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Cultural Muslims are religiously unobservant, secular or irreligious individuals who still identify with the Muslim culture due to family background, personal experiences, or the social and cultural environment in which they grew up. Cultural Muslims are found across Europe, Central Asia, North America and parts of South and West Asia.
In Central Asia and in former communist countries the term came to be used to describe those who wished their "Muslim" identity to be associated with certain national and ethnic rituals, rather than merely religious faith.
There is, however, a secondary meaning to Muslim which may shade into the first. A Muslim is one born to a Muslim father who takes on his or her parents' confessional identity without necessarily subscribing to the beliefs and practices associated with the faith, just as a Jew may describe him- or herself as Jewish without observing the Tanakh or Halacha. In non-Muslim societies, such Muslims may subscribe to, and be vested with, secular identities. The Muslims of Bosnia, descendants of Slavs who converted to Islam under Ottoman rule, are not always noted for attendance at prayer, abstention from alcohol, seclusion of women and other social practices associated with believing Muslims in other parts of the world. They were officially designated as Muslims by nationality to distinguish them from Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats under the former Yugoslav communist regime. The label Muslim indicates their ethnicity and group allegiance, but not necessarily their religious beliefs. In this limited context (which may apply to other Muslim minorities in Europe and Asia), there may be no contradiction between being Muslim and being atheist or agnostic, just as there are Jewish atheists and Jewish agnostics... It should be noted, however, that this secular definition of Muslim (sometimes the terms cultural Muslim or nominal Muslim are used) is very far from being uncontested.
A cultural Muslim internalizes the Islamic cultural tradition, or way of thinking, as a frame of reference. This group is diverse in terms of norms, values, political opinions, and religious views. They retain a shared "discourse or structure of feeling" related to shared history and memories. The concept of a cultural Muslim, someone who identifies as a Muslim yet is not religious, is not universally accepted in the Islamic religious community.
According to WIN-Gallup International's Global Index of Religiousity and Atheism project, countries with the highest proportion of irreligious muslims are Turkey (73%), Azerbaijan (51%) and Lebanon (33%).
- Cara Aitchison; Peter E. Hopkins; Mei-Po Kwan (2007). Geographies of Muslim Identities: Diaspora, Gender and Belonging. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 147. ISBN 978-1-4094-8747-0. Retrieved 30 June 2013.
- Islam: A Very Short Introduction, by Malise Ruthven, Oxford University Press, 2000.
- Spyros A. Sofos; Roza Tsagarousianou (2013). Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1137357779.
- Corinne Blake (2003). Brannon M. Wheeler, ed. Teaching Islam. Oxford University Press. p. 175. ISBN 0-19-515224-7.