Nationalisms in the Middle East


Nationalisms in the Middle East












Nationalisms in the Middle East


It is common to find a broad range of people or cultures in any given community or location and the same case apply to the Middle East. The transcontinental region which lies between Egypt in the northern part of Africa and Western Asia serves as a home to several ethnic communities including the Arabs, the Persians, the Turks, and the Kurds. Presently, the different communities live in harmony with each other regardless of the cultural variations that exist within the communities. The communities living in this region are mostly Muslim even though some individuals seem to practice other religious practices. The communities living in the Middle East tend to have unique ways of looking at things although they might have common ideologies on some issues. The idea that a majority of individuals in this region adhere to the Islamic religion improve the relations these persons have with Islam. Even though the communities have varying perspectives, it is common to find similar features that show some connections across the region.

Discussion of the Major Nationalisms in the Middle East – The Arabs

The Arabic community is one of the largest groups inhabiting the Middle East. Presently, Arab refers to a large group of people who have their origin in the Arabian world and who speak the Arabic language. The Arabs mostly inhabit Middle East nations such as Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE among other countries in the region (Amour, 2016). Arabic (a central Semitic language) serves as the primary unifying factor for members of the community, and the language also serves as the leading medium of communication for written materials. Amour (2016) reports that as at 2014, the number of Arabs living in the Middle East had reached 367 million persons while about 17.5 million Arabs live outside the Arabic world. Although Arabic serves as the primary language of communication for the Arabs in the Middle East, some Arabic communities use other languages top communicate. Some Arabs, for instance, speak Hindi, Filipino, or Persian.

The Arabs act following the cultural practices and values that guide individuals in this community. The Arabs, for example, put emphasis on the mode of dressing where men and women must adhere to a particular code. Both women and men wear a gown that may differ in color with the ladies dressed in a hijab any time they leave their home premises (Gellner, 1983). Furthermore, a majority of Arabs still have the belief that the man has more authority over women which gives a majority of males the chance to advance in life as opposed to women. Many Arabian families in Saudi Arabia, for instance, put emphasis on the education of the boy child which leads to a disparity in the way individuals in both genders advance their personal lives.

The Arabs in the Middle East adhere to a cuisine that is part of the Arab people, stick to the Arabic art, and mostly listens to Arabic Music. The Arabs in the Levant regions, the Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria) commence major meals with mezze which comprises of small food items which one consumes alongside bread. Afterward, the Arabs may take grilled chicken or lamb or may make rice with beef stew. A standard feature with the Arabic foods in the Middle East is that they contain a wide variety of spices which create a distinct taste. An Arab, for example, may prepare a single meal using spices such as cinnamon, Garlic, pepper, curry powder, and onions among many others (Gellner, 1983). The Arabs in the Middle East also adhere to the Arabic art that traces its origins many years ago. The Arabs, for instance, make use of the arabesque and mosaic designs in large buildings such as mosques to add beauty (Gellner, 1983). The group writes from right to left which is common with other Islamic writings, and also creates paintings that depict their lifestyle. Lastly, the Arabs in the Middle East listen to music that is mainly in the Arabic language. The music covers many things including love, politics, and religion among other things.

The Arab community emerges to be a diverse group concerning religious affiliation and practices. A majority of the Arabs in the Middle East adhere to the Islamic faith although it is common to find individuals to ascribe to other beliefs. Sunni Islam stands as the largest Islamic group in the region while Shia Islam is the minority Islamic community in the Middle East. The two sides majorly vary because of their views on Mohammad’s wish on succession (Gellner, 1983). The Arabs who belong to the Sunni community adhere to the belief that Muhammad never appointed his successor and that the Muslim fraternity act by the leader’s Sunnah of appointing his father-in-law (Abu Bakr) as his replacement. The Sunnis, nevertheless, adheres to a different view which is that Muhammad appointed his cousin (Ali Ibn Abi Talib) to take his position (Gellner, 1983). A small group of the Arabs in the Middle East belong to Ibadi community which is relatively lower when compared with the other two. The Arabs who practice Christianity adhere to the guidelines of the Eastern Churches such as the Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox. Presently, the number of Arabs who join the evangelical movement is increasing which makes the religious practices of the Arabs in the Middle East more diverse. Some of the Arabic communities that largely practice Christianity include the Christian group of Najran in Yemen, the Bahrani people who inhabit Eastern Arabia, and northern Arabian groups such as the Banu Amela, Tayy, and Taghlib.

