Religion in Iraq

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Religion in Iraq (2015)[1]

  Shia Islam (64.4%)
  Sunni Islam (30.9%)
  Christianity (1.21%)
  Yazidism (1.49%)
  Other religion (2%)

Religion in Iraq was overwhelmingly Muslim as of 2015, with over 95-98% of the population practicing Islam. Christianity, including Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Assyrian Church of the East, accounted for 1% and other religions made up the remaining 1-4%.[2] Yazidism and religious syncretism practiced by minorities in Iraq includes Mandaeism, Shabakism, and Yarsanism accounts for 1.5%. The Iraqi Jewish community no longer exists aside from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.[citation needed]


Imam Ali Mosque, Najaf. One of the holiest sites in Shia Islam.

Iraq's Muslims follow two distinct traditions, Shia and Sunni Islam. According to the 2018 CIA Factbook, Iraq is 97% Muslim: 60-65% Shia and 32-37% Sunni.[2] The overall percentage of Muslims has increased since the Iraqi Civil War (2014–2017) due to the migration of Christian and Yezidi refugees into neighboring countries.[citation needed] Iraq is home to many religious sites important for both Shia and Sunni Muslims. Baghdad was a hub of Islamic learning and scholarship for centuries and served as the capital of the Abassids. The city of Karbala has substantial prominence in Shia Islam as a result of the Battle of Karbala, fought on the site of the modern city on October 10, 680. Similarly, Najaf is renowned as the site of the tomb of Alī ibn Abī Tālib (also known as "Imām Alī"), who the Shia consider to be the righteous caliph and first imām. The city is now a great center of pilgrimage from throughout the Shia Islamic world and it is estimated that only Mecca and Medina receive more Muslim pilgrims. The city of Kufa was home to the famed Sunni scholar Abu Hanifah, whose school of thought is followed by a sizable number of Sunnis across the globe. Likewise, Samarra is home to the al-Askari Mosque, containing the mausoleums of the Ali al-Hadi and Hasan al-Askari, the tenth and eleventh Shia Imams, respectively, as well as the shrine of Muhammad al-Mahdi, known as the "Hidden Imam", who is the twelfth and final Imam of the Shia of the Ja'farī Madhhab. This has made it an important pilgrimage centre for Ja'farī Shia Muslims. In addition, some female relatives of the Prophet Mohammad are buried in Samarra, making the city one of the most significant sites of worship for Shia and a venerated location for Sunnis.

Smaller sects of Islam exist in the country, such as the small Shia Shaykhist community concentrated in Basra and Karbala.


Iraqi Kurds are mainly Sunni Muslims, with a Shia Feyli minority of 3%.[3] Most Kurds are located in the northern areas of the country. Most Iraqi Kurdish Muslims follow the Shafi school of Islamic law, while others are members of either the Qadiri or the Naqshbandi Sufi tariqah.[4]


About 60%-70% of Iraqi Turkmen are Sunni Muslims, and about 30% to 40% practice the Shia form of Islam.[5][6] Collectively, most Iraqi Turkmen are secular, having internalized the secularist interpretation of state–religion affairs practiced in the Republic of Turkey.[5] The religious and tribal factors and tensions inherent in Iraq’s political culture do not significantly affect the Iraqi Turkmen Sunnis and Shias.[7]


The Latin Church in Baghdad
Yazidi leaders meet the Chaldean patriarch Audishu V Khayyath in Mosul, c.1895

Christianity was brought to Iraq in 40's AD/CE by Thomas the Apostle, Thaddaeus of Edessa and his pupils Aggagi and Mari. Thomas and Thaddeus belonged to the twelve Apostles.[8] Iraq's indigenous Assyrian people represent roughly 3% of the population (earlier CIA Factbook), mostly living in Northern Iraq, concentrated in the Ninewa and Dahuk governorates. There are no official statistics, and estimates vary greatly. In 1950 Christians may have numbered 10–12% of the population of 5.0 million. They were 8% or 1.4 in a population of 16.3 million in 1987 and 1.5 million in 2003 of 26 million. Emigration has been high since the 1970s. Since the 2003 Iraq War, Iraqi Christians have been relocated to Syria in significant but unknown numbers. There has been no official census since 2003, when the Christian population in Iraq numbered 1.2–2.1 million.

