While the Kurdish question has received due attention in Western scholarship and public discussions, a range of political and cultural biases have inhibited an equivalent discourse from developing in Arabic. In previous monthly publications, Al-Mesbar Center began to examine the Kurds more closely as part of its series on ethnic pluralism in Arabic-speaking countries. Our new book Islam in Kurdistan: Sunnah, Shiites, Khorshids (March 2018) focuses on the religious doctrinal diversity among Muslims in Iraqi Kurdistan. Following our prior studies of Kurdish Islamism and Salafism, the volume strives to better understand how Kurds came to embrace and engage Islam in terms of jurisprudence, ideology, and politics.
The studies in the book examine Kurdish experiences of Sunni Islam — both the Hanafi and Shafi’i schools — as well as Shi’ite Islam. They also consider the role of Sufism as a bridge between Islam and indigenous Kurdish customs and traditions that predate its arrival. The studies also probe historical changes in tribal structure, as well as the interplay between all these factors and the phenomena of terrorism and extremism.
Along the way, the book explores the problematic relationship between ethnic and religious loyalties on the one hand and national identity on the other. It also shows how the Hanafi school of Sunnism came to prevail, and why Sufism remained so appealing, by way of a historical retelling dating back to the Abbasid era.
Shiites constitute a large part of the Iraqi social fabric in general, the Kurdish context being no exception. The book examines the Faili, Shabak, and Orkowazi denominations, and those who converted from Sunnism to Shi’ism, some of whom came to be known as “Mostabsirin.” It also investigates the geographical distribution of Faili Kurds, their contemporary symbols, and their history. The book traces the origins of Shabak Kurds, their demographics, and their geographical distribution, as well as crises of Shabak identity. The book also shows how ISIS dealt with Kurds, and the circumstances leading Shi’ite Kurds to join the Popular Mobilization Forces.
Alawite Kurds view themselves as discrete and separate from other religious groups that share the same name, whether the Syrian Alawite Nuṣayrī, or Alawite Kizilbash. The book highlights the religious and doctrinal controversies that led Alawites to break off from Bektashi Sufism. It considers Kurdish Alawites on their own terms and traces their role in Kurdish politics. The book also parses the Haqa movement and the Khorshid denomination.
All of the book’s contributors are Kurds themselves. Their work — both scholarship and testimony — reflects the value so many Kurds place on the principle of pluralism.
Al-Mesbar Center would like to thank all the book’s contributors — in particular, researcher Ibrahim Sadeq Malazda, who coordinated its publication.