Religion in Iraq
Religion in Iraq was overwhelmingly Muslim as of 2015[update], 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%. 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.
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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. 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. 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.
Iraqi Kurds are mainly Sunni Muslims, with a Shia Feyli minority of 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.
About 60%-70% of Iraqi Turkmen are Sunni Muslims, and about 30% to 40% practice the Shia form of Islam. Collectively, most Iraqi Turkmen are secular, having internalized the secularist interpretation of state–religion affairs practiced in the Republic of Turkey. The religious and tribal factors and tensions inherent in Iraq’s political culture do not significantly affect the Iraqi Turkmen Sunnis and Shias.
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. 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:
- "Chaldeans" (Chaldean Catholic Church)
- "Assyrians" or "Nestorian" group (Assyrian Church of the East) and (Ancient Church of the East)
- "West Syriac" or "Jacobite" group (Syriac Orthodox Church)
- "Eastern Orthodox" group (Archdiocese of Baghdad, under jurisdiction of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East)
The Yazidis are a group 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 has become the fastest growing religion with Kurds, especially in Kurdish-controlled Northern Iraq. 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. 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. 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.
Many Kurdish people converted from Islam to Zoroastrianism, especially after ISIL attacked Iraqi Kurdistan. 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.
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.
There are no accurate numbers on the population of Zoroastrians in Iraq because they are listed as "Muslims" on their government-issued documents.
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. 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), seven (2008) and five (2013). Among the American forces stationed in Iraq, there were only three Jewish chaplains.
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