Arabs vs. Muslims: What's the difference?

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Difference between Arabs and Muslims

It is a bit surprising–and sometimes alarming–how many people use the words “Arabs” and "Muslims" interchangeably, and worse still, actually think that they mean the same group of people. As more informed and educated people are aware of, Arabs and Muslims do not necessarily belong to the same group, although there are many Arabs that are Muslims, and vice-versa. This comparison goes into the key differences between both groups.

Basic Definition

The term “Muslim” essentially refers to people belonging to the Islamic faith, making them a part of a religious group. The term Arabs on the other hand do not refer to any particular faith–either implicitly or explicitly–and it is used to refer to inhabitants of Arab countries. Arabs are therefore considered a specific group of people or group of nationalities, the designation of which is dependent not on religious groupings, but on geographical origin. What this means is that Arabs generally speak the same language (Arabic), and they may belong to different religious groups. Muslims on the other hand all belong to the Islamic faith, although they may have their own language that is reflective of their country of origin.

Religious Aspect

One factor that may explain the common confusion between the two terms is that many of the nations in the Arab regions are where several religions were established. Christianity and Islam can trace their beginnings at least in part to the region, and even the Jewish faith is historically tied in with the area. The main figure in Islam, the prophet Mohammed is in fact originally from the region.

Nevertheless, Arabs can be of any religious faith that they want, although Islam is admittedly one of the foremost religions in the area. Muslims on the other hand can have different nationalities, with only the only common denominator being their religious beliefs.


Arabs are originally from the Middle Eastern countries such as Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, while about 60% of all Muslims generally reside in Asia, with the rest being scattered throughout the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Recent estimates place the Muslim population at an impressive 1.5 billion all over the world in 2009, a figure that is equivalent to nearly 25% of the world’s combined population. Arabs on the other hand number only several millions. This obviously means that there are far more Muslims than Arabs all over the world, simply because they are spread out across many different nations.



  • Refers to people belonging to the Islamic faith
  • Can be from any country in the world
  • Can speak any language
  • Large numbers live in Asia
  • Vastly outnumber Arabs


  • Refers to a particular ethnicity
  • Most speak the Arabic language primarily
  • Usually from Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia
  • May belong to religions other than Islam

Which group is more tolerant?
  • Arabs
  • Muslims

Discuss It: comments 1

I would like to point out the fact that one may speak Arabic does not necessarily mean that one is an Arab, that the Iranians are not Arab and neither are the Moroccans/Tunisians / Chadians/Sudanese/ Egyptians/Syrians/ Lebanese or any other country for that matter other than Saudi Arabia and those genetically connected to that people. Many states may speak Arabic just as many states speak English does not make them English (part of England) So yes maybe we all have to go back to our roots, and put history back on the right track. Yes Islam is a Monotheist Religion and can be found all over the world. But to say that and Arab can follow any faith is basically incorrect as all Arabs come from Saudi Arabia and belong to what is called the Salafi sect of Islam.

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