Kurdistan is home to many religions, the largest of which is Islam. The majority of Kurdish Muslims across Turkish, Syrian and Iraqi Kurdistan are Sunni Muslims, while the Kurds who practice Shiite Islam are prevalent mainly in Iran.
Shiite and Sunni Schism
The difference between Shiites and Sunnis is complex, but the basic difference is as follows: Sunni Muslims comprise the majority of the Islamic faith (between 85% and 90%). The word Sunni comes from “Ahl al-Sunna”, the people of the tradition. This tradition refers to the words, practices and direct reports from the Prophet Muhammed, and his closest followers.
Shiite Muslims comprise a much smaller percentage of the Islamic faith (between 10% and 15%). The Shiites were originally a faction of the Islamic community who were led by the Prophet Muhammed’s son-in-law, Ali, after the death of the Prophet. “Shiat Ali” translates to “the party of Ali.”
Islam in Kurdistan
A common saying is that the Kurds “hold their Islam lightly.” This may be a result of some connection to the ancient Kurdish faith of Zoroastrianism, or more likely a result of the hundreds of years of oppression that Kurds have felt at the hands of fellow Muslims.
In any case, many Kurdish Muslims do not adhere to strict, traditional rules and interpretations of Islam. The Kurdish people are known for their practice of mysticism and participation in Sufi orders, a practice that is considered heretical by traditional Islam.
The Sunni Kurdish Muslims prescribe to the Shafi’i legal code, which is widespread throughout the world. This has caused some tension when pushed up against Sunni Turks and Sunni Arabs who prescribe to the Hanafi legal code.