10 Facts About Muslims


Comments: 11 readers have left a comment

Most of us Westerners know very little about the Middle East and the people that live there. This lack of knowledge hurts our ability to understand, and engage in intelligent discussion about events that happen both there and elsewhere in the Muslim world.

For example, the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims, and most think the words "Arab" and "Muslim" are the same thing. They aren't. So here's a very brief primer aimed at raising the level of knowledge about the region to an absolute minimum.

1: Arabs are part of an ethnic group, not a religion. Arabs were around long before Islam, and there have been (and still are) Arab Christians and Arab Jews. In general, you're an Arab if you  are of Arab descent (blood) or speak the main Arab language (Arabic).

2: Not all Arabs are Muslim. There are significant populations of Arab Christians throughout the world, including in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Northern Africa and Palestine/Israel.

3: Islam is a religion. A Muslim (roughly pronounced MOOSE-lim) is someone who follows the religion. So you wouldn't say someone follows Muslim or is an Islam, just as you wouldn't say someone follows Christian or is a Christianity.

4: Shia Muslims are similar to Roman Catholics in Christianity. They have a strong clerical presence via Imams and promote the idea of going through them to practice the religion correctly. Sunni Muslims are more like Protestant Christians. They don't really focus on Imams and believe in maintaining a more direct line to God than the Shia.

5: People from Iran are also known as Persians, and they are not Arabs.

6: Arabs are Semites. We've all heard the term anti-Semitism being used — often to describe Arabs. While anti-semitism does specifically indicate hatred for Jews, the word "Semite" comes from the Bible and referred originally to anyone who spoke one of the Semitic Languages.

7: According to the Bible, Jews and Arabs are related [Genesis 25]. Jews descended from Abraham's son Isaac, and Arabs descended from Abraham's son Ishmael. So not only are both groups Semitic, but they're also family.

8: Sunni Muslims make up most of the Muslim world (roughly 90%).

9: The country with the world's largest Muslim population is Indonesia.

10: The rift between the Shia and Sunni started right after Muhammad's death and originally reduced to a power struggle regarding who was going to become the authoritative group for continuing the faith.

The Shia believed Muhammad's second cousin Ali should have taken over (the family/cleric model). The Sunni believed that the best person for the job should be chosen by the followers (the merit model) and that's how the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, was appointed.

Although the conflict began as a political struggle it is now mostly considered a religious and class conflict, with political conflict emanating from those rifts.

Sunni and Shia | Arab and Non-Arab

Here's how the various Middle Eastern countries break down in terms of Sunni vs. Shia and whether or not they are predominantly Arab. Keep in mind that these are generalizations; significant diversity exists in many of the countries listed.

Iraq - Mostly Shia (roughly 60%), but under Saddam the Shia were oppressed and the Sunni were in power despite being only 20% of the population. Arab.

Iran - Shia and NOT Arab.

Palestine - Sunni and Arab.

Egypt - Sunni and Arab.

Saudi Arabia - Sunni and Arab.

Syria - Sunni and Arab.

Jordan - Sunni and Arab.

Gulf States - Sunni and Arab.

I hope this list will help to promote a better understanding of what an Arab and Muslim are and provide a greater perspective when viewing news about the Middle East and the wider Muslim world.

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Reader Comments

Amin Hadjaran

03/02/2009 at 15:39

dear writer,
thank you so much for writing these and letting people know about muslims. being a muslim myself, and a shiite, i would like to send you information about shiites and i think you are a bit wrong in describing the faith of shiites. i really do like to explain these to you so that you and others know more about us.


03/02/2009 at 18:18

Hi Amin

By all means you can use the comments to clarify any factual errors I may have made.

If you a referring to the Roman Catholic/Protestant analogy it was just meant as a way of relating the differences between the Shia and Sunni muslims to people familiar with the different christian denominations. I am not inferring that Shia muslims are the same as Roman Catholics or Sunni muslims are the same as Protestants, it is just an analogy.


20/02/2009 at 15:02

Thanks for the info... wish we could have more people read this.

I still dont understand why ANY person who purports to be religious or have a faith...would be involved in war or the murder of others.

Its time we forgot our religious and racial divisions...we are all earthlings, perhaps if we get invaded from outer space...we will actually become one.


19/04/2009 at 22:00

Thanks Ken
I just googled Muslims and WA Community and came across this article. Thank you for your positive information about Muslims. I am one West Australian who is very keen to break down barriers between people fom different backgrounds. Perth is such a multi-cultural place, we should embrace that by learning more about each other, rather than fearing what we don't know.


11/10/2011 at 22:08

why is prayer important?


11/10/2011 at 22:08

why is prayer important?

Muhammed Hanif Allah Ahmed

10/05/2013 at 05:53

Being a Muslim myself I think this article is very factual and correct so great job.


27/02/2014 at 20:41

I have found out some very interesting facts

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