Despite the influence of religion in Iraqi politics, recent studies show that young people in Iraq are increasingly identifying as secularist.
by Judit Neurink
“It’s about my identity,” Yara Ali said with confidence. Ali is an Arab-Iraqi lawyer and prominent activist living in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq; for security reasons, she uses a pseudonym.
“I was forced to wear it. It was to protect me, but it wasn’t me.” Yara, 29, told Al-Monitor. A couple of years ago, the modern, educated woman who had become a professional and loved her job decided to take off her headscarf.
Her internal conflict was caused by her upbringing by a pious mother and a secular father. “I was raised to be independent and strong, with my mother setting limits,” she said. The emancipation process gained speed when she traveled for her work and studies and was introduced to people with different backgrounds from her own.
“Extremist groups were another layer,” she said of the process that ended with her eventually taking off the headscarf. The policies that the Islamic State (IS) promoted in captured areas inside Iraq and Syria, and the atrocities they committed there, shocked the world. “It made me worry how people saw me — because of IS many people now view Muslims as bad people.”
Although Arab Barometer, a research network at Princeton University and the University of Michigan, suggests that the political system in countries like Iraq and Lebanon reinforces religious identities, which serves to maintain the religious influence in daily life, the same body concluded its 2019 polling surveys by writing, "There has been a decline in religious faith and trust in religious parties across the Middle East and North Africa."