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Geography of the Middle-east

Map of the Middle-east:

There is some debate amongst scholars as to how to categorize the countries of the Modern Middle East. What many consider to be the Middle East is not the Middle East at all. The countries of North Africa are culturally tied to the Middle East and share a common language, but they are actually a part of Africa. The central Asian countries of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, etc. are also often lumped together with the Middle East, but they are more appropriately South West and Central Asian countries. They do share some aspects of Middle East culture (namely religion) but speak very different languages and have their own indigenous customs and practices. One of the most striking things that a student of the Middle East will notice when looking at a map of the Middle East is the prevalence of water. In fact, most Middle East settlements are near either seas or rivers. Another noteworthy feature of the Middle East is its position between Africa, Europe and Asia. For centuries the Middle East has been traversed by invading armies, merchants and explorers.

The Arabian Desert

The sweeping sand dunes and barren ridges of the Arabian Desert have been a source of wonder for generations. Bedouin tribesmen have been crossing these immense expanses of desert for centuries, but most settlements in Arabia are either along the coast or near desert springs.

Iranian Plateau
The Islamic Republic of Iran sits atop an enormous plateau. The steep ridges of the plateau create a natural barrier between the Arab West and the Persian East.

The Iraqi Marshes

Many students of the Middle East are surprised to learn that in the South of Iraq there are marshes and wetlands. Sadaam Hussein drained many of these marshes displacing thousands of Iraqis who depended on them for their way of life and livelihood. The government of Iraq is now working to re-flood damaged marsh lands and restore the original wetland ecosystem.

Lebanese Pine Forests

Lebanon is famous for the pines and cedars seen in this photograph. Christian and Jewish students may recognize references to these woodlands in their scriptures. They are referred to in the Bible as the, Cedars of Lebanon.

Typical Arab Homes

Arab homes are generally built from brick. Notice that the roofs are flat. Families often retire to the rooftops in the evening to escape the heat and sleep under the stars. Another common feature of Arab homes is the absence of large clear windows facing the street (to accommodate Islamic ideals of privacy and modesty). Affluent Arabs will often have an internal courtyard that can be enjoyed by conservative Muslim women without the need to cover themselves in Islamic dress.

Caravan Sarais

The caravan sarai once played an important role in the economy of the Middle East. The ancient Middle East had few roads due to the use of camel caravans rather than wheeled vehicles. The caravan sarai was a hotel where merchants could rest their animals, get a good meal and exchange important news before continuing their journeys across the Middle East.

The Qanat System

The qanat system is an ingenious way of capturing ground water for irrigation. Middle Eastern farmers were able to dig wells down to ground water that flowed underground from the Iranian plateau. Each well was connected via an underground tunnel creating an underground irrigation system capable of transforming the dessert into farmable land.

Middle Eastern Clothing

In the modern Middle East it is possible to buy the latest Western fashions or more traditional Arab clothing such as the items showcased in this image. Arab clothing is both functional and cultural. In the largely hot and arid climate of the Middle East, loose fitting robe-like clothing is ideal for keeping cool. The baggy clothes also conceal the shape of the body in order to meet Islamic ideals of modesty. It is a common misconception that all Muslim women cover their entire bodies and either their entire face or all but their eyes. In reality, most Muslim women wear a simple head scarf and do not resort to the more extreme forms of Islamic modesty. In many places, women do not cover their hair at all. When interacting with Muslim women do not make the mistake of assuming that the absence of a head scarf equates to a lack of religiosity. Many very religious Muslim women do not cover their hair, and there are many women who do cover themselves that are not particularly religious.