The global Muslim population stands at 1.57 billion, meaning that nearly 1 in 4 people in the world practice Islam, according to a report Wednesday billed as the most comprehensive of its kind.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life report provides a precise number for a population whose size has long has been subject to guesswork, with estimates ranging anywhere from 1 billion to 1.8 billion.
The project, three years in the making, also presents a portrait of the Muslim world that might surprise some. For instance, Germany has more Muslims than Lebanon, China has more Muslims than Syria, Russia has more Muslims than Jordan and Libya combined, and Ethiopia has nearly as many Muslims as Afghanistan.
Pew officials call the report the most thorough on the size and distribution of adherents of the world’s second largest religion behind Christianity, which has an estimated 2.1 billion to 2.2 billion followers.
The arduous task of determining the Muslim populations in 232 countries and territories involved analyzing census reports, demographic studies and general population surveys, the report says. In cases where the data was a few years old, researchers projected 2009 numbers.
The report provides further evidence that while the heart of Islam might beat in the Middle East, its greatest numbers lie in Asia: More than 60 percent of the world’s Muslims live in Asia.
About 20 percent live in the Middle East and North Africa, 15 percent live in Sub-Saharan Africa, 2.4 percent are in Europe and 0.3 percent are in the Americas. While the Middle East and North Africa have fewer Muslims overall than Asia, the region easily claims the most Muslim-majority countries.
Among the report’s other highlights:
* Europe is home to about 38 million Muslims, or about five percent of its population. Germany appears to have more than 4 million Muslims–almost as many as North and South America combined. In France, where tensions have run high over an influx of Muslim immigrant laborers, the overall numbers were lower but a larger percentage of the population is Muslim.
* Of roughly 4.6 million Muslims in the Americas, more than half live in the United States although they only make up 0.8 percent of the population there. About 700,000 people in Canada are Muslim, or about 2 percent of the total population.
A future Pew Forum project, scheduled to be released in 2010, will build on the report’s data to estimate growth rates among Muslim populations and project future trends.
[Editors Note: The Pew Report “Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Muslim Population” can be downloaded as a PDF file here.]