How-To Guide: Creating Arab Characters

Since the wonderful @EpisodeShadow created a thread for making Muslim characters (link at the bottom of the thread), I decided to create a thread on making ethnic Arab characters for those who may want them. :relaxed:

First, let’s start off with the basics.

Origin:

Of course, you have to pick an origin for your beloved character. I, myself, am from Palestine, which is in the Middle East.

The Middle East is in the Middle East part of the world, which is right in between Asia and Africa. It’s that little strip and a big melting pot for diversity and culture.

The Middle East contains countries that of; Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Morrocco, Iraq, to name a few. Remember, these are Middle Eastern countries, which are of Arab origins. We still have North-African countries, although they speak Arabic they would be considered North-African.

  • Reminder: Another thing to keep in mind is the arabic dialect your character speaks.

Morrocan Arabic is COMPLETELY different than Palestinian or Syrian Arabic.
This is very important because if you want two Arab characters to talk to each other in Arabic, they should be able to understand each other. Although there isn’t much difference between the dialects for Palestine, Jordan, and other Arab countries in the Middle East you should make sure it makes sense.

Religion:

I can’t even explain how big of a factor religion is in Arab characters lives.
A common stereotype is that all Arabs are Muslims or all Muslims are Arabs which is NOT true.
That does not mean you cannot find other religions. In Palestine, there are many Christian, but other religions are scarce, because there, religion is often tied to culture.

Though what is scarcer, is a secular person (someone who is not religious) in the Middle East. Not impossible, but it’s very hard to find non-religious people because of how much religion has influenced the country and its people. I mean there’s a lot of mosques.

Also, to finish, most of Arabs love their religion! Whether it be Islam, Christianity. Arabs love their religion so please don’t just assume that we’re “forced” to love or even have a religion.

Names:

NOT ALL ARABS ARE CALLED MOHAMMAD, OR YUSUF, OR FATIMA

Like please, please, please don’t call another character Mohammad I’m begging you.

Unless it’s for comedic purposes (because us Arabs joke about how so many of our cousins or relatives are named Mohammad)

then why name an Arab character Mohammad???

Even though a lot of Muslims and Arabs name their children Mohammad or Fatima they also name their children after religious meanings, since religious naming is very popular in the Middle East.
For boys, it’s also pretty common to name them after their father, or grandfather.

Here’s some common Arab names: (M = Muslim) (C = Christian)

Khadija (Female, M)
Hassan (Male)
Abdullah (Male, C)
Dua (Female, M)
Adam (Male)

And much more…

Skintone:

So as you know, Jasmine from Aladdin is a brown to olive shade.

But that does not mean every Arab you meet will have this shade, in fact, not at all.
I’m pretty sure we have some Mexicans and Italians in here that can relate when I say that just because people portray us as darker colored people does not mean all of us are! (Even though I fall into that category)

Since the Middle East contains so many countries, it depends on where your character is from. The closer you get to Europe, such as Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Northern Palestine, you’ll find lighter people. The people of Eastern Mediterrianian tend to look like Southern Europeans and the closer you get to Arabia, you’ll find your mix of light, olive skinned (me) and black arabs & africans.

My mother is of a lighter golden complexation, one similar to those from Spain. She’s from Palestine, born and raised, so naturally she has an accent. And of course, she’s been mistaken for being… well, Spanish. On multiple occassions. I’ve been looking through the photo album of when she was younger and I swear if she wasn’t Arab she definitely would’ve been Spanish or atleast Latina.

In fact, I’ve been mistaken for being Hispanic, Mexican and mixed.

So, all I’m trying to say is that Arabs do not have one look. Because we are such a diverse cast of people we have people ranging from pale to dark-skinned, (Sudanese)

Hair types:

Whew boy, I couldn’t wait for this.

So Arabs typically have big voluminious curls that fall in 2-3 type. Typically.
Then, you have those who have waves, and then you have those who have thick straight hair similar to those of Indians.

It’s me.

I’m the one with straight/wavy hair.

My cousins however have very curly hair, and I mean beautiful curly hair, absolutely stunning. In fact, it’s pretty common for Arabs to have curly hair because of colozination, and that’s why many Arabs (such as me and my mother) look Spanish or mixed. That’s probably because there’s a good chance we are.

