Written by Nour Salama: a guide by an Arab living in the middle east.
Arabs come from all across the world — not just Asia
As an Egyptian myself, I come from North Africa! However, I often see the only Arab representation is usually from within the Middle East.
Arab countries in Africa include Algeria, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan and Tunisia.
Although this is where Arabs usually originate, Arabs can be found residing in Europe, America, Australia and Antartica as well.
Some Arabs may not know how to speak Arabic because they have lived in the West for a while. Others however hold on to their language dearly no matter the circumstances- especially muslim Arabs.
Not all Arabs are Muslim
Although many Arabs are Muslim, many Arabs can also be Christians, Jews or from other religions.
Arabs tend to be quite attached to their religion, whatever it may be since it usually ties back to their culture.
If you do want to make your Arab character a Muslim,
it is not necassary for them to be a hijab wearing Muslim since not all Muslim women wear hijab. However, If you do decide to give them a hijab- do not make them take it off at any point of the story. This is a very disrespectful and hurtful narrative that is often found in books that portray Muslim characters whether they are Arab or non Arab.
Avoid the narrative that an Arab character is oppressed by their religion or hate it since usually the opposite is true. Remember, you are representing not bashing.
Despite most Arabs speaking Arabic, Arabic can be different in different regions.
The standard Arabic Language is called 'Al Lugha Al Arabeya' (اللغة العربية). This is the language taught in schools and can be understood by almost all Arabs.
However, each Arab speaks in their own dialect with their family and friends. A Moroccan will speak entirely differently from a Palestinian and a Palestinian will speak differently from a Sudanese person or and Egyptian person.
Dialects in middle eastern Arab countries are usually very similar and understandable between one another.
However, it is important to do your research before you choose an Arab nationality for your characters. Your characters need to be able to communicate with each other well and understand each other.
Unlike portrayal in media, not all Arabs are brown or tanned in skin tone. Arabs can be light skinned, dark skinned, tanned, olive skinned and everything in between.
Hair types can also vary widely. You have Arabs with naturally pin straight hair, some with curly hair in all types of curls. Some may also have wavy hair and textured hair. Arabs hair falls under any type from 1-4 which is all hair types.
Facial features are also very different between Arabs, including nose, eye and face shapes. Clothing can also widely vary. Not all Female Arabs wear Abayas or Hijab, neither do male Arabs wear kanduras and keffiyehs (head gear). Many Arabs can often be found wearing casual everyday clothing that you can find at any mall!
Note that if your character is an Arab Muslim, even if they do not wear Hijab, they should tend to be modest in their way of dressing!
Ethnicity / Race ≠ Personality
Just like any other person, Arabs don't all have the same personality, ideology or lifestyle! Make your characters unique and avoid stereotypes; especially harmful ones that associate Arabs with being villains, being unable to speak proper English and being oppressed.
Don't base their personality around being Arab! They can have their own hobbies, interests and lives that do not revolve around their ethnicity!
Another thing you can do is to give them less commonly represented! Do not name every Arab character Mohammad or Fatima. Some Arabs have western names like Maria or Adam while others can have more Arabic names such as Khadija and Omar. A name does not make your character any less or more Arab but it is refreshing to not use those same stereotyped names. A quick google search can give you a huge list of Arab names.