The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity

The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are united in their belief in God and the Prophet Muhammad and are bound together by such religious practices as fasting during the holy month of Ramadan and almsgiving to assist people in need. But they have widely differing views about many other aspects of their faith, including how important religion is to their lives, who counts as a Muslim and what practices are acceptable in Islam, according to a worldwide survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The survey, which involved more than 38,000 face-to-face interviews in over 80 languages, finds that in addition to the widespread conviction that there is only one God and that Muhammad is His Prophet, large percentages of Muslims around the world share other articles of faith, including belief in angels, heaven, hell and fate (or predestination). While there is broad agreement on the core tenets of Islam, however, Muslims across the 39 countries and territories surveyed differ significantly in their levels of religious commitment, openness to multiple interpretations of their faith and acceptance of various sects and movements.

Some of these differences are apparent at a regional level. For example, at least eight-in-ten Muslims in every country surveyed in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and South Asia say that religion is very important in their lives. Across the Middle East and North Africa, roughly six-in-ten or more say the same. And in the United States, a 2011 Pew Research Center survey found that nearly seven-in-ten Muslims (69%) say religion is very important to them. (For more comparisons with U.S. Muslims, see Appendix A.) But religion plays a much less central role for some Muslims, particularly in nations that only recently have emerged from communism. No more than half of those surveyed in Russia, the Balkans and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia say religion is very important in their lives. The one exception across this broad swath of Eastern Europe, Southern Europe and Central Asia is Turkey, which never came under communist rule; fully two-thirds of Turkish Muslims (67%) say religion is very important to them.

Generational differences are also apparent. Across the Middle East and North Africa, for example, Muslims 35 and older tend to place greater emphasis on religion and to exhibit higher levels of religious commitment than do Muslims between the ages of 18 and 34. In all seven countries surveyed in the region, older Muslims are more likely to report that they attend mosque, read the Quran (also spelled Koran) on a daily basis and pray multiple times each day. Outside of the Middle East and North Africa, the generational differences are not as sharp. And the survey finds that in one country – Russia – the general pattern is reversed and younger Muslims are significantly more observant than their elders.

Salaamworld Social Media Platform to Target Muslim Demographic

16 March 2012


Radio Netherlands Worldwide this week profiles Salaamworld, a social media platform akin to Facebook which is to debut in June, during Ramadan. The site provides a platform for young Muslims who feel uncomfortable with the content of Facebook, as well as enabling access to a collection of Islamic e-books, products and services. The project is currently headquartered in Istanbul with branches in Russia and Egypt, and an ambitious expansion plan for the coming three years. The site is not the first alternative to Facebook targeting a Muslim demographic, and joins al- Millatfacebook, a Pakistani initiative.

Dutch-Moroccan publicist Mohammed Jabri comments on Salaamworld that while it provides a potentially fruitful, though undoubtedly commercial, enterprise, it does not reply a ‘pure’ alternative to an ‘impure’ Facebook. Jabri predicts that those who sign up with Salaamworld will not revoke their Facebook profiles, as they will not want to lose contacts not shared between the two platforms.

Understanding Angela Merkel

by *Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff*

October 21, 2010

*WASHINGTON* — Angela Merkel, German chancellor, is said to be the most
powerful woman on earth. But even by these standards, the global media
tsunami that followed her remarks about the failure of multiculturalism
in Germany must have caught her by surprise. Her every word was
dissected in every corner of the world, and here is how that reads: /The
Australian/ found that Merkel “rejected the idea of cultural pluralism.”
Columnist Esther J. Cepeda of the Washington Post Writers Group
understood that Merkel called “the very idea” of immigrants living
“happily side by side” with native-born Germans “an illusion.” Russia’s
/RT TV/ asked, “Is diversity dead?” The /Miami Herald/ translated her
remark to mean, “Muhammad, go home.” And, adding some historical
gravitas, the paper concluded, “We should all be alive to the grim
historical resonance of a German chancellor declaring the idea of
disparate cultures living peaceably side by side a failure. What, after
all, is the alternative? Shall Germany officially declare itself a
nation with room enough for one culture only? For the record, that’s
been tried already. And it didn’t work so well, either.”

Got that. Been tried. Didn’t work. Which then raises the question: Why
would an otherwise moderate woman adopt the views of the modern-day
anti-immigrant populists? Why would she endorse a position that could be
called relativist at best and racist at worst? Is it simply her Germanic
gene, as the /Miami Herald’s/ op-ed historians seem to suggest? The
answer is simple — Angela Merkel is not the woman she is currently made
out to be. It is time to consider what she really said and really meant.
It is time to put her remarks into context.

[Continue Reading]

The Islamic veil across Europe

Countries across the continent have wrestled with the issue of the Muslim veil – in various forms such as the body-covering burqa and the niqab, which covers the face apart from the eyes. The debate takes in religious freedom, female equality, secular traditions and even fears of terrorism. This article summarizes the current debates and statuses of France, Britain, the Netherlands, Turkey, Italy, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Russia, Austria and Switzerland.

