Muslims at Istiqlal Mosque in Indonesia during Eid ul Fitr

There are about 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, or 23 percent of the global population. According to a study by Pew Forum: “The overwhelming majority (87-90 percent) are Sunnis, about 10-13 percent are Shia Muslims.” According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life report issued in October 2009 the global Muslim population accounts for nearly one forth of humanity. In contrast, Christianity, the largest religion in the world has approximately 2.1 billion to 2.2 billion followers (about one third of humanity). [Source: Tom Heneghan, Reuters, December 18, 2012 ||||]

A study released by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in 2011 said Muslims will number 2.2 billion by 2030 compared to 1.6 billion in 2010, making up 26.4 percent of the world population compared to 23.4 percent now. [Source: Tom Heneghan, Reuters, January 27, 2011]

World religions: 1) Christianity (33 percent); 2) Islam (23 percent); 3) non-religious and atheist (15.4 percent); 4) Hinduism (13 percent); 5) Chinese folk religions (6 percent); 6) Buddhist (6 percent); and 7) Other (7 percent).

In recent decades, Islam has overtaken Roman Catholicism as the biggest single religious denomination in the world, according to the Vatican. Monsignor Vittorio Formenti, who compiled the Vatican’s 2008 yearbook of statistics, said Muslims made up 19.2 percent of the world’s population and Catholics 17.4 percent. “For the first time in history we are no longer at the top: the Muslims have overtaken us,” Formenti told Vatican newspaper L‘Osservatore Romano. He said that if all Christian groups were considered, including Orthodox churches, Anglicans and Protestants, then Christians made up 33 percent of the world’s population — or about 2 billion people. The report used data from 2006. [Source: Reuters, March 30, 2008]

There is a shortage of good population data and statistics in some Muslim countries because the governments in these countries aren’t very forthcoming with information they have and they aren’t very accommodating to local people or outsiders snooping around asking questions and gathering information. The Pew Report mentioned above came up with numbers by carefully analyzing census reports, demographic studies and general population studies in 232 countries and territories. Among the things Pew found out were that there are more Muslims in Germany than Lebanon and Ethiopia has more Muslims than Afghanistan and Russia has more Muslims than Jordan and Libya combined.||||

Websites and Resources: Islam ; Islamic City ; Islam 101 ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance ; BBC article ; Patheos Library – Islam ; University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on Islam ; Islam at Project Gutenberg ; Islam from UCB Libraries GovPubs ; Muslims: PBS Frontline documentary frontline ; Discover Islam

Muslim Identity

Muslim pilgrims doing the Hajj

Many Muslims view themselves as Muslims first and citizens of a nation second. They are often more likely to see themselves as a religious group divided by nations rather than a citizen of a nation comprised of different groups. One reason for this is that many Muslim nations are relatively new creations largely imposed on them by European colonial powers.

The words that Arabs used to describe many countries in the Middle East are different from those used in the West partly because Arabs do no link ethnicity and territorial identity the same way that Westerners do. The Caliph Omar, the second successor to Muhammad, reportedly said: “Learn your genealogy, and do not be like the local peasants who, when they are asked reply: ‘I am from such-and-such places.’”

In the early years of Islam, Muslims were unified in a single state under one leader. Even after regional communities broke up, Muslims continued to honor one leader, the caliph, and shared the belief that Muslims would be united once again. Throughout their history, Muslims have tended to identify themselves as Muslims first and as Arabs, Persians, Turks and other ethnic groups second and these ethnic groups were not necessarily associated with a particular geographical area. Non-Muslims have traditionally been called kafirs (infidels).

There is a great deal of diversity within the Muslim community. Muslims speak hundreds of different languages and have a wide range of customs. These days Muslim identity means something different than it once did. When they identify themselves as Muslims, many go to great lengths to point out they are moderate Muslims and that they do not support or sympathize with terrorists.

