Muslim world

Not to be confused with Arab world or Arab League.
The Muslim population of the world map by percentage of each country, according to the Pew Forum (assessed on 29 June 2014).

The term Muslim world, also known as Islamic world and the Ummah (Arabic: أمة, meaning "nation" or "community"[1][2]) has different meanings. In a religious sense, the Islamic Ummah refers to those who adhere to the teachings of Islam, referred to as Muslims. In a cultural sense, the Muslim Ummah refers to Islamic civilization, exclusive of non-Muslims living in that civilization. In a modern geopolitical sense, the term "Islamic Nation" usually refers collectively to Muslim-majority countries, states, districts or towns.

Although Islamic lifestyles emphasize unity and defense of fellow Muslims, schools and branches (see Shia–Sunni relations, for example) exist. In the past, both Pan-Islamism and nationalist currents have influenced the status of the Greater Middle East.

As of 2015, over 1.7 billion or about 23.4% of the world population are Muslims[3] including the 4.4% who live as minorities. By the percentage of the total population in a region considering themselves Muslim, 24.8% in Asia-Oceania do,[4] 91.2% in the Middle East-North Africa,[5] 29.6% in Sub-Saharan Africa,[6] around 6.0% in Europe,[7] and 0.6% in the Americas.[8][9][10][11]


The Tabula Rogeriana, drawn by Al-Idrisi in 1154, one of the most advanced ancient world maps. Al-Idrisi also wrote about the diverse Muslim communities found in various lands.

Muslim history involves the history of the Islamic faith as a religion and as a social institution. The history of Islam began in Arabia with the Islamic prophet Muhammad's first recitations of the Quran in the 7th century in the month of Ramadan.

However, Islam under the Rashidun Caliphate grew rapidly. Geographic expansion of Muslim power extended well beyond the Arabian Peninsula in the form of a vast Muslim Empire with an area of influence that stretched from northwest India, across Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, southern Italy, and the Iberian Peninsula, to the Pyrenees.

A century after the death of last Islamic prophet Muhammad, the Islamic empire extended from Spain in the west to Indus in the east. The subsequent empires such as those of the Abbasids, Fatimids, Almoravids, Seljukids, Ajuran, Adal and Warsangali in Somalia, Mughals, Safavids in Persia and Ottomans in Anatolia were among the influential and distinguished powers in the world.

Classical culture

Main article: Islamic Golden Age

The Islamic Golden Age coincided with the Middle Ages in the Muslim world, starting with the rise of Islam and establishment of the first Islamic state in 622. The end of the age is variously given as 1258 with the Mongolian Sack of Baghdad, or 1492 with the completion of the Christian Reconquista of the Emirate of Granada in Al-Andalus, Iberian Peninsula. During the reign of the Abbasid caliph Harun ar-Rashid (786 to 809), the legendary House of Wisdom was inaugurated in Baghdad where scholars from various parts of the world sought to translate and gather all the known world's knowledge into Arabic. The Abbasids were influenced by the Quranic injunctions and hadiths, such as "the ink of a scholar is more holy than the blood of a martyr," that stressed the value of knowledge. The major Islamic capital cities of Baghdad, Cairo, and Córdoba became the main intellectual centers for science, philosophy, medicine, and education.[12] During this period, the Muslim world was a collection of cultures; they drew together and advanced the knowledge gained from the ancient Greek, Roman, Persian, Chinese, Indian, Egyptian, and Phoenician civilizations.[13]


A Seljuq, shatranj (chess) set, glazed fritware, 12th century.

Between the 8th and 18th centuries, the use of glazed ceramics was prevalent in Islamic art, usually assuming the form of elaborate pottery.[14] Tin-opacified glazing was one of the earliest new technologies developed by the Islamic potters. The first Islamic opaque glazes can be found as blue-painted ware in Basra, dating to around the 8th century. Another contribution was the development of stone-paste ceramics, originating from 9th century Iraq.[15] Other centers for innovative ceramic pottery in the Old world included Fustat (from 975 to 1075), Damascus (from 1100 to around 1600) and Tabriz (from 1470 to 1550).[16]


