The news is filled with stories about acts of terrorism these days. Many of these violent acts are claimed by groups which are classified as followers of “radical Islam.” This has caused a lot of disinformation to be shared in the general population about what Islam is and who follows it.
Islam is the second largest religion in the world today with 1.6 billion adhering to its principles.
What is interesting about these Islam demographics is that the Arab world only accounts for about 20% of the overall population that adheres to this religion. There are more followers of Islam on the Indian subcontinent [30%] than there is in the geographic areas that are considered the heart of this faith.
Following Islam in the Modern World
- 1 in 4 people in today’s world considers themselves to be a practicing Muslim.
- 62% of the global population of Muslims lives in the Asia-Pacific region.
- Islam is considered the majority religion in 49 countries right now.
- In the US, 45% of Islamic households make $30,000 or less annually compared to 36% of the general US public.
- 14% of US Muslims report making $100,000 or more annually.
- 25% of Muslims in the United States have only been here since the year 2000 or later.
- 81% of US Muslims state that they are US citizens.
- 59% of adult followers of Islam are in the 18-39 age demographic, compared to just 40% when looking at the general population.
- Muslim adults say that they are married at the same rate as the general population, but their divorce rate is less than half [6%] than what it is in the general population [13%].
- Just under 90% follow Sunni Islam. Just under 10% follow Shiite Islam, and the remainder follow other sects/denominations.
As the world is slowly moving away from having a religious preference, the youth movement within Islam is running counter to that form of idealism. Because followers of Islam tend to be younger, this makes it more likely for them to have less overall income. Add in the fact that a majority of Muslims live in the low-income APAC region and this becomes even more likely. Yet despite these challenges, it is still the second largest religion in the world. That alone says something about the followers of Islam.
Racial and Ethnic Demographics in Islam
- 30% of people who say that they follow Islam would describe themselves as being white or Caucasian.
- The percentage of Muslims who describe themselves as being black, dark, or African-American: 23%.
- 21% of Islamic followers describe themselves as being Asian.
- Just 6% of people who say they follow Islam identify themselves as being Hispanic, Mexican, or Latin.
- 19% of Muslims state that they are of a mixed race or ethnicity or prefer not to state what their racial/ethnic heritage happens to be.
- The native-born Muslim population contains a higher proportion of blacks, and lower proportions of whites and Asians, than the foreign-born population.
- 1 in 4 followers of Islam have graduated from college with a 4 year degree.
- US Muslims are 2x more likely to be currently enrolled in college or university classes compared to the general population.
Although there have been financial declines in the Islamic population in all corners of the world, the youth of this faith are setting themselves up for a brighter future. In the developed world, Islamic students are more likely to graduate high school compared to the general population. They’re more likely to be currently enrolled in higher education classes. They are graduating with degrees at a comparable rate to the general population. Income levels might be low now, but things are changing even with the challenge of radical violence.
Is Radical Islam a Threat to Global Peace?
- Some published estimates of the followers of radical Islam place radicalized believers at 25% of the Islamic population. Intelligence reports, however, suggest the population sample that is at risk of radicalization is less than 1%.
- About 2,000 followers of Islam from Europe are known to have left the continent to fight for ISIS in Syria. In the United States, early estimates had 100 people leaving for the same reason, but the FBI reduced that number to just 12.
- 1 in 4 European radical Islamists that is known to be currently engaged in active combat originated from France.
- Some reports place the percentage of practicing Muslims who say that suicide bombings of non-Muslims can be justified at 26-42% are widely circulated, but come from a single Pew research poll conducted in 2013.
- In 2013, there were 152 attacks in Europe that were attributed to terrorism. Only 2 of those attacks were confirmed to be religiously motivated.
Certainly large-scale attacks like what occurred in Paris or attacks on co-workers and neighbors as in the San Bernardino incident make radical Islam stand out in the public eye. Yet the demographics of Islam are clear as to the threat of violent radicalization. More acts of violence occur because of nationalistic issues, socioeconomic problems, or separatist idealism than occur because of jihad. Fear stops us from looking at facts and the facts are that unstable governments and internal corruption are far greater threats to global peace than the world’s second-largest religion.
The Future in Following Islam
- 84% of Muslims in Southeast Asia support the implementation of sharia law. Just 12% of central Asian followers and 18% of European followers support this idea.
- More than 90% of Muslims support religious courts for the implementation of family law in countries where religious courts already exist. Less than 10% of Muslims support this idea when secular courts for family law already exist.
- Muslims who say they pray more often tend to have a higher level of support for the implementation of religious legal standards.
- In every major region of the world, more than half of all Muslims say that any sharia law should only apply to Muslims. In SE Europe, 64% of Islamic followers support this idea.
- For Islamic followers who believe divorce, polygamy, or family planning is morally acceptable, there is strong support for the abolition of sharia law.
How Islam proceeds into the future will depend on how it responds to the current perspective of radicalism within their ranks. The vast majority of Muslims are just wanting to live a peaceful life, pursue their dreams, and explore their faith. For some, that faith may include legal standards, yet more than half of the followers of this faith say that any legal standards must only apply to them. The bottom line is this: the more that we all begin to learn about one another and embrace our differences, then the more strength we will all have to stand up to the fear that seems ever-present in today’s world.