Iraqi Christians are divided into four church bodies:


The Yazidis are a group[9] in Iraq who number just over 650,000. Yazidism, or Sherfedin, dates back to pre-Islamic times. Mosul is the principal holy site of the Yazidi faith. The holiest Yazid shrine is that of Sheikh Adi located at the necropolis of Lalish.


Zoroastrianism was one of the dominant religions in Kurdistan before the Islamic era. Currently, Zoroastrianism is an officially recognized religion in Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran.

Zoroastrianism has become the fastest growing religion with Kurds, especially in Kurdish-controlled Northern Iraq.[10] Because of the religion's strong ties to Kurdish culture, there has been a recent rebirth of Zoroastrianism in the region, and as of August 2015 the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officially recognized Zoroastrianism as a religion within Kurdish Iraq.[11] Arguably the world’s oldest monotheistic religion, Zoroastrianism (Zardashti in Kurdish) has almost disappeared in the last century until recent years. According to Yasna, an association that promotes Zoroastrianism in Kurdistan, since 2014 about 15,000 people have registered with the organization, most of them Kurds converting from Islam.[12][13][14] people in Iraqi Kurdistan have converted to Zoroastrianism from a Muslim background since 2015, with the first new Zoroastrian temples being built and opened in 2016.[15]

Many Kurdish people converted from Islam to Zoroastrianism, especially after ISIL attacked Iraqi Kurdistan.[16][17] The surge in Kurdish Muslims converting to Zoroastrianism, the faith of their ancestors is largely attributed to disillusionment with Islam after the years of violence and barbarism perpetrated by the ISIS jihadi group.[18][19]

On 21 September 2016, the first official Zoroastrian fire temple of Iraqi Kurdistan opened in Sulaymaniyah. Attendees celebrated the occasion by lighting a ritual fire and beating the frame drum or daf.[20]

There are no accurate numbers on the population of Zoroastrians in Iraq because they are listed as "Muslims" on their government-issued documents.[21]


The Mandaean faith has existed in Iraq since the reign of Artabanus V of Parthia, according to the Haran Gawaitha, a text that tells the history of the Mandaean people. This would make the Iraqi presence of Mandaeans at least 1,800 years old, making it the third oldest continually-practiced faith in Iraqi society after Zoroastrianism and Judaism. There are about 60,000 estimated Mandaeians living in Iraq.[citation needed] The oldest independent confirmation of Mandaean existence in the region is the Kartir inscription. The Mandaean faith is commonly known as the last surviving Gnostic faith and its adherents believe it to be the oldest faith on Earth. John the Baptist, known as Yahia Yuhanna, is considered to have been the final Mandaean prophet and first true Ris'Amma, or Ethnarch, of the Mandaean people. Most Iraqi Mandaeans live near waterways because of the practice of total immersion (or baptism) in flowing water every Sunday. The highest concentrations are in the Mesene province with headquarters in Amarah, Qalat Saleh and Basra. Besides these southern regions bordering Khuzestan in Iran, large numbers of Mandaeans can be found in Baghdad in the Dweller's Quarters, giving them easy access to the Tigris River.


