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Middle East Facts

To build awareness of Middle East history and culture, and to foster a more welcoming environment for ISU’s international students from the region, students in HIST 3354 Modern Middle East compiled a list of facts about the region, which was circulated around campus. The project received early coverage in the Idaho State Journal. Below are some of the facts they compiled. The project showcased student knowledge, but also showed how students used this knowledge to contribute to community-wide discussions about Middle Eastern students on campus.

  1. A variety of countries make up the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), including Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
  2. Widely spoken languages in the Middle East and North Africa include Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Berber, Kurdish, French, and English.
  3. The Middle East has been referred to as ?the crossroads of the world? because it connects the three continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe.
  4. The majority of Muslims do not live in the Middle East. More Muslims live in South Asia than in the Middle East and North Africa combined.
  5. The country with the world?s largest Muslim population is Indonesia, which is in South Asia, not the Middle East.
  6. Roughly 60% of the population in the Middle East is under 25 years old.
  7. The term “Arab” generally refers to people who speak Arabic as their first language.
  8. The majority of Arabs are Muslims, but the majority of Muslims are not Arabs.
  9. The words Islam and Muslim are derived from the Arabic word salam, which means peace.
  10. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are the three largest monotheistic and Abrahamic religions in the world, each of which originates in the Middle East.
  11. The Islamic calendar is based on lunar cycles, unlike the Gregorian and other calendars that are based on the Earth?s rotation around the sun.
  12. The Arabic language uses the same punctuation marks as English, but some of them are inverted or reversed.
  13. Arabic is the most commonly spoken language in the Middle East. It is the official language of more than 20 countries and is spoken by approximately 300 million people worldwide.
  14. Sunni Muslims make up roughly 85% - 90% of the global Muslim population and 60% of the population in the Middle East.
  15. The global population of Muslims is approximately 1.6 billion people, roughly 23% of the world’s population.
  16. The term “mocha” is derived from the city of Mocha in Yemen, where coffee production was commercialized by the year 1400.
  17. In 1997, three men from Yemen tried to sue NASA for trespassing on Mars, claiming they had inherited it from their ancestors 3,000 years ago.
  18. Arabic is the world’s 5th most widely spoken language after Chinese, Spanish, English, and Hindi.
  19. Some of the world’s oldest civilizations were connected with parts of today’s Middle East. These include the Egyptian, Sumerian, Assyrian, and Babylonian civilizations.
  20. Three of the seven wonders of the ancient world are in the Middle East: the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria.
  21. Cairo, Egypt is the largest city in the Middle East with a population of roughly 16 million.
  22. The world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, is 2,717 feet tall and the second tallest building is the Royal Clock Tower Hotel in Mecca, which is 1,972 feet tall.
  23. The five pillars of Islam are prayer, pilgrimage to Mecca, the profession of faith, fasting, and almsgiving.
  24. The Prophet Muhammed had four daughters and three sons. Each of these children died before Muhammad, except Fatimah.
  25. There are no permanent rivers in Saudi Arabia, but the country does have permanently or intermittently dry riverbeds, which are called wadis.
  26. Ibn al-Haytham, the eleventh-century Middle Eastern scientist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher, wrote a seven-volume book on optics and is widely considered to be one of the world?s first theoretical physicists.
  27. Abu Rayhan al-Biruni, the eleventh-century Middle Eastern scholar, explained the lunar eclipse six centuries prior to Galileo.
  28. Ibn Bajjah, the twelfth-century Middle Eastern scholar, proposed an early version of Newton’s third law of motion, which states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
  29. Psychiatric hospitals were first constructed in Baghdad and Cairo in the 8th and 9th centuries CE.
  30. Tulips were cultivated by the Ottomans and exported to Europe in the early modern period, resulting in “tulip mania” in which tulip bulbs were bought and sold at exorbitant prices, especially in the Netherlands.
  31. Coffee houses were first popularized in the capital city of the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul, in the sixteenth century.
  32. Many English words are derived from Arabic, especially words that relate to science, which indicates that Europeans heavily borrowed from Middle Eastern scientists in the Middle Ages. Borrowed words include: alcohol, algebra, alkali, almanac, amalgam, chemistry, elixir, lemon, magazine, sodium, zero, tobacco, guitar, and traffic.
  33. Middle Eastern scientists in the Middle Ages made great contributions to science and launched entirely new fields of study, especially in algebra, chemistry, medicine, trigonometry, optics, and astronomy.
