Languages, religions and cultures in the Middle East

De Baripedia

Based on a course by Yilmaz Özcan.[1][2]

The Middle East region, the cradle of ancient civilisations and crossroads of historic trade routes, is characterised by remarkable linguistic, religious and cultural diversity. This diversity is the fruit of a rich and complex history, shaped by countless peoples, empires and movements.

Linguistically, the Middle East is a patchwork of languages, with Arabic predominating in countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Persian, or Farsi, is a linguistic mainstay of Iran, reflecting the heritage of the Persian Empire, while Turkish, the official language of Turkey, bears witness to Ottoman influence. Hebrew, an ancestral language that underwent a unique resurrection with the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, and Kurdish, spoken in regions ranging from northern Iraq to south-eastern Turkey, complete the linguistic landscape. Religiously, Islam dominates, with branches such as Sunnism and Shiism. Historical figures such as Caliph Omar, who reigned from 634 to 644 AD, and Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, embody the beginnings of these divisions. Christianity, which has been present since its origins, has seen communities such as the Copts in Egypt endure despite political and social changes. In Israel, Judaism is central, illustrated by historical figures such as David Ben-Gurion, the main founder of the State of Israel.

Middle Eastern culture, deeply influenced by these linguistic and religious diversities, is rich in artistic, musical and culinary expression. For example, Islamic art, with its complex geometric patterns, reflects religious prohibitions on figurative representations. Classical Arabic music, carried by icons such as Oum Kalthoum, has influenced regional culture far beyond linguistic borders. Festivities such as Ramadan and Persian Nowruz are examples of how religious and cultural traditions have intertwined to form unique practices.

Linguistic Diversity in the Middle East[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The linguistic diversity of the Middle East is one of its most distinctive features, illustrated by the presence of three major language families: Ural-Altaic, Indo-European and Semitic.

Linguistic Panorama of the Middle East[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Ural-Altaic family encompasses languages spoken in much of Asia and parts of Eastern Europe. In the context of the Middle East, this family is mainly represented by Turkish, the official language of Turkey, which bears witness to the expansion of the Turkic peoples and the historical influence of the Ottoman Empire in the region. Other languages, such as Azeri, spoken in Azerbaijan and by certain communities in Iran, also belong to this family. The Indo-European family, which is one of the largest and most diverse in the world, includes languages such as Persian, Kurdish and Armenian. Persian, in particular, is of major historical and cultural importance, being the language of the ancient Persian Empire and modern Iran. Kurdish, spoken by the Kurdish people spread across Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, and Armenian, the language of Armenia and the Armenian diaspora, complete this linguistic wealth. Finally, the family of Semitic languages is crucial in the context of the Middle East. Arabic, the language of the Koran and the lingua franca of many Arab countries, is the most widespread of this family. Hebrew, an ancient language which underwent a modern renaissance with the creation of the State of Israel, and other languages such as Aramaic and Assyrian, although less widely spoken, are of significant historical and cultural importance.

A language map of the Middle East (Izady).png

This coloured map shows the languages spoken in the Middle East and illustrates the population density of the regions where these languages predominate. It distinguishes languages by linguistic family and by population concentration in the regions concerned.

The Expansion and Influence of the Arabic Language[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The yellow areas represent densely populated regions where Arabic is predominant. This includes countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon and others. Arabic is the main language of the Semitic language group and is spoken throughout the Arabian Peninsula and beyond. The map illustrates the predominance of the Arabic language in areas coloured yellow, indicating a high population density in these regions. The Arabic language, belonging to the Semitic group, is not only an official language but also an integral part of cultural and religious identity in the Middle East.

Arabic spread well beyond the Arabian Peninsula, notably through the Islamic conquests from the 7th century onwards, becoming one of the most influential languages in the region. It is now spoken in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa. In countries such as Egypt, where civilisation dates back thousands of years, Arabic has supplanted ancient languages such as Ancient Egyptian, becoming the language of the majority of the population. In Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam and site of the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina, Arabic is of particular importance both religiously and culturally. In other regions, such as Yemen and Jordan, Arabic is spoken in a variety of dialects, reflecting the intrinsic diversity of the language. Lebanon, known for its cultural and religious diversity, also has a mosaic of Arabic dialects, influenced by many other languages throughout its history. In this way, the map confirms that Arabic not only serves as a language of everyday communication, but also plays an essential role in the preservation and transmission of culture and history throughout the Middle East.

The Indo-European and Semitic Linguistic Mosaic[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The green areas on the map indicate the presence of Indo-European languages, which bear witness to the ethnolinguistic and historical diversity of the Middle East. Persian, for example, is the official language of Iran and has considerable cultural and literary influence. It is a language that can be traced back to the ancient Achaemenid Empire, testifying to the historical depth of the region. Kurdish, meanwhile, is spoken in geographically discontinuous areas, mainly in the mountains of Kurdistan, which span several modern national borders, including Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. Kurdish is the mother tongue of the Kurdish population, who have maintained their language and culture despite the pressure of assimilation and political change in the region. Armenian, spoken in Armenia and by the Armenian diaspora, is another important Indo-European language that has survived despite historical upheaval, including the Armenian genocide in the early 20th century. Armenian has its own unique alphabet, created in the 5th century, which is a key element of Armenian national identity. These 'islands' of Indo-European languages not only represent the geographical distribution of ethnic groups, but also reflect the complex migratory movements and historical interactions that have shaped the Middle East. Languages are vectors of culture and collective memory, and their distribution offers us a glimpse into the histories of resilience, adaptation and cultural preservation in a region marked by great dynamics of change.

The map highlights the regions where the Turkic languages, symbolised by different shades of red, are predominant. These languages belong to the Ural-Altaic language family and are spoken by peoples whose history and culture have been profoundly shaped by migration and the Turkic empires. Turkish, the national language of Turkey, is the most notable representative of this family and is the direct result of the legacy of the Ottoman Empire, which at its height extended over vast swathes of the Middle East, South-Eastern Europe and North Africa. The Ottoman Empire not only spread its language, but also its culture, administration and religious influence across its territories. Azeri, spoken in Azerbaijan and by some communities in Iran, is closely related to Turkish and represents another important branch of Turkic languages in the region. These communities share cultural and historical links with Turkey and other Turkic peoples.

Other Turkic languages, although less represented, are spoken in adjacent regions, including parts of Russia, Central Asia and the Caucasus. These languages, although distinct, share common features due to their similar origins and historical development. The presence of these Turkic languages bears witness to the impact of the nomadic population movements from the steppes of Central Asia, which crossed the Middle East and left an indelible linguistic and cultural mark on the region. These languages and their speakers continue to play an important role in the ethnic and cultural diversity of the modern Middle East.

The map highlights Caucasian and other minority languages, represented in shades of brown and grey, which reveal an often overlooked aspect of the Middle East's linguistic diversity. These languages are characteristic of regions which, although less densely populated, are rich in linguistic and cultural variety. The Caucasus is particularly notable for its linguistic complexity. Languages such as Georgian, which has its own unique writing system, Kartvelian, are endemic to this region. Georgia, with its distinct history and culture, is a striking example of how languages can encapsulate a nation's identity.

In addition to Georgian, there are other Caucasian languages that are spoken nowhere else in the world, such as Abkhazian and Ossetian. These languages, often geographically and historically isolated, have survived and developed independently, giving rise to unique linguistic features. Their survival testifies to the cultural resilience of the peoples of the Caucasus in the face of centuries of political and social change. Minority languages, on the other hand, may comprise linguistic varieties spoken by small communities and often reflect a rich cultural heritage and distinct traditions. Although these languages are less dominant in terms of the number of speakers, they play a crucial role in preserving the region's cultural diversity and intangible heritage. Thus, the distribution of Caucasian and minority languages on the map is a reminder that the Middle East is a region not only of conflict and trade, but also of profound linguistic and cultural richness, often overlooked in global narratives.

This map is not simply a snapshot of linguistic diversity; it also suggests histories of settlement, trade, conquest and culture. The distribution of languages and peoples in the Middle East has been influenced by geographical factors, historical empires, migratory movements and political change. Languages, as vehicles of culture, reflect these complex dynamics, and understanding them is essential to understanding the rich history and culture of the region. The languages represented on the map are not simply tools of communication; they embody the souls of the civilisations that speak them. Each language is the reflection of a cultural identity, carrying traditions, poetry, stories and philosophies that have been woven over the centuries. Persian literature, for example, is characterised by the works of poets such as Hafez and Rumi, who have influenced not only their native region but also world thought and literature.

Turkic languages, with epics such as Dede Korkut, convey the values and stories of the nomadic peoples of the steppes, and Caucasian languages have oral histories that bear witness to their resistance to conquest and empire. Even minority languages, which may only be spoken by small communities, are the repositories of unique cultures, offering a window onto ways of life and belief systems that are often distinct from those of the dominant cultures. The linguistic map of the Middle East is thus a living mosaic, with each colour representing not only a group of speakers, but also a chapter in human history. Migrations, conquests and trade have shaped this region, but it is the languages and cultures that have survived and continue to tell the story of its peoples. They are the link between past, present and future, perpetuating heritage and continuing to evolve through contemporary interactions.

