Arab Americans

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Author: Nabeel Abraham
Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2014
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Topic overview
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Page 125

Arab Americans

Nabeel Abraham


Arab Americans are immigrants or descendants of people from the Arabic-speaking world, an area that spans twenty-two countries in the Middle East and in West, North, and East Africa. To the west and north are the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, and to the east are the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. The countries include Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. In some of these countries Arabic is the only spoken language. In others Arabic is one of two or more official languages. The geography of the Arab world varies from deserts, rivers, and mountains to areas used to grow crops and raise animals. The area known as the Fertile Crescent, which lies between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, contains some of the richest agricultural land in the world. With an area of more than five million square miles (more than thirteen million square kilometers), the Arab world is roughly half the size of North America.

According to the CIA World Factbook, which used 2012 estimates when available, the population of the Arab world (not including Palestine) was 348,814,780. The Palestinian News and Information Agency estimated that the 2012 population of Palestine was 4.29 million, with 2.65 million living on the West Bank and 1.64 million living on the Gaza Strip. Islam is the major religion of the region, but there are also large populations of Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians. In Iraq, for instance, 97 percent of the population was Muslim. In Lebanon and Syria, which are more religiously diverse, the percentage of Muslims was 59 and 74, respectively. Both countries have significant Christian populations. The standard of living varies greatly among the countries, ranging from oil-rich Qatar, which had an annual per capita income of $104,300, to war-torn Somalia, which was the fourth-poorest nation in the world, with an annual per capita income of $600. According to the United Nations Development Programme, one of the major economic problems affecting the area was that 30 percent of the region's youth was unemployed, and more than half of the total population of the area was under the age of twenty-four.

The first significant wave of Arab immigration to the United States occurred in the late nineteenth century, when Lebanese and Syrians arrived in search of improved economic opportunities. Many early Arab immigrants first supported themselves through peddling and eventually worked in factories, opened small stores, and became homesteaders. The post-World War I era was relatively hospitable to new Arab immigrants, many of whom succeeded economically and pursued educational advancement. However, legal restrictions hindered their ability to naturalize, and the passage of the National Origin Act in 1924 limited the number of Arab immigrants to 100 per year. After World War II the U.S government made it easier for educated and middle-class Arabs to immigrate to the United States. Mostly male, these Arab students often married American women, and large numbers remained permanently in the United States. A new surge of Arab immigrants began arriving in the 1990s. Unlike earlier immigrants, who were overwhelmingly Christian, these more recent immigrants were predominantly Muslim.

According to the 2011 American Community Survey, there were 1,769,251 people of Arab ancestry living in the United States. However, it is widely believed that such census figures underrepresent the true Arab American population. The Arab American Institute, for example, contended that there were 3.5 million people of Arab ancestry living in the United States. Most early Arab immigrants settled in the Northeast or Midwest. A prominent Arab American community has been established in the Detroit metropolitan area. In 2012, one-third of Arab Americans resided in California, Michigan, or New York. Other areas of significant Arab settlement include Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia.


Early History The history of the Arab world spans fifteen centuries and twenty-two individual countries, which have been united by a common language and by cultural ties. Ethnic Arabs inhabited the Arabian Peninsula and neighboring areas. With the rise of Islam in the seventh century CE and its phenomenal expansion over parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe, Arabic culture and language spread to the newly conquered peoples.

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In Dearborn, Michigan, Arab Americans march against Israel's bombing of Lebanon.

In Dearborn, Michigan, Arab Americans march against Israel's bombing of Lebanon. JIM WEST / ALAMY

Over time Arab identity lost its purely ethnic roots as millions in the Middle East and North Africa adopted the Arabic language and integrated Arab culture with that of their own.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Arab countries were resonating with nationalist ideologies and the Arab world was filled with promise and hope, especially regarding the question of Palestine and Arab national unity.

Modern Era The term Arab is a cultural, linguistic, and political designation. It is often incorrectly applied to individuals from countries such as Pakistan and Iran who do not speak Arabic. The term embraces numerous national and regional groups as well as many non-Muslim religious minorities. Arab Christians, particularly in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and Jordan, constitute roughly 10 percent of the population. In Lebanon, Christians of various sects approach just under half of the population, while in Egypt, Christians compose between 10 and 15 percent of the population. Outside the Arab world, the stereotype of Arabs as nomads has persisted, but such groups have always formed only a small minority of the Arab population. The contemporary population is heavily urbanized, with large populations settling in cities such as Cairo and Istanbul. Those who remain in rural areas tend to be involved in agriculture and fishing, and much of that takes place at the subsistence level.

While sharing many common traits, the countries within the Arab world are also diverse, and their histories have been shaped by internal events and their access to economic resources. These countries range from highly developed nations such as Egypt and Syria to Somalia, which is one of the most underdeveloped and poorest nations in the world. In 1945 seven of the Arab-speaking nations came together to form the Arab League to promote closer political, economic, and cultural links among member states. The charter members of the Arab League were Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Transjordan (now Jordan), and Yemen. Today each of the Arab League's twenty-two members is bound by any unanimous decisions made by the league's council, which serves as the governing body of the organization. Despite the efforts of the Arab League, the modern history of the Arab world has been filled with strife. The Arab-Israeli conflict, for instance, claimed 200,000 lives and displaced 3 million people between 1948 and 1990. Sudan and Somalia have been involved in internal strife. Conflict within the region has historically led to large groups fleeing their homelands.


Arabic-speaking immigrants arrived in the United States in three significant waves. The first occurred between the late 1800s and World War I and consisted mainly of immigrants from Greater Syria, an Arab province of the Ottoman Empire until the Ottoman collapse in 1918. Following the breakup of the empire, the province was partitioned into the separate political entities of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Transjordan. The majority of immigrants in this wave belonged to Christian minorities, though as many as 20 percent were Muslim. Although some scholars claim that these immigrants left their native countries for religious or political reasons, other evidence suggests that they were drawn to the United States and elsewhere by economic opportunity.

Of the approximately 60,000 Arabs who immigrated to the United States between 1899 and 1910, approximately half were illiterate, many were unskilled, and a majority were males, some of whom were married but were forced to leave their families behind. Like other economically motivated immigrants during this period, Arabs left with the intention of earning money and returning home to live out the remainder of their lives in relative prosperity. But the majority of these migrants stayed, bringing their families over when they were able or marrying American women and gaining citizenship.

In addition to this larger pattern of immigration, a small group of Arab writers, poets, and artists took up residence in major urban centers such as New York and Boston. The most famous of the group was Kahlil Gibran (1883–1931), author of The Prophet and numerous other works. Curiously, this literary circle, which came to be known as the Pen League (al-Rabita al-Qalamiyya), had a negligible influence on the early Arab American communities in the United States. The Pen League's greatest impact was on arts and letters in Lebanon, Egypt, and other Arab countries.

Early immigrants settled in the urban areas of the Northeast and Midwest, in states such as New York, Page 127  |  Top of ArticleMassachusetts, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio. By 1940 a fifth of the estimated 350,000 Arabs resided in three cities—New York, Boston, and Detroit. In these urban areas the immigrants clustered in ethnic neighborhoods. Although many found work in the industrial factories and textile mills that propelled the U.S. economy in the first half of the twentieth century, some also chose the life of itinerant salesmen, peddling dry goods and other sundry items across the heartland. Others homesteaded on the Great Plains and in rural areas of the South.

