99 Questions and Answers About Canadian Arab

Like all people, Canadian Arabs are too often described in simplistic terms. Although the Arab culture is one of the oldest on Earth, it is, in many parts of Canada, misunderstood. There are no easy, one-size-fits-all answers. Culture, language and religion are distinct qualities that act in different ways to connect Arabs, and to distinguish them from one another.

The differences that seem to separate Canadian Arabs from non-Arabs can be much smaller than the variations that at times differentiate them from one another. It takes time to learn the issues and to understand them, but it is essential and rewarding for us to do that. Misunderstanding ultimately hurts each one of us.

We try to better understand and explain these issues daily. After consulting with others, we offer this guide as a step toward more accurate journalistic portrayals of Canadian Arabs.

The 99 questions and answers contained herein only touch on the issues. We urge you to give these issues the attention they deserve by continuing to read, to interview sources on all sides and to make a long-term commitment to increasing your understanding. For it is only with understanding that we can practice fair and accurate journalism.

Overview Origins Language Demographics Family Customs
Religion Politics Terminology Stereotypes Coverage Resources



Who are Canadian Arabs?


Canadian Arabs are Canadian born citizens and permanent residents who trace their ancestry to,  or who immigrated from,  Arabic-speaking places in southwestern Asia and northern Africa, a region known as the Middle East. Not all people in this region are Arabs.


How many Canadian Arabs are there in Canada?


This is the subject of some debate. Estimates vary because Canada Census did not use a Canadian Arab classification until the last census, and Arabs were previously classified with the Asian community.  Also because people identify themselves in various ways, some Canadian Arabs identify themselves as Middle Eastern, for example. Further, recent immigrants from many countries are reluctant to give personal and confidential information to the government, and an increasing number of people have more than one ethnicity. Estimates of Canadian Arabs living in Canada are around one million.   Arab Americans living in the United States are about 3 million.


Where do Canadian Arabs live?


Canadian Arabs live in every Province and Territory, but the majority of them live in Ontario.


What are the population centres for Canadian Arabs?


The majority of the Canadian Arabs live in Toronto, Montreal, with approximately 20% of the Canadian Arab population in Alberta.


Do Arabs have a shared language?


The Arabic language is one of the great unifying and distinguishing characteristics of Arab people. Even so, colloquial Arabic differs from place to place. There are several categories: Levantine dialect (Jordan, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon), Egyptian and North African dialect, and Khalijji, or Gulf, dialect. Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is a pan-Arabic language used in formal letters, books and newspapers. It is also spoken at Middle East peace conferences and on television news. Quaranic Arabic, like MSA, also is a widely spoken form of the language, but it differs in style and lexicon from MSA.


Do Arabs have a shared religion?


No. Arabs belong to many religions, including Islam, Christianity, Judaism and others. There are further distinctions within each of these, and some religious groups have evolved new identities and faith.     Though the majority of the Arabs are Muslim, common misperceptions are  that Arab traditions are Islamic, or that Islam unifies all Arabs.


What is the Middle East conflict all about?


This document cannot adequately answer that question. The largest  current conflict in the Middle East is the Arab-Israeli conflict and the struggle over Palestine. In addition to conflicts between Arab countries and Israel, there is disagreement between and within Arab countries. Many of these conflicts have their roots in the aftermath of European colonialism and efforts to draw boundaries based on arbitrary decisions.


How does conflict in the Middle East affect Canadian Arabs?


Because Arabs maintain close family ties, even when separated, and because many Arab-American communities include recent immigrants, most people have a keen interest in news from the Middle East. Remember, too, that one reason many Canadian Arabs families immigrated was to escape the very conflicts that continue today.   When an issue arises in the Middle East it is understandable for the Arab to be upset, as it could very easily be a family member who is in the line of fire.


To which places do Canadian Arabs trace their ancestry?


Canadian Arabs can trace their roots to many places, including parts or all of Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.


