The cultural elements, viz., language, religion, belief, nationality, etc., which have been passed on from one generation to another area of paramount importance in the division of mankind In fact, division of mankind can be most accurate and precise when based on ways of living and thinking. Culture has been defined as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, language, belief, art, moral law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”. A concise and useful definition of the concept is: “Culture is the man-made part of the environment.
” There is a general agreement that culture is learned; that it allows man to adapt himself to his natural and cultural setting; that it is greatly variable; and that it is manifested in institutions, thought patterns and material objects. Thus, a culture is the way of life of the people; it binds the people and helps in their socio-economic and political development. One of the most important elements that bind people together is language. Difference in language is an important barrier to interaction and communication between two groups. A person who speaks a different language is considered as an ‘outsider’ and not one of ‘us’. Language is the medium through which ideas are transmitted which helps in the development of cultural homogeneity. Different countries have different languages for diplomacy, government and administration.
Some countries like Canada and Switzerland have two or more than two official languages. The spatial distribution of languages is however, very complex. Differences even of dialect are enough to divide people. In the Sutlej-Ganga plain—the Hindi heartland of India there are variations of accent and speaking. A Brijwasi (Mathura-Agra) region can be differentiated on the basis of accent from a Haryanvi Khadi-Boli (Gurgaon, Sonipat and Rohtak) though both these regions lie close to each other.
In India, there are several dozen languages and several hundred colloquial languages which may be the basis of an ethnic or cultural group. Religion is another important factor that forms a basis of ethnic groups’ identification. Religious beliefs exercise a powerful influence on human communities. Religious beliefs are very deep-seated, sometimes uniting peoples of different racial and language groups, often dividing people who are otherwise identical. The basic fact in religion is to be found in a belief in the existence of invisible powers that accompany man and intervene in all life’s activities. The fundamental influence that religion exercises on human society is its demand for restraint of a kind different from that imposed by the physical environment. Religion prescribes prohibitions and regulations.
The worship of plants and animals is found mainly among the primitive people. In the relatively more developed societies like Indians, the Banyan and Pipal trees and cows and snakes etc., are worshiped. The Gujjar- Bakarwals of Kashmir and the Kirghiz of Kirghizistan never felled a living tree. Similarly, the Buddhists of Ladhakh (Ladakhis) never kill a living animal but use only the dead ones. The Eskimos of Canada and Greenland and the Yukaghir and Chuckchi of Siberia, who hunt the caribou and reindeer, go through a ceremony of atonement when they have completed a big hunting mission. During this ceremony, they do not kill a caribou or reindeer. Religion forbids Jews and Muslims to eat pork, this is the reason they do not keep pigs.
Similarly, consumption of liquor is forbidden among Muslims, they therefore grow grapes mainly for the purpose of making raisins. Muslims do not lend at interest, which in Muslim countries leaves banking to Greeks, Jews and Arminians. Among the Khasis of Meghalaya and some of the tribes of Mizoram and Nagaland, taking milk and milk products is a taboo and they therefore do not go for cow milching and dairying.
Among the Christians of Europe, fasting causes a great consumption of fish and this has further caused a remarkable growth of fishing in North-West Europe, and its development into an important modern industry in country in which essential foods are supplied by agriculture and the rearing of cattle. The earliest religious beliefs were animistic, i.e., they used to worship various spirits. These ‘spirits’ are lodged within man or in the world outside, in forests, streams or mountains. The animistic religion still persists in the tribal and isolated areas of the world. In India, Hinduism is the dominant religion.
The social and moral frameworks of the Hindus are based on Hindu Varna (caste) and upjati (sub-caste) system. A Hindu caste includes only such persons as may join in marriage and have meals together. This system was perhaps introduced in India by the Aryan conquerors for the purpose of preventing themselves from being absorbed by the native Daravidians. Buddhism developed as a reaction against Hinduism. It was willing to receive the unfortunate and the outcast, and inspired mediation and a taste for solitary life. In Tibet and Sinkiang province of China, at least one-fourth of the men are monks vowed to celibacy, a moral restriction which deeply influences demography and manpower. Buddhism is an important religion in South and East Asia. China has two other religions, i.
e., Confucianism and Taoism. The teachings of Confucius (551-478 B.C.) are concerned with social relationships, welded outs a more primitive system of beliefs which include ancestor worship. Lao Tze, a contemporary of Confucius, fastened on the spiritual and mystic elements in this primitive sub-stratum to teach a passive religion (Taoism).
