Silence in an important aspect of Arab mentality. What is not said is as important, perhaps more important, than what is said.
Silence is a means of concealing information which might lead to a loss of honour. Arabs dislike revealing information deemed to be personal. A taxi driver therefore asks a new customer – “Where to — if God wills?” and the new customer responds by offering directions as the ride proceeds.
Arguments in public are ‘won’ by forcing the opponent to lose their temper.
Often, a huge chasm exists between the role that an Arab will play publicly and how they act in private. Arabs can be quite reserved about demonstrating joy or happiness. Personal happiness must not be shown to be enjoyed at the expense of group loyalty or commitment to kin.
Silence has mainly to do with the concealment of facts. Learning to act within those norms is important if Western missionaries are to be effective conveyors of Christ’s life in Middle Eastern contexts.
How many Western Christians have been confused by volatile shifts from expressions of extreme friendship to those of strong enmity in Middle Easterners whom they understand to be ‘brothers in Christ’? The Middle Easterner lives each emotion in turn to the full, ready and eager for the next change of expression.