Why You Should Minor in Middle Eastern Studies

What do you first think of when you hear about the Middle East? War? Violence? Terrorism? Many people in the United States and around the world react that way. When I was studying abroad in Morocco (which isn't a part of the Middle East) and would tell locals that I wanted to work in the Middle East in the future, they would ask me "Why? There is nothing there but violence."

I'm not here to explain exactly what the Middle East is, as I've never been there and, just like any other region, it can't be summed up with a blanket statement. I’m here to tell you why you should minor in Middle Eastern studies, and/or learn all about it. So here are my top three reasons why:

 

1. The History 


The Middle East consists of 18 countries, each with their own rich and diverse history. The world’s earliest civilizations emerged here, which is why it's called the “Cradle of Civilization.” The Middle East was the first region to experience both the Bronze Age and the Iron Age; it was also the birthplace of most Iranian religions as well as the Abrahamic and Gnostic religions. During the Golden Age of Islam, the Middle East was at the forefront of technology, education, law, theology, philosophy, mathematics, natural sciences, engineering, healthcare, travel, and the arts. This gave way to clocks, sinks, soap, toothbrush, universities, surgical instruments, maps, algebra, restaurants, central heating, windmill, public library, public hospitals, compass, the scientific method, drinking coffee, and so many more.

 

(The House of Scholars in Baghdad during the Golden Age by Yahya al-Wasiti - 1237)

2. The Culture 


Each country in the Middle East has their own unique culture and sub-cultures, but at the same time, there are common cultural practices and traditions that are present across the region. Arabs, Assyrians, Kurds, Yazidis, Persians, Circassians, etc. are represented in the Middle East. These different cultures can also possess  similar practices and symbols such as the khamsa (or the hand of Fatima), hospitality, drinking tea/coffee, music, cuisine (so much bread), clothing (such as the keffiyeh), and the importance of poetry.

(Palestinian Dabke)

3. Language 


Arabic isn’t the only language spoken in the Middle East. The top five languages spoken are Arabic, Farsi, Turkish, Kurdish, and Hebrew but there are 20 minority languages spoken in the region and about 30 dialects of Arabic. If you take Arabic in a classroom setting you’re probably going to learn Fusha or Modern Standard Arabic, which will get you by in the Middle East but it is more common for locals to speak in their native dialects. And if you’re planning on focusing on one particular country or region of the Middle East, it may be a good idea to learn that dialect. For example, I studied abroad in Morocco last semester and learned a bit of Darija because that’s what everyone speaks. However, I plan on working in the Levant region (Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, and Lebanon) after I graduate, which means that I should probably start learning the Levantine dialect.

 

(“Arabic” in Arabic)

العربية

(“Farsi” in Farsi) 

فارسی

(“Turkish” in Turkish)

Türkçe

(“Kurdish” in Kurdish with the Hawar alphabet using Latin Script)

Kurdî (“Hebrew” in Hebrew) עִברִית

 

There are so many amazing things about the Middle East to learn about! There's so much history, rich culture, diversity, and so much more that makes the Middle East one of the best regions (if not the best in my opinion) to study! If you're ever unsure about what you're interested in, consider taking a Middle Eastern studies class! You'll never know how much you love it until you try it. Take it from someone who has.