The terms Muslim world and Islamic world commonly refer to the Islamic community, which is also known as the Ummah. This consists of all those who adhere to the religion of Islam, or to societies where Islam is practiced. In a modern geopolitical sense, these terms refer to countries where Islam is widespread, although there are no agreed criteria for inclusion. The term Muslim-majority countries is an alternative often used for the latter sense.
The history of the Muslim world spans about 1,400 years and includes a variety of socio-political developments, as well as advances in the arts, science, philosophy, and technology, particularly during the Islamic Golden Age. All Muslims look for guidance to the Quran and believe in the prophetic mission of Muhammad, but disagreements on other matters have led to the appearance of different religious schools of thought and sects within Islam. The nation states that emerged in the modern era have adopted a variety of political and economic models, and they have been affected by secular and as well as religious trends.
As of 2013, the combined GDP (nominal) of 49 Muslim majority countries was US$5.7 trillion, As of 2016, they contributed 8% of the world’s total. As of 2015, 1.8 billion or about 24.1% of the world population are Muslims. By the percentage of the total population in a region considering themselves Muslim, 91% in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA), 89% in Central Asia, 40% in Southeast Asia, 31% in South Asia, 30% in Sub-Saharan Africa, 25% in Asia–Oceania, around 6% in Europe, and 1% in the Americas.
Most Muslims are of one of two denominations: Sunni (75–90%) and Shia (10–20%), though in a large survey, about 25% identified as neither, but “just a Muslim“. About 13% of Muslims live in Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority country; 31% of Muslims live in South Asia, the largest population of Muslims in the world; 20% in the Middle East–North Africa, where it is the dominant religion; and 15% in Sub-Saharan Africa and West Africa. Muslims are the overwhelming majority in Central Asia, the majority in the Caucasus and widespread in Southeast Asia. India is the country with the largest Muslim population outside Muslim-majority countries. Sizeable Muslim communities are also found in the Americas, China, Europe, and North Asia. Islam is the fastest-growing major religion in the world.
In a modern geopolitical sense, the terms ‘Muslim world‘ and ‘Islamic world’ refer to countries where Islam is widespread, although there are no agreed criteria for inclusion. Some scholars and commentators have criticised the term ‘Muslim/Islamic world’ and its derivative terms ‘Muslim/Islamic country’ as “simplistic” and “binary”, since no state has a religiously homogeneous population (e.g. Egypt’s citizens are c. 10% Christians), and in absolute numbers, there are sometimes fewer Muslims living in countries where they make up the majority than in countries where they form a minority. Hence, the term ‘Muslim-majority countries’ is often preferred in literature.
The history of the Islamic faith as a religion and social institution begins with its inception around 610 CE, when the Islamic prophet Muhammad, a native of Mecca, is believed by Muslims to have received the first revelation of the Quran, and began to preach his message. In 622 CE, facing opposition in Mecca, he and his followers migrated to Yathrib (now Medina), where he was invited to establish a new constitution for the city under his leadership. This migration, called the Hijra, marks the first year of the Islamic calendar. By the time of his death, Muhammad had become the political and spiritual leader of Medina, Mecca, the surrounding region, and numerous other tribes in the Arabian Peninsula.
After Muhammad died in 632, his successors (the Caliphs) continued to lead the Muslim community based on his teachings and guidelines of the Quran. The majority of Muslims consider the first four successors to be ‘rightly guided’ or Rashidun. The conquests of the Rashidun Caliphate helped to spread Islam beyond the Arabian Peninsula, stretching from northwest India, across Central Asia, the Near East, North Africa, southern Italy, and the Iberian Peninsula, to the Pyrenees. The Arab Muslims were unable to conquer the entire Christian Byzantine Empire in Asia Minor during the Arab–Byzantine wars, however. The succeeding Umayyad Caliphate attempted two failed sieges of Constantinople in 674–678 and 717–718. Meanwhile, the Muslim community tore itself apart into the rivalling Sunni and Shia sects since the killing of caliph Uthman in 656, resulting in a succession crisis that has never been resolved. The following First, Second and Third Fitnas and finally the Abbasid Revolution (746–750) also definitively destroyed the political unity of the Muslims, who have been inhabiting multiple states ever since. Ghaznavids’ rule was succeeded by the Ghurid Empire of Muhammad of Ghor and Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad, whose reigns under the leadership of Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji extended until the Bengal, where Indian Islamic missionaries achieved their greatest success in terms of dawah and number of converts to Islam. Qutb-ud-din Aybak conquered Delhi in 1206 and began the reign of the Delhi Sultanate, a successive series of dynasties that synthesized Indian civilization with the wider commercial and cultural networks of Africa and Eurasia, greatly increased demographic and economic growth in India and deterred Mongol incursion into the prosperous Indo-Gangetic plain and enthroned one of the few female Muslim rulers, Razia Sultana. Notable major empires dominated by Muslims, such as those of the Abbasids, Fatimids, Almoravids, Seljukids, Ajuran, Adal and Warsangali in Somalia, Mughals in the Indian subcontinent (India, Bangladesh, Pakistan e.t.c), Safavids in Persia and Ottomans in Anatolia, were among the influential and distinguished powers in the world. 19th-century colonialism and 20th-century decolonisation have resulted in several independent Muslim-majority states around the world, with vastly differing attitudes towards and political influences granted to, or restricted for, Islam from country to country. These have revolved around the question of Islam’s compatibility with other ideological concepts such as secularism, nationalism (especially Arab nationalism and Pan-Arabism, as opposed to Pan-Islamism), socialism (see also Arab socialism and socialism in Iran), democracy (see Islamic democracy), republicanism, liberalism and progressivism, feminism, capitalism and more.
