– What do Muslims Today Really Think?

(© Zubair Qamar 2013)

Assumptions of violent interpretations of Islam are different from what Muslims today actually believe and think. While blaming Islam’s scriptures for terrorism, Patrick Sookhdeo and Katharine Gorka — two Islamophobes — cast doubt and suspicion on the intentions of the Muslim majority.

In the their book, Fighting the Ideological War, and commenting on The 9/11 Commission Report’s statement, “Most Muslims prefer a peaceful and inclusive vision of their faith, not the violent extremism of Bin Laden,” Sookhdeo and K. Gorka say,

“Is that based on researched and documented fact, or on wishful thinking?” (p.5).

If most Muslims follow “the violent extremism of Bin Laden,” as the authors insinuate, then why is the overwhelming majority of the 1.6-billion Muslims today behaving non-violently? This question will be answered by well-known polls below that Sookhdeo, Katharine Gorka, and the other authors appear to be unaware of, as the results did not inform their analysis.

Published in 2007, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, is a study

“based on six years of research and more than 50,000 interviews representing 1.3 billion Muslims who reside in more than 35 nations that are predominantly Muslim or have sizable Muslim populations. Representing more than 90% of the world’s Muslim community, it makes this poll the largest, most comprehensive study of its kind.”[[i]]

The following are key findings of the poll that answer Sookhdeo’s and Katharine Gorka’s question:

a)     Do most Muslims support the 9/11 attacks?

Most Muslims condemn the 9/11 attacks.

b)    What is least liked by Muslims in their own societies?

Most Muslims least like extremism and terrorism. Esposito and Mugahid say,

“Far from being glorified by Muslims, the ‘terrorist fringe’ is rejected by citizens of Muslim majority countries.”

This majority is separated from the “7% who are ‘politically radicalized.’’ In other words, most Muslims worldwide are not politically radicalized. While 7% of politically radicalized Muslims is a large number, the authors note the comparison:

“In America, 6% of the public think that attacks in which civilians are targets are ‘completely justified.’”[[ii]]

c)     Are the 7% of “politically radicalized” Muslims motivated by religion? 

Authors of the study say,

“radicals use politics, not piety, to justify 9/11, while moderates argue against 9/11 using religious justifications.”

In other words, religion is used by the majority of Muslims to condemnnot support – the 9/11 attacks. Religion is not unique to the politically radicalized. “While most radicals – 90% – cite Islam as an important part of their daily lives (90%), most moderates – 94% – do as well.”[[iii]]

(In another poll of Arab countries from 2004 to 2010 by Shibley Telhami, the question was asked, “What aspect of Al Qaeda do you admire the most, if any?”

Explaining the results, Tehlami says,

“Those who embraced Al Qaeda because of its aims to establish a Taliban-like Islamic state or because they liked the group’s methods of operation were a small minority.”

He continues, “

…only 7 percent in 2004 and 3 percent in 2010 identified its methods; and 7 percent in both years identified its objective of an Islamic state. About one-quarter in both years said they did not admire any aspect of the group.”[[iv]]

Therefore, only a minority of Muslims today support the radicalism of militants. The vast majority of Muslims reject them.)

d)    What do moderate Muslims resent about the West?

The authors of the study say,

“Muslims resent what they perceive as a War on Islam in the West that equates their religion with terrorism and extremism.”[[v]]

This means that the recommendations of Sookhdeo and other Islamophobes who blame Islam for terrorism will make matters worse between the US and the Muslim world. This cannot be good for US national security or for America’s relations with the Muslim world.

e)     Do most Muslims support Shari’ah and theocracy?

The study’s authors say,

“The majority of Muslims admire the West’s political freedoms and value self-determination. However, Muslims do not appear to want secularism or to imitate Western democracies; instead, many Muslims, both male and female, state they want Sharia as at least one source of legislation”

and that

“many Muslims see no contradiction between democratic and Islamic principles.”

They say, Muslims

“wanting Sharia involved in politics does not translate into Muslims wanting theocracy. Majorities in many countries remarked that they do not want religious leaders to hold direct legislative or political power.”

Moreover,

“[M]any Muslims desire neither a democracy or theocracy, but instead a unique model incorporating both democratic and religious principles.”[[vi]]

f)     Do Muslims dream of doing combative jihad? 

The authors of the study say,

“When asked to describe their dreams for the future, Muslims don’t mention fighting in a jihad, but rather getting a better job.”[[vii]]

The Report: “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics, and Society”

This Report[[viii]] is based on public surveys by the Pew Research Center between 2008 and 2012 in 39 countries and territories in Africa, Asia, and Europe. The surveys

“involved more than 38,000 face-to-face interviews in 80-plus languages and dialects, covering every country that has more than 10 million Muslims except for a handful (including China, India, Saudi Arabia and Syria) where political sensitivities or security concerns prevented opinion research among Muslims.”[[ix]]

The following are key findings of the poll:

a)     Shariah and its application

The authors of the study say,

“Although many Muslims around the world say sharia should be the law of the land in their country, the survey reveals divergent opinions about the precise application of Islamic law. Generally, supporters of sharia are most comfortable with its application in cases of family or property disputes. In most regions, fewer favor other specific aspects of sharia, such as cutting off the hands of thieves and executing people who convert from Islam to another faith.”[[x]]

b)    Do most Muslims think Shari’ah should apply to non-Muslims?