Very few Arabic-speaking immigrants made their way across the Atlantic during the interwar period, which was marked by the Great Depression and anti-immigrant sentiment. Immigration resumed, however, after the close of World War II, especially from the 1950s to the mid-1960s. Unlike the earlier influx, this second wave included many more Muslims. It also included refugees who had been displaced by the 1948 Palestine War that culminated in the establishment of Israel. This period also witnessed the arrival of many Arabic-speaking professionals and university students who often chose to remain in the United States after completion of their training. Mid-century immigrants tended to settle where jobs were available. Those with few skills drifted to the established Arab communities in the industrial towns of the East Coast and Midwest, while those with professional skills ventured to the new suburbs around the major industrial cities or to rural towns.

In the mid-1960s, when U.S. immigration laws were liberalized, a much larger and more diverse Arab migration began, and it continued into the twenty-first century. This migration included many professionals, entrepreneurs, and unskilled and semiskilled laborers. These immigrants often fled political instability and wars engulfing their home countries. They included Lebanese Shi'a Muslims from southern Lebanon, Palestinians from the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and Iraqis of all political persuasions. But many professionals from these and other countries, such as Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, and unskilled workers from Yemen also emigrated in search of better economic opportunities. Had conditions been more hospitable in their home countries, it is doubtful that many of these immigrants would have emigrated.


The Arabic language retains a classical literary form that is employed on formal occasions, such as speeches and university lectures, and in most forms of writing. Everyday speech is the province of the many and varied regional and local dialects. It is these dialects and, in the case of highly assimilated Arab Americans, their remnants that a visitor among Arab Americans is likely to encounter.

Each national group has its own particular dialect, and there are regional and local subdialects found within each group. For the most part speakers of different dialects are able to make themselves understood when

Arab Americans in Dearborn, Michigan.

Arab Americans in Dearborn, Michigan. JIM WEST / ALAMY

communicating with those who speak other dialects. This is especially true when closely related dialects (for example, Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian, and Jordanian) are involved and less so among geographically distant dialects. The great exception is the Egyptian dialect, which is familiar to most speakers of Arabic because of the widespread influence of the Egyptian movie and recording industries and the dominant cultural role that Egypt has traditionally played in the Middle East.

According to the 2011 American Community Survey estimates, 43 percent of Arab Americans spoke only English in their homes, while 57 percent spoke a language other than English in their homes. The majority of the latter (79 percent) indicated, however, that they spoke English “very well.” Lebanese Americans were among the Arab American subgroups most likely to speak only English in their homes (69 percent), and Iraqi Americans were among the Arab American subgroups least likely to speak only English in their homes (17 percent).


While a vast majority of Arab Americans were Christians during the initial significant period of migration in the early twentieth century, Muslim immigration began to outpace that of Christians later in the twentieth century. By the early twenty-first century, Muslims accounted for half of the Arab American community.

Arab Christians are generally divided between Eastern rite churches (Orthodox) and the Latin rite (Uniate) churches (Maronites, Melkite, and Chaldean). In the beginning all Middle Eastern churches followed Eastern rites. Over the centuries schisms occurred in which the seceders switched allegiance to Rome, forming the Uniate churches. Although the Uniate churches formally submit to the authority of the Roman pope and conform to Latin rites, they continue to maintain their own patriarchs and internal autonomy. Like the Eastern churches, the Uniates also allow priests to marry (though monks and bishops must remain celibate).

Arab Muslims are nominally divided between Sunni and Shi'a, the two major branches of Islam.

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CENGAGE LEARNING, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED U.S. Census Bureau, 2009–2011 American Community Survey

The schism dates to an early conflict in Islam over the succession of the Caliphate—leader—of the religious community following the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The Sunni faction won out, eliminating leaders of the opposing faction led by the Prophet's nephew, Ali, and his sons. Ali's followers came to be known as the Shi'a—the partisans. Over time the Shi'a developed unique theological doctrines and practices. The majority of Arab American Muslims are Sunni. Arab Shi'a are mostly from Lebanon and Iraq as well as northern Yemen.

Arab American Muslims tend to be devout practitioners of their faith and observe the Five Pillars of Islam. Shahadah is the sincere declaration of the Muslim faith. Salat is the practice of praying five times a day, beginning with a morning prayer. If a mosque is accessible, men perform this initial prayer there, while women pray at home. Prayers follow at midday, in the afternoon, in the evening, and at night and are typically performed at home, work, or wherever else the faithful find themselves. Hajj is an annual pilgrimage to Mecca that Islamic men and women are required to make at least once in their lifetime. Sawm is fasting from dawn to sunset during the holy month of Ramadan. The fifth of these central tenets of Islamic faith is Zakat, which is tithing to benefit the needy. Muslims also abide by a set of Islamic dietary guidelines that make foods permissible (halal) to consume.

While tensions exist between mainstream American culture and the Muslim American community, American institutions have become increasingly accommodating of Muslim Americans' need to meet their various religious obligations. For example, many workplaces allow Muslim employees breaks to pray during the workday. Still, friction between American culture and Islamic religious practice persists. This can be seen in the difficulty that Muslim Americans have had in tithing as a result of increasing federal pressure on Islamic charities, which have been suspected of aiding terrorism, in the wake of terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001.


The assimilation of early Arab immigrants into American society was facilitated by the fact that the majority of those immigrants were Christian. Aside from barely discernible Arabic names beneath Anglicized surnames and a preference for some Old World dishes, they retained few traces of their ethnic roots. Many were successful, and some achieved celebrity status.

At the turn of the century, when the first emigrants left the Arab world, their homelands languished under Ottoman Turkish rule, then four centuries old. Arab and regional national consciousness was still nascent. By the time a new immigration wave began at mid-century, the Arab world was in the process of shaking off the European colonial rule, which had Page 129  |  Top of Articlecarved up much of the Middle East after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. In the 1950s and 1960s the Arab countries were resonating with nationalist ideologies, and the Arab world was filled with promise and hope, especially regarding Arab national unity and the independence of Palestine. These ideological currents profoundly influenced many of the postwar immigrants. This group, too, was able to assimilate into mainstream society without much resistance. The establishment of cultural clubs, political committees, houses of worship, and Arabic language schools helped maintain a cultural identity and a political awareness among many new arrivals and their children.

Arriving in the 1970s and 1980s, the third wave of Arab immigration was composed primarily of Muslims, who had greater difficulty assimilating to American culture. These new immigrants often opted to remain on the outskirts of society, even while adopting many American cultural mores. The third wave has been the driving force behind the recent upsurge in the establishment of Muslim schools, mosques, charities, and Arabic language classes.

