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Pew: Interfaith Relations

Pew:The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society Part 7

Interfaith Relations

Muslims around the world agree that Islam is the one true faith that leads to salvation. Many Muslims also say it is their religious duty to convert others to Islam.

Many Muslims say they know little about Christianity and other faiths. And few believe Islam and other religions have a lot in common. Even in countries where a substantial proportion of the population is non-Muslim, most Muslims report that all or most of their friends also are Muslim. And while interfaith meetings and classes of Muslims and Christians are fairly common in sub-Saharan Africa, few Muslims in other regions participate in such gatherings.

Few Muslims see conflict between religious groups as a very big national problem. In fact, most consider unemployment, crime and corruption as bigger national problems than religious conflict. Asked specifically about Christian-Muslim hostilities, few Muslims say hostilities are widespread.

Islam and Eternal Salvation

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In 34 of the 38 countries where the question was asked, at least half of Muslims believe that Islam is the one true religion that can lead to eternal life in heaven.

Overwhelming majorities of Muslims say that Islam is the only religion that leads to eternal life in heaven in most countries surveyed in the Middle East and North Africa, including Egypt (96%), Jordan (96%), Iraq (95%), Morocco (94%) and the Palestinian territories (89%). Somewhat smaller majorities take this view in Lebanon (66%) and Tunisia (72%).

In most countries surveyed in sub-Saharan Africa, more than six-in-ten Muslims say that only Islam can lead to eternal life. Somewhat fewer take this view in Cameroon (57%), Guinea Bissau (54%), Chad (50%) and Mozambique (49%).

Similarly, in all but one country surveyed in Central Asia, at least six-in-ten Muslims say that Islam is the only path to eternal life. The exception is Kazakhstan, where 29% say that Islam is the only path that leads to eternal life, while 49% say that many religions can serve this role.

At least half of Muslims in most Southern and Eastern European countries surveyed also say that Islam is the exclusive path to heaven. Albanian Muslims are the exception: 37% say Islam is the only faith leading to eternal life, while a quarter say many faiths can lead to heaven, and 38% offer no clear opinion on the issue.

In the majority of countries where the question was asked, Muslims who pray several times a day are more likely than those who pray less often to believe that Islam is the one true faith leading to eternal life. Differences by frequency of prayer consistently are large across the countries surveyed in Southern and Eastern Europe. For example, in Russia, Muslims who pray several times a day are 41 percentage points more likely than those who pray less often to believe Islam is the one true path to eternal salvation. Significant gaps on this question between those who pray several times a day and those who pray less often also are found in Kosovo (+34 percentage points), Albania (+28) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (+27).

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Converting Others

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In most countries surveyed, at least half of Muslims believe it is their religious duty to try to convert others to the Islamic faith. Only in Indonesia and some countries in Central Asia and Southern and Eastern Europe do a clear majority say Muslims are not obliged to proselytize.

The belief that Muslims are obligated to proselytize is particularly widespread in sub-Saharan Africa. Across the region, at least three-quarters of Muslims believe it is their religious duty to try to spread Islam to non-Muslims.

A majority of Muslims in the South Asian countries surveyed also say trying to convert others to Islam is a religious duty. This sense is nearly universal in Afghanistan, where 96% of Muslims believe proselytizing is a duty of their faith. In Pakistan, 85% of Muslims share this view, as do 69% in Bangladesh.

In the Middle East and North Africa, a clear majority of Muslims in most countries surveyed believe trying to convert others is a religious duty, including roughly nine-in-ten in Jordan (92%) and Egypt (88%). Lebanon is the one country in the region where opinion is more divided (52% say proselytizing is a religious duty, 44% say it is not).

In Southeast Asia, a strong majority of Muslims in Malaysia (79%) and Thailand (74%) believe trying to convert others is a religious duty. However, most Indonesian Muslims disagree (65% say it is not a religious duty, 31% say it is).

Many Muslims in Central Asia as well as Southern and Eastern Europe do not believe that their faith obliges them to try to convert others. Roughly half or more in Kazakhstan (77%), Albania (72%), Bosnia-Herzegovina (59%), Kosovo (55%), Russia (51%), Kyrgyzstan (50%) and Turkey (48%) do not believe Muslims have a duty to proselytize. Opinion is divided in Azerbaijan (42% say it is a religious obligation, 36% disagree). Only in Tajikistan does a clear majority (69%) agree that Muslims have a duty to spread their faith.

In general, Muslims who pray several times a day are more likely than those who pray less frequently to say proselytizing is a religious duty. For example, in Lebanon, where Muslims overall are fairly divided on the question, those who pray several times day are nearly twice as likely as those who pray less often to say it is their duty to convert others (63% vs. 33%). Large gaps on the question of proselytizing between Muslims who pray frequently versus those who pray less often also are found in Russia (+27 percentage points), the Palestinian territories (+22) and Tunisia (+22).

Religious Conflict as a Big National Problem

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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, and in most cases worries about crime, unemployment, ethnic conflict and corruption far outweigh concerns about religious conflict. But a substantial minority of Muslims in a number of countries surveyed do see religious strife as a major issue.

