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Muslim Religion-Speech 101-Informative Speech

Who are the Muslims? Where are they to be found? How many are they? Many people assume that most Muslims are Arabs. In fact, Arabs make up only about one-fifth of the total world Muslim population.

Others, even if aware that the Middle East contains many inhabitants other than Arabs, are inclined to think that the Muslim world and the Middle East are roughly coterminous. It is true that the Middle Eastern population is about 90 percent Muslim, but all the Muslims of the Middle East still add up to a minority of the world's Muslim population. Even when defining the Middle East broadly to embrace the entire Arab world from Morocco to the Arabian Peninsula plus Iran, Israel, and Turkey the Muslims thus included are only slightly more than one-third of the world's Muslim population.

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The largest Muslim state, Indonesia, is not in the Middle East. Indeed, the first four Muslim states in terms of population are all outside the Middle East—Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and (surprising to many) India with over 100 million Muslims.

There are approximately half again more Muslims in the states of the former Soviet Union than in all of the Fertile Crescent states (Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria), and the Muslims of Nigeria outnumber the Muslims of the entire Arabian Peninsula by roughly two to one.

Muslims are a close second to Christians (315 million as against 356 million) in the continent of Africa. They outnumber Hindus in all Asia (812 million versus 776 million) and are far ahead of the third largest group, the Buddhists (349 million). There are more than twice as many Muslims as all Christians throughout Asia.

Islam is, thus, by far the largest religious community in the Afro-Asian world with almost 400 million more than the Hindus, and outnumbering Christians by almost five million and Buddhists by a ratio of three to one.

In worldwide terms Muslims account for somewhat more than onefourth of the total membership of the principal religions in terms of numbers of adherents (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism).

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Islam began in the Middle East, as did Judaism and Christianity. Unlike its two sister religions, however, Islam has never suffered a statistically significant loss of its followers in the land of its origin. At different times and in response to different challenges the center of gravity of Christianity and Judaism (in demographic and cultural terms, at least) moved from the Middle East to Europe and the lands of largely European settlement, i.e., roughly what is now loosely labeled the West.

“Islam, always a proselytizing religion like Christianity, also expanded, but never at the expense of its Middle Eastern core area” Cole, Juan, 1983.

This may partially explain why so many outsider observers associate Islam with the Middle East even though the region accounts for a minority of the world's Muslims and has been in that minority status for centuries. Among Muslims, as well, there is a decided tendency to consider the Middle East both the homeland and the heartland of Dar al-Islam (the abode of Islam).

Many important aspects of Islam serve to remind Muslims of this special attachment to the Middle East. God chose to give what Muslims deem the final revelation in the Arabic language and from the rise of Islam to this day Arabic has been the vehicle of Muslim ritual and theological communication. It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that Arabic is to Islam what Hebrew, Greek, and Latin all together are to Christianity.

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Muslims everywhere face toward the Holy Ka'ba in Mecca in prayer. Pilgrimage to Mecca—the Hajj—is a ritual obligation that all Muslims whose health and wealth permit are enjoined to fulfill at least once in a lifetime. The number of Muslims who have made that pilgrimage throughout the centuries is impressive. In recent years over two million Muslim pilgrims have come to Mecca each year during the pilgrimage season. Only slightly less holy in Muslim eyes is Madina, roughly 270 miles north of Mecca where Muhammad gathered his earliest converts and founded a religio-political community. It was also at Madina that the Prophet died in 632 C.E., and this city—the second holiest in Islam—served as the seat of the caliphate (the leadership of the Muslim community) in the crucial first few years of Islamic history after the death of Muhammad.

The third holiest city of Islam—Jerusalem—is also very much in the center of the Arab Middle East. It was from Jerusalem that the Prophet Muhammad, as related in the Qur'an, made his miraculous ascent to heaven. Jerusalem was also the first qibla (direction toward which Muslims are to face in prayer). Only a later Qur'anic revelation changed the qibla to Mecca.

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Two other holy cities, especially venerated by the Shi'i Muslims, are also located in the Middle East heartland. They are Najaf, where Ali, the fourth caliph and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, is believed to be buried, and Karbala, which witnessed the martyrdom of Ali's son, Husayn (on the tenth day of the month of Muharram in 61 a.h. or 680 C.E., commemorated thereafter by Shi'i Muslims as the principal day of mourning in the liturgical year). Both Najaf and Karbala are located in modern Iraq (Bakhash, Shaul. 1984, 79).

The formative years of what might be called political Islam are also solidly embedded in a Middle Eastern geographical context. As a result, many other Middle Eastern place names resonate with religio-cultural connotations to Muslims wherever they may be: Damascus, the capital of the first Muslim dynasty, the Umayyads (661–750), and Baghdad, the capital of the succeeding long-lived Abbasid dynasty (750–1258) evoke religio-political memories for Muslims much the way the names of Rome and Constantinople call forth the Christian religio-political heritage.

Also located in the Middle Eastern heartland are many of the later imperial and cultural capitals of Islam, including Cairo, founded as a new Islamic capital city in 969, Istanbul, wrested from the Byzantines in 1453 by the Ottomans and serving as their imperial capital until the end of the Ottoman Empire following the First World War, and Isfahan, the old Persian city that later became the resplendant capital of the Safavid Empire (1500–1736).