The term “Islamic Golden Age” has been attributed to a period in history wherein science, economic development and cultural works in most of the Muslim-dominated world flourished. The age is traditionally understood to have begun during the reign of the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid (786–809) with the inauguration of the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, where scholars from various parts of the world sought to translate and gather all the known world’s knowledge into Arabic, and to have ended with the collapse of the Abbasid caliphate due to Mongol invasions and the Siege of Baghdad in 1258. The Abbasids were influenced by the Quranic injunctions and hadiths, such as “the ink of a scholar is more holy than the blood of a martyr,” that stressed the value of knowledge. The major Islamic capital cities of Baghdad, Cairo, and Córdoba became the main intellectual centers for science, philosophy, medicine, and education. During this period, the Muslim world was a collection of cultures; they drew together and advanced the knowledge gained from the ancient Greek, Roman, Persian, Chinese, Indian, Egyptian, and Phoenician civilizations.
Between the 8th and 18th centuries, the use of ceramic glaze was prevalent in Islamic art, usually assuming the form of elaborate pottery. Tin-opacified glazing was one of the earliest new technologies developed by the Islamic potters. The first Islamic opaque glazes can be found as blue-painted ware in Basra, dating to around the 8th century. Another contribution was the development of fritware, originating from 9th-century Iraq. Other centers for innovative ceramic pottery in the Old world included Fustat (from 975 to 1075), Damascus (from 1100 to around 1600) and Tabriz (from 1470 to 1550).
The best known work of fiction from the Islamic world is One Thousand and One Nights or *Arabian Nights, a name invented by early Western translators, which is a compilation of folk tales from Sanskrit, Persian, and later Arabian fables. The original concept is derived from a pre-Islamic Persian prototype Hezār Afsān (Thousand Fables) that relied on particular Indian elements. It reached its final form by the 14th century; the number and type of tales have varied from one manuscript to another. All Arabian fantasy tales tend to be called Arabian Nights stories when translated into English, regardless of whether they appear in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights or not. This work has been very influential in the West since it was translated in the 18th century, first by Antoine Galland. Imitations were written, especially in France. Various characters from this epic have themselves become cultural icons in Western culture, such as Aladdin, Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba.
A famous example of Arabic poetry and Persian poetry on romance (love) is Layla and Majnun, dating back to the Umayyad era in the 7th century. It is a tragic story of undying love. Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, the national epic of Greater Iran, is a mythical and heroic retelling of Persian history. Amir Arsalan was also a popular mythical Persian story, which has influenced some modern works of fantasy fiction, such as The Heroic Legend of Arslan.
Ibn Tufail (Abubacer) and Ibn al-Nafis were pioneers of the philosophical novel. Ibn Tufail wrote the first Arabic novel Hayy ibn Yaqdhan (Philosophus Autodidactus) as a response to Al-Ghazali’s The Incoherence of the Philosophers, and then Ibn al-Nafis also wrote a novel Theologus Autodidactus as a response to Ibn Tufail’s Philosophus Autodidactus. Both of these narratives had protagonists (Hayy in Philosophus Autodidactus and Kamil in Theologus Autodidactus) who were autodidactic feral children living in seclusion on a desert island, both being the earliest examples of a desert island story. However, while Hayy lives alone with animals on the desert island for the rest of the story in Philosophus Autodidactus, the story of Kamil extends beyond the desert island setting in Theologus Autodidactus, developing into the earliest known coming of age plot and eventually becoming the first example of a science fiction novel.
Theologus Autodidactus, written by the Arabian polymath Ibn al-Nafis (1213–1288), is the first example of a science fiction novel. It deals with various science fiction elements such as spontaneous generation, futurology, the end of the world and doomsday, resurrection, and the afterlife. Rather than giving supernatural or mythological explanations for these events, Ibn al-Nafis attempted to explain these plot elements using the scientific knowledge of biology, astronomy, cosmology and geology known in his time. Ibn al-Nafis’ fiction explained Islamic religious teachings via science and Islamic philosophy.
A Latin translation of Ibn Tufail’s work, Philosophus Autodidactus, first appeared in 1671, prepared by Edward Pococke the Younger, followed by an English translation by Simon Ockley in 1708, as well as German and Dutch translations. These translations might have later inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe, regarded as the first novel in English. Philosophus Autodidactus, continuing the thoughts of philosophers such as Aristotle from earlier ages, inspired Robert Boyle to write his own philosophical novel set on an island, The Aspiring Naturalist.
Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, derived features of and episodes about Bolgia from Arabic works on Islamic eschatology: the Hadith and the Kitab al-Miraj (translated into Latin in 1264 or shortly before as Liber Scale Machometi) concerning the ascension to Heaven of Muhammad, and the spiritual writings of Ibn Arabi. The Moors also had a noticeable influence on the works of George Peele and William Shakespeare. Some of their works featured Moorish characters, such as Peele’s The Battle of Alcazar and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Titus Andronicus and Othello, which featured a Moorish Othello as its title character. These works are said to have been inspired by several Moorish delegations from Morocco to Elizabethan England at the beginning of the 17th century.
