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Conference Call Transcript: The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society

A new Pew Research Center survey of Muslims in 39 countries around the globe finds that most adherents of the world’s second-largest religion are deeply committed to their faith and want its teachings to shape not only their personal lives but also their societies and politics. While many Muslims favor making sharia official law in their country, the report finds that there also is widespread support for democracy and religious freedom.

In a conference call with journalists, the staff of the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life discussed the findings of “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society,” the second report based on the survey. The first report, “The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity,” focused on the survey’s findings about religious beliefs and practices. The global survey of Muslims was conducted in two waves. Fifteen sub-Saharan African countries with substantial Muslim populations were surveyed in 2008-2009, and some of those findings previously were analyzed in the report “Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa.” An additional 24 countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe were surveyed in 2011-2012; results from all 39 countries are analyzed in the new report as well as in the August 2012 report on Muslims’ religious beliefs and practices.

Speakers: James Bell, Director of International Survey Research, Pew Research Center Amaney Jamal, Associate Professor of Politics, Princeton University Farid Senzai, Director of Research, Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, and Lecturer in Political Science, Santa Clara University

Moderator: Luis Lugo, Director, Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life

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OPERATOR: Hello and thank you for joining us today for the Pew Research Center’s Q&A session on the findings from their new report, “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society.” Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, will moderate the discussion and introduce the speakers participating on the call. We will go to the question and answer portion after brief remarks from the speakers. Please note this call is being recorded, and I’ll be standing by should you need any assistance. It is now my pleasure to turn the conference over to Mr. Luis Lugo. Please go ahead.

[Research Center’s]

With the release of this report, we’re also launching a beta version of a new website for this project. It allows you to explore data on religious demographics and religious restrictions in most countries around the world and survey results on religion in more than 40 countries. This interactive website is still in development. Over time, it will grow to include additional information, including public opinion findings in more countries. I hope you have the chance to peruse this site and share your feedback with us. We would greatly welcome it. I’d now like to introduce you to the first speaker on the call. James Bell is the Director of International Survey Research for the Pew Research Center and the primary researcher for this report. He will briefly present the findings from the report. Jim?

JAMES BELL, PEW RESEARCH CENTER: Thank you, Luis, and thank you everyone for being with us today. As Luis mentioned, I would like to begin by highlighting some of the key findings from the survey then open to the floor for comments from our panelists and questions from the audience. Specifically, I’d like to highlight several key findings. First, Muslim attitudes toward sharia (or Islamic law) and religious freedom; secondly, Muslim views on the role of religion in politics; and finally, some of the ways in which U.S. Muslims differ from Muslims around the world.

On the topic of sharia, one of the things we set out to do in this study was to take an in-depth look at what average Muslims mean by sharia, or Islamic law, that is, to explore how average Muslims in different countries – different societies – see sharia, and what role they want it to play in their lives and their societies. One of the things the survey finds is that most adherents of the world’s second-largest faith want sharia to be the official law of the land in their country. Now, when we look across the regions included in this survey – and as Luis mentioned, it spans 39 countries around the globe – when we look across the regions, we find medians of more than six-in-ten in South Asia, Southeast Asia, Middle East-North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa saying that they would like Islamic law to be enshrined as the law of the land in their country. But I would also note that support for making sharia law does vary and that at a regional level we see much lower support for making Islamic law the law of the land in Southern-Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where medians of 20% or fewer hold this view.

Now this kind of information spanning so many countries is often helpful to visualize it, and I would note at this point that we do on our website have a very helpful infographic that begins actually with this question, shown to you as a map which covers the whole range of countries included in the survey and the levels of support for sharia as official law. I’d also note that I just referenced “median” and I know that some of you are probably very familiar with medians, but, just to be clear, a median is the middle score or number in a list of scores ranked from the lowest to the highest, and in a research report of this scale and scope, we find it useful often to summarize our findings in terms of medians. But I think it’s very important to point out that it’s correct to refer to medians among countries or across regions but not correct to talk about medians among individual Muslims in our survey. So you’ll hear me talk about medians again and in the report you’ll see it often, and again I just wanted to explain what that was. So back to attitudes toward sharia, as I said, the survey finds solid majorities in many countries saying they want sharia to be the official law of the land. But the story does not stop there, and I think one of the key contributions of the survey is to demonstrate, empirically, that if we did stop there, we would have an incomplete picture of how Muslims around the world view Islamic law. That’s because we find that even in many countries where there is strong support for enshrining Islamic law as official law, there is also overwhelming support for religious freedom for non-Muslims. How can these divergent views coexist? I think that’s a legitimate question.

Based on the survey findings I would say that it’s possible in part because in most countries surveyed, majorities of Muslims who want to enshrine Islamic law as official law also say sharia should apply only to Muslims. I would also note that these apparent divergent views may be possible in part because Muslims have differing understandings of what sharia means in practice. For example, across most regions and countries included in the survey, there is strong support for applying sharia in the domestic sphere. As we look across regions and countries, there is often less support in many countries for applying sharia in the form of criminal punishments or enforcing the death penalty for Muslims who renounce their faith and convert to another religion. Similarly, the survey finds that Muslims sometimes differ in the guidance they take away from sharia. In the case of divorce and family planning, Muslims who want sharia to be official law do not always take the same position on whether divorce or family planning, for example, are acceptable practices.