Is Palestine a country?


Not today. Historically, Palestine was a country east of the Mediterranean Sea that included Israel and parts of Jordan. As a distinct region, Palestine was under Ottoman control (a Turkish empire) and then British control until 1948, when the state of Israel was created. Areas of Palestine became Israel and some became a part of Jordan. Today, Palestinians share a collective national identity and are striving toward independence and self-rule. The Palestinian National Council acts as the government.


Shouldn't Iran be in that list?


No. Iran is not an Arab country. Although Iran borders Iraq, it is descended from the Persian Empire and has a different language and cultural history than the Arab countries. The dominant language in Iran is Farsi, not Arabic, although other languages are spoken there as well. Persian is sometimes used to describe either the language or the ethnicity, but Farsi and Iranian are not interchangeable. Iran's location, the fact that it is an Islamic country and the similarity of its name to Iraq may confuse people.


So, not all people from the Middle East are Arabs?


That is correct. The four main language groups in the Middle East are: Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Hebrew. Other significant language groups are Kurdish and Berber. Arabs are largest in terms of population and land holdings.  This document focuses on people who have emigrated from or who are descended from people in those areas.

13. Are there other groups from the Arab region?
  Yes. Assyrians, Berbers, Chaldeans and Kurds have languages rooted in pre-Arabic times. There also are religious differences.
14. Who are Chaldeans?
  Chaldeans are Catholics from Iraq. A religious and ethnic minority there, the Chaldean Catholic Church has had connections with the Roman Catholic Church since 1551, and has been affiliated since 1830. The Chaldean Diocese of the Catholic Church in the United States has parishes in Michigan, California, Chicago and Arizona. It also has several missions. Churches offer Chaldean language services. Chaldeans and Assyrians, along with Arabs, are Semite people. The cultural foundation is similar, but the religious affiliation is different. Most Chaldeans are found in Toronto and along the Eastern coast of the USA.
15. So, are Chaldeans Arabs, or not?
  Chaldeans and Arabs share some similarities, but they have different identities. The Chaldean language is different from Arabic and, in Iraq, Chaldeans are religiously distinct from the Muslim majority. While Chaldeans foster a separate identity, they also have an Iraqi nationality and some shared concerns with Arabs. These nuances are lost by federal classifications, which sometimes reclassify Chaldeans as Arab or Iraqi. It is best to ask people how they would like to be identified, to be specific and, when relevant, to explain.


16. Is Arabic the only language spoken within the Arab world?
  No. For example, Assyrian and Chaldean services use a dialect of the original Aramaic. Berber and Kurdish are other non-Arabic languages of the Middle East.
17. So, do all Canadian Arabs speak one of these languages?
  If they have retained their heritage language then yes, it is a common factor amongst Arabs
18. Many recently immigrated Canadian Arabs also know French. Why is that?
  Part of the recent history of Arab people is colonization by the French and British. In colonized countries, people in business and government had to know one or more European languages
19. Do Arab schools teach other languages?
  Definitely. It is much more common for Canadian Arabs to speak more than one language than it is for non-Arab Canadians. Many countries place more emphasis on language than the West does. Many immigrants come to the Canada having learned two or three languages in their country of origin. Arab countries emphasize the importance of knowing a foreign language, and they are very familiar with Western media.
20. Is there any advice on pronouncing Arabic names?
  Not really. It can be quite difficult to transliterate Arabic words into English, a language that uses different sounds and fewer letters. Unless you know the Arabic alphabet, it's hard to know how to pronounce words correctly. The "r" sound is rolled, and there are characters for three different pronunciations of the "th" sound. If you are unsure, respectfully ask a source to explain. Write down the pronunciation and the spelling, so you can give readers both. Be aware that, for these reasons, spellings vary.
21. Is there any trick to spelling Arabic words?
  There are so many variations that it is crucial to ask, as you would with any word. Because Arabic and English characters and sounds are different, there is more than one-way to transliterate the words. The Associated Press, for example, recently changed its style for the spelling of Mohammed to Muhammad, and it has changed its style for Koran to Quran.
22. How is Arabic written?
  Arabic is one of several languages written from right to left, and is historically one of the oldest languages.  The numbers we use today are from the Arabic numerals.
23. Are characters in Arabic different than those we use to write English?
  Yes. English is written in Latin characters. Arabic is written in the 28-character Arabic alphabet. In Arabic, a character may change depending on its placement in the word or sentence. Arabic letters are connected like script. Fine writing is called calligraphy and is held in high regard and appreciated as an art form in the Arabic culture.


