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Decorated Jar with Mountain Goats, ca. 3800-3700 BCE, Iran (Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY)


Reproduction of the world’s oldest example of animation, dating back to the late half of the 3rd millennium BCE, found in Burnt City, Iran (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of us are confused. Who is a Muslim? Who is an Arab? Are Arabs Muslims and  / or Muslims Arabs?

Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims

Sunni Muslims

  • the majority
  • Wahhabism

Arabs are people indigenous to the Arabian Peninsula, also called Arabia. Saudi Arabia is an Arab country and most of its citizens are Muslims, a religion. Saudi Arabs are Sunni Muslims (a religion) but many are Wahhabis, a fundamentalist Muslim sect. However, Saudi Arabia is home to a Shia Muslim population.

Shia Muslims

  • the minority
  • Alawites

The people of Iran/Persia are not Arabs, but most are Muslims, Shia Muslims. Syrians are Shia Muslims, but Syria is also inhabited by Sunni Muslims. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is an Alawite Shia Muslim.

The Arabian Peninsula (left) and Iran/Persia (right)

The Arabian Peninsula is home to Arabs, but the people of Iran were Arabized in the 7th century CE. (See Arab Conquest of Persia, Wikipedia.)

The Prophet Muhammad & Arabization

  • Arabization
  • the prophet Muhammad
  • the founding of Islam
  • the Arabian Peninsula

Arabization was the spread of Islam (the Muslim religion) and particularly the Arabic language from the Arabian Peninsula to the Iberian Peninsula. Arabization started in 622 CE, the 7th century, when the prophet Muhammad (c. 570 CE – 8 June 632 CE), God’s messenger, founded Islam. Muhammad was born in Mecca, Arabia, now Saudi Arabia, in the Arabian Peninsula. Countries constituting the Arabian Peninsula are : Yemen, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, parts of Jordan and Iraq.


The Arabian Peninsula (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The map below shows the three expansions of Patriarchal Caliphates, or Arabization.


Arab Conquests from 661 to 750

Age of the Caliphs. Expansion under the Prophet Muhammad, 622-632. Expansion during the Patriarchal Caliphate, 632-661. Expansion during the Umayyad Caliphate, 661-750  (Photo credit: Caliphate, Wikipedia.)

Saudi Arabia

  • Sunni Islam (± 75%)
  • Wahhabism: fundamentalism
  • an Absolute Monarchy
  • Human Rights violations
  • Raif Badawi

Saudi Muslims are Sunni Muslims, but many are Wahhabis. As described in Wikipedia, Wahhabism is “ultraconservative,” “austere,” “fundamentalist,” or “puritan(ical).” Saudis behead, crucify, mutilate, flagellate and imprison unjustly. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, which means that King Salman has divine rights. (See Divine right of kings, Wikipedia.) Raif Badawi has been in a Saudi jail for five years because he had a website in which he advocated greater liberalism in Saudi Arabia.

Mr Badawi appealed his first sentence: 6 years of imprisonment and 600 lashes. Upon appealing his sentence, in 2015, Raif was sentenced to a 10-year term in jail, 1,000 lashes, and a fine of approximately $250,000.00. Upon his appeal, Raif Badawi was also accused of apostasy, an accusation which carries a death sentence. Mr Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, a human rights activist, lives in my community with her three children by Mr Badawi. They are our cause, but it could be a desperate cause. Saudi Arabia is an extremely rich country. It was the first country President Trump visited in his official capacities.

Iran / Persia

  • Shia Islam (90 to 95%)
  • an extremely old civilization
  • conquest by Alexander the Great (334 BCE)
  • before Arabization: religions
  • Human Rights violations

Iran / Persia fell to Islam in the 7th century. Iran is one of the world’s oldest civilizations, dating back to Sumer: 4000 BCE. It was Elam and Elamites spoke the Elamite language. It flourished as the Achaemenian Empire or Achaemedid Empire (ca. 550 BCE – 330 BCE). Persepolis was the capital of the Achaemedid Empire.  It was conquered by Alexander the Great (334 BCE) and Hellenized. It was the Seleucid Empire (312 BCE – 63 BC; defeated in 238 BCE), the Parthian Empire (247 BCE – 224 BCE) and the Sasanian Empire (224 to 651 CE, or the Arab conquest).

It was named Persia from the Greek Persis (see Persepolis, Wikipedia). The Arab conquest of Iran saw the decline of the Persian language as well as the religions of Persia, Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism. Iran had much to contribute to the Islamic Golden Age, from the 8th century to the 13th century. It’s conversion to Shia Islam occurred under the Safavid Dynasty (Safavid Shahs) in the 15th century. By the 18th century, under Nader Shah,

“Persia briefly possessed what was arguably the most powerful empire at the time.” (See Iran, Wikipedia.)

