Middle East Culture
The Middle East is a cross-continental region centered within Europe, Asia, and North Africa. The area is composed of 18 countries, including; Turkey, Iran, Western Asia, and parts of Egypt. Bahrain is the smallest nation in the Middle East while the largest nation is Saudi Arabia. As of 2010, the population stood at 371 million people. The Middle East composes of people from different culture and ethnicities, speaking over 60 different languages.
The Middle East is a region of the world that is rich in history. The area is historically a battleground for empires and dynasties hosting massive riches. The Middle East is the birthplace for ancient civilizations, religions, and cultural ideologies. Sumerians arrived in the Middle East within the 5th century BC as the earliest human settlers in the region. The Middle East hosted the Mesopotamia and Assyrian empires that were among the most powerful empires of the ancient world (Planet, n.d.). Other empires that followed included the Eastern Roman Empire, Mongol Empire and the Turkish empires that facilitated the spread of different religions, and cultures.
The Middle East attracts several migrating people from different parts of the world. Different cultures and ethnicities have interacted to produce the current generation of people in the Middle East. However, the people of the Middle East have three main ethnicities; The Arabs, The Iranians, and the Turks. Other smaller ethnicities include the Kurds, Armenians, Pakistanis, among others. The Middle East population composes of approximately 246 million people (Planet, n.d.). The most populous regions include Turkey, and Iran, while the least populated areas are Qatar and Bahrain.
The Middle East has diverse cuisines from the cultures and population existing in the region. In as much as the meals are different, they have a degree of similarities. Middle Eastern cuisines are growing popular around the world. Common ingredients used by the Middle Eastern populations include; chickpeas, rice, mint, pitas, olive oil, dates among others. Favourite dishes eaten across the Middle East include shawarma, doner kebab, dolma, baklava, and yoghurt. However, the most popular meals include the dolma, a Turkish dish made from stuffed vegetables (Heine, 2004). Mezze is another favourite Middle Eastern dish created from several ingredients including goat meat, sausage, melon, hummus among others.
The most common drinks in the Middle East is Turkish coffee. Turkish coffee is thicker than ordinary coffee. It is a beverage developed from boiled finely grouped coffee. Arak is another famous alcoholic drink produced from aniseed and served socially. Christian societies such as the Armenians and Assyrians locally distil wine and beer at their homes. However, Muslims prefer to consume sweetened apricot drink as a social beverage (Heine, 2004). Jallab is another favourite drink produced from grapes and dates as the main ingredients. Ayran, a yoghurt beverage is another popular Middle Eastern drink.
Middle Eastern Music span across diverse regions and cultures. Islam not only inspires the music but is a common factor that unites the Middle Eastern populations through the spread of Byzantine and Arabian cultures. Musical elements such as the strong melody, modes, magamat (song), makam in Turkish music, are drawn from Arabian culture. Arabic music includes the use of stringed instruments, quarter-tone between notes and the human voice. Middle Eastern music includes complex rhythmic structures, monophonic texture and vocal tone variation. However, it does not include the use of harmony or chords (Laachir & Talajooy, 2012). Middle Eastern music compositions usually last around three hours, to build up the tension to the climax.
Islam had a significant influence on Middle Eastern art and culture. Islamic art includes visual arts developed from 7th century by Islamic populations. The subject matter in Islamic art forms is not purely drawn from Islamic religion but also entail other secular cultural elements of Middle Eastern history and society. Islamic art comprises of Islamic architecture, glasswork, pottery, calligraphy, painting, textile decoration, carpet decoration and fabric embroidery (Laachir & Talajooy, 2012). The Islamic religion greatly inspired creative decorations and calligraphy as those done on Quran manuscripts, and the wall of mosques.
Traditional Middle Eastern dances or Oriental dances come from diverse folk traditions from different cultures in the region. Each culture has its traditional dances. For instance, Arab dances include; Belly dance, Khaleegy, Ardah, Fann at Tanbura. Khigga is the Assyrian folk dance. The Persians have their classical dance, while Emiratis have Al Ayala dance for men and Yowla. Saudi Arabian dances include; the Mizmar and Ardah, while the Dilan is the Kurdish Dance. Most Middle Eastern societies combine traditional dances with musical instruments (Laachir & Talajooy, 2012).
Middle Eastern fashion and clothing has evolved throughout the political, historical, and cultural eras. Middle East fashion composes of several cultures with traditional design identities and custom dresses. Fashion and clothing from different cultures also differ based on religious status, age, wealth, and gender. For instance, due to Islamic influence, Saudi Arabia women wear loosely fitting long robes known as Zabun, and Abbayah for Iranian women (Stanton, 2012). Women clothes included embellishment and embroidery bands. Saudi Arabian, Iranian and Iraq women wear the facemask, Burka and the head veil, Hijab as part of Islamic culture.
Several religious orientations draw their origins from the Middle East. Nonetheless, Islam is the most widely practised religion, followed by Judaism and Christianity. Islam’s dominance attributes to the enormous numbers of Arabs in the region. However, in states such as Lebanon, 40.5% of the population is made up of Christians. Other minority religions include Yazidism, Bahai Faith, Mandaeism, and Druze among others (Stanton, 2012). The ancient Middle East was home to several Mesopotamian religions, Canaanite religions, Mithraism among others. However, Zoroastrianism is an ancient religion still practised in the modern era.
Heine, P. (2004). Food Culture in the Near East, Middle East, and North Africa. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Publishing Group.
Laachir, K., & Talajooy, S. (2012). Resistance in Contemporary Middle Eastern Cultures: Literature, Cinema and Music. London, England: Routledge.
Planet, L. (n.d.). History of Middle East Travel Information. Retrieved from https://www.lonelyplanet.com/middle-east/history
Stanton, A. L. (2012). Cultural Sociology of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa: An Encyclopedia. SAGE.
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