Dialects and Minority Languages: A Living Cultural Heritage[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The dialectal diversity within the majority languages of the Middle East is a richness that is often underestimated. Take Turkish for example; although there is a standard language taught in schools and used in the media and politics, many regional dialects co-exist and reflect the history and culture of different parts of Turkey. These dialects can vary considerably from standard Turkish in terms of pronunciation, vocabulary and even grammar. Arabic is perhaps one of the most striking examples of this dialectal diversity. Literary Arabic, or Modern Standard Arabic, is universally understood and used in writing and formal speech, but in everyday life people speak in a range of dialects that can be so different from each other that speakers from distant regions sometimes find it difficult to understand each other. These dialects reflect not only the geographical region but also historical influences such as those of the Ottomans, the Persians and the French in the Levant. Kurdish, too, is divided into several main dialects, such as Kurmandji, Sorani, and Pehlewani, each with its own regional variants. The differences between these Kurdish dialects are so great that they have sometimes led to claims for separate language status. As for Armenian, although there is a standard Armenian language, Armenians around the world also speak different dialects, often influenced by the languages of the regions to which they have emigrated or dispersed over time. In addition to these main languages, there are around 20 minority languages in the Middle East, reflecting a complex human history of exchange, migration and adaptation. These languages may be spoken by small communities, but they carry with them a history and culture that deserve to be recognised and preserved. Their existence in such a linguistically rich context is further evidence of how languages evolve and adapt to the contexts in which they are spoken, often in parallel with the dominant languages of the region.

Languages and National Identity: Between Politics and Culture[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Population movements and religion have been powerful vectors in the spread and evolution of languages in the Middle East, as in the rest of the world. Historically, migration has played a crucial role in the dispersion of languages. For example, the Arab invasions of the seventh century, driven by the expansion of Islam, spread the Arabic language across the Middle East and North Africa. This expansion not only spread the Arabic language, but also integrated and influenced local languages, giving rise to a multitude of distinct Arabic dialects. Similarly, the expansion of the Turkic empires, in particular the Ottoman Empire, extended the Turkic languages and established Ottoman Turkish (a form of Turkish influenced by Persian and Arabic) as an administrative and literary language throughout the Middle East, the Balkans and North Africa. Religions also facilitated the adoption and standardisation of languages. Arabic, as the language of the Koran, became a linguistic link between Muslims around the world, extending its use beyond traditional Arabic-speaking borders. Similarly, Judaic and Christian religious texts helped to preserve Hebrew and Aramaic, even when these languages were no longer spoken on a daily basis. The languages of the Middle East are not static; they are the result of constant interaction between peoples, their beliefs and their histories. Languages have been spread through trade, conquest, colonisation and conversion, shaping the complex linguistic landscape we see today.

The formation of nation-states in the modern Middle East has had a considerable impact on linguistic practices. By establishing one or more official languages, states have often sought to promote a unified national identity and to facilitate communication and administration within their borders. This language policy can lead to a heightened sense of nationalism, where the official language becomes a symbol of national unity and a key factor in collective identity. For example, the promotion of standard Turkish in Turkey after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the Turkish Republic in 1923 aimed to unify the country's diverse populations under a single Turkish national identity. Similarly, the adoption of Modern Standard Arabic in Arabic-speaking countries has often been associated with pan-Arab nationalist movements. However, standardisation and the promotion of a state language can also have unintended consequences, notably by marginalising regional or minority languages and dialects. This can lead to a decline in their public use and sometimes to an erosion of their long-term viability, or even to their disappearance. For example, many Kurdish minority languages and dialects have been suppressed in various countries in an effort to achieve cultural assimilation.

Paradoxically, the banning or repression of certain languages can also lead to renewed interest in these languages and dialects, which are often seen as essential elements of a community's cultural identity. In some cases, this can lead to linguistic and cultural protest movements. The suppression of the public use of Armenian in Turkey for many years has, for example, led to increased awareness and appreciation of the language among Armenian communities around the world. Ultimately, language policies in the Middle East reflect the tension between the construction of national identities and the preservation of cultural and linguistic diversity. Responses to these policies are diverse and can range from enthusiastic adoption of the state language to resistance and maintenance of traditional languages as an act of cultural preservation and political resistance.

Panorama of Religious Beliefs[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Middle East is often defined broadly to include regions such as Anatolia (the Asian part of modern Turkey), Egypt (although geographically located in North Africa, it is culturally and historically linked to the Middle East), and Mesopotamia (corresponding to the territories of modern Iraq and Syria, as well as parts of Iran and Turkey). This region, rich in cultural and historical diversity, is recognised as the cradle of several of the world's major religions.

Judaism, one of the first monotheistic religions, emerged in the Levant, particularly in the historic region of Canaan, which is now divided between Israel and the Palestinian territories. With its roots dating back more than 3,000 years, Judaism has played a central role in the religious and cultural development of the region. Christianity, which grew out of Judaism in the 1st century AD, also has its origins in the Middle East, specifically in the historic region of Judea. It spread rapidly throughout the Roman Empire and beyond, becoming a major world religion. Islam, the most recent of the three great Abrahamic religions, was revealed to the prophet Mohammed in the early 7th century in the Arabian city of Mecca. It spread rapidly across the Arabian Peninsula and, through conquest and trade, to vast areas of Asia, Africa and Europe. In addition to these Abrahamic religions, the Middle East is also the birthplace of Zoroastrianism, which was founded by the prophet Zarathustra (or Zoroaster) in ancient Persia, modern-day Iran. Zoroastrianism, which was one of the dominant religions of Persia before Islamisation, is often considered to be one of the oldest monotheistic religions and has influenced other religious traditions through its dualistic concepts of the struggle between good and evil.

Each of these religions has contributed to the rich cultural and historical tapestry of the region and continues to profoundly influence the lives, cultures and politics of the modern Middle East. Religious diversity and historical depth make the Middle East a place of particular importance to scholars, believers and visitors from all over the world.

The Foundations and Evolution of Judaism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Early Judaism and Monotheism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Judaism is recognised as one of the first monotheistic religions in history. Emerging in the region of the Levant, which today corresponds to Israel and the surrounding area, Judaism has played a crucial role in the religious and cultural development of humanity. The origins of Judaism date back to around 2000 BC, with the biblical figures of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, considered to be the patriarchs of the religion. Judaism is centred on belief in a single God, YHWH (Yahweh), and a series of laws and ethical principles expressed in the Torah, part of the larger collection of sacred texts known as the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible. What distinguishes Judaism from the other religious traditions of its time is its strict monotheism. While many ancient cultures adhered to polytheism, Judaism affirmed the existence of a single sovereign God, creator of the universe and moral guide of humanity.

In addition to its religious dimension, Judaism also has a strong ethnic and cultural dimension. Jews see themselves not only as adherents of a faith, but also as members of a people or nation, bound together by a shared history and traditions. Over the centuries, Judaism has significantly influenced many other religious beliefs and practices, in particular Christianity and Islam, which share certain roots with Judaism and recognise many Jewish biblical figures as prophets or important teachers.

Abraham and the Jewish line of patriarchs[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Abraham, often regarded as the father of monotheism, is a central figure in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. According to Jewish tradition, Abraham was born in Ur in Mesopotamia, not Edessa in Greece. Edessa is a historic city in Turkey, known as Urfa, but it is not linked to the story of Abraham in the biblical texts. The biblical account describes his journey from Mesopotamia to Canaan at the behest of God, who promised to make of his descendants a great nation. Abraham's complex relationship with his wife Sarah and her slave Hagar is a crucial element of the story. Sarah, unable to have children, gives Hagar to Abraham, from whom Ishmael is born. Sara later gave birth to Isaac. In Jewish tradition, Isaac is the son of promise, and Jews consider themselves to be his descendants. In Islamic tradition, it is Ishmael who is often seen as the son of promise, although Islam also recognises the importance of Isaac. Isaac's son Jacob is also a key figure. According to tradition, he had 12 sons, whose descendants became the Twelve Tribes of Israel, marking the formation of the Hebrew people.

The Egyptian Exodus and the Revelation at Mount Sinai[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The story of slavery in Egypt is another fundamental part of Jewish history. After living in Egypt, the Hebrews were enslaved and, centuries later, freed under the leadership of Moses, another central figure in Jewish tradition. This exit from Egypt, known as the Exodus, is a key event in Jewish history and is celebrated every year at Pesach (Passover). These stories are not only religious narratives, but have also shaped the cultural and historical identity of the Jewish people. They underline the ongoing relationship between the Jewish people, their land and their faith, a relationship that remains central to the understanding of Jewish culture and history.

The figure of Moses and the event of revelation at Mount Sinai are among the most significant in Jewish tradition and have a profound importance in the history and identity of the Jewish people. According to the biblical account, Moses, a Hebrew brought up in Pharaoh's house in Egypt, is chosen by God to free the Israelites from slavery. After a series of miraculous events, including the ten plagues of Egypt, Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt, an event known as the Exodus. The Exodus represents not only the physical liberation of the Jewish people, but also their emergence as a united nation under God.

