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An Overview On Arab Muslim Culture In America

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Although Arab and Mulims are constantly placed in the same category in the US Census, with the unconscious thought of no clear distinction between the two, they both have their own distinctive make-up that separates them. As Shelby Telhami (2002) put it “most Arabs in America are not Muslim, and most Muslins in America are not Arabs.” Derald Wing Sue & David Sue (2016) stated, there are populations of Arabic speaking countries that have large numbers of Muslims living amongst them, there are “only about one quarter of Arab Americans” that claim to be Muslims. First generation Arabs and Muslim come from around the world – the Middle East, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and European countries (Sue & Sue, 2016). They have been immigrating to the U.S. since the mid- to late 1800s or 20th century (Sue, D.W. & Sue, D., (2016); Freij, J. A. (2011); Telhami, S., (2002); Britto, P.R & Amer, M.M., (2007). There has been movement documented as early as 1500s and a large influx of Arab immigration since the mid 1900s. The numbers have slowed post 9/11 but are steadily increasing again over the past 5 years or so.

Arab Americans have immigrated from Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Algeria (Arab American Institute (2017); Al Khaiyali, T., Nuseir, N., & Kharruba, R., (2018); Telhami, S (2002), Sue, D.W & Sue, D (2016)]. Their primary spoken and written language is Arabic (Sue, D.W. & Sue, D., 2016) but for those second, third or even fourth generation Americans, their language is Arabic and English or simply English. Most Arab Americans are 2nd and 3rd generations, “native born U.S. citizens” (Sue, D.W. & Sue, D., 2016). Muslim Americans have immigrated from North African and South Asian countries such as Pakistan, Iran, India, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen, and Afghanistan (Arab American Institute (2017); Al Khaiyali, T., (2018); Telhami, S., (2002); Sue, D.W & Sue, D., (2016). Muslims are those that are followers of the religion of Islam but are not necessarily from Arab countries. For Arab Americans there are many different religions followed by its people. There are practices of Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, and Muslim/Islamic faith (Sue & Sue, (2016); Arab American Insititute, (2018); Britto, P.R & Amer, M.M., (2007) .


There is no clear number of how many Arab and Muslim Americans live within the U.S. This is mostly in part of the lack of representation on the US Census for those originating from Middle Eastern and North African countries (Telhami, S., (2002); Rabie, P., (2019); Hassan, S.D., (2002). For Arabs, they mostly check off the boxes in the “White” category or “other” if choosing not to identify as anything listed. Based on Census data there are roughly 2.04 million people within the Arab population (Arab American Institute, 2018; Rabie, P., 2019), which again is unclear because of the “White” or “other” classification. However, current research accounts for roughly 3.5-3.7 million persons within the Arab population (Arab American Institute, (2018); Telhami, S., (2019); Hassan, S.D., (2002). The discrepancies, again, lead back to there not being a box within the census to appropriately and accurately identify citizens originating from Middle Eastern and North African countries. For Muslims Americans, their numbers are approximately 6 million in the US, though there is estimation of numbers ranging up to 10 million living in the US (Telhami, S., 2019).

Arab and Mulim Americans live all over the United States but mostly in the major city or areas. The most populated cities, approximately 94% of the Arab population, are Washington DC, Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, and Chicago (Arab American Institute, 2018; Sue, D.W & Sue, 2018)). Large populations of Arab Americans, ranging the upper ten to low hundred thousands, are located in Texas, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois, and Massachusetts (Arab American Institute, 2018; ). Most 1st, 2nd, or 3rd generation Arab Americans have been entrenched within the American education system from preschool to high school and college to graduate studies (Arab American Institute, 2018). They are highly educated individuals, rating higher at having a Bachelor’s degree (49%) or post – graduate degree (20%), than most Americans, 32% and 12% respectively (Arab American Institute, 2018). It has been documented by the Arab American Institute (2018) that most Arab Americans have occupations in business via managerial positions, professional, sales or administrative fields and fields related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Family Structure and Values

American culture is highly individualistic whilst Arab culture is very interconnected or collectivistic within their family and community structure (Al Khaiyali, T., (2018). Sue, DW. & Sue, D (2016) notes that these differences in family structure and values are more widely experienced depending on the Arab country of origin and level of acculturation within the U.S. culture for both Arab and Mulsim Americans. The values that are most well known aside from their group orientation are hospitality, family obligations and interdependence, long standing family relationships (ie., parents being highly involved in their children’s lives), a sense of community, and a strong faith based relationship to God or Allah (Sue, D.W. & Sue, D., 2016).