Now looking at religion in politics, I would note that support among Muslims for religious freedom coincides with support among most Muslims for democracy. We specifically asked, I should point out, whether Muslims preferred a democratic system of government or a system of government in which you have a strong leader with a strong hand. Again, most Muslims would prefer democracy when given that question. Indeed, Muslim support for democracy in countries like Lebanon or Tunisia, where three-quarters or more said they prefer democracy, is higher than in some European countries. When Pew Research surveyed there in 2009, actually not quite six-in-ten in Poland said that they choose democracy in such a scenario.

So that’s a substantial level of support among many Muslims for democracy, and I would note that this question about democracy is one case but not the only case where asking a question proved culturally or politically too sensitive and therefore we didn’t ask it in all countries. So in the case of the question about democracy, we did not ask that in Morocco or Uzbekistan, for example, where it’s deemed too politically sensitive to ask in a face-to-face, door-to-door survey of the nature that we conducted. On other questions relating to sexual behavior or morality of certain behaviors, we also were not able to ask all questions in all countries. So in the survey at times you’ll see that we refer to 39 countries, 38, 37. Those differences are usually to do with the fact that certain questions cannot be asked everywhere.

Now returning to views on democracy, I think it’s very important to note that even as many Muslims support democracy and prefer democracy, substantial percentages – especially in the Middle East-North Africa and South Asia and Southeast Asia – say they want religious leaders to play at least some role in politics. In many countries, substantial percentages, a quarter or so say they would like religious leaders to play a larger role in politics. Now I think to Western minds, at least, there may be a presumed tension between religion and politics, but I think a key take-away from this global survey of Muslims is that for many Muslims there does not appear to be an inherent tension between democracy and religion playing a role in politics. I’ve gone on a bit already but I would like to conclude by highlighting how U.S. Muslims compare with Muslims around the world. In particular, I’d like to point out two specific findings. One is that when compared to Muslims around the world, a larger percent of U.S. Muslims say that their circle of close friends is not limited to fellow Muslims only or mostly to fellow Muslims. That is, American Muslims are much more likely to include non-Muslims among their close friends than Muslims in many other countries.

Another important distinguishing feature of U.S. Muslims is that most U.S. Muslims say that many faiths can lead to eternal salvation, that is, Islam is not the only path to eternal life in heaven. Around the globe, that is a much less frequently expressed view among Muslims. In this respect, U.S. Muslims actually are much more similar to U.S. Christians, a majority among whom also expressed the view that more than one religion can lead to eternal salvation. At the time we initially released our findings from the U.S. Muslim report in 2011, we described U.S. Muslims as pluralistic in their attitudes toward religion, more tolerant of other faiths, and I think what we find in this global survey is when we compare U.S. Muslims to Muslims around the world is that we find U.S. Muslims do indeed stand out in this regard. I’ll conclude there, but I’ve really only touched the surface of what we have in this report. We have findings on attitudes toward women, their rights and roles, extremism, Western popular culture, so I hope we get a chance to cover many of these issues as we continue the dialogue today.

[Research Center’s]

AMANEY JAMAL, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Thank you so much, Luis and Jim. So this is a really great question. One of the systematic things we find in public opinion data, including this excellent report, is that there’s widespread support for sharia across several different countries. Not only is there widespread support, but there is a quite distinguishable variation across several states, and so this raises the questions of what does sharia mean to ordinary citizens and why do we see the variation? I think I guess the one thing that stands out is that this idea, this construct, that sharia law is this unified holistic system of Islamic governance is perhaps false. The idea here is that there really isn’t a monolithic code of sharia law or a monolithic code of what constitutes Islamic law. So across every country, across every society, what encapsulates this notion of sharia, what encapsulates this notion of Islamic law, varies. So that’s why we see such huge fluctuations between understandings of sharia in Asia versus the former Soviet Union, versus the Middle East-North Africa, and Africa. This then raises the question of, well, is there anything about the context or the contextual realities surrounding these areas that helps us better understand what sharia means to ordinary citizens in these countries? Yes, what we do find is that in countries that have experienced a very narrow specification, a very narrow if not rigid specification of Islamic law, we tend to find that citizens perhaps are less supportive of Islamic law. In countries that have witnessed very little sharia law, this idea that the laws of the country are divinely inspired by God, so it’s more about that attitude that these laws are ordained by God but not necessarily reflect some certain specific code of laws, we tend to find widespread support for those laws that perhaps will be divinely inspired.

So in countries that have had a repressive history, countries that have witnessed little religious conflict, countries that have witnessed little application of narrow, rigid applications of Islamic law, citizens tend to feel that applying some code of law that represents or is informed by Islamic ideals, normally these Islamic ideals are more about things like social justice, equality, redistribution rather than, again, rigid applications of actions that are permissible or not permissible. When we find that in societies that have experienced a significant amount of repression and inequalities and poverty, there tends to be a tendency to reify what Islam can do for societies or what Islamic law can do for societies and people look to the basic principles in theology or Islamic theology about equality, redistribution, social justice, human rights and things of that sort. So in those societies, you tend to see a lot of support and significant support for sharia. Again, I think what we really want to emphasize though, as you analyze the report, is that there is no one common understanding of sharia, and sharia has different meanings, definitions, understandings based on the actual experience of countries with or without Islamic sharia.

LUGO: Very helpful, Amaney, thank you. This is, I’m sure, connected with your response. Jim also mentioned what many in the West will undoubtedly see as paradoxical, namely that Muslim support for democracy and religious freedom frequently coexist with support for sharia as the official law and having religious leaders exert political influence. So, Farid, to you, I wonder if you could help us understand this apparent tension that we find in the results of this survey.

