• Bangladesh!

    Bangladesh: Traditional houses. Go Now!

    This low-lying country has historic ties to India and Pakistan, but today maintains a wholly unique culture. Explore Bangladesh!

  • Indonesia!

    Indonesia: Lombok. Go Now!

    This archipelago nation is culturally diverse from big cities to isolated islands. Begin Your Journey!

  • Jordan!

    Jordan: Petra. Go Now!

    Tucked away in this Middle Eastern country, the famed city of Petra (pictured) links the past to the present culture. Explore Jordan!

  • Mongolia!

    Mongolia: Desert. Go Now!

    This vast country has a culture that spans past and present... a nomadic life shifting to a modern & sedentary society. Begin Your Journey!

  • Kyrgyzstan!

    Kyrgyzstan: Tian Shan Mountains. Go Now!

    The mountains, including the Tian Shan Mountains (pictured), give Kyrgyzstan a unique culture, partially formed from this isolation from the mountains. Go Now!

Ethnicity, Language, & Religion of Iraq

WARNING: Iraq is currently unstable, please read this travel warning before going!


Over three quarters of Iraq's population is Arab, which is an ethnic group that originated from the Arabian Peninsula. The Arabs in Iraq, like most Arabs today, are a combination of people; however maintain a primarily Arab ethnicity. About a fifth of the population is ethnically Kurd, which is an ethnic group composed of various ethnicities most closely related to the Persians, but quite distantly. There are additional ethnic groups in Iraq, but none in substantial numbers.


Arabic is the only official language in Iraq, although Kurdish is recognized regionally. The written form of Arabic is called Modern Standard Arabic (written in the Arabic script), which gives the language consistency across countries from a written perspective. The spoken dialects of Arabic are so drastic from location to location that Arabic speakers in Iraq may not even understand Arabic speakers from a country further away, like Morocco. Obviously the dialect of Arabic in Iraq is most closely related to the dialects spoken in nearby countries like Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Arabic is a Semitic language; other closely related Semitic languages include Amharic (Ethiopia) and Hebrew. More distantly related are languages like Berber (North Africa) as well as historic languages including Phoenician and ancient Egyptian. Kurdish is a Persian language, most closely related to other Persian languages, including Farsi.

There are a number of ethnic minorities that speak less common languages, including Turkmen, Assyrian, and Armenian. For most of these people, Arabic is also learned and is the most common language of communication between groups. English is the most commonly taught second language in the country and many educated people speak at least a minimal amount of English if they are not completely fluent.


Muslim is the official religion of Iraq as Shia Muslims make up nearly two thirds of the population and Sunnis make up most of the last third. There is about 2-3% of the population that adheres to other religions, most of whom are Christian.

Islam (the name of the religion, whose followers are called Muslims) is a monotheistic religion, whose holy book is called the Qur'an. The Qur'an is believed to be the word of God spoken through the prophet Muhammad from 609-632 CE (Common Era is preferred over AD (Anno Domini or "year of the Lord") since the Islamic world doesn't believe Jesus was the messiah). Islam believes Muhammad was the last prophet sent to earth by God, the last in a long line of prophets, which includes Moses, Abraham, and Jesus among others.

Muslims follow five pillars of their faith: testimony, prayer, alms-giving, fasting, and pilgrimage. These pillars, and other tenants of their faith, can give great structure to their lives as some foods, like pork, are forbidden and every Muslim is expected to pray five times a day. However, the level of participation in each of these pillars and to what degree Islam influences an individual's life varies from person to person and community to community. Generally speaking, Iraq is fairly conservative in how they practice Islam.

Most Muslims are Sunni, which is the branch of Islam that closely follows the teachings of Muhammad and accepts Abu Bakr as the first Caliph (a ruler of an Islamic community); the Sunni Muslims are sometimes referred to Orthodox. Shia Muslims believe only God can chose who heads the Islamic community and believed it was Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law who was first chosen; Ali became the first Imam (according to Shia Muslims, this term only refers to the leaders of the faith, to Sunni Muslims Imam is often times used in reference to the prayer leader in mosques).

This page was last updated: May, 2014