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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 4    Issue 12   01-15 November 2009

Professor A. R. Momin

World Muslim Population Estimated at 1.57 Billion

A report from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, an American think-tank, has estimated that about 1.57 billion Muslims inhabit the earth, representing 23 per cent of the current world population of 6.8 billion. This suggests that every fourth person in the world is a Muslim. The document Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Muslim Population, published on October 7, 2009, is based on an analysis of 1,500 sources for more than 200 countries, including census reports, demographic studies and general population surveys.

The report indicates that Asia is home to nearly 60 per cent of the global Muslim population, while 20 per cent of the world’s Muslims live in the Middle East and North Africa. Two-thirds of all Muslims worldwide live in 10 countries: Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Egypt, Nigeria, Iran, Turkey, Algeria and Morocco. Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population (203 million), followed by Pakistan (174 million), and India (161 million). The Middle East and North Africa are home to an estimated 315 million Muslims, representing about 20 per cent of the world’s Muslim population. The report found that roughly 317 million Muslims—about 20 per cent of the global Muslim population—live as minorities in non-Islamic countries. Nearly three-quarters of Muslim minorities—240 million—live in five countries: India (161 million), Ethiopia (28 million), China (22 million), Russia (16.5 million) and Tanzania (13 million). According to the report, Europe is home to 38 million Muslims, comprising about 5 per cent of the continent’s population. European Muslims make up a little more than 2 per cent of the world’s Muslim population. There are about 4.6 million Muslims in the Americas, more than half of them in the US, where they make up just 0.8 per cent of the population. There are 700,000 Muslims in Canada, comprising about 2 per cent of the country’s population.

These findings lay the foundation for a future study by the Pew Forum, scheduled to be released in 2010, that will estimate growth rate among Muslim populations worldwide.

(The full report can be accessed at http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=450)

A Rejoinder

The Pew Forum’s report provides a reasonably accurate picture of the global Muslim population. However, its estimation of the population of Muslims in some European countries is either grossly underrated or absurdly inaccurate. The following points are note-worthy.

(1) The report estimates France’s Muslim population at 3,554,000. This figure is grossly inaccurate. France has the largest concentration of Muslims in the European Union, estimated at between 5 and 6 million. A BBC report in December 2005 estimated the population of Muslims in France at between 5 and 6 million, making up 8-9.6 per cent of the country’s population. In 2006 the United States Department of State placed the population of Muslims in France at 6 million. According to 2009 Population Data, CIA World Facebook, there are 6,405,779 Muslim living in France.

A major problem relating to the enumeration of Muslims in France is that the national census does not record data about religion, ethnicity and national origin. Interestingly, President Nicolas Sarkozy recently raised the possibility that researchers might in the near future begin gathering statistics on ethnicity in the country.

(2) The report estimates the population of Muslims in the UK at 1,647,000. This figure is also inaccurate. The Time reported on January 30, 2009 that the Muslim population in Britain had grown to 2.4 million in 2009. According to the Office for National Statistics, Britain’s Muslim population has multiplied ten times faster than the rest of society.

(3) According to the report, there are 650,000 Muslims in Spain. This figure is inaccurate. There is little information about the current Muslim population of Spain. Article 16.2 of the Spanish constitution prohibits the enumeration of religious confessions in the state census. The Observatorio Andalusi, an institute associated with the Union of Islamic Communities in Spain (UCIDE), estimates the Muslim population in the country at about 1,145,000, representing approximately 2.5 per cent of the country’s population.

(4) The report estimates the population of Muslims in Denmark at 88,000, in Italy at 36,000, and in Sweden at 149,000. These figures, especially those for Italy, are ridiculously low and incredible. A decade ago, Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad had given an estimate of the population of Muslims in Italy at 500,000 (“The Globalization of Islam” in John L. Esposito, ed. The Oxford History of Islam, Oxford University Press, 1999, p.604). A BBC report in December 2005 estimated the population of Muslims in Italy at 825,000, in Sweden at 300,000 and in Denmark at 270,000 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4385768.stm). Needless to say, the population of Muslims in these countries has gone up during the last four years.

