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A glimpse into Islamic customs in Iraq

By Staff | Dec 12, 2008

Don’t talk about religion or politics. We have all heard this advice, and many of us have learned its wisdom the hard way. 

Because I don’t want to accidentally offend anyone, instead of discussing what I have learned about Iraq’s dominant religion, Islam, I will instead provide some common Arabic words used in Islam and their English meaning. By the way, approximately 97 percent of Iraqis are Muslim. 

This is my fifth of six articles focusing on what I have learned and experienced in regard to Iraqi family life, food, cultural heritage, religion and ethnic groups. 

Allah refers to the Supreme Being for Moslems, from the Aramaic alaha, the God. 

Muslims believe in one God, Allah, and that Mohammed is His prophet. The Muslim day of rest is Friday. 

The Qur ‘an is the Islamic holy book, considered the direct word of God, given by Allah to his prophet Mohammad. Sura refers to the chapters of the Qur’an. 

There are Five Pillars of Islam. Shahada means faith, as in Allah is the one true God and Mohammad is his messenger. Salat means prayer. Moslems pray five times a day while facing the holy city of Mecca. Zakat means alms/charity, as in assistance to the needy. Sawm means fasting; from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan. Hajj refers to the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. 

Sunni and Shi’a are the two main branches of Islam. Shi’a is the Muslim majority in Iraq, but make up less than 10 percent of Muslims globally. The majority of Muslims worldwide (90 percent) are Sunni, but they are the minority in Iraq. 

Approximately 65 percent of Iraqi Muslims are Shi’a and the remaining 35 percent are Sunni. 

Shari’a means Islamic law while a Madrassah is an Islamic school and a Mullah is a religious scholar or teacher. An order from a Muslim religious leader is called a Fatwa. 

An Imam is a leader of prayer services; often with a local leadership role and an Amir is a leader or a chieftain. A shaykh is a title of respect that is used for the leader of a tribe, holy men, or anyone regarded with veneration. 

In addition, Muslims often fly colored flags to observe various holidays or dates of personal significance. Each color carries a specific meaning. Green is the color of Islam. Red is the color of sacrifice and white is the color of purity. 

I hope I presented this very small glimpse into Islam in a respectful and educational way. 

— You may write to Tom at his military mailing address in Iraq: Tom Maiden, Unit 931003 TFT-PT, APO AE 09391