Japan has its own system of belief, Shinto, basically a primitive animistic religion, given a deeper significance by the infusion of Buddhism in the 6th century A.D. The three important monotheistic religions arose in the South-West Asia (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Judaism which dates back to Moses in the 13th century B.C.
is uncompromisingly monotheistic. After its clash with Imperial Rome and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and 135, the Jews were expelled from the Holy Land, and a Jewish State was not again established until 1948—almost 2,000 years later—although the majority of adherents of Judaism remain scattered throughout the world. The largest number of Jews resides in USA followed by Israel. The largest followers in the world are that of Christianity. The adherents of Christianity are found in all the major and sub-racial groups of the world. It was founded in the 1st century A.
D. by Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah or Anointed one, by his disciples who were then called Christians. Christianity spread quickly through the Roman Empire in Asia, Europe and Africa. In the 4th century A.
D., with the Pope in Rome—the successor of St. Peter, Christ’s chief disciple—widely recognized as the supreme authority in a rapidly emerging church hierarchy. The Eastern Church, which began in the Holy Land before there were any Christians in Rome, rejected Popal authority in the 11th century A.D., and the Eastern Orthodox Church comprising Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Constantinople.
The ancient Armenian Jacobite, Syrian, Indian, Coptic Ethiopian and Egyptian were the main Churches of the East. One of the most active proselytizing faiths in the history of religion—Islam—was carried across Asia, Africa, and the Mediterranean coastal lands of Europe, especially Spain, France, Vienna, Yugoslavia and East European region, comprising of the Balkan states. Prophet Mohammed (SAS) and his early Caliphs were the great social innovators. Islam integrated the local tribal societies of the South-West Asia and amalgamated the people of oases cultivators, grain farmers, nomads having animals for caravans, sailors on the Mediterranean Sea, Arabian Sea, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean, urban merchants and craftsmen. Prophet Mohammad (SAS) himself was a merchant before he became a Prophet.
The monotheism he proclaimed replaced beliefs and cults of local and tribal deities by a common faith, which once accepted, brought all man into a universal brotherhood. The sense of unity was reinforced by the prayers during which all Muslims turn towards Mecca five times daily. Dogma, worship and pilgrimage to Mecca have strengthened Islamic unity and brotherhood for over fourteen centuries. Once the Islam spread from Iberia (Spain and Portugal) to Persia and Central Asia, Arabic was adopted as the sacred language and official language in most of the South-West Asia.
These Arabic-speaking lands may be taken as the core of Islamic world. Here, in the main cities, like Baghdad, Cairo and Damuscus, the Muslim law and polity were formulated in the great codes of leading jurists. The sense of unity among Muslims is derived not only from common doctrines and social customs but from the tradition of common polity. Land inhabited by Muslims is one homeland—Dar-el-Islam. Under Muslim law, the Christians and Jews have had the status of protected communities (dhimmi) arising from the respect given to their teachings by the Prophet Mohammed (SAS) himself.
The separate status of these non-Muslims was reinforced by their economic functions. In most of the Ottoman Empire, American was bankers, whilst commerce was largely in the hands of Greeks. In Egypt, most of the government accountants and clerks were Copts.
Islam affected the economic activities and patterns of settlements both in the rural and urban areas. In towns, cities and villages, the mosque used to be the nucleus around which the markets, sarais and residential areas were developed. Islam’s prohibition of pork and wine discouraged the rearing of pigs and viticulture. So far as the spatial distribution of Muslims is concerned, the expansion of Islam was overland to the limits of dry lands in Northern Africa and Central Asia, and in some places into adjoining humid regions. In Central Asia, its domain was mainly confined to Pamir’s and along the Silk Road in China up to the Hwang-Ho basin. But it has also been propagated across the Indian Ocean, by its maritime merchants.
In the middle Ages, the Arab traders penetrated into the interior, before the arrival of European explorers and founded other trading posts. Eastwards, Arab ships reached the Malabar ports and Ceylon. They reached Malaya, Sumatra, Java, Philippines and the other islands of South-East Asia. The frontiers of Islam thus extended into South-West Asia, Africa, Central Asia, South Asia and South-East Asia, and despite the changes wrought by legal reforms in the sacred law of Islam (the Shariat), Muslims still regard themselves as a universal brotherhood. The pace of industrialization has been very slow in the Muslim countries. In fact, in many of the Muslim countries, industrialization has hardly begun.
The most prosperous countries sell agricultural products and minerals to the developed countries, e.g., Malaysia (Malaya) exporting tin and rubber, Pakistan and Egypt are exporting wheat and cotton, respectively. Tunisia and Algeria are the exporters of olive oil and wine, and the Gulf countries are exporting oil.
The urban population of the Arab countries of South-West Asia has increased tremendously during the last three decades. Kuwait, Lebanon, Iraq, Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have over 80 per cent of their populations in urban areas.