Collectively many Arab Americans have experienced cultural marginalization. Arabs, Muslims, and Middle Easterners generally have been vilified in the news media, in Hollywood productions, in pulp novels, and in political discourse. Arab Americans cope with their marginality in three different ways: denying their ethnic identity, withdrawing into an ethnic enclave, or engaging mainstream society through information campaigns aimed at the news media, book publishers, politicians, and schools. Many Arab Americans adapt these strategies in combination or alternate between them during the course of their lives. The informational campaigns adopted by Arab Americans typically center, thematically, on the inherent unfairness of stereotyping Arabs, Muslims, and Middle Easterners in a society founded on equal opportunity. In 1999 the cable television network TNT announced that it would never again show movies such as Shadow Warriors 2: Assault on Death Mountain and Thunder in Paradise that blatantly bash Arabs and Arab Americans.

The types of Arab Americans who choose to deny their ethnic background cover the spectrum: recent arrivals, assimilated immigrants, and native born. Among the American born, denial takes the form of a complete break with one's ethnicity in favor of wholesale adoption of American culture. Others, particularly immigrants, tend to stress their distinctiveness from Arab and Islamic culture, as when Iraqi Christians stress their Chaldean identity as opposed to their Iraqi affiliation.

Arab Americans who opt to withdraw into an ethnic enclave tend to be recent immigrants. Running the gamut from unskilled workers to middle-class professionals, this group prefers to live in ethnic neighborhoods or close to other members of the same group in the suburbs. They believe that their ethnic culture and religious traditions are alien to American culture. As a result, they typically resist assimilation. They believe that cultural marginalization is the price of living in American society. That said, many who live in ethnic enclaves, especially the children of immigrants, are eager to participate in mainstream American life and escape the cultural marginalization of their community.

Those who advocate engaging society head-on seek to win societal acceptance of Arab Americans as an integral part of the cultural plurality of the United States. The integrationists adopt several strategies. Some stress the common bonds between Arab or Islamic values and American values, emphasizing strong family ties. They also focus on the commonalities between Christianity and Islam. Others seek to confront anti-Arab stereotyping and racism by emphasizing that they are Americans who happen to be of Arab ancestry. Along with well-assimilated, native-born Arab Americans, this group also consists of foreign-born professionals who wish to maintain their ethnic identity free from stigmatization by the wider culture. Other Arab Americans, however, embrace their ethnic identity and seek to benefit both from strong ethnic ties and from affirmative action-like policies in order succeed in business and politics.

According to the 2009–2011 American Community Survey estimates, 57.4 percent of Arab Americans were native-born U.S. citizens. Among the foreign-born Arab American population, 56.8 percent had become naturalized citizens.

Assimilation has been particularly difficult for all Arab American groups in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Because the attack was conducted by Arabs within the al-Qaeda terrorist organization, many Americans began equating being Arab with being a terrorist. While many Arab Americans never experienced direct discrimination, the number of hate crimes committed against Arab Americans increased significantly after the al-Qaeda attacks. The Council of American-Islamic Relations and the United States Commission on Civil Rights announced that 600 reports of hate crimes were filed in the months following September 2001. Studies conducted after the attacks have revealed a subtle prejudice that has negatively affected the lives of most Arab Americans. The most common perpetrators of prejudice, according to Arab Americans, are not individuals but the federal government and the American media. The term “flying while Arab” was coined to describe the suspicion that Arab Americans face when boarding airplanes. The result of the attacks has been that many Arab Americans feel that they are neither wholly Arab nor wholly American. One group of Arab Americans responded to the Page 130  |  Top of Articleidentity crisis by creating a series of forums, known as Building Respect in Diverse Groups to Enhance Sensitivity, or BRIDGES, in Detroit to work with law enforcement to apprehend terrorists while protecting the civil liberties of other Arab Americans. The prejudice that resulted from the 2001 attacks also, however, drove assimilation among the Arab American community, as some within the community sought to avoid discrimination by blending into mainstream American culture.

Traditions and Customs Customs center on hospitality associated with food, socializing with family and friends, and a preference for residing close to relatives. Educational achievement and economic advancement are viewed positively, as are the maintenance of strong family ties and the preservation of female chastity and fidelity. Arab American beliefs about the United States are extremely positive, particularly regarding the availability of economic opportunities and political freedoms. Socially, however, Arab Americans feel that American society is highly violent, rather promiscuous, too lenient toward offenders, and somewhat lax on family values.

A common American stereotype about Arabs emphasizes that they are by definition Muslims and therefore are bloodthirsty, fanatical, and anti-Western. Another misconception is that Iranians are Arabs, when most Iranians are Persians who speak Farsi, an Indo-European language, which uses Arabic script. Arabic, on the other hand, belongs to the Semitic language family. Other misconceptions and stereotypes involve the perception of Arabs as nomads and the widespread suppression of the rights of women. For the most part the American media has perpetrated the stereotype of the Arab male as a terrorist or a sheik and the stereotype of the Arab female as a downtrodden wife or as a promiscuous belly dancer. Since 2001 negative conceptions of Arab Americans have proliferated significantly as American culture has become increasingly fearful of and hostile toward the Islamic religion, which many equate with Arab culture. According to a 2004 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life poll, four in ten Americans had an unfavorable view of Islam. The growth of Islamophobia had significant and far-reaching consequences for the Arab American community, which was subject to increased scrutiny from law enforcement and to restrictions on religious freedom. Muslims in the United States have been the targets of attacks and harassment, and mosques have been the targets of protests.

Stereotypes of Arab culture and society abound in Western literary works, scholarly research, and the news and entertainment media. Typical of the fiction genre is Leon Uris's celebrated novel Exodus (1958), in which the Arab country of Palestine is repeatedly depicted as a “fruitless, listless, dying land.” Arabs opposed to the creation of the state of Israel are described as the “dregs of humanity, thieves, murderers, highway robbers, dope runners and white slavers.” More generally, Arabs are “dirty,” “crafty,” and “corrupt.” Uris amplified these characterizations in his 1985 work, The Haj. These and other examples are examined in Janice J. Terry's Mistaken Identity: Arab Stereotypes in Popular Writing (1985). A study of the cultural antecedents of Arab and Muslim stereotyping in Western culture is found in Edward W. Said's highly acclaimed work, Orientalism (1978). News media coverage is critiqued in Said's Covering Islam (1981); television portrayals of Arabs are examined in Jack Shaheen's The TV Arab (1984).

Cuisine The most pronounced dietary injunction followed by Arab Muslims is the religious prohibition of the consumption of pork. Many Arab Christians also disdain the consumption of pork, but for cultural reasons. Muslims are required to consume meat that is ritually slaughtered (halal). In response to the growing demand for halal meats, many enterprising Arab American grocers have in recent years set up halal meat markets.

Arab Americans have a distinctive cuisine centered on lamb, rice, bread, fresh salads, and highly seasoned dishes. The Middle Eastern diet consists of many ingredients not found in the average American kitchen, such as chickpeas, lentils, fava beans, ground sesame seed oil, feta cheese, dates, and figs. Many Arab dishes, such as stuffed zucchini or green peppers and stuffed grape or cabbage leaves, are highly labor-intensive.

For the most part Arab Americans prepare and consume traditional Arab cuisine, including hummus, a spread made primarily of mashed chickpeas; tabouli, a salad composed of bulgur, garlic, onion, tomato, and parsley; falafel, deep fried balls of chickpeas or fava beans; kibbeh, a ground meat dish; and kebabs, skewered and roasted meats. Arab foods are also increasingly popular among the American population at large. This has led to a proliferation of Arab restaurants not only in cities such as Detroit and New York but also in areas without large Arab American populations.

