After spending the last 8 months in the Middle East (Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine and Egypt and a failed attempt at Iran), I wanted to share some things I think are interesting and good to know about this part of the world.
1. Case of the Mondays…or is it Sundays?
The work week in a few of the middle east countries I visited (such as Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Egypt), starts on Sundays not on Mondays like in the Western World. So they work from Sunday to Thursday and begin their weekend on Thursday and go back to work on Sunday.In the Jewish faith there is also Shabbat…which I included below as a bonus.
2. Arabic and Hebrew is written/read right to left.
Since coming from the “Western World” I both read and write from left to right I found it interesting to see people writing things the other way around and I even made the mistake of picking up books and going to open them and people correcting me that I had to open them the other way around, etc.
3. “The forbidden fruit”: What’s Kosher and Halal ?
Both Islam and Judaism have certain dietary restrictions and customs. While there are similarities such as both don’t eat pork, and each of the restrictions come from their holy books, each have different ways to establish what meats they can eat and the way in which the animals they eat are killed.
In the kosher tradition there are many rules and restrictions, but the main one’s are:
-The animal should be killed by a holy person who’s responsibility is to kill the animal in a specific way and bless the animal (in Judaism the first and last animal is blessed).
-That the animals that are killed which are supposed to be those that both have hooves (the nail like cover of the feet of the animals like cows, goats, etc),
-They should be animals that regurgitate their food in their digestive process.
-That you don’t eat both a child and mother in the same meal, so for example a cheeseburger or combination of dairy with meat is forbidden.
In Islam, all animals to be eaten are supposed to be blessed in the name of god as they are killed. They are also to be killed by having their throats slit and they should be hung upside down until the blood leaves their body before being cooked. The head of the animals should also face the most sacred holy site in Islamic faith.
4. Having the head covered isn’t only a Muslim thing.
Head covers are usually associated with Muslims, but all 3 major religions (Islam, Christianity and Judaism) share this similarity, mostly with women, for the most religious. All 3 use it as a symbol for devotion, and with women it is supposed to promote modesty and not flaunting the beauty of women and their hair which might cause problems like infidelity, etc. While in the Western World this custom has changed throughout the years (Up until the 1960s the Roman Catholic Church used to require all women wear a Christian head covering over their hair in church). While I disagree with the idea of covering women, and think instead we should teach men to be more civilized than to cover women, I respect it.
5. Stereotypes on the Middle East are wrong
I’ve rarely felt safer than in the middle east. Stealing and people being robbed is not something that happens, while this is common in the West. In the middle east people warmly greet each other with “peace be with you, (As-Salaam-Alaikum)” and you respond with “and also with you (Wa-Alaikum-Salaam)” and and in Israel with “Shalom”, which also means peace.
While there are many stereotypes that vilify both Muslims and Jews, I’ve found people from these two religions to be some of the warmest, and most generous people I’ve encountered. And the ironic part is that despite their big problems with each other, they have many many things in common. Below in the additional reading links there is a great article highlighting these similarities. If anything the love for hummus (delicious chickpea spread) should be enough 🙂
We the people of the world and the religions that often divide us have more in common than we think. While we often struggle to understand and accept behavior and things that are different from our culture, we have to understand that there is a unifying connector, we are all part of the human race and all the rest is as irrelevant as the color of our eyes.
Shabbat: Translates to the cessation of work, and is the holy day of the week in Judaism where people are supposed to abstain from working (and a few other activities like driving and lighting fires, turning on electric things) and is observed from sun down on Friday until sundown Saturday. What I found surprising is that religious people even don’t drive, and you see most people walking on what are normally busy streets. I actually loved this as you saw families out walking dressed up for their Shabbat dinners greeting people passing and wishing them a peaceful day of rest, “Shabbat Shalom.”
I had the chance to be around Israeli friends while traveling and saw how they like to keep this tradition of having dinner together with friends on Friday (usually it’s with family when they are near), and I had the pleasure of attending a few Shabbat dinners while I was in Israel and loved how it brings friends and family together once a week, even if they are not religious (which was usually the case). Below more info on Shabbat if you’d like to learn more.
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References and Further Reading:
Similarities between Islam and Judaism
Kosher and Halal