Accounting Standards for Islamic Financial Institutions will appear in Russian

Shari’a Standards for Islamic Financial products issued by the Accounting Association of Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI) will soon be presented in Russian. An agreement was reached during the visit of the Delegation of Council of Muftis of Russia to Bahrain last December.

The first product standards will be published in February 2010 and will include operations such as murabaha (deferred sale finance), sukuk (interest-free loans) and takaful (an Islamic insurance concept).

Islamic books in Braille published in Kazan

Yardem National Islamic Charitable Foundation, in cooperation with the Rehabilitation Center at the Sulaiman mosque in Kazan have initiated a fundraising effort for “Light of Knowledge for the Blind”, to purchase equipment for a local Muslim library.

Danis Garayev, a project initiator, says each year the library issues hundreds of Braille Muslim books. “We distribute these books in several regions of Russia, including Bashkiria, Chelyabinsk, Ulyanovsk, Nizhniy Novgorod, Chechnya, and Daghestan – all for free.”
The library needs to upgrade technical equipment to increase the printing run and to improve book quality.

Islamic libraries appear at mosques in Siberia and the Urals

The Religious Directorate of Muslims in the Asian cultural region of Russia provided an incentive to open libraries at mosques in Siberia and the Urals, says the chairman of the Directorate Nafigulla Ashirov.

While Muslim communities in Central Russia, the Volga region and in Northern Caucasus are well supplied with Islamic books, it still remains a problem in the Urals, Siberia and Far East of Russia. “Available books are few in number and expensive for simple Muslims”,–says Ashirov.–“That is the reason why we need to open libraries at every mosque in these regions so the books can be accessed not just by Muslims but for everyone who is interested; for example, students who write papers on Islam and Muslim-related matters.”

Medina Publishing House, one of the largest Muslim publishers in Russia, is ready to contribute to this initiative. Its books on the history of Muslim communities in Russia and Islamic theology and practice, form many libraries around the country.

Al-Wasatiya Center soon to open in Moscow

An agreement to base a representative office of the International al-Wasatiya Center in Moscow to proliferate ideas of moderation in Islam was signed in Kuwait during the 5th session of the “Russia and the Islamic World” Strategic Vision Group.

The International al-Wasatiya Center was founded in Kuwait several years ago and is currently run by Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s apprentice Shaykh Isam Bashir. It has offices in a number of countries around the globe, including USA and Great Britain.

The agreement to open its branch office in Russia was previously reached in July 2009 during a meeting between the Islamic Culture, Science and Education Foundation (Russia) and First Deputy Minister of Islamic Affairs and Wakfs Kuwait Adel al-Falyah (Kuwait).

President Medvedev stresses Islam’s importance for Russia

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent a message to greet the fifth session of the “Russia and the Islamic World” Strategic Vision Group held in Kuwait.

In the message he notes that “the Group has made a great contribution to development of trust and mutual understanding between Russia and Muslim states during three years of its work”. He also said: “Your activities help to resist radical and extremist initiatives. The Group is a platform for sharing experience in building tolerant relations between different cultures and religions.”

“The Russian Federation as Organization of the Islamic Conference observer state is firm in its intention to develop dialogue with the Islamic world,”–the message also reads.

The three major Muslim organizations discussed the possibility of consolidation

Representatives of Central Religious Board of Muslims, Council of Muftis of Russia and Coordination Center of Muslims in the Northern Caucasus, the three major Musilm organizations in Russia, met on December 5th to discuss the possibility of consolidation. The meeting was initiated by Talgat Tadjutdin, the head of Central Religious Board of Muslims. The result of the meeting was a decision to make a working group for developing the details of the consolidation project.

For the position of grand mufti of Russia Talgat Tadjutdin suggested shaykh Ravil Gainuddin, the chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia. Talgat Tadjutdin himself is supposed to take the central position of Shaykh al-Islam.

The necessity of such consolidation has been much talked about among Russian Muslim leaders in the recent decade. As a matter of fact, it was the principal issue discussed at All-Russian Muslim Conference held in 2005 in Nizhniy Novgorod by Religious Directorate of Muslims for the Nizhniy Novgorod region. However it wasn’t until now that the idea to create an organization to unite Muslims administratively is actually being worked out.

The initiative is widely supported by Russian Muslim leaders, however, some of them say the offered structure is disputable.

Muftis of Northern Caucasus welcome the consolidation process, but highlight the importance of Coordination Center of Muslims of Northern Caucasus. “Caucasus is a specific region and it requires specific approach‚” says Ismail Berdiyev, the chairman of Coordination Center of Muslims of Northern Caucasus and mufti of Stavropol Krai and Karachay-Cherkess Republic.

Mufti of Tatarstan, Gusman Ishakov, says it would be reasonable to form a High Council of Muftis of Russia out of the three organizations privileged with prior decision making.

Damir Mukhetdinov, the head of Council of Ulems of the Nizhniy Novgorod region, believes that all Russian citizens, not only Muslims, would benefit from consolidation of Russian Muslim community: “Today we see very well organized extremist groups creeping into our towns and to oppose them we need a well-structured administration with highly qualified and consolidated team.”

The meeting of the Conciliation committee is scheduled on the end of December.