The Diversity of Religions and Global Change in Asia

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The West Asian region is made up of 22 countries, which has been a cradle for three monotheistic religions. A eminent diversity exists among the people of this region due to their prominent location, shared historical experiences of undergoing colonialism and imperialism as a result of which this region has experienced varied nature of different leaderships through out centuries. The traditional influence on this region has been wide with regards to kinship and cultural ties. The region has been prominent in the global maritime, commercial, political, religious, military and spiritual networks. The origin of human knowledge and wisdom are associated with this region. In the West Asian region we can find a unique culture which has been very closely influenced with the on going regional and global developments.

When a region has such a complex and long history, it is very common that the people associate themselves with different identities. When all the factors are taken together that is the individual’s religion, culture, social groups to which he/she is exposed to a long period of time of their life it leads to the formation of the individual’s identity. The West Asian region has had a varied history with different rulers, and has undergone imperialism and colonialism, till today is caught under different conflicts. It is due to this that we find different identities in this region due to the varied historical experiences that the people of this region have been subject to.

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Arab identity- The origins of the Arab identity can be traced back to the Arabian peninsula. The Arabia felix was a community which descended from the Qahtani. The region would receive enough monsoon rains and had fertile soil. Arabia Deserta which consisted all of north arabia is descended from Adnan. Arab identity is often linked with the Arabic culture, and not any particular race. Arabian people follow Islam as their religion but follow the cultural traditions of Arab. Arab people are fluent in Arabic language, belong to an Arab state, follow the traditional Arabic norms and customs. An Arab belongs to a family, a clan and a tribe. The tribe of the Arab defines the identity of the individual and provides him with protection and opportunity to grow as an individual. Arab historically, were either Bedouins, oasis-dwellers or seafarers. The Koran which is a holy bible of the Islam religion is in classical Arabic. Arabic language is regarded as a ‘sacred language’ by the Arabic people. But as the Muslim empires conquered the other countries this language mingled with other regions. However, over the years a standard Arabic language has evolved which is used in academic institutions, literature, media and communication. Most Arabs use colloquial variations of this language for their daily conversations. On the basis of Cultural influence, the Arab world is divided into two categories, the Gulf region and the West Asia region which throughout the 19th and 20th centuries was largely impacted by the Anglo-French culture. A cohesive family life and development through this are important priorities of the Arab people. Emphasis is placed on leading a stable married life and obtaining education and leading a rightful virtuous life.

International Organization ‘Arab League’ has played a vital role in strengthening the pre existing Arab identity. This organization consists of Arab countries, one of the main criteria for the membership to this organization is that Arabic should be recognized as the official language of the country. Such organization at the global level fosters a important role in safeguarding the Arab identity and uniting people who share the same identity. The contemporary Arab identity is influenced by the West. The youth of the Arab countries today incorporates their traditional outfit along with the western garments that they wear. The young women in many West Asian countries can be seen wearing a hijab along with jeans and t-shirts which are a result of living in a more globalized world.

Shia and Sunni identities- Considered as two of the largest communities of Islam, the Shia and Sunni identities are well known among the world. In 632 AD, with the death of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, there was a big question among the Islamic community as to who would lead the religion after the passing away of the Prophet. Prophet Muhammad did not choose a follower before his death and hence the tensions among the community grew. A major chunk of the community wanted his father-in-law Abu Bakr to be the successor. However, a small part of the community wanted Ali, his son-in-law to become the successor. Eventually, Abu Bakr became the successor of Prophet Muhammad and the community which supported this came to be known as the Sunni. The other community which wanted Ali to be the Prophet’s successor was known as the Shia community. Thus, the origin of the Shia-Sunni divide in the Islam has its roots in the religious history. Till today the Shia-Sunni divide is evident existent in the world. 90% of the people belong to Sunni, while 10% belong to the Shia community in West Asia.

Christianity and Islam both came to the West Asian region but whereas Christianity found its way to the Eastern countries, Islam stayed in this region and gave the people a new identity. This region has often itself in the midst of some or the other conflict, what is important here is that in spite of having several political differences in this region what binds them together is their shared norms, culture, tradition and religious values. Identities always give a unique status to any individual and makes them important in their own eyes.

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