Most of World’s Muslim Are Not Arabs

Only about 18 to 20 percent of the world’s Muslims are Arabs (who live primarily in the Middle East and North Africa). The largest populations of Muslims are in Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria —all non-Arab countries. There are also large numbers in the Philippines, China, Malaysia and Central Asia — again all non-Arab countries. Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa occupy a lot of land but their population densities are relatively low as large chunks of their territory are occuppied by desert.

Muslim areas in India

About 40 percent of the world’s Muslims are from South and Southeast Asia. About 30 percent live in the Middle East (including Turkey and Iran), about 25 percent live in Africa (including Egypt and North Africa), About 4 percent are in Europe and the former Soviet Union, and 1 percent are in North and South America.

A study released in 2011 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life entitled “The Future of the Global Muslim Population,” about 60 percent of the world’s Muslims will live in the Asia-Pacific region in 2030, 20 percent in the Middle East, 17.6 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, 2.7 percent in Europe and 0.5 percent in the Americas. Pakistan will overtake Indonesia as the world’s most numerous Muslim nation by 2030, it said, while the Muslim minority in mostly Hindu India will retain its global rank as the third largest Muslim population. [Source: Tom Heneghan, Reuters, January 27, 2011]

Population Growth Among Muslims

Primarily because of high birthrate in Muslim countries, Islam is the world’s fastest growing major religion. In 1900 there were 200 million Muslims. Today there are 1.6 million to 1.7 million. This figure is projected to grow to 2.2 billion by 2030. According to a 2015 Pew study, the number of Muslims worldwide is expected to grow by 73 percent from 2010 to 2050 and Muslims are expected to outnumber Christians by about 2070.

Many Islamic countries are experiencing explosive population increases. The primary reason for this is the cultural emphasis on large families. The growth in the number of Muslims is mostly the product of population growth and migration rather than conversion.

A study released by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in 2011 found a close link between education and birth rates in Muslim-majority countries. Women in countries with the least education for girls had about five children while those where girls had the longest schooling averaged 2.3 children. The study said it counted “all groups and individuals who self-identify as Muslims,” including secular or non-observant people, without measuring levels of religiosity. It said measuring the impact of Islam on birth rates was difficult because “cultural, social, economic, political, historical and other factors may play equal or greater roles.” [Source: Tom Heneghan, Reuters, January 27, 2011]

Muslim Birth Rate Falls, Population to Grow More Slowly

A study released by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in 2011 said that birth and population growth rates in the Muslim world were slowing, from an average of 2.2 percent a year in 1990-2010 to 1.5 percent a year from 2010 to 2030. Muslims will number 2.2 billion by 2030 compared to 1.6 billion in 2010, making up 26.4 percent of the world population compared to 23.4 percent now, according to estimates by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. [Source: Tom Heneghan, Reuters, January 27, 2011 ||||]

“The declining growth rate is due primarily to falling fertility rates in many Muslim-majority countries,” the study said, noting the birth rate is falling as more Muslim women are educated, living standards rise and rural people move to cities. “Globally, the Muslim population is forecast to grow at about twice the rate of the non-Muslim population over the next two decades — an average annual growth rate of 1.5 percent for Muslims, compared with 0.7 percent for non-Muslims,” it said. Continued migration will swell the ranks of Europe’s Muslim minorities by one-third by 2030, to 8 percent of the region’s inhabitants from 6 percent, it said.||||

World Muslim population in 2009, based on total numbers

Tom Heneghan of Reuters wrote: “Muslims in France will rise to 6.9 million, or 10.3 percent of the population, from 4.7 million (7.5 percent), in Britain to 5.6 million (8.2 percent) from 2.9 million and in Germany to 5.5 million (7.1 percent) from 4.1 million (5 percent). The Muslim share of the U.S. population will grow from 0.8 percent in 2010 to 1.7 percent in 2030, “making Muslims roughly as numerous as Jews or Episcopalians are in the United States today,” the study said. By 2030, Muslims will number 2.1 million or 23.2 percent of the population in Israel -- including Jerusalem but not the West Bank and Gaza -- after 1.3 million (17.7 percent) in 2010.||||

