Praise & Disparagement
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The Arabian peninsula was the source of many Semitic migrations to both Iraq and Syria regions. Semites became the dominating people in these regions thousands of years ago; and although they had developed different languages over time, Semitic languages retained considerable degrees of similarity.
North Africa was inhabited by peoples who spoke Hamitic languages which are now largely considered to be cognates of the Semitic languages.
The word Arab عَرَب, which is probably an alteration of عَبَرَ= "crossed," began to be used at some point in history to refer to Semitic nomads who wondered in the Syrian and Arabian deserts. Greeks and Romans referred to all the nomadic population of the desert in the Near East as Arabi. The Romans called Yemen Arabia Felix = "happy Arabia" because of its prosperity at that time. The Romans called the vassal nomadic states within the Roman Empire Arabia Petraea after the city of Petra, and called unconquered deserts bordering the empire to the south and east Arabia Magna.
Semitic Arameans were an alliance of Arabian tribes who migrated at around 1200-1500 BC from Arabia north into the Syrian desert and then into Syria. Later, the usage of the Aramean language, or Aramaic, spread all over the region, and Aramaic became the lingua franca of the ancient Middle East.
Arab historians in Middle Ages used to count Arameans as Arabs. Archeological findings show that ancient Akkadians of Mesopotamia may have called some Arameans "areebo. It is also believed now that the name of the Hebrewsעבריים , which is derived form the same root as Arabs (عبر= עבר = crossed) refers to the nomadic lifestyle of ancient Hebrews. Hebrews or Israelites were probably nomadic Semitic tribes that lived in the Sinai peninsula prior to their push into Canaan or Palestine. The renowned Greek historian Herodotus wrote also that Phoenicians were Arab people who migrated to Canaan from the Red Sea area. These examples show that the concept of "Arabs" probably was not as restricted in ancient times as it is today, and that it was used to refer to nomadic Semites in general, who usually lived in Arabia, and hence the name.
In the 5th BC, Semitic Nabateans began moving from Arabia north into territory in the Syrian desert that was vacated by the Edomites -- Semites who settled the region centuries before them. The nomadic newcomers wrote in vernacular Aramaic, but they are now identified as Arabs. They had a kingdom that covered the east bank of the Jordan River, the Sinai Peninsula and northern Arabia. Perhaps because of the importance of the caravan trade, the Nabateans began to use Aramaic in preference to Old North Arabic, their mother tongue. The Nabateans adopted Aramaic alphabet and script, which were derived from the Phoenician alphabet and script, and those evolved into modern Arabic alphabet and script around the 4th century.
Divisions of Arabs
Since the 14th century, Arab genealogists have been regarding Arabs as three branches:
►Perishing Arabs الْعَرَبُ الْبَاْئِدَةُ
Those are the ancients of whose history little is known. They include the peoples of "aad عاد, Thamood ثَمود , Tasm طَسْم , Jadees جَديس,"imlaaq عِملاق and others.
Ruins of the ancient Arab people of Thamud who lived in the north west of Saudi Arabia
►Qahtaani Arabs عَرَبُ قَحْطَاْنَ
Also known as Southern Arabs or "pure Arabs." They take their name from the alleged patriarchيَعْرُبُ بْنُ يَشْجُبُ بْنُ قَحْطَاْنَ Ya"rub ('i)bn Yashjub ('i)bn Qahtaan. They spoke languages that are collectively known now as Old South Arabic.
Qahtani Arabs inhabited southern Arabia, mostly Yemen. They had flourishing civilizations due to advanced irrigation systems which consisted of large water tunnels in mountains, and dams. The most impressive of these earthworks, known as the Ma'<rib dam سَدُّ مَأْرِب and which was built ca. 700 BC, provided irrigation for about 25,000 acres (101 km²) of land and stood for over a millennium, finally collapsing in 570 CE after centuries of neglect.
►"adnaani Arabs عَرَبُ عَدْنَاْنَ
Also known as Northern Arabs or "Arabized Arabs." According to legend, they originated from عَدْنَاْن "adnaan who was from the progeny of Ishmael, the son of the biblical patriarch Abraham. They spoke languages that are collectively known now as Old North Arabic. Old North Arabic would dominate later and become the predecessor of Classical Arabic.
Adnani Arabs inhabited the rest of Arabia other than the south, and also the Syrian desert. Those were a mιlange of Semitic tribes with languages more resembling to Canaanite languages and Aramaic than those of Southern Arabs. Their languages were also influenced by Persian and languages of other neighboring peoples.
