by Steve Tamari  

Like other peoples around the world, most speakers of Arabic did not identify themselves as belonging to a particular national group until quite recently. Modern Arab nationalism is a product of 19th- and 20th-century transformations. Before the rise of nationalism, most Arabic-speakers identified themselves as members of a particular family or tribe; as residents of a village, town, or region; as Muslims, Christians, or Jews; or as subjects of large political entities such as the Ottoman empire.

Prior to the 20th century, “Arab'' designated the Bedouin, tribal-based society of the Arabian desert, which is the birthplace of Arabic. Historians generally agree that the ancient Semitic peoples— Assyrians, Aramaeans, Canaanites (including the Phoenicians and Hebrews) and, later, the Arabs themselves—migrated into the area of the Fertile Crescent after successive crises of overpopulation in the Peninsula beginning in the third millennium before the Common Era (BCE) and ending with the Muslim conquests of the 7th century CE. These peoples spoke languages based on similar linguistic structures, and the modern Semitic languages of Arabic, Hebrew, and Amharic (the language of Ethiopia) maintain important similarities.

Language and literature, particularly poetry , are central to understanding the rise of the Arabs and of an Arab identity. Prior to the advent of Islam , a common Arabic poetic language emerged as testimony to a shared cultural tradition among the disparate tribes of the Peninsula. The earliest collections of Arabic verse that have survived date from the early 6th century CE; at first these were transmitted orally and then written down in the 8th century. The poets of this classical, pre-Islamic age were the propagandists and political representatives of rival tribes. They composed lengthy lyrical poems, called qasidas, to extol the values and virtues of a nomadic style of life: honor, courage, loyalty, generosity, and tribal solidarity. Some historians argue that this literary explosion sowed the seeds of a proto-Arab nationalist consciousness that paved the way for the rise of Islam.

Where is Arabia and who are the Arabs ?

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