Muslim World Facts
To many, the average Muslim is an Arab who lives in the Middle East and speaks Arabic. However, only twenty percent of Muslims speak Arabic. The majority do not live in the Middle East nor are ethnically Arab. The Muslim world today is incredibly diverse: Muslim populations fall into several major cultural groups and over 2300 language or ethnic subgroups located across the world.
Muslim Cultural Groups
Ninety-nine percent of the world's two billion Muslims live in Asia and Africa and are broadly described by these seven cultural groups, sometimes referred to as affinty blocs. Listed with each of the following seven cultural groups are some of their major grouping of peoples or clusters. Many of the major peoples are further divided into small groups by dialect or tribal idenity.
Arabic-Speaking Muslims are spread out across North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Southwest Asia, comprising 20% of Muslims globally (362 million).
Malay Muslims are concentrated in Southeast Asia, especially in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Myanmar, comprising 14% of the world's Muslims (243 million).
Persian-Median Muslims live in Iran and parts of Central, South, and Southwest Asia, comprising 10% of Muslims worldwide (181 million).
South Asian Muslims are the most numerous of the Muslim cultural groups, comprising 29% of Muslims (525 million), and are located in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.
Sub-Saharan African Muslims are spread out in a band across Africa, just south of the Sahara desert, making up 14% of Muslims globally (256 million).
Turkic Muslims are located in Turkey and across Central Asia and western China, comprising 10% of the world's Muslims (185 million).
Chinese and Eurasian Muslims are small in number but have characteristics that distinguish them from other Muslim cultural groups as distinctly Chinese or European and are 2% of Muslims (32 million).
Muslim Americans are estimated to number 2.35 million in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. Fifty-eight percent of the Muslim American population consists of Muslim immigrants to the United States, with over a third of these coming from the Arab-speaking cultural group. The other 42 percent are native-born, the majority of which are African-American. A third of these were born Muslim, while the other two-thirds are converts to Islam.
"I took Encountering Muslims because I didn't like Muslims. By the end of the class, God had given me such a huge love for them, that I can't imagine doing anything other than working with Muslims." -Spring 2016 Student
Islam is considered by some to be the greatest challenge for Christians today. Sadly, Christians rarely reach out to Muslims. Some feel Muslims are difficult to reach with the gospel. Others simply don't know how to share with their Muslim neighbors. Encountering Muslims can help break down these barriers.
Friendships with Muslims are key to Muslims' understanding of the gospel and to our understanding of the world today. Muslims are hospitable and have a rich, diverse culture and history. In addition, Muslims have many needs which should compel us as Christians to respond with compassion. Respectfully expressing our faith in Jesus Christ can be a natural part of our friendships with Muslims. Muslims revere Jesus, and more Muslims have become his followers in the last 30 years than in the previous 1250 years.
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)
The message of this course is hopeful and gentle because of our belief in Jesus Christ and his model of ministry toward others.
Common misconceptions about Muslims
Muslims live in the Middle East.
Most Muslims (one billion) live in Asia, predominately in south and southeast Asia. More than 300 million Muslims live in Sub-Saharan Africa as well.
The four largest Muslim populations are in Indonesia, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, each home to more than 100 million Muslims.
The Middle East is a vague and often negative term which does not accurately reflect where Muslims live.
The majority of people who live in north Africa, the Arabian peninsula, and southwest Asia are Muslims, but they constitute only about 20% of all Muslims.
Muslims don’t believe in Jesus and are not interested in him.
Muslims highly respect Jesus as a prophet of God and value his teachings. Muslims often name their sons after Jesus, who they call Isa, although they do not understand Jesus as the son of God or understand that he died on the cross for the sins of mankind. The Qur’an, however, mentions Jesus 93 times, teaching that he preformed miracles, was born of a virgin, and will return again as Messiah. Muslims may ask you, “Why don’t Christians follow the teachings of Jesus?”
Muslims are engaged in Jihad (war) against us.
The meaning of the Arabic word jihad is struggle. It usually means a struggle of one’s soul against the self and sinful desires. Muslims refer to this inner struggle as the greater jihad. Muslims also have social campaigns to end poverty and hunger which they also call jihad.
Islam oppresses women.
