The Gallup World Polls: What 1.3 Billion Muslims Really Think

The blogosphere is rife with discussion of the release of Geert Wilder’s (boring) new film ‘Fitna.’ The less said about this film, the better, but luckily, on the evolution blog, I like to offer an alternative point of view, and cover issues that don’t always receive the press attention that they should do. 🙂 So excuse me, whilst I skip right past the tedious topic of yet another deliberately offensive propaganda piece and move onto a topic that is rather more factual and statistical in nature. 😉

I briefly mentioned the Gallup World Polls in a previous post, but I think it would be interesting to look at a selection of the results in more detail. The Gallup Poll of the Muslim World is the most in-depth study of the Muslim world, so if you really want to know what the majority of Muslims think, this is perhaps the most definitive and comprehensive research work to examine. The study (PDF) encompasses six years of research, and respondents were polled about a variety of issues. Extremism, Islam and the West and women’s rights were just some of the issues that respondents were invited to comment on.

A key objective of this poll was to capture the voices of the silent majority, rather than the perhaps, shall we say, outspoken opinions that we are used to seeing in the daily press coverage. 😉

However, I would like to stress that I am not excusing the Muslim world of any guilt. No matter how many polls there are, the truth is that there is a proportion of Muslims who protest over cartoons but say remain silent over cases such as that of Mukhtaran Bibi. They may be a minority, yes, but nevertheless, there are still needs to be a broader focus on the issue of human rights. What I am saying, however, is the image of Muslims portrayed by mediocre publications such as The (ghastly) Daily Mail and the (atrocious) Express are fallacious and only create further divisions in society.

The Gallup site contains summary reports of the findings of the poll, and I’m going to summarise some key points from each of the reports.

Islam & Democracy (PDF)

In sharp contrast to the “Us vs. Them,” “Islam vs. the West,” Samuel Huntingdon “Clash of Civilisations” myth that some Muslims and people in the West seek to perpetuate, the Gallup poll showed that Americans and Muslims share many of the same values. For example, the polls showed that most Muslims embraced the values of freedom of speech:

Substantial majorities in all nations surveyed — the highest being 99% in Lebanon, 94% in Egypt, 92% in Iran, and 91% in Morocco — said that if they were drafting a constitution for a new country, they would guarantee freedom of speech, defined as “allowing all citizens to express their opinions on political, social, and economic issues of the day.”

Gallup poll: Islam and Democracy

In Reponse to “Muslims don’t care about improving relationships with us”

Despite 58% of Americans believing that Muslims don’t care about improving relationships with the West, a minority (ranging from 10%-37%) said that this was true. In addition, only 11% of Americans said that reaching a better understanding between Muslims and the West was a low priority.The data shows that there is great disparity between the perceptions of the groups, as both sides want to improve relations, whilst believing that the opposing side believes the opposite.

On Extremism

Currently, 33% (PDF) of Americans believe that Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims. However, the Gallup poll data showed that just 7% of the respondents polled across 10 countries made up the ‘radical extremist’ faction.

However, interestingly, the political radicals were on average, better educated and more affluent than the moderates. This is rather worrying, but on the other hand, given that one might expect the opposite, it may indicate that the perception that the roots of extremism lie in lack of education or a poor economic situation, is most likely a gross over-simplification.

This post covers just a few of the Gallup World polls statistics, but for more information, you can visit the Gallup website, or indeed, take a look at John L. Esposito’s Who Speaks For Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think.

As an aside, if you’re interested in a critical analysis of the (dreadfully boring) Fitna, (which I decided to watch-the longest 20 or so minutes of my life), the Washington Post has a good feature article explaining why Fitna “is such a bore that it has only given freedom of expression a bad name.” 🙂

To conclude, I would like to stress that there is no doubt that there is a long way to go toward improving relations between Muslims and the West. Clearly, there are gross misconceptions on both sides, but these polls show that there is some hope for the future, that the bleak picture of despair and hopelessness painted by Western media outlets is perhaps a little far off.

Muslims and non-Muslims alike must strive to be more open-minded, build relationships and strive towards a more peaceful future, where people of all faiths and backgrounds can live together, side by side.

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One comment

  1. B.B · April 15, 2008

    “Substantial majorities in all nations surveyed — the highest being 99% in Lebanon, 94% in Egypt, 92% in Iran, and 91% in Morocco — said that if they were drafting a constitution for a new country, they would guarantee freedom of speech, defined as “allowing all citizens to express their opinions on political, social, and economic issues of the day.”–Gallup poll: Islam and Democracy

    I recall when the cartoon controversy was in full swing, various Muslim organizations basically came out and said that freedom of speech and freedom of religion doesn’t give you the right to blaspheme other religions. The fact of the matter is people interpret what constitutes freedom of speech in various different manners. There are plenty of Europeans who will tell you they support freedom of speech, but when you ask them what should be done about holocaust deniers, they wont hesitate in saying they should be thrown in jail.

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