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Gypsies in the Middle East
A cluster of 7 gypsy groups located in 6 countries.

[IMAGE] The Middle East Gypsies are made up of two groups: the Ghorbati and the Nawari. Both groups speak a dialect of the Gypsy language called Romany, which is related to the North Indo-Aryan language of India. Their dialect, Domari, contains many Arabic words.

Gypsies call themselves Rom, which in their language means "men." Rom is derived from the Indian word Dom, meaning "a man of low caste who gains his livelihood by singing and dancing." The Ghorbati are named from the Arabic word, gurbet, which means "stranger." In the Arab world, Gypsies are called Nauar, hence the Nawari Gypsies.

Gypsies originated in India where they worked as musicians, entertainers, and metal workers. There they were discriminated against and excluded from the temples. Later, they were sent to Persia as minstrels. From there they were separated into two groups. One traveled northward and became the Romany-speaking European Gypsies. The other traveled southward and became known as the Domari, or Middle Eastern Gypsies.

What are their lives like?
Dark skin and dark eyes are typical of most Gypsies. Their almost "mystical" lifestyle has made them the objects of curiosity, distrust, and even fear, from their beginnings until now.

The Middle East Gypsies live scattered throughout Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Turkey. Most of them are nomads, wandering from region to region, and they depend on the people for their livelihood. It is common for Gypsies to have two or more specialized occupations. This makes it easier for them to adapt to a changing society's needs. When a region's people no longer need a Gypsy's particular skill, they move on to one that will.

When a Gypsy cannot adapt or change his occupation, he will settle down. Today, therefore, there are some Gypsy villages and communities in the Middle East. Some even live in the cities.

Nomadic Gypsies either travel in caravans of wagons or carts, or they ride on camels, donkeys, or horses. The settled Gypsies usually live in houses that are typical to those of the region in which they settle.

Gypsies have long been known for their abilities as musicians, singers, and dancers. They also hold a wide variety of other occupations. The men are skilled makers of sieves, drums, bird cages, and reed mats. They also entertain with animals, work as tinkers, or play music. The women peddle such things as cloth, shoes, kitchen utensils, or products made by the men. Many also sing and dance. Both men and women shear sheep, spin wool, and tell fortunes. Sadly, some of the women and children are forced to beg or even steal food as a means of survival.

Gypsy marriages usually take place between couples in their teens. Though polygyny (having more than one wife) is sometimes practiced, it is rare. The family unit is highly valued because each member is depended on for his financial contribution.

Typically, Gypsies have very unclean living habits due to their nomadic lifestyle. Sanitation and good hygiene are rarely practiced. Children are often poorly cared for; their hair hangs loosely and shoes are seldom worn. Their wagons or carts are used as living units and shops as well as for transportation, which contributes to their unsanitary lifestyle.

Values such as justice, fidelity, and morality are very significant in Gypsy society. Such things as courtesy and friendliness are also very important. The control of deviants is strictly enforced. If a Gypsy becomes impure by some immoral or unlawful act, he is considered an outcast. Also, sexual purity is considered a must for young girls. In fact, it must be proven before marriage that the girl has never before been with a man. This strict social code is related to their old Hindu caste system which they have kept since their origin.

What are their beliefs?
The Middle East Gypsies are entirely Muslim and they follow the practices and beliefs of the Islamic faith. However, there are a few who have held on to the traditional beliefs of the Gypsies. For example, they believe that ghosts, lizards, and snakes are capable of harming humans. They also believe that men have the power to curse others by giving them the "evil eye," and that some people have the power to heal the sick.

What are their needs?
The unsanitary lifestyle of the Middle East Gypsies has created many physical needs. The quality of health care, nutrition, housing, and education is poor. Adequate educational opportunities must be provided in order to raise their standard of living.

Spiritually, the Islamic religion is very difficult to penetrate. Their nomadic lifestyle has made it very difficult for missionaries to reach them. Also, their reputation as beggars and thieves has made them undesirable targets for outreach.

Most Gypsies have no Christian resources available to them. In fact, only the Nawari of Egypt have some portions of the Bible available in their language. There are currently no missions agencies working among any of the Gypsy groups. Christian broadcasts and scriptures must be made available if they are to hear the Gospel. Christian workers are needed to teach them how to live lives pleasing to God.

Prayer Points

  • Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that have kept the Middle East Gypsies bound for many generations.
  • Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to share Christ with the Gypsies.
  • Pray that Christian broadcasts will be made available in the Romany language.
  • Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of Gypsy Christians.
  • Pray that those Gypsies who know Christ will be bold witnesses of the Gospel to their own people.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of Gypsies towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
  • Pray that God will raise up intercessors who will stand in the gap for them.
  • Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Middle East Gypsies.


See also the following Gypsy Groups:
Gypsies of India; The Balkan Gypsies; The Zott Gypsies.

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Bethany World Prayer Center

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