What is the Middle East? - TeachMideast (2023)

What is the Middle East?

The Middle East is the common term for a region consisting of countries in southwest Asia and, usually, at least part of North Africa. It is an interesting term – middle of what? east of what? While the term is now widespread both inside and outside the region, it is in fact relatively new. It was coined only at the end of the nineteenth century by the British foreign service, and used in a 1902 article by a United States naval officer.

It was originally used to distinguish the area east of the Near East – the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire – and west of India. It included Afghanistan and Persia. Of course, the Far East denoted the countries of East Asia, including China, Japan, and Korea. And of course, the term is entirely Eurocentric – the region is east from the perspective of western Europe, but not from China, or Russia, or Africa. Today, Near East and Middle East are synonyms, but Middle East is the more widely used term (except in archaeology, where Near East is still more common).

The origin of the name speaks volumes about the political realities of the nineteenth century, when the perspective of the British in particular carried enormous weight. Interestingly, today the term Middle East is commonly used within the region itself. The four most common languages of the Middle East all use the term in translation to describe the region:

Arabic: al-sharq al-awsat

Turkish: orta dogu

Hebrew: mizrach tichon

Persian: khavarmiyaneh

What's a region, anyway?

To decide what the Middle East is, and what area it covers, we have to understand what a region is. Regions are subjectively determined (and thus debatable) areas that we perceive to have certain characteristics in common. They may be defined by physical geography; for example, areas bordered by mountains or rivers or seas, or areas which share a similar climate. They may also be defined by characteristics of human geography, such as shared historical experience, the same language, the same religion, or similar cultural practices. In the case of the Middle East, both physical and human geographic considerations are brought to bear to define the region.

The Middle East is, very generally speaking, an arid region in Southwest Asia and part of North Africa stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf, bounded by the Black and Caspian Seas in the north and the Sahara Desert and Indian Ocean in the south. It has a long shared history and a shared religious tradition, being the birthplace of the three main monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is also often defined as being a locale of trade and cultural transmission, and sometimes conflict, between Europe, Africa and Asia.

Within the larger Middle East, one can also describe sub-regions, such as North Africa or the Levant, which share certain characteristics. The Levant, for example, encompasses modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories, and is often seen as an important area in part because of its close historical connection with countries in Europe and around the Mediterranean.

The Gulf countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Oman are linked not only by shared history, language and religion, but by the shared opportunities and problems caused by the presence of large oil reserves in these countries. These countries all lie at the eastern edge of a large geological plate (the Arabian plate) that is tilted down from west to east – thus there are mountainous areas on the western end of the plate and oil deposits concentrated along the eastern edge at the shores of the Persian Gulf.

What is the Middle East? - TeachMideast (1)

(Video) Rhetoric Analysis of PragerU's video "The Middle East Problem"

What's In, What's Out?

The exact roster of countries thought to be a part of the Middle East region is often debated. If you look at different maps of the Middle East, you will see different countries included and excluded. Almost everyone would agree that the following countries are part of the Middle East:

  • Bahrain
  • Egypt
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Israel
  • Jordan
  • Kuwait
  • Lebanon
  • Oman
  • The Palestinian Territories
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Syria
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Yemen

Notice that all but two are Arabic-speaking majority countries, the exceptions being Iran (where the national language is Persian) and Israel (where the national languages are Hebrew and Arabic).

Egypt is normally included in maps of the Middle East, although it is in Northeast Africa. Why? Egyptians speak Arabic, and Egypt has been a major player in the politics of the Middle East for literally thousands of years, so it is difficult to conceive of the region without Egypt.

Likewise, many experts also include the other countries of North Africa – Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco – because they are also Arabic-speaking and their history and culture are tied to those of the other countries of the Middle East.

Also, most experts in the region would include Turkey – in fact, it is often referred to as a bridge between the Middle East and Europe, both because it straddles the continents of Europe and Asia, and because its historical experience is intertwined both with that of European states and with that of the Middle East.

For our purposes, the Middle East will include all of the countries in the list above as well as:

  • Turkey
  • Morocco
  • Algeria
  • Libya
  • Tunisia

Not Quite the Middle East

Today, many maps include the countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Central Asian states of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Central Asian countries were usually studied as part of the Soviet bloc and Pakistan and Afghanistan as part of political and cultural region of South Asia, rather than as part of the Middle East.

However, particularly after the tragic events of September 11 and the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, these countries have more often been associated with the Middle East because of their political and religious connections, although there are also many dissimilarities in politics, language and culture between these countries and the Middle East.