FARID SENZAI, SANTA CLARA UNIVERSITY: Great. Well, thank you. It’s great to be here and to comment on this report, which I think is quite significant in terms of its findings. In many cases, those of us that have been researching and writing on this topic don’t find the findings so surprising, but yet others in terms of scholars that write for instance on democracy have continued to emphasize – and this is both scholars as well as policymakers – continue to emphasize that democracy is a secular endeavor and these Western notions of democracy insist that democracy is rooted in secularism, rooted in the distinction between church and state, and the two cannot in fact coexist. Those of us that have, of course, studied the Middle East or Muslim-majority countries, we find that there doesn’t necessarily need to be incompatibility and that the two in fact can coexist, so that you can have a democracy but yet also have strong support for Islam to play a role in politics. This study clearly testifies to that, and the evidence suggests that Muslims overwhelmingly support a democracy – and the majority also want sharia to play a role in politics, as Amaney outlined as well. So the question though is that can democracy be defined in such a way where religion can be incorporated into the definition, and so that religion can be, in fact, seen as compatible with democracy. That for many Muslims is something that we’re seeing.

Now one should also note that this isn’t, of course, consistent across all regions or all countries. I mean, the Arab Spring that we witnessed in the last couple of years and the transitions taking place is very much looking at this question. I mean, clearly Muslims have supported democracy, and the overwhelming majority have wanted to participate in democracy as we’ve seen in the Arab Spring, but yet we’ve also seen that Islamist groups and groups that are religiously oriented also are playing an active role and have been winning in many of those elections. Egypt is the case in point. But yet, still, it’s not settled as to where we will end up in terms of where is this going and where every country will eventually settle. So each country will find its own balance as to where this arrangement is between the role of religion in the political arena, and as this study outlines and suggests, every country and every region will find a different balance between religion and democracy. So as you look at the report, you’ll find that there are clear distinctions in that question between what you see, for instance, in South Asia or in the Middle East compared to what you might see in Southern-Eastern Europe or Central Asia, for instance. So I’ll stop there. Thank you.

[Research Center’s]

LAUREN GREEN, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: Hi. This is a real basic question, only because producers are asking me about the methodology – the plus or minus error – and I’m not quite sure if that applies to such a large study, but because we’re putting up some graphics of some of the survey results, we’d like to put those plus or minus error numbers. Does that exist?

LUGO: Absolutely, Lauren. Jim, did you want to address that? And maybe point to the page in the report where you have outlined this.

BELL: Yes, in terms of the sample sizes by country and the margin of error by country, you’ll find that on page, I believe, 150 of the report.

LUGO: Page 150.

BELL: Following that, on the subsequent pages you’ll find more detailed information about the methodology in each of the countries included in the most recent survey.

GREEN: OK. Yes, I see it now. OK, thank you so much.

LUGO: Alright, next question, please.

[Research Center’s]

LUGO: OK, Erin, do you have a quick response to Cathy?

ERIN O’CONNELL, PEW RESEARCH CENTER: Yes, it should be right off of the homepage.

LUGO: It should be right off of the homepage, I’m being told.

GROSSMAN: Alright. Well, I’m –

LUGO: It’s on the right side there, Cathy, the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures.

GROSSMAN: OK, on the homepage.

O’CONNELL: You can just click on that, the spotlight side, there’s a right rail to the website, and there is almost like a banner there.

GROSSMAN: OK, Global Religious Futures, there it is. OK, excellent. OK, now on to my actual content question here. These are a related group of questions that tie back to the demographic study that you all released about two years ago, a little over two years ago. I wondered whether there was a difference in views between Muslim-majority countries and countries that were Muslim-minority countries. Related to that, in those countries where it was a Muslim-minority country, did it matter what the majority religion was, whether it was Christian Orthodox or Eastern Orthodox in Russia or indigenous religions in Africa or some other, what the majority Christianity was. I also wondered how much the views of U.S. Muslims, many of whom are immigrants, matched with those of the people from their national heritage, the people who came here 20 years ago or two years from Iraq, line up with views similar to the people in Iraq today – or similar?

LUGO: Alright, good set of related questions there. Let’s take the big one, which is, does it make any difference in Muslims’ views where they live, that is, whether they live in majority-Muslim countries, or we can say overwhelmingly Muslim countries? Then, on the other end, where Muslims are a minority, such as they are in the United States. Jim?

BELL: Yes, thanks for the question. When I’m answering the question I’m referring to page 16 of our report, and that’s on regional differences in support for making sharia the official law of the land. What we note in the report is that we do find that support for enshrining sharia as official law is often particularly high in countries where Muslims make up the majority of the population, countries such as Afghanistan or Iraq. But we also know that support for sharia is not limited to countries where Muslims make up a majority of the population, and we point to the example of sub-Saharan Africa, where Muslims constitute less than a fifth of the population in countries like Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ghana. In these countries, we still find at least half the Muslims saying they want sharia to be the official law of the land. Now, in sub-Saharan Africa, these countries are mainly made up of Muslims and Christians, so that goes to your point about countries that have a significant or substantial Christian population. I would note also from the report that, conversely, in some countries where Muslims make up more than 90% of the population, relatively few want their government to codify Islamic law, and some of those examples include Tajikistan, Turkey and Azerbaijan. So we don’t necessarily see a link between Muslim attitudes toward sharia, the desire to make sharia official law, and the percentage or status of Muslims as a minority or a majority in a particular country.

LUGO: Now, on her second and related question, in terms of the various Muslim groups in this country, about two-thirds of whom are foreign-born, what about – And this may go back to Lauren’s question about margin of error, what can we say in comparing Muslims in their country of origin with Muslims in the U.S.? My sense is going to be that the numbers are not going to be there in terms of the U.S. subgroups. But Greg, that’s why we brought you here so you can answer questions like that.