Arab culture places great importance on traditional gender roles. Their family structure tends to be more patriarchal in nature. Males have a higher status in the family system than females, young ladies are advised by the older women in the family, young males are advised by the older males. In Muslim culture, women take on more nurturing roles – caring for the children and tending to the home, while males take on more provider and disciplinarian roles. Males in the household create a distinct sense of fear and respect in their families with their demeanor and treatment of their wives and children. Traditional Mulsim women wear hijabs, covering their hair, arms and legs, or they may wear full hijabs that cover their face up to their eyes. They also avoid physical contact in a show of affection, support, or comfort with males not related to them. However Muslim Americans, have greater diversity in their orientation towards traditional Muslim values and gender roles. Mulsim women allow themselves the option of physical contact with nonrelated males, they support same-sex marriages, and they also allow themselves the decision of wearing the hijab or head covering while still being devout in their religion.

The religion of Islam has 5 pillars or expectations of behaviors. First is shahada, in it is the belief that there is only God (Allah) and his Muhammad, his messenger. Second is salat, which contends to ritual prayer 5 times a day. Third is sawm, in it is the practice of self control and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Fourth is zakat, giving back to the community in giving 2.5% of ones savings/earnings to the poor and needy. Last is hajj, where if possible, make a Pilgrimmage to Mecca and pay respects to Good and Muhammad (Read, J.G., 2015). Read, J.G (2015) noted that those of strong Muslim faith or Islamic values are more involved in the community amd religious activites.

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Current Societal Treatment

The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City left a harsh aftermath for the treatment of Arab and Muslim Americans. In video game and movie culture, Arabs, Arab Americans, and Muslims are often portrayed as store clerks, taxi drivers, sheiks, terrorists, barbarians or other demeaning occupations (Sue, D.W, & Sue, D., (2016);Al Khaiyali, T., et al. (2018). Muslims fared no better in their portrayals either. Women were seen as meek and timid, deferring to the men in their lives, covering themselves from head-to-toe in their hijabs, facing ridicule for their choices. They faced constant speculation and ridicule from cultures outside their own. It became much worse after the September 11 attacks of 2001, the Iraq War of 2003, the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013. There has been an increased number of discriminatory and stereotyping attacks on those of Arab and Muslim affiliations.

Tillery-Larkin, R. (2006) made note of the general feelings of the American people towards those of Middle Eastern descent in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. She noted the increased fear and concern of Americans for their own safety within the vicinity of those of Arab descent as well their increasing distrust of them as well. Hate crime attacks and constant monitoring from government entities on these groups have increased exponentially, especially on the males (Sue, D.W, & Sue, D., (2016); Hassan, S.D., (2002). They have been subjected to deportation or threats of deportation, profiling through airport security checks, vandalism against their homes or property, harassment by dominant group members or other marginalized groups, and denied the right to fair treatment or services in restaurants, hotels, and housing (Sue, D.W & Sue, D., (2016); Hassan, S.D., (2002); Tillery-Larkin, R., (2006).

Muslims and Muslim Americans have been subject to similiar occurences of derogatoryy remarks, racial profiling, harassment, and monitoring or visitation by governemt or police officials (Sue, D.W & Sue, D., (2016); Hassan, S.D., (2002); Tillery-Larkin, R., (2006). There has been fear of their monetary contributions and religious activities being tracked, so community engagement has decreased because of it. After the September 11 attacks, Hassan, S. D. (2002) made note of the Justice Department implementation of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) which tracks fingerprinting of high-risk individuals, namely all nations of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Syria. In conjunction with the Justice Department, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) began a campaign against Middle Easterners, holding them in secret detention centers (Hassan, S.D., (2002). This treatment and skepticism from major authorities, supposed friends, teachers, coworkers, etc has left a huge impact on the mental health of Arabs, Arab Americans, Muslims and Muslim Americans.

Mental Health & Strategies for Working with Arab/Muslim Population

With such strong family and community ties within the Arab and Mulsim culture, there begs to question, how are mental health issues handled when they arise? Are they talked about or brushed under the rug as it is with many ethnicities that do not promote the idea of something being wrong within you and having the level of comfort or understanding to speak up about it. The statistical data is not sufficient on Middle Eastern and North American citizens due to lack of representation in census data to determine the extent of distress within the Arab and Muslim communties. Like many cultures and ethnicities, Arab and Muslims , as well as other persons of Middle Eastern and North African descent, are prone to psychological distress due to cultural values and perceived affiliations of being connected to outside terrorist groups based on their religion (Rabie, P., 2019).

