Background: Iraq’s historical diversity


Timeline: The History of Iraq

“A Tour of Iraq’s Ancient Sites”

Iraq’s past spans the breadth of history, giving rise to a unique  culture and multiplicity of beliefs.  From ancient Mesopotamia, Iraq is has been a major contributor to world civilization.  It is the starting point of countless prophets, including Abraham, revered by Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike. From writing, accounting, science, art, culture and myriad religious influences and belief systems, Iraq is not merely the patrimony of one l nation but that of much of the modern world.

Today, Iraq’s religious differences, ethnic tension, and sectarian violence seem to overpower our popular conscience when trying to understand Iraq’s diversity.  Iraq has been an ethnically diverse country for millennia, with Kurds, Assyrians, and Turkmen representing the three largest non-Arab minorities in the country. It is also the home of many religions: while Islam is the religion of the majority, Christianity, Judaism, Mandeanism, found an even earlier home in Iraq.   Each group has a unique heritage and connection to Iraq.  There’s a multitude of religious sites across Iraq that attest to Iraq’s diversity and significance as a center of religious and ethnic diversity.

Iraq is naturally of great importance to the Muslim world and is home to many significant religious sites, such as r the Al ‘Askari and the Al-‘Abbas Mosques in Samarra and the Gailani Mosque in Baghdad. But from its extreme north to its extreme south, every region of Iraq harbors historical sites revered by other religions: Christians, jews, Yezidis, and others. Nenawa province abound in early Christian churches, and a Christian church dating to the 5th century CE has been found near the Shi’a ciry of Kerbala. Some religious are venerated by more than one religious group. For example, Al-Kufl in the province of Babil is both a Jewish and a Muslim historic site. The tomb of the prophet Younes (Jonas) in Mosul is visited by Christians, Muslims, and Jews faiths.  Many of Iraq’s minority faiths can also trace their origins to locations in Iraq. The holiest Yazidi shrine, for example, is that of Sheikh Adi, located at the necropolis of Lalish outside of Mosul.
Sadly, these groups have not enjoyed equal status with the majority Muslim population in recent years. Fanaticism and violence in the name of Islam has often been the causes of oppression of religious minorities in Iraq. Although the Iraqi constitution ensures religious freedom and bans discrimination based on religion, religious minorities have been deprived of their civic and religious rights by extremists.   The Yazidi Bombing on August 14, 2007, for example, was the most deadly car bombing attack in Iraq, killing 796 and wounding 1,562 people, according to the Red Crescent.

To highlight the diverse religious heritage that lives on in modern Iraq and build understanding between Iraq’s diverse religious and ethnic communities, the Iraq Foundation proposes an innovative project to capture Iraq’s thriving belief systems and foster understanding of Iraq’s long history as a religiously diverse community.  The Iraq Foundation will commission video documentaries that highlight religious sites in Iraq.  These documentaries will be created by groups of religiously and ethnically diverse students and youth, telling the story of Iraq’s significance to religious heritage and the many faiths and sects that call Iraq home.


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