Friday, November 21, 2008

Norms and Values in Middle Eastern Culture

            A culture is a particular society at a particular time and place[1]. Although every society has its own culture, it may vary in each due the differences in their sets of values. Each culture is built on their own norms and values. These characteristics help differentiate each culture. Norms and values are essential because they help keep a culture in line. By keeping a culture in line, it is at the peak of its excellence.
A norm “is a standard that is required or regarded as normal”.[2] There are basic norms that are found in the Middle Eastern and other cultures. Norms, such as being courteous, respecting your elders, being responsible, obeying the law, are expected from every culture. These norms were set to prevent society from becoming chaotic. Laws or example, are “a body of rules and principles governing the affairs of a community and enforced by a political authority”.[3] If there were no laws, everyone would do what they please without taking into consideration any of the consequences. If laws were terminated, murderers would not be punished, vandalism would become a regular practice, and stealing would not be a crime. Laws are necessary to keep society in order as well as keep the people safe.
Values, on the other hand, “are beliefs of a person or social group in which they have an emotional investment”.[4] Unlike norms, values are subjective, meaning that they are unique to every individual. Still, the accepted set of values, ideals, goals and standards are part of the character of a culture. These derive over time and are modified with each generation. Some cultures or societies change faster than others, but there is a stability found in a common set of values.
In the Middle East, “Islam stresses the idea of a public morality, which is to be enforced collectively”.[5] In some areas, Islamic rules have affected certain cultural values. These are strict and extremely obligatory. For example; in Iraq, people must follow strict religious customs that are set for them, whereas in Bahrain, a more liberal culture, people do not practice these customs as intensely as Iraqis because of cultural differences. Bahrain, however, has plenty of Islamic customs that people accept and take on, one of them being the Islamic emphasis on specific acts of kindness. In a broad circle of relationships, the first obligation is to the immediate family – parents, spouse, and children – and then to other relatives, neighbors, friends and orphans and widows, the needy of the community, our fellow Muslims, all fellow human beings, and finally animals.
Although norms and values differ depending on each culture, many of these are shared within the Middle East. Without them, cultures and societies would suffer from the commotion and turmoil that occurs due to the lack of rules and morals. Although both norms and values change through time, norms are generally modified as generations pass, while most values remain the same and are practiced as they are in present day.

 Noor Al Moataz


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