One of the common definitions for “Islamic philosophy” is “the style of philosophy produced within the framework of Islamic culture.” Islamic philosophy, in this definition is neither necessarily concerned with religious issues, nor is exclusively produced by Muslims. The Persian scholar Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (980–1037) had more than 450 books attributed to him. His writings were concerned with various subjects, most notably philosophy and medicine. His medical textbook The Canon of Medicine was used as the standard text in European universities for centuries. He also wrote The Book of Healing, an influential scientific and philosophical encyclopedia.
One of the most influential Muslim philosophers in the West was Averroes (Ibn Rushd), founder of the Averroism school of philosophy, whose works and commentaries affected the rise of secular thought in Europe. He also developed the concept of “existence precedes essence”.
Another figure from the Islamic Golden Age, Avicenna, also founded his own Avicennism school of philosophy, which was influential in both Islamic and Christian lands. He was also a critic of Aristotelian logic and founder of Avicennian logic, developed the concepts of empiricism and tabula rasa, and distinguished between essence and existence.
Yet another influential philosopher who had an influence on modern philosophy was Ibn Tufail. His philosophical novel, Hayy ibn Yaqdha, translated into Latin as Philosophus Autodidactus in 1671, developed the themes of empiricism, tabula rasa, nature versus nurture, condition of possibility, materialism, and Molyneux’s problem. European scholars and writers influenced by this novel include John Locke, Gottfried Leibniz, Melchisédech Thévenot, John Wallis, Christiaan Huygens, George Keith, Robert Barclay, the Quakers, and Samuel Hartlib.
Islamic philosophers continued making advances in philosophy through to the 17th century, when Mulla Sadra founded his school of Transcendent theosophy and developed the concept of existentialism.
Other influential Muslim philosophers include al-Jahiz, a pioneer in evolutionary thought; Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen), a pioneer of phenomenology and the philosophy of science and a critic of Aristotelian natural philosophy and Aristotle’s concept of place (topos); Al-Biruni, a critic of Aristotelian natural philosophy; Ibn Tufail and Ibn al-Nafis, pioneers of the philosophical novel; Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi, founder of Illuminationist philosophy; Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, a critic of Aristotelian logic and a pioneer of inductive logic; and Ibn Khaldun, a pioneer in the philosophy of history.
Muslim scientists placed far greater emphasis on experiment than the Greeks. This led to an early scientific method being developed in the Muslim world, where progress in methodology was made, beginning with the experiments of Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) on optics from circa 1000, in his Book of Optics. The most important development of the scientific method was the use of experiments to distinguish between competing scientific theories set within a generally empirical orientation, which began among Muslim scientists. Ibn al-Haytham is also regarded as the father of optics, especially for his empirical proof of the intromission theory of light. Jim Al-Khalili stated in 2009 that Ibn al-Haytham is ‘often referred to as the “world’s first true scientist”.’ al-Khwarzimi’s invented the log base systems that are being used today, he also contributed theorems in trigonometry as well as limits. Recent studies show that it is very likely that the Medieval Muslim artists were aware of advanced decagonal quasicrystal geometry (discovered half a millennium later in the 1970s and 1980s in the West) and used it in intricate decorative tilework in the architecture.
Muslim physicians contributed to the field of medicine, including the subjects of anatomy and physiology: such as in the 15th-century Persian work by Mansur ibn Muhammad ibn al-Faqih Ilyas entitled Tashrih al-badan (Anatomy of the body) which contained comprehensive diagrams of the body’s structural, nervous and circulatory systems; or in the work of the Egyptian physician Ibn al-Nafis, who proposed the theory of pulmonary circulation. Avicenna’s The Canon of Medicine remained an authoritative medical textbook in Europe until the 18th century. Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi (also known as Abulcasis) contributed to the discipline of medical surgery with his Kitab al-Tasrif (“Book of Concessions”), a medical encyclopedia which was later translated to Latin and used in European and Muslim medical schools for centuries. Other medical advancements came in the fields of pharmacology and pharmacy.
In astronomy, Muḥammad ibn Jābir al-Ḥarrānī al-Battānī improved the precision of the measurement of the precession of the Earth’s axis. The corrections made to the geocentric model by al-Battani, Averroes, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, Mu’ayyad al-Din al-‘Urdi and Ibn al-Shatir were later incorporated into the Copernican heliocentric model. Heliocentric theories were also discussed by several other Muslim astronomers such as Al-Biruni, Al-Sijzi, Qotb al-Din Shirazi, and Najm al-Dīn al-Qazwīnī al-Kātibī. The astrolabe, though originally developed by the Greeks, was perfected by Islamic astronomers and engineers, and was subsequently brought to Europe.
Some most famous scientists from the medieval Islamic world include Jābir ibn Hayyān, al-Farabi, Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi, Ibn al-Haytham, Al-Biruni, Avicenna, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, and Ibn Khaldun.
In technology, the Muslim world adopted papermaking from China. The knowledge of gunpowder was also transmitted from China via predominantly Islamic countries, where formulas for pure potassium nitrate were developed.
