Last week the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a report saying that nearly 1 in 4 of the world’s population, some 1.57 billion people, is of the Muslim faith. Some impressive facts from the study:

“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.

“This whole idea that Muslims are Arabs and Arabs are Muslims is really just obliterated by this report,” said Amaney Jamal, an assistant professor of politics at Princeton University who reviewed an advance copy.

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.”

Read the whole report here

At roughly the same time as the report was published, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke at a US university panel on the future of Muslim-Christian relations. Here is an excerpt from the coverage posted on the Ethics Daily website:

“To promote peace among religious cultures, Blair proposed a three-prong plan, urging people to first take the time to understand each other, then use words to show respect toward each other’s cultures and, ultimately, to take action to foster positive relations between cultures.

Taking action was the most essential part, Blair said. “If we show by our actions we are engaged in understanding,” he said, “that’s what will succeed.”

As an example, Blair explained how his Tony Blair Faith Foundation has established a program connecting youth in culturally diverse schools in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Participants communicate online to discuss differences and similarities in their cultural and religious values, dispelling common stereotypes.”

Read the whole piece here.

These two pieces remind us that if the 21st century will indeed be defined as a century of religious conflict, as some have predicted, then our understanding of religions and their makeup needs to be nuanced and clear. A view of Islam as an implacable enemy of the West may be true of some segments of Islam such as Wahabi fundamentalism and radical jihadism, but as Blair and others remind us, we cannot allow this view to colour our relations with 1/4 of the world’s population. MP+