Most of the region’ s population today speak Arabic, consider themselves Arabs, and practice Islam. The major non-Arab, yet Islamic, areas are located in the high plateau and mountain regions of Turkey, Central Asia (mostly Turkic speaking), Iran, northern Iraq, and portions of Afghanistan. Besides Islam, Southwest Asia is also a hub of Judaism and Christianity, two other major world religions. The Jewish state of Israel was created after World War II, in a region that historically had a large Jewish population, but also a large Arabic-speaking Palestinian population.
Jerusalem, the capital and largest city of Israel, has long been a pilgrimage destina- tion for Jews, Christians and Muslims. It is one of the three most important religious cities in Islam, as Muslims believe that the site atop the Temple Mount is where the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven accompanied by the Archangel Gabriel.
Unfortunately, competing religious interests in such a small territory have more often served as a source of conflict and division rather than religious tolerance and unity.
The southern portions of Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco have large Amazigh (Berber) populations, who have lived in this region for over 2000 years. The country of Sudan is Arabic speaking and Islamic in the north with Sub-Saharan African (and Christian) cultures in the south. Similarly, the southern edge of the Sahara Desert is a transition zone where semi-Arab peoples transition to Sub-Saharan Africa popula- tions. Countries there include Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad (which are included in the Sub-Saharan Africa region of this book).
Although on the edge of the Middle East region, the highlands of Ethiopia are the center of a civilization that dates back over 2000 years, and has evidence of Greek and Egyptian influences, including the adoption of the Coptic Christian tradition, which is related to the eastern Orthodox form of Christianity. Smaller early Christian church populations are scattered throughout Southwest Asia and North Africa, including a large Christian population in Lebanon, Syria and Israel.