24. When did Arab people come to Canada?
  The first significant wave of immigration began around 1875, and is continuing until today
25. Why did Arabs first come to Canada?
  Like many peoples who came to the Canada, Arabs were seeking opportunity. Factors in the first immigration were Japanese competition that hurt the Lebanese silk market and a disease that hurt Lebanese vineyards. Most early Arab immigrants were from Lebanon and Syria, and most were Christian.
26. What prompted the second wave?
  After 1940, immigration to Canada was not for economic reasons as much as because of the Arab-Israeli conflict and civil war. This meant that people came from many more places. The second immigration also involved many more people who practiced Islam, a religion that was not as familiar to Canada. Immigrants in this group tended to be more financially secure when they arrived than people who had come earlier for economic opportunity. Many people in the second wave were students.
27. What race are Canadian Arabs?
  Arabs may have white skin and blue eyes, olive or dark skin and brown eyes. Hair textures differ. Canada has, at different times, classified Arab immigrants as African, Asian, white, European or as belonging to a separate group. Most Canadian Arabs identify more closely with nationality than they would with ‘race’.
28. Are Arabs a minority group?
  This depends, in part, on your definition of minority. The Canadian government classify Arabs as a minority group for purposes of employment and housing. Arabs are not defined specifically by race, like some minority groups, but are united by culture and language. Some Canadian Arabs regard minority classification as an impediment to full participation in Canadian lifestyle.
29. Are Canadian Arabs more closely tied to their country of origin, or to Canada?
  This need not be an either-or issue. While they may be closely tied to their countries of origin, they also have a loyalty to their adopted country.  Do not forget, they chose to become Canadians.
30. Who are some well-known Arabs in the West?
  Christa McAuliffe, the teacher/astronaut who died aboard the space shuttle Challenger; Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal; Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback Doug Flutie; creators of radio's American Top 40 Casey Kasem and Don Bustany; Mothers Against Drunk Driving founder Candy Lightner; Jacques Nasser, president and chief executive officer of Ford Motor Co., and Helen Thomas, former dean of the White House press corps. Joe Ghiz, former premier of Nova Scotia, Larry Shaben former Minister of Energy in Alberta, Sine Chadi, former MLA for Edmonton Castledowns, Moe Amery, MLA Calgary East.
31. Does the Census Bureau collect data on Canadian Arabs?
  Until recently, the census did not specifically classify Canadian Arabs.  It does however; collect enough data to present some population characteristics.  
32. What is the educational level of Canadian Arabs?
  Canadian Arabs are, on average, better educated than non-Arab Canadians. The proportion of Arabs across North America who attend college is higher than the national average. Compared to the norm, about twice as many Canadian Arabs, in percentage terms, earn degrees beyond the bachelor's degree. 
33. What occupations do Canadian Arabs pursue?
  Canadian Arabs work in all occupations. Collectively, they are more likely to be self-employed or to be entrepreneurs or to work in sales. About 60 percent of working Canadian Arabs are executives, professionals, office and sales staff.   As with all people, career choices are influenced by nationality, religion, education, socio-economic status and gender.
34. How do Canadian Arabs fare economically?
  Individually, Canadian Arabs are at every economic strata of Canadian life.