Advances were made in irrigation and farming, using new technology such as the windmill. Crops such as almonds and citrus fruit were brought to Europe through al-Andalus, and sugar cultivation was gradually adopted by the Europeans. Arab merchants dominated trade in the Indian Ocean until the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century. Hormuz was an important center for this trade. There was also a dense network of trade routes in the Mediterranean, along which Muslim-majority countries traded with each other and with European powers such as Venice, Genoa and Catalonia. The Silk Road crossing Central Asia passed through Islamic states between China and Europe. The emergence of major economic empires with technological resources after the conquests of Timur (Tamerlane) and the resurgence of the Timurid Renaissance include the Mali Empire and the India’s Bengal Sultanate in particular, a major global trading nation in the world, described by the Europeans to be the “richest country to trade with”.
Muslim engineers in the Islamic world made a number of innovative industrial uses of hydropower, and early industrial uses of tidal power and wind power, fossil fuels such as petroleum, and early large factory complexes (tiraz in Arabic). The industrial uses of watermills in the Islamic world date back to the 7th century, while horizontal-wheeled and vertical-wheeled water mills were both in widespread use since at least the 9th century. A variety of industrial mills were being employed in the Islamic world, including early fulling mills, gristmills, paper mills, hullers, sawmills, ship mills, stamp mills, steel mills, sugar mills, tide mills and windmills. By the 11th century, every province throughout the Islamic world had these industrial mills in operation, from al-Andalus and North Africa to the Middle East and Central Asia. Muslim engineers also invented crankshafts and water turbines, employed gears in mills and water-raising machines, and pioneered the use of dams as a source of water power, used to provide additional power to watermills and water-raising machines. Such advances made it possible for industrial tasks that were previously driven by manual labour in ancient times to be mechanized and driven by machinery instead in the medieval Islamic world. The transfer of these technologies to medieval Europe had an influence on the Industrial Revolution, particularly from the proto-industrialised Mughal Bengal and Tipu Sultan’s Kingdom, through the conquests of the East India Company.
Scholars often use the term Age of the Islamic Gunpowders to describe period the Safavid, Ottoman and Mughal states. Each of these three empires had considerable military exploits using the newly developed firearms, especially cannon and small arms, to create their empires. They existed primarily between the fourteenth and the late seventeenth centuries. During the 17th–18th centuries, when the Indian subcontinent was ruled by Mughal Empire’s sixth ruler Muhammad Auranzgeb through sharia and Islamic economics, India became the world’s largest economy, valued 25% of world GDP, having better conditions to 18th-century Western Europe, prior to the Industrial Revolution, causing the emergence of the period of proto-industrialization.
“Why do the Christian nations, which were so weak in the past compared with Muslim nations begin to dominate so many lands in modern times and even defeat the once victorious Ottoman armies?”…”Because they have laws and rules invented by reason.”
Ibrahim Muteferrika, Rational basis for the Politics of Nations (1731)
The Great Divergence was the reason why European colonial powers militarily defeated preexisting Oriental powers like the Mughal Empire, starting from the wealthy Bengal Subah, Tipu Sultan’s Kingdom of Mysore, the Ottoman Empire and many smaller states in the pre-modern Greater Middle East, and initiated a period known as ‘colonialism‘.
Beginning with the 15th century, colonialism by European powers profoundly affected Muslim-majority societies in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Colonialism was often advanced by conflict with mercantile initiatives by colonial powers and caused tremendous social upheavals in Muslim-dominated societies.
A number of Muslim-majority societies reacted to Western powers with zealotry and thus initiating the rise of Pan-Islamism; or affirmed more traditionalist and inclusive cultural ideals; and in rare cases adopted modernity that was ushered by the colonial powers.
The only Muslim-majority regions not to be colonized by the Europeans were Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan. Turkey was one of the first colonial powers of the world with the Ottoman empire ruling several states for over 6 centuries.
The end of the European colonial domination has led to creation of a number of nation states with significant Muslim populations. These states drew on Islamic traditions to varying degree and in various ways in organizing their legal, educational and economic systems.
According to a 2010 study and released January 2011, Islam had 1.5 billion adherents, making up c. 22% of the world population. Because the terms ‘Muslim world’ and ‘Islamic world’ are disputed, since no country is homogeneously Muslim, and there is no way to determine at what point a Muslim minority in a country is to be considered ‘significant’ enough, there is no consensus on how to define the Muslim world geographically. The only rule of thumb for inclusion which has some support, is that countries need to have a Muslim population of more than 50%. According to the Pew Research Center in 2015 there were 50 Muslim-majority countries. Jones (2005) defines a “large minority” as being between 30% and 50%, which described nine countries in 2000, namely Bosnia and Herzegovina, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, North Macedonia, and Tanzania.
In its list of Islamic countries of the world, WorldAtlas identifies six major Islamic states, meaning countries that base their systems of government on Sharia law: Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Mauritania, and Yemen. Other countries not considered Islamic states, but which politically define Islam as the state religion, are listed as: Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Algeria, Malaysia, Maldives, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Somalia, and Brunei. It is noted that Libya also has 18 other official state religions. Neutral Muslim majority countries, in which Islam is not the state religion, are: Niger, Indonesia, Sudan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sierra Leone, and Djibouti. Countries with a majority of Muslims, that have declared an official separation of religion and state, are listed as secular Muslim majority countries: Albania, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Chad, The Gambia, Guinea, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Mali, Northern Cyprus, Nigeria, Senegal, Syria, Lebanon, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.
