Learning to Differentiate Between Muslims and Arabs

One of the main misconceptions about Islam is that Muslims and Arabs are synonymous. In fact, Arab Muslims are a small portion of the Muslims in the world. This misconception is in large part due to the fact that the Middle East is a part of the world that is rife with conflict, with many competing interests concentrated in a small area. The fact that much of the world’s oil is concentrated in this area, that Islam’s holy places are located in the Middle East, that Islam was born in the Middle East, and that there has been war and conflict in this part of the world for centuries has contributed to perpetuating the misconception that most Muslims are Arabs, and that the things done in Arab society are representative of Muslims as a whole. In fact, saying that Muslims and Arabs are the same thing is as ridiculous as claiming that being a Catholic is the same as being an Italian.

Around twenty percent of the population of the entire world practices Islam. This means that one out of every five human beings is a Muslim. There are Muslims from all cultures, backgrounds, countries, and economic backgrounds. Arabs are not even the majority of the Muslim population. The vast majority of the Muslim population is located east of the Middle East. Most Muslims live in Indonesia and in India. About one fifth of Muslims live in the Sub-Saharan Region and Central Africa. Only about eighteen percent of Muslims actually live in Arab countries. There are also a great number of Muslims in Russia and those countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Bloc. Most countries in the world have small Muslim populations, including the United States which is home to around seven million Muslims. This number, quoted by Barack Obama in a recent speech, makes Islam the second-largest religion in the United States.

The misconception that all Muslims are Arabs has not been beneficial to Muslims. Many Muslims would agree that Arab culture is not the best representative of what Islam is about. Many Arab countries are ruled by oppressive dictatorships that pervert Islam for their own political gain. In many Arab countries there are also barbarous customs that are derived from patriarchal, tribal society which have become associated with Islam in the eyes of Western observers. When Arabs practice gross mistreatment of women in their society, this is not representative of the millions of Muslim women that live prosperous, free lives in non-Arab Muslim societies; when oppressive regimes issue ridiculously restrictive laws that are mocked by the Western media, this is not representative of the millions of Muslims that are productive, civilized members of society all around the world.

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