Who are these people with whom we are at war? It is...


January 28, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service WAR IN THE GULF

Who are these people with whom we are at war? It is difficul to generalize about 17 million people, but here, based on interviews with Arab experts, is a primer on Iraq -- the country and its people. Look for it daily in the Today section.


Most of the 17 million Iraqis are Shiite Muslims; about 40 percent are Sunni Muslims, including Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. There is a tiny Jewish community, and 5 percent of Iraqis, including Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, are Christian.

The difference between Shiite and Sunni Muslims dates back to the seventh century, when followers of Mohammed disagreed over how his successor should be named. Today, Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims look upon one another with disdain and distrust.

The holy book of Islam is the Koran. Like the Bible, it forbids lying, stealing, adultery and murder; it teaches such virtues as charity and kindness.

Islam teaches that earthly life is a time for testing and preparation. Five times every day, Muslims face Mecca to pray. The call to prayer is announced from mosques. Muslims believe in a Judgment Day, and that they can attain paradise after death.

Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet, born of the Virgin Mary, that he ascended into heaven and that he will come to Earth again. But Muslims do not believe that Jesus was the son of God or that he was crucified.

Muslims believe God's direct words to them, revealed to the Prophet Mohammed and written in the Koran, recognize Christianity as a scripture-based religion that qualifies for protection by the Islamic state.

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