Pre-Islamic Qahtani Migrations
From the early centuries CE, Qahtani immigrations began toward the north. Most Qahtani immigrant tribes adopted Northern Arabic. They did, however, influence Northern Arabic with their original tongue to some degrees. The most notable of the Qahtani immigrants were:
►The Ghassanids الغَسَاسِنَةُ: migrated from Yemen in the 3rd Century CE to Syria, which was a Byzantine province at that time. Ghassanids revived the Semitic presence in the then Hellenized Syria due to very long period of Greek and then Roman control. They mainly settled in the region of Hauran حوران in southern Syria. They adopted Jacobite (Monophysite) Christianity there and spread to modern-day Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan. The Ghassanids protected the south-eastern frontiers of the Byzantine Empire in Syria until they were engulfed by the expansion of Islam in the 7th century CE. The Roman emperor Philip the Arab was a Syrian Roman citizen from southern Syria, and his ancestry was probably Ghassanid.
►The Lakhmids اللَخْمِيُّوْنَ : they settled the mid Tigris region in Mesopotamia and established a kingdom around their capital of 'al-heera(t) الحيرَة. The Lakhmids were allied to the Sassanid Persians against the Ghassanids and the Byzantine Empire. The Lakhmids contested control of the central Arabian tribes with the Kindites, with the Lakhmids eventually destroying Kinda in 540 CE after the fall of their main ally Himyar. The Sassanids dissolved the Lakhmid kingdom in 602 CE.
►The Kindites الكِنْدِيُّوْنَ : migrated north from Yemen along with the Ghassanids and Lakhmids, but were turned back in by the eastern Arabian tribe of "abd ('a)l-qays عَبْدُ القَيْسِ. They returned to Yemen and allied themselves with the Himyarites الحِمْيَرِيُّوْنَ who installed them as a vassal kingdom that ruled central Arabia. They ruled much of the northern/central Arabian Peninsula until the fall of the Himyarites in 525 CE. The Kindites converted to Judaism in the late 5th century CE, following the conversion of the Himyarites.
Historical Regions of Arabia
Overview of Arab Tribes
By the 7th century CE, people who are identified as Arabs today did not only inhabit Arabia, but they also represented large proportions of the population in both Greater Syria and Iraq. Most of the tribes spoke dialects of Northern Arabic and wrote in Nabataean script.
Overview of Some Qahtani Tribes
This figure illustrates the branching and names of major Qahtani tribes:
Tree of Major Qahtani Tribes
►Qudaa"a(t) قُضَاْعَةُ : a major tribe. They moved from Yemen to Hijaz (western Arabia) then to Syria where many of the tribe adopted Monophysite Christianity.
After Islam, the tribe got involved in the conflicts between several ruling dynasties, and as the result, the tribe was deported to Egypt and North Africa when the Abbasid dynasty came to power in 750 CE.
►'al-'azd الأَزْدُ : a sub-branch of Kahlaan كَهْلانُ , was a major tribe that branched into many important tribes. Some of which were:
►Rassaan غَسَّاْنٌ : tribe of the Ghassanids. They migrated from Yemen to Hijaz (western Arabia) then to Syria where they adopted Monophysite Christianity. Many of the Christians in modern-day Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, and Syria trace their ancestry back to those people.
►Lakhm لَخْمٌ : the tribe of the Lakhmids. They migrated from Yemen to Mesopotamia (Iraq) where they established their kingdom.
►Kinda(t) كِنْدَةُ : the tribe of the Kindites. They migrated from Yemen and settled finally in central Arabia.
►'al-'aws الأَوْسُ & 'al-khazraj الْخَزْرَجُ : two tribes that migrated from Yemen to Hijaz and settled in the city of Yathrib يَثْرِبُ(modern-day Medina). They supported Muhammad (the founder of Islam) against his own tribe of Quraysh قُرَيْشٌ , and this is why they were called in Islamic history the "Supporters الأَنْصَاْرُ ."
►Tay'< طَيْئٌ : a large tribe, they migrated from Yemen to northern Arabia. Later, they moved into Syria and Iraq. Many of the tribe adopted Monophysite Christianity in Syria.
During the reign of the Muslim Fatimid dynasty (909-1171 CE, stationed in Egypt), this tribe was brought to settle in Egypt as a part of a plan to totally Arabize Egypt.
►Hamdaan هَمْدَاْنُ : a large tribe that lived in southwestern Arabia.
Overview of Some Adnani Tribes
This figure illustrates the branching and names of major Adnani tribes:
Tree of Major Adnani Tribes
A tribe that belonged to the sub-branch of Mudar مُضَرُ . They inhabited western Arabia (Hijaaz الْحِجَاْزُ ), and they enjoyed huge prestige over the rest of Arabian tribes because they controlled the town of Mecca مَكَّةُ in which there was the "forbidden House of God" بَيْتُ اللَّهِ الْحَرَاْمُ or what was known as the Kaaba الكَعْبَةُ = "cubed house." This house was believed to had been built by biblical Abraham with his son Ishmael. Muhammad مُحَمَّدٌ , the prophet of Islam, belonged to Quraysh. He lived from ca. 570 to 632 CE.
