

Other things you should know:

  • It’s rare to find an Arab who owns a pet, but I guess it depends.
  • When a man is asking a woman ior her hand in marriage, he has to go with his parents to that woman’s parents to ask officially.
  • Arabs usually live with their parents until marriage.
  • Arabs are very open-minded people, it just tends to be the older generation that isn’t very open-minded.
  • Yes, we have Afro-Arabs.
  • No, we aren’t terrorists.
  • We are very proud people.

And damn right we should be! Because whether you’re from Lebanon, Iran, Palestine, Kuwait, or anything in between you’re beautiful and don’t let anybody else tell you otherwise! Remember, if you have any questions don’t be afraid to PM me!

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Wonderfully informative! Thanks for this :slight_smile:

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Thank you for this thread!

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This is great! :sunflower: :coffee: :sparkles:

As I mentioned before, the MC of my story is Lebanese-American. I based a lot of my information on what I learned from my cousin, whose husband is from Lebanon, and the other parts on research.

Both of my nephews are very light-skinned. Their dad is light-skinned and their mom is light olive-skinned. Even though she (my cousin) is Mexican, she actually looks Lebanese.

That’s good to know! In my story, none of the Arab characters have pets, but they all have a different reason for not having one.

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:face_with_raised_eyebrow: :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

Not trying to start anything…

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This is not correct. In Israel, there are Jews in where they are the majority. The (vast) majority of the Palestinians are Muslims.

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You claim you aren’t trying to start anything but then you bold the words Israel to replace Palestine. When I say Palestine, I mean the region that is still left of it. I didn’t mention Israel in the post because I’m talking about Arab countries and Israel isn’t one of them. I’m not trying to start anything either but this post wasn’t for Palestine or Israel it was for Arab Characters.

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What I was saying is that writing that “in Palestine there are many Jews” is wrong, since it is not known as a real country in formal places.

Then we can agree-to-disagree with that for the mean-time, but you can’t exactly tell me it’s wrong just because it isn’t recognized as a real country in formal places. Around 70% of the world actually does…

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But again, Palestinians are Muslims or Christians, but not Jewish.

True. So what do you propose I do? :thinking:

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I propose you to remove the “in Palestine there are many Jews” part, if you already asked :slightly_smiling_face:.

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I removed it. Anything else while we’re here? :blush:

Mhm :blush:. I suggest you do some research next time, if you want your words to be correct and accurate :grin:

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Sounds good. Have a nice day! :grin:

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Have a good day and a good week too :blush:

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Yup, I can confirm :joy::joy:

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damn straight

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You mind adding some information on Arabic food/cuisine? And the different formalities they have? For example, how you address your elders or family members.

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Yes! Thank you for the idea, I didn’t think of that.

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