Even though the masculine gender appears to enjoy more rights in the Arabian culture, respect is paramount regardless of a person’s affiliation. A woman must respect their husbands and any other man for that matter. A good example that shows women’s respect for men is that when a man enters a room and lack a place to sit, a woman should offer the seat as a show of revere (Gellner, 1983). Similarly, the men must respect women and should not openly show their superiority, especially with the motive of discriminating the other. An Arabian husband must address their wife using a kind language, and should always be willing to listen to what the other says. The Arabian community also demands respect from children who must heed to what their elders say. Young children acquire teachings that Allah calls on children to be respectful and to act rightly to grow in the right way. The Arabs consider disrespect as a major social problem that needs a quick address before the situation gets fatal.

The Kurds

The second group living in the Middle East is the Kurds who mostly occupy nations such as Syria, Iraq, Iran, and some part of Turkey. Whereas the Arabs majorly speak Arabic, the Kurds speak Kurdish which is the national language in Iraq alongside Arabic (Hobsbawm. 1990). The Kurdish language has some dialects which include the Sorani dialect which is common among persons living in the southern parts, and the Kurmanji dialect which is rampant in the north.

The 1950s marked significant transformations in the Middle East and for the Kurdish community. Kurdistan experienced significant setbacks in the feudal production of food majorly due to the uprisings by peasants, and also because of the land reforms put in place by the central administration institutions. The changes pushed for a massive movement to the urban regions with the anticipation of getting jobs that would generate income (Hobsbawm. 1990). Some of the immigrants performed temporary construction works, while many others joined vending activities alongside major streets. A few individuals maintained their village links while they worked in the urban regions. The economic specialization and differentiation in the cities developed a new form of social stratification which is evident up to the modern times. The working class served in factories, the oil fields, and in the construction sector. Above the working class is the bourgeoisie that comprises of specialists and professionals such as bank leaders, engineers, doctors, and teachers (Hobsbawm. 1990). Even though the issue of social stratification remains to be debatable among the Kurdish, it is promising that more women are now knowledgeable and entering the business and political sectors.

The Kurds who amount to about 30 million people adhere to a variety of religious practices and beliefs which make the group quite different from the Arabs who mostly follow Islam. Presently, a majority of the Kurds belong to the Sunni Muslim group although some adhere to the guidelines of the Shia Muslims. A few individuals from this community belong to the Alevis which is a small Islamic group that puts adherence to Shia Islam (Hobsbawm. 1990). The second religion that attracts a large following (at least one million followers) is Ahl-i-Haqq which is also known as Yarsanism that was initiated by Sultan Sahak in the final parts of the 14th century. The religion differs with Islam in the sense that the adherents have belief in practices such as millenarism, egalitarianism, angelology, and nativism. The religion further differs from Islam in the way the followers disregard caste, class, and rank which is considerable in the Islamic community and faith. The third religion that attracts a substantial number of members is the religion of Zoroastrianism that has about 100,000 followers (Hobsbawm. 1990). The group puts faith and belief on issues such as hell, heaven, the Golden Rule, and messianism. Finally, only a few individuals adhere to the Christian teachings in this region. A majority of the contemporary Christians converted in the recent past. The number of Christians in the region, however, may grow in the coming years considering that many people are embracing the Christian religion.

The Kurdish culture developed as a result of many years of shaping by ancient people. The community, for instance, applies the madrasa system in the education sector where male Muslim clerics mostly take charge of the education process (Hobsbawm. 1990). The women in the Kurdish community engage in more activities with men a feature that distinguishes the group with other Islamic groups in the Middle East. It is common to find women dancing together with people in social gatherings such as weddings and other cultural fests. The community practices actions such as weaving which receives a universal acknowledgment, and also develops a variety of handicrafts which encompass Kurdish blades, weaponry, ornaments, and chess boards among several other items (Hobsbawm. 1990). Finally, the Kurds compose music that serves a fundamental purpose in the community. Some compositions are epic in nature, while others develop heroic ballads in praise of their favorite leader or hero (Hobsbawm. 1990). The Kurds also come up with erotic poetry, dance music, love songs and other performances that may suit a celebratory mood.

