Cultural Patterns of Africa & the Middle East

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  • 0:01 Defining Cultural Patterns
  • 0:40 Language
  • 1:45 Religion
  • 2:50 Land Use
  • 3:35 Education
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Although Africa and the Middle East have different regional cultural patterns, these patterns share some common or universal aspects. In this lesson, we'll touch upon the highlights of these cultural patterns, including those related to language, religion, land use and education.

Defining Cultural Patterns

The term cultural pattern refers to the way people behave over time. When large numbers of people behave the same way, we refer to their behavior as a 'custom' or 'cultural pattern.' On the surface of it, it may not look like the diverse cultures found in Africa and the Middle East have a great deal in common.

However, upon closer examination, we can see that both regions share common cultural themes that either unite or set some of their native peoples apart. This is not only to say that their cultures are the same, or even remotely similar. Instead, they show how different aspects of culture can have a comparably strong effect on completely different groups.


Take language, for example. As many as 2,000 languages are spoken throughout Africa, with about two dozen majority and minority languages spoken in the Middle East. In Africa, there has long been a need for a lingua franca, or a common language known to everyone. In much of Eastern Africa, people speak Swahili. In parts of West Africa, people speak Hausa. Arabic functions as the lingua franca in the Middle East, but with one distinction. While plenty of people speak Arabic as their native language, it is actually quite different from the Arabic used as a lingua franca.

So, how would a West African speak to an East African? He or she would have to learn Swahili, or the other person would have to learn Hausa. Likewise, if an Arab tries to communicate with an Arab from a different country, both parties might find themselves using the same word differently. Customs and patterns of language in both Africa and the Middle East are diverse and present both regions with the same cultural challenge. As a result of this challenge, there has been a real push in both Africa and the Middle East to communicate in English and French.


Major faiths found in Africa include Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and traditional African rites. In the Middle East, the major faiths include Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all of which are monotheistic and share a historical relationship with one another.

Throughout much of the Middle East, religion is the most important aspect of people's lives. It determines whom they can marry and what kind of work they can do. In countries like Lebanon, it even determines one's role in politics. Loyalty to faith often precedes loyalty to a political state. Sometimes, faith also forms the basis for political and religious warfare.

By comparison, religion is something that is largely absorbed into existing beliefs in Africa, where faith practices may combine the beliefs of indigenous religions, Christianity and Islam. As a result, it's not uncommon to find someone praying in Arabic to a pagan-looking idol alongside a cross and calling God Allah.

Land Use

Despite their differences in religion, land use is one place where many Africans and Middle Easterners find some common ground. Historically, powerful local leaders in both regions controlled most of the fertile land, but largely ignored the deserts and grasslands. As a result, fertile land is highly valued, while other lands remain largely unregulated. As a result, large numbers of nomads populate places like the Arabian and Sahara deserts.

Due to the discovery of oil, gold and diamonds in Africa, some states have started to enforce land rights. As you might imagine, this causes some level of friction with nomadic groups who have had access to the land for centuries, such as the Bedouin and the Khoikhoi.

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