Similarly, the countries of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, located between the Black and Caspian Seas, are sometimes included on maps of the Middle East. Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean, has a majority Greek-speaking population, although there is a minority Turkish population in the northern part of the island who claim independence in a republic recognized only by Turkey. These countries and their peoples have had long interrelationships with the Middle East, but again have strong local characteristics that also distinguish them from their neighbors to the south and east.

Sudan is another country that is sometimes considered to be a part of the Middle East, sometimes because of its close and often contentious relationship with Egypt. While there are significant Arabic-speaking and Muslim populations in Sudan, its other cultural and linguistic differences would usually place it in an African context rather than a Middle Eastern one.

Very often, countries on the periphery of the Middle East are incorporated into maps and into the discourse on the Middle East when there is political strife in these areas, often involving Muslims, simply because many Americans don’t distinguish easily between the Middle East and Islam. For our purposes, we will not include these countries in our definition of the Middle East, but will incorporate them into our discussion where it is relevant.

What the Middle East is NOT

There are two common mistakes that are often made when referring to the Middle East. The first is to confuse the Arab world with the Middle East. The Middle East is a very diverse region, with many languages and cultures. While the majority of the inhabitants of the region speak Arabic, there are several countries in the Middle East that are not majority Arabic speaking, including Turkey, Iran, and Israel. Of course, there are also minority communities within the Middle Eastern Arab-majority states for whom Arabic is not their native language, including the Kurds, Berbers, and many other groups. At the same time, there are many Arabic speakers who live in non-Arab majority states, from Sudan to the United States. Although there is a great deal of overlap, the Middle East and the Arab world are not the same thing!

The second common mistake is to equate the Middle East and Islam. While Islam began in the area that is now the modern state of Saudi Arabia, it has spread over the centuries so that there are communities of Muslims all over the world.

Most Muslims today don’t live in the Middle East or grow up speaking Arabic (although many do learn some Arabic for religious reasons, since it is the language of the Quran). In fact, less than 20% of all the Muslims in the world-and there are over 1.3 bill ion-are native speakers of Arabic.

(Video) I-2. Middle East. Source 4 Read Aloud

12 Responses to “What is the Middle East?”

What is the Middle East? - TeachMideast (2)

December 21, 2015 at 4:57 pm, Rehema said:

So a region is not just a geographical area in which countries are close to each other but a place in which countries share traits that are similar and hence that is why even though some countries are far geographically they are still considered middle eastern countries, interesting fact.


What is the Middle East? - TeachMideast (4)

August 25, 2020 at 5:04 am, Ashleigh said:

I really appreciate how they list what countries are included in the MIddle East. My geography is a bit rusty. I’m guilty of the he misconceptions of the Arab world and the Middle East. I’m looking forward to learning more.


What is the Middle East? - TeachMideast (5)

February 02, 2021 at 4:17 am, William Uriegas-Johnson said:

(Video) Middle East Cybersecurity: Threats and Opportunities

I found this information about the middle east very intriguing and helpful.


What is the Middle East? - TeachMideast (6)

February 24, 2021 at 5:57 pm, wallaji said:



What is the Middle East? - TeachMideast (7)

October 01, 2021 at 4:44 am, Chukwu Amaechi O. said:

Satisfactory analysis of the Middle-East


What is the Middle East? - TeachMideast (9)

April 26, 2022 at 12:11 am, Bukakke said:

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What is the Middle East? - TeachMideast (10)

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May 02, 2022 at 7:24 am, Hildegarde Jolie said:

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What is a Middle Easterner called? ›

Arab. noun. someone from the Middle East or North Africa who speaks Arabic.

What is the Middle East most known for? ›

Economically, the Middle East is known for its vast oil reserves. It is also known as the home of three major world religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Because of its economic, religious, and geographical location, the Middle East has been at the center of many world issues and political affairs.

What does the Middle East believe? ›

The majority of the Middle East's population today is Muslim, as it has been for centuries. However, as the place of origin of a range of world religions – including Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and many lesser-known faiths – it remains a region of remarkable religious diversity.

What is the majority ethnic group in the Middle East? ›

It includes a diverse set of ethnic groups, the largest of which are Arabs, with over 60 percent of the Middle Eastern population. Other major groups include Persians (who make up over half of Iran's population), Turks (Turkish people), and Kurds.

