Posts Tagged ‘Arabic Culture’
While the different cultures throughout the Middle East all have different customs and traditions for marriages, there are some elements that are fairly common between them. While some of them may be quite familiar to people in the west, other activities may be completely new. Whatever the actual ceremonies and celebrations are, though, a wedding is an exciting time, and a lot of these traditions have been a major part of the Arabic culture for a very long time.
Arranged marriages are still quite common in the Arabic world. These are not forced marriages, as is sometimes believed, but a marriage that is arranged by the parents in which the children give their willing consent. And, of course, the groom-to-be can often provide some very strong suggestions as to who he would be most willing to consider. Many other arranged marriages are simply a matter of formalizing the situation for a couple that already knows each other.
The Marriage Contract
The marriage contract is an extremely important step in the marriage process. It must be signed in front of witnesses, and it will outline the specific responsibilities of each party. This could include several monetary conditions, like the dowry and what happens in case of a divorce. In many cases, the signing of the contract will be followed by a large celebration.
There are often multiple celebrations leading up to the actual wedding ceremony. There is the engagement celebration that is usually held in the bride’s family’s home where the groom may formally ask for the bride’s hand. Then there is the party after the marriage contract is signed, and all of this happens before Henna night. This party could be compared to a bachelorette party in the west, in that only women are invited to this event. There may be dancing and refreshments, but the main event, so to speak, is the woman who draws the Mehndi on the bride’s and guests’ feet and hands. This is a type of temporary tattoo in some very intricate and beautiful designs.
The Wedding Reception
The wedding reception is, of course, what all of this has been leading to, and there are a lot of different customs for this event. In rural areas you may see a lot of traditions that are not unlike what happens in the west. Speeches, dances, and singing are common, and the bride and groom may even cut the layered wedding cake and throw a bouquet of flowers. Out in more rural areas you may come across more reserved events, or ceremonies that have a little more traditional setting. In addition to trying to learn the Arabic language another way to better undersand the culture is to attend a wedding if you ever get the chance.
Arab Academy’s on-campus students had an exciting lecture on Human & Minority Rights in Islam given by Prof. Ahmed Abou el-Wafa, the head of International Law Department, Law School, Cairo University.
In Islam, non-Muslim minorities receive rights and privileges that include:
- Minorities’ right to freedom of belief
- Warning against doing non-Muslims injustice
- Protection of non-Muslims’ funds
Popular Arabic Cuisine
While Arabic cuisine differs greatly from region to region, there is one ingredient that no meal can go without: hospitality. Most meals in this area are as much about being hospitable and generous with others as they are about the actual menu. There are some customs at the table, too, and when you learn the Arabic language you’ll know just what to say (and how to say it) to make sure you enjoy the whole experience. Of course, over the years, Arabic cuisine has developed a very unique flavor that features the best of Mediterranean, Middle Easten, and Indian influences. Many of the most common dishes served in this area make use of ingredients not often used in the United States. This could include everything from lentils and fava beans to sesame seed oil and saffron. Some of these ingredients are just starting to become more popular in the west, but experiencing real Arabic cuisine is an experience you don’t want to miss. Common Foods and Dishes A lot of the cuisine in these areas will be filled with various fruits and vegetables. Most of the fruits are of the citrus variety, but the vegetables can include everything from cucumbers and eggplant to green beans and zucchini. Meats are also common in many dishes, but it is most often lamb or chicken. (Muslim Arabs don’t eat pork or drink alcohol, so you won’t see those very often except in the regions where other denominations live.) Tea is usually the most popular beverage in the area and is consumed quite regularly. Of course the exact type of tea is also dependent on the region, with places like Egypt serving a black and sweet tea while in Yemen you might be more likely to enjoy a milk tea. On the dairy side, you are likely to see a lot of yoghurt and white cheese. The yogurt of the region is made from sheep, cow, or goat milk, and it might be diluted with water to create a refreshing beverage or thickened to make it a tasty condiment. Most importantly, though, is the delicious bread which is pretty much an essential element of any table setting. There are a huge variety of breads, and they may be mixed in with other dishes or simply set out as a side, but it is almost always there and always tasty.
Some Regional Differences Arabic cuisine has been influenced by many different cultures, and the resulting specialty dishes of these regions have their own unique characteristics. In Egypt, for example, the cuisine leans vegetarian, and you can try the classic falafel or kushari. Sudan, on the other hand, usually goes pretty heavy on the spices, and their “mullah” is a very flavorful stew you won’t forget. And in Yemen you’ll find less emphasis on dairy, and you can try the saltah, a meaty dish filled with many different ingredients.