Main article: Islamic literature
Further information: Islamic poetry

The best known work of fiction from the Islamic world is One Thousand and One Nights (In Persian: hezār-o-yek šab > Arabic: ʔalf-layl-at-wa-l’-layla= One thousand Night and (one) Night) or *Arabian Nights, a name invented by early Western translators, which is a compilation of folk tales from Sanskrit, Persian, and later Arabian fables. The original concept is derived from a pre-Islamic Persian prototype Hezār Afsān (Thousand Fables) that relied on particular Indian elements.[18] It reached its final form by the 14th century; the number and type of tales have varied from one manuscript to another.[19] All Arabian fantasy tales tend to be called Arabian Nights stories when translated into English, regardless of whether they appear in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights or not.[19] This work has been very influential in the West since it was translated in the 18th century, first by Antoine Galland.[20] Imitations were written, especially in France.[21] Various characters from this epic have themselves become cultural icons in Western culture, such as Aladdin, Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba.

A famous example of Arabic poetry and Persian poetry on romance (love) is Layla and Majnun, dating back to the Umayyad era in the 7th century. It is a tragic story of undying love much like the later Romeo and Juliet, which was itself said to have been inspired by a Latin version of Layla and Majnun to an extent.[22] Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, the national epic of Iran, is a mythical and heroic retelling of Persian history. Amir Arsalan was also a popular mythical Persian story, which has influenced some modern works of fantasy fiction, such as The Heroic Legend of Arslan.

Ibn Tufail (Abubacer) and Ibn al-Nafis were pioneers of the philosophical novel. Ibn Tufail wrote the first Arabic novel Hayy ibn Yaqdhan (Philosophus Autodidactus) as a response to Al-Ghazali's The Incoherence of the Philosophers, and then Ibn al-Nafis also wrote a novel Theologus Autodidactus as a response to Ibn Tufail's Philosophus Autodidactus. Both of these narratives had protagonists (Hayy in Philosophus Autodidactus and Kamil in Theologus Autodidactus) who were autodidactic feral children living in seclusion on a desert island, both being the earliest examples of a desert island story. However, while Hayy lives alone with animals on the desert island for the rest of the story in Philosophus Autodidactus, the story of Kamil extends beyond the desert island setting in Theologus Autodidactus, developing into the earliest known coming of age plot and eventually becoming the first example of a science fiction novel.[23][24]

Theologus Autodidactus,[25][26] written by the Arabian polymath Ibn al-Nafis (1213–1288), is the first example of a science fiction novel.[27] It deals with various science fiction elements such as spontaneous generation, futurology, the end of the world and doomsday, resurrection, and the afterlife. Rather than giving supernatural or mythological explanations for these events, Ibn al-Nafis attempted to explain these plot elements using the scientific knowledge of biology, astronomy, cosmology and geology known in his time. Ibn al-Nafis' fiction explained Islamic religious teachings via science and Islamic philosophy.[28]

A Latin translation of Ibn Tufail's work, Philosophus Autodidactus, first appeared in 1671, prepared by Edward Pococke the Younger, followed by an English translation by Simon Ockley in 1708, as well as German and Dutch translations. These translations might have later inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe, regarded as the first novel in English.[29][30][31][32] Philosophus Autodidactus, continuing the thoughts of philosophers such as Aristotle from earlier ages, inspired Robert Boyle to write his own philosophical novel set on an island, The Aspiring Naturalist.[33]

Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy,[34] derived features of and episodes about Bolgia[35] from Arabic works on Islamic eschatology:[36][37] the Hadith and the Kitab al-Miraj (translated into Latin in 1264 or shortly before[38] as Liber Scale Machometi[39]) concerning the ascension to Heaven of Muhammad,[40] and the spiritual writings of Ibn Arabi.[41] The Moors also had a noticeable influence on the works of George Peele and William Shakespeare. Some of their works featured Moorish characters, such as Peele's The Battle of Alcazar and Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Titus Andronicus and Othello, which featured a Moorish Othello as its title character. These works are said to have been inspired by several Moorish delegations from Morocco to Elizabethan England at the beginning of the 17th century.[42]


Further information: Logic in Islamic philosophy and Ilm al-Kalam

One of the common definitions for "Islamic philosophy" is "the style of philosophy produced within the framework of Islamic culture."[43] Islamic philosophy, in this definition is neither necessarily concerned with religious issues, nor is exclusively produced by Muslims.[43] The Persian scholar Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (980–1037) had more than 450 books attributed to him. His writings were concerned with various subjects, most notably philosophy and medicine. His medical textbook The Canon of Medicine was used as the standard text in European universities for centuries. He also wrote The Book of Healing, an influential scientific and philosophical encyclopedia.