In the Middle East-North Africa region, a majority of Muslims in Lebanon (68%) and Tunisia (65%) say religious conflict is a very big problem in their country, as do more than half in the Palestinian territories (54%) and more than four-in-ten in Iraq (46%). Fewer Muslims see religious conflict as a pressing issue in Egypt (28%) and Jordan (13%).

Concern about religious conflict is relatively high among Muslims in the countries surveyed in sub-Saharan Africa, including Niger (64%), Nigeria (60%) and Djibouti (52%). More than one-in-five Muslims in all but one country surveyed in the region see religious conflict as a very big problem; Ethiopia (16%) is the exception.

In South Asia, a majority of Pakistani Muslims (57%) consider religious conflict a big national problem, while roughly a third or fewer Muslims hold this view in Afghanistan (35%) and Bangladesh (29%).

Among Muslims in Central Asia as well as Southern and Eastern Europe, fewer than four-in-ten consider religious conflict a very big problem in every country surveyed. About a third of Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina (35%), Turkey (34%) and Kazakhstan (33%) say religious conflict is a very big problem in their country. In the other countries surveyed in these regions, less than a quarter see religious conflict as a very big problem.

In Southeast Asia as well, relatively few Muslims see religious conflict as a serious problem. Roughly a third of Indonesian Muslims (36%) consider conflict between religious groups a very big national problem, a view shared by 27% of Muslims in Thailand and 26% in Malaysia.

Overall, the survey finds that opinions about whether religious conflict is a very big problem track closely with opinions about ethnic conflict as a problem. In every country surveyed, Muslims who see religious conflict as a very big problem in their country are more likely than those who see it as a less serious issue to consider conflict between ethnic groups to be a major national concern.

Views of Muslim-Christian Hostilities

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A minority of Muslims in 24 of the 26 countries where the question was asked say “most” or “many” Muslims and Christians are hostile toward one another. In Thailand, a small percentage of Muslims report hostilities between Muslims and Buddhists in their country.

Perceived hostilities between Muslims and Christians are on the higher side in Egypt, where half of Muslims say most or many Christians are hostile toward Muslims, and roughly a third (35%) say the same about Muslims’ attitudes toward Christians. By comparison, in Lebanon, which has a history of religious conflict, fewer than three-in-ten describe either Muslims (27%) or Christians (27%) as hostile toward the other group.

In sub-Saharan Africa, more than four-in-ten Muslims in Guinea Bissau say Christians are hostile toward Muslims (41%) and Muslims are hostile toward Christians (49%). At least a third of Muslims hold this view in Chad (34% say Christians are hostile, 38% say Muslims are hostile). Elsewhere in the region, less than a third of Muslims see mutual tension between the two faiths, although 37% of Muslims in the Democratic Republic of the Congo describe most or many Christians as hostile toward Muslims (just 18% say the same about Muslims’ attitudes toward Christians).

In nearly every country surveyed in Central Asia and Southern and Eastern Europe, fewer than a quarter of Muslims perceive widespread religious hostilities. This includes Kosovo and Albania, where less than 10% of Muslims believe either Christians or Muslims are hostile toward one another. In Russia, a fifth of Muslims describe Christians as hostile toward Muslims, while 13% say this is how most or many Muslims feel about Christians. Bosnia-Herzegovina is the one country in these two regions where more than a quarter (31%) perceive Christians as hostile toward Muslims – roughly twice as many as say the same about Muslims’ attitudes toward Christians (14%).

Familiarity With Other Faiths

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In only three of the 37 countries where the question was asked do at least half of Muslims say they know a great deal or some about Christian beliefs and practices. In Thailand, where Muslims were asked to rate their knowledge of Buddhism, less than one-in-five say they are familiar with the Buddhist faith.

However, substantial proportions of Muslims in the sub-Saharan African countries surveyed do say they know some or a great deal about the Christian faith. At least half of Muslims say they are knowledgeable about Christianity in Mozambique (61%) and Guinea Bissau (55%), while four-in-ten or more in Ghana (46%), Kenya (45%), the Democratic Republic of Congo (44%), Ethiopia (44%), Uganda (44%), Chad (42%) and Liberia (41%) say the same. Fewer than one-in-five Muslims say they are familiar with Christianity in only one sub-Saharan African country: Niger (17%).

Bosnia-Herzegovina is the only country outside sub-Saharan Africa where about half (51%) of Muslims say they know some or a great deal about Christianity. Elsewhere in Southern and Eastern Europe, as well as Central Asia, fewer than one-in-four Muslims are familiar with the Christian faith.

In the countries surveyed in the Middle East and North Africa, roughly four-in-ten Muslims in Lebanon (38%) say they are familiar with Christian beliefs and practices. More than one-in-five Muslims in Jordan (25%) and Egypt (22%) say they are familiar with Christianity. But fewer than one-in-five Muslims in other countries in the region say they know some or a great deal about the Christian religion.

Familiarity with Christian beliefs and practices is also uniformly low across the countries surveyed in South Asia and Southeast Asia; 15% or fewer Muslims say they know some or a great deal about Christianity (or, in Thailand, Buddhism).

Common Ground With Other Religions

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At least half of Muslims in most countries surveyed say that Islam and Christianity are very different. In Thailand, most Muslims see Islam and Buddhism as very different.