35. What is the role of the family in Arab culture?
  The variety of family types among Canadian is vast, and influenced by the same factors mentioned in the answer to Question 33. Generally, family is more important than the individual and more influential than nationality. People draw much of their identity from their role in the family. 
36. Do Canadian Arabs maintain ties with their home countries?
  Many do. They are very proud of their home countries and may maintain regular contact with relatives or friends there, as many other Canadians from other origins do. Canadian will sometimes joke with one another over which of their home countries is the best, but it is perfectly consistent to have loyalties both to their place of origin and their country of citizenship.
37. What are gender roles like for Canadian Arabs?
  These vary tremendously. Some of the variables depend on country of origin, whether the family came from a rural or urban area and how long the person's family has been in Canada. It is more accurate to ask the subject of the story about his or her own experience than to apply a stereotype.
38. Do Canadian Arabs have large families?
  Canadian Arab families are, on average, larger than non-Canadian Arab families and smaller than families in Arab countries. Traditionally, more children meant more pride and economic contributors for the family. The cost of having large families in the Canada, however, and adaptation to Canadian customs seem to encourage smaller families.
39. What kind of relationship does cousin mean to Canadian Arabs?
  The same for other Canadians, though Arabs may differentiate between maternal and paternal cousins when they refer to them.  Many times the word cousin may apply to a good friend.
40. Do generations of Canadian Arabs live together? 
  Quite often, especially with people who have more recently arrived in Canada.  There is a very strong family unit identity for Arabs.  This can be true of non-Arabs as well and is not a distinguishing characteristic of Canadian Arab.
41. Do Canadian Arabs typically get married at a younger age than non-Arabs?
  Yes, though this is changing. As women pursue careers, they are not expected to marry so young. Arab women might also marry older men who can provide greater financial security.
42. Are marriages arranged?
  This is very rare.  It is not unusual for Canadian Arabs to  marry people from other cultures. In the case where a marriage is arranged, a parent may recommend someone from another family or from the country of origin, but the child is not forced to marry that person. More typically, couples meet and ask their families' approval before getting engaged, or make their own decision and then tell their families.
43. Do Canadian Arabs prefer to marry each other?
  As with many people, in-group marriage may be encouraged as a way to preserve heritage, but Arabs and non-Arabs frequently marry one other. Religious differences among Canadian, in fact, may make it more desirable to marry a non-Arab of similar religious background than an Arab of a different religion.
44. Are there any Arab conventions for naming children?
  Muslims often name their children after prophets in the Quran. Shiaa Muslims sometimes use Ali as a middle name. Christians often name their children after people in the Bible. Although names can give an indication of a person's religion, don't assume. Arab tradition calls for the father's name to be the middle name of sons and daughters.
45. What does the title Umm or Abu mean as part of a name?
  It is a common way of calling someone using his or her oldest son's name. Umm means mother of. Abu means father of. "Umm Muhammad" is "mother of Muhammad." This is what friends might call her, as a sign of respect.
46. What do Arabs mean when they refer to someone as Auntie (Amti)?
  It is a sign of respect, not necessarily family relationship. A Canadian might call any older Arab male or female "auntie" or "uncle."  