One of the most influential Muslim philosophers in the West was Averroes (Ibn Rushd), founder of the Averroism school of philosophy, whose works and commentaries affected the rise of secular thought in Europe.[44] He also developed the concept of "existence precedes essence".[45]

Another figure from the Islamic Golden Age, Avicenna, also founded his own Avicennism school of philosophy, which was influential in both Islamic and Christian lands. He was also a critic of Aristotelian logic and founder of Avicennian logic, developed the concepts of empiricism and tabula rasa, and distinguished between essence and existence.

Yet another influential philosopher who had an influence on modern philosophy was Ibn Tufail. His philosophical novel, Hayy ibn Yaqdha, translated into Latin as Philosophus Autodidactus in 1671, developed the themes of empiricism, tabula rasa, nature versus nurture,[46] condition of possibility, materialism,[47] and Molyneux's problem.[48] European scholars and writers influenced by this novel include John Locke,[49] Gottfried Leibniz,[32] Melchisédech Thévenot, John Wallis, Christiaan Huygens,[50] George Keith, Robert Barclay, the Quakers,[51] and Samuel Hartlib.[33]

Islamic philosophers continued making advances in philosophy through to the 17th century, when Mulla Sadra founded his school of Transcendent theosophy and developed the concept of existentialism.[52]

Other influential Muslim philosophers include al-Jahiz, a pioneer in evolutionary thought; Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen), a pioneer of phenomenology and the philosophy of science and a critic of Aristotelian natural philosophy and Aristotle's concept of place (topos); Al-Biruni, a critic of Aristotelian natural philosophy; Ibn Tufail and Ibn al-Nafis, pioneers of the philosophical novel; Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi, founder of Illuminationist philosophy; Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, a critic of Aristotelian logic and a pioneer of inductive logic; and Ibn Khaldun, a pioneer in the philosophy of history.[53]



Muslim scientists contributed to advances in the sciences. They placed far greater emphasis on experiment than had the Greeks. This led to an early scientific method being developed in the Muslim world, where progress in methodology was made, beginning with the experiments of Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) on optics from circa 1000, in his Book of Optics. The most important development of the scientific method was the use of experiments to distinguish between competing scientific theories set within a generally empirical orientation, which began among Muslim scientists. Ibn al-Haytham is also regarded as the father of optics, especially for his empirical proof of the intromission theory of light. Some have also described Ibn al-Haytham as the "first scientist."[54] al-Khwarzimi's invented the log base systems that are being used today, he also contributed theorems in trigonometry as well as limits.[55] Recent studies show that it is very likely that the Medieval Muslim artists were aware of advanced decagonal quasicrystal geometry (discovered half a millennium later in the 1970s and 1980s in the West) and used it in intricate decorative tilework in the architecture.[56]

Muslim physicians contributed to the field of medicine, including the subjects of anatomy and physiology: such as in the 15th century Persian work by Mansur ibn Muhammad ibn al-Faqih Ilyas entitled Tashrih al-badan (Anatomy of the body) which contained comprehensive diagrams of the body's structural, nervous and circulatory systems; or in the work of the Egyptian physician Ibn al-Nafis, who proposed the theory of pulmonary circulation. Avicenna's The Canon of Medicine remained an authoritative medical textbook in Europe until the 18th century. Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi (also known as Abulcasis) contributed to the discipline of medical surgery with his Kitab al-Tasrif ("Book of Concessions"), a medical encyclopedia which was later translated to Latin and used in European and Muslim medical schools for centuries. Other medical advancements came in the fields of pharmacology and pharmacy.[57]

In astronomy, Muḥammad ibn Jābir al-Ḥarrānī al-Battānī improved the precision of the measurement of the precession of the Earth's axis. The corrections made to the geocentric model by al-Battani, Averroes, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, Mu'ayyad al-Din al-'Urdi and Ibn al-Shatir were later incorporated into the Copernican heliocentric model. Heliocentric theories were also discussed by several other Muslim astronomers such as Al-Biruni, Al-Sijzi, Qotb al-Din Shirazi, and Najm al-Dīn al-Qazwīnī al-Kātibī. The astrolabe, though originally developed by the Greeks, was perfected by Islamic astronomers and engineers, and was subsequently brought to Europe.