[not including those from Pakistan]

LUGO: Yes, and part of it is because we draw Muslims from all over the world here. It’s an incredibly diverse group. Some have referred to it as the American hajj, that is, broadly representative of global Islam. As I recall, Greg, please correct me, I don’t think there was any single country of origin that represented more than about 8% of American Muslims, which shows you just how incredibly diverse the community is in contrast, let’s say, to some countries in Europe, where if you go to Spain, the overwhelming number of Muslims are from Morocco. Or if you go to France, they’re from Algeria. So it’s quite, quite diverse, and that lowers the numbers even more. Greg, I’m sorry did you want to –

SMITH: Just to confirm, it’s correct to say that there’s no one country that constitutes a majority of American Muslims. Pakistan is the largest sending country, so to speak. Of all Muslims in the United States – Muslim adults – we found that about 9% are from Pakistan.

LUGO: I stand corrected. There was a margin of error in my response. OK, next question please.

AMEL AHMED, AL JAZEERA AMERICA: Hi, I was wondering whether the responses varied according to economic status. Then I have another question, whether you have any stats on U.S. Muslim views on abortion and homosexuality?

LUGO: Alright, very good. Jim, why don’t you handle the first one?

BELL: Sure, thanks for the question. I’ll point to the findings on support for sharia, I think one of the potentially surprising findings for many people encountering this report is that when we look at what influences support for sharia we do find that more devout Muslims – those who are more committed to their religion ­– tend to be more supportive of making sharia official law. But when we look beyond the issue of religious devotion or commitment, when we look at age, gender, education – in some way stand-ins for economic status – we see very little evidence, I should say, that these are important factors in support for sharia. So I think that counter to what may be the presumption amongst some, that you would expect to see young, male, less-educated segments of society more supportive of a turn toward sharia as official law, we find little evidence of that in our report, and I think that’s one of the surprising findings that you can take away.

LUGO: We’ll go to the U.S. comparison in a bit, but if you’d comment, Jim, on Muslim social views on things like abortion and homosexuality – This is on the global scale, what did we find there?

BELL: Right. Well, we found when it comes to questions about certain behaviors, is that – from a moral point of view as whether something’s acceptable or morally wrong – we found overwhelmingly a strong agreement among many Muslims around the globe that certain things are morally wrong. Examples include abortion: 77% of global median across countries, across regions, that say that abortion is morally wrong. Even higher percentages across the countries that we surveyed say that drinking alcohol, sex outside marriage, suicide, homosexuality, prostitution, that these things are morally wrong. I think interesting in our findings is when we get closer to issues of marriage or family, there we find less uniformity of opinion among Muslims, or across the countries that were surveyed about whether certain behaviors or actions are morally wrong or acceptable – and those include divorce, family planning and birth control, as well as polygamy. And polygamy is an interesting one, where we have a wide range of views, and we see a strong regional difference in attitudes, with sub-Saharan Africa – Muslims in that region being more supportive in general than in other regions of the world.

LUGO: And to the second part of the very good question, how do U.S. Muslims compare on abortion, homosexuality, etc.?


LUGO: And seemingly further away from the global Muslim community on this, according to Jim’s numbers. Alan Cooperman, do you want to comment on this?


SMITH: That’s Pakistani Muslims –


LUGO: Well, clearly living – both as a minority but also in a very pluralistic religious context may have something to do with that, it would be interesting to pursue that further. Next question, please.

OMAR SACIRBEY, RELIGION NEWS SERVICE: Hi, thank you. I was curious to see if there was any impact from the Arab Spring. It looks like surveys were taken at least, I guess, after the Arab Spring had started and while it was going on. Is there any sense if the revolution that was taking place, if that had any impact on how people answer – to perhaps even their willingness to answer, is it maybe more likely – to respond or less likely to respond while all this was going on?

LUGO: What about that, Jim? I mean this is obviously a snapshot so we don’t have the whole picture as it were to see how it played out, but anything in the survey that addresses the good question here?

BELL: It’s an excellent question, and the timing of our survey, to be clear – Most countries were surveyed in the fall of 2011 into early spring of 2012, so it came after the dramatic events of the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, for example. But in some ways I think that’s beneficial to get a read in a survey like this – asking the range of questions we did – not only about democracy but about the role of religion in society to get a read on what attitudes were in countries like Egypt and Tunisia. I would point out on page 60 of the report, I believe, that in Egypt and Tunisia you do see majorities, more than half, saying that they prefer democracy over a strong leader. That’s particularly pronounced in Tunisia, where you have three-quarters having that view. Then I’d also note that we did ask about views toward Islamic political parties in both those countries, and what we note on page 67 of the report is that much like one would expect in any country, views seemed to be shaped, at least in part, on satisfaction with the direction of the country. My point here is that it’s about religion but it’s also about politics in a more standard way of thinking about – Is a political party or a government able to deliver on what matters in a country, and satisfaction with the direction of the country, I think, is indicative of whether things are going well and whether a government is doing a good job. And I think in this case we’re finding that those who are more satisfied with the direction in a country like Egypt or Tunisia are more likely to have a view that Islamic political parties are better, or the same, than other political parties. So I think there is an element of that at least in those two countries – that they are experiencing something new, they’re evaluating these Islamic political parties and other political parties in this new environment, and we see overall strong support for democracy, but maybe some discerning attitudes – in terms of, is the country they’re living in headed in the right direction – influencing how they view these political parties.