Most of the oppression of women by Islam and Muslims that is highly publicized is usually due to local customs and traditions. Muslim women have been presidents and prime ministers. Violence towards women and forcing them against their will is not permitted by Islam. Care for widows, orphans, and the poor is one of Islam’s strongest teachings. Unfortunately, many women are oppressed, However, this is a global issue and not just Islamic oppression. Prevalence of abuse of women is not higher among Muslims than among non-Muslims.
Muslims don’t value education.
Muslims place a high value on education. Many Muslims are highly educated with Master’s degrees and PhDs. Many Muslims speak multiple languages. Until the industrial age, Islamic universities were the world leaders in math, medicine, science, law, architecture, and many other fields of study. The scientific method has its basis in Muslim advancement of science. Muslims cite the Qur’an as their encouragement to seek knowledge of the world around them. Many Muslims come and study at our universities, yet today most Muslims are poor and lack educational opportunities.
Muslims place little value on women, family life, and children.
The Muslim community worldwide places a high value on family life. Generations of a family live together, often in the same household. Elderly family members are cared for in this environment; this is viewed as an honor, not a burden. It would be shameful to put them in assisted living or retirement homes. Children are included in all areas of life and usually the center of all family gatherings.
Muslims are lying about Islam being peaceful.
Most Muslims are moderate, pious, nonviolent people who are trying to honor God in their lives. Muslim scholars who study the Qur’an explain Islam as a religion of peace, and most Muslims see Islam as a religion of peace as well, preferring to let others live as they wish. The media has sensationalized the views of a small percentage of violent extremists as the legitimate understanding of Islam as a community seeking global domination by force.
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Misconceptions About Muslims
Questions Muslims Ask
As a Christian nation, why does the United States export so much pornography?
Muslims frequently ask this because pornography is strictly forbidden is Islam. And much of what the United States exports (TV shows, movies, books, magazines, fashion, alcohol) are offensive to many Muslims.
Do Christians keep a fast?
Muslims fast openly, outwardly, as a community of faith. During the month of Ramadan, whole communities fast together from sunrise to sunset and then break the fast together at an evening meal called an iftar. This is one of the five most important practices (or pillars of faith) in Islam. Our Muslim friends often do not see either fasting or much community in Christians.
Why do Christians use the name of God so casually?
Muslims feel that it is shameful to use God’s name disrespectfully. Muslims might not see Christians revering God in how casually we talk about having a relationship with God.
Why do Christians blame Muslims and Islam for terrorist attacks?
The majority of Muslims are a peaceful, pious, and moderate people. Muslims suffer more at the hands of terrorism than all others. This is a question often asked by Muslims who view terrorists as against their faith.
Why do Christians think all Muslims are terrorists?
This misconception is partially due to the media’s stereotyping Muslims. The percentage of extremist Muslims is very low but the media can give the impression that terrorism is supported by the majority of Muslims. Muslims may feel misrepresented and misunderstood by these and other stereotypes.
Why do Christians believe in three Gods?
Muslims believe in the “oneness” of God. During Muslim prayers and in their creed Muslims declare that there is no God but God. Many Muslims think that the Trinity means that Christians worship is three Gods:
- who had sexual relations with Mary
- and their son Jesus
Why don’t Christians think Muslims take faith seriously or love and desire to serve God?
Most Muslims take their faith seriously and work at honoring God with their lives. Muslims may feel that Christians mock and discount their faith and their devotion to God.
Why do Christians think that Muslim women who cover their hair are forced to do so and oppressed?
Muslim women cover for a variety of reasons but mostly to honor God. They believe it is a religious commitment to live in a modest and dignified way. Many Muslim women feel empowered by covering and that they will be seen for their accomplishments rather than as sex symbols.
Why do you disrespect the Bible, your Holy book?
Muslims are very careful, reverent, and respectful when handling the Qur’an. You may not lay it on the floor, write in it, or handle it roughly. Many Muslims see how casually Christians treat the Bible and question their respect for it.
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Questions Muslims Ask
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Free to love
Encountering Muslims has given me a sense of freedom: I don’t have to understand the ins and outs of
Islam. I don’t have to be able to win every debate and argument. My primary calling is to love those around me.