Some most famous scientists from the medieval Islamic world include Jābir ibn Hayyān, al-Farabi, Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi, Ibn al-Haytham, Al-Biruni, Avicenna, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, and Ibn Khaldun.


The Spinning wheel is believed to have been invented in the medieval era (of what is now the Greater Middle East), it is considered to be an important device that contributed greatly to the advancement of the Industrial Revolution. (scene from Al-Maqamat, painted by al-Wasiti 1237)

In technology, the Muslim world adopted papermaking from China.[58] The knowledge of gunpowder was also transmitted from China via Islamic countries,[59] where formulas for pure potassium nitrate[60][61] were developed.

Advances were made in irrigation and farming, using new technology such as the windmill. Crops such as almonds and citrus fruit were brought to Europe through al-Andalus, and sugar cultivation was gradually adopted by the Europeans. Arab merchants dominated trade in the Indian Ocean until the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century. Hormuz was an important center for this trade. There was also a dense network of trade routes in the Mediterranean, along which Muslim countries traded with each other and with European powers such as Venice, Genoa and Catalonia. The Silk Road crossing Central Asia passed through Muslim states between China and Europe.

Muslim engineers in the Islamic world made a number of innovative industrial uses of hydropower, and early industrial uses of tidal power and wind power,[62] fossil fuels such as petroleum, and early large factory complexes (tiraz in Arabic).[63] The industrial uses of watermills in the Islamic world date back to the 7th century, while horizontal-wheeled and vertical-wheeled water mills were both in widespread use since at least the 9th century. A variety of industrial mills were being employed in the Islamic world, including early fulling mills, gristmills, hullers, sawmills, ship mills, stamp mills, steel mills, sugar mills, tide mills and windmills. By the 11th century, every province throughout the Islamic world had these industrial mills in operation, from al-Andalus and North Africa to the Middle East and Central Asia.[58] Muslim engineers also invented crankshafts and water turbines, employed gears in mills and water-raising machines, and pioneered the use of dams as a source of water power, used to provide additional power to watermills and water-raising machines.[64] Such advances made it possible for industrial tasks that were previously driven by manual labour in ancient times to be mechanized and driven by machinery instead in the medieval Islamic world. The transfer of these technologies to medieval Europe had an influence on the Industrial Revolution.[65]

Gunpowder Empires

Scholars often use the term Gunpowder Empires to describe the Islamic empires of the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal. Each of these three empires had considerable military exploits using the newly developed firearms, especially cannon and small arms, to create their empires.[66] They existed primarily between the fourteenth and the late seventeenth centuries.[67]

Great Divergence

Main article: Great Divergence

"Why do the Christian nations, which were so weak in the past compared with Muslim nations begin to dominate so many lands in modern times and even defeat the once victorious Ottoman armies?"..."Because they have laws and rules invented by reason"

Ibrahim Muteferrika, Rational basis for the Politics of Nations (1731)[69]

The Great Divergence was the reason why European colonial powers militarily defeated preexisting Oriental powers like the Mughal Empire, Ottoman Empire and many smaller states in the pre-modern Greater Middle East, and initiated a period known as 'colonialism'.[69]


Main articles: Colonial empire and Colonialism
Map of colonial powers throughout the world in the year 1914 (note colonial powers in the pre-modern Muslim world).

Beginning with the 15th century, colonialism by European powers (particularly, but not exclusively, Britain, Spain, Portugal, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Russia, Austria, and Belgium) profoundly affected Muslim societies in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Colonialism was often advanced by conflict with mercantile initiatives by colonial powers and caused tremendous social upheavals in Muslim societies.

Colonial powers commonly classified Muslim societies that were highly heterogeneous as monolithic, anti-modern and anti-intellectual.

