Arabic dialects: Najdi • Hassānīya • Bedawi
majority adhere to Sunni Islam; small numbers adhere to Shia Islam and other religions
The Bedouin (from the Arabic badawī (بدوي), pl. badw) are a part of the predominantly desert-dwelling Arab ethnic group.
A widely quoted Bedouin saying is "Me against my brother, My brothers and me against my cousins, then my cousins and me against strangers". This saying signifies a hierarchy of loyalties based on closeness of kinship that runs from the nuclear family through the lineage, the tribe, and even, in principle at least, to an entire ethnic or linguistic group (which is perceived to have a kinship basis). Disputes are settled, interests are pursued, and justice and order are maintained by means of this organizational framework, according to an ethic of self-help and collective responsibility (Andersen 14). The individual family unit (known as a tent or bayt) typically consisted of three or four adults (a married couple plus siblings or parents) and any number of children.
When resources were plentiful, several tents would travel together as a goum. These groups were sometimes linked by patriarchal lineage, but were just as likely linked by marriage (new wives were especially likely to have male relatives join them), acquaintance or even no clearly defined relation but a simple shared membership in the tribe.
The next scale of interactions inside tribal groups was the ibn 'amm (cousin) or descent group, commonly of three to five generations. These were often linked to goums, but where a goum would generally consist of people all with the same herd type, descent groups were frequently split up over several economic activities, thus allowing a degree of 'risk management'; should one group of members of a descent group suffer economically, the other members of the descent group would be able to support them. Whilst the phrase "descent group" suggests purely a lineage-based arrangement, in reality these groups were fluid and adapted their genealogies to take in new members.
The largest scale of tribal interactions is of course the tribe as a whole, led by a Sheikh (Arabic: شيخ, literally, "elder"). The tribe often claims descent from one common ancestor—as mentioned above. This appears patrimonial but in reality new groups could have genealogies invented to tie them in to this ancestor. The tribal level is the level that mediated between the Bedouin and the outside governments and organizations.
Bedouins traditionally had strong honor codes, and traditional systems of justice dispensation in Bedouin society typically revolved around such codes. The bisha'a, or ordeal by fire, is a well-known Bedouin practice of lie detection. See also: Honor codes of the Bedouin, Bedouin systems of justice
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