The most crucial moment of their journey is the revelation at Mount Sinai, where, according to tradition, God (Yahweh) gives Moses the Torah, including the Ten Commandments. This moment is seen as the fundamental covenant between God and the Israelites, where they receive a set of laws and instructions to guide their spiritual and social lives. The Torah, which is the heart of Judaism, includes not only the laws and teachings, but also the history of the Jewish people since the creation of the world. The Ten Commandments are particularly significant because they establish fundamental moral and ethical principles, not only for Judaism, but also for Christianity and, indirectly, for Islam. They are considered the cornerstone of law and ethics in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The importance of these events in Judaism cannot be underestimated. Not only are they at the heart of the Jewish faith, but they have also shaped the values, practices and identity of the Jewish people. The commemoration of the Exodus on Pesach and the reception of the Torah on Shavuot are examples of how these historical events are integrated into the annual cycle of Jewish festivals and celebrations, constantly reminding the Jewish people of their history and their commitments to God.

The Conquest of Canaan and the Age of the Prophets[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

After their Exodus from Egypt and their journey through the desert, the Israelites, led by Joshua, entered Canaan, a land which, according to the Bible, had been promised by God to their ancestors. This process, described in the biblical texts, involves a series of battles and conquests to establish the Israelite presence in the region. However, it is important to note that the historical accuracy of these events as described in the Bible is a matter of debate among historians and archaeologists.

King David, who reigned in the 10th century BC, is a central figure in the history of the Jewish people. According to tradition, he united the tribes of Israel, conquered Jerusalem and made it the capital of his kingdom. Jerusalem acquired central importance in Jewish tradition, not only as a political centre, but also as a spiritual one. His son, King Solomon, is famous for having built the First Temple in Jerusalem. This temple became the centre of Jewish worship and was supposed to house the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the tablets of the Law (the Ten Commandments) given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Solomon's Temple is not only a symbol of the sovereignty and unity of the Kingdom of Israel, but also a place of great religious significance for the Jews.

The period of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah was also marked by the activity of prophets, important figures in Jewish tradition. These prophets, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, played a crucial role in advising kings, criticising social and moral injustices and reminding people of God's commandments. Their message and writings form an important part of the biblical texts and continue to influence Jewish religious thought. This period was fundamental in shaping Jewish identity and faith. It established Jerusalem as the spiritual heart of Judaism and laid the foundations for many of the practices and beliefs that are still central to contemporary Judaism.

After the death of Solomon, around 926 BC, the unified kingdom of Israel split into two: the northern kingdom, called Israel, with Samaria as its capital, and the southern kingdom, called Judah, with Jerusalem as its capital. This division reflected not only political and economic tensions, but also religious and cultural differences between the two kingdoms. The northern kingdom, Israel, was larger in terms of territory and population, but it was also more vulnerable to outside influences and invasions because of its geographical position.

The northern kingdom finally suffered a devastating defeat in 722 BC, when the Assyrians, a powerful empire at the time, invaded and conquered Samaria. This event marked the end of the kingdom of Israel, with a large part of its population deported and dispersed, a phenomenon often referred to as the "Lost Ten Tribes of Israel". This deportation and dispersion had profound consequences, not only politically and militarily, but also in terms of cultural and religious identity. The southern kingdom, Judah, survived this period but became vassals of various empires, including the Neo-Babylonian Empire. However, Judah too eventually fell, with the conquest of Jerusalem and the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BC, followed by the Babylonian exile of the Judean elite. These events are of major importance in Jewish history. They mark not only political and military turning points, but also crucial moments of cultural and religious transformation. The experiences of conquest, exile and return had a profound influence on Jewish thought and literature, notably with the writing of numerous biblical texts and the strengthening of Jewish identity and faith around the Torah and the religious community.

The Dislocation of the Kingdoms and the Dawn of the Diaspora[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The destruction of the kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 BC represented the first major catastrophe (or "Churban" in Hebrew) for the Israelites. This invasion led to the dispersion of the ten tribes of the northern kingdom, an event often referred to in the context of the "Lost Ten Tribes of Israel". This dispersion had a profound impact on the collective identity and historical memory of the Jewish people. In response to these hardships and the challenges of living in exile and under foreign domination, Jewish rabbis and scholars played an essential role in preserving and interpreting Jewish tradition. However, it is important to note that the Mishna, which is a major compilation of Jewish oral law, was written later, towards the end of the 2nd century AD, well after the time of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The Mishna, combined with the Gemara (a commentary on the Mishna), forms the Talmud, a central text in rabbinic Judaism.

The Tanakh comprises the Torah (the five books of Moses), the Nevi'im (the Prophets) and the Ketuvim (the Writings, including the Psalms). Prophets such as Elijah, Isaiah and Jeremiah, who lived at different times, played a crucial role in the religious and social life of the Israelites, sending messages of reform, social justice and faithfulness to God. These prophets often acted during periods of crisis and change, their teachings and actions reflecting the challenges facing the Jewish people. Their writings, which form part of the Nevi'im, are fundamental to understanding Judaism, Jewish spirituality and the history of the Jewish people. These texts have played a crucial role in preserving Jewish identity and have been a source of strength and inspiration, particularly during periods of persecution and dispersion.

The destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II, king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, in 587 BC was a major catastrophe for the Jewish people. This destruction, accompanied by the deportation of a large part of the Jewish population to Mesopotamia, was a devastating event that deeply marked the Jewish collective consciousness. The Babylonian Exile symbolised not only a territorial and political loss, but also a profound spiritual and identity crisis, forcing the Jews to rethink their relationship with God, their history and their identity as a people. The return of the Jews to Judea began with the rise of Cyrus the Great, king of the Persian Empire, who conquered Babylon in 539 BC. Cyrus is known for his policy of tolerance and restoration of displaced peoples, including the Jews. According to the Book of Ezra in the Bible, Cyrus issued an edict allowing the Jews to return to Judea and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. This return began around 538 BC and marked a moment of renewal for the Jewish community.

The Second Temple was rebuilt, but construction did not begin under Herod the Great. The process of rebuilding the Temple began much earlier, around 516 BC, thus completing the 70-year period of exile prophesied in the Scriptures. The Second Temple remained a major religious and community centre for the Jews until its destruction by the Romans in 70 AD. Herod the Great, who reigned much later (37-4 BC), is known to have undertaken a major renovation and expansion of the Second Temple, giving it even greater splendour and magnificence. It was this version of the Temple, enlarged and embellished by Herod, that was present at the time of Jesus and is often referred to in the New Testament.

The Evolution of Post-Temple Judaism and Jewish Communities[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Palestine came under Roman rule after the Roman conquest in the 1st century BC. In 332 BC, Alexander the Great of Macedonia conquered the region, marking the beginning of the Hellenistic period. After Alexander's death, the region came under the control of various Hellenistic dynasties, notably the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria. It was not until the 1st century BC that Judea became a client kingdom of the Roman Empire. Under Roman rule, the Jews experienced periods of repression, exacerbated by religious and cultural tensions and heavy taxation. The destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, under the command of the future emperor Titus, was a devastating event for the Jewish people. This destruction followed the Great Jewish Revolt against Roman domination. The loss of the Temple, regarded as the spiritual and national centre of Judaism, had profound consequences for Jewish religious identity and practice. Following the destruction of the Temple, the dispersion (or "Diaspora") of the Jews accelerated. Although there were already dispersed Jewish communities throughout the ancient world before the destruction of the Temple (for example in Egypt, Babylonia, Greece and Italy), this event marked the beginning of a wider and more systematic period of dispersion. Many Jews fled or were deported from Judea and settled in different parts of the Roman Empire and beyond. This dispersion had a lasting impact on Judaism. Without the Temple as a centre of worship, Judaism evolved, with an increased emphasis on prayer, the study of sacred texts and religious practice in the synagogues. The Jewish diaspora became a central element of Jewish identity, with the notion of a people united by faith and history, despite geographical dispersion.

The transition of identity from "Hebrews" to "Jews" is an important aspect of Jewish history, and is linked to a number of factors, including the loss of territory and political changes. The term "Hebrews" (Ivrim in Hebrew) was originally used in the Hebrew Bible to refer to the ancestors of the Israelites, particularly in the context of their relations with other peoples. The term is often associated with earlier periods of Jewish history, in particular the time of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) and the Exodus from Egypt. The term "Jews" (Yehudim in Hebrew), on the other hand, comes from "Judah" (Yehuda), one of the twelve sons of Jacob and one of the twelve tribes of Israel. After the division of the united kingdom into two distinct kingdoms, Israel (to the north) and Judah (to the south), and the fall of the kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians, the kingdom of Judah became the centre of Israelite identity. When the Babylonians destroyed the First Temple and exiled a large part of the population of Judah, these people were referred to as the "Yehudim" or "Jews".

