The world’s Muslims: religion, politics and society part 1

This serves as a follow up to one of my previous posts, Necessary criticism is not “Islamophobia,” where I gave a briefly discussed the accusations of Islamophobia levelled at some atheists and maintained that it’s not Islamophobic to be concerned about, and criticise, certain ideologies. In addition, I showed the real-world problems certain interpretations of Islam could cause, using events in Bangladesh as an example.

Following on that there are two links I learned of through WEIT that are worth reading. One is from an ex-Muslim who gives his perspective on Islamophobia.

Too often in the aftermath of these tragedies, whether they occur in Boston or Karachi, I notice people rushing to defend the faith from judgment instead of acknowledging the victims. If a link is considered or even discovered, everyone from the Western media to Hollywood deems that person “Islamophobic” for linking Islam to terrorism.

But the number-one reason that terrorism is linked with Islam is not the media or “Islamophobes.” It is that jihadi terrorists link themselves with Islam.

The other is an call to liberals to stop ignoring reality and talk about the issues that need to be discussed.

If liberals can – with great vitriol – condemn the Christian Right (as they do constantly), then liberals can treat Islam like any other ideology — because Islam is just another ideology – like the Tea Party, like the Christian Right. Islam must be subject to the same rough and tumble of ideas as is any other ideology.

These discussions are perhaps now more important in South Africa due to recent revelations. After a long investigation, the Daily Maverick published a story showing that there are known Al Qaeda training camps in South Africa, that our intelligence services knew about these camps and that, for unspecified reasons, the surveillance of these camps was stopped. Hopefully answers will be forthcoming as the DA is now asking for an explanation as to why the investigation was stopped.


Moving our focus back from South Africa back to the globe, we can start to discuss the title of this post, one I’ve appropriated from a report recently released by the Pew Foundation (summary) which I, again, found via WEIT. The report consists of the results of 38 000 interviews with Muslims in 39 countries. Although some parts are heartening, overall it is not an encouraging document, and at times the results are contradictory.

The report begins with sharia or Islamic law. The report reveals that the majority of Muslims in the countries surveyed believe sharia to be the revealed word of god. They also believe that there’s only one interpretation of sharia, although this is not as strongly supported. Taking Tunisia as an example, 70% of Muslims feel that there are multiple interpretations. Of course this is a personal belief and doesn’t take into account the way sharia is seen globally. Wikipedia shows that different schools of thought predominate in different regions, for example depending on whether believers are follow Sunni or Shia Islam.

Sharia lawPerhaps of more consequence to the rest of us is that often large majorities of Muslims are in favour of making sharia the official law of their country. This is over 90% in Iraq and Afghanistan and the support is higher amongst those that pray more frequently. In Tunisia (56% support for sharia) there are currently violent clashes between certain Muslim groups and the government over whether or not to implement sharia.

While the majority say sharia should only apply to Muslims there are large minorities (20-40%) who believe everyone, regardless of religion, should be subject to sharia. In Egypt 74% say it should apply to everyone. This has serious implications for human rights, a topic dealt with extremely differently in sharia compared to contemporary Western values. This has led Islamic countries to criticise the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Out of those that want sharia to be the law of the land we see that between 28 to 88% are in favour of corporal punishment, whipping or cutting off a criminal’s hand, for crimes such as theft. Even worse, we see a similar range of support for the stoning of adulterers. This is not the sort of “justice” we need and it certainly isn’t the sort of society I would want to live in.

alcoholThe difference only grow when we start looking at specific moral issues. For example, a vast majority in every surveyed country said that drinking alcohol (51-98%) and suicide (56-100%) were morally wrong. Obviously different people will draw different lines at what is moral and what is not and for the most part that is fine.

We might make our cases for our views but we tolerate other views when those actions do not have a negative effect on other people. These actions, drinking alcohol and suicide are not immoral because they are not harmful to others (that’s not always the case in certain circumstances but it is for the acts in and of themselves) and are an extension of personal autonomy. If one believes one’s morality is the word of god (as is the case with Muslims and sharia) then would one allow others the freedom to live their own lives?

I’ve heard of Muslim parents complaining about having a beer garden for parents at school functions or when a local girls’ school had a mixer with a local boys’ school. It wasn’t even a week ago that I read a story where 12 people were shot dead in Iraq at a row of liquor stores. The gunman is currently unknown but liquor stores in the country have been attacked by Islamic fundamentalists many times since 2003.

The certainty that can come with believing one is following the will of god can be dangerous, especially for minority groups that would disagree. The question we need to then ask ourselves is how much can we compromise? How much can we tolerate to allow us all to live the way we want to?

Edit: Part 2 can be read here.


1 thought on “The world’s Muslims: religion, politics and society part 1

  1. Pingback: The world’s Muslims: religion, politics and society part 2 | Evidence & Reason

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