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Title: Shabaks  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Mosul, Nineveh Province, Bakhdida, Iraqi National Dialogue Front, Iraq
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Total population
Regions with significant populations
Shabaki, Arabic
Shia Islam, Alevism, Ahl-e Haqq

Shabak people are a part of the Kurdish people who live mainly in the villages of Ali Rash, Khazna, Yangidja, and Tallara in Sinjar district in the province of Ninawa in Iraqi Kurdistan. Their dialect of the Kurdish language, Shabaki, is a Northwestern Iranian dialect of the Kurdish language.[3] Their population was estimated at around 15,000 in the 1970s[4] but it is believed to be more like 60,000 today. Shabaks consist of three different ta'ifs or sects: the Bajalan, Dawoody and Zengana and the Shabak proper.[5] Shabaks follow an independent religion, related to but distinct from orthodox Islam and Christianity. It is also claimed that they are descendants of Qizilbash from the army of Shah Ismail.[6]


The origin of the word shabak is not clear. One view maintains that shabak is an Arabic word شبك meaning intertwine, reflecting their diverse society. The name of Shabekan is available among the tribes in Tunceli, Turkey and as Shabakanlu in Khorasan northern east of Iran.

Arabization and Anfal Campaign

The geographical spread of Shabak people has been largely changed due to the massive deportations in the notorious Al-Anfal Campaign in 1988 and the refugee crisis in 1991. Many Shabaks along with Zengana and Hawrami were relocated and deported to concentration camps (mujamma'at in Arabic) far away from their original homeland. Despite all these actions, Iraqi government efforts at forced assimilation and Arabization, as well as religious persecution of Shabaks has put them under increasing pressure. As one Shabak informant to a researcher put it:[7]

The government said we are Arabs, not Kurds; but if we are, why did they deport us from our homes?

Religious beliefs

Shabak religious beliefs contain elements from Islam and Christianity. There is a close affinity between the Shabak and the Yazidis; for example, Shabaks perform pilgrimage to Yazidi shrines.[3]

Shabaks combine elements of Sufism with their own interpretation of divine reality, which according to them, is more advanced than the literal interpretation of Qur'an known as Sharia. Shabak spiritual guides are known as pir, who are individuals well versed in the prayers and rituals of the sect. Pirs themselves are under the leadership of the Supreme Head or Baba. Pirs act as mediators between Divine power and ordinary Shabaks. Their beliefs form a syncretic system with such features as private and public confession and allowing consumption of alcoholic beverages. This last feature makes them distinct from the neighboring Muslim populations. The beliefs of the Yarsan closely resemble those of the Shabak people.[8]

Shabaks after the Iraq War

On October 27, 2012, several Shabak were killed in Mosul when gunmen invaded their homes[9] as part of a series of attacks during the Eid al-Adha holiday. On September 13, 2013, a female suicide bomber killed 21 people in a bombing at a Shabak funeral near Mosul.[10]


Further research

  • Ali, Salah Salim. ‘Shabak: A Curious sect in Islam’. Revue des études islamiques 60.2 (1992): 521-528. (ISSN 0336-156X)
  • Ali, Salah Salim. ‘Shabak: A Curious sect in Islam’. Hamdard Islamicus 23.2 (April–June 2000): 73-78. (ISSN 0250-7196)

External links

  • Encyclopedia of The Orient
  • Assimilation, Exodus, Eradication: Iraq’s minority communities since 2003 London, Minority Rights Group, 2007
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