Arabian Bedouins

March, 2013


SEEKING TO LEAVE BEHIND the glitter of the skyscrapers and the shopping malls of Riyadh I decided to take a trip to the outskirts of the city, where the bedouins keep the camel market. There, I was welcomed by the rough-hardened faces of friendly bedouins, who live a stern life, keeping thousands of camels belonging to wealthy Saudis.

The Arabic term badawī literally translates in Arabic as “nomad” or “wanderer.” The term “Bedouin” therefore means “those in bādiyah” or “those in the desert”.

Bedouins are among the most resilient people on earth. They can travel long distances with little water, they waste nothing, in a way, they are Stoic and, in my view they embody the best of the arab people.

69598_10200712693883939_2131451355_n.jpgEgyptians , Babylonians, Persians, Romans all passed by with their large armies and fell but Arabs still there. Perhaps because they knew that arrogance is paid dear in the desert and that only the knowledge of one’s limitations, and submission to superior forces, secures long-term survival. Small Arab armies wrecked on the sands of the deserts large Byzantine armies, Persian and crusaders, sometimes without having to face them directly. That is one of the reasons the Arabian Peninsula is one of the few places that has never been conquered, maintaining the continuity of their language and culture for thousands of years.


The way of life of nomadic people, such as the ancient Hebrews and Arabs, traveling in their caravans under the shadow of the great civilizations of the Middle East, are the result of thousands of years of survival in the most difficult situations. Circumcision, the prohibition of some foods like pork or drink alcohol, made them distinctive from sedentary peoples. But it has also practical reasons. Pigs need plenty of water and they are not good traveler in the desert, circumcision is a sanitary measure in a place where water is always scarce, and alcohol dehydrated and disoriented, two thing less desirable when traveling through the desert. Fasting strengthens the body, both physically and mentally, prepares them for times of scarcity, that always come and also reminds them that we should not take for granted what we have.

It is no wonder that Jews and Arabs have outlived great civilizations such as the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians and Romans, who always ended up losing the habits that made them great, slipping little by little the soft ramp hedonism that leads to decadence.

The traveller and adventurer Sir Wilfred Thesiger, best known for his travel book Arabian Sands, once wrote; “As I listened I thought once again how precarious was the existence of the Bedu. Their way of life naturally made them fatalists; so much was beyond their control. It was impossible for them to provide for a morrow when everything depended on a chance fall of rain or when raiders, sickness, or any one of a hundred change happenings might at any time leave them destitute, or end their lives. They did what they could, and no people were more self-reliant, but if things went wrong they accepted their fate without bitterness, and with dignity as the will of God.”

“I had learnt the satisfaction which comes from hardship and the pleasure which derives from abstinence; the contentment of a full belly; the richness of meat; the taste of clean water; the ecstasy of surrender when the craving of sleep becomes a torment; the warmth of a fire in the chill of dawn.”
“In the desert I had found a freedom unattainable in civilization; a life unhampered by possessions, since everything that was not a necessity was an encumbrance. I had found too, a comradeship inherent in the circumstances, and the belief that tranquility was to be found there.”






“I knew that I had made my last journey in the Empty Quarter and that a phase in my life was ended. Here in the desert I found all that I asked; I knew that I should never find it again. But it was not only this personal sorrow that distressed me. I realized that the Bedu with whom I had lived and traveled, and in whose company I had found contentment, were doomed. Some people maintain that they will be better off when they have exchanged the hardship and poverty of the desert for the security of a materialistic world. This I do not believe. I shall always remember how often I was humbled by those illiterate herdsmen who possessed, in so much greater measure than I, generosity and courage, endurance, patience and lighthearted gallantry. Among no other people have I ever felt the same sense of personal inferiority.” Sir Wilfred Thesiger – Arab Sands




Arab historiographer and historian Ibn Khaldun in the XIV century wrote:

“Bedouins are more disposed to courage than sedentary people.

The  reason for this is that sedentary people have become used to laziness and ease. They are sunk in well-being and luxury. They have entrusted defense of their property and their lives to the governor and ruler who rules them, and to the militia which has the task of guarding them. They find full assurance of safety in the walls that surround them, and the fortifications that protect them. No noise disturbs them, and no hunting occupies them. They are carefree and trusting, and have ceased to carry weapons. Successive generations have grown up in this way of life. They have become like women and children, who depend upon the master of the house.Eventually, this has come to be a quality of character that replaces natural(disposition).

The Bedouins, on the other hand, live separate from the community. They are alone in the country and remote from militias. They have no walls and gates.Therefore, they provide their own defense and do not entrust it to, or rely up on others for it. They always carry weapons. They watch carefully all sides of the road.They take hurried naps only when they are together in company or when they are in the saddle. They pay attention to every faint barking and noise. They go alone in to the desert, guided by their fortitude, putting their trust in themselves. Fortitude has become a character quality of theirs, and courage their nature. They use it when ever they are called upon or an alarm stirs them. When sedentary people mix with them in the desert or associate with them on a journey, they depend on them. They cannot do anything for themselves without them.. This is an observed fact. (Their dependence extends) even to knowledge of the country, the (right) directions,watering places, and crossroads. The reason for this is the thing we have explained.At the base of it is the fact that man is a child of the customs and the things he has become used to. He is not the product of his natural disposition and temperament.

The conditions to which he has become accustomed, until they have become for him a quality of character and matters of habit and custom, have replaced his natural disposition. If one studies this in human beings, one will find much of it, and it will be found to be a correct (observation).”

“God creates whatever He wishes.”

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