“The slowdown in Muslim population growth is most pronounced in the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East-North Africa and Europe, and less sharp in sub-Saharan Africa,” it said, while migration will accelerate it in the Americas through 2020. While Muslim populations worldwide are still younger on average than others, the study said. Sunni Muslims will continue to make up the overwhelming majority in Islam -- about 87-90 percent, the report estimated -- while Shi‘ite numbers may decline because of relatively low birth rates in Iran, where one-third of all Shi‘ites live. ||||

Muslim Youth Bulge

The Islamic is experiencing a “youth bulge” — a huge number of young people in their teens and twenties caused when infant mortality drops and people live longer while fertility rates remain high. Although this youth bulge peaked around the year 2000 and is now declining, in many Muslim countries more than half the population is under 25. The population explosion in turn has produced lots of disenfranchised, unemployed men, who sometimes turn to crime or are sympathetic to jihadist groups or terrorist organizations.

Pew senior demographer Conrad Hackett told Reuters: “An age breakdown showed Muslims had the lowest median age at 23 years, compared to 28 for the whole world population. The median age highlights the population bulge at the point where half the population is above and half below that number. Muslims are going to grow as a share of the world’s population and an important part of that is this young age structure.” By contrast, Judaism, which has 14 million adherents or 0.2 percent of the world population, has the highest median age at 36, meaning its growth prospects are weakest. Global Christianity’s median age is 30 and Hinduism’s 26. [Source: Tom Heneghan, Reuters, December 18, 2012]

Jon Emont wrote in the Washington Post: “The Muslim world as a whole, of course, is unlikely to swing in just one direction, as every Muslim-majority country faces particular economic and social circumstances that will affect whether it can productively integrate its youths. A handful of Muslim countries, such as Iran and Malaysia, have implemented strong birth-control policies to lower their birthrates to below-replacement levels, lessening the challenges facing young job seekers. [Source: Jon Emont, Washington Post, September 5, 2016 /+/]

Muslim World populations based on percentage of Muslims within a country

“Still, the overall trend is of a global Muslim community that has lowered its birthrate at a much slower pace than the rest of the world, according to Hackett. “That Muslims are growing twice as fast as the world’s population is really striking and remarkable,” he said. In Indonesia, which currently is seeing a youth bulge, concern is growing that the generally poor quality of public education, combined with the effects of a sky-high youth smoking rate, will make it hard for the country to capitalize on the surfeit of young people in the way the president envisaged. “There is a trade-off between quality and quantity,” said Aris Ananta, a professor of demography at the University of Indonesia. “Indonesia still needs to raise productivity and improve education and health.” /+/

“Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said Muslim leaders’ pride in their faith’s population surge is not only about economics. “There’s a sense that Islam has a vitality that other religions don’t,” he said. “It could be that this significant increase in population could be a negative thing economically for the Muslim world, but some Muslims might be proud of that fact irrespective of the economic outcome.”“ /+/

Impact the Muslim World’s Youth Bulge

Jon Emont wrote in the Washington Post: “The “youth bulge,” can indeed boost economies by increasing the number of people available to work, experts agree. But it also can lead to social instability if the masses of working-age youths are unable to find productive jobs.“The youth bulge can be both a gift and a curse,” said Ragui Assaad, a professor who specializes in labor economics at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. “You either generate good jobs or a lot of people fall into unemployment, creating the possibility for unrest and frustration.” [Source: Jon Emont, Washington Post, September 5, 2016 /+/]

“When young people lack economic opportunities and the prospect of being able to support families of their own, experts say, they are especially susceptible to the lure of anti-establishment ideology. In Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s, when countries in the region were experiencing youth bulges, that draw often was Marxism, Assaad noted. But it could take the form of austere varieties of Islam for disgruntled Muslim youths today. /+/

