Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Report Highlights Islam's Global Diversity

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Report Highlights Islam's Global Diversity

Article excerpt

Nearly all Muslims can agree on the basic beliefs of Islam: There is one God, Muhammad is God's prophet, and 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, such as 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 by 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/Shiite 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. …

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