The constitution of Iraq recognizes Islam as the official religion in the country, and states that no law may be enacted that contradicts the provisions of the Islamic religion. However, it guarantees freedom of religious beliefs and practices of other non-Muslim groups.
Although the government recognizes these rights, there are conditions that prevent the government from ensuring the freedom of religion from the insurgency, sectarian violence, and terrorism. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the government has been calling for tolerance and acceptance of religious minorities. Despite the efforts, some government institutions have continued discriminatory practices against religious minorities, such as the Bahai Faith and the Wahhabi Sunni Muslims. In 2006 there was an attack on one of the most significant Shia mosque, the Al-Askari Mosque, which contains the mausoleums of the Tenth and the Eleventh Imams.
Shia Islam in Iraq dates back to the fourth Caliph of Sunni Islam. In 15th and 16th Centuries, the Marsh Arabs converted from Sunnism to Shiism. In the 18th Century, Banu khazal converted into Shiism. A massive conversion of Iraq's Sunni Arab to Shiism took place in the 19th Century and continued into the 20th Century. Today, Shia Islam stands as a dominant religion in Iraq. The Shiite Muslims believe that after the death of Muhammad, his successor was his cousin and son-in-law, Ali. They believe in the school of thought known as 'Twelvers' or 'fivers' which refers to the number of imams that they recognize. More than half of the population of Iraq are Shiite Muslims. Iraq holds the major religious cities of the Shiite Muslims Najar and Karbala. Najar is the tomb site of the first Shia Imam, Ali Ibn Abi Talib, and Karbala the tomb site of Husayn Ibn Ali, the grandson of Mohammad.
Sunni Islam emerged as an opposing group to Shia Islam. After the death of Mohammad, they felt that the most appropriate person to succeed Mohammad was his closest friend, Abu Bakar. They believe that after the death of Mohammad any able, pious male of the Quraysh clan needed to succeed him instead of his cousin and son-in-law. They have several Imams and religious leaders as opposed to their Shiite compatriots. They comprise of approximately 20% of the population of Iraq. Many of them converted to Shia Islam in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Some of them do not even consider the Shiite Muslims to be true Muslims.
Chaldean Catholic Christian Church
The Chaldean Catholic Church began as the Assyrian Church of the East. It was founded in 1552 by Yohannan Sulaqa. A group of Assyrian bishops elected him as a priest. He traveled to Rome, and the pope consecrated him as a patriarch. He ordained five other bishops thus beginning what was finally called the Chaldean Catholic Church.They believe in God as the creator of Heaven and earth and his only son Jesus Christ.God sent his son Jesus to die for the sin of humankind and reconcile them to God.The Christians of this church are very few as they endured persecution and massacres in the hands of the Muslims. Their indigenous heritage dating back to bronze age and iron age was desecrated.
The origins of the Yazidi faith were a complex process of syncretism, or a mingling of various beliefs. The religious beliefs of a local faith influenced the Adawiyya people who lived in the mountains causing them to deviate from the Muslim faith. They believe that God created the world and entrusted it to seven angels. Melek Taus was the leader of the angels and is the central figure in their belief system. They do not believe that hell exists. To them, all people have the innate good and evil, and they make their choices without being tempted. They pray facing the sun in the morning, at the moon, and in the evening. The Muslims greatly denounce Yazidism, and many followers have suffered persecution at the hands of the terrorist groups ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and other radical Islamic jihadists.
Persecution of Non-Muslims
Islam is the principle religion in Iraq, and has a following constituting 97% of the national population. Christianity and other religions consist of only 3% of the people. Islam exists in two sects; Sunni and Shia. Many cities in Iraq are of religious importance to the Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Only a small portion of the country is inhabited by the Christians and other religions thus Iraq exists as an Islamic state. The schism of Sunni and Shia Islam is the largest and oldest in the history of Islam. The two sects share many beliefs and practices but differ in doctrine, rituals, law and religious organization. One opinion that is shared by both of them is the Pilgrimage to Mecca, the Holy City. Other religions found in Iraq include the Nestorian Christians, Jacobite Christians, Mandaeans, Shabakis, Kakais, and atheists. These minor religions have suffered great persecution at the hands of certain intolerant groups of radical Muslims. This persecution has forced them to exist in subtle populations largely confined to the mountainous regions of Iraq.
What is the Largest Religion in Iraq?
The largest religion in Iraq is Shia Islam, which represents 51% of the country's population.
Breakdown of Religious Beliefs in Iraq
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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