A number of Muslim societies reacted to Western powers with zealotry and thus initiating the rise of religious nationalism; or affirmed more traditionalist and inclusive cultural ideals; and in rare cases adopted modernity that was ushered by the colonial powers.[70]

The only Muslim regions not to be colonized by the Europeans were Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan.

Countries gaining independence

Many disputes have occurred within the Muslim community regarding how to manage, organize and administer their respective countries.

Contemporary developments

Muslim cultures today

As of 2015 Islam has 1.7 billion adherents, making up over 23.4% of the world population.[3]

Throughout history Muslim cultures have been diverse ethically, linguistically and regionally. In the contemporary world Muslim cultures exist in Asia, Africa and Europe in various countries where Muslims constitute a majority.

However, other Muslim cultures have also emerged in countries throughout the world where Muslims constitute the minority segments of the population.


Due to globalization, Islam today has taken root and influenced cultures in places far from the traditional boundaries of the Muslim world.[71]


According to a 2010 study and released January 2011,[72][73] Islam has 1,5 billion adherents, making up over 22% of the world population.[74][75][76] According to the Pew Research Center in 2015 there were 50 Muslim-majority countries.[77][78]

Countries with the largest Muslim populations (2010)

Muslim populations

In the following list, India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, China, Russia and Philippines have large Muslim populations, but Muslims are not a majority in those countries. For other listed countries, the Muslim population has the overwhelming majority.[72]

Muslims live in, but also have an official status in the following regions:

The countries of Southwest Asia and some in Northern and Northeastern Africa are considered part of the Greater Middle East. In Chechnya, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay–Cherkessia, Ingushetia, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan in Russia, Muslims are in the majority.

Some definitions would also include the Muslim minorities in:


View of Jakarta, Indonesia. The country has the largest number of Muslims in the world.

More than 20% of the world's population is Muslim.[85][86] Current estimates conclude that the number of Muslims in the world is around 1.5 billion.[85] Muslims are the majority in 49 countries,[87] they speak hundreds of languages and come from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Major languages spoken by Muslims include Arabic, Bengali, Urdu, Punjabi, Malay, Javanese, Sundanese, Swahili, Hausa, Fula, Berber, Tuareg, Somali, Albanian, Spanish, Bosnian, Russian, Turkish, Azeri, Kazakh, Uzbek, Tatar, Persian, Kurdish, Pashto, Balochi, Sindhi and Kashmiri, among many others.


The two main denominations of Islam are the Sunni and Shia sects. They differ primarily upon of how the life of the ummah ("faithful") should be governed, and the role of the imam. Sunnis believe that the true political successor of the Prophet according to the Sunnah should be selected based on ٍShura (consultation), as was done at the Saqifah which selected Abu Bakr, Muhammad's father-in-law, to be Muhammad's political but not his religious successor. Shia, on the other hand, believe that Muhammad designated his son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib as his true political as well as religious successor.[88]

The overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world, between 87–90%, are Sunni.[89]

Shias and other groups make up the rest, about 10–13% of overall Muslim population. The countries with the highest concentration of Shia populations are: Iran—96%,[90] Azerbaijan—85%,[91] Iraq—60/70%,[92] Bahrain-70%, Yemen—47%,[93] Turkey—28%,[94][95][96] Lebanon—41%,[93] Syria—17%, Afghanistan—15%, Pakistan—25%,[97] and India—5%.[98]

The Kharijite Muslims, who are less known, have their own stronghold in the country of Oman holding about 75% of the population.[99]

Islamic schools and branches

Major schools and branches of Islam (NB: Ja'fari and Twelver boxes are interchanged)

The first centuries of Islam gave rise to three major sects: Sunnis, Shi'as and Kharijites. Each sect developed distinct jurisprudence schools (madhhab) reflecting different methodologies of jurisprudence (fiqh).

The major Sunni madhhabs are Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i, and Hanbali.

