Understanding Islam: The Mystery Religion

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Understanding Islam

The Shia held on to the idea that Ali was the rightful successor, and grew into an entirely separate branch of Islam. Today about 10 to 15 percent of Muslims worldwide are Shia — they are the majority group in Iran and Iraq only — while most Muslims are Sunni. This struggle looks an awful lot like a regional cold war, with proxy battles in Syria and elsewhere.

The most important color on this map of Middle Eastern ethnic groups is yellow: Arabs, who are the majority group in almost every MidEast country, including the North African countries not shown here. The exceptions are mostly-Jewish Israel in pink, mostly-Turkish Turkey in green, mostly-Persian Iran in orange, and heavily diverse Afghanistan. More on the rich diversity of Iran and Afghanistan below.

That splash of red in the middle is really important: ethnic Kurds, who have no country of their own but big communities in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. But the big lesson of this map is that there is a belt of remarkable ethnic diversity from Turkey to Afghanistan, but that much of the rest of the region is dominated by ethnic Arabs. Pew Forum. This map makes a point about what the Middle East is not: it is not synonymous with the Islamic world. This weighted population map shows every country in the world by the size of its Muslim population. Countries with more Muslim citizens are larger; countries with fewer Muslim citizens are smaller.

You'll notice right away that the Middle East makes up just a fraction of the world's total Muslim population. The biggest Muslim population by far is Indonesia's, in southeast Asia. And there are millions in sub-Saharan Africa as well. The Islamic world may have begun in the Middle East, but it's now much, much larger than that. These three maps show how Israel went from not existing to, in and , establishing its national borders. It's hard to identify a single clearest start point to the Israel-Palestine conflict, but the map on the left might be it: these are the borders that the United Nations demarcated in for a Jewish state and an Arab state, in what had been British-controlled territory.

The middle map shows, in green, how far they pushed back the Jewish armies. The right-hand map shows how the war ended: with an Israeli counterattack that pushed into the orange territory, and with Israel claiming that as its new national borders. The green is what was left for Palestinians. These three maps click the expand icon to see the third show how those borders became what they are today. The map on left shows the Palestinian territories of Gaza, which was under Egyptian control, and the West Bank, under Jordanian control.

In , Israel fought a war with Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. The war ended with Israel occupying both of the Palestinian territories, plus the Golan Heights in Syria and Egypt's Sinai peninsula: that's shown in the right map. Israel gave Sinai back as part of a peace deal, but it still occupies those other territories.

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Gaza is today under Israeli blockade, while the West Bank is increasingly filling with Israeli settlers. The third map shows how the West Bank has been divided into areas of full Palestinian control green , joint Israeli-Palestinian control light green , and full Israeli control dark green. Since , Israelis have been moving into settlements in the West Bank.

Understanding Islam

Some go for religious reasons, some because they want to claim Palestinian land for Israel, and some just because they get cheap housing from subsidies. There about , settlers in communities, which you can see in this map. The settlements make peace harder, which is sometimes the point: for Palestinians to have a state, the settlers will either to have to be removed en masse, or Palestinians would have to give up some of their land.


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The settlements also make life harder for Palestinians today, dividing communities and imposing onerous Israeli security. This is why the US and the rest of the world opposes Israeli settlements. But Israel is continuing to expand them anyway.

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This map shows a moment in the war between Israel and Lebanon. It also shows the way that war between Israel and its enemies has changed: Israel now has the dominant military, but the fights are asymmetrical. Israel wasn't fighting a state, but the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. It launched many air and artillery strikes in Lebanon shown in blue to weaken Hezbollah, destroying much of the country's infrastructure in the process. Israel also blockaded Lebanese waters. Hezbollah fought a guerrilla campaign against the Israeli invasion force and launched many missiles into Israeli communities.

The people most hurt were regular Lebanese and Israelis, hundreds of thousands of whom were displaced by the fighting. Saint Tepes. The Israel-Palestine conflict is a global issue, and as this map shows it's got a global divide. Many countries, shown in green, still do not recognize Israel as a legitimate state. Those countries are typically Muslim-majority that includes Malaysia and Indonesia, way over in southeast Asia. Meanwhile, the blue countries of the West plus a few others do not recognize Palestine as a country. They still have diplomatic relations with Palestine, but in their view it will not achieve the status of a country until the conflict is formally resolved.

It is not a coincidence that there has historically been some conflict between the blue and green countries. Each color here shows a different religious group in the part of the eastern Mediterranean called the Levant.

It should probably not be surprising that the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity is religiously diverse, but this map drives home just how diverse. Israel stands out for its Jewish majority, of course, but this is also a reminder of its Muslim and other minorities, as well as of the Christian communities in Israel and the West Bank. Lebanon is divided among large communities of Sunnis, Shias, Christians, and a faith known as Druze — they're at peace now, but the country's horrific civil war from to divided them.

There may be a similar effect happening in Syria, which is majority Sunni Muslim but has large minorities of Christians, Druze, Shia, and a Shia sect known as Alawites whose members include Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and much of his government. This map shows the state of play in Syria's civil war, which after three years of fighting has divided between government forces, the anti-government rebels who began as pro-democracy protestors, and the Islamist extremist fighters who have been moving in over the last two years.

You may notice some overlap between this map and the previous: the areas under government control in red tend to overlap with where the minorities live. The minorities tend to be linked to the regime, whereas the rebels are mostly from the Sunni Muslim majority. But the anti-government Syrian rebels in green have been taking lots of territory.

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Syria's ethnic Kurdish minority also has militias that have taken over territory where the Kurds live. Over the past year, though, there's been a fourth rising faction: Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant sometimes called ISIS, shown in blue , an extremist group based in Iraq that swears allegiance to al-Qaeda. They're fighting both the rebels and the government. So it's a three-way war now, as if it weren't already intractable enough.

Syria's civil war hasn't just been a national catastrophe for Syria, but for neighboring countries as well. The war has displaced millions of Syrians into the rest of the Middle East and into parts of Europe, where they live in vast refugee camps that are major drains on already-scarce national resources.

This map shows the refugees; it does not show the additional 6. Their impact is especially felt in Jordan and Lebanon, which already have large Palestinian refugee populations; as many as one in five people in those countries is a refugee. While the US and other countries have committed some aid for refugees, the United Nations says it's not nearly enough to provide them with basic essentials.

Iran is the only Middle Eastern country was never conquered by a European power, but it came pretty close in the s. It lost a lot of territory to Russia the red stripey part. This remains a point of major national resentment in Iran today. Iran is most associated with the Persians — the largest ethnic group and the progenitors of the ancient Persian empires — but it's much more diverse than that. This map shows the larger minorities, which includes Arabs in the south, Kurds in the west, and Azeris in the north Iran used to control all Azeri territory, but much of now belongs to the Azeri-majority country Azerbaijan.

The Baloch, in the southeast, are also a large minority group in Pakistan. There is significant unrest and government oppression in the "Baluchistan" region of both countries.

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