The world we live in today is torn by war, and rife with misunderstanding. There is much hatred and intolerance. In America there is an especially dark aura over a specific group of people — Arabs. As Americans, it seems that we almost fear anyone from the Middle East. At the very least, I feel it would be safe to say many people here in America distrust them. But theirs is actually a very rich and wonderful culture, and the people are happy, energetic individuals with a love for God, music and good food.

Since 9/11, and from a few similar incidents, the world has seen the face of Islamic terrorism. These acts are generally justified by the idea of “Jihad,” which means “struggle.” The news stations give little differentiation between Islam and Islamic Fundamentalists, or extremists. The result is, unfortunately, that the generally peaceful and pleasant religion of Islam, and all of its followers, are incorrectly labeled to be anti-American “Jihadists.” There is a similar situation that has arisen locally, between Mormons and the Mormon Fundamentalists that practice polygamy and dress like it is still the 19th century. The result, of course, being that people in general, educated only by what they see on the news, think that all Mormons must have multiple wives.

While living in Madagascar, I came in contact with many members of the Islamic faith who struck me as the nicest and most sociable people I had ever met. I have since met and developed deep friendships with various Muslim individuals. I have learned several things about which I was previously ignorant, but are nevertheless important to understand.

First, not all Arabs are Muslim. There are many people from all over the Middle East that are of Arab ethnicity, but are Jewish and Christian as well. There are also varying degrees of strictness in different countries. Some countries, like Saudi Arabia, are extremely restrictive of women’s rights and enforce heavily religious laws. Egypt, on the other hand, tends to be more relaxed in its enforcement of religious standards in the secular realm.

The Middle East has some of the richest culture and history of anywhere on earth. This could be because it includes the region that is often referred to as “the cradle of civilization.” Many of the historical sites and cities we learn about in school and in the Bible are located in the Middle East. Babylon and Nineveh are in Iraq; Mount Sinai is in Egypt, along with the pyramids and all the ancient Pharaohs; and Jerusalem is in Israel. These cultures have been thriving for thousands of years, and as a result, have very colorful traditions, beautiful artwork and wonderful cuisine.

The people are friendly and inviting, and will go out of their way to help you with whatever you need. In fact, if you are visiting some houses in Iraq and you compliment something in the house, the family will feel obligated to give it to you and will be insulted if you don’t take it. Dancing and laughing are encouraged, and Islam also has many things in common with Mormonism, the dominant religion in this area. Neither religion is supposed to drink alcohol or engage in premarital sex, and smoking and other activities are discouraged on the basis that “…he [the Prophet] commands them what is just, and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good, and prohibits them from what is bad…”

There is so much more to the Middle East than war and Jihad. It is a fascinating culture and a different perspective. If you are from the Middle East or would like to learn more about the Middle East or Arabic, or Islam, or anything related, or just want to have some fun, come join us at the Middle Eastern Cultural Studies Club. Contact us at (321) 506-0109, or email [email protected]