Keys to Understanding the Middle East
Alam Payind, Ohio State University
Melinda McClimans, Ohio State University
Copyright Year: 2017
Publisher: The Ohio State University Pressbooks
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For a short introduction to the Middle East, the book does an excellent job of being comprehensive with regards to linguistic and religious diversity. It also raises excellent theoretical discussions with regards to naming of Middle East,... read more
For a short introduction to the Middle East, the book does an excellent job of being comprehensive with regards to linguistic and religious diversity. It also raises excellent theoretical discussions with regards to naming of Middle East, misconceptions people have about the region, etc. The glossary is very good as are the many maps and tables throughout the book.
The book is fairly accurate, which is indeed an accomplishment given that the text is also a basic introduction and so there is only so much nuance that it can introduce. Nonetheless, it does an excellent job of covering many key fundamentals accurately. For example, the book lumps Sephardic Jews under Mizrahi Jews, when in fact these are different Jewish communities with different customs (even if slightly), and if anything the modern state of Israel does the reverse: it lumps Mizrahi Jews under Sephardic Jews. But by and large the text is fairly accurate.
The book should remain relevant and should not be very difficult to update as and when needed. Again, since it covers introductory material, much of the material will not need updating (Islamic belief in judgment day will remain as true 20 years from now as it is now). Some other minor inaccuracies, e.g. origins of the Yazidi religion, or painting too rosy a picture of Sufism as inclusive and open stance towards all other religions, can be easily corrected over time.
The prose is lucid and accessible for undergraduates.
The book stays consistent in both its terminology, cross-referencing, and its broader goals.
There are a few cross-references in the text (especially when discussing the concept of Middle East or population demographics). The text is fairly modular and allows for using in small chunks rather than assigning even the larger chapter itself. The one thing that gets in the way, perhaps, of doing that are the fantastic images and tables. They would encourage, in my opinion, assigning larger chunks of a chapter.
The book is organized fairly well in terms of the chapters and the various subheadings.
There were quite a few problems with the pdf interface of the text. There were some repeated maps (such as the Turkic language map), and often labels for images and tables were not on the same page as the actual image or table. There also seemed to be too much white space at times.
The text contains some grammatical errors.
The text definitely depicts a culturally diverse Middle East. The chapter on linguistic diversity especially stands out in this regard, although the other chapters also highlight the cultural diversity of the region.
I absolutely loved the images found in the text. The tables are also excellent as are the wonderful maps. I would highly recommend instructors using the various maps, tables and images even if they find that the text is too basic for their needs (as I certainly did).
The text covers all the areas it sets out to address appropriately, moving from a discussion of languages in the Middle East (ending with a discussion of Arabic), to the religious context (with a suitable focus on the diversity of religious... read more
The text covers all the areas it sets out to address appropriately, moving from a discussion of languages in the Middle East (ending with a discussion of Arabic), to the religious context (with a suitable focus on the diversity of religious affiliations in the Middle East), to the Middle East during the modern period. An extensive glossary of key terms appears at the end of the book. There is also a Table of Contents, but no index at the back of the book. One important factor to mention here is the attention paid to Afghanistan throughout, something one generally does not find in an introductory textbook on the Middle East.
Developed from many years of experience teaching students in International Studies at the Ohio State University, Keys to Understanding the Middle East offers readers accurate introductory content about the Middle East: languages, religions, historical context, and politics. A highlight is the book’s inclusion of solid material about modernization, the non-aligned movement, and Western imperialism in the second half of the twentieth century.
Because the book avoids the immediately contemporary period and limits its treatment of the modern period to the twentieth century for the most part, the material included will continue to remain relevant far into the future. In the coming years, additional material could be added to directly address the Middle East during the early twenty-first century.
The textbook is eminently clear in how it deals with its subjects in a lucid, straightforward language that should be accessible to a high-school-, or possibly even middle-school-level reader. Jargon is either avoided or immediately explained. The glossary at the end of the book is also a useful resource.
The textbook is consistent across the three chapters, introduction, and conclusion with its terms and approach.
The book is highly modular, even within the three chapters. Shorter sections (e.g. “Gamal Abdul Nasser and Non-Alignment”) could be excised from the text and used independently of the larger book’s framework. Overall, the text is presented in manageable chunks throughout, making an instructor’s job of choosing what to give for a specific reading assignment simple.
The progression of topics in the three chapters proceeds in a logical, clear manner.