The authors of the study say,

“Among Muslims who support making sharia the law of the land, most do not believe that it should be applied to non-Muslims. Only in five of 21 countries where this follow-up question was asked do at least half say all citizens should be subject to Islamic law.”[[xi]]

c)     Do most Muslims support the death penalty for those who leave Islam?

The authors of the study say,

“Compared with attitudes toward applying sharia in the domestic or criminal spheres, Muslims in the countries surveyed are significantly less supportive of the death penalty for converts.”[[xii]]

d)    Do most Muslims oppose democracy and do they stop non-Muslims from freely  practicing their religion?

The authors of the study say,

“Muslims around the world express broad support for democracy and for people of other faiths being able to practice their religion freely.”

Regarding non-Muslims practicing their religion freely, “…among those who view non-Muslims as very free to practice their faith, the prevailing opinion is that this is a good thing.” Specifically, “[i]n 33 of the 38 countries where the question was asked at least half say people of other faiths are very free to practice their religion.” That is, “… three-quarters or more in each country say this is a good thing.”[[xiii]]

e)     Do most Muslims support Islamic militant groups?

The authors of the study say,

“Many Muslims express concern about religious extremist groups operating in their country. On balance, more Muslims are concerned about Islamic than Christian extremist groups.”[[xiv]]

f)     Do most Muslims support suicide bombings?

The authors of the study say,

“[T]he vast majority of Muslims in most countries say suicide bombing is rarely or never justified […].”[[xv]]

Moreover,

“In most of the 21 countries where the question was asked few Muslims endorse suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets as a means of defending Islam against its enemies.”[[xvi]]

g)     Do most Muslims think religious leaders should have a large influence in politics?

The authors of the study say,

“With the notable exception of Afghanistan, fewer than half of Muslims in any country surveyed say religious leaders should have a large influence in politics.”[[xvii]]

h)    Do most Muslims support honor killings and are they driven by religion?

The authors of the study say,

“Across the countries surveyed, attitudes toward honor killings of women and men are not consistently linked to religious observance. In most countries, Muslims who pray several times a day are just as likely as those who pray less often to say that honor killings are never justified. There also are no consistent differences by age or gender.”[[xviii]]

i)      Do most Muslims oppose interfaith relations?

The authors of the study say,

“Few Muslims see conflict between religious groups as a very big national problem. In fact, most consider unemployment, crime and corruption as bigger national problems than religious conflict. Asked specifically about Christian-Muslim hostilities, few Muslims say hostilities are widespread.”[[xix]]

What do American Muslims Think?

In the Pew study above, the authors say,

“In their attitudes toward modern society and their relations with people of other faiths, U.S. Muslims sometimes more closely resemble other Americans than they do Muslims around the world.”[[xx]]

The same study found that

“[a] majority of U.S. Muslims (56%) believe that many religions can lead to eternal life.” “Most Americans (65%), including nearly two-thirds of American Christians (64%), share this view.”

In addition,

“Most U.S. Muslims (63%) say there is no inherent tension between being devout and living in a modern society. A nearly identical proportion of American Christians (64%) agree.”

In other findings,

“More than eight-in-ten American Muslims say suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilian targets are never justified (81%) or rarely justified (5%) to defend Islam from its enemies.”

In another study by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding that was undertaken between 2006 and 2010,

“212 imams, social workers, therapists, lawyers, and divorced men and women were interviewed about their experiences of marriage and divorce” and “information was also collected on how they understood the influence of shari’a on their beliefs and lifestyle choices, the relationship between shari’a and the formal legal system, their recourse to the legal system in the event of marital conflict and divorce, and their use of  private conflict resolution drawing on shari’a principles.”

In addition, “Further data was acquired during larger group conversations held in mosques and islamic community centers.” The findings state that

“[m]isconceptions over the real meaning and effect of shari’a on the everyday lives of American Muslims are compounded by the often-repeated claim that Muslims want to impose and enforce ‘shari’a law’ in America via the courts. None of this study’s 212 participants agreed with this claim. Respondents consistently distinguished between God’s law (a matter of personal conscience rather than public adjudication) and the law of the land or “human law.” While many described the importance of being able to appeal to the formal legal system when necessary (particularly to enforce private agreements), respondents wanted continued access to their Islamic traditions in an informal family setting.”

