Introduction / History Iraqi Arabs descended from a people group cluster called the Levant Arabs. The Levant Arabs originally settled all over the Arabian Peninsula and later migrated to North Africa. They are spread from Israel to Kuwait and as far east as Iran. "Levant" is a broad term that includes several groups of Arabs: the Iraqi, Jordanian, Palestinian, Arabic Jewish, Chaldean, and Syrian Arabs.
Arabs from the Arabian Peninsula are considered to be the original Arabs. The Arabian culture was developed by tribes of nomads and villagers who lived in the Arabian Desert for many centuries. It was also from there that Arab migrations began, eventually leading to the expansion of the Arab world. Modern day Iraq is the home of the ancient Sumerian, Assyrian, and Babylonian empires. Iraq was occupied by Britain during World War I. In 1932, Iraq gained its independence. Today three-fourths of Iraq is Arab.
What are their lives like? Although Iraqi Arabs have settled in towns or villages, they have held on to their tribal affiliations. Their fortress-like villages can be easily defended. Each house has windows on all sides and is built facing the outside of the village. All goods and persons passing through town are strictly controlled.
Individual dwellings tend to be elaborately decorated, flat-roofed homes called town houses. Lime wash and brickwork are used around the windows as a form of artistic design. The rooms usually have some type of carpeting, and when entering the house, one must leave his shoes at the door. The walls are lined with mattresses and cushions to sit on and lean against. A main reception room and a kitchen are located on the top floor. The flat roofs are used by the women for drying laundry.
Social life is extremely important to Arabs. They like to share a daily coffee time by sitting on the floor and drinking coffee from cups without handles. Their diet basically consists of wheat bread and porridge made with boiled meat or chicken. Village farmers raise wheat, barley, rice, vegetables, coffee, melons, dates, cattle, sheep, and pomegranates. Domestic animals are kept to supply milk and eggs.
Islam has greatly influenced the lives of Iraqi Arabs. To preserve their people, they are only allowed to marry those inside their own group. Inheritances are passed down through the males. In this system, men inherit more than women. Since children are considered a family's greatest asset, females are valued mostly for their ability to bear children. Women wear veils or burka both in town and at home.
In the past, all marriages were arranged by the parents; however, it is becoming more acceptable for young people to choose their own mates. Young girls are considered ready for marriage by age nine.
What are their beliefs? In 1968, the Iraqi constitution established Islam as the religion of the state. Iraq is dominated by Shi'ite Muslims (over half) and Sunni Muslims (more than one-third). Islam is a religion of works that is based on five basic "pillars." (1) A Muslim must affirm that "there is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet." (2) He must pray five times a day while facing Mecca. (3) He must give generously. (4) He must fast during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year. (5) He must try to make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca in his lifetime.
The Apostle Thomas brought Christianity to Mesopotamia. The Church was centered in and spread from the Assyrian city of Arbel, located in the North. Today there are several denominations that have churches in Iraq.
What are their needs? God loves Iraqi Arabs! Most only know a God called Allah, but Jesus the Savior wants them to hear and know of His great love. Most believe Jesus is a prophet, teacher, and a good man, just not God's Son. Many have a great spiritual hunger, which has increased since the overthrow of the Sunni- led government of Saddam Hussein. Others are hearing His name for the very first time and responding.
The greatest spiritual need that must be met among the Iraqi Arabs is training for evangelistic workers, church planters, children's workers, and pastors. Praise God that Christian literature has already been printed. Now it must be distributed, and the Word of God must be taught.
A door of opportunity has been opened for the Church today to share the love of God with the Iraqi Arabs. Will we respond?
Prayer Points * Pray that Iraqi Arab Christians would be protected from harm and persecution.
* Pray for Christian workers from nearby countries who are making initial plans for church planting and church planter training in Iraq.
* Ask God to give wisdom to the new government in Iraq and open their hearts to the Gospel.
* Ask God to change the spiritual climate over Iraq.