A Cultural Experience One of the best ways to start experiencing a culture is to sample the cuisine. Your Arabic course will get you started, teach you the language and some of the history, but don’t miss out on your chance to try something from the region for yourself. A lot of people are hesitant to try foods that are a little different from their everyday menu, but it’s a great first step into a different culture and some incredibly tasty cuisine.
Holidays in Arabic Countries
There are a number of holidays and traditions throughout the Arabic world that have a history going back many centuries. Different countries may have different ways to celebrate these occasions, but the meaning and purpose is generally the same. Whether there is a religious or spiritual element of the holiday or it is a time to enjoy being with family and friends, these festivities and traditions are a great way to experience the Arabic culture.
Two of the major holidays (Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha) follow some of the most important traditions in the year. The celebrations are a time to reflect and develop spiritually, and take the time to be close to loved ones.
In the tenth month of the Islamic calendar, Eid al-Fitr (the Festival of Fast Breaking) is celebrated after spending the previous month of Ramadan fasting. While celebrations may be different from region to region, it is usually a three-day period that begins on the first day of the month Shawwal. On the day of Eid people will get together in the morning, either in a nice outdoor location or at a mosque, for the Eid prayer. After that they will head off to meet with family and friends for some wonderful meals and some gift-giving.
Ramadan directly precedes Eid al-Fitr with a month of fasting and spiritual reflection. If a person is physically able (there are special rules for those who may be infirm or have other medical needs), they are required to fast from sunup to sundown every day of the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Evening meals are usually held with the family or the community where you can also share prayers and spiritual reflection, and many cities decorate their streets with lights or other ornaments to celebrate the month.
The fasting during Ramadan is about more than just going without food and water, though. It is about purifying both body and soul. It is an opportunity to refrain from speaking ill of others, listening to obscenities, and seeing the wrong things. This is also a great chance to do charitable acts for others, and go out of your way to help people in need.
The Festival of Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha) is a religious holiday that commemorates Abraham and Ishmael’s trial of obedience. It is held on the tenth day of the last month of the year, just after the end of the Hajj. This is also generally a three-day celebration that starts with the Eid prayer in the morning. During the holiday people will visit friends and family, but mostly it is a time to show that you are also willing to make sacrifices.
Hajj takes place in the 12th month of the year, and it is the time for the pilgrimage to Mecca. This is one of the more famous traditions in the Arabic world. Millions of Muslims make the journey to Mecca every year, and the sheer enormity of it is fascinating. Pilgrims have the opportunity to examine and renew their spiritual lives and take part in a tradition that is centuries upon centuries old. While access to Mecca is restricted to Muslims only, there are some great documentaries that can give others an impression of what it’s really like.
Experience for Yourself
Participating in some of these holidays and traditions is, for many, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If you find yourself with a chance to experience something like this, don’t pass it by. If you have to learn Arabic online before going, or if you have to start a special savings account, it will all be worth it. These cultural traditions and holidays have an incredible history, and this is a chance to see what they are really like.
Trip to Umm Kulthum Museum
Last November, our on-campus students had a memorable trip to Umm Kulthum Museum located in one of Cairo’s most prominent districts, Zamalik. This small museum is solely dedicated to the legendary icon Umm Kulthum (1898 – 1975). Most Arabs share a deep attachment to the voice of “Kawkab elSharq” or “Voice of the East” as she is called; she is arguably the Arab world’s most treasured singer from the 1940s through the present and regarded as the greatest female singer in Arab music history.
Umm Kulthum’s stardom peaked during the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, where listeners all around the Arab World used to avidly wait for her 6-hour concerts, broadcast on the first Thursday of the month. These concerts cleared the streets of Cairo as people made their way home and to cafes to listen. She died in 1975 of heart failure and her funeral was packed by millions of mourners who carried her body to the mosque of al-Sayyid Husayn.
Learning the Arabic Language through music is a great method to pick up the proper pronunciation and get to know the Arabic culture. Listening to Arabic songs and singing along them is a fun and amusing way to widen from your vocabulary list. You can download one of Umm Kulthum’s epic songs like Enta Omri – (“You Are the love of my life”), Sirat el Houb (“Tale of Love”) or Alf Leila wa Leila (“One Thousand and One Nights”), learn its lyrics and enjoy!
