History Fact Friday – Muslims and Arabs

Muslim and Arab are not the same thing. In fact, Arabs make up only a small minority of the Muslim world. There are over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, and only a few of them are Arab. In fact, there are only around 450 million Arabic-speaking people in the world which means that two-thirds of Muslims are not Arabs.

It might surprise you to find out that the largest Muslim nation in the world is Indonesia, followed by Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Ethnically, these people are not Arabs. In fact, of the top ten nations Muslim nations, only Egypt, Algeria and Morocco have large Arab populations.

You might also be surprised to know that Arabs were not even responsible for most of the atrocities we attribute to Islam. Historically, the Arabs led the Muslim nations only for a couple of centuries early in the history of Islam. The Seljuk Turks converted to Islam in the 10th century CE and took over control of most of the Muslim world shortly thereafter. They were followed by the Ottoman Turks only a couple centuries later, and the Ottomans dominated the Muslim world until the early 20th century.

Arab prominence among Muslims has seen a recent revival, but this is VERY recent, as in since World War II. Prior to that, they were largely ignored by Muslims at large.

And the most radical forms of Islam – those practiced in Iran and Afghanistan, but spreading now – are supported not by Arabs but by Iranians. The Iranians are of the same stock as the ancient Persians. The Afghans likewise are not Arabs. Afghans have an ancient heritage going back to before the time of Alexander the Great.

Here are the top ten Muslim populations in the world:

  1. Indonesia (203 million)
  2. Pakistan (174 million)
  3. India (145 million)
  4. Bangladesh (75 million)
  5. Egypt (68 million)
  6. Nigeria (78 million)
  7. Iran (74 million)
  8. Turkey (73 million)
  9. Algeria (34 million)
  10. Morocco (32 million)
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