With the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 AD and the subsequent dispersion of the Jews, Jewish identity became even more centred on religion and culture, rather than on a specific territory or political sovereignty. The term 'Jew' thus became synonymous with a religious and cultural affiliation, rather than simply an ethnic or national one. The loss of territory and political changes undoubtedly played a part in this evolution, but the transition from "Hebrews" to "Jews" also reflects an internal evolution in the people's understanding and self-identification. Thus, the term 'Jew' encompasses a religious, cultural and ethnic identity, transcending geographical and political boundaries.

Jewish languages and cultures around the world[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Ashkenazi Jews, originally from Central and Eastern Europe, developed a unique language and culture. Yiddish, their language, is a remarkable example of this distinctive culture. Yiddish is a Germanic language that incorporates elements of Hebrew and Slavic languages, reflecting the history and experiences of Ashkenazi Jews. This language was not only a tool of everyday communication, but also an important vehicle for Ashkenazi Jewish literature, theatre and poetry. On the other hand, Sephardic Jews, mainly from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), developed another hybrid language known as Ladino or Judeo-Spanish. Ladino, similar to Yiddish, blends Spanish with Hebrew and other languages such as Turkish and Arabic, reflecting the migrations and interactions of Sephardic Jews after their expulsion from Spain in 1492.

In terms of religious practices, Judaism is diverse. Orthodox practices adhere strictly to Jewish laws and traditions, while Reform or Liberal (also known as Progressive or Moderate) movements tend to adopt more flexible interpretations and practices. There are also conservative and reconstructionist movements, which seek a balance between adherence to tradition and adaptation to contemporary realities. This diversity reflects Judaism's ability to evolve and adapt while preserving its identity and fundamental values. Different Jewish communities around the world, whether Ashkenazi, Sephardic or of other origins, have contributed to the rich tapestry of Jewish culture and tradition, each bringing its own unique perspectives and experiences.

The Origins and Branches of Christianity[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The expansion of Christianity in the Roman Empire[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Christianity is centred on the figure of Jesus of Nazareth, whom Christians recognise as the Messiah (the Christ) and the Son of God. His birth, life, teaching, death and resurrection are at the heart of the Christian faith.

According to the New Testament, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a small town in Judea. The accounts of his birth are recounted in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, which mention the virgin birth of Mary, his mother, and the announcement of his birth by angels as an event of great importance. Jesus spent most of his life in the region of Galilee, preaching a message of love, compassion and repentance, calling for spiritual renewal and a personal relationship with God. He gathered a group of disciples around him and performed various miracles, according to the Gospel accounts.

His crucifixion in Jerusalem is a central moment in Christianity. Christians believe that through his death, Jesus offered the ultimate sacrifice for the forgiveness of humanity's sins, and that his resurrection three days later offers the promise of salvation and eternal life. This event is commemorated every year at the Christian Easter. Christianity began as a movement within Judaism in the 1st century, but quickly spread to other, mainly non-Jewish, populations throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. The figure of Jesus and his teachings have had a profound influence on human history, shaping not only the Christian religion but also many aspects of Western and world civilisation.

Legalisation and institutionalisation of Christianity[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Under Emperor Constantine I, with the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, Christianity was legalised in the Roman Empire, putting an end to official persecution. Later, under Emperor Theodosius I in 380 AD, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire with the Edict of Thessalonica. This imperial recognition profoundly transformed Christianity, allowing it to spread and influence all aspects of Roman society. However, this integration of Christianity into imperial power structures also created tensions and divergences within the Christian community. Some Christian communities sought to distance themselves from the official Church and the Empire, either because of theological differences or in response to what they perceived as the corruption or politicisation of their faith. These groups, often labelled sects or heresies by the official Church, sought to preserve a form of Christianity that they considered more authentic or faithful to the original teachings of Jesus and the apostles.

Such differences led to various schisms and movements within Christianity, some of which persisted for centuries. These divisions were exacerbated by theological debates (such as the nature of the Trinity or the relationship between the divinity and humanity of Jesus), cultural and linguistic differences, and political conflicts within the Empire. The integration of Christianity into the structure of the Roman Empire therefore had a complex impact: it enabled an unprecedented expansion and institutionalisation of the religion, but also sowed the seeds of internal divisions that would continue to shape the history of Christianity in the centuries that followed.

The debate over the nature of Jesus is one of the greatest and most significant in the history of Christianity. This theological question, which concerns the relationship between the divinity and humanity of Jesus, was at the heart of many controversies and led to several major councils in the early Church. The main question was how Jesus could be both fully divine and fully human. This issue was first significantly addressed at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, where the doctrine of the Trinity began to take shape. The Nicene Creed, resulting from this Council, affirmed that Jesus was "of the same substance" (homoousios) as the Father, thus establishing his full divinity. However, this declaration did not put an end to the debate. Over the following centuries, different schools of thought emerged. Two of the most influential were Arianism, which held that Jesus, although divine, was not of the same substance as the Father, and was therefore inferior to him; and Nestorianism, which taught that the divine and human natures of Jesus were separate and distinct.

These debates reached their climax at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, which resulted in the formulation of the so-called "double nature" of Christ: Jesus was recognised as being both fully divine and fully human, the two natures being united in one person without being mixed, confused or separated. This doctrine is known as Chalcedonian Christology. This debate about the nature of Jesus was not just an abstract theological question; it had major political, social and cultural repercussions in the Roman Empire and beyond. Disagreements over these issues led to schisms within the Church and were even the cause of conflict and persecution. The way in which the various Christian communities responded to these issues significantly shaped the evolution of Christianity in the centuries that followed.

The Council of Nicaea and the Formation of Christian Doctrine[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Council of Nicaea, held in 325 AD, was a crucial moment in the history of Christianity for several reasons. It was the first ecumenical council, bringing together bishops from all over the Roman Empire to debate and decide on central theological issues. The main issue at stake was to respond to Arianism, a doctrine promoted by Arius, a priest from Alexandria, who maintained that Jesus was not of the same substance as God the Father, but was rather a creature created by God and inferior to him. The Council of Nicaea rejected Arianism and affirmed that Jesus was "consubstantial" (of the same substance) with the Father, thus affirming his full divinity. This decision was codified in the Nicene Creed, which became a fundamental statement of the Christian faith.

However, the Nicene decision did not resolve all the controversies. It led to the formation of different interpretations and churches, particularly between the Church of the East and the Church of the West. These differences were linked not only to theological issues, but also to linguistic, cultural and political ones. The Jacobites, for example, followed the teachings of James Baradai and were associated with the Syriac Orthodox Church. They rejected the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), which had elaborated further on the nature of Christ by affirming that he had two natures, divine and human, united in one person. The Jacobites and other groups, such as the Nestorians and Monophysites, formed their own distinct ecclesiastical communities, often in opposition to the doctrines established by the dominant imperial and ecclesiastical authorities.

These divisions and controversies within Christianity significantly shaped the evolution of the religion, leading to a complex mosaic of Christian traditions around the world. These different communities have maintained their own theological interpretations, liturgical practices and organisational structures, contributing to the rich and sometimes conflicting diversity of Christianity over the centuries.

The Council of Chalcedon and Dyophysite Christology[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Council of Chalcedon, held in 451 AD, is a major event in the history of Christianity, as it tackled head-on the complex question of the nature of Christ. This Council is often regarded as the culmination of the Christological debates that ran through the Christian Church for several centuries. The decision of the Council of Chalcedon established that Jesus Christ possesses two distinct natures - divine and human - united in a single person (hypostasis). This formulation is known as "Dyophysite Christology". According to this doctrine, the two natures of Christ coexist without confusion, without change, without division and without separation. This meant that, although Christ is fully God and fully man, his two natures do not mix, thus preserving both his complete divinity and his complete humanity.

This Council was crucial in establishing an orthodoxy accepted by the majority of Christians, but it also led to significant divisions. Several Churches, notably some Eastern Churches, rejected the decisions of Chalcedon. These churches are often called "non-Chalcedonian" or "pre-Chalcedonian" and include the Coptic Church in Egypt, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church and others. These communities maintained their own understanding of the nature of Christ, often focusing on the unity of his divine and human natures. The Council of Chalcedon thus marks a pivotal moment in the history of Christianity, establishing a fundamental doctrine for many Christian churches, while at the same time creating lasting schisms with other communities that did not accept its conclusions. These Christological divisions remain an important facet of the differences between the various Christian traditions to this day.

Political and Cultural Implications of Theological Divergences[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Great Schism of 1054, marking the separation between the Church of the East, later known as the Orthodox Church, and the Church of the West, the Roman Catholic Church, represented a historic turning point in Christianity. This rupture was not an isolated event, but rather the culmination of a long period of growing divergence between the two branches of Christianity. At the heart of these differences were profound theological and ecclesiastical disputes. One major point of contention concerned the question of papal authority. The Church of Rome, with figures such as Pope Leo IX, claimed supreme authority over all the Christian churches, a position contested by the Church of the East. The Patriarchate of Constantinople, under leaders such as Michael Cerularus, rejected the idea of centralised authority and advocated a more collegial approach.

