May 11, 2013

Pew Data Paint Grim Picture of Muslim World

English: The Muslim population of the world ma...
English: The Muslim population of the world map by percentage of each country, according to the Pew Forum 2009 report on world Muslim populations. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you want to learn what people think, just ask them. This is part of why public opinion polls are so widely used. They do have their flaws when it comes to predicting behavior (e.g., voting), but they can be quite useful in assessing public perspectives. The Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life recently produced a report, The World's Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society, based on face-to-face interviews of over 38,000 people in 39 countries with large Muslim populations. The results of this ambitious project are in, and they are not particularly encouraging for those who want to claim that Islam is a "religion of peace" and that extreme views are only held by a tiny fraction of Muslims. In fact, it appears that some what we in the West are fond of labeling extremism may be too common to warrant such a description.

In combing through the results, one must acknowledge the variability one finds from country to country. Only nations with at least 10 million Muslims were polled, but there is still considerable variability on many questions. For example, 96% of Muslims living in Bosnia-Herzegovina said that suicide bombing is rarely or never justified, while this number dropped to 74% in Malaysia, 71% in Bangladesh, and 58% in Afghanistan.

When asked whether sharia should be the law of the land, the numbers were so high in many countries that it is impossible to dismiss this as reflecting fringe elements. Pew noted that majorities in most of the countries in North Africa, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia wanted sharia. This is clearly not a position held by only a handful of extremists.

Among those Muslims who supported sharia, the percentage favoring stoning as punishment for adultery was staggering. It seems that no fewer than 21% believes that stoning isa an appropriate punishment for adultery, with numbers much higher in some nations (e.g., 89% in Pakistan, 81% in Egypt). Again, this makes it difficult to dismiss something as brutal as stoning as an act reserved for extremists.

The question in which I was most interested concerned the perceived appropriateness of the death penalty for leaving Islam. This issue has been getting some attention in Bangladesh, so I was interested to see whether they were an outlier. No such luck. In Bangladesh, 44% of Muslims who want Sharia thought that those leaving Islam should be put to death. While that will undoubtedly strike us as far too high, the numbers were much higher in many other countries, including Malaysia (62%), Palestine (66%), Pakistan (76%), Afghanistan (79%), Jordan (82%), and Egypt (86%). Again, this does not seem to be a sentiment reserved for extremists.

Plenty of atheists have already recognized that Islam is a problem and that we have plenty of good reasons for being worried about it. Perhaps Pew's findings will lead more of us to address Islam and work against the attempts to prohibit criticism of it and other religions.

H/Ts to Why Evolution is True and The Freethinker

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