While self-reliance, individuality, and responsibility are taught by Arabic parents to their children, family loyalty is one of the most important values taught to children in Arab families. Arab society emphasizes the importance of the group. Arab culture teaches that the needs of the group are more important than the needs of one person, or the needs of one individual family member.

In Arab culture, the individual person is viewed as an extension of their family and their behaviour and reputation is considered a direct reflection of their family and their family’s honour. Individuals and their achievements, or failures, are associated to their families. For example, if a young man achieves educational attainment or enters successful employment, this is attributed to his upbringing and the contributions or efforts of his parents and other family members. Similarly, if a young woman marries against her family’s wishes, her actions are viewed as dishonourable to her family and cast shame on her family members.

Our understanding of the individual in modern Western societies has little point of reference in the Arab culture’s understanding and value on the individual as part of a collective, that of the family or the clan. Consequently, the individual’s personal preferences and interests take secondary place to the family’s collective preferences and interests. Most Arab families believe that reputation, honour and respect are everything. In fact, if a person loses his honour or dignity, he is ruined in the eyes of his family and community.

This cultural value dictates that people always behave well in public and try to leave the best possible impression on others. Similar to this concept is the importance Arabs place on appearances and politeness, which is why a polite response of “Yes” to your question, may not in fact be the accurate response from a client who does not wish to disappoint you.

Importantly, for service providers who work with young people of Arabic speaking clients, the Arab culture’s value of honour needs to be considered in the delivery of programs and services. The Australian cultural framework which underpins our focus on the development of the individual’s personal aspirations may come into conflict with traditional notions of the individual as an extension of the family as the primary focus of identification. See Engaging Arabic Speaking Youth for strategies on how to work effectively and in culturally sensitive ways with young people.