Pope Francis went on to say that “We have to bring up our young people to think and speak respectfully of other religions and their followers,” and he stressed the role that education plays and the need “to avoid ridiculing or denigrating their convictions and practices.”
He also emphasized that understanding is "built upon the foundation of mutual respect" and that 'mutual' means that "this is not a one-way process, but something shared by both sides."
Here are ten basic things to know about Muslims - followers of Islam - gleaned from recent Pew Research reports. The first 5 are Muslim beliefs and practices; the second 5 are Muslim demographics and findings from recent studies of global restrictions on religion.
1. Most Muslims say they fast during Ramadan: A survey of more than 38,000 Muslims in 39 countries and territories found that a median of 93% say they fast during Ramadan. Fasting is the second-most observed of the Five Pillars, behind only belief in God and the Prophet Muhammad (median of 97%).
2. Muslims and the Internet: Around the world, Muslims who use the internet are much more likely than other Muslims to have a favorable opinion of Western movies, music and television and are somewhat more likely to see similarities between Islam and Christianity, according to an analysis of a recent Pew Research Center survey.
3. Muslims and Sharia Law: Overwhelming percentages of Muslims in many countries want Islamic law (sharia) to be the official law of the land, according to a worldwide survey by the Pew Research Center. But many supporters of sharia say it should apply only to their country’s Muslim population. Moreover, Muslims are not equally comfortable with all aspects of sharia: While most favor using religious law in family and property disputes, fewer support the application of severe punishments – such as whippings or cutting off hands – in criminal cases. The survey also shows that Muslims differ widely in how they interpret certain aspects of sharia, including whether divorce and family planning are morally acceptable.
4. Muslim Americans: No signs of growth in alienation or support for extremism. A comprehensive public opinion survey finds no indication of increased alienation or anger among Muslim Americans in response to concerns about home-grown Islamic terrorists, controversies about the building of mosques, and other pressures that have been brought to bear on this high-profile minority group in recent years. Muslims in the United States continue to reject extremism by much larger margins than most other Muslim publics, and a higher percentage views U.S. efforts to combat terrorism as sincere than did so in 2007. At the same time, majorities of Muslim Americans express concerns about Islamic extremism here and abroad – worries that coexist with the view that life in post-9/11 America is more difficult for U.S. Muslims.
5. Muslim networks and movements in Western Europe. Over the past two decades, the number of Muslims living in Western Europe has steadily grown, rising from less than 10 million in 1990 to approximately 17 million in 2010. The continuing growth in Europe’s Muslim population is raising a host of political and social questions. Tensions have arisen over such issues as the place of religion in European societies, the role of women, the obligations and rights of immigrants, and support for terrorism. These controversies are complicated by the ties that some European Muslims have to religious networks and movements outside of Europe. Fairly or unfairly, these groups are often accused of dissuading Muslims from integrating into European society and, in some cases, of supporting radicalism.
7. Growing but slowing. While the global Muslim population is expected to grow at a faster rate than the non-Muslim population, the Muslim population nevertheless is expected to grow at a slower pace in the next two decades than it did in the previous two decades. From 1990 to 2010, the global Muslim population increased at an average annual rate of 2.2%, compared with the projected rate of 1.5% for the period from 2010 to 2030. The slowing is largely because fertility rates have fallen in most Muslim-majority countries in recent decades. Yet they remain, on average, higher than in the rest of the developing world and considerably higher than in more-developed countries.
8. Sunni and Shia Muslims: Of the total Muslim population, 10-13% are Shia Muslims and 87-90% are Sunni Muslims. Most Shias (between 68% and 80%) live in just four countries: Iran, Pakistan, India and Iraq. Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims (also known as Shiites) comprise the two main sects within Islam. Sunni and Shia identities first formed around a dispute over leadership succession soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 A.D. Over time, however, the political divide between the two groups broadened to include theological distinctions and differences in religious practices as well. While the two sects are similar in many ways, they differ over conceptions of religious authority and interpretation as well as the role of the Prophet Muhammad’s descendants, for example.
9. Arab Spring adds to global restrictions on religion. At the onset of the Arab Spring in late 2010 and early 2011, many world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, expressed hope that the political uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa would lead to greater freedoms for the people of the region, including fewer restrictions on religious beliefs and practices. But a new study by the Pew Research Center finds that the region’s already high overall level of restrictions on religion – whether resulting from government policies or from social hostilities – continued to increase in 2011. (Also see TEDx Talk by Brian Grim on these global findings.)
10. Muslims, like followers of other faiths, face harassment. In 2011, government or social harassment of Muslims was reported in 101 countries; the previous high in the five-year study was 96 countries in the first year of the study. Overall, across the five years of the study, religious groups were harassed in a total of 185 countries at one time or another. Adherents of the world’s two largest religious groups, Christians and Muslims – who together comprise more than half of the global population – were harassed in the largest number of countries, 145 and 129 respectively. Harassment of Christians, Muslims and Jews was highest in the Middle East-North Africa. Although this is a predominantly Muslim region, followers of Islam were harassed in an even higher percentage of countries in the region than were Jews or Christians, according to a separate Pew Research study.
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