Another key point of contention was the addition of the "Filioque" to the Nicene Creed by the Church of the West. This change, stating that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father "and from the Son", was seen by the Church of the East as an unacceptable alteration of a doctrine established at the first ecumenical councils. This debate reflected wider differences in understanding of the Trinity and the nature of God. Beyond theological issues, cultural and political differences also played a role. The collapse of the Western Roman Empire and the rise of the Byzantine Empire had created a gulf between the two regions. Linguistic differences, with Latin predominating in the West and Greek in the East, also contributed to a growing cultural divide.

The symbolic event that marked the culmination of these tensions was the mutual excommunication of 1054. Legates sent by Pope Leo IX to Constantinople excommunicated Patriarch Michael Cerularus, who responded by excommunicating the legates. Although this excommunication was the most dramatic gesture, it represented the culmination of a long series of disagreements and misunderstandings. The Great Schism had profound repercussions on the subsequent development of Christianity, solidifying the division between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. This division, rooted in theological, cultural and political differences, has shaped not only religious history but also the political and cultural trajectories of Europe and the surrounding regions. Efforts have been made in modern times towards dialogue and reconciliation, but the divisions of the Schism of 1054 continue to influence the world's religious and cultural landscape.

Protestantism and the Reformation: Transforming Christianity[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In the 16th century, Christianity was profoundly transformed by the emergence of Protestantism, a movement that challenged the doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church and led to the Protestant Reformation. This period marked a crucial turning point in Europe's religious history and had lasting global repercussions. The genesis of Protestantism is often attributed to Martin Luther, a German monk and theologian. In 1517, Luther posted his "95 Theses" on the door of the church in Wittenberg, criticising various aspects of the Catholic Church, including the sale of indulgences. His writings circulated rapidly, fuelled by the recent invention of the printing press, and resonated with a public increasingly dissatisfied with certain Church practices.

Luther challenged key doctrines of the Catholic Church, such as the authority of the Pope and the efficacy of works for salvation, advocating instead justification by faith alone ('sola fide') and the authority of Scripture alone ('sola scriptura'). These ideas challenged the foundations of the Catholic Church and initiated a series of religious reforms across Europe. Other key figures in the Protestant Reformation included Jean Calvin in Geneva, who developed a theological system known as Calvinism, and Huldrych Zwingli in Zurich. Each of these reformers helped shape various strands of Protestantism, which then spawned a multitude of denominations, including Lutherans, Reformed, Presbyterians and Anabaptists, among others.

The Reformation brought about profound changes not only in the religious sphere, but also in the political, cultural and social spheres. It led to religious wars throughout Europe, changes in political power structures, and had an influence on education, literature and the arts. The Protestant Reformation also paved the way for the expansion of Christianity around the world, particularly through missionary activities in the European colonies. Thus, the 16th century was a period of major transformation for Christianity, with Protestantism challenging the established structures of the Church and redefining the way in which many Christians understood their faith and practised their religion.

Throughout the complex history of Christianity, there have been times when some Eastern Churches have established links with the Roman Catholic Church, leading to Christian communities that combine elements of Eastern and Western traditions. These Churches, often called Eastern Catholic Churches or Uniate Churches, have retained their liturgical rites and Eastern cultural heritage while accepting the authority of the Pope and certain Roman Catholic doctrines. This movement towards union with Rome has been motivated by various factors, including political considerations, desires for support in the face of external pressure, and theological and ecclesiastical interests. A notable example is the Union of Brest in 1596, when certain bishops of the Orthodox Church in Poland-Lithuania agreed to union with the Roman Catholic Church, forming the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Similarly, the Maronite Catholic Church in Lebanon has long maintained communion with Rome while preserving its Eastern liturgical and spiritual traditions.

As far as Christian demographics over the centuries are concerned, it is true that in some regions, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, the proportion of Christians to the total population has declined over time. This decline can be attributed to various factors, such as conversions, migrations, political changes, and social and economic pressures. For example, after the Muslim conquest of the Middle East, many Christians gradually adopted the Islamic language and religion, although Christian communities continued to exist in the region. However, on a global scale, Christianity expanded significantly, largely as a result of missionary movements and European colonisation between the 16th and 20th centuries. Today, Christianity remains one of the world's major religions, with a substantial presence on every continent. It is important to note that, despite the challenges and changes, Christian communities have continued to preserve their faith and traditions, often in very diverse cultural and political contexts. Christianity's ability to adapt and transform while preserving its core beliefs is a notable aspect of its history.

Principles and currents of Islam[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Muhammad: Prophet and Foundation of Islam[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Islam centres on the figure of Muhammad, considered by Muslims to be the last prophet sent by God to guide humanity. Muhammad's life and teachings play a fundamental role in Islam and have profoundly influenced the development of this religion. Born in Mecca in 570 AD, Muhammad grew up in a context where the Arabian Peninsula was dominated by polytheistic practices and a tribal social system. His youth was marked by orphanhood and poverty, but he later acquired a reputation for trust and integrity in his work as a merchant. These experiences gave him a unique perspective on the various social, economic and religious aspects of his society. According to Islamic tradition, at the age of 40 Muhammad began to receive revelations from God (Allah in Arabic) through the angel Gabriel. These revelations, which continued for 23 years, formed the Koran, the sacred text of Islam.

Muhammad's message emphasised strict monotheism (Tawhid), social justice, moral responsibility and equality before God. Aware of the inequalities and injustices of Meccan society, his teachings called for a radical change in the social and religious structures of the time. However, his preaching met with strong opposition from Meccan leaders, mainly because of the economic and social implications of his message, which challenged the power structures and religious practices established in Mecca. These tensions eventually led to the Hegira (migration) of Muhammad and his first followers from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD, an event so significant that it marked the beginning of the Islamic calendar.

The Hegira: A turning point in Islamic history[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In Medina, Muhammad established a community (Ummah) based on Islamic principles, where he played a role of spiritual, political and military leader. The following years saw the rapid expansion of Islam across the Arabian Peninsula, as well as the consolidation of the various Arab tribes under the banner of the new faith. After Muhammad's death in 632 AD, his teachings and example continued to guide Muslims. Islam spread rapidly beyond the Arabian Peninsula, becoming a major religious, cultural and political force in the world. Muhammad's life and teachings remain at the heart of the Muslim faith, profoundly influencing the beliefs, practices and culture of Muslims around the world.

The period following Muhammad's death in 632 AD is crucial in the history of Islam, as it laid the foundations for its political structure and internal divisions. The Hegira, Muhammad's migration from Mecca to Medina in 622, was a founding moment in Islam, marking the beginning of the Islamic calendar and the establishment of a united Muslim community under his leadership.

When Muhammad died in 632, he did not explicitly name a successor to lead him, which led to a crucial question: who should lead the Muslim community (Ummah)? This question gave rise to the two main branches of Islam: Sunnism and Shiism. The Sunnis, who represent the majority of Muslims, believe that Muhammad's successor should be elected from among the members of the Muslim community and follow the "Sunna" (tradition based on Muhammad's teachings and practices). The first caliph elected according to this tradition was Abu Bakr, a close companion and father-in-law of Muhammad. Shiites, on the other hand, believe that the leadership of the Muslim community should remain within Muhammad's family. They maintain that Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, was his designated successor. Shiites use the term "Ahl al-Bayt" (people of the house) to refer to Muhammad's family and their descendants.

The period from 632 to 661 AD, known as the period of the 'Rightly Guided Caliphs' or 'Rashidun', saw Abu Bakr's successors, 'Umar and 'Uthman, become Caliphs. Each of these caliphs was elected by consensus or by council from among Muhammad's companions. However, tensions and disagreements over the question of succession led to divisions and conflicts, culminating in the Fitna, a series of civil wars that deeply affected the Muslim community. This period laid the foundations for the caliphate, the political structure of the Muslim empire, which was to develop and change form over the centuries. The initial divisions between Sunnis and Shiites, although mainly theological and political at the outset, significantly shaped the history, politics and culture of the Muslim world.

The Battle of Nehavend and the Fall of the Sassanid Empire[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Battle of Nehavend, which took place around 641-642 AD, is a major historical milestone in the expansion of Islam and the fall of the Sassanid Empire. This military confrontation, which took place in what is now north-west Iran, pitted rising Muslim Arab forces against the army of the Sassanid Empire, a once powerful empire weakened by prolonged conflict and internal unrest. Prior to this battle, the Sassanid Empire, under the reign of Yazdgard III, had already suffered heavy losses in the face of Muslim conquests. The Battle of Nehavend is often seen as the final blow to Sassanid resistance. The Muslim victory in this battle was decisive: not only did it mark the end of organised resistance by the Sassanid Empire, but it also paved the way for the rapid expansion of Islam in the region. This victory, dubbed by Muslims "the victory of victories", had profound consequences for the course of regional history. With the defeat of the Sassanid army, Yazdgard III was forced to flee eastwards, desperately seeking allies to reconquer his empire. However, his efforts proved fruitless, and the Sassanid Empire, once a rival of the Byzantine Empire, disappeared from history.

