By Michael Lipka
The ongoing and intensifying conflict in Iraq has fallen – at least in part – along sectarian lines, with the Sunni Muslim militant group ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) advancing against the Shia Muslim-led Iraqi government and Shia militias. Sectarian affiliation has played a role in the politics of the region for hundreds of years.
The few available survey measures of religious identity in
Their shared demographic makeup may help explain Iran’s support for Iraq’s Shia-dominated government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The Sunni-Shia divide is nearly 1,400 years old, dating back to a dispute over the succession of leadership in the Muslim community following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632.
Despite periods of open conflict between Sunnis and Shias in countries such as
In some countries, significant shares of Muslims don’t even see the distinction between Sunni and Shia Islam as relevant. A survey of Muslims in 39 countries that we conducted in 2011 and 2012 found, for example, that 74% of Muslims in
On some religious issues, including whether it is acceptable to visit the shrines of Muslim saints, the differences between the sects are more apparent. For some, the divide is even exclusionary. In late 2011, 14% of Iraqi Sunnis said they do not consider Shias to be Muslims. (By contrast, only 1% of Shias in
Topics: Middle East and North Africa, Muslims and Islam