LUGO: Amaney, you travel frequently in the area. What is your sense of this point, given our findings and given developments with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and so forth, where things stand on support for democracy, people wanting to see a sharia law implemented, etc.?

JAMAL: Yes, I mean, to address that question, then also the question of whether the Arab Spring might have influenced these patterns of findings in any particular way, my sense is that people felt all the more empowered or authorized to give honest answers on these surveys. There was sort of like this momentum and galvanization of entitlement in many ways. So if anything, these findings are all the better because we’re not really dealing with perhaps this idea of authoritarian constraints. To Luis’s questions about this relationship between Muslim parties or the Muslim brotherhood and the attitudes toward democracy and sharia, I think what we’re seeing, and actually what’s become evident, is we’re seeing that people are not compartmentalizing these categories into different spheres. So it’s not about binaries and, again, as Farid has emphasized earlier, it’s not really about these binaries or dichotomies between democracy or Islamic law or democracy or Muslim parties. What we’re seeing is that there’s this rather loose correlation, if you may, of how these attitudes cluster together where people are saying, yes, we might be preferring Muslim parties, perhaps because those Muslim parties were the only viable opposition movements during the authoritarian reign.

For example, in Egypt, citizens really only knew the Muslin Brotherhood as a key opposition force, but, yes, there is support for these Muslim parties with simultaneous support for democracy, with simultaneous support for this, again, this elastic definition of sharia law. So these are not seen as contradictory themes or contradictory ideas. There are some attitudes that do contradict with those notions, or at least Western notions, of democracy and liberal values. Again, the findings on things like support for homosexuality or support for abortion and other things we often link to liberal values, we see those values missing. But for all practical purposes, in terms of thinking about attitudes on procedural democracy, on the institutions of democracy, on the processes linked to democracy, we’re seeing that again this clustering of attitudes around support for these Muslim parties, support for democracy, support for sharia as almost a unified package of reform and change.

LUGO: Thank you. Farid, I don’t know how much your book focuses specifically on the Arab Spring, but I wonder if you could comment on this question as well.

SENZAI: Yes, actually it does. In fact every chapter includes a case study looking at different Islamist groups and their view sort of pre-Arab Spring and then post-Arab Spring. It’s interesting because in many cases there has been an adjustment, and most Islamist groups have adjusted. And so the suggestion is that context, in fact, does matter, and the political landscape is one in which Islamists are changing the political landscape and clearly are influencing it. But in reverse, the landscape and the political dynamic that’s taking place in the Arab Spring is also changing Islamists, and therefore groups that – For instance, Salafi groups that were very apolitical are now in fact engaged in politics and engaged in the democratic process.

That’s something that many would have not ever suspected but, in fact, is taking place, and so context does matter. I think the survey results in this report also suggest that – When Pakistan, for instance, only 29% of Muslims supported or preferred democracy. Well, why is it so low? In fact, it’s the lowest of all the other countries because the context of corruption and the inability of politicians in Pakistan to deliver even though they may have been democratically elected the last round – Suggests that they aren’t satisfied with the results of those elections. So in the Middle East and Arab countries, you are seeing a real desire for democracy, but, still, some have wanted the stability of a strong leader to go back to a more stable environment because, as we know, democratization and the process of changing from an authoritarian state to a democracy is a very bumpy and rough road and no one should be under some false illusion to think that this is going to be a smooth or easy transition process. It’s, in fact, very difficult, very complicated and, in many cases, violent as well, and that’s what we’re seeing.


TRUDY RUBIN, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Hi, thanks for doing this. I spent a lot of time in the Arab Spring countries and also in Pakistan, and I wanted to ask about this issue of democracy and Islam. It seems in the Middle East that the parties that are able to benefit from being able to take part in democracy have a leg up because they are the best organized. So in a sense, the definitions of Islam and democracy, of how sharia should apply, are shaped by Muslim Brotherhood or Salafis, and they in turn are heavily shaped by money flows coming from certain Gulf countries. So the first question I want to ask is, when you look at individual values, are they really what’s going – how individual Muslims think, are they really going to shape the way Islam and democracy play out, whether it is in the Middle East or in Pakistan?

Secondly, when we’re talking about democratic values, isn’t the issue whether there’s an acceptance of tolerance and pluralism rather than whether there’s an acceptance of secularism? And already one sees with the Islamic parties that there’s a problem with tolerance. For example, the issue of religious freedom. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt technically accepts religious freedom for religions of the book. But then, as you know, the Muslim Brotherhood religious group didn’t want to have the idea of a Christian having the right to be president, or in Pakistan you could look at apostasy laws and wonder whether religion and politics is compatible with democracy. So I guess my questions specifically are: Who is going to shape this relationship, and if it’s going to be political parties, especially parties that are funded by Saudis with their ideas of Salafism or parties that are funded by Qatar, that pushes Muslim Brotherhood ideals. Will the individual views matter that much? Will the relationship be shaped more by other factors?

LUGO: Alright, very good. There are several layers to that question. Let’s start at the foundation here in terms of basic values on the issue of tolerance, for instance. Remind us, Jim, of what we find in the survey that addresses that question, including tolerance for minority religions in these predominately Muslim countries.

[a question about]

And I would say that also to keep in mind when you talked about individual values and how they may relate to the political platform of an Islamic party, again, one of the things I think you should take away from the report is that we find that Muslims have differing understandings of what sharia means in practice. So as I think our panel has commented and we’ve shared a bit about, it’s not the case of there’s a monolithic single understanding of what sharia means. And so there is this range of understandings of what sharia means, a range of understandings how sharia translates into what is morally acceptable, what is not morally acceptable. I think that variation is a very important component of what we find in the survey.