The Best Way to Learn Arabic Online:
If you’d like to learn Arabic but don’t have the necessary funds or time to travel to Egypt or Algeria, taking Arabic lessons online is a good option. Learning the language this way takes a lot of dedication and self motivation, but if you are willing to work hard, this method can be just as effective as a traditional language learning course.
If you are interested in learning this important language, then here are a few tips to get you started in your online Arabic learning process.
- Study vocabulary and grammar. These are the building blocks of any language, and it is essential to understand the way in which Arabic vocabulary and grammar works in order to thoroughly learn the language. The best way to study these language basics may not be through rote memorization, however. A great way to take advantage of all the online Arabic learning experience has to offer is to practice these things through the use of activities, games, and real life situations to give you a feel for how the language functions.
- Practice reading and writing: Just like reading and writing in your native language can help broaden your knowledge, doing these activities when you are learning Arabic can help you cement the concepts that you have learned already and widen your expertise in the language.
- Get a learning buddy. Recruit someone to join with you as you learn Arabic. If you cannot convince one of your friends or coworkers to learn with you, try to find someone online who has about your level of Arabic proficiency to practice with. As the two of you learn together, you can encourage each other in your progress.
- Practice with native speakers. There really is no substitute for talking with someone who speaks Arabic natively, and luckily for language learners this is easy to do over the internet. Get involved with the online Arabic community and practice your language skills with someone who can give you honest feedback about your pronunciation and grammar. Most native speakers are happy to assist students with helpful comments and encouragement.
- Learn more about the culture. A good way to deepen your understanding of the Arabic language is to learn more about the people who speak it and their culture. As you study building blocks like the alphabet, make sure to get a good foundation in the history and culture of Arabic and the Arabic-speaking countries as well.
Learning Arabic online is an adventure of discovery. Make sure to get the most out of the technology.
During the last week of October, Muslims all around the world will celebrate Eid al-Adha (the Greater Eid). Eid al-Adha is an important religious feast celebrated annually on the 10th day of the Islamic Month Dhu al Hijjah; it starts after the Hajj (the annual pilgrimage to Mecca by Muslims) and lasts for 4 days. Islamic and Arab countries announce official holiday during those days.
Muslims and Arabs keep several traditions during this Islamic festival; they dress up with their finest clothes and go to mosques to pray the Eid prayer and visit their families and friends. Those Muslims who can afford, sacrifice an animal and distribute third of its meat on the poor, usually it is a cow or a goat or sheep depending on the region. Distributing meat amongst people, making contributions to the poor, charity work and families’ visits are prominent traditions of this festival.
In Egypt it is no different than any other Muslim country, however there is one special thing that is common in all Egyptian homes but not anywhere else which is the iconic meal of “Egyptian Fatta”. Egyptian Fatta is a ruling dish in Eid al-Adha, and consists of meat, rice, bread and red sauce.
You can uncover more about Islam, Arabic culture and traditions when you learn Arabic. Learning the Arabic language will open you up to the deep and rich world of Islam. You can spend a summer, semester, or full year abroad practicing your Arabic language skills and learning firsthand about Arab culture. At Arab Academy, our on-campus students had the chance to live this formidable Islamic festival while taking Arabic lessons. They learnt how to cook the Egyptian fatta on the hands of one of Egypt’s many talented chefs.
The White Desert in Egypt is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The desert has a white, cream color and a massive chalk rock formations that have been created as a result of occasional sandstorms in the area. It is totally safe to stay overnight. The only animal you may see (if you are lucky) is the small desert fox that will come late at night and eat the leftovers of your dinner.
Eid ul-Fitr marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Eid prayer is performed in congregation in open areas like fields, community centers, etc. or at mosques. Gifts are frequently given to children and immediate relatives; it is also common in some cultures for children to be given small sums of money by adult relatives or friends (3idiya). Children will wear their new clothes and go out to amusement parks, gardens or public courtyards. Family gatherings involve cooking and eating all kinds of Egyptian food, but the item most associated with Eid al-Fitr are Kahk, which are cookies filled with nuts and covered with powdered sugar.
On such occasions, students learning Arabic abroad (in Egypt) usually get to indulge into Arabic culture. They live those traditions themselves and have the chance to eat the yummy Kahk. For those who take Arabic lessons online, they will get to explore more the Arab communities and their people.