  34. The shopping mall is a derivative of the pre-modern bazaar, which flourished in the Middle East. Currently, the largest shopping mall in the world is in Dubai, which includes the major international fashion labels.
  35. The domestication of cats traces its history back to the Middle East. Archeologists have discovered evidence of cat domestication in Turkey in the sixth millennium BCE.
  36. Sufism refers to the inner mystical dimension of Islam as well as the social organization of Muslims into brotherhoods or orders.
  37. The Hadith is a collection of the reports attributed to the actions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. After the Qur?an, Hadith reports are the most authoritative source of knowledge and authority for Muslims.
  38. Lebanon’s mountainous geography and Mediterranean coastline makes it possible to ski in the morning and visit the beach in the afternoon.
  39. The popularity of Kentucky Fried Chicken in Gaza, Palestine is evidenced by the fact that some people smuggle it (along with many other goods) through tunnels from Egypt.
  40. The United Arab Emirates is attempting to build one of the first zero-carbon cities, Masdar City, with driverless electric cars and a university that will specialize in green technology.
  41. Immigrants make up roughly 90% of the population in the United Arab Emirates, most of whom are migrant workers.
  42. The Majlis al-Jinn (Congress of the Spirits) cave in Oman is one of the top 10 largest caves in the world.
  43. The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have very low crime rates, lower than Germany, the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, or New Zealand.
  44. One of the best-preserved Roman temples in the world is in Lebanon, in the Phoenician city of Baalbek, referred to as Heliopolis during the Hellenistic period.
  45. Bayt al-Hikma (?House of Wisdom?), established in ninth-century Baghdad, contained one of the largest libraries in the world and the first observatory in the Islamic world.
  46. The first mosque in the United States is known as the “Mother Mosque of America” or ?”The Rose of Fraternity Lodge,” and was built in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1934.
  47. Major bodies of water in or bordering the Middle East include the Amu Darya River, Nile River, Tigris River, Euphrates River, Jordan River, Lake Van, Lake Urmia, Suez Canal, Mediterranean Sea, Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf, Black Sea, Dead Sea, and Red Sea.
  48. Major cities in the Middle East include Damascus, Syria; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Istanbul, Turkey; Baghdad, Iraq; Tehran, Iran; Tel Aviv, Israel; Amman, Jordan; Kuwait City, Kuwait; Sanaa, Yemen; Dubai, UAE; Gaza, Palestine; and Beirut, Lebanon.
  49. The Middle East and North Africa includes diverse geographical features, such as the Zagros Mountains, Hindu Kush Mountains, Rub al-Khali Desert, the Sahara Desert, Anatolian Plateau, Kara Kum Desert, and Taurus Mountains, and the Atlas Mountains.
  50. The Dead Sea Depression is the lowest point on Earth (roughly 415 meters below sea level), and includes the Dead Sea, Sea of Galilee, Jordan River, cultivated land, and settled communities.
  51. The harp, lyre, zither, drum, and tambourine were all developed in the Middle East.
  52. Ghawar is the largest oil field in the world. Along with Safaniya (the world’s third largest oil field and largest offshore oil field), Ghawar has allowed Saudi Arabia to produce more oil than any other country.
  53. Iran is the first country in the Middle East where oil was discovered, in 1908. The Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later rebranded as British Petroleum, or BP) was formed in 1909, and the British government became its largest stakeholder in 1914.
  54. 4.3% of the land in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is farmable.
  55. Thomas Jefferson acquired a copy of the Qur?an eleven years before writing the Declaration of Independence and later obtained countless books about Middle Eastern history, languages, and Islam.
  56. Copts are the largest population of Christians in the Middle East, who speak Arabic and live primarily in Egypt and surrounding countries.
  57. The Middle East is composed of people from many ethnicities, including Arabs, Persians, Turks, Kurds, and Armenians.
  58. According to per capita income, Qatar is one of the richest countries in the world with a per capita GDP of nearly US $10,000.
  59. Idaho State University offers a student exchange program through Al Akhawayn University in Morocco.
  60. Originally Muslims faced Jerusalem when they prayed, but Muhammad later changed the direction of prayer to Mecca, where Muslims are encouraged to go for pilgrimage (hajj) at least once in their life.
  61. Similar to Catholicism and Protestantism in Christianity, Islam has two major sects: Shi’ism and Sunnism. The two Muslim sects developed after Muhammad’s death as a power struggle over who would become the Prophet?s successor.