The world’s Muslims: religion, politics and society part 2

This follows on from my earlier post: The world’s Muslims: religion, politics and society part 1.

Regarding sex, we find most Muslims regard abortion (50-99%, not counting Azerbaijan at 23%), sex outside marriage (53-99%) and homosexual behaviour (67-99%) to be immoral. Opinions on divorce and polygamy varied greatly by geography. There generally wasn’t a majority support for honour killings but it was a disturbingly high minority that felt they were sometimes or often justified. Related to the sex is the notion of gender equality.

In some Muslim countries women are treated as inferior to men with Saudi Arabia having some of the most restrictive laws on what women may or may not do. The issue of women’s rights has also recently been debated in the Afghan parliament with some demanding the law be changed so that a husband cannot be prosecuted for rape within the marriage.

The Pew Forum report showed most Muslims are in favour of letting a woman choose whether or not to wear a veil. Surprising to me is that this was actually lowest among the African countries. Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan all showed less than 50% support for women to be able to choose though. It also showed that the vast majority (often above 80%) said that women must obey their husband. It was only South-Eastern Europe where less than 50% held that view, Russia excepted. Presumably that would override their choice to not wear a veil, leading to a bit of a contradiction. The issue of divorce and equal inheritance for sons and daughters was split with South-Eastern Europe and Central Asia generally being in favour and South Asia and the Middle East/North Africa generally being against.

Not surprisingly, support for women’s rights was almost always favoured more by women than by men. Women’s rights were also favoured more amongst Muslims who were not in favour of Sharia being the law of the country. The only exception to that pattern was that support for a woman’s right to divorce her husband was actually higher among those in favour of Sharia in both Jordan and Bangladesh.

Sharia and gender roles

Religious freedom is important for a multi-cultural society where various, sometimes conflicting, viewpoints come together and need to be discussed. Things haven’t been looking too good in this regard as some of the bigger stories I’ve looked at here have involved riots and death threats in Bangladesh and jail time in Indonesia (which has only six accepted religions) when Islam has had to coexist with non-belief.

support religious freedomInterestingly more than three quarters of Muslims, at minimum, are in favour of freedom of religion. This isn’t always realised though as shown in another question asking how free Muslims and non-Muslims are to practice their faith. The greatest religious freedom (for all) appears to be in sub-Saharan Africa and South-Eastern Europe.

The responses in sub-Saharan Africa to these sorts of questions are rather interesting by themselves. It’s there that Muslims say they have the greatest knowledge of Christianity and attend the most interfaith meetings. Given that, it’s strange to see that a similar number of Muslims say that religious conflict is a very big problem in their country. It even looks like it may be higher on average than in the countries without such a high amount of interfaith dialogue.

With the high numbers supporting religious freedom, I find some of the other answers rather odd. Namely the extremely high proportion, in some regions, of Muslims that say it is a duty to convert others to Islam. I suppose it’s not impossible though. I support religious freedom but still write posts with the intention of trying to convince people to leave religion behind.

Perhaps more startling, then, was the number of respondents that consider leaving Islam a crime punishable by death. Over 75% of Muslims in favour of Sharia in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt and Jordan favour the death penalty for apostasy. Seemingly religious freedom is not considered to include leaving Islam. I didn’t see numbers for those who are opposed to Sharia as law, although in most countries they were the minority. Again it must be noted that these positions are not just theoretical. An ex-Muslim from Morocco has had to go into hiding after the Moroccon High Council of Ulemas issued a fatwa that decreed the death penalty for leaving Islam.

conversion and apostacy

The final point I want to make just concerns violence. We’ve already seen disturbingly high numbers of Muslims in favour of corporal punishment, stoning and death for leaving Islam but the topic that often comes up concerns terrorist and extremist groups. There are two questions which I found revealing. First concerned suicide bombings.

In no country did a majority of Muslims approve of suicide bombings targeting civilians. However, there were often large minorities that certainly strain the argument that there are only a tiny number of extremists. That number is 40% in the Palestinian territories but is still 26% in Bangladesh, 15% in Turkey and Jordan and 4% in Russia. While it does thankfully drop off it never goes away, and even a couple of percent is a lot of people.

When asking Muslims about the extremist groups they were worried about another thing popped up. Nearly always, Muslim extremists were the biggest worry. All religions have their extremists but Islamic extremists are more prone to violence than Christian extremists. This does say something about Islam. To quote an essay I linked to in part 1:

The “extremists” and strict followers of the Jain faith, which values the life of every being, including insects, don’t kill more than their average co-religionists. Instead, they avoid eating foods stored overnight so as not to kill even the microorganisms that may have collected in the meantime. In a true religion of peace, the “extremists” would be nonviolent pacifists to an extreme (and perhaps annoying) degree, not the opposite.

Those are some of the results that leapt out at me. There is more that I haven’t discussed. Again, the report is available here and the executive summary over here.This is something everyone needs to read and consider. We have to be able to discuss these results, which for some people are matters of life and death, without the cries of Islamophobia shutting down the discussion.

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2 thoughts on “The world’s Muslims: religion, politics and society part 2

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

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