Visualizing the Religious Divisions of the Middle East

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The Middle East is an impassioned region of the world where religion is a driving force in much of the peace, and violence, that occurs from the Horn of Africa to the borders of Pakistan, India, and China. The dominant religion of the Middle East is Islam, but the region is home to a wide variety of religious artifacts and monuments that are vital to Christianity and Judaism.


Today, much of the world’s strife centers on the inability of various sects and religions to find common ground in the Middle East. Even within the religion of Islam, a great schism exists that transcends national and regional borders. Fortunately, those in the West might better understand the issues the region faces if they were able to see the religious dividing lines on a map. On this particular graphic, you can see how the various religions that permeate the region cross borders and intermingle in a manner that explains the underlying stressors in the Middle East.



As mentioned above, the religion of Islam is the dominant religious faction in the region. Some nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iraq have large populations or sections of the country that are devout followers of Sunni Islam. Conversely, pockets of Turkey and Iraq, as well as the entire nation of Iran, follow Shiite Islam.


The two factions of Islam have deep differences that often lead to violent confrontations as the competing forces try to lead their nation based upon faith. The nation of Iraq is a perfect example of the struggles facing the region. Southern Iraq, including the capital city of Baghdad, is dominated by Shiite Islam, while the sparsely populated north is mainly Sunni Islam.


Additionally, there are regions of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and large portions of Turkey that have mixed populations of Sunni and Shiite Islamic people living in close proximity to one another.



Christianity, like other religions, has its roots in the Middle East. However, a close look at the map reveals that Christians occupy small enclaves within various nations. This often leaves Christians caught between the forces of Sunni and Shiite Islam. In recent years, violence against these pockets of Christians has been on the rise.



The Jewish faith is also centered in the Holy Land of the Middle East. Followers of Judaism have long faced persecution throughout the region, but that bitter contest worsened after the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the nation of Israel in 1947. Since the creation of Israel, tensions in the region between people of Jewish and Islamic faith have increased. Outside of Israel, shaded in red on the map, the only known pocket of followers of Judaism exists on the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan.


It is difficult for Westerners to fully understand the conflicts seen on the news that grip the Middle East. For nations that rely upon secular guidance, it is difficult to see how strife continues to rear its ugly head in the region. However, when you see the mingling of different religions in the region, and how they cross borders, the picture gets a little clearer.

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