Kurdish Islam and the Question of Kurdish Integration into the Iraqi State

By Rafaat, Aram | The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Kurdish Islam and the Question of Kurdish Integration into the Iraqi State


Rafaat, Aram, The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies


The author examines the role of religion in Kurdish national aspirations, with particular reference to the manner in which it affects the relationship between Kurds living in Iraq and attempts to integrate Iraqi Kurds into the Iraqi state.

Key Words: Iraq; Kurds; Kurdish Islam; Sunni; Shiite; Alavi; Sufi; Kurdish Jews; Indigenous Kurdish religious sects.

(ProQuest: Foreign text omitted.)

"Thou, God, must not allow the Kurds to unify; their unification would cause the destruction of the world"

(Prophet Mohammad's saying reported by the medieval Turkish historian Khuja Sadaddin.)

The Kurds are an ancient people, and the Kurdish language, which is of Indo-European origin, is the fourth largest language of the Middle East after Arabic, Iranian and Turkish. With an estimated population of around 30 million, the Kurds are possibly the world's largest nation without statehood, their homeland, Kurdistan, being today divided between Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria. Approximately 80-90% of Kurds are Muslim, of which 70-75% are Sunnis, belonging to a plethora of different Sufi orders, and 30-25% Shiite or Alavi. The remaining 10-20% of Kurds adhere to different religions and sects, including Judaism, Christianity, and a number of indigenous Kurdish religions such as Yazidis, Yarsani, Sarlis and Shabaks. Thus, Kurds exhibit a unique religious cultural pluralism and Kurdish Islam has national characteristics which distinctively it from mainstream Islam and are another cultural factor that prompts Kurds to seek independence, or at least a reasonable measure of self-determination if forced to remain within the Arab-dominated state of Iraq.

This article investigates the role that Islam can play in the process of Kurdish integration into the Iraqi state. First, it highlights arguments for considering Sunni Islam as an overarching identity that reshaped Kurdish concepts of self-identity. The article then reports on how Kurdistan was annexed to Iraq, the role of religious leaders in Kurdistan, and the Iraqi attempt to use Islam as a method of integrating Kurds into Iraq. However, in contradistinction to the theory that the Kurds and the Iraqi Arabs are part of a common religious community, this paper argues that Islam is itself a reason for the failure of, rather than a factor promoting, Kurdish integration into Iraq. This is due to the unique nature of Kurdish Islam, which is different from, if not contradictory to, the mainstream form of Islam in Iraq.

Little attention has been given to Kurdish Islam by scholars, and this article focuses on the characteristics of Kurdish Islam' and how it has affected the question of Kurdish integration into Iraq. First, I will highlight how Kurdish Islam has served as a basis for the Kurdish demand for nationhood. Then, the nature of the divide between Kurdish Islam and mainstream Islam will be examined, and the differences between the two forms of Islam will be highlighted. The question of how Kurdish Islam influenced the self-concept Kurdish community, and its boundaries of exclusion and inclusion, will also be studied. I will further examine the role of Kurdish Islam in turning Kurdistan into an Achilles' heel of political Islam in the Middle East. Finally and most importantly, this article will highlight the role of Kurdish Islamic Schools (Hujra)1 as pioneers of Kurdish nationalism (Kurdayeti) 2, secularism, and leftist ideologies in Kurdistan.

The final section will concentrate on Iraqi policies towards Kurdish Islam. First, it will examine the attempt to assimilate Kurdish Islam into mainstream Islam in Iraq through replacing Hujra with state-run Islamic schools (SRIS). Then it will investigate how political Islam and Islamic groups emerged from SRIS. Secondly, it will highlight how the Islamic groups were supported by Iraq and surrounding countries in order to weaken Kurdayeti. Thirdly, it will describe how Kurdish Islam is perceived by surrounding nations and how it contributed to the alienation of the Kurds and prepared the grounds for the al-Anfal operation. …

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