Most of us know very little about Muslims, with the exception of the limited (and often alarming) views we get from the media. Let's go a little deeper, learn some facts, and hear from some Muslim women bloggers.
Here are some interesting facts taken from the Pew report:
1. More than 60% of the global Muslim population is in Asia
2. About 20% is in the Middle East and North Africa
3. More than 300 million Muslims, or one-fifth of the world's Muslim population, live in countries where Islam is not the majority religion.
4. India has the third-largest population of Muslims worldwide.
5. China has more Muslims than Syria.
6. Russia is home to more Muslims than Jordan and Libya combined.
7. Of the total Muslim population, 10-13% are Shia Muslims and 87-90% are Sunni Muslims.
8. Most Shias (between 68% and 80%) live in just four countries: Iran, Pakistan, India and Iraq.
By the way, the Sunnis and Shia Muslims divided after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 over a difference of opinion about how his successor should be chosen to lead the community -- whether it was by bloodline connected to the Prophet (Shiites) or by a man chosen for his qualities (Sunni). (Each group has its fundamentalist extremists, just as in Christianity and Judaism.)
Sufism arose in the 8th and 9th century as the mystical branch of Islam, known to many Westerners by its chief poet, Rumi. Here is one of his poems:
Love rests on no foundation.
It is an endless ocean,
with no beginning or end.
a suspended ocean,
riding on a cushion of ancient secrets.
All souls have drowned in it,
and now dwell there.
One drop of that ocean is hope,
and the rest is fear.
Now, to answer the question posed in the title of this post -- the study says:
A comprehensive demographic study of more than 200 countries finds that there are 1.57 billion Muslims of all ages living in the world today, representing 23% of an estimated 2009 world population of 6.8 billion.
One in every four people worldwide is Muslim. (By contrast, Christians are one in every three people.) France and Germany have approximately 6% and 5% of their population identifying as Muslim. Each has about twice as many Muslims as the US. We have less than 1% of our population as Muslim.
The size alone of the Muslim world means that we need to understand it more fully, in order to build bridges, and to build dialog. Yet, the average person in America can tell you very little about Muslim belief.
We all need to be able to learn how to speak with each other, how to find a common language that heals this earth instead of destroying it with fear and hatred.
Here is a basic history found on InfoPlease
Muhammad was born in A.D. 570 at Mecca and belonged to the Quraysh tribe, which was active in the caravan trade. At the age of 25 he joined the trade from Mecca to Syria in the employment of a rich widow, Khadija, whom he later married. Critical of the lax moral standards and polytheistic practices of the inhabitants of Mecca, he began to lead a contemplative life in the desert. In a dramatic religious vision, the angel Gabriel announced to Muhammad that he was to be a prophet. Encouraged by Khadija, he devoted himself to the reform of religion and society. Polytheism was to be abandoned. But leaders of the Quraysh generally rejected his teaching, and Muhammad gained only a small following and suffered persecution. He eventually fled Mecca.
The Hegira (Hijra, meaning “emigration”) of Muhammad from Mecca, where he was not honored, to Medina, where he was well received, occurred in 622 and marks the beginning of the Muslim era. After a number of military conflicts with Mecca, in 630 he marched on Mecca and conquered it. Muhammad died at Medina in 632. His grave there has since been a place of pilgrimage.
Muhammad's followers, called Muslims, revered him as the prophet of Allah (God), the only God. Muslims consider Muhammad to be the last in the line of prophets that included Abraham and Jesus. Islam spread quickly, stretching from Spain in the west to India in the east within a century after the prophet's death. Sources of the Islamic faith are the Qur'an (Koran), regarded as the uncreated, eternal Word of God, and tradition (hadith) regarding sayings and deeds of the prophet.
Let's check in with some bloggers. Many blogs by Muslim women are written in a variety of other languages. Here are a few written in English.
Muslima has a lot to teach us. This link takes us to her section called "News" but she is also a crafter and her clothing section features many of her hand-knit items that go with her traditional dress.
Cwzy Muslima is a Pakistani American woman who wishes that the place of women within the Mosque was different. She imagines:
I imagine an event where the men sit in the women's room and the women sit in the men's room. An event where women may go to the mosque and worship in huge halls while men are crowded together into back rooms. An event where women can sit and read Quran or make dhikr in peace while men contend with hyperactive children and screaming babies.
Ginny speaks about an Egyptian cleric's attempt to ban all full veils.
So if you want to argue from an Islamic basis why niqab isn’t necessary, that’s one thing, but to argue for a ban of it, because in today’s climate it just so happens to be a symbol, to some, of “extremism”, is just wrong, again, IMHO. Islamic concepts should be argued from an Islamic point of view, not argued based on the whims and caprices of the “modern” world or what non-Muslims think of our practices and customs. Because where will it end? The day that a scholar from Al-Azhar tells the Muslims that we don’t have to pray if our employer bans prayer in the workplace?
Our worlds may seem eons apart, and in fact in many cases they are. But we will only widen the gap unless both groups, Muslims and non-Muslims, work to understand the passions and hopes of the other.
For those who wish to learn more -- try starting at the Islam and Muslims section of Beliefnet.com .
What Muslim blogs do you read regularly? What blogs can you recommend? And to our Muslima BlogHers - What internet sites would you point people to who wanted to learn more about Islam?
Mata H is a CE for Religion and Spirituality. Her blog is Time's Fool and she'd like to hear some advice about how to best get a Muslim/non-Muslim dialog started.
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