The Term Arab The Western media often uses the term “Arab” to talk about any population in the Middle East, but this is not accurate. “Arab” refers to anyone whose ancestry can be traced back to the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula. Arab identity and culture precedes Islam by more than 1,000 years, but Arabic language and culture spread along with Islam in the 8th century to many parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Almost a third of the Arab population resides in North Africa. In the Middle East, only those from the Arabian Peninsula, and from parts of the countries North of the peninsula can truly be called an “Arab.”
Persian Culture The Persian culture is prevalent in the Northern and Eastern parts of the Middle East. Nearly a third of the people who live in the Middle East are Persian, not Arabic. The Persian Empire was the greatest influence on the Middle East prior to the spread of Islam. Iran was known as Persia (the core area of the Persian Empire) until the 1950’s. The fall of the Shah in 1979 ended a Persian monarchy that had been in place for almost 2,500 years.
Kurds Kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world who do not have a country of their own. Kurds live in many countries as an oppressed minority. Kurdish radicals are branded as terrorists in Turkey for their advocacy for Kurdish autonomy. Kurds in Northern Iraq have autonomy, and hope to create an independent state that could eventually incorporate parts of Syria, Turkey, and Iran.
Pashtun’s The Pashtuns are typically characterized by their Pashto language and adherence to both Pashtunwali (a pre-Islamic indigenous religious code of honor and culture) and Islam. PashtoPashtunwalipre-IslamicIslam Important metropolitan centers of Pashtun culture include Peshawar and Kandahar. In addition, Quetta and Kabul are ethnically mixed cities with large Pashtun populations. With 1.5 million Pashtuns, the city of Karachi is the largest Pashtun city in the world.PeshawarKandaharQuettaKabul Afghanistan has traditionally been dominated by the Pashtuns, who before 1978 constituted a 51% majority in the country. However, as a result of the 1979 Soviet invasion the population distribution in Afghanistan has changed. About 85% of the 6.2 million Afghan refugees who fled to Iran and Pakistan and around the World due to the Russian invasion and the war that followed it are Pashtuns.
Bedouin Tribes Bedouins are desert nomads who inhabit vast areas of the Arabian Peninsula and the lands to the North and West. The Bedouin culture transcends ethnicity and national identity. The Bedouin way of life is seen as the traditional desert way of life, that existed long before any of the modern nations were developed, borders were drawn, or Islam spread through the Middle East.
Bedouin Population Total number of Bedouins (nomadic, semi-nomadic and settled) in the Arab world today: 15 - 20 million Breakdown: Saudi Arabia - 4 million Sudan - 5 million Egypt - 1.1 million Syria - 1 million Maghreb - 1 million Gulf States - 500,000 Kuwait - 500,000 Yemen - 500,000 Jordan - 300,000 Iraq - 200,000 Libya - 200,000 Turkey - 150,000 Israel - 100,000
Sunni vs. Shiite Nearly 80% of all Muslims are Sunni’s The Sunni branch believes that the first four caliphs-- Mohammed's successors-- rightfully took his place as the leaders of Islam. They recognize the heirs of the four caliphs as legitimate religious leaders. These heirs ruled continuously in the Arab world until the break-up of the Ottoman Empire following the end of the First World War. Shiite Muslims Shiites, in contrast, believe that only the heirs of the fourth caliph, Ali, are the legitimate successors of Mohammed. In 931 the Twelfth Imam disappeared. This was a seminal event in the history of Shiite Muslims. "Shiite Muslims, who are concentrated in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, [believe they] had suffered the loss of divinely guided political leadership" at the time of the Imam's disappearance. Not "until the ascendancy of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1978" did they believe that they had once again begun to live under the authority of a legitimate religious figure.
The Ottoman Empire After WWI, with the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, a 1,000 year old Sunni Muslim dynasty was stripped of it’s leadership. Restoration of this dynasty is one of the goals of al-Qaeda today. The base of Ottoman rule was modern day Turkey, and the country of Turkey is what remains of the Ottoman Empire today.
Islamic Fundamentalism In the void created after the end of Ottoman rule, extremist groups and sects have implemented their own versions of Islam. Taliban Wahhabism Iranian Theocracy
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