Traditional Dress In their day-to-day lives most Arab Americans wear common Western clothing but dress conservatively. Female Arab American Muslims also typically wear the traditional Islamic hijab, a scarf or cloth that is used to cover one's head. Worn in fidelity to Islamic principles and as an expression of modesty, the hijab is the most visible marker of Muslim identity in the United States. Some Arab American men wear the keffiyeh, a typically cotton scarf worn on the head. Many foreign-born Arab men of all ages are fond of carrying worry beads, which they unconsciously run through their fingers while engaging in conversation or while walking. Some Arab and other Muslim women occasionally don long, shapeless dresses, commonly called Islamic dresses, in addition to a hijab or other headscarf.

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Greetings and Popular Expressions Some basic Arabic greetings, with pronunciation, include marhaba (“mar-ha-ba”)—“hello,” and its response ahlen (“ah-len”)—“welcome” (colloquial greetings in Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian, and Jordanian dialects). Egyptians would say Azayyak (“az-zay-yak”)—“How are you?” and its response quwayyas (“qu-whey-yes”)—“fine.” A more formal greeting, readily understood throughout the Arabic-speaking world is: asalaam 'a laykum (“a-sa-lamb ah-laykum”)—“greetings, peace be upon you.” The proper response is wa 'a laykum asalaam (“wa-ah-laykum a-sa-lamb”)—“and, peace be upon you, too.” Because of the inherent hospitality of Arab households, it is proper to say Al-hamdu lilah—Thanks be to God—to signify the end of a meal.

Holidays The three religious holidays celebrated by Arab American Muslims are also celebrated by Muslims everywhere. They are Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, and Eid al-Adha. Ramadan is a monthlong dawn-to-dusk fast that occurs during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Ramadan is a month of self-discipline as well as spiritual and physical purification. The fast requires complete abstinence from food, drink (including water), tobacco, and sex from sunrise to sunset during the entire month. Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan. A cross between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Eid is a festive and joyous occasion for Muslims everywhere. Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, commemorates the Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael in obedience to God. According to the Quran, the Muslim holy book that is considered to be the word of God, the angel Gabriel intervened at the last moment, substituting a lamb in place of Ishmael. The holiday is held in conjunction with the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, in which increasing numbers of American Muslims participate.

Some Arab Muslim families celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Muslims recognize Jesus as an important prophet but do not consider him divine. They use the occasion of Christmas to exchange gifts, and some have adopted the custom of decorating a Christmas tree. Arab American Christians observe major Christian holidays. Followers of Eastern rite churches (Egyptian Copts, Syrian Orthodox, and Greek Orthodox) celebrate Christmas on the Epiphany, January 6. Easter is observed on the Sunday after Passover rather than on the date established by the Roman Catholic Church. In addition, the Eastern Churches, particularly the Coptic church, mark numerous religious occasions, saints' days, and the like throughout the year.


In traditional Arab society, members of two or three generations would dwell in a single household or, in wealthier families, in a family compound. This extended household centered around a married man and some of his adult sons and their families.

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es-seqiye l-jerye la n-nahr-al-magTu'

The flowing brook rather than the dry river.

okhfod sawtakwa qawwe Hijtak

Lower your voice to strengthen your argument.

khabbe qershak el-abiyad la-yomak el aswad

Hide your white money for your black day.

illi biyeshrub elbahar maa bighaD elsaaqia

He who has drunk the sea does not choke on a brook.

tu3awwid 3uSfuur fii al-kaff

A thousand cranes in the air are not worth one sparrow in the fist.

idha kaan al-qamr ma3ak laa tabaalii al-nujuum

If the moon be with thee, thou needest not to care about the stars.

A grandparent might also have resided in the household. A variation on this structure was for several brothers and their respective families to reside in a compound with a grandparent and other elderly relatives. These traditional family structures have begun to deteriorate and change as the majority of Arabs have moved to cities.

Among Arab Americans, the large extended family constituting a single household has traditionally been found only among recent immigrants. As families acculturate and assimilate, they tend to form nuclear families with, occasionally, the addition of an elderly grandparent and an unmarried adult child. In some communities adult married children set up a household near their parents and married siblings. This arrangement allows the maintenance of extended family networks while enjoying the benefits of living in a nuclear family. The economic downturn of the early twenty-first century led to an increase in the number of multigenerational households among the Arab American community.

Gender Roles Boys and girls are reared differently, though the degree of that difference is determined by the level of assimilation. Boys are generally given greater latitude than girls. At the extreme end of the spectrum, girls are expected to marry at a relatively young age, and their schooling is not considered as important as that of boys. High school is the upper limit for girls in very traditional immigrant homes, though some postsecondary education is expected Page 132  |  Top of Articleamong educated households. In many Arab American families, however, women are more likely than men to attend college, as men are expected to pursue occupations that are considered inappropriate for women rather than pursue higher education. This is true of more conservative Arab Americans, such as Yemeni Americans, and more liberal Arab Americans, such as Chaldean Americans.

The daughters of professionals are usually encouraged to pursue careers. Middle Eastern families tend to favor boys over girls, and this preference extends to wide segments of the Arab American community. In a few traditional homes girls are not allowed to ride bicycles or play certain sports, while boys are otherwise indulged. The oldest son usually enjoys a measure of authority over younger siblings, especially his sisters, because he is expected to eventually carry the mantle of authority held by the father.

Within the countries of the Arab world, the status of women is dependent on a number of factors that include religion, social class, level of urbanization and education, and whether the country is dominated by civil, customary, or religious law. Many Arab men and women subsequently experience culture shock when dealing with American women and with the changing gender roles in their own families.

Within traditional Arab American families, formal authority lies with the husband or father, just as it does in Arab society. Women play important roles in socializing children, preserving kinship ties, and maintaining social and religious traditions. The degree of hospitality in the home is considered a measure of a family's standing among Arabs everywhere.

Outside the home the role of Arab American women has fluctuated with the ebb and flow of the immigration tide. While Arab American women continue to be less likely to be employed than those in the general population, large numbers have joined the workforce and have taken on changing societal and familial roles. As communities become assimilated, women tend to assume leadership roles in community organizations in the mosque or church or in community-wide endeavors such as the organization of parochial schools. With each new influx of immigrants, assimilated women tend to lose ground in institutions that attract new immigrants (e.g., the mosque). Women who at one time were among the leadership sometimes find themselves quickly taking a back seat or even being ousted from the institution. In other cases, however, women gain power and influence as their skills and experience are regarded as invaluable by new immigrants who must rely on these assimilated women for help navigating a new culture.

Education Education is highly valued among wide segments of the community. Affluent households prefer private schools. Working class and middle class members tend to send their children to public schools. A recent trend in some Arab American Muslim communities is the growth of Islamic parochial schools. These schools are favored by recent immigrants of all classes. Between 2006 and 2011 the number of such schools increased by 25 percent. By 2011 there were about 250 in operation in the United States. In addition to learning traditional subjects, students are taught the Arabic language, religion, and history. After the fifth grade female students are required to wear headscarves.

