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12 graphs: Ten branches of Shia Islam

Written by Clare Ferguson,

Much has been said, and misrepresented, about the world’s Muslim population, on both sides of the Atlantic this year. While increasing ethnic and religious diversity cannot be ignored, including the possibility that this might prompt increasing social division, future society and governance in the EU must find a way to tackle ignorance and hatred when it comes to religion, regardless whether the Christian, Muslim or Jewish faith, or any other, is concerned. Freedom of religion is one of the human rights protected by the European Union and monitored by the European Parliament in its annual resolution on human rights in the EU.

Understanding other faiths is promoted within the European Parliament in particular by the Intergroup of MEPs on interreligious dialogue. To better understand the Islamic faith and overcome the homogenising discourse of populist politicians, understanding the different branches of Islam is vital.


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The Islamic faith is divided between those who follow the Sunni branch, and the followers of the Shia branch – itself split into ten sub-branches, and which represents a minority in the world’s total Muslim population. The interactions between the two main branches are key to understanding the underlying tensions in the ongoing war in Syria, and the regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, prosecuted through proxy conflicts. It is expected that, by 2050, the world population of Muslims will equal that of Christians.

Muslim population worldwide

Muslim population worldwide

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The content of all documents (and articles) contained in this blog is the sole responsibility of the author and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily represent the official position of the European Parliament. It is addressed to the Members and staff of the EP for their parliamentary work. Reproduction and translation for non-commercial purposes are authorised, provided the source is acknowledged and the European Parliament is given prior notice and sent a copy. Copyright © European Union, 2014. All rights reserved

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