Islamic Global Village
Looking at the map below, one can see that the countries of Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, and Egypt, sit atop the great continent of Africa. These countries lie in, and are part of the Islamic Global Village. The other Islamic village countries spread from Northern Africa Eastward and throughout the Middle East. At this point in our studies it is necessary to understand how Africa became divided into two separate dominant culture areas. The first film within the lesson content shows how the continent came to have a dominant culture above the Sub-Saharan Global Village. Click on the map for optimum viewing.
The northern part of Africa between 8,000 and 3,000 BC was a different kind of landscape. The animals we associate with southern Africa, like elephants, giraffes, the rhinoceros, and hippopotamus roamed freely in these northern areas, that are now divided into countries.
The neolithic period cultures that migrated to this part of the African Global Village settled in communities where they began to supplement their hunting and gathering activities with horticulture and proto-agriculture, along with raising cattle and practicing the beginning of pastoralism. Some scholars propose that these early villagers wore clothing, made from animal skins, and perhaps made boats out of various types of grasses. They also began to make pottery.
As we noted in the lessons on What is Culture? language is the most symbolic way of passing down culture. When languages become extinct, there is a great cultural loss. We don’t know what language the Neolithic peoples spoke, except that whatever it was, it no longer exists. The Egyptians spoke a kind of Coptic Egyptian language, which was used in religious settings, as well as being the language of the common folks.
Arabic is today the official language of Egypt, but even after 1300 years of Arabization, the language of the Pharaohs is still around. There are very few speakers, however, and it is mostly used in religious contexts. UNESCO has made the Coptic Egyptian language a national heritage language, which has encouraged language revival and reintroduction programs.
From here, we need to back up a few centuries to discover more roots of today’s cultural complexity in this Global Village. This culture region, as is recognizable in the map, has a “crossroads location.” Three continents intersect, with travel routes accessible by both caravans and people. It also makes for a lot of eclectic trading, leading to highly competitive commodities and unstable trade alliances. For the most part, populations in this region have been farmers for a very long time.
Cultural adaptations like growing plants, and raising animals, in addition to hunting and gathering, has been suggested to be a major revolution in the way our ancestors lived their lives. We are the beneficiaries of their innovative ideas and risk-taking methods of trying to make their lives easier. Just like in the 21st century, however, those ancient inhabitants of northern Africa began to experience climate changes around 3,000 BC. There were no automobiles, and very few people, so climate change was a natural occurrence. Climate change is often motivation for people to move on to more hospitable areas, which in turn promotes confrontations and conflicts among the locals and the newcomers. Such tribal upheavals have historically been part of the cultural trends of this Global Village.
According to paleobotany, the Sahara area went through many periods of being dry and wet, but over a millennium of time it turned into a desert barrier between the northern and southern parts of the African continent. This barrier became the dividing line between white and black Africa. What happened to these first cultural communities over that long period of time cannot exactly be determined, but we know from about 2,000 BC the nomadic Berber peoples (Berbers), whose exact origins are still unknown, had many occupied settlements. We also know that during this early period, one of the world’s most renown civilizations began to emerge in Egypt. As mentioned previously, the language of the Pharaohs still lingers to remind us of that once great culture.
In other parts of this Global Village the earliest civilizations arose in Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq). Three major world religions: Jewish, Christian, and Islamic were first established there, and we cannot pass over the Roman Period in this immense culture region. Following is a video, “Lost Treasures of the World – Roman North Africa,” which is a good summation of how the Romans, before the Arabs, became the principal invaders and occupiers of the North African countries.
As you watch this film take note of the many cultural influences (heritage) that were passed on to Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and Egypt as Northern Africa became a Romanized culture. The Romans, even though they completely destroyed the great civilization of Carthage, they realized the great agricultural and trade potential of the region they had invaded. Once they conquered the peoples of North Africa, they allowed the populations to carry on their own cultural traditions as long as they agreed to be “Roman.” Roman North Africa survived peaceful occupation for four centuries, with relatively little military presence needed. Because we know that culture is learned, shared, symbolic, and dynamic, much cultural diffusion must have taken place between the Roman conquerors and the populations conquered.