As a group, Arab Americans tend to be better educated than the general population. Data from the 2011 American Community Survey revealed that 88 percent of Arab Americans over the age of twenty-five have received a high school diploma. Some 46 percent of Arab Americans have obtained a bachelor's degree. Egyptians tend to be the most highly educated of Arab Americans, with 96 percent completing high school and 67 percent completing college. Iraqis tend to be the least educated, with 76 percent finishing high school but only 33 percent obtaining bachelor's degrees.

Courtship and Weddings While casual American-style dating is very common among later generations of Arab Americans and among those who do not live in ethnic enclaves, newly arrived Arab immigrants often adhere to traditional Arab courtship and marriage practices. For these immigrants, American-style dating is virtually nonexistent because it conflicts with strict cultural norms about female chastity. The norm stipulates that a female should be chaste prior to marriage and remain faithful once wed. Similar standards apply to males, but expectations are reduced and the consequences of violations are not as severe. The ethics relating to female chastity cut across social class, religious denomination, and even ethnic lines, as they are found with equal vigor in virtually every Middle Eastern ethnic and national group. Real or alleged violations of the sexual mores by a female are assumed to damage her reputation and diminish her chances of finding a suitable marriage partner. According to Arab culture, such behavior also shames her family, especially her male kinsmen.

Another traditional Islamic marriage practice that some Arab American immigrants maintain is the trial period that follows the enactment of the marriage contract (kitb al-kitab). This period can last months or even a year or more. If successful, the marriage will be consummated after a public ceremony. During this period the family of an engaged woman will frequently permit her to go out with her fiancé. Some families insist that a chaperone be present or that the fiancé visit with the bride at her home, where the couple may be allowed to visit privately and get to know one another. It is perfectly acceptable for one or both parties to terminate the engagement at this point rather than face the prospect of an unhappy Page 133  |  Top of Articlemarriage. Though adhered to by some, this practice is rare among Arab Americans, especially those of later generations.

While traditional Arab culture prefers endogamous marriages between cousins, this preference is not typically maintained among modern Arab Americans, although some immigrant families do preserve the practice. Among highly assimilated and native-born Arab Americans, marriage between cousins is very rare. However, most Arab Americans do demonstrate a strong preference for religious endogamy in the selection of marriage partners. In this, Arab Americans retain a deeply rooted Middle Eastern bias. Middle Easterners do not approve of interreligious marriages. However, interdenominational marriages are not uncommon among educated Arab Americans. Arab Americans find it easier to marry a non-Arab of a different religious background than enter into an interreligious marriage with a fellow Arab American. This is especially true of Arab American men, who find it easier than Arab women to marry an outsider, as men typically spend more time working or attending school outside the Arab American community. There is a powerful familial resistance to letting Arab American women marry outside the group. An Arab Muslim woman who was unable to find a mate from within her group could marry a non-Arab Muslim (e.g., Pakistani, Indian, or Iranian). Arab Christian women facing a similar situation would opt to marry an outsider as long he was Christian.

Like cousin endogamy, arranged marriages are more common among recent immigrants than among later generations of Arab Americans. Arranged marriages run the gamut from the individual having no voice in the matter and no prior acquaintance with a prospective marriage partner to the family arranging a meeting between their son or daughter and a prospective mate they have selected. In the latter situation the son or daughter will usually make the final decision. This pattern is prevalent among assimilated immigrant and native-born families, especially if they are educated or have high aspirations for their children. Some working-class immigrant families arrange the marriage of their daughters, who are sometimes legal minors, to men in the home country. This practice is limited to a small minority. In selecting a marriage partner, attention is paid to family standing and reputation.

The traditional Arab custom of segregating the sexes before marriage is inevitably weakening because American society poses many opportunities for unrelated males and females to meet at school or on the job. Consequently, there is a detectable increase in the number of cases of romantic involvement among young Arab Americans in cities where large numbers of Arab Americans reside. But many

Portrait of a young Arab girl in Los Angeles, 1998.


of these relations are cut short by families because they fail to win their approval.

The 2009–2011 American Community Survey (ACS) estimated that 53.8 percent of Arab Americans age fifteen or older were married, compared with 49.0 percent of the general U.S. population. Divorce, once unheard of in Arab society, is increasingly making a presence among Arab Americans, although it is still less common for Arab Americans to be divorced (7.1 percent of those age fifteen or older) compared with the general U.S. population (10.8 percent).

Relations with Other Americans While early Arab American immigrants were largely accepted and integrated into American culture, relations began to sour for native-born Arab Americans after the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War. This situation worsened after the Arab oil embargo and the quadrupling of world oil prices that followed in the wake Page 134  |  Top of Articleof the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War. Another important factor in heightening negative conceptions of Arabs was the American media's heavy coverage of the rise of militant Palestinian factions, such as the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), that carried out attacks on Israelis in the late 1960s and the 1970s.

With the fall of the Shah and the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini to power in Iran (a large, non-Arab country) in 1979 came another oil shortage and price shock that further exacerbated anti-Middle Eastern sentiment in the United States. Then, on November 4, 1979, Iranian Islamic revolutionaries stormed the United States embassy in Tehran and took more than sixty Americans hostage. Over the next year media coverage of the Iranian hostage crisis, as the event became known, proliferated the notion of Islam as being a violent and irrational religion. Arabs and Muslims were vilified as bloodthirsty terrorists, greedy oil sheiks, and religious fanatics by the mass media, politicians, and political commentators. Congress began passing a series of bills that gave the federal government increased power to track down suspected terrorists.

For the better part of the 1980s Arab Americans lived in an increasing state of apprehension as the Reagan administration waged a war on international terrorism, and tensions ensued from the two U.S. attacks against Libya and the U.S. involvement in Lebanon following Israel's 1982 invasion of that country. The mid-1980s ushered in a spate of anti-Arab hate crimes.

Then, in 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Fearful of a disruption to the world's oil supply and of instability in the region, the United States organized international sanctions aimed at motivating Iraq to withdraw its troops from its oil-rich neighbor. The sanctions failed to achieve their goal, however, and in early 1991 American and allied troops first bombed, then invaded, Iraq. This military offensive compelled Iraq to remove its troops from Kuwait, but Iraqi president Saddam Hussein remained in power. The Gulf War, as it was known, exacerbated the growing American antipathy for Arab culture and was felt by Arab Americans, who were increasingly the objects of prejudice and stereotyping. The feeling against Arab Americans continued to build throughout the end of the twentieth century and continued on into the early twenty-first century.

On September 11, 2001, members of al-Qaeda, an Arab terrorist organization, hijacked three jetliners and attacked the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A fourth plane was brought down near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, by passengers before it could reach its target. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives, and Arab Americans became the chief target of suspicion and hostility. The number of hate crimes proliferated. A mosque in Dallas was set afire, and an Arab community center in Chicago was bombed. Schools in New Orleans were forced to close to protect Arab American students.

