Who are Arabs? Turks, Palestinians, Egyptians, Iranians, Saudi Arabians, and some groups from Africa and India are included in the modern Arab world of land and sea traders. In ancient times, these diverse groups were sometimes united under one empire, but that did not mean they cooperated with each other. It was not until they were unified under Islam in the seventh century CE that these people shared a common, long-term goal.
The Arabian Peninsula is a desert environment with few trees and little water. Traders traveled overland in caravans, and through the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and Indian Ocean in ships called dhows. These double-ended ships had lateen sails and carvel construction and were strong enough to withstand the seasonal monsoons, the strong storms that swept in from the Indian Ocean. The routes to India and China through the Moluccan Islands were controlled by the Arab fleets from the seventh century through the time of Vasco da Gama's Portuguese exploration of the India Ocean. This monopoly allowed the Arabs to control much of the commerce in silk, spices, and other exotic merchandise.