Traditions and customs of Iraq

What traditions and customs are there in Iraq?

We see the customs and traditions of Iraq.


Food in daily life

Before the United Nations economic sanctions, the traditional diet included rice with soup or sauce, accompanied by lamb and vegetables. Nowadays, because food is very rationed, most people eat rice or other grains sometimes with sauce. Both vegetables and meat are hard to come by.

In rural areas it is customary for families to eat together from a common bowl, while in urban areas individuals eat with plates and utensils.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

It is traditional to sacrifice a lamb or a goat to celebrate the holidays. Today, however, few Iraqis have the means to do so, and celebrations are now minimal.


In the past, arranged marriages were common. However, this practice is becoming increasingly rare, and a law was passed giving a state-appointed judge authority to override the father’s wishes in the event of an early marriage.

The Muslim majority traditionally views marriage as a contract between two families, as the needs of the family are considered paramount.

In urban settings, women and men have more options in choosing their spouses, although the proposed spouse still must have parental approval. Couples often come from the same set of relatives, and although marriage between different ethnic groups is accepted, it is not very common.

The ruling Baath regime considers marriage to be a national duty that should be guided and encouraged. Beginning in 1982, women were prohibited from marrying non-Iraqi men. If they were already married, they were prohibited from transferring money or property to their spouses.

After the Iran -Iraq war, the loss of human life was so severe that the government launched a campaign to increase the population. Government grants were given to men to marry war widows, and polygamy, once rare, became more common. Divorce is accepted, but it is usually left only as a decision of the husband.

If the husband wishes to divorce, there is usually no question or problem, while it is almost impossible for a woman to initiate divorce proceedings. In the event of a divorce, custody is supposed to be awarded on the basis of what is best for the child’s welfare.


In general, both adults and children keep to themselves and are not loud and boisterous, especially in public. Men often hold hands or kiss when greeting each other, but this is not the case for men and women. The elderly and women, especially those with children, are respected, as men give up their seats on buses and trains.


Religious beliefs

Islam is the officially recognized religion of Iraq and is practiced by 95 percent of the population. Islam itself does not distinguish between church and state, so any distinction between religious and secular law is the result of more recent developments. There are two forms of Muslims in Iraq, the majority Shia and the minority Sunni. Shiites believe that the original twelve imams

(Islamic leaders) were both spiritual and temporal and that the caliph, or successor to Muhammad and leader of Islam, is selected by lineage and descent. Sunnis believe that the imams were strictly temporary leaders and that the caliph had to be chosen.

The Sunni sect is considered the orthodox branch of Islam. A small percentage of the population is Christian, divided into four churches: Chaldean, Nestorian, Jacobean (Syrian) Orthodox, and Syrian Catholic.

The Yazidis, a cultural group living in the northern mountains, believe in a religion that combines paganism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam. They are concentrated in the Sinjar mountains in the north and are herders and cultivators. In the past they have been victims of persecution for their religious beliefs and practices, of ten heretical calls.

Religious professionals

There are five pillars of Islam: praise of Allah as the only God, with Muhammad as his prophet; prayer five times a day; alms; fast; and pilgrimage to Mecca. The muezzins invoke a call to prayer, reminding everyone that it is time to pray or to call them to the mosque, and the imams lead the prayers.

Imams are not required to undergo formal training, but they are usually important men in their communities and are appointed by the government.

During Ramadan, men gather at homes or in the market to participate in Koran readings, led by mothers (men trained in a religious school in An Najaf) or by mullahs (older male apprentice specialists). The Christians organize themselves under the leadership of a bishop who resides in Baghdad, and gather for mass on Sundays.

Rituals and sacred places

Muslims gather at the mosque every Friday to pray in the afternoon. Ramadan falls in the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, which is in a lunar cycle and thus falls at different times of the year. The month involves a period of fasting from all food, drink, and activities such as smoking and sexual intercourse during daylight hours.

At night the fast is broken, and on the first day of the tenth month there is a celebration, Go al Fitr, to acknowledge the end of the fast. During Id al Adha, on the tenth day of the twelfth month, there is a sacrificial festival. Both this and the one after Ramadan last three or four days, and people dress up, visit each other, exchange gifts and also visit cemeteries.

Death and the afterlife

Funerals are very simple and somber events. People are buried the day after they die, wrapped in white cloth and placed in a plain box, if available. Whether the person is rich or poor, funerals are generally the same for everyone.

Secular celebrations

The anniversary of the Revolution is July 17 and the most important secular holiday. It was on that day, in 1968, that the Baath Party took control of the Republic of Iraq. Other holidays celebrate Islamic holidays and include the day following the month-long fast of Ramadan (Id al Fitr), the sacrificial festival of Id al Adha, the birth of Muhammad, and the return of a pilgrim from Mecca.

The arts and humanities

Arts support

The government supports artists, as long as they are chosen by the state and perform works requested by the state. For example, all writers, when commissioned by the state, must include praise for Saddam Hussein in his work.

In general, artistic forms of thought and expression have been banned. Private ownership of typewriters and photocopiers is prohibited, so independent writing may not be published or distributed.

In addition, publishing houses, distribution networks, newspapers, art galleries, theaters and film companies are subject to state censorship and must register all writing equipment with the authorities. The end result is that artists cannot express themselves freely.

Graphic arts

Islamic art is very important, as are ceramics, carpets and Islamic-style fashion design. In 1970 the Iraqi Fashion House opened, and the design focused on the preservation of traditional attire and historic style. Today, historical art, which is colorful and fine, has been reduced to art produced for function, such as sculptures of political figures and propaganda for the government.

Performing arts

Music festivals have been important, such as the Babylon International Music and Arts Festival (last held in 1987 and 1995). International orchestras and companies were invited to perform at the restored sites of Babylon, and people from all over the world attended. Currently, due to the harsh and severe living conditions, there are no resources to allocate to the performing arts.

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