(5) The report estimates the population of Muslims in Russia at 16.5 million. In 2005, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, put the number of Muslims in Russia at 20 million. Nearly 2 million Muslims live in Moscow. Tatarstan, Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia have large concentrations of Muslims.

A Guantanamo Guard Who Embraced Islam

Terry Holdbrooks began his stint as a guard at Guantanamo detention camp in Cuba in the summer of 2003. He had grown up in Arizona and his parents separated when he was seven years old. He was brought up by his grandparents. At the age of 19 he signed up for the military and was stationed with the 253rd Military Police Company. He was fond of worldly pleasures, particularly drinking and hard rock music. During a two-week training course, Holdbrooks and the other guards took it in turns to act as detainees, and were also taken to Ground Zero. They were shown videos of 9/11 and were told that the detainees were the worst kind of terrorists and murderers. Holdbrooks’s duties at Guantanamo included cleaning, collecting rubbish, walking up and down the block to ensure the detainees were not passing anything between cells and ferrying them to and from interrogations. Unlike the other guards, he was friendly towards the detainees, who called him “the nice guard”. “I didn’t have a very high impression of my colleagues,” he says. Many of them were “ridiculous Budweiser-drinking, cornbread-fed, tobacco-chewing drunks, racists and bigots” who blindly followed orders, and within months he had stopped talking to them. They suspected that he had secret sympathies with the detainees. There were frequent fist fights between him and the other guards.

While the other guards indulged in drinking alcohol and watching porn on television, Holdbrooks was inquisitive to know how the detainees could endure torture and humiliation and maintain their calm. He knew nothing about Islam before coming to Guantanamo. He started talking to the detainees about politics, ethics and religion and about their culture and background. These conversations kindled in him an interest in understanding Islam. He began spending at least an hour a day learning about Islam through books and the Internet. Finally, six months after he arrived at Guantanamo, he decided to convert to Islam. On 29 December 2003, he said the Islamic confession of faith in the presence of a Moroccan-born detainee, Ahmad al-Rashidi. He gave up drinking. Conversion to Islam made Holdbrooks even more unhappy about his work.

In the summer of 2004, Holdbrooks left Guantanamo and was later discharged from the army on the grounds of a “general personality disorder”. For a while, he was overcome with depression and resumed his drinking habits, casual sex and music. Now he is a practising Muslim, and at peace with himself.


Child Marriage and Divorce in Yemen

The Arab Human Development Report 2009 points out that, by and large, Arab women continue to remain victims of institutionalized discrimination, social subordination, violence and deeply entrenched male domination. Several horrifying practices such as female genital mutilations and child marriages are still rampant in many Arab countries. The report points out that though some Arab states have banned the practice of female genital mutilations, it continues to be widespread in many Arab societies because it is supported and reinforced by traditional beliefs.

Several studies indicate that early marriages and teenage pregnancies pose a serious threat to the health of mothers and new-born babies. Furthermore, early marriages often result in divorce, family breakdown and poor child rearing. Arab countries have yet to adopt laws prohibiting child marriage before the age of 18. Although child marriages are on the decline in many Arab countries, the practice is still widespread. Based on the available data in the period 1987-2006, UNICEF estimates that the proportions of women aged 20-24 that were married by the age of 18 were 45 per cent in Somalia, 37 per cent in Yemen and Mauritania, 30 per cent in Comoros and 27 per cent in Sudan.

Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Arab world. One of the serious problems faced by Yemeni society is child marriage, which is reinforced by poverty, ignorance and traditional beliefs. Though Yemen has a law which stipulates that a girl cannot be married before the age of 15, the law is often flouted, particularly in the rural areas.

Recently, some cases of child marriage and divorce have stirred the country’s conscience. Nine-year-old Arwa is the youngest of three Yemeni girls who recently went to court, asking for the annulment of their marriage. She was forcibly married at the age of eight to a man in his mid-forties, who offered to give her father $150 and promised another $2,000 if he agreed to the marriage. The family was in dire financial straits and so agreed to the proposal. After marriage her husband moved to her parents’ house. Arwa resisted her husband’s advances, which led to a fight between him and her father. With her neighbour’s help, she filed a case in the local court, which freed her from the marital bond.