As for hair type, Arabs can have from 1-4 type, depending on the region.
4? Yep, you heard me right. Did you forget Sudanese are Arabs too?

Lifestyle:

We Arabs are very social, and love to get together and have big parties or get-togethers.
There is a LOT of food, like a lot.
This is usually prepared by the women, but as always we get through it quickly and there’s not an issue.

Weddings:

As for weddings and engagement parties there is always a lot of upbeat arabic music playing, and a lot of fancy decorations, arabic-styled dancing, and of course FOOD.

For the bride, she typically wears henna on her wedding night and it can cover the legs and hands, as you know in Indian culture as well.

The dancing style “debke” is very popular, which most of the men do in weddings in the Middle East.


Another thing adults do at a gathering is something called shisha, which is hookah. You may see these a lot in America, known as “hookah lounges” and though they are incredibly dangerous a lot of grown-ups do them anyway, (specifically older men in the family)

Clothing:

No, not all Arabs wear hjiabs, or abayas.
Remember, not all Arabs are Muslim, so there are still a few that wear rip jeans and crop tops.

Even though! Arabs may wear these, most times than not they will wear western clothes but it really depends on their religion.

Are they Muslim or Christian? Then go from there.

Food:

I was waiting for this topic my entire life.

So rice is not the only thing we eat contrary to popular belief but it is featured in quite a bit of our meals. Not to mention at arabs households you will literally never be hungry. Ever.
Hospitality is a big key feature in who we are and we treat our guests with respect, so we expect the same when you visit us, or if you’re staying over.

Foods such as Sharwarma, Falafel, Hummus, Mansaf, to name a few; are huge traditional meals you will find at any arab-household and dare I say we drink black tea (chai) so much so our body is practically made of it?

More Cuisine: Baba Gnoush, Manakeesh, Tabouleh, Fattoush, Umm ali, Dolma/Wareek Enab, Kofta.

We have desserts, such as baklava, basbouseh, kanafeh, qatiff, and much much more!

These desserts have a Arabic syrup which is made of rose water and VERY sweet! It’s like taking a bite of heaven.

NEW:

Formalities:

When addressing a man in buisness:

Handshakes are often used when greeting a man in a formal environment and can last a long time. Be sure to use only the right hand as Muslims reserve the left hand for bodily hygiene and consider it unclean.

It is in your best interest not to approach a female Muslim colleague with a handshake or any other form of physical greeting – there is little to no contact between men and women during public greetings.

However, if you are a woman, and you’re introduced to a Muslim guy, wait to see if he’s reaching out his hand. If not, please refrain from initiating a handshake. If you meet another woman, wait for her to greet you – a kiss on the left cheek is almost always appropriate.

Conversations:

In conversation, it is always good to ask about the health and well-being of an Arab’s family (being careful not to directly ask a question about a wife or daughter). Appropriate questions include “How many children do you have?” and “Where do they study?”

Status is critical and must be acknowledged by using the appropriate title when addressing others.
It is common to use terms such as:

  • Sheikh (chief) (or Sheikha for a woman),
  • Sayed (Mr.), Sayeda (Mrs.), etc.

Bear in mind that Arabs generally address people by their first names, meaning that John Smith would be referred to as Mr. John. Islam is profoundly rooted in the United Arab Emirates, and casual conversations are full of religious words, such as “in’shallah,” which means “If God is willing.”

Family:

Here are some terms for family

Family Member Arabic letiral Trans. Arabic Trans.
Father Ab (Abu = My father) or “Baba”
Mother Um (Umi = My mother) or “Mama” أم
Parent (father) Wālid والد
Parent (mother) Wālidah والدة
Parents Abā’ أباء
Child (m) Tifl طفل
Child (f) Tiflah طفلة
Children Atfāl أطفال
Son Ibn ابن
Daughter Ibnah ابنة
Brother Akh أخ
Sister Ukht أخت
Uncle (paternal) ‘Am/Amou = Father’s brother عم
Uncle (maternal) Khāl/o = Mother’s brother خال
Aunt (paternal) ‘Ammah = Father’s sister عمة
Aunt (maternal) Khālah = Mother’s sister
Grandfather Jad/Sido (Sido is more of a slang) جد
Grandmother Jaddah/Tete (Tete is more of a slang) جدة
Grandson Ḥafīd حفيد
Granddaughter Ḥafīdah حفيدة
Grandchildren Aḥfād

