A couple weeks ago, the US Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a study that has received a great deal of attention. According to a three-year study of over 232 countries, the population of Muslims worldwide is now 1.57 billion, which means that one out of every four people in the world is a Muslim. Although the number was above some of the researchers’ expectations, what really makes this study fascinating is what it discovered about the details of this overall population.
First, the study found that only one of the top five Muslim countries is Arabic-speaking. The top five countries include Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Egypt. This fact alone shatters the stereotype that Muslim equals Arab when in fact that vast majority of Muslims reside outside the Arabic-speaking world. Second, the study found that the Islam practiced around the world is moderate and integrated unlike the common representation of Islam as a militant and violent faith. This finding is so important to how Muslims and Islam, specifically those living in Western nations, are perceived and represented. Third, the Pew Forum found that one in five Muslims live as religious minorities in countries such as India, China, and Russia. According to the study, China has a larger Muslim population than Syria and Russia has more than Jordan and Libya combined. This finding also disrupts the idea that Muslims only exist in large numbers in the Middle East, when in fact Muslims are found all over the world. In other words, Muslims are very much a part of the global community.
The information provided by this study could impact how governments develop foreign policy. The study highlights not only the fact that Muslims constitute a sizable portion of the world population, but also that they are incredibly diverse. For many Muslims around the world, Islam is more than a religion; it is inextricably part of their life and the more people know about it the less preconceptions they will have. This study is a positive step in that direction.
What do you think of the study? Does this information affect how you think about Islam? What do you think the implications are of a study like this? Please share your thoughts below.