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Religious Tolerance logo

Conflicts in the Middle East fueled by religious intolerance

The ISIS terrorist group,
a.k.a. ISIL, Islamic State, Daesh.

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  • "There is nothing to give them but the sword." Statement by an member of the ISIS terrorist organization, referring to Christians.

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There are a number of, long-term conflicts in the Middle East, India, and in Myanmar (formerly called Burma). All have their source in -- and continue to be fueled by -- religious intolerance:

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Conflicts involving Iraqi Shi'ite's, Sunni's, Kurds, Yazidis, Christians, and other religious and ethnic groups:

The main religion in Iraq is Islam; it is followed by about 97% of the adult population. About 54% of Iraqis are of a Sunni sect, while 43% are Shi'ite. 1

Islam was originally unified under its founder Muhammad. Unfortunately, he did not clearly select a successor. When he died unexpectedly, the religion split into two factions. Some wanted the new leader to be one of Muhammad's relatives; others felt that his successor should be selected from the most competent existing leaders of the religion. The split has continued to the present day, and shows no signs of resolution. Friction between Sunni and Shi'ite has intensified over the past 14 centuries in Iraq and throughout the rest of the Middle East. Currently 85% of Muslims in the world follow the Sunni tradition. They form a slight majority in Iraq.

Iraq also has minority faiths including:

  • The Yazidis are ethnically Kurdish and follow a syncretistic religion that is derived from Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion, Christianity, and Islam. They worship an angel called Melek Tawwus (a.k.a. the Peacock Angel) who was one of seven fallen angels. They believe that Tawwus was forgiven by God and returned to Heaven. Unfortunately, his story closely resembles that of Satan -- a fallen angel who was not forgiven by God -- in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths, This has caused many Muslims to consider the Yazidis to be Satan worshipers, and thus worthy of death wherever found. 2,3

  • Christians have been in Islam since the first century CE. In 1950, they made up about 10% of the population. They are believed to number fewer than 1% today. Most belong to the Ancient Church of the East, Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church, Roman Catholic Church, Syriac Orthodox Church, or the Syriac Catholic Church. 1,4

Finally, there is an ethnic minority of Muslims, the Kurds, concentrated in the north of Iraq, who also occupy parts of Iran and Turkey.

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Iraq has been politically unstable for many years. One aggravating influence has been the central government which has typically aligned itself with the Sunni sect within Islam and has discriminated against Shi'ítes, or vice-versa. Dictator Saddam Hussein favored the Sunni's and oppressed the Shi'ites. After the American army left Iraq, the new central government favored the Shi'ites and discriminated against Sunnis. According to Hamza Hendawi, writing for the Huffington Post:

"Sunnis are locked out of key jobs at universities and in government, their leaders banned from Cabinet meetings or even marked as fugitives. Sunnis cannot get help finding the body of loved ones killed in the war. And Shiite banners are everywhere in Baghdad. ..."

"Ordinary Sunnis complain of discrimination in almost all aspects of life, including housing, education, employment and security.

Formerly mixed neighborhoods of Baghdad, such as Hurriyah, are now predominantly Shiite and protected by concrete barrier walls and checkpoints; with Shiite militias effectively policing many areas, hardly any Sunnis dare to return.

Baghdad now has the appearance of an exclusively Shiite city, with streets and bridges renamed after Shiite saints, Shiite green, black and red banners flying almost everywhere and giant posters of Shiite saints towering over all else on major squares." 5

During 2003, at the time of the American invasion of Iraq, Joe Biden (D) suggested that Iraq's central government be altered to a more federal concept in which the Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish regions would have a great deal of individual autonomy. He said in 2007 that:

"If the United States can’t put this federalism idea on track, we will have no chance for a political settlement in Iraq and, without that, no chance for leaving Iraq without leaving chaos behind." 6

It is unfortunate that the federal administration under George W. Bush (R) didn't follow his advice, because his predictions have come true.

During early 2014, serious clashes broke out among various rebel groups who were trying to overthrow the Syrian government. One of the rebel groups groups is composed of violent terrorists. They have been called many names including:

  • ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).
  • ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Sham), 2
  • IS (Islamic State), and
  • ISIL (Islamic State \of Iraq and the Levant).

ISIS later invaded Iraq. They have a policy of executing their captives, both fighters and civilian adults. In order to terrorize the population, they often execute children.

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We were going to place a photograph here of one of the victims of ISIS.
-- a little girl whose only crime was that her parents were Christian.
But it is so disturbing that we decided to not display it here.
We placed it on a separate page so as to not distress our visitors.
You can see it here

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ISIS has been condemned by Muslims around the world., a Muslim news and information site reported on 2014-SEP-02 that:

"Shocked by the new murder of American journalist Steven Sotloff, US Muslims have condemned Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as 'anti-Islamic' terror group that is rejected by all faiths.

'No words can describe the horror, disgust and sorrow felt by Muslims in America and worldwide at the unconscionable and un-Islamic violence perpetrated by the terror group ISIS,' the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said in a statement obtained by

'The criminal actions of ISIS are antithetical to the faith of Islam,' the group added."

"As a religious leader and someone who studied the Islamic tradition thoroughly, the actions of those individuals do not reflect any Islamic teachings,” Mohammed Faqih, the imam and religious director of the Islamic Institute of Orange County [California], was quoted by Orange County Register as he addressed a Muslim gathering to condemn Sotloff’s murder.

A few days ago, Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh condemned Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State jihadists as 'enemy number one' of Islam.

Earlier this month, Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam had condemned the militants for atrocities they have been perpetrating in the countries and their violation of principles and teachings preached by Islam.

India Sunni and Shiite Muslims have united against the rise of ISIL, asserting that the actions of destroying holy sites, supporting sectarianism and divisions between Muslim groups cannot be attributed to a true Islamic state.

Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s largest Islamic group has condemned ISIL, urging the government to take firmer action against the possible spread of the movement in Indonesia.

The Islamic Student Union (HMI) has also condemned Indonesian Muslims condoning and adhering to ISIL’s ideology. 7

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References used:

  1. "Religion in Iraq," Wikipedia, as on 2014-AUG-27, at:
  2. "Al-Sham" is an Arabic term referring to the Levant region of the Middle East.
  3. Raya Jalabi, "Who are the Yazidis and why is Isis hunting them?," The Guardian, 2014-AUG-11, at:
  4. "Roman Catholicism in Iraq," Wikipedia, as on 2013-NOV-23, at:
  5. Hamza Hendawi, "Iraq's Shiite-Sunni Divide Growing, Huffington Post, 2012-APR-03, at:
  6. James Kitfield, "Joe Biden Was Right About Dividing Iraq," Defense One, 2014-JAN-31, at:
  7. "US Muslims condemn 'anti-Islamic'' ISIL," On Islam, 2014-SEP-03, at:

Site navigation: Home page > Religious violence > here

Newsroom report copyright © 2000 by Worldwide Newsroom, Inc. Used by permission.
Other text copyright © 2000 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance 
Originally written: 2000-OCT-12
Latest update: 2014-SEP-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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