Within a month of the al-Qaeda attacks, Congress passed the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, better known as the USA Patriot Act. The act gave federal officials the authority to bypass constitutional protections designed to protect the rights of those suspected of committing crimes. Some 1,200 Arab American males were detained for questioning, but only four were ever charged with any crime. All visas for Arab American males traveling to countries with known links to terrorism were suspended, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service began targeting male immigrants from Afghanistan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Afghanistan in addition to those from Islamic countries such as Iran and Pakistan. Interest in learning about Arab languages, religions, and culture increased significantly, and some Arab American feminists wore headscarves to indicate their support for Arab women. Nevertheless, they considered themselves Americans first and Arabs second.


Most Arab Americans tend to do well economically after immigrating to the United States. How well they do is dependent on a number of variables that include their own social class and educational background as well as their country of origin. According to the 2009–2011 American Community Survey estimates, 44.5 percent of employed Arab Americans were in managerial, business, science, or arts occupations, compared with 35.9 percent of the general U.S. labor force. Arab Americans were less likely to work in service occupations (13.8 percent of Arab Americans compared with 18.0 percent of the general U.S. population). The variation by country of origin can be seen in the example of Moroccan Americans, who were more likely to work in service jobs (21.4 percent) than Arab Americans in general.

According to the 2011 American Community Survey, the median annual income for Arab American families was $51,363, compared with $50,502 for the general population. Arab Americans from Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt were better off economically than immigrants from other Arab-speaking nations. Some 19 percent of Arab Americans lived in poverty in 2011, compared with 12 percent of the general population. Poverty rates were highest among households with a single mother and a child under five years of age. In general, Arab Americans tend to cluster in both the highest income and highest education brackets and in the lowest income and

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A resident of Dearborn, Michigan, demonstrates in front of the Federal Courthouse in Detroit, Michigan, where suspected terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year old Nigerian, was arraigned on January 8, 2010. The defendent attempted to blow up

A resident of Dearborn, Michigan, demonstrates in front of the Federal Courthouse in Detroit, Michigan, where suspected terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year old Nigerian, was arraigned on January 8, 2010. The defendent attempted to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas day in 2009. BILL PUGLIANO / GETTY IMAGES

lowest educational attainment brackets, based on when and where they came from and how long they have been in the country.


Although politically marginalized, Arab Americans have attempted to gain a voice in U.S. foreign policy throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century. One of the most important national organizations dedicated to such a purpose was the Association of Arab American University Graduates, Inc. (AAUG). Founded in the aftermath of the devastating Arab defeat by Israel in the June 1967 war, the AAUG sought to educate Americans about the Arab, and especially the Palestinian, side of the conflict. The group continues to serve as an important forum for debating issues of concern to Arab Americans. The early 1970s saw the establishment of the National Association of Arab Americans, the first Arab American organization devoted exclusively to lobbying on foreign policy issues. In 2002 the National Association of Arab Americans merged with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), which had been founded in 1980 by former U.S. Senator James Abourezk of South Dakota. While not a lobby, ADC sensitizes the news media to issues of stereotyping. The organization has had less success with the entertainment media. More recently the Arab American Institute (AAI) was established to encourage greater participation of Arab Americans in the electoral process as voters, party delegates, or candidates for office.

Arab Americans became increasingly active politically in the late twentieth century, and that activity increased after September 11, 2001. Much of that activity was directed at teaching other Americans to respect Arab American culture and to fight discrimination, Page 136  |  Top of Articlesuch as racial profiling and suspension of civil liberties for Arab Americans. High-profile Arab American politicians included George Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader. Former U.S. Representative Mary Rose Oakar continued to serve as a major voice for Arab Americans. Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., the governor of Indiana, and John Baldacci, a former governor of Maine, are also Arab Americans, as are former White House Cabinet officials John Sununu and Donna Shalala. The Arab American Leadership Council plays a major role in assisting Arab Americans in running for political office or seeking out appointed positions.

In 1996, despite identifying more strongly with the Republican Party, Arab Americans expressed a preference for Democrat Bill Clinton (43.4 percent) over Republican Bob Dole (29.6 percent). During the 2000 election George W. Bush made a concentrated effort to meet with Arab leaders, and 44.5 percent of Arab Americans supported his presidential bid. Within the post-September 11, 2001, environment and Bush's War on Terror, which included the War in Iraq, support for the Republican Party declined significantly, with 54 percent supporting Democrat Barack Obama in 2008. During the 2012 presidential election fifty-five Arab Americans from eighteen states served as delegates to the Democratic Convention. A poll taken in September 2012 indicated that Arab Americans continued to favor Obama (54 percent) over Republican Mitt Romney (33 percent).


Arab Americans have made important contributions in virtually every field of endeavor, from government to belles lettres. One Arab American even became the Queen of Jordan when she married King Hussein in 1978. Queen Noor was born Lisa Halaby (1951–) in Washington, D.C., to Syrian American parents.

Academia Among the many Arab American academics, Edward W. Said (1935–2003) stands out as a world-class intellectual. Born in Jerusalem, Palestine, and educated at Princeton and Harvard universities, Said achieved international renown as a scholar in the fields of literary criticism and comparative literature. As an Arab Christian, he spent a good deal of time defending Islam. Epistemologist Nassim Nicholas Taleb (1960–) is a world-renowned specialist in randomness, probability, and uncertainty. He authored The Black Swan (2007), which has been called one of the most influential books of the post-World War II era. Other Arab American scholars include Fouad A. Ajami (1945–), a Lebanese American who is an expert on Middle Eastern affairs, and Mostafa A. El-Sayed (1933–), an Egyptian American who specialized in chemical physics.

Activism The best-known Arab American activist is Ralph Nader (1935), who had a major influence on such issues as consumer rights and automobile safety. Nader was a candidate for president of the United States five times between 1992 and 2008. Another prominent activist was Andy Lightner (1946–), the founder of Mothers against Drunk Driving.

Broadcasting Arab Americans have also played a significant role in the broadcasting industry. Lebanese American Danny Thomas (1914–1991) was the star of the 1950s sitcom Make Room for Daddy and produced several popular shows of the 1960s, including The Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show. Today Thomas is best remembered as the founder of the St. Jude's children's charity. His daughter Marlo Thomas (1938–), the star of That Girl, continued his work with St. Jude in addition to acting and supporting feminist causes. Jamie Farr (1934–) portrayed cross-dressing Corporal Klinger on the television sitcom M*A*S*H. Tony Shalhoub (1953–) is one of the foremost Arab American television stars in the early twenty-first century as a result of his Emmy-winning series Monk, in which he portrayed a detective with obsessive compulsive disorder. Actress Wendie Malick (1950–) has appeared in a number of television shows, including Just Shoot Me and Hot in Cleveland. Casey Kasem (1933–), best known for hosting the radio program American Top 40, which kept Americans abreast of popular music for decades, was also the voice of Shaggy in the popular cartoon series Scooby Doo.

Business Steve Jobs (1955–2011), the cofounder of Apple Computers, was of partial Arab descent, as his biological father was a Syrian immigrant. Over the course of his career at Apple, Jobs was widely regarded as one of the most innovative and influential entrepreneurs of the personal computer industry. The son of Lebanese immigrants, Paul Orfalea (1947–) grew up in southern California, where he founded the first Kinko's store in 1970. Over the next several decades, Kinko's grew to become a nationwide chain of outlets offering copying, printing, and binding before being sold to Federal Express in 2004. Jacques Nasser (1947–) was born in Lebanon and went on to become the president and CEO of Ford Motor Company.

