Where the World’s Muslims Live

Following a series of tragic events occurring in France, Nigeria and elsewhere, Islam is back in the global headlines. Part of the debate concerns the question of whether Islam is compatible with cultures outside its birthplace in the Middle East. We wonder: Which of the following statements about the world’s Muslim communities is true?

A. China has as many Muslims as Saudi Arabia.
B. There are more Muslims in Indonesia and India than in the entire Arab World.
C. There are fewer Muslims in the United States than Europe.
D. Muslims account for less than a quarter of the world’s population.

A. China has as about many Muslims as Saudi Arabia … is true.

Despite being the birthplace of the world’s second-largest religion, Saudi Arabia is home to only a slightly higher number of Muslims than live in China, according to data by the Pew Research Center.

Yet, while the 24.7 million Muslims in China represent just 1.8% of the population, Saudi Arabia’s Muslims account for 93% of its 27 million people. However, Saudi Arabia’s Muslim population is not quite as homogeneous as this figure suggests.

About 85% of the country’s Muslims are Sunnis (including King Abdullah, the just-deceased head of the ruling Saud family) and 15% are Shiite (most of whom live in the country’s eastern provinces). In neighboring Yemen, a nation of 24 million on the brink of political collapse, the divide is 65% Sunni and 35% Shiite.

Saudi Arabia’s ethnic homogeneity is further increased by the presence of about nine million immigrants, the majority of whom are employed in low-wage agricultural, cleaning and domestic service occupations.

Most of Saudi’s immigrants are from predominately Muslim nations in the Middle East, Pakistan and Bangladesh. But the country also has a sizable number of immigrants from India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

B. There are more Muslims in Indonesia and India than in the entire Arab World … is true.

In the first few centuries of its existence, Islam spread rapidly beyond its birthplace on the Arabia Peninsula. Arab invaders brought Islam to Spain as early as the eighth century. The growth of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1000s, along with vibrant Muslim trade routes, facilitated the spread of Islam beyond the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

Today, there are more Muslims in just two Asian countries — India and Indonesia — than in the entire Arab World of the Middle East and North Africa.

With a Muslim population of 209 million, Indonesia is the world’s most-populous Muslim-majority nation. Indonesia’s Muslims represent about 88% of the overall population. Most of the other people are Christian (about 10%). Despite periodic bouts of sectarian violence, Indonesia has traditionally promoted religious tolerance and pluralism.

The 179 million Muslims in India constitute the second-largest Muslim population in any nation. In contrast to Indonesia, Muslims represent just 14.4% of India’s population — a sizable minority in a country that is 80% Hindu.

C. There are fewer Muslims in the United States than Europe … is true.

Muslims comprise small minority groups in both the United States and the 28 member states of the European Union. The 20 million Muslims in Europe represent only about 4% of the EU’s total population.

In the United States, Muslims are an even smaller minority. The 2.8 million Muslims there represent less than 1% of the U.S. population.

According to the Pew Research Center, about 13 million of the European Union’s Muslims are foreign-born immigrants. The national origin of these immigrants varies greatly from country to country – with many Turks in Germany, Nigerians and Pakistanis in Britain, and Algerians and Moroccans in France.

Like many Hispanic immigrants in the United States, Europe’s Muslim immigrants often came to their new homes to provide a source of labor for jobs that the wealthier native-born citizens didn’t want to do. But in times of economic slack and rising unemployment, those same immigrants can be viewed as competitors for scarce jobs.

D. Muslims account for less than a quarter of the world’s population … is true.

With 1.6 billion adherents worldwide, Islam is the world’s second-largest religion. Altogether, Muslims account for 23% of the world’s population, according to the Pew Research Center.

By comparison, the world’s 2.2 billion Christians account for 32% of the world’s population, while Hindus account for 15%. About 16% of the world’s population are atheist, agnostic or simply do not identify with a particular faith.

The Asia-Pacific region is home to the majority of the world’s largest Muslim population. At 986 million, about 60% of the world’s Muslims live in the region. The 317 million Muslims in the Arab World account for just about 20% of Muslims worldwide.

Muslims account for a majority of the population in 19 of the 20 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The lone exception is Israel. However, even there about 19% of the population was Muslim as recently as 2010.

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