The Pew Research Center has released a survey of Muslims around the world that is both encouraging and disturbing. The comprehensive survey involved face-to-face interviews with over 38,000 Muslims in 80 languages across 39 countries. The survey confirms that for the most part Muslims are peaceful, devout worshippers and tolerant of other religions. The large and diverse sample sizes confirms that while radical Islamists are responsible for multiple terrorist acts, the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world are not radical as a whole.
Organizations such as The Religion of Peace, Jihad Watch, and Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) have made it their mission to document all terrorist acts committed by Muslims. That is a credible and newsworthy effort. They also have made it their mission to spread fear and propaganda about Islam. For example, the Religion of Peace has pages on its website entitled “Ten Obvious Reasons Why Islam is NOT a Religion of Peace,” “What Would Muhammad Do,” and “The Myths of Islam.” Pam Geller’s SIOA has been labeled a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, and promotes the ridiculous notion that “the U.S. Constitution is under attack from fundamentalist Islam and shariah, Islamic religious law.”
This Pew survey challenges the assertions of these organizations and proves that for the most part Muslims are a peaceful group, Islam is a peaceful religion, and radical Islam represents a minority, albeit powerful and influential, voice in the religion.
According to the survey:
- “At least half of Muslims in most countries surveyed say they are concerned about religious extremist groups in their country.”
- “In most countries where a question about so-called 'honor' killings was asked, majorities of Muslims say such killings are never justified.”
- "In most countries where the survey asked Muslims about religious extremism, more than 75% say suicide and other violence against civilians is rarely or never justified.”
- “In only seven of the 38 countries where the question was asked do at least half of Muslims describe conflict between religious groups as a very big national problem.”
- “In 31 of the 37 countries where the question was asked, at least half of Muslims believe a democratic government, rather than a leader with a strong hand, is best able to address their country’s problems.”
The survey does justify concern over support for radical Islam, particularly in the so-called emerging democracies of the Muslim world. For example:
- “Four in 10 Palestinian Muslims see suicide bombing as often or sometimes justified.”
- “In Afghanistan, a substantial minority of Muslims (39%) say that this form of violence against civilian targets is often or sometimes justifiable in defense of Islam.”
- “In Egypt, about three in 10 (29%) consider suicide bombing justified at least sometimes.”
And in countries where we have spent considerable capital, including time, money, and lives, there is still a strong predilection for a strong leader rather than a democratic government. Fifty-one percent of Afghans, 56% of Pakistanis, 40% of Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories, 42% of Iraqis, and 36% of Egyptians prefer a strong, autocratic leader to a democratic government.
The survey found that there was no consistent interpretation on sharia law. Muslim attitudes towards whether sharia is the revealed word of God varies by region, and a substantial number of Muslims in most countries believe sharia has multiple interpretations. However, large percentages of Muslims in Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa believe that religious leaders should have a say in politics and sharia law should be part of the government model. Eighty-two percent of Afghans believe that religious leaders should have some influence over politics and 99% believe in sharia law, as do 91% of Iraqis and 92% of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
In summary, the survey found that Muslims are committed to their faith and believe that Islam should play a role in shaping their personal lives, society, and politics. But that is a far cry from suggesting that Islam is a radical, hateful, violent religion.