By Douglas P. Sjoquist
A sensible beginning point for the study of Islam in Asia is a demographic analysis of Asia’s Muslim population. Granted, there is always a risk involved in examining population statistics—especially religious ones—but certain useful and enlightening generalizations can be drawn from such an examination. What countries in Asia with substantial Muslim populations have the highest and lowest literacy rates or life expectancy rates? Which predominantly Muslim countries in Asia have the highest and lowest per capita incomes or the highest and lowest natural growth rate? These preliminary questions have the power to generate classroom discussion and facilitate critical thinking skills. Knowledge of some of the basic demographic features of Islam in Asia is a necessary first step in perceiving relationships, making comparisons, and constructing predictions.
Asia is the birthplace of Islam (as well as the mother continent of all the world’s other major religions including Christianity). Since the sixth century CE, Asia has hosted the world’s largest population of Muslims. Today, there are almost 870 million Muslims living in the five geographical regions of Asia: South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, and West Asia. Of the approximately 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, 70 percent live in Asian countries. Islam now has more adherents than any other religion in Asia.