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Islamic World

The Islamic World includes about one billion people in the Arab World, Turkey, Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania, Kurdistan (Kurds are not Arabs), Iran, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and countries in former Soviet Central Asia, e.g. Uzbekistan, and Africa, e.g. Sudan, where Muslims are in the majority. Some definitions would also include the sizable minorities in many countries in the European Union (especially the UK, France, Germany), Russia especially Chechnya, India, Singapore, Philippines and 4 million Muslims in the U.S.A., 2 million in Canada, especially where those populations are involved in politics - Islam itself being an inherently political faith that stresses obligations from any Muslim to any other (see Islamist).

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Due in part to this political focus, in developing nations many Muslim ethnic groups enjoy considerable autonomy, more so than in developed nations in general, and have in some places, e.g. Nigeria implemented a form of traditional shariah laws and punishments. There is considerable controversy about the applicability of the classical fiqh (or "jurisprudence") which date from medieval times, and which have not been adapted to the al-urf[?] (or "custom and usage") and al-istislah[?] (or "public interest") of the society they have been imposed on in modern times. Accordingly they often appear to outsiders simply as harsh forms of retributive justice which are particularly oppressive to women. For more on Islamic practice and law see the list of Islamic terms in Arabic.

Muslims are not all connected ethnically, but like Christians or Buddhists, only by the common heritage of a civilization, in this case Islamic civilization[?]. Islam spread rapidly into the regions where Muslims are now a majority, until 631 CE - see caliph for the politics that were partially to cease the rapid expansion of Islam at about this time.

Sunni/Shia conflict

After this, two different interpretations of Islam eventually became the Sunni and Shia sects. The overwhelming majority of Muslims are Sunni. The difference between them is primarily in terms of how the life of the umma[?] ("faithful") should be governed, and the role of the imam. In practice, however, both accept very similar

A majority of those in Iraq and Iran are Shi'a (65% and 89% respectively). However, a nominally-Sunni minority presently holds political power in Iraq (up until 2003 changes expected following Gulf War part II), while a more strictly traditional Shia regime presently holds power in Iran. See alleged effects of invading Iraq

This is the only part of the Islamic World where Sunni/Shia conflict has been a major factor at all in modern times. The regimes in Iran and Iraq are unique to each country and not representative of the governance norms elsewhere in Islam.


The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries includes many nations that are also in the Arab League, although most oil sources on Earth are not in nations with Muslim majorities, the fully developed exporting regions are - a politically motivated oil embargo[?] in 1974 had drastic economic and political consequences in the United States and Europe. Although the impact of such a move would be less today, it demonstrates the power of the Islamic world acting in concert (in 1974, to support West Bank and Gaza Arabs in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), and the key role of religion and ethnicity in the politics of oil regions, with which the Islamic world very deeply intersects.

As oil sources in Indonesia, Central Asia and southern regions of Russia become more developed, oil politics may be less dependent on the Arab World but more dependent on the Islamic World as a whole. Activities of Islamists seem destined to play a larger role, as they seek unified policies and support for unified fronts against non-Muslim peoples who control Muslim oil resources.


The Islamic World was originally expanded by wars of liberation (in modern terms, there is no question that the Islamic regimes of the 7th century and 8th century provided vastly more power and rights to the individual citizen than the regimes they replaced, including particularly raising the status of women in many regions), and Muhammad is revered as an exemplary soldier and general. War may be more morally acceptable to Muslims than to Christians, in circumstances where other Muslims are oppressed by non-Muslims (see jihad).

The Ottoman Empire came to an end in 1918 when Turkey lost control of the bulk of the Arab World, which it had ruled for centuries and in which it had suppressed most of the traditional governance norms of Islam. Britain and the United States supported Arab independence, but France insisted on retaining control of Lebanon and ultimately Syria. This plus the status of Kuwait and Palestine, and the later partition of India[?], remain major sources of global tension to this day.

The 20th century also saw a series of limitations and defeats for most militant Islamist movements, Iran and the now-defunct Taliban regime in Afghanistan being notable exceptions. Elsewhere the rule has been for military rulers, e.g. Suharto, Qaddafi[?], Zia[?], Saddam Hussein, to cynically exploit Islamic imagery and language without following the rules, sometimes implementing weak but spectacular forms of sharia in rural areas to appease peasant supporters. In Turkey, Pakistan, Algeria and other nations with Islamist parties, these tend to have either no power or to substantially moderate these policies when they participate in government (as in Turkey in 2003 where the government approved a U.S. plan to invade Iraq via Turkey but was over-ruled by the parliament after public pressure from the 94% of Turks opposed to an invasion). Nationalism plays more of a role in decisions to go to war than religious similiarities or differences.


Some believe that, like Eastern Europe or Latin America, the Islamic World is fated to democratize and replace constitutional monarchy and military dictatorship with representative democracy. Since classical Islam originated and supported many examples of participatory democracy on a small or local scale, this seems feasible in the long term. G. E. Jansen[?] in 1979, in his book "Militant Islam[?]", proposed that Islamist movements were themselves the most likely path to democratization, as they represented a long history of self-governance and resistance to foreign colonization.

In this view, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia and Algeria may represent the most constructive examples, as they enjoy substantial local democracy and have active political life, and seem able to tolerate high Islamist activity without losing stability politically. However, they are far from the norms of most developed nations in this regard, behind even Russia in terms of tolerance for secession or rebel ethnic movements.

Another, darker, view, is that the Islamic World is fated to come into deeper conflict with the G8 nations, India, China and others who rely on Mideast oil, especially in Europe and the United States. At least one Islamic nation, Pakistan, has developed crude nuclear weapons, and others, e.g. Iraq, have attempted it. Weapons of mass destruction are likely to become easier to construct given the modernizing economies of the Islamic World.

Accordingly, most diplomats feel, these nations ought to be accorded respect, and brought into line with established norms of international law, rather than treated as colonies or vassals of "the West". A minority view, held by the G. W. Bush administration of the US and Anthony Blair of the UK, is that enforcing international law and rules against weapons of mass destruction by force up to and including invasion, is the only way to get Arab states to heel, and that traditional colonizing powers play a role in ousting the dictators that they formerly supported or helped maintain in office. The issue remains open.

See also: Islamic civilization[?]

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