Religion and state
As the Muslim world came into contact with secular ideals, societies responded in different ways. Some Muslim-majority countries are secular. Azerbaijan became the first secular republic in the Muslim world, between 1918 and 1920, before it was incorporated into the Soviet Union. Turkey has been governed as a secular state since the reforms of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. By contrast, the 1979 Iranian Revolution replaced a monarchial semi-secular regime with an Islamic republic led by the Ayatollah, Ruhollah Khomeini.
Some countries have declared Islam as the official state religion. In those countries, the legal code is largely secular. Only personal status matters pertaining to inheritance and marriage are governed by Sharia law.
Islamic states have adopted Islam as the ideological foundation of state and constitution.
- Saudi Arabia
The following Muslim-majority nation-states have endorsed Islam as their state religion, and though they may guarantee freedom of religion for citizens, do not declare a separation of state and religion:
Unclear or no declaration
These are neutral states where the constitutional or official announcement regarding status of religion is not clear or unstated.
- Sierra Leone
Secular states in the Muslim world have declared separation between civil/government affairs and religion.
Law and ethics
Further information: Islamic ethics
In some states, Muslim ethnic groups enjoy considerable autonomy.
In some places, Muslims implement Islamic law, called sharia in Arabic. The Islamic law exists in a number of variations, but the main forms are the five (four Sunni and one Shia) and Salafi and Ibadi schools of jurisprudence (fiqh).
- Hanafi school in Pakistan, North India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, other Balkan States, Lower Egypt, Spain, Canada, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Russia, Caucasus Republics, China, Central Asian Republics, European Union, other countries of North and South America.
- Maliki in North Africa, West Africa, Sahel, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
- Shafi’i in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Eritrea, Somalia, Yemen, Maldives, Sri Lanka and South India
- Hanbali in Saudi Arabia,
- Jaferi in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Azerbaijan. These four are the only “Muslim states” where the majority is Shia population. In Yemen, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey, and Syria, are countries with Sunni populations. In Lebanon, the majority Muslims (54%) were about equally divided between Sunni and Shia in 2010.
- Ibadi in Oman and small regions in North Africa
In a number of Muslim-majority countries the law requires women to cover either their legs, shoulders and head, or the whole body apart from the face. In strictest forms, the face as well must be covered leaving just a mesh to see through. These hijab rules for dressing cause tensions, concerning particularly Muslims living in Western countries, where restrictions are considered both sexist and oppressive. Some Muslims oppose this charge, and instead declare that the media in these countries presses on women to reveal too much in order to be deemed attractive, and that this is itself sexist and oppressive.
During much of the 20th century, the Islamic identity and the dominance of Islam on political issues have arguably increased during the early 21st century. The fast-growing interests of the Western world in Islamic regions, international conflicts and globalization have changed the influence of Islam on the world in contemporary history.
Democracy and compulsion indexes
The Open Doors USA organization, in its 2012 survey of countries around the world that persecute Christians, listed 37 members of the Muslim world amongst the top 50 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution. 9 of the top 10 countries are Islamic-majority states.
Islamism is a concept whose meaning has been debated in both public and academic contexts. The term can refer to diverse forms of social and political activism advocating that public and political life should be guided by Islamic principles or more specifically to movements that call for full implementation of sharia (Islamic order or law). It is commonly used interchangeably with the terms such as political Islam or Islamic fundamentalism, giving this term more than one sense and referring to different concepts. In academic usage, the term Islamism does not specify what vision of “Islamic order” or sharia is being advocated, or how the advocates intend to bring about that vision. In Western mass media it tends to refer to groups whose aim is to establish a sharia-based Islamic state, often with implication of violent tactics and human rights violations, and has acquired connotations of political extremism. In the Muslim world, the term has positive connotations among its proponents.
Different currents of Islamist thought include advocating a “revolutionary” strategy of Islamizing society through exercise of state power, and alternately a “reformist” strategy to re-Islamizing society through grass-roots social and political activism. Islamists may emphasize the implementation of sharia; pan-Islamic political unity, including an Islamic state; or selective removal of non-Muslim, particularly Western military, economic, political, social, or cultural influences in the Muslim world that they believe to be incompatible with Islam.
Graham Fuller has argued for a broader notion of Islamism as a form of identity politics, involving “support for [Muslim] identity, authenticity, broader regionalism, revivalism, [and] revitalization of the community.” Some authors hold the term “Islamic activism” to be synonymous and preferable to “Islamism”, and Rached Ghannouchi writes that Islamists prefer to use the term “Islamic movement” themselves.
Central and prominent figures in twentieth-century Islamism include Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, Abul A’la Maududi, and Ruhollah Khomeini. Most Islamist thinkers emphasize peaceful political processes, which are supported by the majority of contemporary Islamists. Others, Sayyid Qutb in particular, called for violence, and his followers are generally considered Islamic extremists, although Qutb denounced the killing of innocents.
According to Robin Wright, Islamist movements have “arguably altered the Middle East more than any trend since the modern states gained independence”, redefining “politics and even borders”. Following the Arab Spring, some Islamist currents became heavily involved in democratic politics, while others spawned “the most aggressive and ambitious Islamist militia” to date, ISIS.
Islam-based intergovernmental organizations
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is an inter-governmental organization grouping fifty-seven states. 49 are Muslim-majority countries, the others have significant Muslim minorities. The organization claims to be the collective voice of the Muslim world to safeguard the interest and ensure the progress and well-being of their peoples and those of other Muslims in the world over.