Furthermore,

“All understood their private family law-related choices as separate from the formal legal system. Even among imams, who sometimes complain that their advice can be easily disregarded since it cannot be enforced in courts, there is almost no support for a parallel Islamic tribunal system. The community appears content with a private informal system that offers spiritual, emotional, and social comfort for some of its members. Respondents also rejected the assumption that any Muslim support for shari’a-compliant behaviors represents an aggressive antagonism toward local laws and norms. Rather, they spoke about their strong attachment to their right to access formal legal institutions and their belief that identifying as Muslim does not diminish their identification as American citizens. In addition, almost all of them had obtained a civil marriage license when they signed their nikah, as well as a civil decree at or around the time of their quest for a religious divorce. These findings challenge the assertion that such practices somehow make them ‘disloyal’ citizens.”[[xxi]]

In January 2010, a study of Muslim communities in the United States by researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill concluded,

“Muslim-American communities strongly reject radical jihadi ideology, are eager to contribute to the national counterterrorism effort, and are fiercely committed to integration within the mainstream of American social and economic life.”[[xxii]]

Contrary to the view of alarmists, American Muslims are not imposing Shari’a law on America and Americans, and there is no active Islamic extremist takeover over of the country or the world.

Knowing from the polls above that most Muslims worldwide desire peace and are against the minority fanatical fringe, a “thoroughgoing reform of Islam,” as Patrick Sookhdeo and other Islamophobes recommend, is irrelevant to reducing extremism, including terrorism.

Scholar Olivier Roy echoes this agreement in his views of the Arab Spring:

“But the outside world wrongly assumed that Islam would first have to experience a religious reformation before its followers could embark on political democratization – replicating the Christian experience when the Reformation gave birth to the Enlightenment and then to modern democracy.”[[xxiii]]

As discussed in the results of the polls above, most Muslims residing today who follow classical Sunni Islam are peaceful and do not support terrorism. The Islamophobe’s proposition  that Muslims need “reform” aims to resolve a “problem” that does not exist in the larger Sunni community.


[[i]] John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, “Who Speaks For Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think,” March 8, 2008, accessed May 24, 2013,
http://www.gallup.com/press/104206/WHO-SPEAKS-ISLAM.aspx

[[ii]] John L. Esposito, and Dalia Mogahed. Who speaks for Islam What a Billion Muslims Really Think. New York, NY: Gallup Press, 2007. pg.7.

[[iii]] Ibid., pg.6.

[[iv]] Shibley Telhami. The World Through Arab Eyes Arab Public Opinion and the Reshaping of the Middle East. New York: Basic Books, 2013. p.117.

[[v]] J. Esposito and D. Mogahed, op. cit., pg.6.

[[vi]] Ibid., pg.5.

[[vii]] John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, “Who Speaks For Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think,” March 8, 2008, accessed May 24, 2013,
http://www.gallup.com/press/104209/who-speaks-islam-what-billion-muslims-really-think.aspx

[[viii]] “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society (Full Report),” The Pew Forum on Religion and Social Life, April 30, 2013, accessed May 25, 2013,
http://www.pewforum.org/uploadedFiles/Topics/Religious_Affiliation/Muslim/worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-full-report.pdf

[[ix]] Ibid.

[[x]] “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society (Chapter-1: Beliefs About Sharia),” The Pew Forum on Religion and Social Life, April 30, 2013, accessed May 25, 2013,
http://www.pewforum.org/Muslim/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-beliefs-about-sharia.aspx

[[xi]] Ibid.

[[xii]] Ibid.

[[xiii]] “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society (Chapter-2: Religion and Politics),” The Pew Forum on Religion and Social Life, April 30, 2013, accessed May 25, 2013,
http://www.pewforum.org/Muslim/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-religion-and-politics.aspx

[[xiv]] Ibid.

[[xv]] Ibid.

[[xvi]] Ibid.

[[xvii]] Ibid.

[[xviii]] “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society (Chapter-3: Morality),” The Pew Forum on Religion and Social Life, April 30, 2013, accessed May 25, 2013,
http://www.pewforum.org/Muslim/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-morality.aspx

[[xix]] “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society (Chapter-6: Interfaith Relations),” The Pew Forum on Religion and Social Life, April 30, 2013, accessed May 25, 2013,
http://www.pewforum.org/Muslim/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-interfaith-relations.aspx

[[xx]] “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society (Appendix A: U.S. Muslims – Views on Religion and Society in a Global Context),” The Pew Forum on Religion and Social Life, April 30, 2013, accessed May 25, 2013,
http://www.pewforum.org/Muslim/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-app-a.aspx

[[xxi]] Julie, Macfarlane, “Shari’a Law: Coming To a Courthouse Near You? What Shari’a Really Means to American Muslims,” Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, January 2012, accessed May 23, 2013,
http://www.ispu.org/pdfs/ISPU%20Report_Marriage%20I_Macfarlane_WEB.pdf

[[xxii]] David, Schanzer et al., “Terror Lessons of Muslim-Americans,” January 6, 2010, accessed May 12, 2013,
http://www.sanford.duke.edu/news/Schanzer_Kurzman_Moosa_Anti-Terror_Lessons.pdf

[[xxiii]] Robin Wright. (Ed.) The Islamists Are coming: Who They Really Are. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2012. p.13.