Judaism first came to Iraq under the rule of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. It was a part of the Babylonian Captivity. After the Six-Day War in Israel, rioting caused the majority of Jews to flee. Present estimates of the Jewish population in Baghdad are eight (2007),[22] seven (2008)[23] and five (2013)[citation needed]. Among the American forces stationed in Iraq, there were only three Jewish chaplains.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Religions in Iraq".
  2. ^ a b "The World Factbook". CIA. Archived from the original on 2009-05-13.
  3. ^ Szanto, Edith (2020), Lukens-Bull, Ronald; Woodward, Mark (eds.), "Islam in Kurdistan: Religious Communities and Their Practices in Contemporary Northern Iraq", Handbook of Contemporary Islam and Muslim Lives, Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp. 1–16, doi:10.1007/978-3-319-73653-2_88-1, ISBN 978-3-319-73653-2, retrieved 2020-12-09
  4. ^ Szanto, Edith (2020), Lukens-Bull, Ronald; Woodward, Mark (eds.), "Islam in Kurdistan: Religious Communities and Their Practices in Contemporary Northern Iraq", Handbook of Contemporary Islam and Muslim Lives, Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp. 1–16, doi:10.1007/978-3-319-73653-2_88-1, ISBN 978-3-319-73653-2, retrieved 2020-12-09
  5. ^ a b Oğuzlu, Tarik H. (2004), "Endangered community:The Turkoman identity in Iraq", Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Routledge, 24 (2): 313
  6. ^ Jawhar, Raber Tal'at (2010), "The Iraqi Turkmen Front", in Catusse, Myriam; Karam, Karam (eds.), Returning to Political Parties?, The Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, pp. 313–328, ISBN 1-886604-75-4
  7. ^ Oğuzlu 2004, 314.
  8. ^ Suha Rassam. Christianity in Iraq. Gracewing Publications. Archived from the original on 2016-01-21.
  9. ^ "Yezidi Identity Politics and Political Ambitions in the Wake of the ISIS Attack". Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies. 20 (5): 427. 2018. doi:10.1080/19448953.2018.1406689.
  10. ^ Szanto, Edith (2018-05-15). ""Zoroaster was a Kurd!": Neo-Zoroastrianism among the Iraqi Kurds". Iran and the Caucasus. 22 (1): 96–110. doi:10.1163/1573384X-20180108. ISSN 1609-8498.
  11. ^ PS21 (2015-11-26). "The curious rebirth of Zoroastrianism in Iraqi Kurdistan". PS21. Archived from the original on 2017-04-17. Retrieved 2017-04-17.
  12. ^ Retrieved 2020-10-20. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ "Zoroastrian faith returns to Kurdistan in response to ISIS violence". Rudaw. Archived from the original on 2017-04-17. Retrieved 2017-04-17.
  14. ^ "Hamazor Issue #2 2017: "Kurdistan reclaims its ancient Zoroastrian Faith" (PDF). Hamazor. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-09-30.
  15. ^ "Converts must die: Kurdistan's Zoroastrians outraged by Islamic preacher". Rudaw. Archived from the original on 2017-04-17. Retrieved 2017-04-17.
  16. ^ "Head of Zoroastrian temple says people are returning to their roots". Rudaw. Archived from the original on 2016-03-27.
  17. ^ "Zoroastrianism in Iraq seeks official recognition - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East". Al-Monitor. Archived from the original on 2016-05-16.
  18. ^ "Iraqi Kurds turn to Zoroastrianism as faith, identity entwine". France24. 23 October 2019.
  19. ^ Fatah, Lara. "The curious rebirth of Zoroastrianism in Iraqi Kurdistan". Projects 21. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  20. ^ "Hopes for Zoroastrianism revival in Kurdistan as first temple opens its doors". Rudaw. 2016-09-21. Archived from the original on 2016-09-26. Retrieved 2016-10-08.
  21. ^ "Zoroastrianism in Iraq seeks official recognition". Al-Monitor. 2016-02-17. Archived from the original on 2017-04-08. Retrieved 2017-04-17.
  22. ^ "The Last Jews of Baghdad". Time. July 27, 2007. Archived from the original on November 12, 2011.
  23. ^ Baghdad Jews Have Become a Fearful Few Archived 2017-11-14 at the Wayback Machine, The New York Times
  24. ^ "American Soldiers in Iraq Enlist in a Different Kind of Service". Jewish Daily Forward. Archived from the original on 2008-07-12.