May 18, 2016

Religion is less central to everyday life for Muslims in Israel than elsewhere in the region

Majority of Muslims in Middle East say religion is 'very important'Israel’s Muslims are highly devout when compared with members of the country’s other principal religions, including Jews, Christians and Druze. However, in the larger context of the Middle East and North Africa, Israeli Muslims actually place less emphasis on religion and some of the key pillars of their faith than do Muslims in neighboring countries.

For instance, while a majority of Israeli Muslims (68%) say religion is very important in their lives, this share is substantially lower than the 89% who say the same in Morocco or the 85% in the nearby Palestinian territories and Jordan. Lebanon is the only country polled in the region where a slim majority of Muslims say religion is very important in their personal lives (59%).

The fact that religion is generally less central to the lives of Israeli Muslims is also borne out by the relatively low rates of salat (five daily prayers), alms-giving and fasting during Ramadan. Together, these practices represent three of the Five Pillars of Islam — rituals all Muslims are expected to observe.

Israeli Muslims less likely to practice Five Pillars of IslamRoughly half (52%) of Israeli Muslims pray five times a day, compared with a median of 63% among Muslims in other Middle Eastern and North African countries polled, including 83% in Iraq. Jordan and Egypt are the only countries polled where the proportion of Muslims who pray all five times stands at roughly half – 54% and 53% respectively.

Similarly, while a majority of Israeli Muslims give a portion of their accumulated wealth to charities or the needy (a practice known as zakat), this is a significantly smaller proportion than is found among Muslims elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa. A regional median of 79% of Muslims practice zakat, with rates of observance as high as nine-in-ten in Morocco (92%).

In the case of fasting during Ramadan, Israel’s Muslims also tend to be less observant. While 83% of Israeli Muslims do observe the ritual fast from dawn until dusk, this is a significantly smaller percentage than in Muslim-majority countries such as Morocco (98%) and Tunisia (96%). A median of 94% across the Middle East and North Africa say they fast during Ramadan.

In some cases, Israel’s Muslims are in sync with other Muslims in the region. For example, 97% of Israeli Muslims say they believe there is no god except Allah and that Muhammad is the prophet of Allah (two core beliefs that constitute the shahada, or profession of faith). This closely matches the nearly 100% of Muslims surveyed across the Middle East and North Africa who also embrace this central tenet of Islam.

Also, Israeli Muslims are somewhat more likely to observe the final pillar of Islam – the annual pilgrimage to Mecca – than Muslims in many nearby countries. Nearly a quarter (23%) of Israeli Muslims have made the hajj, compared with just a handful of Muslims in Morocco (6%) and Tunisia (4%). Possibly owing to proximity to Saudi Arabia, Israeli Muslims are about as likely as Muslims in Egypt (20%) and Lebanon (20%) to have completed the hajj.

Topics: Religion and Society, Middle East and North Africa, Religious Beliefs and Practices, Muslims and Islam

  1. Photo of Kelsey Jo Starr

    is a research assistant focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Michael Glass1 year ago

    If rates of religious observance are less in Israel than in neighbouring Arab countries then it would be interesting to find out what happens to rates of observance amongst Muslims in Western countries.

    What are the rates of observance amongst Muslims in Europe, North America and Australia? How do they compare with the rates in Israel and in Muslim countries in the Middle East? Also, how do they compare between the Western countries. Are Muslims less or more observant in the US compared with Canada, the UK and Europe? Are the rates any different in Australia and New Zealand? Also, what about non=Arabic speaking Muslim countries. How observant are Muslims in Pakistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh?

    This article is interesting, but I would like to have a wider picture of Muslim practice.

    1. Zackarias William Cosby1 year ago

      I agree, though I appreciate the information this article conveys as it stands! Comparing the observance rates of the religious across borders is something I find uniquely interesting.

      A quick search of the Pew Research website found a few articles that delve further into how strict even more Middle Eastern nations are regarding Islam. You might also be able to piece together some of the information on your own regarding other continents as well if you type in Islam in Europe and Islam in North America. Those both return relevant results.

  2. Charlie Sitzes1 year ago

    Here’s the thing. If Muslims were all accidentally switched at birth and sent home with, say, a Baptist or a Methodist, they would all be either a Baptist or a Methodist.

    Children are indoctrinated into religion before their minds have developed enough for critical thinking, logic and reason. It’s just another example of child abuse. If religious leaders and families had the courage to wait until their children were in their mid to late 20’s, the amount of time it takes for full brain development, religion would soon disappear.

    As it stands now, our species is likely to disappear first.

    What a tragedy.

    1. Jim McLaughlin1 year ago

      I agree 100% with you – including the child abuse comment. As the Jesuits supposedly say, “Give us a child until he(or she) is seven years-old and we will have them for life.

    2. Anonymous1 year ago

      Perfectly said.

    3. Anonymous1 year ago

      There are plenty of people who undergo religious conversions after their twenties, some from irreligious backgrounds or after periods of irreligion. For example Steve Beren, Eugene D. Genovese, David P. Goldman, Will Herberg, Peter Hitchens, Gabriel Marcel, Allan R. Sandage, R. J. Stove, and others.

      But on some level, yeah people go with the culture they’re raised in. If you took the Muslims of the Arab world and raised them with American-born Muslim families they’ll more likely end up as English-speaking. And they’ll be unlikely to “convert out of that” and become Arab-only speakers. Kids tend to be raised by parents so even if parents try to let them “find their own way” many of them will at least initially go with their parents, or their greater society, believes.

    4. Gregory Aharfi1 year ago

      If an adult person (firmly) believes in something, wether it is God, capitalism or veganism, why would he wait 20 years before teaching it to his son or daughter ?

      Also, religion seems the only ideology that people have trouble getting rid of. Today we see that children do not always follow their parents worldview in economy, education and politics for example.

    5. Zackarias William Cosby1 year ago

      I’m not sure how long comments have been enabled on this website, but I find your comment to be divisive and disrespectful. While you articulated your belief in a proper and intelligent manner, the thought conveyed serves no purpose to this article or to anybody reading these comments for more information regarding this article.

      As an avid news junkie I find this website to be one of my favorites and hope to see more intellectually stimulating comments in this section rather than the drivel I can see on any other news website.

    6. Anonymous1 year ago

      Humans are by their nature believe in Allah. Imagine if you leave a mentally healthful child alone in a country in which he will be able to move freely, i.e., go sightseeing, go to oceans, go to mountains, etc) definitely you will find him (when he becomes a man) believing that there is a God (Allah) has created these things. This was just an imagination. Rather, Allah has taught us Islam (Islam is the religion of Allah) by the prophet Mohammed (peace upon him). Allah has sent his message to all the people just to guide them to the right way. Islam is like the headlights of your car in night. Could you drive your car without headlights in night? But the problem is most Muslims don’t know much about Islam.
      Another thing is that Allah has sent many prophets (before Mohammed) and every prophet talked to his people with the people’s language, all of them called their people to obey Allah.