In general, Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa are more likely than their counterparts in other regions to say that Islam and Christianity have a lot in common. Roughly six-in-ten hold this view in Guinea Bissau (62%), Senegal (61%), Tanzania (59%) and Cameroon (58%), while roughly half agree in Liberia (53%), Ghana (51%), Mali (51%) and Nigeria (48%). Only in the Democratic Republic of Congo do fewer than three-in-ten (26%) share this view.

A majority of Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina (59%) and at least half in Kazakhstan (52%) say Islam and Christianity have a lot in common; in Russia, a plurality (46%) agrees. Elsewhere in Central Asia and Southern and Eastern Europe, no more than about three-in-ten believe the two faiths have a lot in common.

In five of the seven countries surveyed in the Middle East and North Africa, a majority or plurality see Islam and Christianity as very different religions. While Palestinian Muslims are split on the issue of how much the two religions share (42% say they have a lot in common, 39% say they are very different), a majority of Muslims in Jordan (60%), Lebanon (57%) and Egypt (56%) consider Islam and Christianity to be very different. In Iraq, 57% of Muslims are uncertain, compared with 27% who believe Islam and Christianity have a lot in common and 16% who say they are very different.

Most Muslims in South Asia and Southeast Asia say Islam and Christianity are very different, including at least eight-in-ten in Indonesia (87%), Malaysia (83%) and Pakistan (81%). Asked about Buddhism, 60% of Thai Muslims say it is very different from Islam.

Knowledge Related to a Sense of Commonality

Muslims who say they know at least something about Christianity are considerably more likely than those with less knowledge to believe the two faiths have a lot in common. For example, in Tunisia, 68% of Muslims who say they know at least something about Christian beliefs and practices say Islam and Christianity share a lot in common. But among Tunisian Muslims who say they are less familiar with Christianity, about a quarter (27%) say the two religions share common ground. Large gaps are also seen in Iraq (+39), Kyrgyzstan (+34), Bosnia-Herzegovina (+30), Russia (+30) and Turkey (+30).

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Relationships With People of Other Faiths

Relatively few Muslims count non-Muslims among their close friends. And in most countries surveyed, few are comfortable with the idea of their son or daughter marrying outside the faith.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the one region where the contact between Muslims and non-Muslims is often more frequent. For instance, substantial percentages Muslims in the region report that their families include both Muslims and Christians. In addition, Muslims in sub-Saharan African tend to participate in inter-faith classes and meetings at a higher rate than Muslims in other regions.

Close Friends

In every country where the question was asked, a large majority of Muslims say all or most of their close friends share their faith. The survey finds that even in countries with substantial non-Muslim populations, a large majority of Muslims say most, if not all, of their close friends share their faith. For example, in Lebanon, where non-Muslims make up nearly 40% of the population, 94% of Muslims describe their circle of close friends as exclusively or mostly Muslim.36 In Russia, where non-Muslims make up 90% of the population, 78% of Muslims say most or all of their close friends share their Islamic faith.37

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Marrying Outside the Faith

In 22 countries outside sub-Saharan Africa, the survey asked Muslims how comfortable they would be with the idea of their son or daughter marrying a Christian. Overall, relatively few Muslims find the idea of inter-marriage acceptable.

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Openness to marrying outside the faith is greatest in Albania and Russia, where at least half of Muslims (77% and 52%, respectively) say they would be comfortable with their son marrying a Christian. A majority of Albanian Muslims (75%) also would be comfortable if their daughter married a Christian, but significantly fewer Russian Muslims (39%) say the same.

Elsewhere in Southern and Eastern Europe, as well as in Central Asia, fewer than four-in-ten Muslims say they would be comfortable with either a son or daughter marrying outside the faith. After Albania and Russia, acceptance of interfaith marriage is greatest in Kazakhstan (36% are comfortable with a son marrying a Christian, 32% with a daughter doing the same), and lowest in Azerbaijan (8% son, 3% daughter).

In the other regions surveyed, three-in-ten or fewer Muslims say they would be comfortable with a son marrying a Christian (or Buddhist, in the case of Thailand), with single-digit acceptance in Pakistan (9%) and Indonesia (6%). Almost no Muslims surveyed in Egypt and Jordan would be comfortable with an interfaith marriage for their daughter. Elsewhere, fewer than one-in-four Muslims would be comfortable with their daughter marrying a Christian.

In the countries surveyed in Middle East and North Africa, Muslims consistently express greater acceptance of interfaith marriage for sons than daughters. Muslims in Egypt and Tunisia, for example, are 17 percentage points more comfortable with a son entering into an interfaith marriage than a daughter doing the same. Among the other countries surveyed in the region, attitudes differ in the same direction by nine to 12 percentage points.

In many countries surveyed, Muslims who pray several times a day are less accepting than those who pray less often of a child marrying outside the faith. This is especially true in Russia, where only a minority of Muslims who pray several times a day are comfortable with their son (35%) or daughter (12%) marrying a Christian. By contrast, 61% of Russian Muslims who pray less often say they would be very or somewhat comfortable if their son married a Christian. Roughly half express the same level of acceptance with the idea of their daughter (53%) marrying a Christian.

Views on Interfaith Marriage and Families in Sub-Saharan Africa

In sub-Saharan Africa, Muslims were asked how comfortable they would be if a child of theirs, regardless of gender, someday married a Christian. Overall, few Muslims in the region say they would accept such a marriage.

Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa were also asked about whether their immediate family includes Christians. Substantial proportions in a number of countries surveyed answer yes, including a majority in Mozambique (93%), Uganda (66%) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (62%), and more than a third in Tanzania (39%), Liberia (38%) and Cameroon (34%).

Interfaith Meetings

In most regions, few Muslims say they attend interfaith meetings or classes. But in sub-Saharan Africa, substantial proportions in several countries say they attend such gatherings with Christians. Interfaith interactions are especially common in Mozambique, Uganda and Liberia, where more than half of Muslims say they engage in organized meetings with Christians.

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Outside sub-Saharan Africa, Thailand is the only country where a majority of Muslims (56%) say they attend interfaith meetings or classes – in this case, with Buddhists. Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, few Muslims report attending formal gatherings with Christians.

In other regions, the proportion of Muslims who take part in interfaith meetings does not exceed one-in-five and is often about one-in-ten or less. Participation in interfaith gatherings is especially low in the Middle East and North Africa, ranging from 8% of Muslims in the Palestinian territories to 3% in Jordan. Even in Lebanon, where Christians make up nearly 40% of the population, just 6% of Muslims say they participate in interfaith classes or meetings with Christians.


Footnotes:

36 See the Pew Research Center’s December 2012 report “The Global Religious Landscape.” (return to text)

37 See the Pew Research Center’s December 2012 report “The Global Religious Landscape.” (return to text)

Pew: Women In Society

Pew:The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society Part 5

Women In Society

In nearly all countries surveyed, a majority of Muslims say that a wife should always obey her husband. At the same time, there also is general agreement – at least outside sub-Saharan Africa – that a woman should have the right to decide for herself whether to wear a veil in public.

Muslims are less unified when it comes to questions of divorce and inheritance. The percentage of Muslims who say that a wife should have the right to divorce her husband varies widely among the countries surveyed, as does the proportion that believes sons and daughters should inherit equally.

In some, but not all, countries surveyed, Muslim women are more supportive of women’s rights than are Muslim men. Differences on these questions also are apparent between Muslims who want sharia to be the official law of the land in their country and those who do not.

Women and Veiling

Muslims in many of the countries surveyed generally favor a woman’s right to choose whether to wear a veil in public.30 This view is especially prevalent in Southern and Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Southeast Asia, including at least nine-in-ten Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina (92%), Kosovo (91%) and Turkey (90%).

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There is less agreement among Muslims in the Middle East-North Africa region and South Asia. While more than eight-in-ten Muslims in Tunisia (89%) and Morocco (85%) say women should have the right to choose whether they wear a veil, fewer than half in Egypt (46%), Jordan (45%), Iraq (45%) and Afghanistan (30%) say the same.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the one region surveyed where most Muslims donot think women should have the right to decide if they wear a veil. The only country in the region where a majority supports a woman’s right to decide is Senegal (58%); by contrast, fewer than a third support giving women this right in Nigeria (30%) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (29%).

Wives’ Role

Muslims in most countries surveyed say that a wife should always obey her husband. In 20 of the 23 countries where the question was asked, at least half of Muslims believe a wife must obey her spouse.

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Muslims in South Asia and Southeast Asia overwhelmingly hold this view. In all countries surveyed in these regions, roughly nine-in-ten or more say wives must obey their husbands. Similarly, in all countries surveyed in the Middle East and North Africa, about three-quarters or more say the same.

Across Central Asia, most Muslims say that wives must obey their husbands, although views vary from country to country. Opinion ranges from nearly nine-in-ten in Tajikistan (89%) to about half in Kazakhstan (51%).

In most of the Southern and Eastern European countries surveyed, fewer than half of Muslims believe a wife must always obey her spouse. Russia is the one exception, with 69% of Muslims taking this view.

Women and Divorce

Muslims in the countries surveyed are not united on whether women should have the right to terminate a marriage.31 In 13 of the 22 countries where the question was asked, at least half of Muslims say a wife should have this right. Most Muslims in Central Asia and in Southern and Eastern Europe hold this view, including 94% in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 88% in Kosovo, 85% in Turkey and 84% in Albania. Tajikistan is the only country surveyed in these two regions where a minority (30%) says women should have the right to initiate divorce.

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Opinion is less unified among Muslims in South Asia and the Middle East-North Africa region. Large majorities affirm women’s right to divorce in Tunisia (81%), Morocco (73%) and Bangladesh (62%), but only about a quarter or fewer say the same in Pakistan (26%), Egypt (22%), Jordan (22%) and Iraq (14%).

In Southeast Asia, only a minority of Muslims believe women should be able to divorce their husbands, including as few as 8% in Malaysia.

Inheritance Rights for Women

In 12 of the 23 countries where the question was asked, at least half of Muslims say that sons and daughters should have equal inheritance rights.32 Most Muslims in Central Asia and in Southern and Eastern Europe hold this view, including 88% in Turkey and 79% in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In these regions, Kyrgyzstan is the only country where fewer than half (46%) support equal inheritance rights.

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In South Asia and Southeast Asia, opinion differs widely by country. More than half of Muslims in Indonesia (76%), Thailand (61%) and Pakistan (53%) support equal inheritance rights, but fewer than half do so in Bangladesh (46%), Malaysia (36%) and Afghanistan (30%).