LUGO: Well, that’s very helpful, and it is a complicated story within the West, for instance. There was a phase of religious toleration at the official government level before we have what we call a full-blown religious freedom. Let’s not forget that that was also part of the trajectory of Western development in the predominantly Christian context. So this may get, again, to some of the tensions many Westerners perceive. How can it be the case, as the question suggested, that you believe in toleration, at the same time, you want your country and your country’s leaders to be guided by Muslim values – and so you might have a problem with a Coptic Christian being part of, high up, in the government? Again, you get into all of those kinds of tensions, but there is another point that Trudy made, which was on how values – as we have defined them and as we have documented them here – relate to the question of who is organized to take advantage of this democratic opening in the Arab Spring. I think, Amaney, you alluded to that. I don’t know if you wanted to add anything to it, but I think Trudy’s question really emerges out of some of your comments that you were making as well.

JAMAL: Yes, I know. I mean, this is an important insight – that you had these pre-existing, mobilized, well-organized movements on the ground. Most of them happen to be Islamist and so, naturally, when there became this democratic opening, they were going to be the primary beneficiaries. However, having said that, I mean, this is why a study of this nature showcasing the public opinions of the citizens of the region – of the Muslim world, in fact – is so fundamentally important to these transitions – is that, unlike years past where authoritarian governments called the shots, now these governments, Islamist or otherwise, are going to be paying a lot of attention to public opinion. We’ve already seen a lot of backpedaling happening in Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood. We’ve seen them come down hard on some statements and only having to retract days later. We’ve seen them having to modify their stances, some intolerant stances and some unpopular political positions, because they’re paying attention to public opinion.

So how public opinion is going to matter for the years to come, it’s going to be absolutely critical and crucial. I bet they’re scrambling to find this report right now and figure out what their populations are also saying because they’re in office now for shorter periods of time. So there is that element to it. Now this other dimension about to what extent are these political parties, let’s say the Muslim Brotherhood, are they basically reflecting the preferences or the Salafist preferences of Saudi Arabia or the other Brotherhood kind of aspirations emanating from Qatar? That’s a different set of issues. It’s true that there is some influence, but let’s also keep everything, you know, I guess try to nuance to our understanding of what’s going on a little bit, Qatar is also supporting the resistance in Syria. Qatar is also meddling in like domestic affairs of several Arab countries. So it’s not clear to me that Qatar per se has a unified foreign policy that we, by looking at what Qatar is doing we can say, oh, they have this Islamic or this ideological agenda behind their policy. I think there’s a lot of realist politics or politics of realism if you may, some geostrategic meddling going on with Qatar.

Saudi Arabia, yes, it probably has more of an ideological bent but again, as Farid pointed out, if you look at the patterns of the Salafists in Egypt who are most connected to the Saudis, they’ve really altered their positions drastically as well. Again, it’s because they’re responding to public sentiment, and they’re responding to public opinions, and they’re realizing that their opinions can only take them so far. Now having said that, if we systematically find that there are preferences that align well with the preferences of these Islamist movements, even under the aura of democracy, you’re going to see transitions in the country that are going to reflect them, the preferences of the parties and the citizens if they align together. So there’s no way to escape that, especially under a democracy, but what we’re seeing with the data revealed in this report and what we’re seeing and how this is playing out in the domestic affairs of these countries is that there is a lot of renegotiation going on between these parties and people right now.

LUGO: Thank you, Amaney. We have several people on the queue here but, Farid, this is right up your alley, so if you have a quick comment you’d like to add, please jump in.

SENZAI: Well, I think Amaney answered it well. I mean, I will just say that there is a lot more nuance in terms of the relationship between Gulf states and countries in the Arab Spring, for instance. The Gulf states – Saudi Arabia in particular was adamantly opposed to the Arab Spring and tried very hard to insist that Mubarak should stay and wanted the United States to support Mubarak til the very end, but now they’ve had to play catch-up. So there has been historical tension between Gulf states and the Muslim Brotherhood. I mean, they don’t see eye to eye. They, in fact, have had great animosity at times against each other. So there’s no clear link in suggesting that the Gulf states like Saudi Arabia are funding these organizations and groups that are well-established in other Arab countries.

[what you are saying]


LUGO: So problematic, Jerome, I just want to make it clear here, problematic in the sense that you feel people may not be completely upfront given the social pressures on this?

SOCOLOVSKY: That’s exactly –

LUGO: OK, got it.

SOCOLOVSKY: That’s exactly, and maybe it doesn’t matter, I don’t know.

LUGO: Yes, it’s the old social desirability – We wrestle with this with surveys. Greg, maybe you can address that, but Jim, specifically with this report, do you sense any – from the pattern of the responses and what we were getting, of people cutting off? There’s a lot of stuff that goes into the background of getting these things done successfully. Any hints, indications, that people may have been reluctant to tell us what they really felt?

