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Varieties of Islam Today

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Atlas of the World’s Religions, Second Edition What is This? Depicts the historical development and present state of the world's major religions

    Varieties of Islam Today

    THE ARABIC term umma (community of believers) indicates the unity of all Muslims beyond ethnic, linguistic, cultural and national boundaries. During the Prophet's time, the first Muslim umma was almost exclusively composed of Arabs. Historical developments such as conquest and conversion led to the incorporation of Persians, Berbers, Turks and other peoples

    Varieties of Islam Today

    3. Ethnicity and culture

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    Muslim unity found in its ritual language, Arabic, its most vivid expression. By the late seventh century Arabic had become the administrative language of the Muslim empire. Varieties of spoken Arabic emerged as a result of ethno-linguistic influences and historical developments. The Arabic dialects of North Africa, for instance, were influenced by the Berber languages and, more recently, by decades of French colonialism and French education.

    Despite the influence of Arabic, some vernacular languages of the Muslim empire survived: during the ninth century Persian re-emerged as a literary language, while Turkish became the official language of the Ottoman empire.

    Varieties of Islam Today

    2. Languages of the Muslim World

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    The impact of Arabic remained in lexical and stylistic borrowings as well as in the adoption of its script, which is used not only for Ottoman Turkish (up until 1928 ), modern Persian and Urdu, but also for Malay and, until recently, for Bahasa Indonesian.

    Ethnicity and Religious Minorities

    Ethnicity plays an important role in the expression of religious allegiance to Islam.

    Varieties of Islam Today

    1. Core Muslim Groups in the Middle East

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    Among the majority Sunni population of northern Africa, for example, some Berber groups in Algeria and Libya affirm their ethnic identity by adhering to the Ibadiyah, a moderate Khariji group. New trends within, or stemming from, Islam have been discouraged, sometimes persecuted, as in the case of the Baha'is, who originated in Iran during the nineteenth century and were forced to migrate or to conceal their faith. Today, the largest Baha'i community lives in India. Muslim religious minorities are also occasionally able to assume political power; the ‘Alawis of Syria, for example, while representing probably no more than 10 per cent of the total population, became influential during the French mandate and, in 1971 , an ‘Alawi military leader, Hafez al-Assad ( 1930 – 2000 ) became Syria's president, and was succeeded by his son, Bashar .

    Islam in the Americas

    The presence of an estimated 6 to 7 million Muslims in the Americas is due to distinct waves of Muslim migration as well as local conversions. It is commonly accepted that the first Muslim migrations to the Americas date to the late fifteenth century, when Moriscos, expelled from Spain by the Reconquista, reached South America. From the seventeenth century, black Africans, captured and bought as slaves in West Africa, arrived in America. With the abolition of slavery in the mid-nineteenth century, Asian immigrants arrived as indentured labourers from the Indian subcontinent and Java.

    Varieties of Islam Today

    4. Islam in the Americas

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    More recent migrations to North America pre-dated the First World War and consisted of mainly Arabs from Greater Syria, followed by Muslims from eastern and southern Europe. After the Second World War, more Muslims emigrated from the Middle East and some from South Asia. American immigration laws were liberalized in 1965 , and Muslims arrived from the Arab countries, as well as Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    The immigrants of the early years of this century were scattered geographically. Without the benefit of organized community support, they expressed religious identity in general terms. More recent immigrants, however, enjoy the support of Islamic organizations and networks and tend to resist assimilation.

    The Nation of Islam, a black ‘nationalist’ and messianic movement, was founded in Detroit in 1930 by Farad Muhammad . It emphasized black liberation through self-development and elaborated a mythology in which the white race was the creation of evil forces. Its message appealed to the unemployed youths of inner-city black ghettos. Since 1978 , Louis Farrakhan has been the leader of a minority group of the Nation of Islam which has continued the policy of black separation. The majority branch, (the ‘American Muslim Mission’), has been successful in aligning with Sunni Islam. Here, a universalistic doctrine has opened its affiliation to all Muslims, irrespective of race.

    Some Muslim Diasporas

    Most Muslim diaspora communities have spread as a result of conflict, as with the Palestinians, or persecution, as with the Kurds. Mostly Muslim, the Kurds originally lived in an area bordering Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Armenia. Many have since migrated to Germany, Sweden and the USA.

    Varieties of Islam Today

    5. Some Inter-continental Migrations of Muslims

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    The Lebanese diaspora, at first mainly of Christians, was economic in nature. After the Second World War, more Sunnis and Shi'is migrated to France, the Americas, West Africa and Australia. The 1975 – 89 Lebanese civil war has increased the number of Lebanese abroad: the Lebanese diaspora worldwide is now estimated at 2.5 million.

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