Four Maps that Explain Islam in Asia Istiqlal Mosque, Jakarta, Indonesia; Courtesy of Michael J. Lowe

Four Maps that Explain Islam in Asia

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Islam transcends the Middle-Eastern corridor with which most Westerners associate it, stretching from the western coast of Africa to the Pacific Ocean. It contains an incredible variety of different sects, beliefs, and traditions, most of which firmly reject the violent, intolerant, and jihadist tradition that groups like al Qaeda, al Shabaab, and ISIS represent.

In the wake of ISIS’s declaration of a new caliphate in the war-torn expanse of Iraq and Syria, it is more necessary than ever for policy-makers and citizens to understand the true face of Islam around the world: diverse, non-monolithic, and peaceful. With this understanding of Islam, the United States and its allies can make lasting, effective partnerships with Muslim communities around the world in times of peace and conflict.

These four maps, ‘Percentage of Muslims By Country,’ ‘Size of Muslim Population By Country,’ ‘Presence of Sharia Law,’ and ‘Traditions of Islamic Jurisprudence’ give a compelling account of where Asian Muslims live and how they understand the world. Explore the Muslim world by scrolling over these interactive maps.


Percentage of Muslims By Country

Data Source: Pew Research

Main Takeaways: The most solidly Muslim countries in Asia are in the Middle-East, Arabian Peninsula, and southern-Asia.

Asian Countries With The Highest Percentage of Muslims

Data Source: Pew Research

Main Takeaways: The top five most solidly Muslim countries in Asia are: (1) Afghanistan, (2) Yemen, (3) Iraq, (4) Maldives, (5) Turkey.

Size of Muslim Population By Country

Data Source: Pew Research

Main Takeaways: The largest Muslim populations in both Asia and the world are in southern and south-eastern Asia.

Asian Countries With The Largest Muslim Populations

Data Source: Pew Research

Main Takeaways: The largest Muslim populations in Asia are: (1) Indonesia, (2) India, (3) Pakistan, (4) Bangladesh, (5) Iran.

Islamic Law

Presence of Sharia Law

States with large Muslim populations incorporate Sharia, or islamic law, into their legal institutions and structures to varying degrees ranging from none/secular to presence in matters of personal and criminal law. In countries where Sharia is present in personal law, Muslims can appeal to Sharia courts to settle personal issues rather than using the civil/common law legal apparatus.

In the map below, the countries in green incorporate elements of Islamic Law into the legal institutions of the state while those in blue do not. However, these secular countries may still offer Muslims the option to arbitrate matters of personal status through non-governmental, Islamic/Sharia courts.

Data Source: CIA World Factbook

Main Takeaways: The states that incorporate Sharia law into their legal systems to the greatest extent are in those in the Arabian peninsula and south-western Asia.

Traditions of Islamic Jurisprudence

Islamic jurisprudence, or fiqh, is the process by which different Muslim populations interpret the Sharia, the divine law that Muhammad received from God. From the ninth century onward, several prominent jurists established separate legal traditions, or madhhabs, within islamic jurisprudence that orient the way Muslim populations understand and apply the Sharia.

These different traditions range from more fundamentalist readings to more progressive ones, though understanding them through this dichotomy often obscures their real differences from each other. The major Sunni traditions are: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi, and Hanbali. The major Shia tradition is Jafari. The Ibadi tradition is the the legal tradition of the Kharijite sect.

Main Takeaways: Hanafi is the most widely-applied Sunni tradition and is dominant in the Levant, and central and south-Western Asia. Hanabli is the dominant school in the Arabian peninsula. Shafi is the dominant school in Indonesia and south-eastern Asia. Jafari is the dominant school in the Shia-majority states of Iran and Iraq.


If You Like This Article, Please Check Out More:

Four Maps that Explain Islam in Africa

Four Charts that Explain Shia Islam

Critical Issues Facing Africa: Terrorism, War, and Political Violence

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