Extra:

Family Member Arabic letiral Trans. Arabic Trans.
Fiance Khatīb خطيب
Fiancee Khatībah خطيبة
Bride ‘Arūss عروس
Groom ‘Arīss عريس
Wife Zawjah زوجة
Husband Zawj زوج
Spouse (m) Qarīn قرين
Spouse (f) Qarīnah

Another thing is, we usually address our friend’s mom or our mom’s friend as Khalto (f) which is “aunt” or 3ami/3am (m) which translates to “my uncle” for respect, even if they aren’t actually related to us by blood.
For older men, we’ll call them Abo/Um (and their first son or daughters name) or if their childless it’ll be their father’s name.

Parents usually call their sons or daughters “baba”/“mama”. Don’t ask why, it’s just a thing that was passed down from generation. Arabs call their children by their titles (mama for mother and baba for father) to express love and affection. There is an array of other words and phrases used to convey love for one’s children. In English, those words will be: love, pal, my princess.

Why do we call our sons or daughters like this? Because our parents did so. It is deep in the culture that even in drama series you will find it there.
It is not only father and mother, an uncle will call his nephews “Ammo" which is uncle in arabic, same for aunts and grandparents.

When a kid calls his mom saying “ mama” she might want to show her affection and love to him by saying back “ yes mama “ which means “ yes, who is beloved to mama “

Stereotypes to avoid:

When you have an Arab character, remember that Arab characters in movies are frequently viewed as villains or stereotypes more than 90% of the time. Do something different. We don’t like seeing every Arab character in movies and books known to man to be apart of something evil, because that is not who we are.

Muslim and Arab tend to be synonymous in the West. This is not the case. In fact, Indonesia has the most Muslims.

When writing an Arab character, it is common for people to write them as “loud, snobby, rich, and/or exotic” people who are very social. While this may be the case, it is not ALWAYS the case. Not every Arab is loud and obnoxious. Just like not every Latina is “spicy” you shouldn’t base your characters off their ethnicity. Their ethnicity is apart of them, yes, but it does NOT contribute to their entire personality. Influence them? Maybe, but you shouldn’t generalize every Arab character for being loud, because it’s only damaging them.

In simple terms:

Ethnicity/Race ≠ Personality

What does it feel like for Arab American children to grow up surrounded by a community that doesn’t accept their ethnic heritage in a positive way?

More often than not, growing up in America as an Arab you will be looked at weirdly, rude comments, questions, and sometimes just blatant ignorance.

I remember for me, sitting down at the dinner table in 6th grade, to open my history book. They taught everything from Black History, to Spanish and Latin History, America’s History, Jewish History,
but never Arab’s. It was never talked about, or mentioned.

Like a lot of other ethnics, we Arab’s get a lot of rude and hateful comments made to us disguised in the form of “humor”. When we object, we are told that the derogatory comments were “not meant to be taken seriously.”

Do what you please with this information, whether you want to make it something your character goes through, or feels strongly for, do it. But please don’t spread hate about us, don’t make them a villian. Sure, we aren’t perfect but we would never kill.

Other things you should know:

  • It’s rare to find an Arab who owns a pet, but I guess it depends.
  • When a man is asking a woman ior her hand in marriage, he has to go with his parents to that woman’s parents to ask officially.
  • Arabs usually live with their parents until marriage.
  • Arabs are very open-minded people, it just tends to be the older generation that isn’t very open-minded.
  • Yes, we have Afro-Arabs.
  • No, we aren’t terrorists.
  • We are very proud people.

And damn right we should be! Because whether you’re from Lebanon, Iran, Palestine, Kuwait, or anything in between you’re beautiful and don’t let anybody else tell you otherwise! Remember, if you have any questions don’t be afraid to comment!


