WASHINGTON - The world Muslim community of 1.6 billion people are unified on core principles of their faith while differing widely in religiosity, a new survey by an American fact tank has found.
"Muslims are unified by core beliefs and in core practices" like faith in a single God, believe in the Prophet Muhammad and fasting during Ramadan, James Bell, the principal author of the new Pew Research Center study, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Friday, August 10.
But "there are differences, sometimes widely" in religious interpretation, Bell added.
Conducted in over 80 languages in 39 countries that account for 67 percent of the world's Muslim population, the report was unprecedented in scope.
Researchers interviewed around 38,000 people in 2008-2009 and 2011-2012 as part of a larger project on changes in global religions.
According to the survey, between 85 and 100 percent of Muslims believe in God and revere the Prophet Muhammad (Peace & blessings of Allah be upon him).
Putting conversion rate at 10 percent, the survey also found that nine out of ten Muslims interviewed were born into the religion.
Conversion rates are highest in former communist countries, with seven percent of all converts in Russia.
Many of the converts were raised in atheism.
"When it comes to conversion ... it is not playing a large role in expanding or growing the number of Muslims around the world," said Bell.
An earlier study released by Pew research center has found that Muslims make up around one fourth of the world's population and are mostly concentrated in Asia.
It found that Muslims make up 23 percent of the world's 6.8 billion people, the sweeping majority of them Sunnis.
According to the study, based on data from 232 countries and territories, Asia is home to nearly 20 percent of the global Muslim population.
It found that the Middle East and North Africa have 315 million Muslims, about 20 percent of the world's Muslims.
One-fifth of world Muslims (300 million) was found to be living in non-Muslim countries.
Uniting in the core of the religion, the study found that Muslims interpretation for the role of religion in their life varied widely.
The Pew survey found that eight of ten people interviewed in sub-Saharan Africa as well as South and Southeast Asia say religion is "very important."
Meanwhile, six in ten agreed in sample countries of the Middle East and North Africa, and only one in two agreed in former Soviet countries like Russia and some Central Asian republics.
In the Middle East and North Africa, Muslims aged 35 and over are more religious than their younger counterparts. The opposite is true of religiosity in Russia.
In 39 countries surveyed, men are more likely than women to pray at a mosque, which Bell explained "is likely to do with social culture about how women publicly observe their worship."
Still, "in most countries surveyed... women are about as likely as men to read (or listen to readings from) the Koran on a daily basis," the report said.
In countries where Sunnis and Shiites live side by side in large numbers -- such as Lebanon and Iraq -- believers are more likely to accept the other sect.
A quarter of everyone surveyed "identify themselves neither as Sunni nor Shiite but as 'just a Muslim.'"
Pew also found that 63 percent of Muslims in surveyed countries believe there is only one way to interpret Islam.
Only 37 percent of American Muslims agreed with that statement as 57 per cent of Muslims say Islam is open to multiple interpretations.