Middle East Explained - The Religions, Languages, and Ethnic Groups

This video is going to summarize the

main languages, religions, and ethnic

groups of the Middle East, and briefly

explain some of the minority ethnic

groups. Where the Middle East exactly is

and why it has that name could be its

own video, but for the purposes of this

video the Middle East is a region at the

crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa. It

has no strict definition, but usually

includes Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Syria, Iraq,

Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi

Arabia, Yemen, Oman, United Arab Emirates,

Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait. Afghanistan and

Cyprus are sometimes included in the

definition, but those countries could be

their own videos. Technically every

country could be its own video but since

the ethnic groups often span multiple

countries this video will put them in a

broader context. Ethnicity is a

complicated concept for when groups of

people identify one another based on

shared language, religion, and cultural

traditions. The main religions of the

Middle East are Islam, Christianity, and

Judaism. Islam is by far the most common

religion in the Middle East, but most

Muslims live outside the Middle East.

Some of the countries where the majority

of the population is muslim are in North

Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

A significant number of Muslims live on

the east coast of Africa, but they're

only the majority in Somalia. Albania and

Bosnia has slight Muslim majorities, with

the Christian minorities and the

irreligious making up just less than

fifty percent of the population. Kosovo

is a Muslim majority country which is

not recognized by the United Nations, but

it is recognized by many UN members.

Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and

Indonesia are also muslim-majority

countries. Due to these countries high

populations, Indonesia, Pakistan, and

Bangladesh are first, second, and fourth

in the world by total number of Muslims.

