Devotion to Islam shapes the lives of most Muslims but their views on democracy, religious law known as sharia, and family life are varied, a new study finds.
The research report on Muslim views on religion, politics and society was released Tuesday by The Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life.
It finds that Muslims in Africa, Asia and the Middle East -- no matter age, education or gender -- overwhelmingly want to see sharia be "the official law of the land," said James Bell, primary researcher for the report and director of international research for Pew, in a press phone-in discussion of the report.
That includes 99% in Afghanistan, 89% in the Palestinian territories, 74% in Egypt and 72% in Indonesia, for example.
However, they don't agree on what sharia means. "There is no monolithic code. … No common understanding from Africa to Asia to the former Soviet Union," said Amaney Jamal, professor of politics at Princeton University and special adviser to Pew for the report.
Most Muslims are comfortable relying on religious law for family or property disputes but there is "considerably less support" for drastic punishments such as executing people who convert away from Islam to another religion. And even in the family law sphere, views on polygamy, divorce and family planning vary widely, the research finds.
Even the most enthusiastic sharia supporters still favor religious freedom for people of other faiths, in part because they believe it should apply only to Muslims. That explains how 84% of Muslims in Pakistan want to enshrine sharia law, but three in four say non-Muslims are free to practice their faith.
Many Muslims want religious leaders to have some -- even large -- influence political matters: 53% in Afghanistan, 41% in Malaysia and 37% in Jordan, the research finds.
Similarly, many Muslims see no incompatibility with democracy, said Farid Senzai, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, at Santa Clara University, another adviser to the Pew Muslim research. "You can have a democracy and yet also have strong support for Islam to play a role in politics."
The opinion research is based on 38,000 face-to-face interviews conducted between 2008 and 2012 in 39 countries and territories in Africa, Asia and Europe -- with four notable exceptions. "Political sensitivities or security concerns" prevented opinion research in China, India, Saudi Arabia and Syria.
While Muslims in the USA were not included, the report did examine international views in comparison to earlier studies of American Muslims.
Among U.S. Muslims, 81% say suicide bombing or other forms of violence against civilians in the name of Islam are never justified. And the new study finds the global median for Muslims who agree on that is 72%.
However, the report finds, "substantial minorities in several countries say such acts of violence are at least sometimes justified, including 26% of Muslims in Bangladesh, 29% in Egypt, 39% in Afghanistan and 40% in the Palestinian territories.
Other findings include:
- Many U.S. Muslims take a more liberal view on whether Islam is the "one true faith that leads to eternal life," said Alan Cooperman, associate director of research for the Pew Forum. In Pakistan, 92% say there's just one path to salvation but only 51% of U.S. Muslims of Pakistani origin agree.
- Many, including 67% of Muslims in Egypt, 68% in Iraq and 78% in Indonesia, are deeply concerned about religious extremists within their own countries.
- Muslim men and women agree: A wife must always obey her husband. The view holds from Morocco, 92%, to Malaysia, 96%. But the majority also say it's up to the woman herself if she wants to wear a veil. Most say honor killings are never justified -- with two exceptions. In Afghanistan and Iraq the majority would allow executions for women who "allegedly have shamed their families by engaging in premarital sex or adultery."
A 2011 global Muslim population study by Pew found that, based on immigration patterns and birth rates, Muslims will be more than one-quarter of the Earth's population within the next two decades. The numbers will climb from 1.6 billion people in 2010 to 2.2 billion in 2030, concentrated in Muslim-majority countries.
By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA Today
Source: The USA Today