Are Turkish people Middle Eastern? ›

Turks belong the Middle East area, therefore they have similar ancestry proportion from the hypothetical groups than of populations living in the Caucasus and in the Middle East. The proportion of Turks from the East European-West Asian ancestry is 33.2%.

What language do Muslims speak? ›

Muslims and non-Muslims alike in Arab lands speak Arabic. However, not all Muslims speak this language on a daily basis. Muslims in non-Arab regions, where the vast majority of Muslims live today, use Arabic for prayer and religious purposes only.

Why Middle East is called so? ›

British colonisation of India made this region of critical importance to the British during this time. The Middle East, therefore, came to mean the lands in between these areas – essentially areas to the East of the Near East and to the West of the Far East.

What culture is Middle Eastern? ›

Major ethnic groups in the Middle East today include Arabs, Iranians (also known as Persians), Turks, Jews, Kurds, Berbers, Armenians, Nubians, Azeris, and Greeks. Most of the countries in this region are multiethnic.

What are 3 facts about the Middle East? ›

Roughly 60% of the population in the Middle East is under 25 years old. The term “Arab” generally refers to people who speak Arabic as their first language. The majority of Arabs are Muslims, but the majority of Muslims are not Arabs. The words Islam and Muslim are derived from the Arabic word salam, which means peace.

What are the 3 main beliefs of Muslims? ›

The Five Pillars are the core beliefs and practices of Islam:
  • Profession of Faith (shahada). The belief that "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God" is central to Islam. ...
  • Prayer (salat). ...
  • Alms (zakat). ...
  • Fasting (sawm). ...
  • Pilgrimage (hajj).

What do Christians in the Middle East call God? ›

Indeed, Arabic-speaking Christians call God Allah. That may be jarring to modern day US Christians (who tend to think of Allah as “the god of Islam”), but the term existed in the Arabic world long before Islam arrived on the scene, and it is the Arabic equivalent of the Hebrew word Elohim.

What are Middle Eastern Christians called? ›

Arab Christians are descended from Arab Christian tribes, Arabized Greeks or recent converts to Protestantism. Most Arab Christians are adherents of the Melkite Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church.

What color is Middle Eastern skin? ›

Middle Eastern skin tones tend to be very olive-toned. This means deeper in colour and with a soft yellow undertone to your colouring.

What is the largest ethnic race in the world? ›

The world's largest ethnic group is Han Chinese, with Mandarin being the world's most spoken language in terms of native speakers.

How many races are there in the Middle East? ›

OMB requires five minimum categories: White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.

What race are Turkish? ›

The Turkish people, or simply the Turks (Turkish: Türkler), are the world's largest Turkic ethnic group; they speak various dialects of the Turkish language and form a majority in Turkey and Northern Cyprus.

What is Turkish DNA? ›

A whole-genome sequencing study of Turkish genetics, conducted on 16 individuals, concluded that the Turkish population forms a cluster with Southern European and Mediterranean populations and that the predicted contribution from ancestral East Asian populations is 21.7% (presumably reflecting a Central Asian origin).

Is Turkey Persian or Arab? ›

Iran and Turkey are not Arab countries and their primary languages are Farsi and Turkish respectively. Arab countries have a rich diversity of ethnic, linguistic, and religious communities. These include Kurds, Armenians, Berbers and others. There are over 300 million Arabs.

What language did Adam and Eve speak? ›

The Adamic language, according to Jewish tradition (as recorded in the midrashim) and some Christians, is the language spoken by Adam (and possibly Eve) in the Garden of Eden.

What language is Allah from? ›

Allah is the standard Arabic word for God and is used by Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews as well as by Muslims.

What is the largest religion in the world? ›

Major religious groups
  • Christianity (31.2%)
  • Islam (24.1%)
  • Irreligion (16%)
  • Hinduism (15.1%)
  • Buddhism (6.9%)
  • Folk religions (5.7%)
  • Sikhism (0.3%)
  • Judaism (0.2%)

What was Middle East name before? ›

The central part of this general area was formerly called the Near East, a name given to it by some of the first modern Western geographers and historians, who tended to divide what they called the Orient into three regions.

Does Middle Eastern mean Arab? ›

It is very common to hear people from the West using the term the Middle East when supposedly referring to countries belonging to the Arab world. Nonetheless, this is not the case. The term middle east was coined in the early 20th century to identify the area between the British colony the Near East.