The country with the third highest

Muslim population is actually India

despite only about fourteen percent of

the population being Muslim. It's just

that India's population of over 1.3

billion is so high that fourteen percent

is over 180 million. The country with the

fifth highest number of Muslims is

Nigeria with a total population of 190

million, which is about four percent

Muslim, mostly in the North, representing over 90

million people. In the Middle East most

of the countries are majority Muslim, but

Israel is majority Jewish. As well there

are significant Christian minorities all

over the Middle East. Most notably is

Lebanon where over forty percent of the

population is christian. It gets even

more complicated though. Islam is divided

into two main groups Sunni and Shia. The

majority of Muslims worldwide are Sunni,

but Shia muslims are concentrated in the

Middle East. It is common for Sunni and

Shia Muslims to live in the same country,

but in general Iran, Azerbaijanm and the

south of Iraq are Shia, while the north of

Iraq is Sunni. Shia Muslims are also

concentrated in the interior of Turkey

and Afghanistan and the coastal region

of Syria and Lebanon. The people of the

island of Bahrain and the nearby Saudi

coast are Shia, but the royal family of the

Bahrain, and therefore the politically

powerful class, is Sunni. Northern Yemen

and neighboring parts of Saudi Arabia

are Shia, while the rest of Yemen is

Sunni. This divided couple with the fact

that the north and south have only been

unified since 1990 contributes to the

tensions in the Yemeni civil war. The

country of Oman has its own sect of

Islam called Ibadism which predates

the sunni-shia split. Iran and Saudi

Arabia used the sunni-shia divide to

compete for influence in the Middle East,

with Iran generally supporting Shias, and

Saudi Arabia generally supporting

Sunnis. The religious divide is

accompanied by a language divide with

Iran speaking Persian, and the rest of

the middle east except Israel and Turkey speak

Arabic. Overall the most common languages

in the Middle East are Arabic, Turkish,

Persian, Kurdish, and Hebrew, which can be

split into three language families of

related languages. Persian and Kurdish

are both in the Iranian branch of the

indo-european language family. This means

they are closely related to each other

and distantly related to some of

languages of Europe and India. Persian is

the official language of Iran, though

many other languages are spoken such as

Kurdish, which is also spoken in parts of

Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, but is only an

official language in Iraq along with

Arabic. The official language of turkey

is Turkish which is in

the Turkic language family. Turkish is

closely related to Azerbaijani and

Turkmen and more distantly related to

the other languages in Central Asia. In

Israel the majority language is Hebrew,

but both Hebrew in Arabic are official

languages. Arabic and Hebrew are related

Semitic languages which are part of the

afro-asiatic language family. There are

certainly minority languages all over

but Arabic is the official language of

the rest of the countries of the Middle

East. Except Arabic isn't really a

single language, it's a bunch of regional

dialects that are often barely

understandable to one another. Arabic

speakers will often know their own local

dialect as well as modern Standard

Arabic that is used in writing and with

speakers of other Arabic dialects. This

is similar to the situation in China

where there are many regional dialects

all considered to be Chinese, but the

Mandarin dialect is used in formal

contexts. The difference being that

Standard Arabic is not any regions local

dialect, while Mandarin is local to some

parts of China. Most Arabic speakers are

Arab, but there are plenty of non arab

ethnic groups which speak Arabic. Arabic

originated in the Arabian Peninsula and

many minority ethnic groups exist in the

rest of the arabic-speaking world. In

some cases, such as in the North African

Maghreb, the local Berbers mixed with the

Arabs, though the Berber language and

identity still exists in some regions. In

other areas the local groups remain

distinct and they live alongside Arabs

and have adopted the Arabic language for

convenience. For example the copts are

predominantly Christian ethnic group

living in Egypt that represent about ten

percent of the population. In Lebanon

most of the Christians are in a group

called the Maronites though other

Christian groups exist. The current

President of Syria is an Alawite

which is a Muslim group that speaks

Arabic and lives near the coast of Syria,

but they are Shia and a country that is

majority Sunni. This contributed to the

tensions which led to the Syrian Civil

War. The main cause being that the

President refused to step down following

mass protests for democratic reform. The

Druze are an ethno-religious group that

lives in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel

and speak arabic. They had their own

distinct religion which is similar to

but does not fit in with any of the

main three religions of the region. Some

minority languages also exist. The

Assyrians are predominantly Christian

ethnic group in Iraq and Syria that

speak a Semitic language called Aramaic.

The Kurdish language is a minority in

all the countries the Kurds inhabit,

but Iraqi Kurdistan and has recently

gained high levels of autonomy due to

the Iraq War (2003). The Iraqi Civil War (2014) was

caused by the Syrian civil war spilling

over into Iraq and stressing

pre-existing tensions between the Sunni

north and the Shia majority. The Kurds

are linguistic group and can belong to

any religion, although the majority are

Sunni Muslims. Some Kurdish speakers

called Yazidis of their own religion,

which is similar to, but distinct from,

the main religions of the region. They

live primarily in Iraqi Kurdistan. The

Kurds, Assyrians, and Yazidis are often

the victims of mass killings and

genocides, most recently carried out by

DAESH in the Iraqi and Syrian civil wars.

DAESH is also killing Shia Muslims. The

third largest group in Iraq are the

Iraqi Turkmen who represent less than

ten percent of the population and speak

a dialect of Turkish. In the Gulf states

there are many migrant workers from

foreign countries like India, Pakistan,

Bangladesh, and the Philippines who are

not citizens and thus have limited

rights, but can sometimes be the majority

of the population. There are many more

ethnic minorities in the Middle East

notably in Turkey, Israel, Palestine, and

Iran, which again would require their own

videos to explain, but to summarize what

has been covered in this video: most of

the countries of the Middle East are

majority Muslim, with the exception of

Israel, but most Muslims live outside the

Middle East. The Arab League is an

organization composed of arabic-speaking

countries and includes all the countries

of the Middle East except for Israel,

Turkey, and Iran, but also includes the

arabic-speaking countries outside the

Middle East in North Africa and the

Comoros Islands. Additionally many

minority ethnic groups exist all over

the Middle East.

If any of the videos hinted at in this video are ever made

they will be down below but until then

you can watch one of the other videos I've made.