Syria is home of several strong religious communities, reflecting a long history and centuries of development, but also conflicts. Islam in the Sunni variant dominates in numbers, while Alawism is the religion of the political elite of the country.
*) Alawism has all traces of being an independent religious system, but has received official confirmation of belonging to Islam.
Coexistence between religious groups is largely peaceful, but the different religious groups are often concentrated to certain regions, where sometimes the smaller minorities form regional majorities. Around Latakia, Alawism dominates and around the Druze mountain Druze religion dominates.
Religious structures of Syria are largely secular in nature, political leaders of Syria have removed many traditional institutions.
Popular religion in Syria is strong, and to some extent shared between different religions and sects. Amulets and charms are carried by many individuals, and there are local cults with shrines which are explained as reverence of holy men and women. Although a specific cult and shrine may be immediately linked to one religion, it is common that people of another religion visits and take part in the rituals.
Islam counts by far for the majority of Syria's population, and is dominated by the Sunni branch. The Alawites are considered Muslims, although their faith differs strongly from Sunni and Shi'i. Syria's Shi'is belong to the Twelver branch.
The juridical system of Syria employs both Sharia law and civil law.
The Sunnis live all across the country, only occasionally do they not constitute the majority.
Most Sunnis are Syrian Arabs, about 80%, but there are major groups of Kurds, Turkmens, Circassians and Palestinians.
The dominant madhhab (school) of Sharia (law and theology) is Hanafi.
Since 1949, the Syrian state has been in control of religious institutions like the waqfs, and has curtailed the growth of many local institutions.
Sunni and Shi'i Muslims include the Alawism in the larger Islamic family, the Alawites call themselves Muslims, but their faith is very different from anything Islamic. The reason for all of this, is the Syrian constitution that demands that president of Syria must be a Muslim, and Hafez al-Assad was Alawite. In 1974, the Alawite community got the formal acceptance for being Muslim.
Alawites largely live in the region of Latakia and in the Nusayriyah mountains.
Twelver Shi'i Islam of Syria is mainly concentrated to the region between Homs and Aleppo, making up a considerable minority of the region of Hama.
Christianity is mainly found in Damascus and Aleppo, but also with a major community around Hassake. Christians are more urbanized than Muslims. They generally pursue better education, have higher income and are more active in politics.
In 1920, about 30% of the population were Christians, today the count for less than 10%. Emigration and lower birth rate than among Muslims is the background for this.
One of eleven Syrians are Christians, and the high number of different orientations here tell clearly about the complexities of Syrian history. Among the churches found in Syria are Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic (which is organized between a number of sub-churches: Armenian, Chaldean, Latin, Maronite, Melkite and Syrian), Anglican and Protestant. The largest of these are the Syrian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic.
There is a strong sense of community between the Christian groups, brought together from generations facing hardship from the country's Muslim majority.
Syria has a strong monastic tradition.
The Druze mainly live in the southernmost mountainous region of Syria, the Druze mountain, where they constitute 90% of the entire population. 120 villages have only Druze inhabitants.
The Druze have a substantial community in Syria, a group usually not considered to be Muslims. As a matter of fact, the Druze of Syria outnumber the Druze community of Lebanon.
Isma'ilism is often classified as part of Islam. Although much of its origins can be traced back to Islam, it represents today an entirely different faith, and fits all classifications of being an independent religion.
Isma'ilis mainly live in the Salamiyah region of Hama province, with a community of about 10,000 in the mountains of Latakia province.
Among the two Isma'ili groups, the Mustafians and the Nizaris, most Syrian Isma'ilis belong to the Nizaris.
Syria also has a tiny group of Yazidis, living near the town of Sinjar, close to the border to Iraq.
A small group of Jews live in Damascus. Their number today is generally referred to as about 200. Jews of Syria are reportedly discriminated by the authorities, and not permitted to emigrate. Still, official politics secure the protection of the Jews and their synagogues.
They counted about 30,000 in 1943.