The major Shi'a branches are Twelver (Imami), Ismaili (Sevener) and Zaidi (Fiver). Isma'ilism later split into Nizari Ismaili and Musta’li Ismaili, and then Mustaali was divided into Hafizi and Taiyabi Ismailis.[100] It also gave rise to the Qarmatian movement and the Druze faith. Twelver Shiism developed Ja'fari jurisprudence whose branches are Akhbarism and Usulism, and other movements such as Alawites, Shaykism[101] and Alevism.[102][103]

Similarly, Kharijites were initially divided into five major branches: Sufris, Azariqa, Najdat, Adjarites and Ibadis. Among these numerous branches, only Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanbali, Imamiyyah-Ja'fari-Usuli, Nizārī Ismā'īlī, Alevi,[104] Zaydi, Ibadi, Zahiri, Alawite,[105] Druze and Taiyabi communities have survived. In addition, new schools of thought and movements like Quranist Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims and African American Muslims later emerged independently.

Geographical distribution

The main Islamic madh'habs (schools of law) of Muslim countries or distributions
A map of major denominations and religions of the world


According to the UNHCR, Muslim countries hosted 18 million refugees by the end of 2010.

Since then Muslim nations have absorbed refugees from recent conflicts, including the uprising in Syria.[106] In July 2013, the UN stated that the number of Syrian refugees had exceeded 1.8 million.[107]


World map indicating literacy by country in 2013 (2013 UN Human Development Report and Individual statistics departments) Grey = no data

In many Muslim countries, illiteracy is a substantial problem.

Low literacy rates in the Eastern Middle East countries and lack of educational initiatives are the cause of great social turbulence.

Seminary exist (many have brought piety to the youth of the society) however many Madrassahs operated by renegade organizations have taken hold in the gap caused by the lack of basic education not provided and funded by the governments of various countries.


Literacy rate in the Muslim world varies. Some members such as Kuwait, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have over 97% literacy rates, whereas literacy rates are the lowest in Mali, Afghanistan, Chad and parts of Africa. In 2015, the International Islamic News Agency reported that nearly 37% of the population of the Muslim world is unable to read or write, basing that figure on reports from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.[108]


Several Muslim countries like Turkey and Iran exhibit high scientific publication.[109] Some countries have tried to encourage scientific research. In Pakistan, establishment of the Higher Education Commission in 2002, resulted in a 5-fold increase in the number of PhDs and a 10-fold increase in the number of scientific research papers in 10 years with the total number of universities increasing from 115 in 2001 to over 400 in 2012. Saudi Arabia has established the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. United Arab Emirates has invested in Zayed University, United Arab Emirates University, and Masdar Institute of Science and Technology[110]


The major economies of the Muslim world are composed of some economic systems of Western Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia; most of the Middle East, most of North Africa (and the Horn of Africa), and most of West Africa.[111]

Islamic economics bans interest or Riba (Usury) but in the vast majority of Muslim countries Western banking is used.

Regional economies

Western Muslim economies

The major economies of the western Muslim economies are in part composed of the Asiatic economies of Islamic Western Asia and South Asia.[111]

African Muslim economies

The major economies of the African Muslim economies are composed of Islamic African nations.[111]

See also: Horn of Africa Economy (Economy of Ethiopia and Economy of Somalia)

Near East and Southwest Muslim economies

The major economies of the Near East and Southwest Muslim economies are composed of Islamic Near Eastern nations (the Middle East) and Islamic Southeast Asian nations.[111]

Further information: Economy of the Middle East (Middle East economic integration), Economy of Palestine (Economy of Gaza), Economy of Iraq (Economy of Iraqi Kurdistan), Economy of Brunei, Economy of Malaysia (Bamboo network), and Economy of Indonesia


Islamic architecture


The term "Islamic art and architecture" denotes the works of art and architecture produced from the 7th century onwards by people who lived within the territory that was inhabited by culturally Islamic populations.[113][114]


Main article: Islamic architecture

Encompasses both secular and religious styles, the design and style made by Muslims and their construction of buildings and structures in Islamic culture included the architectural types: the Mosque, the Tomb, the Palace and the Fort. Perhaps the most important expression of Islamic art is architecture, particularly that of the mosque.[115] Through Islamic architecture, effects of varying cultures within Islamic civilization can be illustrated. Generally, the use of Islamic geometric patterns and foliage based arabesques were striking. There was also the use of decorative calligraphy instead of pictures which were haram (forbidden) in mosque architecture. Note that in secular architecture, human and animal representation was indeed present.

