With all the controversy over the editorial cartoons depicting the
Prophet Mohammed, there's been quite a flurry of discussion in
Blogostan about Muslims. Some of the discussion has been good (like
Georgia10's backgrounder on the controversy here
), some not so good (like much of the discussion on the thread below
Georgia10's piece). To be fair, while I've seen quite a few
insensitive, ignorant and even offensive comments about Muslims and
Islam, nothing I've seen on any liberal blogs has come even remotely
close to the genocidal ravings about Arabs and/or Muslims you can see
just about every day at Frei Republik or
Little Genocidal Footsoldiers
Little Green Footballs. But there's still a lot of ignorance and
apparent bias seeping through in comments from generally insightful and
well-informed people. So here are a few demographic facts about
Muslims and Arabs that some may find surprising, and that knowing about
will, I hope, elevate the conversations about the cartoon controversy.
First, Arab isn't synonymous with Muslim. Islam did arise out of the Arab bedouin society and culture of 8th century Arabia, and the Koran was written in and studied in Arabic, so the influence of Medieval Arab culture and society is important, just as nomadic Caananite culture and society of .a thousand years earlier is important in shaping all the monotheistic religions. But to equate Arab (which is a cultural, social, ethnic and linguist identification) with Muslim (which is a religious identification) is like using calling Christians Jews, because Jesus and most of his earliest followers were Jews.
Beyond the historical aspects of the different identifications, there are many non-Muslim Arabs, and far, far more non-Arab Muslims than there are Arabs of all faiths combined. There are approximately one billion Muslims, but only about 200 million of those Muslims are Arabs. In fact, of the countries with the largest Muslim populations, only Egypt is an Arab country (in millions, %=percentage of national population that's Muslim; figures calculated from country profiles in CIA Factbook:
1.Indonesia (212m, 88%)
2.India (140m, 13%)
China (133m, 1%) *
4.Pakistan (157m, 97%)
5.Bangladesh (119m, 83%)
6.Egypt (74m, 94%)
7.Turkey (69m, 99%)
8.Iran (66m, 98%)
9.Nigeria (64m, 50%)
10.Ethiopia (32m, 45%)
e laMany non-Arab countries have sizable Muslim percentages, including most of Africa. The Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union are overwhelmingly Muslim, and together have about 50 million people. In Europe, several countries have large non-immigrant Muslim populations, including Albania (75%), Macedonia (30%), Russia (18%), Bulgaria (14%) and Serbia (14%). About 7% of France's population is Muslim, mostly immigrants from North Africa.
On the other side, while many Arab countries are close to 100% Muslim, it's not universal. 30% of Lebanese aren't Muslim. In Kuwait it's 11%, in Syria 10%, in Egypt it's 6%, in Jordan 5%, and 25% of the residents of the West Bank aren't Muslim. Other than Lebanon (with some Druze) and the West Bank (with a small percentage of Jewish settlers), almost all the non-Muslims in the Arab countries are Christians, mostly Eastern Rite Catholics or members of various Orthodox churches.
And in the United States, Arab and Muslim are far from synonymous. About two thirds of Arab-Americans are Christian. Less than half of American Muslims are immigrants; the largest percentage of American Muslims (about 48%) are African-Americans. And of them, followers of the Nation of Islam make up a small percentage. Of all American Muslims, only about 4-5% are with the Nation of Islam. Finally, about 7% of American Muslims are native-born Americans from other traditions who converted to Islam.
None of this is directly related to the controversy about the depictions of Mohammed and in the European press and the reaction to the depictions around the world. But I've seen lots of misconceptions and falsehoods tossed around about Muslims and Arabs, and I thought it was worth the effort to dispel some ignorance and give people some information with which they might make better sense of the world.
* Thanks to Cardinal for catching this error over at Daily Kos. The estimates I found on China were all over the place, from the low tens of millions to well over 100 million. For the sake of consistency, I chose to go with the CIA Factbook estimates, and the CIA estimates the percentage at 1-2%, not 10% as some other sources do. According to the CIA estimates, China's Muslims probably number around 20 million.