Some music links:
An introduction and Translated Song Lyrics by Shira
Simon Shaheen
some advice for those listening to Arab music for the first time: "Think with your voice when you listen to Arab music. It has a linear quality like the voice. Concentrate on its melodies, and listen to how they interact with the rhythm. Arab music is characterized by the use of quarter-tones, which lie between the half-steps of western music. They have a quality that you may not be able to hear at first. Don't think of them as out-of-tune notes. They are deliberate. The more you listen, the more you will begin to hear them and come to love them, for it is the quarter-tones which distinguish many beautiful maqams in Arabic music."
Arab Music by Ali Jihad Racy
Music, song and dance links
Links to Middle Eastern Music Sites by M.Tevfik Dorak
On Jewish and Muslim musicians of the Mediterranean Amnon Shiloah
Arabic Music Page

Middle Eastern Rhythms FAQ
The Tonality of Middle Eastern Music (Nigel Horne)
An Analysis of Rhythmic Modes in Middle Eastern Music (pre-1600)

Music in Muslim Lands, from my years-ago public lecture

Maqam World ("web site dedicated to helping musicians understand the maqam or modal system used in classical Arabic music")

"Maqam Singing" in Modern Iraq by Neil van der Linden

Issa Boulos on Maqam

Maqam (plural maqamat), is a series of pitches (scale) that can be represented by a seven or more tones based on eastern-modal systems. The repertoire that came out of these maqamat is called maqam music. Historically, maqam music gained sophistication and momentum during the height of the Islamic Empire between the eighth and the thirteenth centuries. The mood of the maqam is maintained by time-tested monophonic melodic figures that bare rhythmic and/or modulatory qualities and formulas. A musical composition is governed by the accumulation of these figures and formulas while other variations on pitch and melodic relationships are constantly being explored. A melodic entity is based within a group of notes (tetrachords and pentachords) interlocking with a different group within the maqam for the sake of development and exploration of other areas of the maqam including its higher register. The musical entry differs from one maqam to another. Occasionally, a player would emphasize certain areas of a single maqam that are not necessarily indicating directly to its tonal center. The concept of resolution and melodic development depends on the pitch make-up of the maqam, its register, repertoire and genre. These elements and roles also govern the ascending or descending procedures of a composition. Eventually, they become the basis upon which performers depend while composing and/or performing a monophonic piece. The maqam is established to introduce a instrumental or vocal performance or as an independent solo piece with decisive musical beginning and ending. In all cases, modulating to different maqamat is possible but with a final return to the original scale.

The Question: what do we HEAR in musics of the 'Middle East'? And for what should we be listening?

another array of maqamat

This web site lists the Maqamat and their Scales according to four arbitrary groups:

1-     Maqamat that are common to western music and that can be played with western instruments.

2-     Maqamat that have small sound divisions (quarter tones) which can not be played with conventional western instruments (except none fretted and string instruments).

3-     Maqamat with an African character, mainly the Pentatonic Scale.

4-     Maqamat that combine the pentatonic Scale with small sound divisions (quarter tones).  We find these Maqamat in the music of Andalus preserved in Arab North Africa, and sounds of the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf.

It might be interesting to consider a single person, like Munir Bashir

Munir Bashir is above all criticism. Ironically, his role as an austere alchemist of sound has made him both the most traditional and the least conventional, the most individualistic and the least iconoclastic of contemporary Arab musicians, Each improvisation he gives us is a testimony to his immense creative talent, always displayed and deployed within the strict pre-established conventions of the art of maqam; but each time his music is unique, inimitable. Sometimes he delves into the innermost wellsprings of his own inspiration, at others he refers to an Iraqi folk tune, but his performance is always unmistakable and remarkable. The purity of his art reveals the esoteric aspect of Middle Eastern music.
There could be other candidates, like Umm Kulthum. Or Ofra Haza.

The Islamic World ca. 1500 AD

What are the questions we'd ask of this map? About the edges? Rapid growth in the preceding 800-odd years. Surely expanding in some areas, though in retreat in others... and in no sense unified... Strung together by trade in a pretty wide range of commodities... And what can we say about the musical geography of this space?