BELL: I think it’s an excellent question and, as Luis is indicating, that when you conduct a survey like this in so many different kinds of countries on topics that sometimes can be sensitive or may be associated with socially desirable answers, you want to keep an eye out for that. I think that, looking across the countries, it’s possible to read into some of the findings that this is obviously a very popular answer to say that sharia should be made the official law of the country. I think that’s why it’s so important for us to include in this study additional questions about what people mean in practice by sharia because it may be an obvious answer so to speak, but then when we explore more deeply the different ways in which Muslims understand sharia, how they see it potentially being part of their societies and the guidance they take away from it, that’s when we see greater variation in many of these countries and their attitudes. I would also point out that maybe also to your point, Jerome, about in particular countries, is it the case that there is sort of a more accepted answer when you get a question about sharia? I think our findings – and I would highlight page 18 in our report – about the fact that we find higher support for sharia where Islam is the officially favored religion as an indication there may be something to what you’re saying, and what we see is that in countries where Islam is an officially a favored religion, meaning the constitution or basic laws favor Islam over other faiths, we tend to see higher support among Muslims for making sharia the official law of the land. In contrast, in countries where Islam is not the officially favored religion, we can see lower support for making sharia the official law. So one of the possible takeaways from this is that these attitudes toward sharia and the preference for sharia as official law reflect, at least in part, existing social norms, the legal and political context in which people live their lives.

LUGO: Yes, it’s one of these things that bedevil social scientists, in which direction is the influence flowing? Is it the values informing what these officials follow, or is it the other way around? Or is it a combination of the two? And it gets complicated very, very quickly, but good question, Jerome. Thank you. Next question, please.

AZIZ HANIFFA, INDIA ABROAD: Yes, Aziz Haniffa with India Abroad. If someone could speak to South Asian Muslims, and specifically vis-a-vis India and Pakistan, in terms of social attitudes, political attitudes, etc., and why I ask is because Indian Muslims have traditionally been “moderate,” progressive, more inclined toward Sufism and etc., unlike in Pakistan, but of late probably due to social problems, partly due to some kind of oppression, things like Gujarat, etc. There is sort of a growing militancy in India among the Muslims and, of course, probably also exports from outside in terms of proxy organizations in India like the Indian Mujahideen, etc. So if someone could speak to sort of the discrepancies that one found in terms of attitudes in South Asia, specifically India and Pakistan, considering that India, even though Muslims are in the minority, has the second-largest population of Muslims in the world. And if someone could identify who – so I can appropriately quote them when you answer that. Thank you.

LUGO: Thank you. Jim, South Asia, including India – Why isn’t India in the report?

BELL: Yes, I’ll have to begin with the question that wasn’t quite asked, which is: Why is India not in our report? India is actually an example of a country where the topic of religion can be very sensitive, and, specifically, asking Muslims in face-to-face interviews in their households about their religion is a sensitive matter. So as I indicated it at the very top of our session today, there were some countries – and India is one of them – where in terms of cultural, and in some regard political, sensitivity we were not comfortable fielding a survey that had interviewers going door to door in local communities asking about religious views, beliefs, practices. So unfortunately, at this point we don’t have data on Muslim attitudes in India. One day I hope very much that we can include India in our survey of religion around the globe.

LUGO: Jim, before you move on to South Asia more generally, just say a word about how we do these surveys because it’s not as though we’re sitting here in Washington, D.C., and concluding we can’t do a survey. Now, we’re informed by our partners who work with us on this survey, so if you could comment on that.

BELL: Thanks, Luis. That’s a good point. I want to make clear that it was absolutely our desire to include India in the survey, and we explored a number of avenues. And the way we operate is that we will partner with organizations, most often local organizations, that do political and social research in a country to conduct this survey that we design, but they can only be realized through the cooperation of local polling organizations, research organizations. We could not find a partner that was willing to take this project on that could meet our standards of quality, of comprehensiveness at this time. So again, it was not for lack of wanting to conduct a survey in India, and it’s one of the countries that’s very important to us as we go forward to find a way to conduct a quality study on the topic of religion.

HANIFFA: But even this has a terrible discrepancy – India, the second-largest Muslim population, not being included and was it due to the fact that perhaps those organizations were reticent because of some government pressure or local pressure, or anything of that sort?

BELL: I think you’re touching on exactly some of the issues that these organizations face, and I think sorting out how to do this properly is a challenge for us going forward, but not one that we will shirk, in terms of – we’ll try to get this done at some point. Does this remain a representative survey? I think it does. I think not just for South Asia, but when you look across the 39 countries we included in this survey spanning from sub-Saharan Africa to the Middle East into Europe into South Asia and Southeast Asia. We are capturing a wide diversity of countries, a wide diversity of social, political and cultural contexts, and we are getting a broad picture as well as an in-depth picture of what it means to be Muslim in today’s world. I don’t disagree with you that it would be beneficial to include Muslims from India in such a survey, but I think that notwithstanding, I think we’ve captured some very meaningful variation and uniformity in opinion among Muslims around the globe.

If I could just go back to your initial question about South Asia, if for the moment we accept that India is not in the survey unfortunately, the three countries that we’re looking at are Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, and as a set of countries we find them very uniform on many of their values and what is morally acceptable, what is morally wrong. Certainly when it comes to issues like prostitution, homosexuality, suicide, sex outside marriage, drinking alcohol, overwhelmingly, Muslims in these three countries are saying that these are not morally acceptable practices. I think also notably and definitely influenced by attitudes in particular in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we find South Asia standing out a bit from some of the other regions included in our study in terms of there being strong support for sharia to be applied in the domestic sphere to family and property disputes for example, but also strong support for severe corporal punishments, for criminal acts as well as support for the death penalty for apostates. Muslims in Pakistan and Afghanistan in particular are much stronger in support across all these dimensions of sharia than Muslims in many other regions we surveyed.

LUGO: Alright, next question, please. We’re quickly coming to the end here so we want to make sure we get as many people as possible.