The impact of this battle goes far beyond the battlefield. It marked the beginning of a major cultural and religious transformation in Persia. With the Muslim conquest, the region began a gradual conversion from the Zoroastrian religion to Islam. This transition was not limited to religious aspects; it also brought about major linguistic and cultural changes. Arabic became the main language of administration and scholarly culture, although Persian language and culture continued to play a significant role in the region. The Battle of Nehavend therefore illustrates how military conquest can have lasting implications for the cultural and religious identity of a region. By transforming the Persia of the Sassanid Empire into a key territory of the Islamic world, this battle not only redrawn the political map of the region, but also laid the foundations for the cultural and religious developments that followed.

The Shiites and their Vision of Islamic Leadership[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Shiites, whose name literally means "followers of Ali", hold that Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, was Muhammad's rightful successor. They believe that Ali and his descendants, the Imams, are the true spiritual and political leaders of the Muslim community. Shiism is based on the idea of the divine legitimacy of Ali's lineage, and its followers focus particularly on the spiritual and mystical aspects of Islam. Sunnis, on the other hand, represent the majority of Muslims and maintain that the caliph should be elected on the basis of his competence and piety. Muawiya, the governor of Syria, became a key figure in Sunni history when he clashed with Ali at the Battle of Siffin in 657. This battle, which ended in a stalemate and led to controversial arbitration, was a decisive moment, exacerbating divisions within the Muslim community. Ali's acceptance of arbitration at Siffin caused a rift with some of his supporters, who felt that by accepting arbitration he was betraying the principles of Islam. These dissidents became known as the Kharijites, a group who advocated a strict and sometimes extreme interpretation of Islam, and who opposed both Ali and Muawiya.

After the assassination of Ali in 661, often attributed to the Kharijites, Muawiya established the Umayyad caliphate, marking the beginning of a dynasty in which succession became hereditary. This period was marked by ongoing tension and conflict between the supporters of Ali and the Umayyad rulers. Muawiya's son Yazid is particularly unpopular in Shia tradition for his role in the massacre of Husayn, Ali's son, at the Battle of Kerbala in 680. This tragic event is at the heart of the Shia commemoration of Ashura and symbolises the fight against injustice and oppression. These early divisions and conflicts within Islam laid the foundations for the doctrinal, political and cultural differences that characterise relations between Sunnis, Shias and Kharijites to this day. These events not only shaped the history of the Muslim world, but also had a profound impact on politics, society and culture in the regions where Islam is practised.

The Battle of Kerbala and its Impact on Shi'ism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Battle of Kerbala, which took place in Iraq in 680 AD, is one of the most tragic and significant events in the history of Islam, particularly for the Shiites. The battle pitted Husayn ibn Ali, Muhammad's grandson and a central figure in Shi'ism, against the forces of the Umayyad caliph Yazid I. Husayn, along with a small group of supporters and family members, had travelled to Kerbala to challenge the legitimacy of the Umayyad caliphate, which the Shiites considered illegitimate and corrupt. Yazid's vastly superior forces surrounded Husayn and his supporters. Despite offers of surrender, Husayn chose to resist, leading to an unequal battle in which he and almost all his companions were killed. Husayn's death at Kerbala has become a powerful symbol of resistance to oppression and sacrifice for justice in the Shia tradition. His death is commemorated every year during the month of Muharram, particularly on the day of Ashura, when Shiites around the world remember his martyrdom with rituals of mourning and commemoration.

MOMCENC - Califat Omeyyade.png

This historical map illustrates the Mediterranean world around 750 AD, highlighting the territorial extent of the Umayyad Caliphate at its height, as well as the other major political entities of the period.

The area in green represents the Umayyad Caliphate, which extended from the Iberian Peninsula (Al-Andalus) in the east to the borders of India, encompassing the Maghreb, Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula and vast regions of the Middle East. The Umayyad Caliphate, with Damascus as its capital, expanded rapidly following the Muslim conquests that began in the 7th century. The inclusion of cities such as Cordoba, Seville and Toledo shows the extent of their power in Europe, while cities such as Kairouan in North Africa and Fustat in Egypt highlight their presence in Africa. In red, we see the Frankish Kingdom under the reign of Pepin the Short. The Franks, under the leadership of Charles Martel, halted the Umayyad advance into Europe at the Battle of Poitiers in 732, which is often regarded as a decisive moment in the containment of Islamic expansion in Western Europe. The colour blue indicates the Byzantine Empire, also known as the Eastern Roman Empire, which maintained its capital at Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). Despite losing territory to the Arabs, the Byzantine Empire managed to resist and hold on to key regions such as Anatolia, the Balkans and parts of Italy, as evidenced by the presence of Syracuse and Ravenna on the map. The Lombard Kingdom, not highlighted on the map but present in the region of Northern Italy, is another political entity from this period that was eventually conquered by the Franks. Finally, the small area in light brown represents the Kingdom of Asturias, located in the north-west of the Iberian Peninsula. This was one of the first Christian kingdoms established after the start of the Muslim conquest of Spain, and is considered to be a predecessor of the Christian kingdoms that later reconquered the territories under Muslim control during the Reconquista. The map therefore reflects a period of major geopolitical transitions, with dynamic exchanges of power between kingdoms and empires, and represents territorial demarcations at a time when Europe and the Middle East were deeply influenced by conflicts and exchanges between Christians and Muslims.

The Rise and Fall of the Umayyad Caliphate[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Umayyad dynasty, founded by Muawiya after the death of Ali, established its capital in Damascus and ruled a vast empire stretching from Spain to India. Under the Umayyads, the Muslim empire underwent considerable expansion and a degree of unification, although their reign was marked by internal tensions, particularly with the followers of Ali and the Shiite communities. The Umayyad caliphate finally came to an end in 750 AD, overthrown by the Abbasid revolution. The Abbasids, who moved the empire's capital to Baghdad, established a new dynasty that marked a turning point in Islamic history, with a cultural, scientific and political revival. The fall of the Umayyads also marked a new phase in the Sunni-Shia division, with the Shia continuing to develop as a distinct community with its own religious doctrines and practices.

MOMCENC - Califat Abbasside.png

The historical map provided represents Europe and the Middle East around the year 880 A.D. It illustrates the complex geopolitics of the period, marked by a mosaic of kingdoms, empires and dynasties. The green area represents the declining Abbasid Caliphate, which succeeded the Umayyads and whose capital was Baghdad. This entity enjoyed a golden age of scientific, cultural and economic development, but during this period its political influence began to wane due to internal revolts and pressure from emerging powers. There were several kingdoms in Spain, including León, Navarre and Aragon, in addition to territories still under Muslim control, such as those governed by the Umayyad emirate of Cordoba, shown in green chequered. These Muslim regions of Spain, known as Al-Andalus, were centres of learning and culture where Muslims, Christians and Jews coexisted. The red and white striped area indicates the Papal States under papal authority, centred around Rome, symbolising papal power in the Italian peninsula. The orange and yellow areas represent the Frankish Kingdom, divided into West and East Francia. By this time, the Carolingian Empire, once unified under Charlemagne, had fragmented, leading to the formation of what would later become France and Germany. The Byzantine Empire, in light blue, with Constantinople as its capital, although weakened by internal struggles and external conflicts, maintained its presence in the eastern Mediterranean, including regions such as Anatolia, the Balkans and parts of southern Italy. In North Africa, the Aghlabid and Idrisid dynasties, as well as the Rustamids (in green with stripes), all stemming from dissidences or branches of the great Islamic movement, established autonomous reigns, with varying degrees of allegiance or independence from the Abbasid caliphate. Finally, the Bulgarian Kingdom, shown in purple, represents another significant power of this period, having extended its influence into the Balkans and sometimes challenging the Byzantine Empire. This map reveals the political fragmentation of the period, with the rise of new powers, the decentralisation of power and the complex interaction between different religious and secular authorities. It depicts a period of transition between the Carolingian age and the beginnings of the formation of European nation-states, while also showing the gradual weakening of the Islamic caliphates in the face of rising internal and external forces.

The Rise and Fall of the Abbasid Caliphate[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The transition from the Umayyad to the Abbasid dynasty in 750 AD represented a major turning point in Islamic history. The revolt that led to the fall of the Umayyads was widely supported by Muslims seeking change, particularly Shiites and non-Arabs (such as Persians), who had felt marginalised under Umayyad rule. With the rise of the Abbasids, who claimed descent from Muhammad's uncle Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib, the centre of power shifted from Damascus to Baghdad. This period, often considered the golden age of Islam, was marked by significant advances in science, culture, philosophy, medicine and law. The Abbasids encouraged the patronage of science and the arts, attracting scholars, artists and thinkers from across the empire and beyond.

