Much can be learned about a culture by identifying its ideal person. This ideal person, or figure, embodies the core values of said culture. How this figure lives and what this figure stands for will represent the corporate identity of a certain culture. He is, in some way, the culture boiled down, the incarnation of what is deepest, most valued, and most real. The cowboy of the American West is just such a figure for traditional American culture. He embodies the self-sufficiency, the self-determinism, the radical optimism, and the values of liberty, justice, and equality that so permeate American society. If one wishes to understand American society, studying the cowboy would be an good place to begin. My Canadian pastor says that the Mountie plays a similar role in the culture of our northern neighbors, with its greater emphasis on orderly westward advance rather than gun-slinging.
If the cowboy is the representative figure for America, the Bedouin nomad is the representative figure for much of the Islamic Middle East and North Africa. The Bedouin nomad embodies the core values of Middle Eastern culture. Ed Hoskins, a scholar who has studied Islamic culture extensively, writes of the Muslim’s view of the Bedouin:
Bedouin men and women are admired, emulated, and lionized… [Bedouins are] bold, chivalrous, proud, sentimental, pious, and honorable. They are free – unbound by most restrictions and limited only by their own strength – as well as ceremonial, decent, dignified, and true to their promise. They are discrete, ascetic, generous, grateful, obedient to parents, loyal to friends and relatives, and honoring of the elderly. They are firm, stable, patient, and persevering. Nearly all Muslims strive to live up to these standards.
Want to better understand the soul of Middle East? Learning about the Bedouin would be a good place to start. And when it comes to any culture, it’s worth asking, “Who is the ideal figure for this people?”
Edward J. Hoskins, A Muslim’s Heart, p. 9