The class was literally an introduction to Middle East studies, starting from the most ancient of moments in history till today. Of course, my passions couldn’t be ignored in this class, so for the first paper we had to submit, I chose to write on women’s status in Hammurabi's time as concluded from The Hammurabi Code. I did this because according to many (not all) Muslims, the status of women in every culture and religion before the advent of Islam was extremely low and Islam came to change that. Well, historical findings show us a different side of the picture: Hammurabi existed in 17th century BCE, and guess what, folks! Women had FAR MORE in his laws than they do in many cultures/religions even today. It was quite heartbreaking to see how backward humans seem to have gone between now and 17th century BCE. That's not to say, however, that they had the best status and were treated most beautifully under Hammurabi's code.
I was also introduced to The Epic of Gilgamesh, which is virtually a copy of the Noah’s story – you know, the flood and all – and is the oldest written on earth as far as historian and archeologists are concerned. The Epic is about the adventures of King Gilgamesh of Uruk, who lived around 2750 and 2500 BCE.(By the way, Uruk is considered to have been the first "city," an urban area, in history.) Noah, according to Biblical records and accounts, lived around 16th century BCE – but let’s not forget that the Bible tells us that he lived for 900 years and died about 300 years after the flood.
And so I noticed how stories are passed down from generation to generation and how the theories/beliefs/myths/legends/etc. of one culture or religion can be a result of mutual influence from others.
It was also in this class that I realized (when studying the emergence of the factions within Islam) how crucial it is to study things from not just ONE perspective but from as many as possible, if we really wish to consider ourselves educated and learned. We can’t claim that we’re right while not willing to understand what the others around us, even if they believe we are wrong, have to say – both about our beliefs as well as their own. And how can we study something if it’s taught to us from the opponent’s perspective? For instance, if I wanna study Shiasm, I must not study it from Sunni or other non-Shia perspective. Sure, it’s good to look into what Sunnis have to say about the beliefs of Shias, but to STUDY them from Sunni sources is a terrible mistake and trap. Similarly, if we wanna study Christianity, or a certain faction within Christianity, we must do it from the sources of that particular group, not other groups. The same applies to all other religions and the branches/sub-branches that have developed inside them.
Believe me, people’s beliefs start to make sense to us only once we allow *them* to explain it all to us, not when we sit around asking their enemies to tell us anything about them. We can learn a lot from them this way, and it shows us how to be tolerant and respectful to all.