The language of the Koran القُرْآنُ , the holy book of Islam, was primarily the dialect of Quraysh. However, it did incorporate some words and styles from other Arabian dialects. Some people counted loanwords from over than 40 different dialects. Some of the words and grammatical aspects of the Koran were unfamiliar to Meccans at the time. Koran contained also many loanwords from foreign languages such as Aramaic, Persian, Ethiopian, Greek and others; but many of such words had already been used in the Quraysh language.
In the ages following Islam, the language of the Koran was standardized as the formal Arabic, or what is called "the most eloquent Arabic language" اللُّغَةُ العَرَبِيَّةُ الفُصْحَىْ . Spoken Arabic, on the other hand, could not be standardized and this largely contributed to the differences between the modern spoken dialects of Arabic.
The Kaaba in Mecca
►Tameem تَمِيْمٌ : a large tribe related to Quraysh. They inhabited central and northeastern Arabia up to southern Iraq. After Islam, they expanded further into Iraq and Persia.
►Qays "aylaan قَيْسُ عَيْلانَ : a confederation of tribes that originally came from Hijaz (western Arabia) but expanded later eastward towards Najd (central Arabia) and Bahrain (eastern Arabia).
Driven by famines and continuous economic hardships in their regions, those tribes became involved in a long series of wars with other Arabian tribes that lasted throughout the early ages of Islamic history. They raided Hijaz and warred with its tribes several times, and they also fought a very long war with Yemeni tribes that became a universal war in the Islamic world stretching from Persia to Islamic Spain.
Many of those people migrated to Iraq and Syria; and a big portion of them was also drawn into Egypt and North Africa by the Fatimids. The Fatimids imported many Arab tribes to Egypt as part of their policy of Arabizing Egypt in the early ages of the Islamic control of that country.
►'iyaad إِيَاْدٌ : one of the earliest Arab tribes to move and settle in pre-Islamic Iraq.
►Rabee"a(t) رَبِيْعَةُ : this was the Christian branch of the Adnani tribes. They inhabited eastern and central Arabia. Later, many of them moved north into Syria and Iraq, especially the two cousin tribes of Tarlib تَغْلِب & Bakr بَكْر who pushed northward unto modern Turkey.
Rabee"a(t) tribes were always poorer and less influential than Mudar in Arab and then Islamic affairs. Nevertheless, these tribes have always enjoyed a big fame in Arab history and literature, probably due to their widespread presence in the Arab world, and to their fame in battles.
Arab Migrations After Islam
Syria and Iraq, 7th century CE
The arrival of Islam united the Arab tribes, who flooded into the strongly Semitic Greater Syria and Iraq. Within years, the major garrison towns developed into the major cities of Syria and Iraq. The local population, which shared a close linguistic and genetic ancestry with Qahtani and Adnani Muslims were quickly Arabized.
North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula, 7th century CE
The Phoenicians and later the Carthaginians dominated North African and Iberian shores for more than 8 centuries until they were suppressed by the Romans and the later Vandal invasion. Inland, the nomadic Berbers allied with Arab Muslims in invading Spain. The Arab tribes mainly settled the old Phoenician and Carthaginian towns, while the Berbers remained dominant inland. Inland north Africa remained partly Arabized until the 11th century, whereas the Iberian Peninsula, particularly its southern part, remained heavily Arabized, until the expulsion of the Moriscos in the 17th Century.
Hilaal in North Africa, 1046 CE
Hilaal هِلالٌwas an Arabian tribal confederation, organized by the Fatimids. They struck in Libya, reducing the Zenata Berbers (a clan that claimed Yemeni ancestry from pre-Islamic periods) and small coastal towns, and Arabizing the Sanhaja Berber confederation. Hilaal eventually settled in modern Morocco and Algeria and the Sanhaja were subdued and Arabized.
Sulaym in North Africa, 1049 CE
Sulaym سُلَيْمٌwas another Bedouin tribal confederation from Nejd which followed through the trials of Hilaal and helped them defeat the Zirids Berbers in the Battle of Gabis in 1052 CE, and finally took Kairuan (in modern Tunisia) in 1057CE. Sulaym mainly settled and completely Arabized Libya.
Kanz to Nubia and Sudan, 11th-14th century CE
A branch of the Rabee"a(t) رَبِيْعَةُ tribe settled in north Sudan and slowly Arabized the Makurian kingdom in modern Sudan until 1315 CE when the Kanz كَنْزٌ inherited the Nubian kingdom of Makuria and paved the way for the Arabization of Sudan, which was completed by the arrival of the Jaali and Juhayna(t) Arab tribes.
Hassaan in Mauritania, 1644-1674 CE
Maqeel مَقِيْلٌ was a Yemeni tribe that settled in Tunisia in the 13th century. Hassaan, a Maqeel branch, moved into the Sanhaja region in what is today the Western Sahara and Mauritania, they fought in a thirty-year-war on the side of the Lamtuna Arabized Berbers, who claimed Himyarite ancestry (from the early Islamic invasions), defeating the Sanhaja Berbers and Arabizing Mauritania.