It is paramount to mention that in spite of the struggle by the Kurdish to attain autonomy, the nationalism of this group has not succeeded in its objective of ensuring freedom or achieving independence. 1992 marked a critical period for the Kurdish when the Iraqi Kurdistan developed a regional government to hasten the process of freedom (Hobsbawm. 1990). Unfortunately, the government could not withstand the economic pressure from within which rendered it ineffective (Hobsbawm. 1990). The administration that hoped to redeem the Kurds sought assistance from Western military powers. The Turkish government failed to offer any tangible solution even after engaging with the Kurds for about ten years of confrontations and talks. Presently, the community continues to exist as part of the nations that form the Middle East. The desire by the Kurdish to become independent suggests that this group believes in being free from any suppression.  In fact, the Kurdish community in Iraq views the regional government of Kurdistan, with its authority to formulate laws to be a version of genuine autonomy. The Kurdish people have the belief that their ability to perform their elections and the freedom of political association and expression give serve as indications for liberty. Presently, the Kurdish people enjoy an active position in the Iranian politics, thanks to the formation of various political parties that push for the recognition of the ethnic tribe. Political parties such as the PDKI (Democratic Party of Kurdistan in Iran), the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party), and the PJAK (Free Life Party of Kurdistan serve fundamental roles in pushing for the community’s political ideologies.

The Turks

So much debate continues as to whether Turkey is in the Middle East, or in Europe, although it is apparent that a large Turkish community inhabits the Middle part of the Eastern side of the Asian continent. Turkey’s position between Western Asia and Eastern Europe has immense contributions towards the tussle that even though does not cause any significant alarm, continue to confuse some Turks as to whether they should term themselves as Middle Easterners or Europeans (Carley, 1995). Turkey’s connection with the Persians, the Romans, the Greeks, the Ottoman Empire, and the Byzantine provided the persons from this region with an opportunity to shift from their original place to settle in other areas that provided what they desire (Carley, 1995). Some groups settled in the Middle East although the number is not very high.

A majority of Turks in the Middle East practice different cultural actions s and adhere to different religious beliefs from the Arabs and other Islamic communities in the Middle East. Carley (1995) writes that the primary similarity between the Turks and the Arabs is that both groups developed as a result of movement from one place to the other and subsequent interaction between varying ethnicities, usually between the Arabic nomadic tribesmen and the indigenous communities in the places in which they settled. First, a majority (60%) of the Turks in the Middle East adheres to Christian teachings and values which make them view things in a different perceptive from many other dwellers in this area (Carley, 1995). A small percentage of Turks living in the Middle East practice Islam with a majority under the Alevi Yazdanism sect of the Islamic religion. Initially, however, a majority of the Turks adhered to the Islamic teachings considering that the Ottoman Empire was under the leadership of Muslims. Carley (1995) writes that until the final parts of the 15th century, the Christians Turks outnumbers Muslims even though the latter group remained in power. The number of Muslims increased in the late 19th century due to migrations into the Middle East.  Some Turks belong to Muslim sects such as Druze, Alawites, and Ismailis that fall below all other religions. A considerable number of Turks in the Middle East also practice Judaism which has some similar aspects with Christianity. The Turks are religious people and consider the faith and rituals associated with religion to be sacred. A Muslim Turk would observe all the prayers while a Christian follows all the sacrifice and prayers.

The Turks who speak the Turkish language believe in the equality of both genders which is not the case with Islam. The Turks compose music in their mother tongue and adopt a unique cuisine although many Turkish people now adopt the dominating lifestyle in Turkey (Carley, 1995). Even though the Turks seem to lead a different lifestyle from some of the dominating groups in the Middle East, they fair on well with the rest. A large group of Turks, for instance, tend to assimilate the foods that are dominant in the Middle East and also put effort to learn the languages of other communities to foster their relationship. Some Turks in the Middle East still believe that the community is influential as it used to be during the Ottoman Empire which makes them feel superior within themselves (Carley, 1995). The feeling of superiority makes the Turks’ opinion in the politics of Middle East to be considerable, especially when handling crucial matters such as security and financial issues.