However, the Abbasid caliphate began to decline towards the end of the 11th century, largely as a result of the Crusades. These were wars waged by European Christian powers to regain control of the holy sites in the Holy Land. Although the Crusades did not directly overthrow the Abbasids, they weakened the Caliphate by draining its resources and exacerbating internal divisions. At the same time, from the middle of the 13th century, the Mongol invasions posed an even greater threat to the Islamic world. The Mongols, led by chiefs such as Genghis Khan and his successors, conquered vast territories in Asia, including Muslim regions.

The high point of this period of crisis for the Abbasids was the Mongol capture of Baghdad in 1258, led by Hulagu Khan. This conquest not only marked the end of the Abbasid caliphate, but also led to massive destruction and loss of life, bringing to an end the golden age of Islamic civilisation. By the end of the 13th century, the Islamic world had been profoundly transformed, caught between the Crusades in the west and the Mongol invasions in the east. These events not only changed the political structure of Islam, but also had a lasting impact on its cultural, scientific and religious development.

Between 1258 and 1500, the Muslim world remained very fragile between the Crusades and the Mongols. The creation of the Ottoman Empire and the Sefevid Empire (1501-1736) stabilised it.

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The map shows the geographical distribution of the three great Muslim empires of the 16th to 18th centuries, often referred to as the "Gunpowder Empires" because of their innovative use of gunpowder in military expansion and consolidation of power. These empires were the Ottoman Empire, the Safavid Empire and the Mughal Empire. The Ottoman Empire, in green, with its capital in Constantinople (now Istanbul), stretched across Anatolia, the Middle East, part of North Africa and the Balkans into Europe. It was an empire that not only made revolutionary use of gunpowder, but also left a lasting legacy in the region in terms of architecture, administration and culture. The area in orange represents the Safavid Empire, centred in Persia (now Iran). The Safavids are notable for establishing Duodecimal Shiism as the official religion of the Empire, which helped shape the religious identity of the region. The Safavid capital was Isfahan, famous for its splendid architecture and its role as a centre for the arts and commerce. In purple, the Mughal Empire covers a large part of the Indian subcontinent. Founded by Babur, a descendant of Tamerlane and Genghis Khan, the Mughal Empire is known for its wealth, its patronage of the arts and architecture - such as the famous Taj Mahal - and its relatively progressive and pluralist administration under emperors such as Akbar. This map illustrates a period when these empires dominated world politics and trade, thanks in part to their military advances and economic power. Their legacy is reflected in the modern borders, languages, religion and culture of the regions they ruled. The period of the Gunpowder Empires was also marked by important cultural and scientific exchanges, frequent territorial wars and flourishing intercontinental trade.

The capture of Cairo by the Ottomans in 1517 was another important milestone in Islamic history, marking the expansion of the Ottoman Empire and its claim to the title of Caliphate. This period marked the beginning of Ottoman hegemony over a large part of the Muslim world, which was to last for several centuries. Under Selim I, the Ottomans defeated the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt and Syria, extending their empire across the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Europe. With this expansion, Selim I claimed the title of Caliph, asserting not only political power but also religious authority over Sunni Muslims. The transfer of the centre of the Caliphate to Istanbul, the Ottoman capital, strengthened the position of the Ottoman Empire as a major power both in the Islamic world and on the international stage. However, by the end of the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire was in decline. Faced with internal and external challenges, including the rise of nationalism among its territories, competition from European powers, and economic problems, the empire began to lose influence and territory.

Despite this decline, the Ottoman Empire retained the title of Caliphate until its abolition. Although the title of Caliph lost much of its actual political significance, it retained symbolic and religious importance. The Caliph was still regarded by many Muslims as the spiritual leader of the Sunni community, even if this position was no longer backed by substantial political or military power. The end of the Ottoman Empire and the abolition of the Caliphate after the First World War in 1924 by the Republic of Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk marked the end of an era in Islamic history. This left a vacuum in terms of Sunni religious leadership that continues to influence political and religious dynamics in the contemporary Muslim world.

The Abolition of the Caliphate and the Modernisation of Turkey[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The abolition of the Caliphate in 1924 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, represented a decisive moment in the modern history of the Muslim world. This decision marked the official end of the institution of the Caliphate, which had been a central feature of Islamic governance for almost thirteen centuries. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a reformist and visionary leader, was determined to modernise and secularise Turkey in the wake of the fall of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. As part of his radical reforms, he sought to transform Turkey into a secular nation-state, moving away from the structures and ideologies of the Ottoman Empire. The abolition of the Caliphate was a key step in this process. In March 1924, the Turkish National Assembly abolished the Caliphate, expelling the last Caliph, Abdülmecid II, and marking the end of one of Islam's oldest and most symbolic institutions. The decision was motivated by Atatürk's desire to promote a national Turkish identity and reduce the influence of Islam on state policy.

The abolition of the Caliphate had a profound impact on the Muslim world. It left a vacuum of religious leadership in Sunni Islam and raised questions about religious and political authority in Islam. Many Muslims around the world were shocked by the decision, and it sparked debate about the nature of leadership in Islam and the role of religion in modern society. Since then, no state or movement has succeeded in re-establishing the Caliphate in a widely recognised manner, although the concept of the Caliphate has continued to feature prominently in Islamic discourse. Atatürk's abolition of the Caliphate remains a significant event in the history of Islam and continues to influence discussions on the relationship between Islam and the state in the contemporary Muslim world.

The Emergence and Fall of the Islamic State of Daesh[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Between 2014 and 2019, a significant event took place in the contemporary context of Islam with the self-proclamation of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as Caliph. Al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (EIIS), also known as Daesh, declared the formation of a caliphate over the territories under his organisation's control in Iraq and Syria. This proclamation, made in June 2014, was widely rejected by the global Muslim community, both religious leaders and governments. Daesh's actions and ideology have been condemned as blatantly contradictory to the principles and teachings of Islam. The brutality and extremism of Daesh, including its acts of violence, mass executions and human rights violations, have been universally denounced.

Daesh's so-called caliphate has attempted to establish governance based on an extreme and literal interpretation of Islamic law, but has met with opposition and hostility both locally and internationally. An international coalition, including many Muslim countries, was formed to combat Daesh, resulting in the gradual loss of its territory and the significant weakening of the organisation. In October 2019, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a US military operation in Syria, a blow to Daesh's leadership and symbolising the effective end of its so-called caliphate. This period highlighted the challenges facing the contemporary Muslim world, particularly in relation to issues of extremism, governance and Islamic identity. Al-Baghdadi's attempt to revive the concept of the caliphate was seen as a distortion of Islamic principles and raised important questions about the future of governance and religious authority in Islam.

Pre-Islamic Period and the Age of Ignorance: "Jahiliya"[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The notion of "Jahiliya" in Islam is a key concept in understanding the Muslim perception of history and society. Jahiliya, which literally translates as "period of ignorance", refers to the pre-Islamic era in Arabia, before the revelation of the Koran to the prophet Muhammad in the 7th century. This period is often characterised in Islamic sources as one of moral and spiritual darkness. The Jahiliya is associated with practices considered incompatible with the teachings of Islam, such as polytheism, social injustice, moral decadence and tribal conflicts. The message of Islam, with its emphasis on monotheism, ethics, social justice and the formation of a community united under faith in one God, is therefore seen as a radical break with the traditions and practices of the Jahiliya.

In contemporary Islamic discourse, the term Jahiliya is sometimes used to describe situations or societies perceived to be far removed from Islamic principles, even beyond the pre-Islamic Arab context. Some Muslim intellectuals and thinkers have used the concept of Jahiliya to criticise what they consider to be corrupt or un-Islamic aspects of modern society, including in Muslim societies themselves. However, this use of the term Jahiliya in a contemporary context is often controversial and debated within the Muslim community. For the majority of Muslims, Jahiliya remains primarily a historical concept, referring specifically to pre-Islamic Arabia and its traditions. Jahiliya is an important notion in Islam, as it symbolises not only a historical past, but also a state of being that Islam seeks to transcend through its teachings on spirituality, morality and community. In spatial terms, Dar al Islam (land of Islam) and Dar al Harb (land of war). There is also a difference between the people: those of the book (Al-Kithab), who adhere to the monotheistic religions and are invited to adhere to Islam, and the others (who disappear).

The Status of Non-Muslims in Islam: "Dhimmi"[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In the historical context of classical Islam, the concept of "Dhimmi" is an important notion for understanding how Muslim societies interacted with non-Muslims. Dhimmis are non-Muslim citizens living in an Islamic state, enjoying special protection and certain rights under Islamic law, while being subject to certain restrictions and obligations. According to the principles of Sharia (Islamic law), Dhimmis were mainly adherents of monotheistic religions such as Christianity and Judaism. They were allowed to practise their religion, administer their own community affairs and were protected by the Muslim state. In exchange for this protection and the right to practise their religion, Dhimmis had to pay a special tax called the "jizya". The jizya was seen as a symbol of the Dhimmis' submission to Muslim authority and in exchange for exemption from military service, which was compulsory for Muslim citizens.