47. Why do some Arab women wear garments that cover their faces or heads?
  This is a religious practice, not a cultural practice. It is rooted in Islamic teachings about hijab, or modesty. While some say that veiling denigrates women, some women say that it liberates them. Covering is not universally observed by Muslim women and varies by region and class. Some Arab governments have, at times, banned or required veiling. In Canadian families, a mother or daughter may cover her head while the other does not.  Ultimately the choice belongs to the individual woman.
48. What garments might a woman wear to practice hijab?
  One interpretation is that everything should be covered except hands, face and feet. Long clothing and a scarf would accomplish this and the headscarf might be called a hijab or chador. The long, robe like garment is called an abayah, jilbab, or chador. In Iraq and Saudi Arabia especially, a woman may wear a cloak that covers her head. Beneath a robe, a woman may be wearing a traditional dress, casual clothes or a business suit. The veil, in particular, has been made controversial by governments, gender politics and religious biases.
49. Some Arab men wear a checked garment on their heads. What is that?
  It is called a kafiyyeh and it is traditional, not religious. Wearing the kafiyyeh is similar to an African wearing traditional African attire, or an Indian wearing a sari. The kafiyyeh shows identity and pride in one's culture.
50. Why do some Arab women dress in black?
  Remember that black is a popular colour in contemporary  fashion and may not have any special significance. When it does, it may be a sign of mourning. Black, when worn in mourning, may be worn for a few days to many years. 
51. What is an appropriate way to greet Canadian Arabs?
  This is not difficult or tricky.  Be yourself, and let them be themselves. If they are practicing Muslims or recent immigrants, watch for cues. A smile, a nod and a word of greeting are appropriate in most situations. Some Muslims feel it is inappropriate for unrelated men and women to shake hands. Wait until the other person extends his or her hand before you extend your own.
52. What are the customs for paying compliments?
  Again, be yourself and be observant. In most cases, there is no reason to behave differently than you would with anyone else. For some recent immigrants, be a little more reserved. Complimenting a possession may be misunderstood and the person, out of generosity and hospitality, may feel compelled to offer you the object. There can be a lot of difference between one person and another, even a parent and child, so don't assume one-way is always best.
53. What about gift-giving?
  The giving of token gifts is a polite practice in many cultures and businesses.   It is not a necessary thing.
54. What is Middle-Eastern food like?
  Tasty! It is varied, but has some staples. Wheat is used in bread, pastries, salads and main dishes. Rice is often cooked with vegetables, lamb, chicken or beef. Lamb and mutton are more common than other meats. Arab recipes use many beans and vegetables, including eggplant, zucchini, cauliflower, spinach, onions, parsley and chickpeas. Pork and pork products as well as alcohol should not be served when you are with Arab Muslims.
55. What is that pipe I sometimes see people smoking?
  It is a water pipe that filters and cools tobacco smoke, which often is flavored with apple, honey, strawberry, mint, mango or apricot. Such pipes are used in several parts of the world and are not an exclusively Arab apparatus. They are known by several names, including sheesha, hookah and argilah, or argeelah.