The Persians

The Persians are the largest ethnic group in Iran taking over more than a half of the population. The Persians who share a similar cultural system entered modern-day Iran by 10 BC and established powerful kingdoms that ruled some of the largest empires. The Persians majorly speak the Persian language which is part of the Indo-European languages. Other Persian-related communities live in several areas of the Middle East with the Lurish people who speak the Lurish language being one of the groups. The Caucasian people who majorly inhabit Azerbaijan are another Persian-related community that that speaks the Tat language. The Hazaras and the Aimaqs who settle in Afghanistan are also a sub-group of the Persian community. The Persian population shows diversity in the way it conducts its activities which make the community distinct.

The Persians who are Muslims have a unique art and compose music for different purposes. Roshwald (2013) asserts that at least 70% of the Persians are Muslims which make individuals act following the Islamic regulations. The Persians share a similar ideology with the Arabs that men deserve more opportunities whereas women do not have the capacity to offer the right leadership. A majority of Muslims, nevertheless, now understand the need to achieve gender equality and make an effort to empower people of the feminine gender. The Islamic religion prompts the Persians to dress in a similar way with the Arabs who must put on a gown as the religion and culture demand. The Persians have a long, rich history concerning their art. A small group of Persians still hold to the beliefs of Zoroastrianism that once served as one of the leading religions worldwide. Iran is the leading nation with individuals who ascribe to Zoroastrianism with about 20,000 followers (Roshwald, 2013). The believers of Zoroastrianism hold to the ideology that there are two deities; Ahriman who is in control of a person’s evil deeds and Azhura Mazda who determines a person’s goodness (Roshwald, 2013). The artwork that borrows aspects from the west and east entails calligraphy, glasswork, carpet-weaving, textile design, miniature-paining, and pottery. The Persians use a broad range of instruments to compose music that covers many themes. The community employs musical tools such as the tonbak (a goblet drum), the kamanche (a type of a fiddle), dotar, violin, setar, and tanbar (Roshwald, 2013). Some of the common themes in the songs by the Persians include love, religion, politics, and social life among others.

The Communities’ Relations with Islam and the Other Religions

The Islamic faith dominates in the Middle East as already noted and this increases people’s relations with the religion. The groups that adhere to Islamic regulations act in accordance with the requirements for fear of victimization or public ridicule for failing to honor what the religion demands. The Arabs and the Persians, for example, dress in line with the religion’s guidelines which show that the individuals respect Islam (Roshwald, 2013). A majority of the Citizens also try to maintain the Islamic prayers that every Muslim must recite during the day and before retiring to bed. Furthermore, a majority of nations inhabited by the Arabs such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, as well as that country occupied by the Persians such as Iran and Iraq create a government that follows the Islamic sharia laws. The sharia, for instance, demands that money-lending institutions such as banks should not demand additional fees from borrowers and terms this as an illegal way of making money. The Islamic law further prohibits men and women from participating in certain actions such as adultery and corruption which may have severe punishment such as stoning to death or flogging. The observation of the Islamic guidelines and the creating of governments that function under the guidelines of the Islamic laws confirm that the communities that inhabit the Middle East have a strong connection with Islam.

It is evident that even though the Turks and the Kurdish continue to fight in Syria, the case remains to be political and not religious, which further proofs that the inhabitants of the Middle East have no problem with the Islamic religion. The Turks who receive massive support from Turkey fight against Kurdish fighters who are part of the  YPG (Popular Protection Units) and who receive world-wide acknowledgment for their efforts to eradicate IS (Islamic State is also known as ISIS) (Roshwald, 2013). The Turks view the YPG as an addition of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) that functions as Kurdish-Turkish rebel group struggling for autonomy since the early 1980s (Roshwald, 2013). The Turks are also wary of the idea that the Kurds may seize Azaz, while the Kurds blame the Turks of relying on the support of the U.S. in the pretext of suppressing ISIS to launch attacks on the PKK in Iraq and Turkey. Roshwald (2013) even writes that “the Turks openly support Al-Qaeda and the IS terror groups urging them to attack the Kurdish fighters who struggle to attain freedom.” The description of the confrontations between the communities that dominate the Middle East, however, does not develop any indication of religious wrangles but instead, what comes out are the political variations in the communities for the Middle East.