Across the Middle East and North Africa, fewer than half of Muslims say sons and daughters should receive the same inheritance shares. Palestinian Muslims (43%) are most supportive of equal inheritance rights in this region, while support is low among Muslims in Morocco and Tunisia (15% each).

National Context and Gender Attitudes

Attitudes toward gender issues may be influenced by the social and political context in which Muslims live. For instance, levels of support for equal inheritance by sons and daughters is often more widespread in countries where laws do not specify that sons should receive greater shares. Indeed, in most countries where laws do not mandate unequal inheritance for sons and daughters, a majority of Muslims support equal inheritance. For example, nearly nine-in-ten Muslims in Turkey (88%) say all children should receive the same inheritance. Similarly, more than three-quarters of Muslims in post-communist Bosnia-Herzegovina (79%) and Kosovo (76%) hold this view. By contrast, in most countries where laws specify that sons should receive greater shares than daughters, a smaller percentage of Muslims favor equal inheritance, including a quarter or fewer in Jordan (25%), Iraq (22%), Morocco and Tunisia (15% each).

Women’s Views on Women’s Rights

In some, but not all, countries Muslim women are more supportive of women’s rights than are Muslim men. For example, in 12 of the 23 countries where the question was asked, Muslim women voice greater support than Muslim men for a woman’s right to decide whether to wear a veil in public. In the remaining 11 countries, opinions of women and men do not differ significantly on this question.

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Similarly, when it comes to the issue of equal inheritance for sons and daughters, Muslim women in nine countries are more likely than Muslim men to support it. But in the 14 other countries where the question was asked, the views of women and men are not significantly different.

In none of the countries surveyed are Muslim women substantially less likely than Muslim men to support a woman’s right to choose to wear a veil or the right to equal inheritance for daughters and sons.

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Attitudes of both Muslim women and men may reflect the prevailing cultural and legal norms of their society. For example, in Morocco, 87% of women say a woman should have the right to choose to wear a veil, as do 83% of men and 85% of all Moroccan Muslims.33 Yet, just 14% of Muslim women back equal inheritance for daughters and sons, compared with 15% of Muslim men and 15% of Moroccan Muslims, overall.34

Sharia and Women’s Rights

Overall, the survey finds that Muslims who want sharia to be the law of the land in their country often, though not uniformly, are less likely to support equal rights for women and more likely to favor traditional gender roles.

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Differences between those who want sharia to be the official law and those who do not are most pronounced when it comes to the role of wives. In 10 of the 23 countries where the question was asked, supporters of sharia as official law are more likely to say wives must always obey their husbands. Especially large gaps are found in Albania (+44 percentage points), Kosovo (+34), Bosnia-Herzegovina (+34) and Russia (+33).

Muslims who favor an official role for sharia also tend to be less supportive of granting specific rights to women. For instance, in six countries, those who want Islamic law as the official law are less likely to say women should have the right to divorce, including in Russia (-34 percentage points), Morocco (-19) and Albania (-19). However, the opposite is true in Bangladesh (+13) and Jordan (+12).

Additionally, in seven countries, supporters of sharia as the official law of the land are less likely to say sons and daughters should receive equal inheritance. And in five countries, those who favor sharia as the official law are less likely to believe a woman should have the right to decide whether to wear a veil in public.


Footnotes:

30 The Quran states that a woman should dress modestly, but it does not specifically require that she wear a veil. See Quran 24:30-31. Informed by certain hadith, however, all main legal schools of Islam (madhhab) mandate that women should veil. See Siddiqui, Mona. 2012. “Veil.” In McAuliffe, Jane Dammen, general editor. Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an. Brill. See also Hasan, Usama. 2011. “The Veil: Between Tradition and Reason, Culture and Context.” In Gabriel, Theodore and Rabiha Hannan, editors. “Islam and the Veil: Theoretical and Regional Contexts.” Continuum International Publishing Group, pages 65-80. (return to text)

31 According to most major schools of Islam (madhhab), a woman is permitted to divorce her husband under certain conditions. See Jawad, Haifaa A. 1998. “The Rights of Women in Islam: An Authentic Approach.” Palgrave Macmillan, page 8. (return to text)

32 The Quran specifies that a son should receive two shares of inheritance for every one share given to a daughter. See Quran 4:11. (return to text)

33 Moroccan law does not require or forbid wearing a hijab. See Gray, Doris H. 2008. “Muslim Women on the Move: Moroccan Women and French Women of Moroccan Origin Speak Out.” Lexington Books, page 109. (return to text)

34 Moroccan laws adhere to the Quranic injunction that sons should receive twice the inheritance of daughters. See Sadiqi, Fatima. 2010. “Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa 2010 – Morocco.” Freedom House. (return to text)

Pew: Morality

Pew:The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society Part 4

Morality

Most Muslims agree on certain moral principles. For example, in nearly all countries surveyed, a majority says it is necessary to believe in God to be a moral person. There also is widespread agreement that some behaviors – including drinking alcohol, sex outside marriage, homosexuality and committing suicide – are immoral.

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There is less agreement, however, when it comes to other moral questions related to marriage and family life. For example, the percentage of Muslims who say that divorce is morally acceptable varies widely among countries. Similarly, Muslims are divided about the acceptability of polygamy and the morality of family planning.

