The Arabs from the Arabian Peninsula are considered to be the original Arabs. The Arabian culture was developed by tribes of nomads and villagers who lived in the Arabian Desert. It was also from there that Arab migrations began, eventually leading to the expansion of the Arab world.
The social structure of the Yemeni Arab consists of four classes of people: the Sayyid, or wealthy (who trace their decent to the grandson of Muhammad), the Qatani, (tribesmen), the Shafi’ite townsmen (merchants, artisans, and craftsmen), and the Akhdam (slaves).
The Yemeni Arabs have had a close association with Islam throughout their history; and today, nearly all of the Yemeni Arab (both in the Republic of Yemen, and in the other nations), are Muslims. About half of them are Zaydis Muslims, 40% are Shafi’ites, and 5% are Ismailis.
What are their lives like?
Yemeni Arab society is tribal in structure with over 1,700 different tribes or clans. These various tribes are ruled by sheiks (Arab chiefs), who often fight with each other.
Today, the majority of the Yemeni Arabs in Yemen still live in fortress-like villages that can be easily defended. Each house has windows on all sides and is built facing the outside of the village. All goods and persons passing through town are strictly controlled.
Individual dwellings tend to be elaborately decorated, flat-roofed homes called “town houses.” Lime wash and brickwork are used around the windows as a form of artistic design. The rooms usually have some type of carpeting, and when entering the house, one must leave their shoes at the door. The walls are lined with mattresses and cushions to sit on and lean against. A main reception room and a kitchen are located on the top floor. The flat roofs are used by the women for drying laundry.
Little is known about the lifestyle of the small number of Yemeni Arabs who have migrated to other countries. It is assumed that while many of their social customs and traditions are still adhered to, their occupations and living conditions are quite different.
Social life is extremely important to Arabs. They like to share a daily coffee time by sitting on the floor and drinking coffee from cups without handles. Their diet basically consists of wheat bread and porridge made with boiled meat or chicken.
Despite Islamic teachings, the reality that there are different classes of Arabs still persists. The type of clothing worn has become one of the determining factors. Yemeni tribesmen dress differently than other villagers and can be easily recognized. The women wear veils both in town and at home. Boys show that they are becoming men by changing their headgear and wearing daggers.
Yemeni Arab society is patrilineal, which means that inheritances are passed down through the males. Since children are considered a family’s greatest asset, females are valued for their ability to bear children.
In spite of the fact that Muslims are allowed to have up to four wives, most marriages among the Yemeni Arab are monogamous. In the past, all marriages were arranged by the parents; however, it is becoming more acceptable for young people to choose their own mates. Young girls are considered ready for marriage by age nine.
In recent years, many of the nomads of Yemen have settled into mountain villages where they now raise grains, vegetables, coffee, melons, dates, mangoes, and pomegranates. Domestic animals are kept to supply milk and eggs.
What are their beliefs?
Almost all of the Yemeni Arab are Muslims, and there is little doubt that Islam has influenced their society.
The Zaydis sect of Islam (part of the Shi’ite tradition) is quite fanatical in its form. Most of the Zaydis are warriors and perceive all wars to be a manifestation of Jihad (Muslim crusade against infidels; holy war).
What are their needs?
In many Muslim countries, Muslims who profess faith in Jesus Christ can be put to death. Perhaps this explains why there are less than 5,000 known Yemeni believers in Yemen at the present time. Evangelization efforts among them are challenging due to restrictions in many of the countries, and general antagonism to the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to reach out and share the love of Christ with them.
* Pray that God will raise up faithful intercessors who will stand in the gap for the Yemeni Arabs.
* Ask God to give the Yemeni Arab believers opportunities to share the love of Christ with their own people.
* Pray that their traditional Muslim culture will soften, creating open doors for the Gospel to be preached among them.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to open the hearts of the Arabs towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Pray that God will reveal Himself to these Muslims through dreams and visions.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Yemeni Arab.
* Pray for translation of the Bible to begin in this people group’s primary language.
* Pray for the availability of the Jesus Film in the primary language of this people.
Text source: Bethany World Prayer Center © 1999.
Used with permission from Adopt-A-People Clearinghouse