Created By: MasterHand on February 9, 2012

All Muslims Are Arabs

People often seem to use "Arab" and "Muslim" as synonyms.

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I'm not sure if this is trope-worthy, but it's an idea, anyway.

I'm wondering if it could be a trope that a lot of writers mix up Arabs and Muslims, disregarding the fact that there are many predominately Muslim ethnic groups that are not related to Arabs and do not speak Arabic - Turks, Iranians, Kurds, Kazakhs, et cetera. A related idea is the confusion of Arab cultural practices with things required by the Koran (I believe that having women cover their faces is an example). Subtrope of Did Not Do The Research, obviously.

We touch on this a bit in the beginning of Middle Eastern Coalition, but I'm wondering if it might be worthy of its own trope.
Community Feedback Replies: 16
  • February 9, 2012
    Related to the fact that Islam originated in Arabia? (I don't say "Saudi Arabia" because that nation/government didn't exist then.)
  • February 9, 2012
    Can you provide actual examples of this being used as a trope in a work of fiction? Just having Arab characters being Muslim is Not A Trope, because plenty of Real Life Arabs are Muslim. Just having Arab characters be Muslim without mentioning Turks or Kurds or whatever is Not A Trope, because there is no reason that Kurds and such need to show up every time an Arab shows up in a story.
  • February 9, 2012
    Discussed in a flashback episode of Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip about the first post-Nine Eleven episode of the eponymous Show Within A Show.[1] Apologies for the long quote, feel free to cut it down as needed.
    Matt: I don't think it'll be as psychically satisfying as you think. Afghanistan, after you bomb it, looks the same as Afghanistan before it gets bombed. But that's not our problem right now.
    Luke: What is?
    Matt: How do we do a show Friday night? What are we supposed to joke about?
    Luke: Them.
    Matt: Who?
    Luke: The bad guys. Screw P.C. We do a whole show mercilessly skewering Arabs. Wanna talk about psychically satisfying?
    Matt: Okay.
    Luke: You like it?
    Matt: No.
    Luke: Why not?
    Matt: For one thing...Arabs aren't from Afghanistan, Afghans are. And it looks like the F16s are doing a perfectly good job skewering them. I don't think they need our comedy backup.
    Matt: to Danny All right, you and Luke need to go to a library or something, take a class. Because Luke thinks Afghanistan is an Arab country. You think it was the Christians that were attacked on September 11th.
  • February 10, 2012
    Rename this trope All Arabs Are Muslims.
  • February 10, 2012
    Conversely, not all people of Arab descent are Muslims.
  • February 10, 2012
    Maybe Arab Equals Muslim, to encompass both "all Arabs are Muslims" and "all Muslims are Arabs"?

    @Catbert: I think it is a trope. How many times have you seen a non-Muslim Arab, or a non-Arab Muslim, in Western fiction? They're usually treated as synonyms.
  • February 10, 2012
    ^^^ No, that's the opposite of what I'm going for.

    The idea I'm going for with this is instances when writers assume all Muslims are Arabs, even though there are multiple distinct ethnic groups that practice Islam, and thus write Muslim characters who are presented like Arabs regardless of where they come from. For example, a Turkish or Iranian character speaking Arabic, wearing stereotypical Arab robes, etc. Basically, the idea that if someone is a Muslim, they must be Arabic. Think All Jews Are Ashkenazi, only with Muslims. randomsurfer has it pretty much on the mark, even though that's a Discussed Trope example (the character is stating that the inhabitants of Afghanistan are Arabs, not Afghans, because Afghanistan is predominately Muslim.)

    It also may be worth noting that only 20% of Muslims are Arabs, according to Wikipedia. The trope probably comes from the fact that Islam originated in Arabia, not due to majority populations (obviously).
  • February 11, 2012
    ^^"non-Muslim Arab": All sorts of times, actually. The first thing that comes to mind is pretty much every time an Afghan, Pakistani, Turk, Iranian, Nation of Islam style African-American Muslim, or "Moor" is portrayed in fiction. These groups are not all that rare in fiction. You really want me to try to list every occurring of one of these groups in fiction as "aversions"?