The Muslim world has been afflicted with economic stagnation for many centuries. In 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama stated that apart from crude oil, the exports of the entire Greater Middle East with its 400 million population roughly equals that of Switzerland. It has also been estimated that the exports of Finland, a European country of only five million, exceeded those of the entire 370 million-strong Arab world, excluding oil and natural gas.
In most Muslim-majority countries, illiteracy is a problem, whereas in others literacy rates are high. In Egypt, the largest Muslim-majority Arab country, the youth female literacy rate exceeds that for males. Lower literacy rates are more prevalent in South Asian countries such as in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but are rapidly increasing. In the Eastern Middle East, Iran has a high level of youth literacy at 98%, whereas Iraq’s youth literacy rate has sharply declined from 85% to 57%, during the American-led war and subsequent occupation. Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority country in the world, has a very high youth literacy rate at 99%.
In Afghanistan, seminaries are operated by politically active religious organizations and have taken the place of basic education not provided and funded by the government.
A 2016 Pew Research Center study about religion and education around the world found that Muslims have the lowest average levels of education after Hindus, with an average of 5.6 years of schooling. About 36% of all Muslims have no formal schooling, Muslims have also the lowest average levels of higher education of any major religious group, with only 8% having graduate and post-graduate degrees. The highest of years of schooling among Muslim-majority countries found in Uzbekistan (11.5), Kuwait (11.0) and Kazakhstan (10.7). In addition, the average of years of schooling in countries where Muslims are the majority is 6.0 years of schooling, which lag behind the global average (7.7 years of schooling). In the youngest age (25–34) group surveyed, Young Muslims have the lowest average levels of education of any major religious group, with an average of 6.7 years of schooling, which lag behind the global average (8.6 years of schooling). The study found that Muslims have a significant amount of gender inequality in educational attainment, since Muslim women have an average of 4.9 years of schooling; compare to an average of 6.4 years of schooling among Muslim men.
The literacy rate in the Muslim world varies. Azerbaijan is in second place in the Index of Literacy of World Countries. Some members such as Iran, Kuwait, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have over 97% literacy rates, whereas literacy rates are the lowest in Mali, Afghanistan, Chad and parts of Africa. In 2015, the International Islamic News Agency reported that nearly 37% of the population of the Muslim world is unable to read or write, basing that figure on reports from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Several Muslim-majority countries like Turkey, Iran and Egypt have a high rate of citable scientific publications.
More than 24.1% of the world’s population is Muslim. Current estimates conclude that the number of Muslims in the world is around 1.8 billion. Muslims are the majority in 49 countries, they speak hundreds of languages and come from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Major languages spoken by Muslims include Arabic, Bengali, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Malay, Javanese, Sundanese, Swahili, Hausa, Fula, Berber, Tuareg, Somali, Albanian, Spanish, Bosnian, Russian, Turkish, Azeri, Kazakh, Kannada, Uzbek, Tatar, Persian, Kurdish, Pashto, Tamil, Telugu, Balochi, Sindhi, Saraiki, Malayalam, Gujarati, Marathi, Assamese, Rohingya, Yoruba language, Uyghur, Dardic languages and Kashmiri, among many others. The city of Karachi has the largest Muslim population in the world.
The two main denominations of Islam are the Sunni and Shia sects. They differ primarily upon of how the life of the ummah (“faithful”) should be governed, and the role of the imam. Sunnis believe that the true political successor of the Prophet according to the Sunnah should be selected based on ٍShura (consultation), as was done at the Saqifah which selected Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s father-in-law, to be Muhammad’s political but not his religious successor. Shia, on the other hand, believe that Muhammad designated his son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib as his true political as well as religious successor.
The overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world, between 87 and 90%, are Sunni.
Shias and other groups make up the rest, about 10–13% of overall Muslim population. The countries with the highest concentration of Shia populations are: Iran – 89%, Azerbaijan – 85%, Iraq – 60/70%, Bahrain – 70%, Yemen – 47%, Turkey – 28%,Lebanon – 27%, Syria – 17%, Afghanistan – 15%, Pakistan – 5%/10%, and India – 5%.
The Kharijite Muslims, who are less known, have their own stronghold in the country of Oman holding about 75% of the population.
Islamic schools and branches
Main article: Islamic schools and branches
The first centuries of Islam gave rise to three major sects: Sunnis, Shi’as and Kharijites. Each sect developed distinct jurisprudence schools (madhhab) reflecting different methodologies of jurisprudence (fiqh).
The major Sunni madhhabs are Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali.
The major Shi’a branches are Twelver (Imami), Ismaili (Sevener) and Zaidi (Fiver). Isma’ilism later split into Nizari Ismaili and Musta’li Ismaili, and then Mustaali was divided into Hafizi and Taiyabi Ismailis. It also gave rise to the Qarmatian movement and the Druze faith. Twelver Shiism developed Ja’fari jurisprudence whose branches are Akhbarism and Usulism, and other movements such as Alawites, Shaykism and Alevism.
Similarly, Kharijites were initially divided into five major branches: Sufris, Azariqa, Najdat, Adjarites and Ibadis. Among these numerous branches, only Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali, Imamiyyah-Ja’fari-Usuli, Nizārī Ismā’īlī, Alevi, Zaydi, Ibadi, Zahiri, Alawite, Druze and Taiyabi communities have survived. In addition, new schools of thought and movements like Quranist Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims and African American Muslims later emerged independently.
