Terms for the Study of Middle Eastern History

Desalination: Desalination is the process by which salt water is converted into clean, drinkable water. It has helped people living in the Middle East to get enough water, because most of that area is very dry and arid. It has also helped with irrigation of crops and public utilities. Desalination is very common in wealthier countries with oil, but it is very uncommon in poor, unfertile countries where it is needed the most.

OPEC: Also known as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC is a group of five oil-producing countries: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela. This group gives its members more control over oil production and prices, thereby a significant amount of political power. This group is mostly composed of the richer Middle Eastern countries, and made them even wealthier, increasing the gap between rich and poor countries in that area. OPEC was responsible for the significant rise in oil prices during the 1970’s.

Code of Hammurabi: The Code of Hammurabi was a series of laws that were intrinsic in Ancient Mesopotamian society. It made clear the laws on things like marriage and inheritance, and the respective punishments. It was the basis for a just legal system that would last for many years. The Code of Hammurabi also gives historians today insight into ancient Mesopotamian life and its views on things like women’s rights and consumerism.

Moses: Moses was a revered Hebrew prophet and leader. Moses appealed to the king of Egypt to end the enslavement of the Jewish people, and when the king refused, God supposedly sent a plague and other ill fortunes over Egypt. Eventually, Moses led the Jews out of Egypt back to the Holy Land in what is known as the Exodus. On the way, he supposedly received the Ten Commandments from God, which were laws that Jews had to follow as their half of the covenant, or promise, that Moses had made with God to ensure their freedom.

Ten Commandments: The Ten Commandments were ten laws that were supposedly given to the prophet Moses by God. They reinforce some of the main tenants of God, and outline rules about crimes like murder, stealing, and lying. God made a covenant with Moses, where God agreed to lead the Jews out of Egypt and to the Promised Land, and in exchange, Jews vowed to follow the laws laid down by the Ten Commandments. They are a vital part of the Torah and the Old Testament in the Christian bible.

King David: David was the beloved second king of Israel. He was an accomplished military leader, defeating the Philistine warrior Goliath and defeating the skilled army of the Philistines. He was also responsible for establishing Israel’s capital at Jerusalem and united all the people of Israel. When David died, his son, Solomon, who was also known for being a gifted leader, took over the kingship.

King Solomon: King Solomon was the son of King David and was known for being extremely wise. Under his rule, Israel reached its pinnacle of wealth and influence. David built a richly decorated temple in Jerusalem that was extremely sacred to Jews. After his death, however, the kingdom of Israel fractured, breaking into two parts and eventually being conquered by other civilizations.

Jesus: Jesus was a teacher and prophet who founded Christianity. He taught kindness, forgiveness and the love of God. These ideas appealed to the people that he met, and Christianity soon spread throughout the Roman world. Christianity affected a wide variety of events throughout history, like the Crusades. Jesus’ teachings in Christianity are still common today, and share close ties with Judaism and Islam. He is revered by Christians as the son of God himself.

Peter: Peter was one of the twelve original apostles of Jesus. It is believed that he founded the Roman Church and was its first bishop. The person who holds this position now is called the pope, and Peter is considered the first pope. Supposedly, Jesus gave Peter the keys to heaven, which some interpret as meaning that all popes have divine authority over the entire church. This is generally the accepted view of the pope today.

Paul: Paul was one of the twelve original apostles of Jesus. He thought that he should convert non-Christians, or Gentiles, to Christianity. He helped to spread Christianity throughout the Roman world and established churches throughout the Mediterranean. He also wrote a series of letters to different churches about the key ideas of Christianity, which are included in the New Testament.

Muhammad: Muhammad was a prophet in the ancient Arab world who founded Islam. Islam was very influential and popular in the Middle East and still is to this day, responsible for major events in history like the Crusades and numerous recent conflicts between Israel and its neighbors. Islam teaches that people must follow the Five Pillars of Islam, which dictates rules for Muslims like praying five times a day and completing the hajj. Muhammad’s teachings in Islam are still a major religion today, with millions of members, not just in the Middle East, but all around the world.

Five Pillars: The Five Pillars of Islam are five behaviors and obligations that all Muslims must follow. These include a profession of faith, praying five times a day towards Mecca, giving to charity, fasting on Ramadan, and journeying to Mecca, the birthplace of Islam, in what is known as the hajj. The Five Pillars give Muslims guidance throughout their lives and a sense of connection with other members of their religion. They were originally taught by Muhammad, the founder of Islam, and are printed in the Qur’an.

Hajj: The hajj is the final pillar of the Five Pillars of Islam. It requires all Muslims to ritually visit Mecca at least once in a lifetime if they are physically and financially able to go. The hajj commemorates the actions of significant figures in Islamic history like Abraham and Muhammad, as voyagers on the hajj reenact their journey and visit all of the places visited by these figures in the past. The hajj is centered on the Ka’aba, a gigantic shrine in Mecca that voyagers on the hajj must circle seven times. It is a time of rebirth and connection with Allah for all who experience the hajj, and those who have completed the journey often say that they were irrevocably changed.

Sunni vs. Shiite: Sunnis and Shiites are two sects of Islam that separated after the death of Muhammad. The Sunnis believed that the next caliph of Islam should be just a believer of Islam, but the Shiites thought that the caliph had to be related to Muhammad. As time passed, differences between the sects grew, and violence broke out. Today, there is still fighting between these two divisions of Islam, and the minority division in each Middle Eastern country is often discriminated against.

