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Ethnicity, Language, & Religion of Kuwait

Ethnicity

About three quarters of the people living in Kuwait are ethnically Arab, with only about half of the total population being Kuwaiti citizens. Among the citizens, nearly all are ethnic Arabs and even among the immigrant population, about half are Arab. The Arab people are originally from the Arabian Peninsula, on which Kuwait sits on the edge of. Among the many non-citizen, migrant workers in Kuwait, many are from the Middle East, there are also significant numbers of Persians and South Asians, including Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis. There are other immigrants in the country for Europe, North America, and elsewhere.

Language

Arabic is the only official language in Kuwait. The written form of the language 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 Kuwait may not even understand Arabic speakers from a country further away, like Morocco. Obviously the dialect of Arabic in Kuwait is most closely related to the dialects spoken in nearby countries like Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

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.

English is the most commonly taught second language in the country and nearly everyone speaks at least a minimal amount of English if they are not completely fluent. Among the immigrant groups dozens of additional languages are spoken, including Persian, Hindi, and Urdu, but again many of these people speak either English or Arabic as a means to communicate across linguistic groups.

Religion

Muslim is the official religion of Kuwait with about 85% of the people being Muslim. Of these Muslims, about 70% are Sunni and 30% Shia. The last 15% of the population follow numerous religions, most popularly Christian, Hindi, and Parsi.

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, Kuwait has a range of liberal to conservative Muslims.

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