Information about Arab culture! Feel free to ask questions!
How-To Guide: Making and Adding Muslim Characters
Some Helpful Information: Jewish Characters! <3 <3
Need help writing…Hispanic/Latino Characters ask me pleading_face
Need help with Italian (it) characters? Come here!
Any questions about Asian Cultures? We will try to help you!
Information/Questions about Asians, Muslims, Latinas/Latinos, Mental Illnesses, and more
A Guide on Diversity


Comment below if you have any questions! :heart:

38 Likes

This was super helpful! Would love some insight on what it’s like dating as an Arab Woman. Is it normal to date for a long period of time before getting engaged/married? Is showing PDA to your partner around your parents considered disrespectful? Idk I know families are all different, but at the same time it’s nice to keep stories more realistic.

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When a man asks for a woman’s hand in marriage, does the man do anything special like standing outside the woman’s house and serenading her or buying gifts? Or does he just ask her parents for permission to marry her?

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I NEEDED THIS OKAY!
I’M WRITING A STORY AND EVERYTHING IS HAPPENING IN MOROCCO!

You have no idea how much u helped me!
Thank you! :heart:

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Thank you for the wonderful question! What I understood is if it is acceptable/normal for Arab women to date before marriage and if PDA is disrespectful around parents.

For the first question, it all depends on the religion the woman and her partner follows. An Arab Muslim is less likely to date, as Islam doesn’t permit it. Dating is still linked to its Western origins, which implies underlying expectations of sexual interactions — if not an outright premarital sexual relationship — which Islamic texts prohibit. But Islam does not forbid love. However, you may find “Halal dating” is where both parties get to know each other under circumstances with the intention of marriage or not marriage. As for Non-Muslim Arab women, these may differ. They can date as they are not following Islam.

For the second question,
If her parents are Muslims, then it may be frowned upon to show PDA to her partner unless it’s her husband. Though, this is different for every non-Muslim Arab women and her family. Some may be more accepting, while some may be more closed off upon the idea.

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Great question!

So from what I understood you asked if the man is asking for a woman’s hand in marriage does he do anything such as serenade her or buy gifts, or if he asks her parents.

Typically, it is “tradition”, and I say tradition because it is so common for Arabs (or lets say it’s a non-Arab) to ask the father’s (or baba we call it) permission for the woman’s hand in marriage. As that may be, older Arabs want you to stick inside their ethnicity and “people” as it better fits for religion and culture. An explanation would be, An Arab Muslim doesn’t eat pork, drink alcohol, or celebrate Christmas, therefore it would be hard to integrate those ideals by marrying someone who does.
However, say if you are writing an Arab man who is asking for hand in marriage, it is very common for them to spoil the woman they are asking the hand in marriage for. Chocolates, jewelry, all of that.
They would also be asked (by the father and her mother) about his job, the money he makes, and much more questions about him before allowing him to marry his daughter to make sure he is a good man, and would be able to financially provide.

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Anytime :heart: Morrocco is beautiful, if you have any questions you can always come back to this thread and ask.

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This is awesome! I really needed this. Thank you so much again! I actually have a few questions, should I pm them to you, or is here fine? :sweat_smile:

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Here is fine, I would like people to see the questions that way it would answer any that may have :relaxed:

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Mansaf is amazing, and I can’t believe some people don’t know it exists :sob: :sob:

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God, I know right?! :drooling_face:

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My Saudi friends don’t know about Mansaf and it breaks my heart.

It is so good :sob:

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That’s surprising you’d think they’d know about it, but maybe they have something different in Saudi. :thinking:

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Mansaf is a more Palestinian and Jordanian dish, that is why it isn’t that known in Saudi

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Great! Thanks. Sorry about the long wait for a response, I had to do something quickly.
Thinking about it now, I’ve actually forgotten most of the questions.
Here are the questions I’m mostly curious about:

  1. Before marriage & in a relationship, are there any strict morals or just morals in general? (Like no sex before marriage and others.) Any insight on that?
  2. How is the lgbt community portrayed?
  3. With Arbic styled weddings, are there any special traditions? Also, if the man was arabic, and let’s say the bride was white, how would it work out?
  4. Are there any special traditions for engagement parties?
  5. Any underrated food? I don’t know why I’m asking this xd
  6. Going back to my question earlier, (well this is just a little added question), if the bride isn’t Arabic, since it’s typical for the bride to wear henna, would the bride still have to wear henna?
    Thanks! If I do go through with the plan, I’ll be trying my hardest to make my character like everyone else and portray them to the best I can, and not just that “arab character”.
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Yes, that’s most likely it. My Jordanian friend knows all the dishes my family eats since she eats it there at home too.