“Egypt, Tunisia and Syria during the Arab Spring — when restive youth-led movements challenged (and in the first two cases, toppled) the ruling order — are taken as recent textbook cases of the link. Assaad suggested there is a connection between the recent drop-off in political violence in Latin America and demographic changes. “Now the last rebel-group movement is declaring peace,” he said, alluding to Colombia’s FARC. “Latin America basically crossed its youth-bulge period some time back, so it does have less of a risk factor” now. /+/

children in Ahvas, Iran participating in Gargee'an during Ramadan

Richard Cincotta, a political demographer at the bipartisan Stimson Center who advises the National Intelligence Council on how demographic trends influence the geopolitical landscape, also acknowledged the appeal of radical, often violent, groups to disaffected youths. “You can’t just generalize to say all these young guys will become terrorists or something,” he said. “But you can say they are available, and vulnerable, and they are in a part of their life where you want to impress your friends when you’re ideologically naive, and you’re searching for an identity that [the groups] are good at providing.” /+/

“Another reason experts are wary of optimism about soaring Muslim population numbers is that advances in technology and automation appear to be removing jobs from economies faster than they are adding them — which only exacerbates the problem of youth employment. “There’s always been a neoclassic assumption [that] economy needs labor, [that] labor and economic growth go together,” Cincotta said. “Now they’re becoming disassembled.” /+/

“The one thing demographers are clear about is that demography is not economic destiny, either way. “As an academic, I will say the president is half-right and half-wrong,” said Assaad. “It is called window of opportunity, not demographic gift. You can make use of it if you can grow fast and develop jobs. But that has not materialized in the Middle East, and for Africa it’s still an open question.”“ /+/

Birth Control in the Muslim World

On the subject of birth control, Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet said “the fewer the children, the more peace of mind.”

Muslims are generally more tolerant about the use of birth control than Catholics. The governments of some Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia and Egypt strongly support family planning. Iran and Malaysia have implemented strong birth-control policies that have lowered their birthrates to below-replacement levels, However, some Islamic leaders are opposed to family planning on the grounds that it is a Western plot to reduce the number of Muslim children being born.

Muslim groups approve of the use of contraceptives by married couples. The prophet himself reportedly used to practice coitus interruptus, which was the one of the few methods of family planning available in the 7th century. Since sterilization is permanent there has been some debate on whether or not it should be permitted.

Some attempts at population control in the Muslim world have focusing on increasing the status of women, improving education for girls and providing women with jobs so they have an alternative to rearing children.

Some governments in Muslim countries have done little to push birth control and family planning because of Islamic traditions. Islamists have spoken out against United Nations population controls on the grounds that they condone extramarital sex, homosexuality, abortion and prostitution.

Turkey's Erdogan: Family Planning Not for Muslims

In May 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that family planning and contraception were not for Muslim families. Erdogan said it was the responsibility of mothers to ensure the continued growth of Turkey's population."I will say it clearly... We need to increase the number of our descendants," he said in a speech in Istanbul. "People talk about birth control, about family planning. No Muslim family can understand and accept that! As God and as the great prophet said, we will go this way. And in this respect the first duty belongs to mothers." [Source: Stuart Williams, AFP, May 30, 2016 ~]

AFP reported: “Erdogan and his wife Emine have two sons and two daughters. Earlier this month, the president attended the high-profile marriage of his younger daughter Sumeyye to defence industrialist Selcuk Bayraktar. The Platform to Stop Violence Against Women, which campaigns to stop the killings of hundreds of woman every year, condemned Erdogan's comments as violating the rights of women. "You (Erdogan) cannot usurp our right to contraception, nor our other rights with your declarations that come out of the Middle Ages," the group said in a statement on Twitter. "We will protect our rights," it added. ~

“Erdogan has often annoyed feminists and women's activists with his comments on sex and family planning. In a speech marking International Women's Day this year, he said he believed that "a woman is above all else a mother". In 2014, he described birth control as a "treason" which risked causing a whole generation to "dry up". And he has famously urged mothers to have four children, saying: "one (child) means loneliness, two means rivalry, three means balance and four means abundance." ~

Abortion in the Islamic World

Islam is against abortion and the abortion rate is not known in many Muslim countries. Surveys among Muslims show that they are more than twice as likely to disapprove of abortion than people in Western countries. The famous Egyptian scholar Yusuf Al Qaradawi wrote that abortion is "a crime—because it constitutes an offence against a complete live human being." He also has a said that pregnancy that endangers the life of a mother can be terminated with an abortion because a principal of Sharia (Islamic law) allows the choosing of the lesser of two evils.