We have already talked about the early domestication of plants and animals and crop cultivation by around 11,000 BC. Such innovations began to diffuse into various parts of the region in many directions, but perhaps the greatest incentive for populations to become interconnected and interdependent anciently, as today, was establishing cultural patterns of trade. As trade routes became cultural life lines to better economic opportunities, traders began to carry their cultural capital over these trade routes. Such cultural capital included technology, and the Islamic religion, which had already begun to spread into Northern Africa by the 7th century AD shortly after Mohammad (prophet of Islam)and his followers were given refuge in Medina. Though Mohammad had his prophetic vision in a cave in Mecca, there were factions there that sought to do him harm. Since he had regularly been visiting Medina, where his father was buried, people there were ready to give him help and support. See the map below for locations of these two important centers of Islamic cultural traditions in Saudi Arabia.
Nearly all Global Villages have a history of wars, conflicts, and cultural upheavals before the regions’ populations finally succumb to the cultural domination of the conquerors. Such was the case with the Roman occupation, and the same with the Arab occupation. Cultural changes and transformations are not always bad, though it is easy to dwell on the negatives. Cultural changes usually involve resistance from the locals before there is an acceptance period. The indigenous Berbers of Northern Africa were against both the Romans and the Arabs taking over their lands. This same resistance has flared up many times in this Global Village, even into the 21st century. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize the cultural heritage contributions brought to Northern Africa by the Romans and the Arab followers of Islam.
Obliterating language, whether written or verbal is perhaps the most intrusive way to begin a cultural change. Arabic writing was a cultural influence introduced, along with Mosques and centers of learning. It was during the “dark ages,” of Medieval times (11th through the 14th centuries) that Muslim scholars translated and copied ancient texts that would not be available today without their diligent efforts. A new system of measuring weights was also introduced by the Arabs and we cannot forget the contributions of the engineering of complex irrigation systems, along with the wheel, metallurgy and ways to control wind, water, and animal power that originated in different regions of this Global Village anciently.
There are other cultural legacies between groups of people that need to be mentioned here because they seem to be mentioned in the daily news on both television and the internet. These are the legacies of cultural conflicts leading to discrimination, forced displacement, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. The Jews and the Muslims seem to be, historically, the populations with the most obstinate objections to each others’ cultures.
The presence of Jews in Algeria has a long history from before the Roman period to the current era. The Jews in Northern African coastal settlements migrated there, from Palestine, after Jerusalem was destroyed numerous times. They settled among the Berber tribes and culturally assimilated to speak the Berber language, while at the same time some of the Berbers became Jewish converts. Berbers and Jews fought together against the Arabization of their new homeland. After the Arab conquest, the Jews began to assimilate once again into the new Arab culture. Think again about cultural diffusion and how each time new cultural elements are introduced how much local cultures become influenced, for both good and bad.
Another event furthering the complexity of cultural history in this Global Village was the Spanish/Catholic inquisition of the 14th century. Though it took place in the European Global Village, it had a great effect on populations in other places. Many Jews, escaping from Spain, fled to Algeria. They were integrated into the Berber and Jewish populations, a repetition of historical consequences. The continual diaspora of Jewish populations from various regions brought more and more complex cultural traits to be traded between groups. Even today, Jewish populations in Northern Africa speak Berber, Arabic, Spanish, Italian, and of course Hebrew. Adding still another turn of events in the 16th century, the Turks introduced discrimination policies against non-Muslims. These policies left the Jews scrambling for places to reside which did not discriminate against them. They also had to wear a certain type of clothing, in order to be recognized as Jews. Jews were not allowed to ride horses, carry any kind of arms, or in any way exhibit themselves above Muslims.
It seemed that cultural complexity had reached a pentacle until the French became the next occupier of this region in 1830. When the French arrived they changed the rules of inferiority and the Jews thus became French citizens, again assimilating into a new and different French culture. With French citizenship, many of the Jews in the Islamic Global Village immigrated to the European culture region, and after World War II back to their original homeland of Israel. With large Jewish populations settling in France, one can only imagine the diffusion of cultural traits in reverse from Northern Africa to France, which brought changes to many French communities.
We know the continued history of discrimination and isolation that Jewish populations have endured at the hands of Christians, Muslims, and the Nazi Holocaust into the present-day rhetoric of insistent annihilation by the leaders of Islamic states like Iran. Understanding the historic roots of how discrimination of certain groups is passed down through generations gives students of culture a foundation on which to build change and more peaceful relationships among all peoples. The discovery of oil in the Persian Gulf in 1908 put into motion even more complexity in the future of this Global Village.
With this very brief introduction and example of how cultural complexities are developed, in just one Global Village, it is hoped that students will continue to broaden their study of the common thread of culture that influences all humanity everywhere.