In the PDF version of the text that I consulted, the book cover and associated images (which are cited on page 2 of the PDF) are missing entirely. There are also some formatting issues that should be addressed, especially in the case of other images within the text. Take, for example, the photographs of “Modernizing Leaders” Reza Shah Pahlavi, Amanullah Khan, and Mustafa Kemal Aratürk on pp. 86-88 of the document (not of the PDF). There is quite a bit of white space on these pages outside of the images, and this also often happens between sections. Furthermore, there are some minor issues with text not appearing correctly and other typography problems. (E.g., on the same pages, see the mistaken “?” inserted between the alif and nūn of Antoin when written in Arabic script or the misplaced umlaut in Atatürk’s name that appears above the “r” not the “u”.) Lastly, the problem of spacing also shows up on pages v-vi in the document where the authors include their Romanization chart for Arabic letters. This is likely a result of the conversion of the document into a PDF, but it could be easily fixed.
There are, every now and then, issues with the use of articles. For instance, on page ix, we find, “Giza, district of Cairo where pyramids…,” missing the “a” before “district.” There are also some minor errors in the transliterated Arabic or Persian. Sa‘di Shirazi’s name is transliterated as “Saadi Shirazi” only two pages after the book’s Romanization Chart, which indicates that the ʿayn will be transliterated with an apostrophe ('), not the “a” that we see in "Saadi." Consider also the transliteration of al-jihād al-aṣghar and al-jihād al-akbar rendered as "Jihad al-Asghar" and "Jihad al-Akbar." The missing macrons or diacritical marks are not an issue, particularly in an introductory textbook, but the missing definite article on jihad in both instances is incorrect. Elsewhere, we find the term muadhdhin (a person who does the call to prayer) rendered as muadhan (pp. 64, 119), which leaves out the repetition of the geminated second radical in the word and, unfortunately, would be read by someone who knows Arabic not in the active sense, but rather in the passive due to the transposition of the (correct) “i” into an “a.” These last mistakes reflect the authors’ research abilities in Arabic, but indicate a lack of fluency in the language. In a future edition, I would suggest avoiding transliterated Arabic in these cases and instead, for instance, using the anglicized “muezzin,” which better reflects the actual sounds of the word for a reader that has no experience with transliterated Arabic. Alternatively, a consultant fluent in Arabic could also be brought in to check over transliterations.
The book makes a point of including material on a variety of different Middle Eastern languages, faith traditions, and countries. It is fair and unbiased in its treatment of its various subjects. I would perhaps have expected yet more space to be devoted to Arabic, in the chapter on languages, and Islam, in the chapter on faith and religious identity, but I understand the authors’ choice to bring more balance to their approach.
A very good introduction to language, culture, religion and the impact of imperialism on the region. Certainly not an advanced text, but challenges the common misperceptions held by the West and often conveyed in the media. read more
A very good introduction to language, culture, religion and the impact of imperialism on the region. Certainly not an advanced text, but challenges the common misperceptions held by the West and often conveyed in the media.
The content gives a nuanced view of cultural differences and the diversity of the region with good maps and images. Of course everything has some bias, but this text again challenges conventional Western wisdom/bias regarding development and the impact of colonialism in the Middle East.
This is not a text that gives an overview of current affairs in the region, but provides the necessary background over which to lay current events. It will not be immediately out of date, but far from it. In this regard it could supplement a current events approach in the classroom.
The writing is very accessible and would be appropriate for an Introductory level Middle East course. A very adequate glossary at the end provides review of cultural, Arabic and religious terms for immediate review.
This text does a remarkable job of explaining many terms across linguistic boundaries for consistency. This show how many very disparate cultures share multiple religious similarities.
Is is absolutely divisible. I plan to use Chapter 1 & 2 as an introduction to Middle East Politics course that I teach. I will then use Ch. 3 later to challenges the assumptions made in Bernard Lewis' book, "What Went Wrong" about why the Middle East fell behind the West or if that is even an appropriate comparison.
The introduction lays out the very clear structure for the three chapters, then follows the plan as delineated. This is something that certainly could be debated, but I might move the "Defining the term Middle East" section of Chapter 3 up to the beginning with the similar section of the introduction.
Navigating the text is very easy, but I might not skip quite so much white space between images, maps or pages. Some photos are embedded within the text and others are at the end of each section. This could be made uniform.
I found no grammatical errors. I found one typographical error at the bottom of Page 47 on the last line: "Kurds a" should be Kurds are. Secondly, one picture caption on P. 38 states "the previous Jesus mosaic image" is in fact several pages later.
The text in my opinion is far from culturally insensitive or offensive. In fact it provides instruction to aid others in cultural awareness of the region to avoid that trap.
The book was very comprehensive. It explained more than just religion. It described the forms of government. The book also compared Islam to Judaism and Christianity. The resource also showed famous people and places of worship from all... read more
The book was very comprehensive. It explained more than just religion. It described the forms of government. The book also compared Islam to Judaism and Christianity. The resource also showed famous people and places of worship from all different backgrounds, not just Islam. The resource even described languages in the Arab world. There weren't any biased viewpoints or explanations. At the end of the book, there was an index and glossary.
