New Internationalist

ISLAM - people and politics

Issue 426

1 RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD 1

Islam is considered the fastest-growing religion in the world. There are at least 1.3 billion Muslims – more than a fifth of humanity. Most are under 25.

2 ESTIMATED MUSLIM POPULATIONS 2

3 THE WORLD’S MOST MUSLIM NATIONS 2

The populations of the following countries are almost entirely Muslim. About 99.5% or more of the native populations – and nearly all of the foreign workers – are Muslim.

4 SIZEABLE MUSLIM POPULATIONS IN THE WEST 3

5 ISLAMIC vs SECULAR STATES

Not all Muslim-majority nations define themselves as Islamic, and the majority of the world’s Muslims live in electoral democracies. Just as many secular countries in the West are influenced culturally by Christian tradition, so too are many secular countries in the Muslim world influenced by Islamic culture.

And names can be misleading. The Islamic Republic of Iran, for example, is an authoritarian theocracy, while the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is an authoritarian yet secular state, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an Islamic absolute monarchy. And a secular constitution does not preclude the existence of sharia law in some parts of the country – for example, in the Republic of Yemen or the Republic of the Sudan.

6 SHARIA 4

Although the term sharia literally means ‘path’ or ‘way’, it now refers to the code of law which evolved through a long process of scholarly interpretation of the divinely sanctioned material of the Qur’an. However, sharia is by no means monolithic and there are at least four different schools of thought. In some situations, where no concrete rules exist, law scholars use qiyas – various forms of reasoning that defer to community consensus and public interest.

Attitudes towards the application of sharia law vary widely within Muslim countries and communities – as the following opinion poll shows.4

7 FEMALE LITERACY 5

Whether girls receive an education or are literate is often viewed as an indicator of both economic development and social equality. But the extent to which a country’s laws are dominated by religion also has a part to play.

Female literacy rates in the Muslim world

8 CIVIL AND HUMAN RIGHTS 8

Human rights are routinely violated in many Muslim-majority countries. But these nations do not have a monopoly on abuse – as manifested by the human rights records of non-Muslim majority countries like Zimbabwe, Burma, Colombia, Russia and the US. And in some cases the West is directly implicated in the human rights abuses occurring in Muslim-majority states.

Afghanistan

  • Hundreds of civilians killed by international forces, mainly by aerial bombardment
  • Abductions and killings by armed groups including the Taliban and al-Qaeda as well as Afghan security forces

Egypt

  • Widespread torture by police
  • Torture and imprisonment of repatriated nationals forcibly returned by the US and other countries because of the ‘war on terror’

Iran

  • Ongoing violent government suppression of dissent
  • Journalists and activists subject to arbitrary arrest, harassment and travel bans
  • Discrimination against ethnic minorities and women

Iraq

  • Thousands of civilians killed by militias and multinational forces
  • Gross human rights violations by Iraqi security forces and private guards

Turkey

  • Widespread violations of freedom of expression for ‘denigrating Turkishness’
  • Police violence, extra-judicial killings and persecution of human rights activists
  • Violent repression of Kurdish minority

US

  • Since 2001, hundreds of detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, most without charge, many subjected to water-boarding torture and inhumane conditions
  • 42 executions last year alone, 69 people died after being tasered by police
  • Racial disparities in police stops and criminal justice system

Uzbekistan

  • Several thousand people convicted of involvement with banned Islamic organizations continue to serve long prison terms in inhumane conditions, many of them extradited from neighbouring countries and Russia
  • Continuing harassment and detention of journalists and human rights defenders.
  1. www.adherents.com (an independent non-affiliated website of 4,200 religions and their membership throughout the world)
  2. http://islam.about.com/
  3. www.islamicpopulation.com
  4. Gallup Poll 2007 Who Speaks for Islam? www.gallop.com
  5. UNDP Human Development Report 2007-08
  6. UNICEF, State of the World’s Children Report 2009
  7. CIA World Factbook 2000 8 Amnesty International Report 2008

This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7

Comments on ISLAM - people and politics

Leave your comment