According to scholars in Saudi Arabia "what ever is used strictly between a married couple to help them have a child is permissible, provided that no third party is involved in any way." It is acceptable for a woman to have her egg impregnated by her husbands sperm in a laboratory as long as it is replanted in her body. The use of surrogate mothers or sperm from a door other than her husband is forbidden. [Source: Arab News, Jeddah]

According to the BBC: “Muslims regard abortion as wrong and haram (forbidden), but many accept that it may be permitted in certain cases. All schools of Muslim law accept that abortion is permitted if continuing the pregnancy would put the mother's life in real danger. This is the only reason accepted for abortion after 120 days of the pregnancy. Different schools of Muslim law hold different views on whether any other reasons for abortion are permitted, and at what stage of pregnancy if so. Some schools of Muslim law permit abortion in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy, while others only permit it in the first 7 weeks. [Source: BBC, September 7, 2009 |::|]

“However, even those scholars who would permit early abortion in certain cases still regard abortion as wrong, but do not regard it as a punishable wrong. The more advanced the pregnancy, the greater the wrong. The Qur'an does not explicitly refer to abortion but offers guidance on related matters. Scholars accept that this guidance can properly be applied to abortion. |::|

Muslim Views on Abortion

The Muslim prohibition of abortion is based on the passages from the Qur’an such as: "Kill not your child on a plea of want...We provide sustenance for you and for them...Take not life which Allah hath made sacred except by way of justice and law."

According to the BBC: “The Islamic view is based on the very high priority the faith gives to the sanctity of life. The Qur'an states: “Whosoever has spared the life of a soul, it is as though he has spared the life of all people. Whosoever has killed a soul, it is as though he has murdered all of mankind.” (Qur'an 5:32) Most Muslim scholars would say that a foetus in the womb is recognised and protected by Islam as a human life. [Source: BBC, September 7, 2009 |::|]

“The Qur'an makes it clear that a foetus must not be aborted because the family fear that they will not be able to provide for it - they should trust Allah to look after things: “Kill not your offspring for fear of poverty; it is We who provide for them and for you. Surely, killing them is a great sin.” — Qur'an 17:32 |::|

“The same (and similar) texts also ban abortion on social or financial grounds relating to the mother or the rest of the family - e.g. that the pregnancy wasn't planned and a baby will interfere with the mother's life, education or career.

Muslim Views on Abortion and The Soul

According to the Qur’an a fetus passes through three stages before birth—“ nutfah” , “ alaqah” and “ mugdah” —each lasting 40 to 42 days. Muslims generally believe that a soul enters a fetus on the 120th day of pregnancy and then the aforementioned stages begin.

According to the BBC: “Islam forbids the termination of a pregnancy after soul or 'Ruh' is given to the foetus. There's disagreement within Islam as to when this happens. The three main opinions are: 1) at 120 days; 2) at 40 days; and 3) when there is voluntary movement of the foetus. The later usually happens during the 12th week of gestation but many women don't notice the movement until much later - sometimes as late as 20 weeks. “However, it's important to note that many scholars believe that life begins at conception, and that all scholars believe that an embryo deserves respect and protection at all stages of the pregnancy. [Source: BBC, September 7, 2009 |::|]

A hadith that suggests that the the soul enters the foetus at 120 days by Abdullah reads: “Allah's Apostle, the true and truly inspired said, "(as regards your creation), every one of you is collected in the womb of his mother for the first forty days, and then he becomes a clot for another forty days, and then a piece of flesh for another forty days. Then Allah sends an angel to write four words: He writes his deeds, time of his death, means of his livelihood, and whether he will be wretched or blessed (in religion). Then the soul is breathed into his body..." [Source: Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 55, Number 549 |::|]