There are times when literature can be very biased. However, in this textbook, there was a very thorough description of all of the different sects of Islam. Also, the history of Islam wasn't one-sided. There was an accurate description of history. The book also gave a very accurate description of nation states and stateless nations.
The content is written accurately. I appreciate that the text focused on historical content. The content isn't in so much of a chronological order; the textbook is organized more by topic. If the text needs to be revised, it will be easy to add additional text.
The book is written in very clear, academic language. Furthermore, the book does not contain to much jargon or technical terminology. I found that it was not difficult to read.
The book has the same message and terminology the whole way through. The book doesn't switch back and forth between terminologies during the book. Also, each chapter has the same structure all the way through the textbook.
The book is divided into chapters. I found each chapter easy and quick to read. As I was reading each chapter, I imagined using this text in my course. It would be very easy to assign reading.
I am not familiar with a lot of Arab history. However, this book was very easy to read. One topic flowed into the next. There was not any disconnectedness.
The layout and the navigation of the book is without any problems. However, this book should be opened on a computer. If it is opened on a cell phone, a couple of the images are cut in half.
I am an English as a Second Language structure. So, I work a lot with grammar. This resource didn't have any grammatical errors.
I have many Arab friends and consider myself to be knowledgeable about Arab culture. The textbook was not offensive or discriminatory in any way. The book compared Islam, Christianity and Judaism. The book even acknowledged Jesus and Abraham as real people in history.
This was the first time to read a book about Arab history. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and I learned a lot. I would recommend its use in a classroom.
The textbook covers many important topics and subtopics for understanding the Middle East, especially pertaining to religion and languages, and therefore culture. There was a certain emphasis on Islam as a doctrine but less so as it is lived in... read more
The textbook covers many important topics and subtopics for understanding the Middle East, especially pertaining to religion and languages, and therefore culture. There was a certain emphasis on Islam as a doctrine but less so as it is lived in the Middle East, particularly the cultural aspects of the religion and how the communities in the ME share and diverge in celebrating and expressing their religion(s). I especially appreciated the well-sought images and detailed maps that accompanied the text. The maps, tables, glossary, index, key terms and explained concepts all aided in the understanding of important criteria that define the ME. These illustrations helped to refute and rectify certain misconceptions and generalizations. I would have appreciated more on the Christian sects that are particular to the ME (The Maronite’s and the Copts). The language section of the book was in depth and accurate. The last chapter was able to identify key moments and persons in the ME, without which the readers’ understanding is incomplete and flawed. The authors of the book say that “It is intended for readers who have never studied the ME, or experts who may wish to fill gaps in their knowledge of the region from other disciplines.” Taking this into consideration, I would say that the book has achieved its objective and would be best used as a preparatory resource/ general knowledge.
I found the content of the textbook accurate and unbiased, especially in the discussion of sensitive issues such as the “jihad” and in comparing/contrasting different faiths. I thought the use of the diagrams and tables for this purpose were very effective, easy to follow and memorable. On another note, page 73 was repeated twice and the placement of its repetition made little sense. There were a few typos that do not hinder the flow of the book.
This textbook is not time sensitive when it comes to the chapters on religion, language and history. The only two issues that are up-to-date and that can change over time are the demographics (percentage of Muslims in a country) and use of language (number of speakers). I thought the section with images of celebrities and a brief description of their nationalities and ethnicities can be edited over time to include more relevant people.
The text flows smoothly. It is easy to comprehend and it is not technical. When there is a key term that needs to be explained, there is a box defining those terms. There is enough background information to understand the subject matter and though it is at times controversial and sensitive, the authors did a great job in making it compressible for the reader. The sentences are short and straight-forward and I did not find myself having to read between the lines or re-read sections. The prose is user-friendly and accessible.
The beginning of the textbook explained the definition of the Middle East and reiterated it as needed throughout the text. The chapters were clearly defined and there is a consistency in the style of writing of the textbook and in the terminology and use of framework. The transliteration table in the beginning of the textbook is clearly used by the authors to have a consistent pronunciation of the Arabic words/texts used and I found that very effective and easy to follow.
The text can be easily divided into smaller reading sections within the course. The instructor can choose what to focus their lecture on and what to dismiss as the book moves from the general to the specific in a reverse pyramid fashion. The first and last chapters can be reorganized and realigned to better serve the teaching objectives of the instructor and is not overly dense.
The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion.
The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader.
The text contains some grammatical errors. However, these errors do not hinder comprehension.
The textbook is relatively unbiased and respectful to all religions/faiths/communities and countries presented. There is enough examples to cover all the key points and information.
Thank you for including this book in the Open Textbook Library.