The North African and Iberian Islamic architecture, for example, has Roman-Byzantine elements, as seen in the Great Mosque of Kairouan which contains marble columns from Roman and Byzantine buildings,[116] in the Alhambra palace at Granada, or in the Great Mosque of Cordoba.

Persian-style mosques are characterized by their tapered brick pillars, large arcades, and arches supported each by several pillars. In South Asia, elements of Hindu architecture were employed, but were later superseded by Persian designs.


Main article: Aniconism in Islam

No Islamic visual images or depictions of God are meant to exist because it is believed that such artistic depictions may lead to idolatry. Moreover, Muslims believe that God is incorporeal, making any two- or three- dimensional depictions impossible. Instead, Muslims describe God by the names and attributes that, according to Islam, he revealed to his creation. All but one sura of the Quran begins with the phrase "In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful". Images of Mohammed are likewise prohibited. Such aniconism and iconoclasm[117] can also be found in Jewish and some Christian theology.


Islamic art frequently adopts the use of geometrical floral or vegetal designs in a repetition known as arabesque. Such designs are highly nonrepresentational, as Islam forbids representational depictions as found in pre-Islamic pagan religions. Despite this, there is a presence of depictional art in some Muslim societies, notably the miniature style made famous in Persia and under the Ottoman Empire which featured paintings of people and animals, and also depictions of Quranic stories and Islamic traditional narratives. Another reason why Islamic art is usually abstract is to symbolize the transcendence, indivisible and infinite nature of God, an objective achieved by arabesque.[118] Islamic calligraphy is an omnipresent decoration in Islamic art, and is usually expressed in the form of Quranic verses. Two of the main scripts involved are the symbolic kufic and naskh scripts, which can be found adorning the walls and domes of mosques, the sides of minbars, and so on.[118]

Distinguishing motifs of Islamic architecture have always been ordered repetition, radiating structures, and rhythmic, metric patterns. In this respect, fractal geometry has been a key utility, especially for mosques and palaces. Other features employed as motifs include columns, piers and arches, organized and interwoven with alternating sequences of niches and colonnettes.[119] The role of domes in Islamic architecture has been considerable. Its usage spans centuries, first appearing in 691 with the construction of the Dome of the Rock mosque, and recurring even up until the 17th century with the Taj Mahal. And as late as the 19th century, Islamic domes had been incorporated into European architecture.[120]


Main article: Girih

Girih is an Islamic decorative art form used in architecture and handicrafts (book covers, tapestry, small metal objects), consisting of geometric lines that form an interlaced strapwork.

Islamic calligraphy

Main article: Islamic calligraphy

Islamic calligraphy, is the artistic practice of handwriting, calligraphy, and by extension, of bookmaking, in the lands sharing a common Islamic cultural heritage.


Islamic lunar calendar

al-Ḥusayn ibn Zayd ibn ‘Alī ibn Jaḥḥāf's work on the Islamic Calendar.

The Islamic calendar, Muslim calendar or Hijri calendar (AH) is a lunar calendar consisting of 12 months in a year of 354 or 355 days. It is used to date events in many Muslim countries and determines the proper days on which to observe the annual fast (see Ramadan), to attend Hajj, and to celebrate other Islamic holidays and festivals.

Solar Hijri calendar

The Solar Hijri calendar, also called the Shamsi Hijri calendar, and abbreviated as SH, is the official calendar of Iran and Afghanistan. It begins on the vernal equinox. Each of the twelve months corresponds with a zodiac sign. The first six months have 31 days, the next five have 30 days, and the last month has 29 days in usual years but 30 days in leap years. The year of Prophet Muhammad's migration to Medina (622 CE) is fixed as the first year of the calendar, and the New Year's Day always falls on the March equinox.


The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is an inter-governmental organization grouping fifty-seven states. 49 are Muslim countries, the others are non-Muslim countries with Muslim minorities. The organization is the collective voice of the Muslim world to safeguard the interest and ensure the progress and well-being of their peoples and those of other Muslims in the world over.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) includes many nations that are also in the Arab League.