God and Morality

Muslims widely hold the view that it is necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values. In nearly every country surveyed, at least half of Muslims say an individual’s morality is linked to belief in God. This is true especially in the countries surveyed in Southeast Asia, where more than nine-in-ten Muslims say it is necessary to believe in God to be a moral person. At least eight-in-ten say the same in most countries surveyed in South Asia and the Middle East-North Africa region; only in Lebanon does a smaller majority (64%) share this view.

At least half of Muslims in all the countries surveyed in sub-Saharan Africa accept that personal morality is based on belief in God. This view is most widely held in Niger (88%) and Tanzania (87%), followed by Djibouti and Kenya (75% each).

Most Muslims in Central Asia as well as Southern and Eastern Europe also agree that belief in God is necessary to be moral, including 88% in Azerbaijan and 76% in Kosovo. Only in Albania (45%) and Kazakhstan (41%) do fewer than half share this opinion.

In many countries, Muslims who pray several times a day are more likely than those who pray less often to say it is necessary to believe in God to be moral. The differences are particularly large in Russia (+40 percentage points), Lebanon (+39), Kosovo (+23) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (+22). On this question, there are no consistent differences by age or gender across the countries surveyed.

Beliefs About Morality

The survey asked Muslims around the world if they considered a range of behaviors to be morally wrong, morally acceptable or not a moral issue. Respondents also could volunteer that “it depends on the situation” or that they don’t know. The survey finds that most Muslims agree that certain behaviors – such as drinking alcohol, suicide and sex outside marriage – are morally wrong. However, significant minorities of Muslims in some countries consider such behaviors morally acceptable or say they are not a moral issue.

Drinking alcohol

Most Muslims surveyed say that drinking alcohol is morally wrong.21 More than half in all countries surveyed hold this view, including more than nine-in-ten in Thailand (98%), Ghana (93%), Malaysia (93%), the Palestinian territories (92%), Indonesia (91%), Niger (91%) and Pakistan (91%).

However, in 11 of the 37 countries where this question was asked, at least one-in-ten say that drinking alcohol is morally acceptable, including in Chad (23%), Mozambique (20%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (17%) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (16%).

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In addition, in some countries sizable percentages say consuming alcohol is not a moral issue. These include Afghanistan (23%) and Chad (20%), as well as the former communist states of Albania (34%), Bosnia-Herzegovina (21%) and Azerbaijan (20%).

Suicide and Euthanasia

Majorities of Muslims in all countries believe that suicide is morally wrong, including three-quarters or more in 29 of the 37 countries where this question was asked.22 This view is almost universal in Thailand (nearly 100%), Cameroon (98%) and Kenya (97%).

In only four of the countries where this question was asked do as many as one-in-ten Muslims say suicide is morally acceptable. All four countries are in sub-Saharan Africa: Guinea Bissau (13%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (11%), Mozambique (10%) and Uganda (10%).

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In 13 countries, at least one-in-ten Muslims do not consider suicide to be a moral issue. A third or more take this view in Jordan (40%), Azerbaijan (34%) and Egypt (33%).

As with suicide, most Muslims believe that euthanasia – defined in the survey as ending the life of an incurably ill person – is morally wrong. A majority of Muslims in 33 of the 37 countries surveyed hold this view, including more than three-quarters in 17 countries.

The sub-Saharan African countries of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (14%), Uganda (14%), Mozambique (13%) and Guinea Bissau (12%) are the only nations surveyed where more than one-in-ten Muslims say euthanasia is morally acceptable.

Substantial minorities, however, do not define euthanasia as a moral issue. In 16 of the 37 countries, at least one-in-ten Muslims say it is not a moral issue, including 46% in Jordan, 41% in Azerbaijan and 38% in Egypt. Additionally, in six countries, one-in-ten or more volunteer that the moral status of euthanasia depends on the context in which it occurs: Kazakhstan (14%), Egypt (11%), Albania (10%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (10%), Kyrgyzstan (10%) and Russia (10%).

Abortion

Most Muslims say that having an abortion is morally wrong, including three-quarters or more in 24 of the 37 countries where the question was asked.23 Azerbaijan is the only country where fewer than a quarter (23%) say terminating a pregnancy is immoral.

By contrast, few Muslims say that abortion is morally acceptable. In only five countries do one-in-ten or more say the practice is morally permissible: Bangladesh (18%), Uganda (15%), Bosnia-Herzegovina (14%), Mozambique (13%) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (10%).

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In 13 countries however, at least one-in-ten Muslims say abortion is not a moral issue. This view is especially common in some countries in the Middle East-North Africa region; 34% in Jordan, 22% in Egypt and 21% in Iraq say they do not consider abortion to be a moral question.

Additionally, in 11 of the countries surveyed, at least one-in-ten Muslims volunteer that the morality of having an abortion depends on the situation. Half of Azerbaijani Muslims and more than a third (34%) of Muslims in Tajikistan take this view. Overall, this perception is most common in Central Asia and the Middle East-North Africa region.