The Muslims in the Middle East adhere to the requirement that every believer should visit the Mecca at one point of their lives. The visit to the Mecca shows how the Islamic citizens in this region value the religion’s requirements and how individuals would try their best to fulfill what faith requires of them. Children do not visit the Mecca and only people above the age of 18 years have the right to visit the holy place to submit their prayers to the Almighty.


Other Minority Groups in the Middle East

Apart from the Arab, the Kurdish, the Turkish, and the Persians, other minority groups inhabit the Middle East. The Yazidis are a descendant of the Northern Kurdish whose origin is the northern part of Mesopotamia (Roshwald, 2013). One of the different ideologies of the Yazidisis is that any member of the community who gets into marriage with a non-Yazidi ceases to be part of the community. The group comprises of individuals who adhere to varying religious beliefs such as Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism and it is evident persons in this cluster are very religious people. They believe that God is the creator of heaven and earth, and also believe in life after death (Roshwald, 2013). The Middle East nations such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan also host the Circassians who are mostly Sunni Muslims. Members of the community mostly speak the Circassian language which has three major dialects and several sub-dialects. Some Circassians speak Arabic, Turkish, English, Hebrew, and Russian. The Circassians have a similar ideology with the Arabs that men deserve to be in the leadership regarding direction and decision-making (Roshwald, 2013). The Samaritans whose numbers seem to be decreasing is also part of the population in the Middle East. Ancestrally, the Samaritan community originated from the tribe of Manasseh and the tribe of Ephraim who were the sons of Joseph. A considerable group migrated to nations such as Iraq, Jordan, and Iran where they practice Samaritan, Christianity, and Judaism. Finally, the Lurs who are part of the Persian community dominate some regions of Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait. The community speaks the Lurish language and show diversity in the way they practice religion (Roshwald, 2013). A majority of the Lurs are Shia Muslims even though others practice Mithraism, Zoroastrianism, and Manichaeism. The description of the minority groups in the Middle East provides insight that the region comprises of many ethnic groups.


The dominant communities in the Middle East exhibit some similar and different features that one must know to understand the lifestyles of the persons dwelling in this part of the globe. The Arabs are the largest group in the Middle East and mostly speak the Arabic language and adhere to the Islamic religion. The Kurds who are also part of the Middle East share a common feature with the Arabs in the sense that both groups have high numbers of Muslims. The Kurds, however, have individuals who adhere to other religions such as Yarsanism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity. The third group dwelling in the Middle East (the Turks) exhibits a unique lifestyle to a majority of the inhabitants of the region. A majority of the Turks are Christians while some practice Judaism. The Turks who speak Turkish do not oppose the Islamic religion but hold constant political attacks to the Kurdish community that it blames for the occurrence of terror attacks in Syria and other parts of the Middle East. The Persians also form part of the Middle East population, and as it emerges in the report, a large number of individuals belonging to the Islamic community. The Persians speak a variety of dialects which include the Lurish language and the Tat language that belong to the Lurish and the Caucasian people respectively. Other minority groups in the Middle East include the Yazidis, the Circassians, and the Lurs.









Amour, P. (2016). Israel, the Arab Spring, and the unfolding regional order in the Middle East: A strategic assessment. British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 44(3), 293-309.

Carley, P. (1995). Turkey’s role in the Middle East. New York, NY: United States Institute of Peace.

Gellner, E. (1983). Nations and nationalism. New York, NY: Cornell University Press.

Hobsbawm. E. (1990). Nations and nationalism since 1780: Programme, myth, reality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Roshwald, A. (2013). Nationalism in the Middle East, 1876-1945. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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