56. Do most Canadian Arabs belong to the same religion?
  World wide the majority of Arabs are Muslim, however, predominately in Eastern Canada there is a very large population of Christian.
57. Is Islam mostly an Arab religion, then?
  No. Only about 20-30 percent of Muslims worldwide are Arabs. There are more Muslims in Indonesia, for example, than in all Arab countries combined. Large populations of Muslims also live in India, Iran, other parts of East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Islam has strong Arab roots, though, as the religion's holiest places are in the Middle East, the prophet Muhammad was an Arab, and the Quran was originally written in Arabic.
58. What is the Quran?
  The Quran is the holy book for Muslims, who believe it contains the word of God revealed to the prophet Muhammad. The Quran has many passages that are similar to those in the Bible, which Muslims also regard as a holy book. The Quran has been translated into many languages, including English, and is available on the Web. Quran is Associated Press style. Other spellings are Qur'an and Koran. Variations come from transliterating Arabic into English.
59. What is the difference between Islam and Muslim?
  Islam is the religion, and a Muslim is a follower of the religion. It is like the difference between Christianity and Christian. The adjective form is Islamic.
60. What are the five pillars of Islam?
  The five pillars are minimum sacred obligations for followers who are able to observe them. They are: belief in the shehada, the statement that "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his prophet"; salat, or prayer five times a day; zakat, the sharing of alms with the poor; fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, and the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
61. What is Ramadan?
  Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, is a month of fasting whose end is marked with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr. During this month of self-discipline and purification, Muslims abstain from food, drink and sex from before sunrise until sundown. At night, however, they may feast. The Islamic calendar is based on the cycles of the moon and has 354 days, so Ramadan does not always occur at the same time of year according to the 365-day civil calendar.
62. What is the proper greeting during Ramadan?
  You may say, "Ramadan Mubarrak." You could also say, "Salaam," which means "peace" and is useful at any time. If you are planning to meet with Muslims during Ramadan, be aware that they may be fasting and a mealtime meeting may be awkward.
63. Must Arabs make a journey to Mecca?
  This relates to Muslims, not all Arabs.  Muslims who are financially and physically able to do so are expected to make the journey at least once in their lifetime.
64. What does hajj mean?
  Al hajj refers to the pilgrimage to Mecca by millions of Muslims once each year. It is a milestone event in a Muslim's life. A man who makes the trip is recognized with the title hajj, which means pilgrim. For women, the title is hajjah.   These titles are also used as a sign of respect when addressing an older person in the Arab Muslim community, though they may not have yet made the pilgrimage.
65. What is the difference between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims?
  Historically, these are the two main branches of Islam, and their distinction has to do with the successor of the prophet Muhammad. Sunnis believe his successors were elected religious leaders; Shi'a believe that the prophet appointed Ali ibn Abi Taleb. The answer is much more complicated than this, though, because there are other differences and new ones have arisen over the years. There also are separate groups and movements within each branch. Most Muslims worldwide and in Canada are Sunni, though Shi'as dominate in some communities. Most Muslims in Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon and the non-Arab country of Iran are Shi'a.
66. Are there restrictions on entering a mosque?
  One generally must enter without shoes. Look for a sign from your host, or for a place to leave your shoes. Women should dress modestly and may be asked to cover their heads. Men should wear long pants and shirts. Men and women generally pray in different areas. It is generally a good idea to call beforehand to make sure there is someone there to greet you.
67. Is it OK to take pictures there?
  Each mosque has its own rules. Ask in advance and do not assume it will be OK to photograph at will. Be prepared to make some accommodations if certain angles or parts of the mosque are off limits.  In the Canadian Islamic Centre (Al Rashid Mosque) it is permitted.
68. Who is an Imam?
  The Imam is considered the leader of prayer at a mosque. He might also be called a sheik. One of an imam's responsibilities is to give sermons on Friday, the holiest day of the typical Islamic week. In many American mosques, the imam is also the administrator. An imam can be an important community leader and a good source of information about local Muslims.
69. What are important Islamic holidays?
  The most important Muslim observance each year is Ramadan. Muslims also celebrate Eid al-Adha on the last day of the hajj -- the pilgrimage to Mecca -- and Eid al-Fitr, at the end of Ramadan. There are other holidays, as well.
70. Where is the headquarters for Islam?
Islam does not have the same kind of hierarchy as some other religions. In present day there is no top official or ruling board for Islam.  Muslim mosques, or masjids, and associations are independent. Muslims are not required to be members of a mosque.
71. Why do some Arab men decline to shake hands with women?
  Some Muslim men, for religious reasons, avoid physical contact with women other than close relatives.
72. Is the Nation of Islam related to Islam?
  This African American religious group has some similarities to Islam,  but evolved in the 20th Century with some different practices than those followed by most Muslims.  Most African-American Muslims in the North America are not part of the Nation of Islam.
73. What is Eastern rite or Eastern Orthodox?
  These are designations for Christian churches that share some similarities, but that have different histories. Eastern rite churches are part of the Catholic church with roots in the Middle East and include Maronites, Melkites and Chaldeans. Eastern Orthodox churches, which are independent from Vatican authority, include the Syrian and Coptic churches.
74. Who are Coptics?
  The word Copt is derived from the Greek word for Egyptian and Coptic was the native language of Egypt before Arabic prevailed. Today, the word refers to Coptic Christians. Although linguistically and culturally classified as Arabs, many consider themselves to be ethnically distinct from other Egyptians.
75. What does Allah mean?
  Allah means God. Arabic-speaking Christians, Muslims and Jews use the same word. When translating Arabic expressions, translate all the words, for consistency. The translation of "Allahu Akbar," for example, would be "God is great”.
76. Why do Muslims face east when they pray?
  They are facing Kaaba (the House of God) at Mecca, the holiest of the three cities of Islam. Muslims in other countries face different directions, depending on where they are in relation to Mecca.
77. What are the other two holy cities?
  Medina in Saudi  as well as Arabia and Jerusalem.


