A Thumbnail Sketch of Islam for Christians - page 1

 

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From the Winter 2014 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

A Thumbnail Sketch of Islam for Christians

by Gerald R. McDermott, Ph.D.
Jordan Trexler Professor of Religion, Roanoke College

 

slam is the second biggest religion in the world. In 2014 there are 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. Most do not live in the Middle East. There are more than 210 million people in Indonesia who say Allah is God and Muhammad the chief and seal (last) of the prophets; 150 million in India, 170 million in Pakistan. As you can see, far more Muslims live in south- and southeast Asia than in the Middle East. Sub-Saharan Africa contains more than 130 million, with 75 million in Nigeria alone.

  How many Muslims live in the United States? It depends on who answers the question. Scholars at City College of New York say 1.1 million, while the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim organization, claims 6 to 7 million. The best estimate is probably between 1 and 2 million.
  The 2007 Pew survey of Muslim Americans found that two-thirds are foreign-born. Among the foreign-born, most had immigrated since 1990. Of the roughly one-third of Muslim Americans who are native-born, the majority were converts and African American.
   There are about 1,200 mosques in the United States, which provides further evidence that the numbers are considerably less than reported by CAIR. If there were actually 5 million Muslims in the United States (and CAIR claims more), each mosque would serve nearly 4,200 Muslims. Yet many mosques are storefronts, and the nation’s largest mosque, Dar al-Hijrah near Washington, D.C., has only about 3,000 weekly attendees.

Rapid Growth

  Islam is one of the world’s fastest-growing world religions. (Christianity is growing almost as quickly.) Several factors account for this: Muslims are aggressive in their evangelism (especially in Africa), their message is easily understood (Muslims say Christian theology is complicated and hard to believe), and they offer the politically alienated the prospect of national transformation. But until recently the most significant factor in Islam’s rapid growth rate has been birthrate. In 1997 the United Nations estimated that the average woman in developed countries typically bore 1.6 children during her lifetime, while the average woman in the largest Muslim countries gave birth to 5.0. But according to demographer Nicholas Eberstadt, Muslim birthrates have fallen dramatically in recent years to around replacement rate or just above in many Muslim countries.

Central Theme

  The Arabic word Islam (lit., “submission”) points to the central idea of the religion--submission to the total will of Allah. The word Allah is Arabic for “the god.” Muslims proclaim to the world that God alone is great and rules with absolute control over every atom of the universe. Therefore it only makes sense for each of us to submit every detail of life to God’s will as it has been revealed to his final prophet, Muhammad.

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