According to the UNHCR, Muslim-majority countries hosted 18 million refugees by the end of 2010.
Since then Muslim-majority countries have absorbed refugees from recent conflicts, including the uprising in Syria. In July 2013, the UN stated that the number of Syrian refugees had exceeded 1.8 million. In Asia, an estimated 625,000 refugees from Rakhine, Myanmar, mostly Muslim, had crossed the border into Bangladesh since August 2017.
Throughout history, Muslim cultures have been diverse ethnically, linguistically and regionally. According to M.M. Knight, this diversity includes diversity in beliefs, interpretations and practices and communities and interests.Knight says perception of Muslim world among non Muslim is usually supported through introductory literature about Islam, mostly present a version as per scriptural view which would include some prescriptive literature and abstracts of history as per authors own point of views, to which even many Muslims might agree, but that necessarily would not reflect Islam as lived on the ground, ‘in the experience of real human bodies’.
The term “Islamic art and architecture” denotes the works of art and architecture produced from the 7th century onwards by people who lived within the territory that was inhabited by culturally Islamic populations.
Islamic architecture comprises the architectural styles of buildings associated with Islam. It encompasses both secular and religious styles from the early history of Islam to the present day. Early Islamic architecture was influenced by Roman, Byzantine, Persian, Mesopotamian architecture and all other lands which the Early Muslim conquests conquered in the seventh and eighth centuries. Further east, it was also influenced by Chinese and Mughal architecture as Islam spread to Southeast Asia. Later it developed distinct characteristics in the form of buildings, and the decoration of surfaces with Islamic calligraphy and geometric and interlace patterned ornament. New architectural elements like cylindrical minarets, muqarnas, arabesque, multifoil were invented. The principal Islamic architectural types for large or public buildings are: the mosque, the tomb, the palace, and the fort. From these four types, the vocabulary of Islamic architecture is derived and used for other buildings such as public baths, fountains and domestic architecture.
Many of the buildings which are mentioned in this article are listed as World Heritage Sites. Some of them, like the Citadel of Aleppo, have suffered significant damage in the ongoing Syrian Civil War and other wars in the Middle East.
Main article: Aniconism in Islam
No Islamic visual images or depictions of God are meant to exist because it is believed that such artistic depictions may lead to idolatry. Moreover, Muslims believe that God is incorporeal, making any two- or three- dimensional depictions impossible. Instead, Muslims describe God by the names and attributes that, according to Islam, he revealed to his creation. All but one sura of the Quran begins with the phrase “In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful“. Images of Mohammed are likewise prohibited. Such aniconism and iconoclasm can also be found in Jewish and some Christian theology.
Islamic art frequently adopts the use of geometrical floral or vegetal designs in a repetition known as arabesque. Such designs are highly nonrepresentational, as Islam forbids representational depictions as found in pre-Islamic pagan religions. Despite this, there is a presence of depictional art in some Muslim societies, notably the miniature style made famous in Persia and under the Ottoman Empire which featured paintings of people and animals, and also depictions of Quranic stories and Islamic traditional narratives. Another reason why Islamic art is usually abstract is to symbolize the transcendence, indivisible and infinite nature of God, an objective achieved by arabesque. Islamic calligraphy is an omnipresent decoration in Islamic art, and is usually expressed in the form of Quranic verses. Two of the main scripts involved are the symbolic kufic and naskh scripts, which can be found adorning the walls and domes of mosques, the sides of minbars, and so on.
Distinguishing motifs of Islamic architecture have always been ordered repetition, radiating structures, and rhythmic, metric patterns. In this respect, fractal geometry has been a key utility, especially for mosques and palaces. Other features employed as motifs include columns, piers and arches, organized and interwoven with alternating sequences of niches and colonnettes. The role of domes in Islamic architecture has been considerable. Its usage spans centuries, first appearing in 691 with the construction of the Dome of the Rock mosque, and recurring even up until the 17th century with the Taj Mahal. And as late as the 19th century, Islamic domes had been incorporated into European architecture.
Girih are decorative Islamic geometric patterns used in architecture and handicraft objects, consisting of angled lines that form an interlaced strapwork pattern.
Girih decoration is believed to have been inspired by Syrian Roman knotwork patterns from the second century. The earliest girih dates from around 1000 CE, and the artform flourished until the 15th century. Girih patterns can be created in a variety of ways, including the traditional straightedge and compass construction; the construction of a grid of polygons; and the use of a set of girih tiles with lines drawn on them: the lines form the pattern. Patterns may be elaborated by the use of two levels of design, as at the 1453 Darb-e Imam shrine. Square repeating units of known patterns can be copied as templates, and historic pattern books may have been intended for use in this way.
The 15th century Topkapı Scroll explicitly shows girih patterns together with the tilings used to create them. A set of tiles consisting of a dart and a kite shape can be used to create aperiodic Penrose tilings, though there is no evidence that such a set was used in medieval times. Girih patterns have been used to decorate varied materials including stone screens, as at Fatehpur Sikri; plasterwork, as at mosques and madrasas such as the Hunat Hatun Complex in Kayseri; metal, as at Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan in Cairo; and in wood, as at the Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba.
Islamic calligraphy is the artistic practice of handwriting and calligraphy, in the languages which use Arabic alphabet or the alphabets derived from it. It includes Arabic, Persian, Ottoman, Afghan, Pakistan and Indian calligraphy. It is known in Arabic as khatt Arabi (خط عربي), which translates into Arabic line, design, or construction.