In 1935, Persia was renamed Iran  by decree from Reza Shah. The term Aryan was used by Arthur de Gobineau. Iranians are Aryans, as in Indo-Iranian languages, but not as a white master race. (See Comments on Racism in RELATED ARTICLES.) The Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, fled a Westernized Iran during the 1979 Iranian Revolution, led by Ruhollah Khomeini.

Iran is multicultural. It comprises Persians (61%), Azeris (16%), Kurds (10%), and Lurs (6%). Iran is not a member of the Arab World. (See Iran, Wikipedia.)


Panel with striding lion Neo-Babylonian, ca. 604 – 562 BCE, Mesopotamia (Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY)


Winged lion with ram’s head and griffin’s hind legs, enameled tile frieze from the palace of Darius I at Susa, ca. 510 BCE; in the Louvre, Paris,  © Photos.com/Jupiterimages (Courtesy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica)

The magnificent lions shown above date back to a pre-Islamic Persia. Works I showed in a post entitled Islamic Art featured the art of Iran and other Muslim countries. The second lion is a hybrid or zoomorphic beast. His hind legs are those of a griffin, a legendary animal.

“The Musician Girls” & “The Tortoise Trainer”
Osman Hamdi Bey
, Pera Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Turkey is also a Muslim country. Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, (Eastern Orthodox Christianity) fell to the Seljuk Turks in 1453. Constantinople became the capital of the Ottoman Empire, but although it is home to Muslims, 75% of whom are Sunnis, and others Alevis, Shia Muslims, Turkey was not Arabized. Turkey became a Persianate society. Wikipedia quotes Marshal Hogdson:

The rise of Persian had more than purely literary consequences: it served to carry a new overall cultural orientation within Islamdom. … Most of the more local languages of high culture that later emerged among Muslims … depended upon Persian wholly or in part for their prime literary inspiration. We may call all these cultural traditions, carried in Persian or reflecting Persian inspiration, ‘Persianate’ by extension.

Constantinople was renamed Istanbul after the Turkish War of Independence. Turkey is not one of the 22 countries of the Arab World.

Under Arabization, Wikipedia lists reversions of Arabization, such as the Reconquista and “[t]he 1948 founding of the non-Arab state of Israel.”

The Attacks on Tehrān, Iran

There is enmity between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In Reading Recent Events, I inserted a photograph of Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian Revolution. Shortly after President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, Tehrān, Iran’s capital, was attacked by ISIL. It was a twin attack targeting both Tehrān’s Parliament building, or Islamic Consultative Assembly, and the Mausoleum of Ruhollah Khomeini, which is sacred to Iranians. The Wikipedia entry on the 2017 Tehrān Attacks reports 17 civilians dead and 43 wounded (see 2017 Tehrān Attacks, Wikipedia).

The End

Turkey was not Arabised and Iran differs from Saudi Arabia. Iran is home to Shia Muslims and Saudi Arabia is inhabited by Sunni Muslims and Wahhabis. They are different entities. Iran is not a member of the Arab World. The 22 states making up the Arab World are listed under Arab World (please click). Iran’s cultural heritage is extremely rich. As well, it has a parliament. As noted above, in 1979, Iran refused to be Westernized.


A map of the Arab world, based on the standard territorial definition of the Arab world, which comprises the 22 states of the Arab League (Comoros is not shown). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not only has a reversion of Arabization begun, but so have attempts to create a more liberal Islam. The Arab Spring started with the Tunisian Revolution on 17 December 2010.  (See Arab Spring, Wikipedia.) The Tunisian Revolution was successful. It led to greater democratization. However, other Muslims societies are also seeking reforms. Raif Badawi is in a Saudi jail because, as noted above, he advocated a more liberal Saudi Arabia. The Saudis still behead people.

Saudi Arabia is an Arab country, but Iran is not. Iran, however, is a Muslim country. It is home to Shia Muslims mainly, There are other religious groups in the Middle East. Islam however is one of the Abrahamic religions. Jesus, Isa ibn Maryam, was a prophet in the Abrahamic religions. (See Jesus in Islam, Wikipedia.) However, Muhammad, who was born in Mecca, founded Islam. He was 40 when the archangel Gabriel, brought him messages from God. Christianity is rooted in Judaism, one of three Abrahamic religions, the third being Islam:

  • Judaism (seventh century BCE),
  • Christianity (first century CE),
  • Islam (seventh century CE).

I will close by quoting Wikipedia

The Abrahamic religions, also referred to collectively as Abrahamism, are a group of Semitic-originated religious sects that claim descent from the practices of the ancient Israelites and the worship of the God of Abraham.” (Read more under Abrahamic religions, Wikipedia.)

Also read Philosophy of Religion, Encyclopædia Britannica.


Sources and Resources

The Encyclopædia Britannica

Love to everyone 

Osman Hamdi Bey


Osman Hamdi Bey, 1979 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

© Micheline Walker
24 June 2017