The 6 Differences Between Being Arab And Being Muslim

These two concepts are often confused because of ignorance or xenophobia.

It is nothing out of the ordinary to hear often the associations that are made between being Arab and Muslim, as if it were something indivisible, as if both were variables dependent on each other or, directly, synonyms. This is, in part, because of the centuries that Orientalist scholars who (wrongly) identified ethnic Arabs with the religion of Muhammad.

Ignorance is the big problem in confusing these terms. In Spain, specifically, the concept “Moor” is used to refer to any person who professes the Muslim religion or belongs to the countries that are part of the Middle East. In this article we will review precisely what are the differences between being an Arab and being a Muslim so that it is clear that both concepts refer to very different things. Let’s start with a couple of basic definitions.

What does it mean to be an Arab?

As paradoxical as it may seem, the fact of being Arab responds to a fundamentally linguistic and geographical cause. Geographically, the Arabs extend from North Africa to Western Asia, where curiously some of the countries with the most Muslims under their belt are excluded from this category, with approximately 90% of the population.

And this is where the surprise comes: in Turkey, with practically one hundred percent of citizens of Muslim faith, they are not Arabs. Indonesia, another exaggerated example of the same character, has 97% Muslims residing in the country. Pakistan or Iran are other of the clearest examples of differentiation between Muslim and Arab.

And be a Muslim?

The story is very different when it comes to religion. The same prophet Muhammad preached an Islam without borders, as if it were a transnational organization, hence the term “Ummah” was born, which means the encompass of the entire Islamic community worldwide, regardless of sex, origin, nationality or ethnicity. among others.

Nor should you confuse being Muslim with being Islamic. In this article on the  differences between Islam, Muslim, Islamic and Jihadist we already categorize what each specific case implies.

Differences between Arab and Muslim, in 6 points

These are the 6 basic differences that exist between being Muslim and being Arab.

1. Territory

It is perhaps the most distinctive element of all the rest. Islam does not conceive borders, it does not recognize the modern system of States and its followers do not pay homage to any flag or political ideology. Arabic, on the other hand, is well defined geographically.

2. Culture

Culture is another reason to demarcate Arab with Muslim. In itself, Islam offers patterns of behavior for very specific aspects of life, which strictly adhere to the parameters that govern the Koran, such as avoiding depicting naked human figures, or the prohibition of drawing Saints and Prophets. However, across the globe, Muslims live according to a whole series of nuances and cultural variations that make them a diverse community.

3. Music

There is much controversy regarding music in the Islamic community. For some expert purists in interpreting Islam, music is forbidden. It distracts from prayer and the obligations of reciting the Qur’an. However, this is not a point of view shared by all Muslims.

4. Culinary differences

The ban limits the culinary taste of Muslims. As can happen with vegans, for example, Muslims have strictly restricted the intake of pork, as well as other products derived from the same animal (sweets, jellies, artisan pastries). But in addition to this characteristic, the Arab culture is associated with a type of diet and cuisine that does not exhaust all the gastronomic possibilities that a Muslim person chooses.

5. Language

As we pointed out in the introduction, the fact of being an Arab practically forces the subject to be knowledgeable and a practitioner of the Arabic language in order to recognize that identity and integrate into the countries that are part of this group. Without it, for example, it is very difficult to find work, in the same way that someone who does not know Spanish will have difficulties in Spain. In contrast, a Muslim cannot be required to know Arabic.

6. Politics

As far as political regulation is concerned, Muslims or Muslim countries usually abide by Sharia, a very strict way of applying politics within society. However, Arabs in general, even within Islamic countries, tend to distance themselves from this trend by advocating for cultural integrity, the secularism of the state, and greater equality between the sexes. 

7. Religion

It is another of the great differences between Muslims and Arabs. The Muslim, by definition, follows the precepts of the Koran, but not all the inhabitants of the Arab countries are Muslim. The Copts, the Druze, the Maghreb Jews and the Christian communities in general that live in the Arab countries are also part of this type of society.

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