Iraqi Arabic Muslims

Quick Facts

  • Place of Origin:  Iraq is located in the Middle East, surrounded by Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.
  • Religion:  Islam (95-99% total; 60–65% Shi'a, 15–20% Arab Sunni, & 17% Sunni Kurdish), other religions include: Christianity, Yazidism, Mandaeism, Shabakism, and Yarsanism.
  • Population:  31 million
  • (Primary) Language: Arabic (specifically Mesopotamian Arabic) and Kurdish (mainly Sorani and Kurmanji dialects).
  • (Secondary) Language: Iraqi Turkmen or Turkoman  dialect of Turkish, and Neo-Aramaic languages (specifically Chaldean and Ashuri).
  • Other Information:
Religion is an important part of everyday life in Iraq, especially in government and politics. Recognized religions are protected under their constitution, and Iraqi citizens must identify and register with either Muslim, Christian, Yazidi, or Sabean-Mandean faiths to receive an identity card. However, having protected status does not always keep those in non-Muslim minority groups from persecution. It is common for those in minority faith groups to self-identify as Muslim to benefit from government protections.
For years Iraq has experienced sectarian tensions and conflict. It is common that Iraqi refugees to English-speaking countries belong to minority faith groups in Iraq, which is likely a contributing factor in fleeing the country.

When did Iraqi Arabic Muslims first come to Canada?

Between 1945 and 1975, less than 200 Iraqis immigrated to Canada. However, when Saddam Hussein became President of Iraq in 1979, immigration increased with the deteriorating political and economic situation in Iraq.
From 1980 on Iraqi civilians faced ongoing security threats from conflicts including the Iraq–Iran War, the first Gulf War, and the Iraq War of 2003, with continued struggles to establish peace afterwards.
Consequently, Iraqi emigration, especially by asylum seekers, has greatly increased overall, with many coming to Canada. It is estimated that 60-75% of Iraqi immigrants to Canada are refugees.

Where do Iraqi Arabic Muslims predominantly gather in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA)?

Iraqis are present in the municipality of Vaughn in north-central GTA, northern Richmond Hill, Brampton, Mississauga, Milton, and northeastern Caledon. Overall, there has been extremely dispersed resettlement in the GTA of Iraqi Arab refugees.
Gospel impact in these areas would ripple throughout other Iraqi populations in Michigan, California, Illinois, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, and their connections globally.

Population estimate in the GTA:  29,045 people (50,460 in Ontario)

What are Iraqi Arabic Muslims' lives like?

  • Though Iraqis in Canada are typically well educated, many are unemployed. Those who are employed are often professionals or office workers. 
  • Many Iraqis view themselves as being Arabs and want to preserve the Arabic language. Many Iraqis born in Canada cannot speak Arabic but can understand it. 
  • Iraqis in Canada typically prefer to marry among their own people group.
  • Most Iraqis in Canada are Muslims or Christians. Most of the Muslims are Sunni. 
  • Among Iraqis in Canada, men and women are treated equally. This is often not the case in many Arab countries.

What do Iraqi Arabic Muslims believe?

  • Iraqi Arabic Muslims fall into two Islamic camps. The majority are Shias (Shiites) and the minority are Sunnis. 
  • The Shias believe that the twelve original Islamic leaders, called imams, held both temporal and spiritual authority. Furthermore, they follow that the leader of Islam, the “caliph” (Mohammed’s successor), is selected by lineage. 
  • The Sunnis believe that the original imams held only a temporal authority, and they follow that the caliph must be chosen. The Sunni sect is considered to be the orthodox branch of Islam. 
  • Common to all sects of Islam are the five pillars, which include the praise of Allah as the only God, with Muhammad as his prophet; prayer five times per day; almsgiving; fasting; and pilgrimage to Mecca. 
  • Muezzins (“criers”) are those who invoke a call to prayer from the minarets of a mosque. The call reminds Muslim believers that it is time to pray. It also serves to call them to the mosque where imams lead the prayers. 
  • Muslims also gather at the mosque every Friday for afternoon prayer. 
  • Imams do not need to go through formal training, but are usually men of importance in their communities and are appointed to the role.
  • Muslims participate in Ramadan, a “holy month” in the Islamic calendar, which includes fasting, prayer, celebration, and community. It is celebrated because Muslims believe it is during this month which Allah revealed the first verses of the Qur’an to Mohammed. 
  • Ramadan is during the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. It follows a lunar cycle, so Ramadan occurs at different times from year to year. 
  • Muslims will fast the entire month during daylight hours from all food, drink, and activities such as smoking and sexual intercourse. The fast is broken at night, and on the first day of the tenth month there is a celebration, called “Id al Fitr”, to acknowledge the end of the fast. 

PRAY
for Iraqi Arabic Muslims in the GTA

  • Pray that the Word of God would be increasingly accessible among Iraqi Arabic Muslim-dense neighbourhoods.
  • Pray for the formation of Iraqi discipleship groups that would become simple multiplying churches.
  • Pray for the Lord to raise up more Canadian Christians to help meet the needs of Iraqi newcomers.
  • Pray for the Lord to raise up more Iraqi Muslim- background believers to witness to Iraqi Arabic Muslims.

Resources

Urban Reach Assisting Churches is a peoples group website that seeks to provide an accessible online portal for receiving and sharing tools, information, expertise, and resources related to engaging and embracing the diverse peoples of Canada.
Click the Ureach Toronto Logo for more resources on Iraqi Arabic Muslims.
Prayercast is a website dedicated to activating prayer around the world.
For prayer resources on Iraqi Arabic Muslim peoples, click the Prayercast logo.

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