By : Mohammed Jehan Khan
Although it is generally assumed that all Arabs are descendant from Ishmael the Son of Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) and lady Hajar (peace be upon him) , it is more likely, as born out by Arab genealogical tradition, that it is only a portion of them,viz. the Nothern and Southern Gulf Arabs, found largely in the and Najd who are descended from this personage. The Leavanite Arabs (Syrians, Egyptians, Jordanians etc) seem to derive from an altogether different lineage.
Arabian genealogy has traditionally categorised the Arabs into two distinct groups;
The Arabian Arabs (Aribah)
The Arabicised Arabs (Musta’ribah)
Arabicised Arabs are a large portion of people primarily made their homes away from the Arabian peninsular, Egyptian, Palesyinians, Iraqis, Berber North Africans, Syrians and Lebanese all belong to this group. Their physical features and genetical identity, however, differ from the mainstream gulf Arabs of the Arabian peninsular. This stock has comparably long skull structure, high cheek bones and relatively fair skin.
The gulf Arabs are said to constitute the early or aboriginal Arab stock and held to be brown skinned Yemnites descended from Prophet Ibrahim (AS), his son Prophet Ishmeal (AS) and Qaht’ahn (the biblical Joktan), who comprise the Hijazis (Western Saudi Arabians, Yemenites) Najdis (Central Saudi Arabians, Yemenits) and Khaleejis (Kuwatians, Qatari and Emirati), and are held to be ‘naturalised’ Arabs (Aribahs).
According to ‘The Physical characters of the Arabs, the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 54.’, published in 1917 ‘Levanite Arabs are predominantly long-headed while those of the south such as the Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen are predominantly broad- headed. Citing anthropological evidence obtained from skeletal remains, the author states that the Northern Levanite Arabs have been predominantly long-headed for the last 2000 years. The North Arabian levanite brachycephaly, he believes to have derived from the Armenoid type found largely in the great brachycephalic area of Western Asia, viz. Asia Minor and Mesopotamia.
Armenoid or Assyroids are a sub-race of the Caucasoid race. They are generally known as the ‘Brown Caucosoids. These Assyroid Levanite Arabs converted to Islam during the Umayyad conquest of the 7th century AD. Known as the “true” Caucasians, Armenoids were relatively tall, usually with medium to dark brown or black hair, light to medium skin colour, large round eyes that were usually brown; a round, brachycephalic head shape with a straight backing (planocciput) and non-prominent chins. Lips were full, and noses were sometimes aquiline. Lebanese, Egyptians, Jordanians, Palestinians and Syrians etc believed to have descended from this racial roots.
This southern brachycephaly is thought to be an intrusive element borne to South Arabia, perhaps by sea, from the north-east, and it is likely that the Southern Arabian peninsula, like the Northern, was originally peopled by a dolichocephalic Semitic stock, upon which was later superimposed a brachycephalic element following some remote Armenoid immigration from the east, probably Mesopotamia. The aquiline nose, a characteristic of Semitic races such as the true Jews descended from the sons of Israel, is also prominent among the South Arabians.
The reason behind Gulf Arabs’ browness is the first homo sapiens (Modern man) of the Arabian Peninsula were African migrants. In fact, Arabia was likely the first territory reached as these migrants expanded out of Africa. As Michael D. Petraglia remarks, the Arabian peninsula was “a key geographic region that, without doubt, played a critical role in Out of Africa dispersals.” These African migrants likely entered the peninsula by the south over the Bab el-Mandeb and by the north through the Levantine corridor. As Norman M. Whalen and David E. Peace point out in their article, “Early Mankind in Arabia,”
“Whether migration (out of Africa) proceeded by way of the north or the south, it was necessary to cross Arabia first before continuing further. For that reason, the oldest cities in the world, next to those in Africa, should be found in Arabia, which occupied a pivotal position astride the path of early intercontinental migration in Lower Pleistocene times Arabia (is) humankind’s doorway to the world.”
These Brown-skinned Arabs, no doubt the aboriginal Arabians, belong to an African cultural complex was highlighted in The Encyclopedia Britanica [9th Edition; 1:245-46 s.v. Arabia] which lists ten literary, linguistic, cultural, and ethnological evidences ;
“(Regarding) the origin of the Arab race… the first certain fact on which to base our investigations is the ancient and undoubted division of the Arab race into two branches, the ‘Arab’ or pure; and the ‘Mostareb’ (Mustaribah) or adscititions…A second fact is, that everything in pro-Islamitic literature and record… concurs in representing the first settlement of the ‘pure’ Arabs as made on the extreme south-western point of the peninsula, near Aden, and then spreading northward and eastward…A third is the name Himyar, or ‘dusky’…a circumstance pointing, like the former, to African origin. A fourth is the Himyaritic language language…(The preserved words) are African in character, often in identity. Indeed, the dialect commonly used along the south-eastern coast hardly differs from that used by the (Somali) Africans on the opposite shore… Fifthly, it is remarkable that where the grammar of the Arabic, now spoken by the ‘pure’ Arabs, differs from that of the north, it approaches to or coincides with the Abyssinian…Sixthly, the pre-Islamitic institutions of Yemen and its allied provinces-its monarchies, courts, armies, and serfs-bear a marked resemblance to the historical Africao-Egyptian type, even to modern Abyssinian. Seventhly, the physical conformation of the pure-blooded Arab inhabitants of Yemen, Hadramaut, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the adjoining districts-the shape and size of head, the slenderness of the lower limbs, the comparative scantiness of hair, and other particulars-point in an African rather than an Asiatic direction. Eighthly, the general habits of the people,-given to sedentary rather than nomade occupations, fond of village life, of society, of dance and music; good cultivators of the soil, tolerable traders, moderate artisans, but averse to pastoral pursuits-have much more in common with those of the inhabitants of the African than with those of the western Asiatic continent. Lastly, the extreme facility of marriage which exists in all classes of the southern Arabs with the African races; the fecundity of such unions; and the slightness or even absence of any caste feeling between the dusky ‘pure’ Arab and the still darker native of modern Africa…may be regarded as pointing in the direction of a community of origin.”
Encyclopedia Britanica [9th Edition; 1:245-46 s.v. Arabia]