There is a high prevalance of anxiety and adjusment disorders within the Arab and Muslim culture (Telhami, S., (2019); Sue & Sue, (2016); American Psychiatric Association, (2018). Adjustment disorder may be more prevalent in those coming straight from their country of origin or adjusting to the treatment of their person in Post-9/11 America. Sue & Sue (2016) noted that anxiety may be due in part to family culture and values. The impact of the individual actions on the family, on a whole, can create tension on an individual to be constantly vigilant in regards to their behaviors and actions. This can create awkwardness in social interactions and low self-esteem. The American Psychiatric Association (2018) noted that Mood Disorders, Obsessive COmpulsive Disorders, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Trauma & Stressor Related Disorders are prevalent in Muslim Americans as well. The prevalence of post-traumatic stress and other trauma & stressor related disorders may be due to the detainment of Arab and Muslim Americans in airports, workplace discrimination, direct or indirect violence against them or their community (“Under Suspicion”, 2003).

In treating those of Arab and Muslim origins, counselors must be aware of their own prejudices and biases towards this marginalized group. Like other marginalized groups, this group has faced hate towards their person simply because of their religious beliefs or believed country of origin. This group may also have problems in working with counselors of opposite genders, so making inquiries towards that respect will be helpful in the therapeutic alliance. Recognizing family structure and values, as well as faith, play a key role in Arab and Muslim identity will also help build the therapeutic alliance as well. Incorporating these values in a way that benefits the client – inviting family into sessions, speaking to husbands or the male first, exploring spiritual beliefs, and encouraging the use of holistic approaches. Also, the level of acculturation and assimilation or level of sticking to traditional values plays a significant role in self identity during the counseling practice (Sue, D.W. & Sue, D., 2016; American Psychiatric Association, 2018). Language may also be a barrier for those that have newly immigrated to the United States. Al Khaiyali, T., et al. (2018) noted that cultural differences,

The extent of cultural awareness does not stop within the counseling room but in workplaces as well. Tillary-Larkin, R (2006) made note of several ways organizations can create cultural competency for its employees, creating an environment of awareness, tolerance and safety through its security procedures, community engagement, and their antidiscriminiatory and harassment policies. These policies and practices need to be implemented, reinforced and updated to reflect current societal and political climates to create environments of cultural sensitivity.


Taking into account the means of immigrating to the United States, the current political climate, the level of acculturation and assimilation of Arab and Muslim Americans, there are a lot of implications in working with this population in a counseling setting. Like many other marginalized groups there is much discrimination and stereotyping against this group, especially in the aftermath of violent attacks on US soil from Middle Eastern groups. Some would say more unnecessary fear that imbues violence, but the overall acceptance of the direct and indirect hate amongst the masses can have such detrimental consequences on the psyche of the victims involved. Using cultural values in practice is key in drawing out a client from this group. Being culturally sensitive is also key on working with this group in any type of setting whether in a counseling setting or institutional setting.


  1. Al Khaiyali, T., Nuseir, N.,& Kharruba, R. (2018) Study of Cultural Challenges Faced by the Arab Learners of English in the United States of America. International Journal of English Language & Translation Studies. 6(2). 36-40
  2. Arab American Institute [website]. (n.d.). Retrieved October 31, 2019 from
  3. Freij, J. A. (2011). The Arab National Museum Cultural Competency Training in Post-9/11 America. The Journal of Museum Education, 36(1). pp 19-28.
  4. Hassan, S.D. (2002). Arabs, Race, and the Post September 11 National Security State. Middle East Report. No. 224, pp. 16-21.
  5. Rabie, P. (2019). Arab-Americans’ Mental Health Suffers Due to Census Box. Retrieved from
  6. Read, J.G. (2015). Gender, Religious Identity, and Civic Engagement among Arab Muslims in the United States. Sociology of Religion, 76(1). pp. 30-48.
  7. Sue, D.W. & Sue, D. (2016). Counseling Arab Americans and Muslim Americans. Counseling the Culturally Diverse, 7th Edition (pp. 687-702). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
  8. Telhami, S. (2019). Arab and Muslim America: A Snapshots. The Brookings Review, 20(1), pp 14-15.
  9. Tillery-Larkin, R. (2006). Looking Back September 11, 2001: The Importance of Promoting Tolerance. Retrieved from
  10. Under suspicion. (2003, 10). Canada and the World Backgrounder, 69, 18-23. Retrieved from

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An Overview On Arab Muslim Culture In America. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 7, 2023, from
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