Crusades: The Crusades were a series of holy wars between European Christians and Muslim forces in the Middle East. The Goal of the Christians was to regain Jerusalem and the surrounding Holy Land, as it was the place where Jesus was crucified and it was believed that Jesus would only return to earth once Christians held Jerusalem again. A series of nine crusades brought endless violence and bloodshed to the area as each side vied for control. Though they were largely unsuccessful, the Crusades had a lasting impact in Europe; they increased the breadth and variety of trade, consolidated the power of kings, and encouraged mistrust and discrimination against other religions and cultures.

The Arab Golden Age: The Arab Golden Age was a time of great prosperity for the Arabs in the Middle East, mainly due to their successful trading endeavors. At this time, Arabs made many significant contributions to the world in the fields of science, math and medicine. They also created many pieces of art and literature that are still appreciated and copied today. In addition, Arabian translations of ancient Greek and Roman texts allowed scholars in Europe to learn ancient knowledge, and they were the basis of European education.

Armenian Genocide: The Armenian Genocide occurred when all of the Armenian Christians in Turkey were brutally slaughtered. After the Young Turks took over Turkey, religious and cultural intolerance increased. Although the Ottoman Empire had originally been tolerant of different cultures, the Young Turks felt that such practices were too westernized, and so focused on the separation of races and the prosecution of supposedly inferior ones. Such violent missteps led Mustafa Kemal, or Ataturk, to take over Turkey and make it egalitarian.

Zionism: Zionism was the movement which sought to reestablish a Jewish state in Palestine. Jews left Palestine in around 70 AD and, in the early twentieth century, they wished to return to their Holy Land. Initially, Jews were let into Palestine by its British rulers under the Balfour Declaration. However, the Palestinians were angered when Jews took their land and jobs, and it soon sparked strong anti-Semitism and eventually the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk): Mustafa Kemal, or Ataturk, was a leader from Turkey after World War II. Under his rule, Turkey was able to recapture land in Anatolia that had been captured by Greece and to abolish the Ottoman Empire. He came into power when he overthrew the sultan of Turkey and turned it into a democracy. Because of his work, today Turkey is one of the most advanced countries in the Middle East, with one of the few secular governments.

Pan-Arabism: Like Pan-Africanism, Pan-Arabism was a movement that strove to unite all Arabs. It was created in response to the increasing influence of Western culture in the Middle East. Initially, Pan-Arabism was strongly supported, especially by President Nasser of Egypt. However, the movement eventually failed, as loyalty to specific countries could not be extinguished.  

Islamic Fundamentalism: Islamic Fundamentalism was a movement based in the Arab World whose goal was to eschew all traces of western influence from the Middle East and to return to the values of Islam. In countries that supported Islamic Fundamentalism, there was a theocracy with a divine ruler given complete control. In such areas, there was strict separation of men and women, far fewer rights for women, and in general fewer rights for all people. Islamic Fundamentalism has led to the very anti-western views of countries like Iran, who were so repelled by the West that they expelled their shah because he was on civil terms with the United States.  

Six Day War: The Six Day War was started by Israel, who preemptively attacked Egyptian air forces for fear of annihilation. In response, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan attacked, but they were unsuccessful. After winning the war, Israel gained much new territory, like the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and Golan Heights. This bred further animosity amongst Israel’s neighbors and later prompted them to retaliate and gain back some of their territory in the Yom Kippur War.

Palestinian Intifada: The Palestinian Intifada was a violent rebellion against Israeli rule by Palestinians living in Gaza and West Bank. Israel’s armed forces responded violently, and the fighting continued for several years. To end the violence, Yasser Arafat from the PLO and Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister of Israel, met in secret and created the Oslo Accords. The Oslo Accords guaranteed peace and gave the Palestinians partial rule in West Bank and Gaza.

PLO: The PLO, or Palestinian Liberation Organization, was a group whose goal was to set up a separate Palestinian state. Its members initially launched guerrilla attacks against Israel and committed acts of terrorism. In response, Israel attacked the bases of the PLO in Jordan. Eventually, however, after the Oslo Accords, the chairman of the PLO, Yasser Arafat, agreed to recognize and stop attacking Israel in exchange for partial Palestinian rule in Gaza and some of the West Bank.

Hamas: Hamas is a violent militant group in the Middle East that is determined to annihilate Israel. Fro a time, Hamas attacked northern Israel from Lebanon, until Israel forcefully retaliated. In 2006, Hamas was elected to a position of leadership in the Palestinian Authority. This made Israel worry that the group’s terrorist actions would increase, and the U.S. cut off aid to the Palestinians resultantly.

Gaza Strip: The Gaza Strip is a small portion of land near the Mediterranean Sea. In the past century, it has often changed hands between Israel, Palestine, and a combination of both. It has been the site of much conflict, giving rise to several wars and rebellions like the Palestinian Intifada. Currently, Israel has withdrawn from Gaza, although it did forcefully retake Gaza in response to acts of terrorism from Palestinians living there.

Iranian Revolution: In the Iranian Revolution, the Shah of Iran was overthrown and replaced by Khomeini. Though Iranians had hoped for more freedom under the leadership of Khomeini, his theocratic rule was actually more restricted than that of his predecessor, and women’s rights in particular were limited. The revolution against the Shah was an act of Islamic fundamentalism, as the Iranians responsible felt that the West was having too much influence on its culture. In the heat of revolution, American citizens in the United States embassy were held hostage by Iranian students, which only fuels the USA’s animosity towards the country.

Persian Gulf War: The Persian Gulf War was a war which was prompted by Iraq, under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, invading Kuwait. The United States stepped in and pushed Iraq out of the oil-rich country, thereby ensuring that oil would be available for the rest of the world. After the war, the UN demanded that Iraq destroy its weapons of mass destruction, but the country did not comply. This made other countries fearful that Saddam Hussein and Iraq would enable terrorists to attack their enemies, which was one of the reasons why the United States started the war in Iraq.

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