Another child bride, Reem, was married at the age of 12 to a 30-year-old man. After marriage, when she refused to yield to her husband’s advances, he tried to choke her and dragged her by her hair. She was held in captivity for 11 days in his house and tried to kill herself with a kitchen knife, but was rescued by her mother. Like Arwa, she has filed a petition for divorce in the local court and is waiting for the court’s verdict. She says that her ambition is to get freedom from this barbarous and suffocating marriage and to go to college.

These cases prompted the Yemeni government to amend the existing legislation in order to raise the age of marriage for girls to 17, but the move is being resisted by the conservative sections of society.

Looming Environmental Disaster in Bangladesh

One of the biggest challenges facing mankind today is unprecedented climate change. The effects of climate change are manifested in global warming, sea level rises, increased droughts and flooding, increased coastal erosion, extreme weather events (such as snowfall in desert areas and heatwaves in parts of Europe), tropical storms, depletion of water resources, and desertification. The Fourth Assessment Report of the United Nations’ Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (2007) has convincingly shown that the warming of the global climate system—which lies at the root of the environmental crisis—is beyond doubt and that it is directly linked to human activity.

Million of people around the world face the consequences of climate change in the form of frequent flooding, earthquakes, tsunami and shortage of food and water. The Asian tsunami of 2004 killed a quarter of a million people. Poor people are likely to be the worst affected by the havoc brought about by climate change. Leading meteorologists predict that climate change will force nearly 125 million people—75 million in Bangladesh and 50 million in India—to leave their hometowns and migrate to other places by the turn of the century.

Bangladesh is the eighth most populous nation in the world, with 156 million people packed into an area smaller than Britain. It is one of the countries most vulnerable to the devastating effects of climate change. There has been an average sea-level rise of 5mm per year over the past 30 years. Of the country’s total rice production, nearly half is cultivated during the monsoon season and much of that is grown in the areas most vulnerable to flooding. In May this year, Cyclone Aila, which hit the Satkhira region of the country, left thousands homeless, killed 43 people, caused widespread flooding and devastation and tore through embankments, ditches, paddy-fields and houses.

According to new research from the Centre for Environmental and Geographic Information Services in Bangladesh, up to 20 million people in the low-lying areas of the country are at risk from sea-level rise in the coming decades. Scientists predict that salty water from the sea could seep into the inland areas, making it extremely difficult to cultivate staple foods like rice. Vast tracts of land in the south-east could be inundated every monsoon season. This will throw nearly 26 million poor people out of work, and they will be left with no choice but to migrate to cities in search of livelihood.

In order to minimise the damage caused by climate change, the government is planning to have sea defences or embankments similar to those in the Netherlands. This would require an investment of $5 billion over the next five years, which the country hopes to receive from the world’s rich nations.

Child Labour in Egypt

The overall poverty rate in Egypt is about 40 per cent. Poverty, destitution and unemployment are widespread in the country. According to the UN 2005 Egypt Common Country Assessment, almost 17 per cent of the country’s 77.5 million people live below the poverty line. One in 10 Egyptians is unemployed. Development is impeded by authoritarian rule, corruption and lack of planning. One of the serious problems facing the country is child labour. An estimated 2.7 million children work across the country. More than 1 million children are hired each year for the cotton harvest in summer, when the temperature rises to 40 degrees Celsius. Though Egypt’s Child Law of 1996 bans the employment of children under 14, it remains largely unenforced.

A large number of young children are employed in Egyptian fields, where they are required to work for up to 10 hours a day. The best years of their life are regulated by the harvests: radishes in winter, onions in spring and cotton in summer and autumn. Their work involves removing the bollworm, which eats the cotton, and handling plants soaked in pesticides. Many of the children experience breathing problems at the height of summer. Children are often beaten by foremen in the fields.