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For all these reasons there is an understandable tendency among both Muslims and non-Muslims to emphasize the Middle Eastern dimension of Islam, past and present, and accordingly to give less attention to the majority of the world's Muslims who live outside the Middle East.

Observers are also likely to attribute to Islam behavioral patterns that are more properly to be traced to the Middle Eastern cultural legacy. There is no easy answer to this problem of perception. The Middle Eastern matrix of Islam is a historical fact. Moreover, the area of the Middle East that provided the arena for the activities of the Prophet Muhammad and the first few generations of his followers continues to stand out in Muslim consciousness as a distinctive, if not, indeed, a holy land. At the same time, Muslims every- where are aware that many mundane and unholy activities take place in the Middle East and have done so for centuries.The prudent observer should seek a middle path in weighing the Middle Eastern role in Islam as a religion and as a culture. The Middle East and Middle Easterners are perhaps more important to an understanding of Islam than any comparable territory or similar number of people, but, for all that, the Middle East is home for only a minority of the world's Muslims. Any effort to isolate the special Islamic element in shaping the political life of Muslims must give those peoples and regions beyond the Middle East due consideration.The different peoples making up Dar al-Islam can be classified according to a number of criteria. There are, for example, states with Muslim majorities as opposed to those states in which they are a minority.

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“Muslims may also be divided according to cultural areas or regions with common mores and traditions in which such basic matters as language, gender roles, child rearing, cuisine, housing, play, and patterns of politesse bind people together and make them different from other peoples with other mores and traditions” Abu-Amr, Ziad. 1994, 56.

To present the Muslim confrontation with the West as the principal organizing theme for interpreting modern times in the entire Dar al-Islam is not to embrace the simplication of an unchanging East stirred up by a dynamic West. No, the different parts of the Muslim world had not opted out of history until the West arrived and, depending on your politics, (a) disrupted a society whose many different peoples had formed a coherent organism or (b) played the role of the prince whose kiss awakened the long sleeping princess (Coury, Ralph. 1996).

Major changes were taking place within various parts of the Muslim world before the Western presence and peril became predominant. Major changes continued within the Muslim world thereafter unrelated or only remotely related to the Western factor. To mention only a few, it was as long ago as the sixteenth century when the great Indian Muslim reformer, Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi (1564–1624) resisted the efforts of the enigmatic Moghul emperor Akbar (1542–1605, r. 1556–1605) to synthesize Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism into a unified state religion. The same century witnessed significant advances in the Islamization of Indonesia with a concomitant partial de-Hinduization of its peoples and cultures.

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Even in the eighteenth century, which brought what soon became massive Western intrusions, many developments bespoke a dynamism that was both ushering new converts into the Islamic umma and intensifying the absorption into mainstream Islamic culture of those already nominally Muslim.

“The broad-ranging activities of the Naqshbandiyya brotherhood or the early Wahhabiyya in Arabia are examples” Ayubi, Nazih. 1991, 35.

The ideologies and political programs epitomized in the lives of Khayr alDin al-Tunisi, Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, and Shaykh Muhammad Abduh did not completely win over the political elites, and the extent to which they penetrated into the larger Muslim society was even more limited. Such leaders have long been highlighted in historical scholarship largely because from the twentieth-century perspective they seemed to represent the dominant motif of future developments. In recent years, with the rise to prominence of Islamic radicalism, second thoughts are being expressed. This much, however, survives even the most adamant historical revisionism: these Westernizing liberals addressed the existing political class. To the extent that they gained the ear of existing political leadership—which they did, not consistently but often—they possessed an influence out of all proportion to their numbers. Their influence also reached alien political leadership. Thus, Sayyid Ahmad Khan or Shaykh Muhammad Abduh could influence the policy of their colonial overlords just as Khayr al-Din al-Tunisi or the men of the Tanzimat could, working with still independent governments, have some impact on the European powers.

Moreover, they initiated a major ideological shift in Muslim political thought by rejecting political quietism and giving religious value to thisworldly concerns. That orientation is still very much in play and has become part of the cultural heritage of intellectuals and political leaders throughout today's Muslim world.

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Work Cited

  • Abu-Amr, Ziad. Islamic Fundamentalism in the West Bank and Gaza: Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Jihad. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.
  • Ayubi, Nazih. Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World. London and New York: Routledge, 1991.
  • Bakhash, Shaul. The Reign of the Ayatollahs: Iran and the Islamic Revolution. New York: Basic, 1984.
  • Cole, Juan. “Imami Jurisprudence and the Role of the Ulama: Mortaza Ansari on Emulating the Supreme Exemplar.” In Nikki R. Keddie, ed., Religion and Politics in Iran. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983.
  • Coury, Ralph. “Paul Bowles and Orientalism.” In R. Kevin Lacey and Francis Poole, eds. Mirrors on the Maghrib: Critical Reflections on Paul and Jane Bowles and Other American Writers in Morocco. Delmar, N.Y.: Caravan, 1996.

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