This approach was partly based on the teachings of the Koran and the Sunna (tradition of the Prophet Muhammad), which advocate tolerance towards the "People of the Book" (Ahl al-Kitab), the term used to designate Jews and Christians, who, like Muslims, adhere to revealed scriptures. It is important to note that the application of these principles has varied over time and from region to region. In some periods and regions, Dhimmis enjoyed considerable freedom and tolerance, while in other contexts they could be subject to stricter restrictions and discrimination.

With the decline of traditional Islamic empires and the rise of modern nation-states, Dhimmi status gradually lost its practical significance. In the contemporary Muslim world, the principles of citizenship and equal rights regardless of religion have largely replaced the traditional system of Dhimma. However, the historical concept of Dhimma remains a subject of interest and debate among scholars and thinkers, both for understanding the history of Islam and for its implications for contemporary interfaith relations.

Tolerance and the treatment of "People of the Book"[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The concept of "People of the Book" (Ahl al-Kitab) in Islam, which refers primarily to Jews and Christians, is centred on tolerance rather than equality in the modern sense of the term. In medieval Islamic societies, this status was a way of recognising and respecting the presence of non-Muslim religious communities within the Islamic state, while establishing a specific legal framework for their integration and interaction with the Muslim majority.

The principles of Sharia (Islamic law) grant the People of the Book certain rights and protections as monotheistic communities with revealed scriptures. They were allowed to practise their religion, maintain their places of worship, and be judged according to their own laws in matters of marriage, divorce and other personal matters. However, this status did not imply complete equality with Muslims within the political and social framework of the time. Dhimmis (non-Muslims living under Muslim protection) had to pay a special tax, the jizya, and were often subject to certain legal and social restrictions. For example, they could be restricted in building new places of worship or publicly manifesting their faith. They were also exempt from military service, which was compulsory for Muslims.

It is important to stress that the implementation and interpretation of these rules varied considerably depending on the period and region. In some historical contexts, communities of People of the Book flourished under Muslim rule, contributing significantly to society, culture and the economy. In other cases, they have faced harsher restrictions and discrimination. In the contemporary context, the concept of the People of the Book and the status of Dhimmi have lost much of their practical relevance, with modern Muslim states generally moving towards principles of citizenship and equal rights, regardless of religion. Nevertheless, these historical concepts remain important for understanding how medieval Islamic societies managed religious diversity and inter-community relations.

Differences and Common Ground: Sunnism vs Shi'ism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Shi'ite Tradition and its different interpretations[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

For the Shi'ites, the legitimacy of leadership after the death of Muhammad is based on the principle of divine designation and the family lineage of the Prophet. They believe that the Caliphate should have fallen to Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, and his descendants, the Imams. The Shiites believe that these Imams, who come from the line of Ali and Fatima (Mohammed's daughter), possess unique spiritual and temporal authority due to their blood relationship with Mohammed and their divine designation. This belief has given rise to a strong culture of martyrdom within Shi'ism, not least because of the tragedies and persecutions suffered by Ali and his descendants, particularly Husayn ibn Ali, who was killed at the Battle of Kerbala. Husayn's martyrdom is central to Shi'ism, symbolising the struggle against injustice and tyranny.

On the other hand, the Sunni majority of Islam does not recognise the hereditary religious authority of the Shia imams. For Sunnis, the caliph must be chosen by consensus or election from among the Muslim community (Ummah) and need not be a direct descendant of Muhammad. Sunnis focus on the Sunna, the teachings and practices of Muhammad, as the source of religious authority, and reject the idea that a specific intermediate authority is needed between God and the believer. For them, religious scholars (ulama) and jurists (fuqaha) play an important role in interpreting the Koran and the Sunna, but they are not considered to have divine or infallible authority. These differences between Shiites and Sunnis in terms of leadership, authority and religious interpretation are at the root of many of the theological, ritual and political differences that characterise these two main branches of Islam.

Shiism is subdivided into several branches, each with its own interpretation of the succession of imams after Ali ibn Abi Talib, the first imam according to the Shiites. The Zaydites, who are mainly found in Yemen, recognise Zayd ibn Ali, Husayn's grandson, as their fifth Imam. They differ from other Shiites in that they do not require the Imam to be a direct descendant of Husayn through his eldest son. The Zaydites have played an important role in the history of Yemen and continue to influence Yemeni politics. The Ismailis, for their part, follow the line of Imams up to the seventh, Ismail ibn Jafar, from whom they take their name. They diverged from Dualism after the sixth imam, Jafar al-Sadiq, recognising Ismail as the next legitimate imam. The Ismailis are known for their esoteric interpretation of the Koran and their rich intellectual tradition. This branch gave rise to the order of Assassins in the Middle Ages and is represented today by the Aga Khan.

Duodeciman Shiism, which is in the majority among today's Shiites, recognises a succession of twelve Imams, the last of whom is Muhammad al-Mahdi. Born in 868, the twelfth imam, according to Duodecimal beliefs, entered occultation in 941. Duodecimans believe that he will return at the end of time as the Mahdi, to establish justice and peace. This belief in the Hidden Imam is a central element of Duodecimal theology and plays an important role in the eschatological expectations of the Shiites. Shiism, with its various branches, thus represents a rich and diverse tradition within Islam, characterised by a particular emphasis on the figure of the Imam, spirituality and the expectation of the Mahdi's return.

Sunni Islam: Legal and Theological Schools[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In Sunni Islam, the diversity of jurisprudential and theological interpretations has given rise to several schools of thought, known as Madhahib. These schools do not represent sectarian divisions, but rather different methodological approaches to interpreting the Sharia, Islamic law. The four main schools are the Hanafites, the Malekites, the Shafiites and the Hanbalites.

The Hanafi school, founded by Abu Hanifa in the 8th century, is renowned for its rational approach to jurisprudence. Abu Hanifa, a pioneer in the field of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), emphasised the importance of reason and personal opinion (ra'y) in the interpretation of religious texts. This school is particularly influential in South Asia, Turkey and the Balkans. The Malekite school, established by Malik ibn Anas, emphasises the practices and traditions of the community of Medina, considered to be a model of Islamic society, as this is where the Prophet Muhammad spent the last years of his life. Predominant in North Africa and parts of sub-Saharan Africa, this school is distinguished by its adherence to the hadith, the accounts of the acts and sayings of the prophet. Al-Shafii, founder of the Shafiite school in the early 9th century, introduced a rigorous system that combined tradition (hadith) with analogy (qiyas) and consensus (ijma). His teachings played a crucial role in the codification of Islamic jurisprudence. This school is widely followed in Egypt, South-East Asia and parts of East Africa. Finally, the Hanbalite school, initiated by Ahmad ibn Hanbal, is considered the most conservative of the four. Ibn Hanbal was an ardent defender of the hadith as the principal source of Islamic law, rejecting the use of human reason in the interpretation of sacred texts. His school had a notable influence in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

These legal schools reflect the diversity and richness of Sunni Islamic thought. They have helped to shape the way Muslims have understood and practised their faith over the centuries. Although there are differences between these schools in terms of methodologies and jurisprudential conclusions, they share a mutual respect and are all recognised as valid interpretations of Islamic law in the Sunni world. This diversity reflects Islam's ability to adapt to different cultural and historical contexts, while maintaining a consistent framework of belief and practice.

The Middle East, rich in cultural and religious diversity, is home to several religious groups which, although sharing roots with Shia Islam, have developed distinctive beliefs and practices. These groups, often labelled syncretic or heterodox, include the Alawites in Syria, the Qizilbash in Iran and Anatolia, the Druze mainly in Lebanon, Syria and Israel, and the Alevis in Turkey.

The Alawites, concentrated in Syria, evolved from Duodeciman Shiism and incorporated elements of Gnosticism, Christianity and other traditions. Their veneration of Ali as a divine manifestation and other aspects of their theology distinguish them from the main currents of Islam. This particular belief in Ali has often been a source of tension with traditional Sunni and Shia communities. The Qizilbash, originally from Anatolia and Iran, played a key role in the establishment of the Safavid Empire in Iran, and their practice of Shiism venerated the Safavid royal family. The term "Qizilbash" has historically been used to designate a variety of Turkish Shiite groups, characterised by their loyalty to the Safavids. The Druze, whose presence is notable in Lebanon, Syria and Israel, emerged from Ismaili Shiism in the 11th century. Their faith incorporates belief in reincarnation and other unique doctrines, and they practice a degree of religious secrecy. The Druze do not seek to convert others and concentrate on their own community. In Turkey, the Alevis form a distinct group, blending elements of Shiism, Sufism and pre-Islamic Anatolian traditions. They value love, tolerance and spirituality, and differ from orthodox Sunni and Shia practices in their rites of worship and beliefs.

These communities, with their unique practices and theological interpretations, illustrate the rich religious mosaic of the Middle East. Their traditions, often marked by a syncretism of beliefs and practices, reflect the historical, cultural and religious influences of the region. Although sometimes viewed with suspicion or hostility by more orthodox Islamic currents, these communities continue to play an important role in the social and cultural fabric of their respective countries, testifying to the diversity and complexity of the religious landscapes of the Middle East.

Annexes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

References[modifier | modifier le wikicode]