MARK TRUMBULL, THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Hello, thank you. I’m wondering if you could comment on whether this survey can be compared across time with previous surveys and, if so, what trends you’ve seen – How have some of the things like support for sharia law changed over the last few years, and why would you say that those changes have happened, for instance, any role globally of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

[Research Center’s]

BELL: On support for sharia law, well, first of all, I’ll go back to the point that this is the first time that the Pew Research Center’s Pew Forum has taken such a comprehensive look at Muslims around the globe. In April of 2010, when we released a report entitled “Tolerance and Tension” looking at Islam and Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa – But we are drawing on that same set of data as part of our analysis here. So we don’t have trends that we could say we’ve seen a shift in support for sharia among Muslims. Going forward I think it would be important if feasible for us to focus at least on some countries and see how attitudes do change over time. So I think it’s an excellent question.

As Luis mentioned, the Pew Research Center also has another project called the Global Attitudes Project. We have not asked necessarily about attitudes toward sharia but I can tell you that in the case of Egypt, we have asked a different question about support for laws being closely modeled on the teachings of the Quran, and there over a couple of years we’ve seen consistent support for that approach to the legal system in Egypt. I’d also say that in a country like Egypt, the Global Attitudes Project has seen still substantial support – more than half of Egyptians saying they prefer democracy to a strong leader. So I think on some of these measures my guess is you would see some consistency in attitudes, but I don’t want to speculate because we just don’t have that wealth of data right now to give you that time perspective of how these attitudes might change.

LUGO: Alright, the next question please. I think that we can get two quick ones in, so next question.

SALVATORE CAPUTO, JEWISH NEWS OF GREATER PHOENIX: Hi, I was just wondering if there were questions in the survey that defined or narrowed the scope of the meaning of democracy because I think that it’s just as elastic as sharia law’s interpretation. I wonder if you can point to any of that.

LUGO: Very good.

BELL: It’s an excellent question. In the survey, when we talked about democracy, we really focused on that single measure of the choice between a democratic form of government or a government led by a leader with a strong hand. So that’s one perspective or one dimension, perhaps one can say, but that’s why I think the findings about religious freedom are very interesting, and that finding again, in conjunction with the strong support in many countries for sharia being the official law, finding that at the same time in many of these countries overwhelming majorities of Muslims around the globe said that they support or think religious freedom for non-Muslims is a good thing. I think that’s an added dimension that we don’t always see in surveys about attitudes toward democracy, and I think religious freedom, as we’ve talked about on the phone call today, is something that many of us would agree is an important component of democracy.

LUGO: The role of religious judges, we did ask about that – that bears on this question.

BELL: That’s a good point. I don’t mean to overlook that. So we did ask about support for whether religious judges should decide family and property disputes, and, as I mentioned earlier, but to give clear focus to that, when we asked that question we see strong support in most countries for religious judges having the authority to decide family or property disputes. That support exists in many countries, including countries in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, countries where overall there’s lower support for sharia law. So among those who want sharia even in countries that have more of a secular history, we see that support for sharia playing a role in the domestic sphere at least.

LUGO: OK, a final question please.

SHARYN JACKSON, DES MOINES REGISTER: Hi, I’m wondering about the comparisons between U.S. Muslims and global Muslims, and I’m wondering if you have information about other religions on those same questions, for instance Muslims who say that most of their close friends are Muslims. I was wondering if you have that same kind of information about Christians in the United States.

LUGO: What about that, Greg, any comparisons? Of course, in the United States you have an overwhelming majority who are Christians, so most of their friends are going to be connected with Christianity in some way, but have we looked at it in the other way, that is, not Muslims and how many non-Muslim friends they have but in the other direction?

SMITH: Well, we don’t have data for Christians for how many of their friends are also Christian. The one exception that I know comes to my mind is we did do a survey of Mormons a couple of years ago where we asked something similar there, but we don’t have it for most Christian groups. One question we do have for many Christian groups that I think is an interesting point of comparison is the question on whether or not one’s own religion is the one true faith that can lead to eternal life, and how does that compare with U.S. Muslims. I believe we said earlier that among Muslims, 56% said many religions can lead to eternal life. Among the U.S. public as a whole, from a survey we conducted in 2008, we found about two-thirds of people associated with a religion said that many religions can lead to eternal life. That number is highest among mainline Protestants and among Catholics, among whom something like eight-in-ten said many religions can lead to eternal life. It’s lower among evangelical Protestants and black Protestants, among whom less than half said many religions can lead to eternal life. So what I’d take away from that is that in terms of their view of whether or not many religions can lead to eternal life, U.S. Muslims tend to look very much like evangelicals or black Protestants and less so like Catholics and mainline Protestants.

LUGO: Alan, did you want to say something on this?

COOPERMAN: I just wanted to point out, on the question about democracy, that on page 60 of the report there is a chart that shows these responses for all countries. And while, indeed, in most of the countries surveyed there is majority support for democracy, that there are substantial minorities who say they would prefer a strong hand. It’s a question that – that is, if the surmise behind the question was that everybody would just support democracy because we haven’t defined what it means, that’s not actually the result we got. You’ll see, for example, that in Kyrgyzstan, nearly two-thirds said they would prefer a strong hand. In Pakistan, 56% of the Muslims surveyed said they would prefer a strong hand, and so on. It’s substantial minorities of 20% or more in quite a few countries who said they would prefer a strong hand to democracy. So that’s all on page 60.

LUGO: Jim, I’ll give you the last word.


LUGO: Very interesting. Well, many thanks to the journalists, to Amaney and Farid, for joining us today. If we can be of any further assistance, please contact our communications office. We’re here to be of help. Thank you.

Photo Credit: © Scott E Barbour

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