Table of Contents
Chapter One: Languages
- Linguistic Groups
- Arabic's Influence in the Region
- Islamic Expansion
Chapter Two: Faith and Religious Identity
- Faith and Religious Identity
- Diverse Religious Identities of the Middle East
- Religious DIversity
- Islam in Middle Eastern Societies
- What is Shar'ia Law
- Religious Pluralism
- Prayer, A Part of Daily Life for Muslims Around the World
- The Mystical Tradition of Sufism, or Tasawwuf
- Who are the Salafis/Wahabis?
Chapter Three: The Middle East and the Impact of Imperialism
- The Middle East and the Impact of Imperialism
- Defining the Term "Middle East"
- National Borders as Foreign Intervention
- The Impact of Imperialism on the Region
- Modernization Versus Westernization
- Gamal Abdul Nasser and Non-Alignment
- Nation States and Stateless Nations
- The U.S. and Post-Bandung Imperial Dominance
About the Book
This book is intended for readers who have never studied the Middle East, or experts who may wish to fill gaps in their knowledge of the region from other disciplines. Whether for establishing or deepening one's knowledge of the region, these fundamentals are important to know. The languages, cultural, religious and sectarian communities of the region, and selected turning points and influential people in history are starting points for gaining an understanding of the diverse contexts of the region. It isbased on introductoryand graduatecourseson thecontemporaryMiddle East, which the Center's director, Dr. Alam Payind, has been teaching for the past 30 years. The book's co-author,Melinda McClimans,hastaught these and other courses with him, as well as her own,for the past 15years. The material isintendedengage with diverse – even conflicting – culturaland historicalperspectives,andways of perceivingboth Middle Easternandworld historyfrom perspectives within the region. It is not intended to reinforce a monolithic or matter-of-fact perception of the region.For this and many other reasons, images are an important aspect of the knowledge presented. Each chapter starts with links to its image galleries, along with other visual aids and key elements.
About the Contributors
Dr. Alam Payind is the Director of the Middle East Studies Center (MESC), a senior teaching member of the International Studies Program and the Near Eastern Languages and Cultures department, a liaison for the Office of International Students and Scholars, and a member of University’s International Programs Task Force. Born and raised in Afghanistan, and previously a holder of government and academic positions in Kabul, he speaks Pashto, Dari and Urdu with native fluency. He continues to conduct field work, provide consultations on a regular basis in Afghanistan and has visited the country 13 times since September 11th, 2001. He travels extensively within the Afghan borders, and during recent trips he has been witness to the Taliban’s resurgence in Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul, and other provinces of Afghanistan. Besides being a professor at the Ohio State University, he is still part of the faculty at Kabul University in Afghanistan, and is a consultant to the Afghan government in its educational reconstruction efforts. In late 2006, Dr. Payind was appointed as Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United Kingdom which he turned down for personal and professional reasons. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science and Higher Education, as well as an M.A. in Political Science in 1977 from Indiana University, his M.Sc. in Higher Education from Indiana University in 1972; and his BA in Political Science & Islamic Law from Kabul University in 1966. Dr. Payind served in the Afghan government as the Director General of Cultural and Foreign Relations, and was a professor at Kabul University before the Soviet invasion in 1979. Dr. Payind has seen Afghanistan through many phases: under King Zahir Shah, President Dawud, the ten-year Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the Mujahiddin regime, followed by the Taliban regime, and the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. Unlike most political scientists, he has fluency in the languages of the region he studies and literary competence, as well. His combination of academic qualifications and life experience uniquely qualifies him to give the cultural, historical, and current social context for recent events. He teaches “Introduction to the Modern Middle East,” and the interdisciplinary upper-division “Contemporary Issues in the Middle East,” offered through International Studies and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. He co-directs the Center’s Summer Institute on Middle Eastern Cultures with Professor Merry Merryfield. He provides vital consultations to press and news agencies on Middle Eastern affairs and delivers an average of 70 public lectures on Middle Eastern issues per year. Dr. Payind speaks Pashto, Persian, and Urdu, and has research capability in Arabic.
Melinda McClimans's M.A. is in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, from Ohio State, and she is currently in the Global Education doctoral program. She has lived and studied in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, studied Arabic in Cairo and Tunis, and in 1994 she enrolled in Franklin University in the Italian speaking area of Switzerland. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in 1997, and worked as an intern at the United Nations in Bangkok, Thailand, after graduating. She manages the Center’s programs, oversees the grant writing grant writing and reporting, trains oversees staff development, creates educational materials and conducts outreach to the P-12 community. As part of this she leads the annual study tour to Turkey for teachers. She has taught a class on Egyptian culture including a study tour in Egypt, she oversees and teaches in the Center’s institutes for teachers, and has co-taught online courses for teachers. She directs the Center’s teacher training program and co-creates and/or edits teacher-created instructional materials. Melinda has research ability in Arabic and French, and is fluent in Italian.