Democracy and compulsion indexes

In the 2010 Democracy Index published by the Economist Intelligence Unit, no Muslim World countries were rated as a "Full Democracy" under its guidelines, and 3 out of 49 were rated as a "Flawed Democracy." The rest were rated either an "Authoritarian Regime" or a "Hybrid Regime."[121]

The 2010 Freedom in the World, rated 3 of the nations as Free based on Political Rights and Civil Liberties in the member countries.[122]

Reporters Without Borders in its 2010 Press Freedom Index rated Mali and Suriname among the Muslim world as having a Satisfactory Situation. Other Muslim states had ratings ranging from Noticeable Problems to Very Serious Situation.[123][124]

The US Department of State 2010 International Religious Freedom Report cited Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan as being Countries of Particular Concern, where religious freedom is severely violated. It also cited Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan as "countries that face challenges in protecting religious freedom".[125]

The Open Doors USA organization, in its 2012 survey of countries around the world that persecute Christians, listed 37 members of the Muslim world amongst the top 50 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution. 9 of the top 10 countries are Islamic-majority states.[126]

Religion and state

Religion and state in Muslim majority countries.

As the Muslim world came into contact with secular ideals, societies responded in different ways. Some Muslim countries are secular. Azerbaijan became the first secular republic in the Muslim world, between 1918 and 1920, before it was incorporated into the Soviet Union.[127][128][129] Turkey has been governed as a secular state since the reforms of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.[130] By contrast, the 1979 Iranian Revolution replaced a mostly secular regime with an Islamic republic led by the Ayatollah, Ruhollah Khomeini.[131]

Some countries have declared Islam as the official state religion. In those countries, the legal code is largely secular. Only personal status matters pertaining to inheritance and marriage are governed by Sharia law.

Islamic states

Islamic states have adopted Islam as the ideological foundation of state and constitution.

State religion

The following Muslim-majority nation-states have endorsed Islam as their state religion.

Although  Lebanon recognizes Islam as a state-religion it also recognizes 18 others making it the most religiously diverse country in the Middle East.

No Declaration

These are neutral states without any constitutional or official announcement regarding status of religion or secularism.

Secular states

Secular states in Muslim world have declared separation between civil/government affairs and religion.

Law and ethics

Further information: Islamic ethics
Use of Sharia by country:
  Sharia plays no role in the judicial system
  Sharia applies in personal status issues only
  Sharia applies in full, including criminal law
  Regional variations in the application of sharia

In some nations, Muslim ethnic groups enjoy considerable autonomy.

In some places, Muslims implement Islamic law, called sharia in Arabic. The Islamic law exists in a number of variations, but the main forms are the five (four Sunni and one Shia) and Salafi and Ibadi schools of jurisprudence (fiqh)

In a small minority of Muslim countries, the law requires women to cover either just legs, shoulders and head or the whole body apart from the face. In strictest forms, the face as well must be covered leaving just a mesh to see through. These rules for dressing cause tensions, concerning particularly Muslims living in Western countries, where restrictions are considered both sexist and oppressive. Some Muslims oppose this charge, and instead declare that the media in these countries presses on women to reveal too much in order to be deemed attractive, and that this is itself sexist and oppressive.


Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan became the first woman elected to lead a Muslim majority country.[164]

During much of the 20th century, the Islamic identity and the dominance of Islam on political issues have arguably increased during the early 21st century. The fast-growing interests of the Western world in Islamic regions, international conflicts and globalization have changed the influence of Islam on the world in contemporary history.[165]

Religious nationalism

Some people in Muslim countries also see Islam manifested politically as Islamism.[166] Political Islam is powerful in some Muslim-majority countries. Islamic parties in Turkey, Pakistan and Algeria have taken power at the provincial level. Some in these movements call themselves Islamists, which also sometimes describes more militant Islamic groups. The relationships between these groups (in democratic countries there is usually at least one Islamic party) and their views of democracy are complex.

Some of these groups are accused of practicing Islamic terrorism.

List of conflicts in Muslim world

Bosnian Muslim mourners at the reburial ceremony for an exhumed victim of the Srebrenica massacre.

Some of the events pivotal in the Muslim world's relationship with the outside world during the Soviet era and Post-Soviet era were:

See also


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