    The thing is, this is a Real Life example of a common ignorance, however determining what examples actually count is a pain in a half. How are we supposed to tell the difference between a character is included as a Muslim and Arab soley because of the ignorance of the author vs. one that was included by an author that is fully aware of the diversity of Muslim cultural/ethnic groups but happened to pick Arabs because that is the group that makes the most sense to use for the story he wants to tell?

    It seems to me that the only time we can be certain that this is stereotype is being referenced is when you have a character making a statementlike what is in randomsurfer's example. Furthermore, that isn't really a straight example of the use of such a trope. It is an example of the trope being subverted or possibly even averted entirely.

    "a Turkish or Iranian character speaking Arabic, wearing stereotypical Arab robes"

    Considering the emphasis that Muslims put on the ability to read the Koran in the original language, the proximity of many non-Arab Muslim nations to Arabian nations, and the historic importance of Arabic as a lingua franca in many parts of the world, finding educated non-Muslims that have at least some knowledge of Arabic probably isn't all that hard.

    Also, some traditional Arab clothing can have a close resemblance to traditional clothing in various non-Arabian Muslim cultures.

    All Jews Are Ashkenazi is in the Trope Repair Shop. I'm not sure that is a good model.
  • February 11, 2012
    Another discussion: on Bones, when Cam discovers that Iranian intern Arastoo doesn't really have an accent, he's been putting it on to justify his Mulslim beliefs. Cam refers to it as an "Arab" accent and Brennan corrects her, "Iranian isn't actually Arab." Also, Hodgins thinks that he might be a terrorist because of his beliefs, and the accent doesn't help that any.
  • February 11, 2012
    So, the only examples I'm seeing are Character Ignorance/Bigotry. If that is the case, the description should be written in such a ways as to suggest that this is about characterization.
  • January 6, 2014
    I like this idea and I think what we're trying to get at here is that all too common, people (especially in the West) think Arab = Muslim (someone suggested this as the trope name instead, which I think is better).

    Of course, this is not true.

    Compare Lebanon's and Egypt's (both Arabic-speaking countries) not-insignificant Christian population. Omar Sharif was born into a non-Muslim family (although he converted afterwards).

    Compare this to Chinese Muslims: although only 1-2% of the total population, this means that there are approximately 23 million Muslims. There are more Muslims in China than in Syria! And the fact that the country with the most number of Muslims in the world is Indonesia.

    Also, the Arab = Muslim idea really ignores the contributions made by non-Arab ME cultures, SE Asian and other Asian cultures (e.g., Admiral Zheng He), European Muslims (such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chechnya, Albania, etc.), African Muslims and African-American Muslims, etc., and other cultures that are not included.
  • January 6, 2014
    Definitely a trope here, but it's a Trope In Aggregate, and should be approached as such.
  • January 6, 2014
    Yeah, this is definitely a trope.

    ... that said, with the current description and examples, this shouldn't have any hats.
  • January 6, 2014
    We probably don't want any real life examples, but I'm going to supply one anyway...

    • During the 2008 presidentail election John McCain had a town hall meeting where a woman stood up and said that Barack Obama was an "Arab," by which she meant a Muslim from Kenya. (Neither true.) McCain had to try to talk her down. [1]
  • July 4, 2014
    In the same vein, Arabs who are not Muslims are quite plentiful: they make up significant minorities (with substantial influence) in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, and Palestinian territories; Smaller but still fairly significant minorities in Iraq and Jordan. These are the most ancient communities of Christians and are culturally and historically significant—although most people outside the Middle East know very little of them. They also make up a large majority of Arab immigrants outside Middle East (of which there are significant communities in U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Argentina—about 2/3 of Arab Americans are Christians of various backgrounds). Plus, there are another non-Muslim Arabs, such as Druze. Yet, we hardly ever see Christian or Druze Arabs, even though there are lots of celebrities among them (Tony Shalhoub, Selma Hayek, Ralph Nader, Shakira (not entirely sure her father, a Lebanese immigrant to Colombia, was an Arab Christian from the beginning.) Definitely trope-worthy.
  • December 14, 2014
    • Averted on Little Mosque On The Prairie: many if not most of the Muslims are South Asian, and one of the main characters is a white woman who converted.