Report highlights Islam’s global diversity

WASHINGTON — Nearly all Muslims can agree on the basic beliefs of Islam: There is one God, Muhammad is God’s … Continued

WASHINGTON — Nearly all Muslims can agree on the basic beliefs of Islam: There is one God, Muhammad is God’s prophet, Muslims should fast during the holy month of Ramadan and give alms to the poor.

Yet beyond these central pillars of the faith, Muslims worldwide vastly differ as religious convictions are shaped by cultural and social contexts, according to a new report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

“The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity” draws on 38,000 face-to-face interviews in 39 countries, and finds that Muslims differ sharply over questions of faith like who counts as a Muslim and what spiritual practices are acceptable.

With 1.6 billion adherents, Islam is the world’s second-largest religion, behind Christianity, and accounts for one-quarter of the world’s population.

“There isn’t one single Muslim world. There are many Muslims around the world that share beliefs, but there are differences as well,” said James Bell, director of international survey research at the Pew Forum.

Though broad, the report is not comprehensive. “Political sensitivities” and “security concerns” kept researchers out of some countries with significant Muslim populations, including China, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Muslims are united by the “shahada,” the declaration of faith that there is only one God and Muhammad is his messenger, as well as specific religious practices and belief in angels, Judgment Day, and fate.

But they differ significantly by country and region in levels of religious commitment, openness to multiple interpretations of faith and the Sunni/Shia divide.

For instance, 95 percent of Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa said religion is “very important” to them. Solid majorities agreed in the Middle East, North Africa and the United States.

Meanwhile, the atheist strain within communism continues to reverberate through former Soviet states like Russia and Kazakhstan, where much lower percentages of people (44 percent and 18 percent, respectively) say religion is “very important.”

Generally, men and women worldwide held similar religious commitments. However, they differed greatly in mosque attendance, especially in Central Asia and South Asia, which is probably due to local or cultural norms, Bell said.

Younger Muslims worldwide were less religiously committed than older Muslims, with the biggest differences seen in the Middle East and North Africa. In Lebanon, for instance, Muslims older than 35 were 28 percentage points more likely to pray several times a day than younger Muslims. Only Russia showed younger Muslims placing significantly more importance on religion.

Sectarian differences were divisive in some countries. In most predominantly Sunni countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa — like Egypt and Morocco — half or fewer of Sunnis accept Shiites as fellow Muslims.

But in nations where large populations of Sunnis and Shiites live side by side — like Iraq and Lebanon — majorities of Sunnis recognize Shiites as fellow Muslims. Outside of this area, sectarian affiliation doesn’t matter as much; one in four Muslims polled do not identify as Sunni or Shia.

The report also found a striking difference between Muslims worldwide and U.S. Muslims. Basic practices like daily prayer and weekly mosque attendance, as well as the importance of religion in daily life, were lower for American Muslims.

Americans also showed a greater acceptance of denominational differences. Whereas 63 percent of Muslims worldwide believe Islam has only one interpretation, only 37 percent of American Muslims believe this.

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  • 4islam

    Phew! I see rejection of Islam with a passion here. Let me put context behind some of the references here for readers to judge for themselves.

    [8:54-57]: Their case is like the case of the people of Pharaoh and those before them: they rejected the Signs of their Lord, so We destroyed them for their sins. And We drowned the people of Pharaoh, for they were all wrongdoers. Surely, the worst of beasts in the sight of Allah are those who are ungrateful. So they will not believe, Those with whom thou didst make a covenant; then they break their covenant every time, and they do not fear God. So, if thou catchest them in war, then by routing them strike fear in those that are behind them, that they may be admonished.

    [8:39-41] Say to those who disbelieve, if they desist, that which is past will be forgiven them; and if they return thereto, then verily, the example of the former peoples has already gone before them. And fight them until there is no persecution and religion is wholly for Allah. But if they desist, then surely Allah is Watchful of what they do. And if they turn their backs, then know that Allah is your Protector. What an excellent Protector and what an excellent Helper!

    [4:101-104] And whoso emigrates from his country in the cause of Allah will find in the earth an abundant place of refuge and plentifulness. And whoso goes forth from his home, emigrating in the cause of Allah and His Messenger, and death overtakes him, his reward lies on Allah, and Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful. And when you journey in the land, it shall be no sin on you to shorten the Prayer, if you fear that those who disbelieve may give you trouble. Verily, the disbelievers are an open enemy to you.

    [3:147-152] And many a Prophet there has been beside whom fought numerous companies of their followers. They slackened not for aught that befell them in the way of Allah, nor did they weaken, nor did they humiliate themselves before the enemy. And Allah loves the steadfast. And they uttered not a word except that they said: ‘Our Lord, forgive us our errors and our excesses in our conduct, and make firm our steps and help us against the disbelieving people.’ So Allah gave them the reward of this world, as also an excellent reward of the next; and Allah loves those who do good. O ye who believe! if you obey those who have disbelieved, they will cause you to turn back on your heels, and you will become losers. Nay, Allah is your Protector, and He is the Best of helpers. We shall strike terror into the hearts of those that have disbelieved because they associate partners with Allah for which He has sent down no authority. Their abode is the Fire; and evil is the habitation of the wrongdoers.

    You can all these instances mentioned here are referring to the time when war had been imposed on the Muslims and there were being systematically eradicated. After 13 years when enough was enough, permission to fight was given to Muslims.

    For more info, visit

  • bkrommo

    Ahmadiya are not really correct Muslims but diversionary cult believing one of their so called gurus as a Messiah. In Islam the Messiah is actually Jesus. Your reply to Migual Rodriquez and the others is good. All commentators read the chapter 49 of the Koran and you get a better understanding of Islam especially thorough Yusuf Ali or Marmeduke Pickthal translation if you do not understand Arabic.

  • ThomasBaum


    You wrote, “In Islam the Messiah is actually Jesus.”

    In Islam, Jesus is not God-Incarnate like He Is in Christianity, is this or is this not what Islam teaches?

    In Islam, Jesus is a prophet of God but not God becoming One of us, this is what Islam teaches, doesn’t It?

    If Jesus is not True Man and True God than Christianity simply does not exist, seeing as this is the most basic of the basic of what Christianity is about and Jesus being only a man is exactly what Islam and the Koran teaches about Jesus, true or not?

    Islam and Christianity are at odds concerning the most basic beliefs of the two of them and either one is true and the other is false or they are both false, seeing as they can not be both true, any thoughts concerning this?