Of all Muslims, 97 percent are Sunnis and Shiites and live in Asia, the Middle East/North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa.The majority of those are Sunnis and Shiites are mainly concentrated in only a few countries and areas that are mostly close to each other.
The Sunni-Shiite Split
In the seventh century, only a few decades into Islam's birth, a dispute arose within the Muslim community over who should lead the Muslims people, or caliph. A general and governor named Mu'awiya challenged the authority of Muhammad's son-in-law Ali as the legitimate next Caliph. Those who would be known as Shiites accepted him as a successor. Shiites revere a line of sacred imam that come from Ali's bloodline. Mu'awiya pushed one of Ali's sons out of the caliphate and when challenged by another of Ali's sons, had him killed. Ali's base of power was in Iraq, which is today where many Shiites live.
The Geography of the Muslim World
There are 49 countries where Muslims are a majority, and they are home to almost three-quarters of all Muslims. Out of the nearly 1.6 billion global Muslims, about 300 million live in countries where they are the minority. Over 60 percent of all Muslims live in Asia, and only 20 percent in the Middle East and North Africa, but there, over half of the countries/territories there are at least 95 percent Muslims, while in Asia, Muslims are a minority. Sub-Saharan Africa has about 15 percent of the global Muslim population, and next is Europe with just 2.4 percent. Fewer than 0.3 percent of all world Muslims live in the Americas. The 10 countries with the most Muslims in descending order are Indonesia, India (only just passing Pakistan in the last few years), Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Algeria, and Morocco. These countries have nearly two-thirds of the global Muslims population. Besides India, the next nine countries with the largest Muslim minority populations are Ethiopia, China, Russia, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, the Philippines, Germany, and Uganda.
Geographic Spread, Majorities and Minorities
About three-quarters of all Shiite Muslims live in Asia, including Iran, but they comprise only 12 to 15 percent of the overall Muslim population there, with 85 to 88 percent of Muslims there being Sunni. In the Middle East and North Africa Shiites are just 11 to 14 percent of the whole Muslim population,. In sub-Saharan Africa, Shiites are not even 2.5 percent of all Muslims Shiite Muslims are a majority of the population in only four countries: Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, and Iraq. There are significant numbers (over one million) of Shiite Muslims in Turkey, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Nigeria, and Tanzania. Only some 300,000 live in North America.
Shiites live in very concentrated communities mostly in just four countries. Politically, there are very few areas where Shiites are comfortable among Sunnis, with whom there has been much political tension over the centuries. Violent attacks against Shiites today are common in many of these places.
- The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life: Mapping the Global Muslim Population: Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Muslim Population
- The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life: The Global Religious Landscape A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Major Religious Groups as of 2010
- An Introduction to Islam; Frederick Mathewson Denny
- Hammond Atlas of World Religions
- Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images News/Getty Images