In Iraqi Kurdistan, the dominant religion is Islam, mostly the Shafi’i, Sunni branch of Islam. Christianity is also present and practiced by the Assyrian and Armenian peoples. Yezidism and Shia Kurds make up significant minorities. Given the recent volatility in Iraq and its connection to religious and cultural differences, I thought it would be interesting to see what the people of Kurdistan think about religion now. How does it factor in their lives? Has the society become more secular since autonomy?
As luck would have it, in the April 2014 issue of The Catalyst [a bi-monthly magazine of Kurdish and regional politics, economy and lifestyle produced by the University of Kurdistan], the magazine published an article detailing the results of a recent poll regarding how the Kurdish people view religious matters. Based on a sampling of five hundred participants in four Kurdish provinces, the results indicate a changing and increasingly secular view of religion within a region that is seen as quite conservative, and the way the questions are asked is as revealing as the results.
Do you think religious conversion is a private matter and no one has the right to intervene in it?
I don’t know 7.8%
Do you support legislation to punish those who intentionally change their religion?
I don’t know 21.2%
Do you support the deletion of the religion paragraph on the national ID card?
I don’t know 21.6%
Do you despise those who convert their religion?
I don’t know 15.9%
Do you support the abolition of religious classes in the school curriculum?
I don’t know 6.6%