Who created the Middle East? ›

The term "Middle East" was coined in 1901 by Adm. Alfred Thayer Mahan, the celebrated American advocate of naval power. It was popularized in speeches in 1916 by Sir Mark Sykes, a British member of Parliament.

What are the 3 main ethnic groups in the Middle East? ›

While some ethnic groups have been present in the region for millennia, others have arrived fairly recently through immigration. The largest socioethnic groups in the region are Arabs, Kurds, Persians and Turks but there are dozens of other ethnic groups which have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of members.

What are the 4 ethnic groups in the Middle East? ›

The largest ethnic group in the Middle East are Arabs with Turks, Turkomans, Persians, Kurds, Azeris, Copts, Jews, Assyrians, Maronites, Circassians, Somalis, Armenians, Druze and numerous additional minor ethnic groups forming other significant populations.

What is disrespectful in Arabic culture? ›

Showing public affection is generally considered rude and disrespectful across the Middle East. Although some cultures within the Middle East might be more tolerant than others, it's generally not a good idea to kiss, hug or openly display intimacy.

Who is the most famous Middle Eastern? ›

These Are The 50 Most Famous Celebrities In The Arab World, 2017
1Amr DiabEgypt
2Nancy ajramLebanon
4Kadim AlsaherIraq
46 more rows
14 Aug 2017

What 3 religion are most common in the Middle East? ›

Three of the world's major religions -- the monotheist traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam -- were all born in the Middle East and are all inextricably linked to one another. Christianity was born from within the Jewish tradition, and Islam developed from both Christianity and Judaism.

Who lived in the Middle East first? ›

The earliest human migrations out of Africa occurred through the Middle East, namely over the Levantine corridor, with the pre-modern Homo erectus about 1.8 million years BP.

Can Muslims drink alcohol? ›

WHAT DOES THE QURAN SAY ABOUT ALCOHOL? Drinking alcohol is considered haram, or forbidden, in Islam. As proof of the prohibition, Islamic scholars and Muslim religious authorities typically point to a verse in the Quran, the Muslim holy book, that calls intoxicants “the work of Satan” and tells believers to avoid them.

Do Muslims worship the same God as Christians? ›

And yet, despite the manifest differences in how they practise their religions, Jews, Christians and Muslims all worship the same God. The founder of Islam, Muhammad, saw himself as the last in a line of prophets that reached back through Jesus to Moses, beyond him to Abraham and as far back as Noah.

Is Allah mentioned in the Bible? ›

Allah and the god of the Bible

Arabic-speaking Christians call God Allah, and Gideon bibles, quoting John 3:16 in different languages, assert that Allah sent his son into the world.

What language did Jesus speak? ›

Most religious scholars and historians agree with Pope Francis that the historical Jesus principally spoke a Galilean dialect of Aramaic. Through trade, invasions and conquest, the Aramaic language had spread far afield by the 7th century B.C., and would become the lingua franca in much of the Middle East.

What do Muslims call God? ›

KAULA LUMPUR, Malaysia — The name of God is sacred to Muslims, and the Arabic word for God, “Allah,” is universally invoked in Islamic prayers and practices.

Do Arabs believe in the same God as Christians? ›

Most mainstream Muslims would generally agree they worship the same God that Christians — or Jews — worship. Zeki Saritoprak, a professor of Islamic studies at John Carroll University in Cleveland, points out that in the Quran there's the Biblical story of Jacob asking his sons whom they'll worship after his death.

What are the four main religions in the Middle East? ›

The Middle East as a Net Exporter of Religion - Investigate the religious ideas of the ancient people of the Middle East, some of which became core elements of four major religions: Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Is Christianity allowed in the Middle East? ›

IRAQ. There has been a Christian presence in what is now Iraq since the 2nd Century. The largest groups are the Chaldean and Assyrian Churches. The Chaldeans are Eastern-rite Catholics - autonomous Churches of Eastern origin which retain their own liturgy and traditions, but recognise the Pope's authority.

Are green eyes Middle Eastern? ›

Green eyes are common in Central Europe, Iraq, Iran and Turkey. Gray eyes are common in Europe, the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

What race has olive skin? ›

This skin type rarely burns and tans easily. Type V pigmentation is frequent among populations from the Middle East, parts of the Mediterranean and Southern Europe, Romani people, parts of Africa, Latin America, and the South Asian subcontinent. It ranges from olive to tan, Middle Eastern skin tones.

