July 7, 2016

6 facts about religious hostilities in the Middle East and North Africa

Religious hostilities in Middle East-North Africa region

The Middle East is home to some of the world’s most chaotic and violent war zones – including in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Iraq – as well as simmering conflicts in states such as Israel and Lebanon. And while these conflicts usually have multiple causes, religion and religious hostilities certainly are important factors.

A new Pew Research Center study, relying on information from 2014 (the most recent year data were available), carefully catalogued hostilities in the region’s 20 countries. For the first time since we began publishing these annual reports in 2007, the study also took into account activity by the Islamic militant group known as ISIS, which declared in June 2014 that it had established a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria.

Here are six facts about religious hostilities in the Middle East and North Africa:

1As a whole, the region continued to have the highest levels of religious hostilities in the world. In 2014, the median level of religious hostilities in the Middle East and North Africa reached a level four times that of the global median. The types of social hostilities included in this measure varied from religion-related armed conflict to sectarian violence and other religion-related intimidation or abuse.

2Six countries in the Middle East-North Africa region had “very high” levels of religious hostilities during the year – including Israel, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Violent acts in Iraq by both Sunni- and Shia-dominated groups and militias, including ISIS, led to killings, kidnappings, harassment, intimidation and displacement.

3The Middle East-North Africa region had the largest share of countries experiencing religion-related terrorism in 2014, although the Asia-Pacific region had the largest increase in the share of countries that did so. Terrorist activities became more lethal in Israel in particular, where attacks resulted in over 50 casualties in 2014. Members of the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades claimed responsibility for one of these attacks, which killed at least five people, including four rabbis, in November of that year.

4There were reports of ethnic cleansing related to religion in Iraq in 2014. Islamic State militants engaged in a “systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing … that targeted religious and ethnic minorities,” according to Amnesty International. The State Department reported instances of the group seeking to “exterminate” Shia Muslims and religious minorities by targeting Shia mosques and communities. The group massacred at least 500 Yazidi civilians in August of 2014, disposing of their bodies in mass graves.

5Harassment of Christians and Jews by both government forces and social groups increased slightly in 2014. Christians were harassed in 16 out of 20 countries in the region (up from 15 countries in 2013), and Jews were harassed in 18 countries (up from 17 the previous year). In Jordan, some converts from Islam to Christianity reported having to worship in secret for fear of social stigmas against them. Muslims also faced harassment in 17 out of 20 countries surveyed, unchanged from the previous year.

6About 800,000 more people were displaced by religion-related armed conflict in 2014 than in the previous year. Although the number of countries in the region experiencing religion-related armed conflict that led to large-scale population displacement remained the same in 2014 as the year before, more than 19 million people in the Middle East-North Africa region were displaced due to such conflicts, up from 18.2 million in 2013.

Category: 5 Facts

Topics: Religion and Society, Religious Extremism, Middle East and North Africa, Restrictions on Religion

  1. Photo of Katayoun Kishi

    is a research associate focusing on global restrictions on religion at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Angelina E. Theodorou

    is a research analyst focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Anonymous1 year ago

    There is no detail in report.
    Who, where, why?
    There is noting to learn this. it looks vicious information..

  2. Anonymous1 year ago

    Really? I (and 1.6 billion people) think we’re “obligated” to murder the other 77%? Interesting. Ignorant, but interesting. You should try leaving your house sometime. Oh, and in case you haven’t noticed, more Muslims are being murdered than so-called “heretics”, either by other Muslims or by Western powers bombing MENA countries.

  3. Anonymous1 year ago

    Interesting report. Now tell me something I already didn’t know. As one comment said, religion has been an excuse for war and murder for not just centuries, but for over 2 thousand years. As of 2016, most all religions, except for Islam, are peaceful and tolerant of other peoples religious views. Only Islam preaches that followers of all other religions are “Heretics” and they should be killed ! Approximately 23%; 1.6 Billion people in the world are moslem.
    And that 23% think they are “obligated” to murder the other 77% of the people in the world. And if they DO manage to kill a heretic, they are guaranteed to go to heaven. Talk about an incentive plan ! Until we recognize that we are all one humanity, and eliminate all religious dogma, the killing and ethnic cleansing will probably go on for even more centuries.

  4. Anonymous1 year ago

    Religion has been an excuse for war and misery and ethnic cleansing for centuries.

    When will people learn that religion is a self perpetuating evil that needs to be eliminated.

    Have faith in your god if you need it but leave the religious nonsense at the door

    Simply be kind, considerate, giving, and loving and your god will probably appreciate it.

    Nothing else matters.

  5. Anonymous1 year ago

    Imagine there’s no religion; it’s easy if you try!

    I’m sorry but it’s oxymoronic to hear about 6 situations of religious disagreement on a continent that can’t feed itself and where corruption is leadership’s middle name!

  6. Anonymous1 year ago

    Thanks, Ms. Kishi and Theodorou. It appears South Asian region also has very high level of social hostilities involving religion. With almost all countries in very high religious hostilities category, does it not have a higher average of hostilities than the MENA region?
    Secondly, measuring social hostilities in a war zone is difficult. How can one know a kidnapping or intimidation was only or primarily because of victim’s religion/sect?

    1. Katayoun Kishi1 year ago

      Thanks for your questions. In the report, we group South Asian countries among the broader Asia-Pacific region. We also analyze medians, rather than averages, because of the distribution of the country scores. This might explain why the region as a whole has a lower median score than the MENA region. In reference to your second question, we include instances of social hostility where our sources make it explicit that a victim was targeted for their religion. In cases of war, we also code hostile actions by groups that use religious rhetoric to justify the use of force.

  7. Richard Downing1 year ago

    This confirms that the 2 major religions are “Poison.” When they stop believing in the supernatural perhaps the world will be a safer place.

  8. Anonymous1 year ago

    The US appears to have high levels of religious conflict on your map. Where can discussion of the issues be reviewed?

    1. Anonymous1 year ago

      Really? There is disagreement in the US and some killing, but it is worse in the Middle East by a factor of x1000

  9. sinnathamby sundaralingam1 year ago

    Religious terrasim has become a great threat to democracy and peacefull living. Fundamentally most religions are based on peacefull livings. Violence and hatread against sectarian divisions in the same religion is the worst in recent times. Many violent deaths in recent time attributes to sectarian division in the same religion. All religions practiced today in the world have deep sectarian divisions among them. Communities in the same religions are deeply divided based on these man made mad divisions. The day when all these sectarian mad religious teachers rearlise the truth of peace full living only, religious terrorism and violence will stop.

  10. Anonymous1 year ago