Sex Outside Marriage and Prostitution

A strong majority of Muslims in nearly all countries surveyed condemn pre- and extra-marital sex, including three-quarters or more in 29 of the 36 countries where the question was asked. This view is nearly universal in Thailand (99%), Jordan (96%), Lebanon (96%) and Egypt (95%).24

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Muslims in Southern and Eastern Europe as well as sub-Saharan Africa are somewhat more tolerant of sex outside marriage. At least one quarter in Bosnia-Herzegovina (26%) and Albania (25%) say sex outside marriage is morally acceptable. And in sub-Saharan Africa, nearly two-in-ten share this view in Guinea Bissau (19%), Chad (18%) and Uganda (18%).

Few Muslims believe sex outside marriage is not a moral issue. In only six of the countries surveyed does more than one-in-ten take this position: Cameroon (17%), Bosnia-Herzegovina (16%), Ethiopia (16%), Chad (15%), Bangladesh (13%) and Djibouti (12%).

Muslims are even more emphatic that prostitution is morally wrong. More than seven-in-ten in each country surveyed say it is immoral. Only in Chad (10%) do as many as one-in-ten Muslims say prostitution is morally acceptable. Meanwhile, in a few countries, small percentages of Muslims say prostitution is not a moral issue: Bangladesh (12%), Chad (12%), Djibouti (10%) and Guinea Bissau (10%).

Homosexuality

Muslims overwhelmingly say that homosexual behavior is morally wrong, including three-quarters or more in 33 of the 36 countries where the question was asked.25

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Only in three countries do as many as one-in-ten Muslims say that homosexuality is morally acceptable: Uganda (12%), Mozambique (11%) and Bangladesh (10%).

In most countries surveyed, fewer than one-in-ten Muslims believe homosexual behavior is not a moral issue. The exceptions are Bangladesh (14%), Guinea Bissau (14%) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (10%).

Morality and Marriage

Although Muslims strongly agree on the morality of a range of behaviors, Muslims hold a range of opinions on the morality of divorce, family planning and polygamy.

Divorce

In 15 of the 37 countries where the question was asked, at least half of Muslims consider divorce a morally acceptable practice.26 Acceptance is high in Thailand (65%), Turkey (64%), Lebanon (64%), Bangladesh (62%), Tunisia (61%) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (60%).

By contrast, at least half of Muslims in 10 countries believe divorce is morally wrong. This includes roughly seven-in-ten Muslims in Liberia (72%), Mali (71%), Ethiopia (71%) and Pakistan (71%).

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In the majority of countries surveyed, at least one-in-five Muslims say divorce is not a moral issue or that it depends on the situation. These views are particularly widespread in Azerbaijan (50%), Iraq (48%) and Afghanistan (44%).

There is no consistent pattern of differences on this question by age or gender across the countries surveyed. However, younger Muslims are more likely to say that divorce is morally acceptable in Albania (+14 percentage points) and Kosovo (+12). And men are somewhat more likely than women to say that divorce is morally acceptable in Pakistan (+13) and Egypt (+10).

Polygamy

Muslims in the countries surveyed are divided on the moral status of polygamy.27 At least half view polygamy as morally acceptable in 11 of the 37 countries where the question was asked. Acceptance is most widespread in sub-Saharan Africa; at least six-in-ten in Niger (87%), Senegal (86%), Mali (74%), Cameroon (67%), Tanzania (63%) and Nigeria (63%) describe polygamy as morally acceptable. Outside of sub-Saharan Africa, however, the only country where a majority of Muslims say polygamy is morally acceptable is Thailand (66%).

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At the opposite end of the spectrum, at least half of Muslims in 12 countries say polygamy is immoral. Muslims in Central Asia as well as Southern and Eastern Europe are the most likely to say that polygamy is morally wrong, with six-in-ten or more taking this position in all the countries surveyed in the regions except Kyrgyzstan (53%), Russia (49%) and Tajikistan (47%). Outside these two regions, Tunisia (67%) is the only country where more than six-in-ten reject polygamy.

Compared with divorce, fewer Muslims believe polygamy is not a moral issue or that it depends on the situation. Still, in 14 of 37 countries at least one-in-five say it is not a moral issue or it depends on the circumstances. These views are especially widespread in Jordan (52%), Egypt (51%), Afghanistan (44%), Malaysia (39%) and Tajikistan (38%).

In most countries men are more likely than women to say that polygamy is morally acceptable. The gap is largest in Pakistan (+29 percentage points), followed by Iraq (+21), Thailand (+21), Lebanon (+20), Russia (+19) and the Palestinian territories (+18). There are no consistent differences between the beliefs of younger and older Muslims about the moral status of polygamy.

Family Planning

There is no clear agreement among Muslims in the survey about the morality of family planning.28 In just three of the 21 countries where the question was asked do at least half of Muslims say that it is morally acceptable for married couples to choose to limit the number of children they have. Roughly six-in-ten say this in Indonesia (61%) and Tajikistan (58%). About half say family planning is morally acceptable in Tunisia (51%).

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Yet in two countries where this question was asked roughly half of Muslims say family planning is morally wrong – Thailand (50%) and Pakistan (47%). A substantial minority in Tunisia (40%) also shares this view.

In 17 countries, at least one-in-five Muslims say family planning is not a moral issue or say it depends on the situation. These beliefs are particularly common in the Middle East and North Africa. In every country surveyed in the region except Tunisia (8%), more than a third of Muslims say family planning is not a moral issue or it depends, including 56% in Jordan, 49% in Egypt and 47% in Iraq.