78. Are Canadian Arabs active in Canadian politics?
  Yes, but not as much as they could be.  They are far more active in the United States where they have reached the US congress and have been on the Whitehouse staff.
79. Have Canadian Arabs won major political offices?
  Yes. There was Joe Ghiz, the first Canadian Arab Premier.  There are also a number of Members of Parliament, Members of the Legislative Assembly in Alberta and across Canada, and mayors, councillors etc.
80. Who are some prominent Arab-American politicians?
  They have included U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine; Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham; former secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala; former New Hampshire governor and White House chief of staff John Sununu, and 2000 presidential candidate Ralph Nader.
81. Is there an Arab lobby?
  There is not an Arab lobby in the sense of a monolithic, controlling body. There are several organizations that lobby in behalf of a variety of issues, including domestic and international concerns. One is the National Council on Canadian Arab Relations.  A North American group is the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a civil rights group.


82. Should I say Arab, Arabic or Arabian?
  Arab is a noun for a person, and is used as an adjective, as in "Arab country." Arabic is the name of the language and generally is not used as an adjective. Arabian is an adjective that refers to Saudi Arabia, the Arabian Peninsula, or as in Arabian horse. When ethnicity or nationalities are relevant, it is more precise and accurate to specify the country by using Lebanese, Yemeni or whatever is appropriate. We suggest that you hyphenate when using Canadian-Arab as an adjective, as in Canadian-Arab issues.
83. Is Canadian Arab, or Arab Canadian preferred?
  Canadian Arab is the more common terminology used.
84. How should I refer to Canadian Arabs individual?
  Preferably by the country that person is from, for example, "of Lebanese heritage," or "of Jordanian descent," but only if ethnicity is relevant. Remember that Canadians come from many places, and you should include the relevant perspective. If the story is about an issue that affects Yemenis, for example, don't treat other Arabic perspectives as interchangeable.
85. How should the media refer to Canadian Arabs when ethnicity is not relevant to the story?
  There is no need to identify their ethnicity. It is important to include Canadian Arabs when the story is about issues unrelated to heritage or culture.  Canadian Arabs are teachers, lawyers, grocers, executives and students. Their views are important to many stories. If you confine your relationship with a Canadian Arabs to Arab issues, other facets of their experience are ignored and the overall portrayal is one-dimensional.
86. What does Mohammedanism mean?
  Do not use Mohammedans and its derivatives as Muslims find it very offensive.   Instead, use Islam for the religion, Muslim for a follower of the religion and derivatives of these words.  
87. Is it Muslim or Moslem?
88. Who is a sheik?
  A sheik can be the leader of a family, a village, a tribe or a mosque. Press accounts popularized the term "oil-rich sheik." This contributed to the misconception that the people who became wealthy from oil were sheiks, and that sheiks had oil money. Neither is true.


