For as much as this realm is in the news, the Middle East is not well-understood. Much of the information disseminated is based in myth and half-truths, propagated by ignorant media who espouse propaganda and no facts, or passed along by ignorant teachers at lower levels of education, or a product of the ignorance of the general population. We tend not to process what we hear in church, in classes, or media. If society could actually do that, we would be able to recognize inconsistencies when we see them.
Most people forget that Christianity has had episodes of violence in its history. Consider the Spanish. Spanish Conquistadors forced native populations to convert to Christianity or die, whether those people be Aztecs or Jews (The Spanish Inquisition). Consider the racism practiced against Africans during slavery, and even thereafter. They were seen as non-Christian pagans and therefore white Christians could treat them, or any people of color for that matter, any way they wanted.
The Christian Crusaders who sought to evict Muslims from the Holy Land their ancestors walked away from would kill Jews along the way in order to practice for anticipated battles later. The Jews killed Jesus the Christ, right? Christians killed Jews and Muslims along the way. In many portions of the Southwest Asian realm, the Muslims protected Jews and Christians from each other. Think about it: the Hebrews/Jews have existed along side Palestinians for over 4,000 years. Jews and Christians have existed along side each other for about 2,000 years. Jews, Christians, and Muslims have existed side-by-side with each other for about 1,400 years.
People forget the history of Christianity is founded within this region. The People of the Bible were not Caucasians. Most of them were Semitic people, the ancestors of the Hebrews, and Persians, and Arabs. Moses was a Hebrew, a Semitic person. Abraham probably was from southern Iran or southeast Iraq. His first son, Ishmael, born of Hagar, would go on to parent the lineage of Muhammad. Another son, Isaac, born of Sarah, would go on to parent the Hebrews. Because of Abraham’s place in religious history, he is seen as the Father of Three Religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These three religions are therefore termed, “Abramic” religions.
Islam and its adherents, Muslims, see themselves as the final stage within the Abramic religion framework. Muslims acknowledge the Tanahk, the Bible, and then add the revelations of the Mohammad, whom they see as the last prophet. Jews and Christians are People of the Book, the Qu’ran, and thus have a special place. Islam recognizes all of the people found in the Old and New Testament. Islam adds an additional work, the Qu’ran. To clear up another myth, “Allah” is not the name of the Islamic God. Allah is the Arabic word for God. Jews call God, YHWH (Yahweh), or Jehovah. Regardless of what you believe, as it really makes no difference, Muslims believe in the same God as the Jews and Christians.
Throughout history, Jews, Christians, and Muslims have been able to live together amicably, more or less. The Ottoman Turks were not friendly to Christians or Jews, though. The Ottoman Turks did use their religion, Islam, as an excuse to mistreat and abuse others, Christian, Jews, and both Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims. In recent history, since the late 1880’s, the Zionist movement had been a leading cause of conflict within the realm. The movement for the creation of a Jewish homeland (Zionism) created controversy that persists today, and into the foreseeable future. Part of the problems of today can be tied to the way in which the British and French created the boundaries of the modern Middle East, without the consent of local populations, or through revoking promises.
One must also bear this in mind: Religion exists across cultural and ethnic boundaries. What do I mean by this? What I mean is this: An Arab can be Jewish, or Christian, or Muslim. A Palestinian can be a Jew, a Christian, or a Muslim. An Israeli can be a Jew, a Christian, or a Muslim.
All of the three religions espouse Peace. Each religion has episodes of violence that contradict the teachings of their holy people. Unfortunately, people have bad memories, politicize spirituality, and states (countries) that institutionalize bigotry. What we must always keep in mind is how people use, manipulate, and corrupt religion towards their own goals. Remember, religion is a human construct, the set of cultural traits, rules, and ceremonies that humans undertake to honor their respective deity/deities. The conflict in Israel is not a religious conflict; it is a conflict over space, over landscape, and who has the right to control the scarce resource that is that landscape. When Israel fires on Palestinians, the possibility exists that those people could be Christian Palestinians, Jewish Palestinians, or Muslim Palestinians. Conversely, those Palestinians that create problems could be Muslims, Jews, or Christians. The media glosses over the complexity of cultures found in the Middle East. Rarely does a news network discuss the cultural complexity. As a result, the majority of populations, not just within the United States, but global populations, do not realize that the politics of Israel crosses into the cultures Palestinian, Arab, and Jewish Israelis.
