A common misconception about Muslims is that all or most Muslims are of Middle Eastern descent. Muslims are portrayed in the media and in our minds as having that tanned-brown skin, dark eyes, and the men having beards and the women covering themselves in long, dark fabric known as a burka. And when you say the words “Muslim”, “Islam”, “mosque”, or “jihad”, it’s that image of a Middle Easterner or even a terrorist that is subconsciously ingrained in people’s minds.
Despite how they are portrayed or envisioned, all Muslims are not Middle Eastern. Followers of Islam are a diverse group of people from many ethnicities, countries, and walks of life. Islam is the second largest religion and has the fastest growing group of practitioners in the world. In fact, Middle Easterners only comprise about 17% of the entire Muslim population worldwide.
Islam is widely practiced throughout Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. The largest concentration of Muslims is in South Asia with over 28%. Large numbers of Muslims also live in North and West Africa and in South East Asia. In contrast to the image of most people, the majority of Muslims are in places like India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
Islam is a rapidly growing population in the United States. Muslims in America are white, black, brown, and yellow, both male and female, and many U.S. born citizens. There are over five million Muslims living in the United States alone currently and that number is growing every year, even since the tragic events of 9/11 attributed to an extremist group claiming to be Islamic.
CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, reports in a survey from regular mosque attendees that 33% are South Asian, 30% are Black, 25% are Arab, 3.4% are African, 2.1% are European, 1.3% are Southeast Asian, 1.2% are Caribbean, 1.1% are Turkish, 0.7% are Iranian, 0.7% are White, and 0.6% are Hispanic. The largest populations of Muslims in the world are Asian, yet people hold on to the image of Muslims as people from the Middle East.
Muslims in America serve their communities in many positions such as lawyers, doctors, teachers, and business people. It was found in a survey by Zogby that Muslims are more educated and affluent than the national average with 59% holding at least an undergraduate level degree. Muslims are found to be both influential and role models for the communities in which they reside.
The followers of Islam are a group that encompasses people from all corners of the world, with all ethnicity, education levels, and almost all countries represented. The majority are far from the stereotypical view that most people hold of the turban-wearing, dark-skinned Middle Easterners that has been ground into people’s minds by the media and misinformation. Muslims are peaceful, diverse, and contributing members to their communities and deserve the effort to change the stereotypes and prejudices associated with their religion.