Cotton has been cultivated in the Nile Valley for at least 7,000 years, as the wrappings of Egyptian mummies attest. Arab merchants brought cotton cloth to Europe in the beginning of the 9th century. Egypt’s cotton exports are worth £ 150 million. Egyptian cotton is famous throughout the world as a luxury fabric. Cotton growers in the country are faced with inflation, dwindling water resources, competition, high fuel prices, rusting irrigation systems and an indifferent government. The cost of seeds and fertlisers has gone up in recent years. The Nile river is becoming increasingly polluted. The effects of global warming will pose a serious threat to at least 15 per cent of the land in the Nile Delta by 2020. Worldwide, cotton prices have plunged, mainly because the US, the world’s largest cotton producer, provides generous subsidies to its farmers, allowing them to sell at a lower cost.

Urban Rehabilitation in Morocco

Economic insecurity associated with poverty can be considered from two interrelated perspectives: income poverty and human poverty. Income poverty is defined in terms of people’s enjoyment of goods and services, represented in real per capita consumption expenditure. Income poverty takes into account both the international poverty line at $2 a day and national poverty lines. Human poverty, on the other hand, is defined by income as well as by other significant dimensions of life, such as education, health and political freedom. In 2005, about 20.3 per cent of the Arab population was living below $2 a day and about 34.6 million Arabs were living in extreme poverty. However, according to national poverty lines, the overall poverty rate in the Arab world ranges from 59.5 per cent in Yemen and about 40 per cent in Egypt to 28.6--30 per cent in Lebanon and Syria.

The Arab Human Development Report 2009 reckons that the overall poverty line in the Arab region is 39.9 per cent and that the number of Arabs living in poverty could be as high as 65 million or about 20 per cent of the population. In Somalia alone five million people live in poverty (p. 180). Income poverty, and the insecurity associated with it, is more widespread in the rural areas. Human poverty, as reflected in the deprivation of capabilities and opportunities, is far more widespread in the Arab countries than income poverty.

Casablanca, Morocco’s famed coastal city, has a population of more than three million and is home to some of the largest slums in the Arab world. The accelerating migration of people from rural to urban areas has put an enormous amount of pressure on housing and urban infrastructure. Unemployment in the country, especially in the slums, is very high. Poverty and unemployment have contributed to the deterioration of living conditions. Children are particularly affected by the filth and pollution and the lack of spaces for play.

The Moroccan government has launched an ambitious project ‘Cities Without Slums’ to eliminate slums and provide alternative accommodation to their residents. The project is aimed at improving the living conditions of 298,000 homes located in the slums. The government has invested $3 billion in the project and so far 138,000 people have been relocated to newly-built housing colonies. In view of the enormity of the undertaking, the government has solicited the support and cooperation of the private sector. BMCE Bank, one of Morocco’s largest financial institutions, has agreed to lend a helping hand to people who do not have their own homes or those who have irregular incomes, such as taxi drivers and carpenters. The government secures up to 70 per cent of the value of the loan, and the bank reduces its risk by only lending up to 40 per cent of a customer’s income.

The project has also provided an opportunity to developers. Addoha, one of the major developers in the country, is building tens of thousands of low-cost apartments. There is a need for about one million low-cost houses around the country. The government offers subsidies and tax concessions to developers who are involved in the project. A low-cost apartment is priced at $25,000, and with government subsidies, one has to pay a mortgage of $125 a month. Many of the poor people living in the slums cannot afford to pay the mortgage and therefore feel that they have been left behind. There is no social safety net in the country. The Moroccan government needs to offer special subsidies and concessions to the poorest of the poor who live from hand to mouth.

Elite Hi-Tech University Opens in Saudi Arabia

Most Arab countries have greatly expanded their investment in women’s education. Equality between the two sexes in higher education has been achieved in 12 Arab countries (Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Qatar, Oman, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia). The number of women registered in higher education in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE is greater than that of men. Some 55% of university students in Saudi Arabia are female.