Fashion Joseph Abboud (1950–) is an award-winning menswear fashion designer of Lebanese descent. He also wrote a memoir about the fashion industry and is an activist in the field of breast cancer research. He purchased JA Apparel in 2011 for $90 million. Rami Kasho, a Palestinian American fashion designer, was featured on the television show Project Runway.

Film Moustapha Akkad (1930–2005) produced the blockbuster Halloween thrillers. He was killed at the hands of an Iraqi suicide bomber while attending a wedding in Jordan. Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham (1939–) is best known for his portrayal of Antonio Salieri in Amadeus in 1984. Actress Kathy Najimy (1957–) is an award-winning comic actor who played a nun in the movies Sister Act and Sister Act II and a witch in Hocus Pocus before becoming known as the voice of Peggy Hill Page 137  |  Top of Articlein King of the Hill. Actress and producer Salma Hayek (1966–) is of Lebanese-Mexican descent. She was known for films such as Frieda and for creating the television show Ugly Betty. Mario Kassar (1952–) is the former head of Carolco Pictures, which produced hit films such as Rocky, Rambo, and Terminator.

Government A number of Arab Americans have been recognized for their contributions to government at various levels, through elected and appointed positions. The first Arab American to be elected to the U.S. Senate was Democrat James Abourezk (1931–), a former U.S. Representative from South Dakota, who earned a reputation as a fighter for Native American and other minority rights while in Congress (1973–79). Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (1933–), a Democrat from Maine, is the offspring of a Lebanese mother and an Irish father. Mitchell served in Congress from 1980 to 1995. Mary Rose Oakar (1940–), an Ohio Democrat, was a strong force for women and minority rights during her congressional tenure (1977–1993). Democrat Nick Joe Rahall II (1949–) represents West Virginia's Third Congressional District, Republican Charles W. Boustany Jr. (1956–), a cardiovascular surgeon, represents Louisiana's Third District, and Republican Darrell Issa (1953–) represented California's Forty-Ninth District. Republican Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. (1949–), the son of Syrian immigrants, was the governor of Indiana, and Democrat John Baldacci (1955–) served as the governor of Maine from 2003 to 2011.

Republican Ray LaHood (1945–), a former Illinois congressman, became the secretary of transportation in 2009. Other prominent Arab American members of presidential cabinets include Donna Shalala (1941–), who served as secretary of health and human services in the Clinton administration, and John E. Sununu (1941–), who served as George H. W. Bush's chief of staff.

Literature There are numerous notable Arab American poets. Khaled Mattawa (1964–), who was born in Libya and immigrated to the United States in his teens, authored of four books of poetry and translated nine books of contemporary Arabic poetry. Mattawa also coedited two anthologies of Arab American literature and was awarded the Academy of American Poets Fellowship Prize and a Guggenheim fellowship, among many other awards and honors. Other important Arab American poets include the Palestinian American Naomi Shihab Nye (1952–), the Lebanese American Lawrence Joseph (1948–), and Sam Hazo (1928–). There are also many important Arab American writers of fiction. Novelist Mona Simpson (1957–) is the author of numerous books, including Anywhere But Here and My Hollywood, is a recipient of the Whiting Prize and other awards. The Iraqi novelist Mahmoud Saeed (1939–) immigrated to the United States in 1999, fleeing persecution in his homeland for his important and controversial work. After arriving in the United States, Saeed continued to write and publish. The son of a Lebanese immigrant, Vance Bourjaily (1922–2010) was a prolific writer of fiction and nonfiction whose published works included the critically acclaimed novel Brill among the Ruins. William Peter Blatty (1928–), also the son of Lebanese immigrants, is the author of the novel The Exorcist along with other works of fiction and screenplays.

Journalism Helen Thomas (1920–1913), a White House reporter for United Press International, covered the presidency from 1961 to 2010.

Film Screenwriter Callie Khouri (1957–) received an Oscar award for Best Original Screenplay in 1990 for Thelma and Louise. Writer and director Tom Shadyac (1958–) was responsible for Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and the 1998 remake of The Nutty Professor.

Music Singer Paul Anka (1941–), who was born in Canada to Lebanese parents, rose to the top of the pop charts in the 1950s. Formerly a judge on the television show American Idol, Paula Abdul (1962–), a singer, dancer, television personality, and choreographer, was born to a Syrian father who arrived in the United States via Brazil. Born Tiffany Renee Darwish in 1972, the singer popularly known as Tiffany was raised in California by her Lebanese/Syrian father. She is best known for hits such as “I Think We're Alone Now” and “I Saw Him Standing There.” Singer Shakira (1977–), the daughter of a Lebanese father and a Colombian mother, combines the heritage of both countries in her music. Musician Frank Zappa (1940–1993) was an icon of the American rock scene. His eldest son, Dweezil (1969–), put together a tribute act, Zappa Plays Zappa, honoring his father in 2008. Zappa's eldest child, Moon (1967–), was also a musician and an actress; his son Ahmet (1974–) was a musician, writer, producer, and publisher; and his youngest daughter, Diva (1979–), was an artist and an actress.

Science and Medicine Dr. Farouk El-Baz (1938–), a prominent Arab American scientist, was a lunar geologist who assisted in planning the Apollo moon landings. Dr. Michael DeBakey (1908–2008), the inventor of the heart pump, was a Lebanese American. Elias Corey (1928–) of Harvard University won the 1990 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. George A. Doumani made discoveries that helped prove the theory of continental drift.

Sports Doug Flutie (1962–) won the Heisman Trophy in 1984 and quarterbacked the Toronto Argonauts to a championship in the Canadian Football League. He also played in the NFL for the Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, San Diego Chargers, and New England Patriots. Lebanese-born Rony Seikaly (1965–), who played for the Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, and New Jersey Nets, is considered the most famous of Arab American basketball players. Jeff George (1967–) played quarterback for teams that included the Indianapolis Colts, Atlanta Falcons, Oakland Raiders, Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins, and Seattle Seahawks. Page 138  |  Top of ArticleOther Arab Americans who made notable contributions to the world of sports include Bill George (1929–1982), Abe Gibron (1925–), Rich Kotite (1942–), and Drew Haddad (1978–) in the NFL; Joe Lahoud (1947–) and Sam Khalifa (1963–) in Major League Baseball; George Maloof Sr. (1923–1980), former owner of the Houston Rockets, and his sons Joe (1955–) and Gavin Maloof (1966–), owners of the Sacramento Kings in the NBA. Bobby Rahal (1953–) won the Indianapolis 500 in 1986 and went on to become an all-time earnings champion and team owner. Yasser Seirawan (1960–) is a four-time national chess champion and grandmaster, and Jennifer Shahade (1980–) won the United States Women's Chess Championships in 2002 and 2004.