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Thank you!

Do they usually only bring gifts for the woman, or do they bring gifts for her whole family?

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There are definitely morals such as what you said, and that’s because culture ties in with religion often, and there are things that Arab culture has picked up regardless of religion. When trying to understand Arabic values, you need to take into account the effect of Islam on Arabian society. Although there are other religious groups, the majority religion in the area is Islam.

Family is an integral aspect of Arab culture. Families maintain tribal and clan connections in many countries and loyalties are strong. People know and speak proudly of their genealogy. Relationships must be halal (permissible or lawful) before marriage, meaning no sexual intercourse. If you’d like to read up more about Muslim marriages, then you can visit the thread about it at the bottom of the original thread for more insight. For non-Muslim marriages (such as Christian) you’d abide by the Christian morals and ideals which happen to be also saving yourself for marriage. Though you’d find secular Arabs who do not follow these rules particularly in western countries.

The LGBT community is portrayed differently for every Arab. How an Arab sees the LGBT community depends on where they live, as they are more exposed to it. You can find many Arabs who are apart of the LGBT community itself, however it is a lot less likely to be found in the Middle East. Older Arabs may not be so accepting of the idea. You will find, however, that the younger generation of Arabs are more accepting and open.

Yes, there are traditions. One, Henna is very popular in both Arab weddings and Desi. Henna is used on the bride, and the women there. However to my understanding the bride seems to get the most (well depending on her wishes), but as a little girl I have gotten Henna on my hand at a wedding. (It was a table with henna in those baggies for cake icing, and a chair for the lady doing it. I’m assuming a lot of girls who were around my age at the time were getting Henna as well. It is not to my knowledge on whether or not the women other than the bride herself had Henna.
As for a bride who’s white, I would say that she would also get the same treatment. Unfortunately there is colorism between the older Arabs who think white = better, though they are dark themselves. It is a problem that is getting better overtime, and you will see this a lot in POC groups, such as ours. It stems from the mentality that we had to fight to be “white” in the U.S, though people don’t see us that way. Now, we are fighting for the MENA box. Back to the original question, she would be treated well among the older people. Her family would have to meet his, and get along before marriage. She would also have to get along with his mother, and he would have to get along with his father (hoping that his father isn’t ignorant towards Arabs (though this would make a good conflict which you can highlight how Arabs are stereotyped)

We have a dance called the “dabke” where men dance in a circle, and it’s usually the uncle or grandpa that sleeps all day that decides he wants to dance in the middle like his life depends on it. :unamused: :joy: We also have stands and stands of food and dessert such as baklava, and food that someone’s aunt or mom cooked and it’s placed in this tin foil tray. There’s a running joke that people don’t even attend weddings to celebrate but to find a women to marry. Girls in the family may joke (between girls ofc) that they have to hide behind their aunt everytime they go to a wedding so they don’t get married off.

Mansaf is underrated if you have countries who don’t serve or know about it. I’d say the vegetable stew that looks like this:

main-qimg-5f36d9d730030ee732e9053f7ecb595d

It’s not something we eat on holidays, or special occasions, it’s not something you’d order at a restaurant but it gets you through the day.)

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Well thank you so much for this information!

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I had to cut the post ^^ since the forums started lagging lol.

To finish off the question, Hummus (a side dish) is so underrated in my opinion. I’m not talking about the store bought ones, because we Arabs traditionally do it ourselves.

Some (I mean very FEW) Arabs feel as if a white person got henna it would be cultural appropriation.
Honestly, I think it’s perfectly okay as long as she isn’t rude and appreciates where it comes from, (not saying it comes from her culture).

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