A multi-billion dollar new university, called King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, opened in a sprawling 36-kilometre campus along the Red Sea coast about 80 kilometres north of Jeddah on September 23, 2009. The university is equipped with state-of-the-art laboratories, three-dimensional imaging facilities and the world’s 14th fastest supercomputer, worth nearly $1.5 billion. The new institution will have mixed-gender classes, an absolute novelty in the conservative kingdom, and will allow women to move without the mandatory veil. They will also have the freedom to drive, otherwise taboo in the country.

The hi-tech university has already enrolled 817 students from 61 countries. Nearly 15 per cent of them are female, who have previously studied at foreign universities. The teaching faculty includes 71 professors and instructors, including 14 from the US, 7 from Germany and 6 from Canada. Classes will be held in English. The university’s president, Professor Choon Fong Shih, described the new institution as the opportunity of a generation. “We give our academics full freedom to pursue exceptional science. We fund them to work together in groups—men and women—to work on big ideas that will make a big impact,” he said.

Since he took over the reigns of power in 2005, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has consistently pursued a policy of reform and educational rejuvenation, often in the face of resentment and criticism from the country’s ultra-conservative ulama. The world’s largest university for Muslim women is under construction in Riyadh. Due to open in 2010, the Princess Noura bint Abdulrahman University will be spread over an area of 8 million square metres and will accommodate 40,000 students. The university will have 15 academic faculties, a library, conference centres, laboratories, and a 700-bed hospital. There will be facilities for research in nanotechnology, biosciences and information technology. The campus will also have residential quarters for the faculty, mosques, a school, a kindergarten and theme parks.

On October 4 King Abdullah sacked Sheikh Sa’ad al-Shithri, who demanded that the ulama should vet the curriculum at the new hi-tech university and objected to mixed-gender classes, from the membership of the state-appointed Council of Ulama.

Afghanistan: The Enemy Within

The 7-year occupation of Afghanistan by the US-led coalition forces has triggered a seemingly unending war and has left a trail of destruction and misery in the country. Thousands of people have been killed or maimed by the deadly fighting and bombings and tens of thousands have been displaced. There are more than one million people living with disabilities. Poverty and destitution have accelerated. Thousands of Afghan children have been orphaned and forced to beg on the streets.

One of the gravest problems faced by the country is the flourishing narcotics trade and the alarming increase in the number of drug addicts, including children. The cultivation of poppy covers an area of 154,000 hectares. Afghanistan accounts for nearly 93 per cent of the world’s supply of opium, whose global retail supply exceeds $52 billion. The country accounts for nearly 90% of the world’s heroin. From Shaddle Bazaar and other markets, where thousands of kilos of opium are openly bought and sold, opium is taken to heroin labs in the border areas set up by local drug lords, where it is processed into heroin and smuggled into Europe and the US. Drug trafficking is controlled by powerful warlords, many of whom enjoy protection from the government. The thriving drug trade is a great source of financial support for the Taliban as well as for many people in the government.

Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has substantially increased in recent years. The government claims that poor farmers who are faced with poverty and destitution have no alternative but to take to poppy cultivation. But this appears to be an eyewash. A UN report has pointed out that approximately 80 per cent of the land under poppy cultivation in the south of the country has been planted with poppy only in the last two years. An increasing number of farmers have abandoned the cultivation of traditional crops (such as wheat, cotton and vegetables) and shifted to the more lucrative poppy cultivation. The report points out that poppy cultivation is decreasing in the poorest areas and increasing in the wealthier areas. This shows that poverty is not the main driving factor in the expansion of poppy cultivation in recent years. The incidence of drug abuse in the country is on the rise.

There are an estimated one million addicts in Afghanistan’s population of 30 million, including some 60,000 child drug addicts. The addicts include refugees who came back from Pakistan, farmers, female carpet weavers and war veterans who lost limbs in the war. Children are introduced to opium, often by parents and grandparents, as early as the age of five. Sometimes toddlers are given opium by their mothers to stop them from crying for food, which is always I short supply.

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