The development of Islamic calligraphy is strongly tied to the Qur’an; chapters and excerpts from the Qur’an are a common and almost universal text upon which Islamic calligraphy is based. Although artistic depictions of people and animals are not explicitly forbidden by the Qur’an, pictures have traditionally been limited in Islamic books in order to avoid idolatry. In the ancient world, though, artists would often get around this prohibition by using strands of tiny writing to construct lines and images. Calligraphy was a valued art form, even as a moral good. An ancient Arabic proverb illustrates this point by emphatically stating that “Purity of writing is purity of the soul.”
However, Islamic calligraphy is not limited to strictly religious subjects, objects, or spaces. Like all Islamic art, it encompasses a diverse array of works created in a wide variety of contexts. The prevalence of calligraphy in Islamic art is not directly related to its non-figural tradition; rather, it reflects the centrality of the notion of writing and written text in Islam. It is noteworthy, for instance, that the Islamic prophet Muhammad is related to have said: “The first thing God created was the pen.”
Islamic calligraphy developed from two major styles: Kufic and Naskh. There are several variations of each, as well as regionally specific styles. Arabic or Persian calligraphy has also been incorporated into modern art, beginning with the post-colonial period in the Middle East, as well as the more recent style of calligraffiti.
Two calendars are used all over the Muslim world. One is a lunar calendar that is most widely used among Muslims. The other one is a solar calendar officially used in Iran and Afghanistan.
Islamic lunar calendar
The Islamic calendar, also known as the Hijri, Lunar Hijri, Muslim or Arabic calendar, is a lunar calendar consisting of 12 lunar months in a year of 354 or 355 days. It is used to determine the proper days of Islamic holidays and rituals, such as the annual period of fasting and the proper time for the Hajj. In almost all countries where the predominant religion is Islam, the civil calendar is the Gregorian calendar, with Syriac month-names used in the Levant and Mesopotamia (Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine). Notable exceptions to this rule are Iran and Afghanistan, which use the Solar Hijri calendar. Rents, wages and similar regular commitments are generally paid by the civil calendar.
The Islamic calendar employs the Hijri era whose epoch was established as the Islamic New Year of 622 CE. During that year, Muhammad and his followers migrated from Mecca to Medina and established the first Muslim community (ummah), an event commemorated as the Hijra. In the West, dates in this era are usually denoted AH (Latin: Anno Hegirae, “in the year of the Hijra”) in parallel with the Christian (AD), Common (CE) and Jewish eras (AM). In Muslim countries, it is also sometimes denoted as H from its Arabic form (سَنَة هِجْرِيَّة, abbreviated ھ). In English, years prior to the Hijra are denoted as BH (“Before the Hijra”).
As of January 2021 CE, the current Islamic year is 1442 AH. In the Gregorian calendar reckoning, 1442 AH runs from approximately 20 August 2020 to 9 August 2021.
Solar Hijri calendar
The Solar Hijri calendar, also called the Iranian Hijri calendar or Shamsi Hijri calendar, and abbreviated as SH, is the official calendar of Iran and Afghanistan. It begins on the March equinox (Nowruz) as determined by astronomical calculation for the Iran Standard Time meridian (52.5°E, UTC+03:30) and has years of 365 or 366 days.
Its determination of the start of each year is astronomically accurate year-to-year as opposed to the more fixed Gregorian calendar or “Common Era calendar” which, averaged out, has the same year length, achieving the same accuracy (a more simply patterned calendar of 365 days for three consecutive years plus an extra day in the next year, save for exceptions to the latter in three out of every four centuries). The start of the year and its number of days remain fixed to one of the two equinoxes, the astronomically important days which have the same duration of day as night. It results in less variability of all celestial bodies when comparing a specific calendar date from one year to others.
Each of the twelve months corresponds with a zodiac sign. The first six months have 31 days, the next five have 30 days, and the last month has 29 days in usual years but 30 days in leap years. The Iranian New Year’s Day always falls on the March equinox.
According to Riada Asimovic Akyol while Muslim women’s experiences differs a lot by location and personal situations such as family upbringing, class and education; the difference between culture and religions is often ignored by community and state leaders in many of the Muslim majority countries, the key issue in the Muslim world regarding gender issues is that medieval religious texts constructed in highly patriarchal environments and based on biological essentialism are still valued highly in Islam; hence views emphasizing on men’s superiority in unequal gender roles– are widespread among many conservative Muslims (men and women) . Orthodox Muslims often believe that rights and responsibilities of women in Islam are different than that of men and sacrosanct since assigned by the God. According to Asma Barlas patriarchal behaviour among Muslims is based in an ideology which jumbles sexual and biological differences with gender dualisms and inequality. Modernist discourse of liberal progressive movements like Islamic feminism have been revisiting hermeneutics of feminism in Islam in terms of respect for Muslim women’s lives and rights. Riada Asimovic Akyol further says that equality for Muslim women needs to be achieved through self-criticism.
As of 2015 Islam has 1.8 billion adherents, making up over 24.1% of the world population. Due to globalization, Islam today has taken root and influenced cultures in places far from the traditional boundaries of the Muslim world.
- Glossary of Islam
- Index of Islam-related articles
- Spread of Islam
- Islamic studies
- Islam and other religions
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia