Cultural Characteristics of the Middle East Background Arab peoples make up almost the entire populations of Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, and other states of Southwest Asia. Arab culture has a long history and rich traditions. Many other cultures also live in the region. Background Christianity and Judaism are major religions practiced in Southwest Asia. Most people there are Muslims. This means that they practice the religion of Islam. Ninety percent of people in the region are Muslims. Arab Arabs comprise most of the population of Southwest Asia. However, many Arabs also live in Northern Africa, Canada, Europe, and the United States. Most Arabs practice Islam and speak Arabic. Small numbers of Arabs practice other religions. Arab Islam consists mostly of two different groups. The majority of Muslims practice Sunni Islam. Most others practice Shi’a Islam. Sunnis and Shi’a disagree about who is in charge of the Muslim world. Jewish Israel is home for much of the Jewish population in the Southwest Asia. Many of the people who live in Israel today were born there. However, the ancestors of these people moved to Israel from many other countries, often from other Southwest Asian countries. Much of this migration happened during the 20th century, after the formation of Israel in the late 1940s. Jewish Jewish people differ in their religious beliefs, though most practice some form of Judaism. For example, some Jews believe that Jewish people who convert to another religion should not be considered Jewish any more. The Law of Return in Israel says that a Jew from any other country can automatically have citizenship in Israel. Sometimes Jews who no longer practice Judaism have been denied the Law of Return. Berber Another minority group in the region are the Berbers. Most Berbers live in North Africa and were the first group to settle that region. They still live a traditional way of life today. Berbers have their own languages. Berber Many Berber tribes live in the mountains and deserts. Most Berbers living in mountainous areas are farmers. Berbers who live in the desert tend to live near an oasis. Berbers that do not farm are nomadic. Berber The majority of Berber tribes are Muslim. Some Berbers practice other religions, too. Traditional Berber cuisine has stayed the same for hundreds of years. Bedouin The Bedouin are another ethnic group. They speak Arabic. Many Bedouin used to be nomadic. Their most important animal is the camel. Now, the Bedouin live mostly in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. Bedouin Most Bedouin now live in cities and are not nomadic. Bedouin tribes are ruled by tribal leaders called sheikhs. Most Bedouins practice Islam. The Bedouin are well known for their dress and music, which is mostly sung. Music is used to perform traditional Bedouin ceremonies. Kurdish Southwest Asia is also home to the Kurdish people. The Kurds live in several countries throughout the region. These include Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Almost one-fifth of the population of Turkey is Kurdish. Kurdish religion used to be made up of a mixture of several different religions. Kurdish Most Kurds today are Muslims. Kurdish Muslims are usually less strict about certain Islamic practices. There are fewer laws for how Kurdish women should dress than there are for Iranian and Arab women. Kurds share many aspects of their culture with Iranians. Turkish The Turks are an ethnic group based on language—Turkish. They live mostly in Turkey and Iran. Most of the people who live in Turkey are of Turkish descent. Most Turks practice some form of Islam. Like Kurds, Turkish people are rarely strict about some Islamic practices. Turkish However, Kurds and Turks in Turkey often fight over issues not related to religion. For example, education is a controversial issue between these two groups. The Turkish people are well known for their architecture. Mosques in Turkey are a good example of Turkish architecture. Persian The Persians are an ethnic group that lived in Iran before the arrival of Islam in the 7th century. Persians make up about half of Iran’s current population. They have their own language called Persian or Farsi. Most Persians in Iran today practice Shi’a Islam, but some are Sunni and other religions. Persian Persian women have faced many challenges as a result of strict cultural and religious practices. Through struggle, Persian women have increased their personal freedoms over the past forty years. Persian art and architecture is also well known. Many people consider Persian rugs to be among the finest in the world. Literacy and Development Education is free in many countries in the Southwest Asia. Many students are required to attend school through high school. Fighting often keeps students from showing up at school. Many students also live so far from the schools that getting to school is difficult. The literacy rates for people over fifteen years of age are: 77% in Syria; 79% in Iran; 95% in Israel; and 79% in Saudi Arabia. Literacy and Development The literacy rates in Israel are higher than in other Southwest Asian countries. In all of these countries, more men tend to be able to read and write than women. This is especially true in Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Overall in some countries women’s education is not valued as much as men’s education. Literacy and Development Women receive a different education than men in some areas. Literacy has a large impact on a country’s development. For example, an increase in the literacy rate often leads to an increase in individual rights. Literacy rates also have an impact on a country’s economy. Summary Describe the different ethnic groups that make up the Middle East. How does literacy and education affect the Middle East?