What are Middle Eastern facial features? ›

In summary, the Middle Eastern beauty icons' faces are oval, full and symmetrical, with elevated, thick, arched eyebrows; almond-shaped eyes; straight noses; well-defined, laterally full cheeks; full lips; well-defined jawlines; and prominent, pointed chins.

What is the smallest race? ›

1. Timor-Leste — 155.47cm (5 feet 1.28 inches) People on the Southeast Asian island of Timor are an average 155.47cm (5 feet 1.28 inches) tall. The average Timorese man is 159.79cm (5 feet 2.90 inches) tall.

What is the smallest ethnicity in the world? ›

This is One of the World's Smallest Ethnic Groups - China Current. Tucked away in China's southern province live the Naxi people, a matriarchal community whose culture and hometown of Lijiang have been honored as a World Heritage site.

What are the 3 main race? ›

The idea that there exist three races, and that these races are “Caucasoid,” “Negroid,” and “Mongoloid,” is rooted in the European imagination of the Middle Ages, which encompassed only Europe, Africa, and the Near East.. .

What is the oldest race in the world? ›

A new genomic study has revealed that Aboriginal Australians are the oldest known civilization on Earth, with ancestries stretching back roughly 75,000 years.

What is my ethnicity if I am black? ›

Black or African American

Includes persons having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa, including Black Americans, Africans, Haitians, and residents of Caribbean Islands of African descent. African – Includes people from countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Niger, Liberia, etc.

What is my race if I am Indian? ›

The people of India are predominantly Caucasoid. Their features, hair texture, hairiness, the shape of the nose, mouth, and so on, are all distinctly Caucasoid. It is only in some of the far, out-of-the-way places of India, as in this country, that you find certain traces of other races.

What's another word for Middle Easterner? ›

Crossword answers for MIDDLE EASTERNER
1 more row

What are Mideast rulers called? ›

Emir: Also Amir. Leader or commander.

What is a Middle Eastern descent? ›

The term Middle Eastern Americans refers to immigrants and their native-born descendants who trace their ancestry to the Middle East and North Africa. In other words, they come from the 22 countries that form the Arab League, and the non-Arab countries: Iran, Israel, and Turkey.

What are the types of Middle Eastern? ›

Ethnic diversity at the crossroads of civilizations

Major ethnic groups in the Middle East today include Arabs, Iranians (also known as Persians), Turks, Jews, Kurds, Berbers, Armenians, Nubians, Azeris, and Greeks.

What is Middle East Africa called? ›

The African and Middle Eastern Division (AMED) was created in 1978 as part of a general Library of Congress reorganization. For AMED it combined three sections -- African, Hebraic, and Near East, which cover 77 countries and regions from Southern Africa to the Maghreb and from the Middle East to Central Asia.

Why is it called Middle East? ›

In 1902 the term “Middle East” was coined in order to designate the area residing between Egypt and Singapore, comprising major access points to Asia, such as the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, etc. (Center, F.G.E.c).

What are ARAB leaders called? ›

Sheik is also spelled sheikh and shaikh. Definitions of sheik. the leader of an Arab village or family. synonyms: Arab chief, sheikh, tribal sheik, tribal sheikh.

What is the leader of an ARAB tribe called? ›

The head of an Arab tribe is called a vizier.

What DNA do Arabs have? ›

There are four principal West-Eurasian autosomal DNA components that characterize the populations in the Arab world: the Arabian, Levantine, Coptic and Maghrebi components. The Arabian component is the main autosomal element in the Gulf region. It is most closely associated with local Arabic-speaking populations.

Are Arabs and Middle Easterners the same? ›

It is very common to hear people from the West using the term the Middle East when supposedly referring to countries belonging to the Arab world. Nonetheless, this is not the case. The term middle east was coined in the early 20th century to identify the area between the British colony the Near East.

What are the 3 Middle Eastern religions? ›

Three of the world's major religions -- the monotheist traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam -- were all born in the Middle East and are all inextricably linked to one another.


1. I-2. Middle East. Source 4 Read Aloud, Multilingual & Bilingual-Adapted
(Read.Inquire.Write. Team)
2. Racial Discrimination and Healthcare - iGCSE Global Perspectives Team Project
(Kevin Nguyễn)
3. "Teaching Middle East History in World History" - Dr. Allen Fromherz
(UNC Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies)
4. Progress or Conflict? What to Expect for U.S. Policy in the Middle East
(Middle East Policy Council)
5. Why All Mosques Look the Same
(The Present Past)
6. U.S. Strategy in Iraq and Syria
(Jeremy Tamanini)
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