89. Are Arabs oil-rich?
  Some are, most aren't. The area around the Persian Gulf is one of several oil-producing areas in the world, but not all Arab countries produce oil, and very few Arabs are rich from oil.   The rumor that Canadian Arab organizations receive money from oil revenue is false.
90. Are Arabs mostly a nomadic people?
  No. Most live in urban areas, but portrayals of Arabs as desert dwellers have distorted the picture. Bedouins, nomadic people depicted in movies, make up only about 2 percent of Arab people. One of the largest Arab cities is Cairo, with a population of more than 6 million.
91. Do Arabs come from the desert?
  Most do not. To begin with, most Arabs live in cities. Secondly, Arab countries have a range of climates. Many have coastal areas and some have mountainous areas that get snow.
92. What about the stereotype of Arabs as terrorists?
  Terrorists of many ethnicities operate all around the globe. High-profile attacks have brought world attention upon terrorists in or from the Middle East.  However, it is inaccurate to assume that, because people are Arab or Canadian Arab, they are involved in terrorism or, when an attack occurs, that Arabs must be behind it.
93. What is meant by the phrase "Islamic fundamentalist"?
  This is complex. The term fundamentalist, whether applied to Muslims or Christians, is a largely North American made word that implies politically conservatism and, sometimes, extremism. Some groups make no distinction between their cause and their interpretation of the religion. Be careful not to assume that religion is the sole basis for political actions. The term "Islamic fundamentalist" has been used to refer to people who cite Islam to justify extreme political actions. Fairness and accuracy mean attributing political actions to the group, government or party responsible, and not just to the religion, which may have millions of followers with different beliefs. 
94. Is Islam a violent religion?
  The Quran teaches non-violence. Throughout history, political groups and leaders have used Islam and other religions to justify many things, including violence.
95. Are Canadian Arab women subservient to men?
  No sweeping statement can reflect all the roles of Arab women. They range from leaders of matriarchal societies to independent businesswomen to women living under extreme repression. In Canada, their roles are affected by their country of origin, whether they are from urban or rural areas, religion, degree of assimilation and, of course, their own individual characteristics.   
96. What is that charm with the eye or an eye on a hand?
  Often worn as jewelry, the hamsa is a non-religious symbol for protection or good luck. The eye, usually blue when colored, wards off the evil eye or evil spirits. For example, the charm may be put on a baby to protect the child from harm. Many people of different religions share this cultural tradition.


97. How can I find Canadian Arabs in my community?
  In cities where there are large populations, this is easy. You can find restaurants, stores, markets and other businesses with Arabic names or writing on them. Look for organizations, community centres, churches and mosques that might be Arab-related. Most likely you will have a Canadian Arab neighbour right on your street.
98. Are there issues about the way Arabs are portrayed in the media?
  Yes. In some cases, journalists seem to prefer to publish or air images of people who look different, or exotic, and media often focuses on crisis or conflict, simply because this is what sells papers.  Because of the prevalence of these issues in the media, problems are of then made to seem bigger and often it does cause problems for the community at large.
99. How can I learn more?
  We're glad you asked. This guide is just an introduction. Any one of the 99 questions in it has answers that would fill a book. Contact the Canadian Arab Friendship Association for more information on the Canadian Arabs.


Abraham, Nabeel, and Shryock, Andrew: Arab Detroit: From Margin to Mainstream. Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 2000.

Ameri, Anan and Ramey, Dawn, Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS), eds.: Arab American Encyclopedia. UXL, the Gale Group, 2000.

Barakat, Halim: The Arab World: Society, Culture and State. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1993.

El-Badry, Samia: The Arab-American Market. American Demographics, January 1994.

Freedman, Robert O., ed.: The Middle East and the Peace Process: The Impact of the Oslo Accords, University Press of Florida, 1998.

Friedman, Thomas L.: From Beirut to Jerusalem. Doubleday, New York, 1989.

Hoogland, Eric: Crossing the Waters: Arabic-Speaking Immigrants to the United States Before 1940. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 1987.

Shaheen, Jack G.: Reel Bad Arabs. Olive Branch Press, New York, 2001.

Shaheen, Jack G.: The TV Arab. Bowling Green State University Press, Ohio, 1984.

Shipler, David: Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land. Penguin, 1987.

Suleiman, Michael W.: Arabs in America: Building a New Future. Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1999.

Zogby, John: Arab Americans Today: A Demographic Profile of Arab Americans. Arab American Institute, Washington, D.C., 1991.