Individuals carry mal-formed beliefs derived from erroneous information, myths, half-truths, our own bigotry, or propaganda. To make matters worse, people then make decisions based on these beliefs. Most people, by-and-large, go about their daily business, to satisfy their basic human needs, food, shelter, comfort. I personally have known people from most religions, Shinto, Hindi, Muslim, plus numerous Christian faiths, to name a few. Look at the Christians around you. How many of them go to church regularly? Tithe regularly? Pray regularly? How many do you know that attend church only at Christmas or Easter? Read their Bible every day? Muslims are the same way. The vast majority do not read the Qu’ran every day, or attend mosque, or pray. They smoke, drink alcohol, and use bad language, on occasion. They are humans, too, and susceptible to the same characteristics as everyone else. And, yes, there are Muslims that are more traditional. Christians can be that way, too. Pentecostals, Foursquare, some Southern Baptists, for example, seem extreme to more liberal or moderate Christian faiths, like Methodists or Episcopalians.
Do not let the media or talking head talk-show folks fool you: Usama bin Laden and his criminal organization is NOT representative of Islam. Most everything his group espouses is, in fact, anti-Islamic. The Taleban is the same way. The Taleban is an organization of tribes who feel their crude, misogynistic, and traditional way of life is being threatened. They also call themselves Muslims. However, again, nothing they present or espouse is supported in Islam. Ask any true Muslim; they will denounce the Taleban as a bunch of weirdos. I understand what the media broadcasts, and much of what I have said contradicts the media. Remember that any literate person can read a teleprompter.
Something must be said about religion versus customs, i.e. head scarfs, burqas, chadors, or any of the other full-length garments women, and sometimes men, wear. The wearing of veils, head scarfs, and body-length robes began well before Islam. Greeks, Persians, and Romans wore them long before Muslims. Body coverings of these types served a few purposes. Robes block the sun. Robes block dust and blowing sand. Robes also provided a way to show ones status in society. Women who wore robes and veils tended to be in the middle- to upper-class within society. Common women and prostitutes did not wear veils and wore less elaborate robes. Women in Christian societies wore them long before Muslim women.
Women in Islamic cultures may, in fact, like wearing their dresses. In Islam, the woman’s form is to be the exclusive right of the husband to see. Think about that vis-a-vis how women in modern Western society dress, where women’s forms are out there in the open for all to see, i.e. Lady Gaga, or Kim Kardasian. As a woman, consider a job interview. Do you want to be judged on how much leg you show, decolletage on display, or how your clothes fit? Or, would you rather be judged on your intellect and resume? The full-length robes worn by women can have a leveling effect. Before you judge, make sure your opinion has the weight of knowledge behind it.
A pet peeve of mine is the spelling of Israel. People get lazy about spelling “Israel,” putting the “e” before the “a” (“Isreal”). The country is “Israel,” (Izra-el). Why does the spelling matter, you might ask? That tells me you weren’t paying attention in church, Sunday school, or vacation Bible school. In the Bible, Genesis 32:28, Jacob wrestles with God, WWE-style, and wins. God changes Jacob’s name to “Israel,” as he fought both God and man, and won. In Hebrew, “Isra” means “to struggle with.” The proto-Hebrews, the people who would one day become the Hebrew people, called God, “El.” When those two elements are combined, “Isra” + “el,” we have “Israel.” Now, carry this forward to people that have similar names, like Michael, Rachael, Gabriel, Ezekiel, and so on. The “-el” portion of their names means “God.” For example, “Michael” (Mikha-el) means, “he who is like God.”
Spell “Israel” correctly.
In closing, only about 1 in 5 of Muslims around the world live in the Middle East. Indonesia is the world’s 4th largest country, in terms of population, a Muslim country, and women commonly dress as any Western person might. Malaysia is another Muslim country. India has the world’s largest Muslim minority population. And India is the world’s largest democracy. Turkey is also a democracy, and 98% Muslim.
But, the news is not going to educate you about these details.