Traditionally supportive of a number of local radio and cable and broadcast television programs as well as print media, members of the Arab American community have increasingly begun to rely on nationally produced programming and on international broadcasts from their various homelands. Through the Internet, Arab Americans have instant access to newspapers, magazines, television shows, and radio in their native languages. Satellite television also offers Arab Americans access to channels such as ART (Arabic Radio and Television Network), the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, and MTV Arabic.

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Al Jadid Magazine

Founded in 1997, this magazine regularly publishes thought-provoking articles and translations about Arab and Arab American culture.

Elie Chalala, Editor
P. O. Box 241342
Los Angeles, California 90024-1342
Phone: (310) 227-6777

American-Arab Message

Religious and political weekly printed in Arabic and English; founded in 1937.

Rev. Imam Muhammad A.H. Karoub
17514 Woodward Avenue
Detroit, Michigan 48203
Phone: (313) 868-2266
Fax: (313) 868-2267

Arab American News

Founded in 1986 and covering the Arab world and the United States, this newspaper bills itself as providing “news, views, and interviews” of interest to Arab Americans.

Osama Siblani, Publisher
5706 Chase Road
Dearborn, Michigan
48126 Phone: (313) 582-4888

Arab Studies Quarterly

Magazine covering Arab affairs, the Middle East, and U.S. foreign policy that is published by Pluto journals through the auspices of the Center for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies of California State University.

Ibrahim G. Aoudé, Editor
5500 University Parkway
San Bernardino, California 92407-2318
Phone: (909) 537-3778
Email: Email: aoude@hawaii-edu

Jusoor: The Arab American Journal of Cultural Exchange

First published in 1992, Jusoor (“Bridges”) is a quarterly that includes poetry and essays on politics and the arts.

Munir Akash, Editor
P.O. Box 34163
Bethesda, Maryland 20827-0163
Phone: (301) 263-0289
Fax: (301) 263-0255


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American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)

Founded in 1980 by former U.S. Senator James Abourezk to combat negative and defamatory stereotyping of Arab Americans and their cultural heritage, ADC offers live streaming via ADC TV. It is the country's largest grassroots Arab American organization.

Warren David, President
1990 M Street
Suite 610
Washington, D.C. 20036
Phone: (202) 244-2990
Fax: (202) 333-3980

Arab American Historical Foundation

Encourages the preservation of Arab American history, publications, and art. Publishes quarterly Arab American Historian.

Joseph R. Haiek, President/Founder
P.O. Box 291159
Los Angeles, California 90029
Phone: (818) 507-0333

Arab American Institute (AAI)

Dedicated to involving Arab Americans in electoral politics, mobilizing votes and funds behind Arab American candidates at various levels of government. The Institute also encourages Arab Americans to become involved in the Democratic and Republican parties.

Dr. James Zogby, President/Founder
1600 K Street, NW
Suite 601

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Washington, D.C. 20006
Phone: (202) 429-9210
Fax: (202) 429-9214

Arab American Political Action Committee (AAPAC)

AAPAC was formed by a group of Arab American professionals to organize and encourage the political activities of Arab Americans.

Miriam Saad Bazzi, President
P. O. Box 925
Dearborn, Michigan 48121
Phone: (313) 582-4888


Started by a group of volunteers in 1971, ACCESS was created to assist the Arab immigrant population adapt to life in the United States and is now the largest Arab American human services nonprofit in the country.

Hassan Jaber, Executive Director
2651 Saulino Court
Dearborn, Michigan 48120
Phone: (313) 842-7010
Fax: (313) 842-5150

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Association of Arab American University Graduates, Inc. (AAUG)

The oldest national Arab American organization. Founded in the aftermath of the Arab defeat in the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War to inform Americans of the Arab viewpoint. AAUG's membership consists mostly of academics and other professionals. The organization sponsors intellectual forums and conferences and publishes books as well as the journal Arab Studies Quarterly.

William J. Gedeon, President
2121 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Suite 310
Washington, D.C. 20007
Phone: (202) 337-7717
Fax: (202) 337-3302

Najda: Women Concerned About the Middle East

Promotes understanding between Americans and Arabs by offering educational programs and audiovisual presentations on Middle Eastern history, art, culture, and current events.

Audrey Shabbas, President
P. O. Box 7152
Berkeley, California 94707
Phone: (510) 549-3512

National Network of Arab American Communities

Founded in 2004, the organization coordinates the efforts of Arab American community groups and provides them with a voice at the national level.

Nadia Tonova, Director
2651 Saulino Court
Dearborn, Michigan 48120
Phone: (313) 843-2844
Fax: (313) 554-2801


Several universities have Arab American (or Middle Eastern American) studies programs, including the University of Southern California; the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; the University of Michigan, Dearborn; the City University of New York; and the University of South Florida.

While there is only one museum devoted solely to Arab Americans as a group, there are various archives devoted to collecting the papers and related memorabilia of Arab Americans.

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Arab Americans, Chaldeans, and Muslims in Michigan Collections

Bentley Historical Library

University of Michigan

Karen Jania, Reference Division Head
1150 Beal Avenue
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-2113
Phone: (734) 764-3482

Arab American National Museum

Drawing on the contributions of a large local Arab American community, this museum promotes Arab American history and culture.

Anan Ameri, Director
13624 Michigan Avenue
Dearborn, Michigan 48126
Phone: (313) 582-2266
Fax: (313) 582-1086

Faris and Yamna Naff Family Arab American Collection

Kay Peterson
Archives Center, National Museum of History, Smithsonian Institution
12th, 14th, and Constitution Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20560-0601
Phone: (202) 633-3270
Fax: (202) 786-2453

Near Eastern American Collection

Haven Hawley, Director
Immigration History Research Center, Andersen
Library, University of Minnesota
222 21st Avenue, South

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Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455
Phone: (612) 625-4800.
Fax: (612) 626-0018

Near East Collection, Sterling Memorial Library

The oldest collection of Arab materials in the United States, Yale University's Near East Collection was established in 1840 by Professor Edward Elbridge Salisbury, an expert in Arabic language and culture.

Roberta Dougherty
P. O. Box 208240
New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8240
Phone: (203) 423-1373


Abraham, Nabeel, et al., eds. Arab Detroit 9/11: Life in the Terror Decade. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2011.

Ameri, Anan, and Holly Arida. Daily Life of Arab Americans in the 21st Century. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2012.

Alsultany, Evelyn. Arabs and Muslims in the Media: Race and Representation after 9/11. New York: New York University Press, 2012.

Bakalian, Anny, and Mehdi Bozorgmehr. Backlash 9/11: Middle Eastern and Muslim Americans Respond. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck. Becoming American?: The Forging of Arab Muslim Identity in Pluralist America. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2011.

———. Not Quite American: The Shaping of Arab and Muslim Identity in the United States. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2004.

Howell, Sally, and Andrew Shryock. “Cracking Down on Diaspora: Arab Detroit and America's ‘War on Terror’.” Anthropological Quarterly 76.3 (2003): 443–62.

McCarus, Ernest, ed. The Development of Arab-American Identity. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994.

Naff, Alixa. Becoming American: The Early Arab Immigrant Experience. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985.

Naber, Nadine. Arab America: Gender, Cultural Politics, and Activism. New York: New York University Press, 2012.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3273300020