Arabic words can be found throughout Africa, the Mid-East and India and therefore may show up in almost any colonial game.  Sometimes they have been absorbed into Swahili, Hindi, English, or another language and mutated into unrecognizable forms by the absorption while other times they haven't changed much at at all.  If there's a particular word you're looking for and it's not in this list, check the Index because the word may be under one of the regional topics. Also keep in mind that spelling may vary since Arabic does not use the Roman alphabet.

 In this particular list, I tried to put those words that I thought might still be considered "Arabic" as opposed to those borrowed words that the users may not even realize came from another language. [Typical of the latter in English would be such words as: alcohol, algebra, algorithm, and admiral. All originally Arabic but now not recognized as foreign words at all by most English speakers.]

abd el A nominative prefix meaning "servant of" or "slave of", as in the name Gamal abd el Nasr.
abu Father, father of


Powerful and evil demon, jinni, spirit, etc. (Arabic `ifrit)

ahadoo Enemy
ahu Brother
ahtak Sister
ain  Spring or natural fountain
akkal Band that holds the keffiyeh headdress in place

amir, emir

Leader of hundreds (Arabic amIr commander)

atwa A cease-fire
azu Bedouin incursions
baba Grandfather
baksheesh payment of a bribe or tip, also a demand for money by beggars (Persian bakhshish, from bakhshidan to give)
baraka divine grace, blessing, something possessed by holy men of the religious aristocracy


nomadic tribesmen (Arabic badawl, desert dweller)

Berber a member of any of various peoples living in northern Africa west of Tripoli (Arabic Barbar )
bish'aa A Bedouin "truth-test". The suspect licks a white hot piece of metal three times, then washes out his mouth in cold water. If his tongue is scalded then he is lying. This is considered the ultimate test by Bedouins.
bled village
casbah fortified building, a North African castle or fortress (from Arabic dialect qasbah )
Dar el Islam House of Islam, the Islamic world
dhow or dhou Arabic -  trading vessel having a long beak-like prow, large stern, and truncated lateen sail, common in the Indian Ocean. (Arabic dawa)
divan The privy council of the Ottoman Empire (Turkish, from Persian diwan account book)
djinn Spirits. The Bedouin recognize two kinds of djinn: omar and shaytin. The shaytin are evil and the omar are the good.
djundi soldier
douar one-room native hut
ein A spring or waterhole. Ein is commonly the first part of the name of a waterhole, the second half being descriptive of the flora and fauna nearby or of someone's name.
fellah peasant, also used derogatorily to mean simpleton (Arabic fallah)


European, from the word Frank (crusader French).

firman a sultan's edict, safe passage for travelers
fonduk Two-story inn built around a central courtyard where animals are stabled
gatztatz special Bedouin judge in charge of deciding the extent of physical injuries during lawsuits
gassi A flat open area between dunes in the desert. Often used in desert place names. 
gom blood vengeance
Hadj A word for both the pilgrimage to Mecca, and for those who have completed the pilgrimage. In the second case it is an appellation of respect, and is often applied to aged men, whether they have actually made the pilgrimage or not.
Hamdul'allah (or Alhamdul'allah) "Thanks to God." Used (by the speaker or the listener) whenever speaking about a past event, as in "Omar returned from the Hadj yesterday, hamdul'allah."
hams Bedouin clan
haq law
harem Secluded part of a Moslem household to keep women separate; also the women therein (Arabic harim, something forbidden and haram, sanctuary)
hassi A water well (perhaps a derivative of "oasis"?). Often used in desert place names.
hizb army, as in hizballah (army of god)
ibn A nominative prefix meaning "son of", as in the name Djamel ibn Saud.
insh'allah "If God wills it." An extremely common term, used (by the speaker or the listener) whenever an Muslim makes a statement about a future event, as in "Tomorrow it will rain, insh'allah."
jamal or gemal dromedary camel
kahin Bedouin witchdoctor
kalb dog, extremely derogatory when used as insult
keffiyeh Arab headdress
khawi Bedouin healer
khilf a sacred Bedouin oath
maboul crazy
madafe village guesthouse
majnun madman
marabout descendent of holy persons, responsible for maintaining tombs, believed to have supernatural powers (Arabic murabit)
marhaba blessings be upon you
marhabtein blessings upon us both
medina Arab quarter of city (1906 Arabic, madina, city)
mihrab sacred niche in a mosque that faces Mecca (Arabic mihrab)
minaret Tall slender tower of a mosque with one or more balconies from which the muezzin summons Moslems to prayer. (French, from Turkish minare, from Arabic manarah lighthouse)
mosque building used for public worship by Moslems (Arabic masjid temple, from sajada to prostrate oneself, worship)
mubashi one of the chosen few who can conduct a bish'aa truth test
muezzin  Muslim who calls the hour of daily prayers (Arabic mu'adhdhin)
mukhtar village headman
mullah an educated Muslim trained in traditional religious law and doctrine and usually holding an official post (Arabic mawla)
Nazarani Christian (Nazareth)
oued Algerian dry watercourse, gully (probably related to "wadi", Arabic wadiy)
sahbak friend
salaam A ceremonial greeting performed by bowing very low and placing the right palm on the forehead. (Arabic salam peace)
salaam aleikum Peace be upon you. The proper greeting in Arabic.
sharif, sherif descendent of Mohammad, of noble ancestry or political preeminence in predominantly Islamic countries (Arabic sharif, illustrious)
sheik an Arab chief (Arabic shaykh)
Sidi (or Si) proper form of address to a marabout
sultan king of a Muslim state (Arabic sultan)
tashmis ostracism, the worst form of punishment among the Bedouin
vizier High officer of various Muslim countries, especially in the Ottoman Empire (Turkish, vezir, from Arabic, wazir [1599])
wadi Egyptian dry watercourse, gully (Arabic wadiy)
wallah exclamation
weli a Bedouin saint, either living or dead
zawiya a pilgrimage destination, one ruled by a sheik

Back to Glossary Main Page
Index A-M
Index N-Z

British Military Terms and Soldier Slang
China and the Far East
East Africa
Egypt and the Sudan
French North Africa
India and the Northwest Frontier
Old West
South Africa