Justifications for Abortion in the Muslim World

According to the BBC: “Islam allows abortion to save the life of the mother because it sees this as the 'lesser of two evils' and there is a general principle in Sharia (Muslim law) of choosing the lesser of two evils. Abortion is regarded as a lesser evil in this case because: 1) the mother is the 'originator' of the foetus; 2) the mother's life is well-established; 3) the mother has with duties and responsibilities; 4) the mother is part of a family; 5) allowing the mother to die would also kill the foetus in most cases |::|

“If it is confirmed in the early period of pregnancy that a foetus suffers from a defect that can't be treated and that will cause great suffering to the child, a number of scholars would say that it is permissible to abort, provided that the pregnancy is less than 120 days old. A slightly more liberal opinion is that abortion within the first 120 days would be permitted if a child would be born with such physical and mental deformity as would deprive the child of a normal life. The opinion of at least two competent medical specialists is required. |::|

“Other scholars disagree and hold that abortion is not permitted in such cases. There is almost unanimous opinion that after 120 days an abortion is not permissible unless the defect in the embryo puts the mother's life in danger. |::|

“In recent times in Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khameni has issued a fatwa permitting abortion for foetuses under 10 weeks shown to have the genetic blood disorder thalassemia. And also in Iran, Grand Ayatollah Yusuf Saanei issued a fatwa which permits abortion in the first three months for various reasons. Saanei accepted that abortion was generally forbidden in Islam, but went on to say: But Islam is also a religion of compassion, and if there are serious problems, God sometimes doesn't require his creatures to practice his law. So under some conditions — such as parents' poverty or overpopulation — then abortion is allowed. [Source: Los Angeles Times, December 29, 2000]

Pro-life banner

“Widely quoted is a resolution of the Islamic jurisprudence council of Mekkah Al Mukaramah (the Islamic World League) passing a Fatwa in its 12th session held in February 1990. This allowed abortion if the foetus was: “grossly malformed with untreatable severe condition proved by medical investigations and decided upon by a committee formed by competent trustworthy physicians, and provided that abortion is requested by the parents and the foetus is less than 120 days computed from moment of conception.” Attributed, Mekkah Al Mukaramah, February 1990 |::|

Muslim View on Abortion Rape, Incest and Adultery

According to the BBC: “Some scholars state that abortion where the mother is the victim of a rape or of incest is permissible in the first 120 days of the pregnancy. Others say abortion for such reasons is never permitted. Explaining the difficulty of such a case, the scholar Sheikh M. A. Al-Salami told the BBC: “I believe that the value of life is the same whether this embryo is the result of fornication with relatives or non-relatives or valid marriage. In Sharia life has the same value in all cases.” [Source: BBC, September 7, 2009 |::|]

“It is reported that Bosnian women raped by the Serbian army were issued a fatwa allowing them to abort, but were urged to complete the abortion before the 120 day mark. A similar fatwa was issued in Algeria. This demonstrates that Islamic law has the flexibility to be compassionate in appropriate circumstances. |::|

“In Egypt (where abortion is illegal) in June 2004, Muhammad Sayed Tantawi, the Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar, approved a draft law allowing women to abort a pregnancy that is the result of rape. The law would also make it legal for women to undergo an abortion more than four months after conception. |::|

“His decision caused controversy among other Muslim scholars: The mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, said Tantawi's decision was wrong and violated the Qur'an's injunction that "forbids killing innocent souls." He said, "It is haram [forbidden] to abort the fetus after life is breathed into it, in other words after 120 days." However, he added that a woman could terminate a pregnancy if she was in immediate danger. |::|

“Islam does not permit abortion where an unwanted pregnancy is the result of unforced adultery.

countries with zina laws (criminalization of premarital and extramarital sex under sharia in Islam)

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Pew Forums

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History” by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994). “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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