There are no consistent differences between older and younger Muslims or men and women in their beliefs about the moral status of family planning.

Sharia, Morality and the Family

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The survey finds that Muslims who want sharia to be the official law of the land in their country often have different views from other Muslims about the morality of issues related to marriage and the family. Across countries, however, Muslims who want sharia to be official law do not always take consistent positions on whether divorce and family planning are acceptable practices.

Polygamy

In many of the countries surveyed, beliefs about the moral status of polygamy are strongly linked to support for sharia as the official law of the land. Muslims who favor Islamic law as the official law in their country are consistently more likely to say polygamy is an acceptable practice than are those who do not want sharia as official law. The differences are relatively larger in Russia (+28 percentage points) and Lebanon (+25).

Divorce

On the question of whether divorce is morally acceptable, support for sharia does not have a uniform effect in all countries. In some countries, those who support Islamic law as the official law in their country are more likely to say that divorce is morally acceptable. This trend is most pronounced in Bangladesh (+22 percentage points) and Lebanon (+11). Meanwhile, in other countries, especially former communist countries in Southern and Eastern Europe, the opposite is true: Those who support sharia as the law of the land are less likely to say divorce is morally acceptable. The largest differences are in Kazakhstan (-33), Albania (-29) and Russia (-19).

Family Planning

In some countries, support for sharia is linked to attitudes on the moral status of family planning. But, as in the case of divorce, how the two are linked differs across countries. In some countries, those who favor sharia as the law of the land are less likely to say family planning is morally acceptable, including in Kazakhstan (-24 percentage points), Russia (-15) and Lebanon (-13). However, those who favor the implementation of sharia as the official law are more likely to say that family planning is a moral practice in Bangladesh (+22), Jordan (+14) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (+11).

Beliefs About Family Honor

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The survey asked Muslims whether honor killings are ever justified as punishment for pre- or extra-marital sex.29 In 14 of the 23 countries where the question was asked, at least half say honor killings are never justified when a woman stands accused. Similarly, at least half in 15 of 23 countries say honor killings of accused men are never justified. In only two countries – Afghanistan (60%) and Iraq (60%) – do majorities say honor killings of women are often or sometimes justified, while only in Afghanistan does a majority (59%) say the same about executing men who have allegedly engaged in pre- or extra-marital sex.

In all countries surveyed in Southern and Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Southeast Asia, roughly half or more of Muslims say honor killings of women who have been accused of pre- or extra-marital sex are never justified, including at least eight-in-ten who hold this view in Kazakhstan (84%), Azerbaijan (82%) and Indonesia (82%). With the exception of Uzbekistan, attitudes toward the execution of accused men are nearly identical to opinions about accused women in these countries.

Muslims in South Asia are less likely to say honor killings of both women and men are never justified. In Pakistan, 45% of Muslims say executing accused women is never justified, and 48% say the same about accused men. In Bangladesh, fewer than four-in-ten Muslims reject honor killings for women (34%) and men (38%), while in Afghanistan roughly a quarter say executing a woman (24%) or a man (24%) is never justified.

In four of the seven countries where the question was asked in the Middle East-North Africa region, at least half of Muslims say honor killings of accused men are never justified: Jordan (81%), Morocco (64%), Tunisia (62%) and Lebanon (55%). Smaller percentages share this view in the Palestinian territories (46%), Egypt (41%) and Iraq (33%). But in only two countries in the region – Morocco (65%) and Tunisia (57%) – does a majority reject honor killings of accused women. In the other countries surveyed in the region, the percentage of Muslims who reject honor killings of women ranges from 45% in Lebanon to 22% in Iraq.

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In three countries surveyed in the Middle East and North Africa, Muslims are significantly more likely to reject honor killings of men than women: Jordan (+47 percentage points), Iraq (+11) and Egypt (+10).

Across the countries surveyed, attitudes toward honor killings of women and men are not consistently linked to religious observance. In most countries, Muslims who pray several times a day are just as likely as those who pray less often to say that honor killings are never justified. There also are no consistent differences by age or gender. However, in some countries surveyed, Muslims who support sharia are less likely to say that honor killings of women and men are never justified. Large gaps are found in Albania, Tunisia, Tajikistan and Lebanon, among other countries.


Footnotes:

21 Alcohol and other intoxicants are forbidden in the Quran (5:90-1). (return to text)

22 Killing oneself is condemned in numerous hadith, including Sahih al-Bukhari 71:670 and 73:73. (return to text)

23 A hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari (54:430) says that a fetus has a soul within 120 days of gestation. (return to text)

24 Sex outside of marriage is forbidden by the Quran (17:32; 24:2-5). A hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari (34:439) forbids prostitution. (return to text)

25 Certain verses of the Quran indicate that homosexuality is forbidden (Quran 26:165-66 and 7:80-4). (return to text)

26 Surat (chapter) 65 of the Quran specifies certain conditions under which divorce is permissible. (return to text)

27 Polygamy is generally considered an accepted practice in all main schools of Islam. The Quran permits men to take up to four wives as long as they can treat all equitably and with justice. See Quran 4:3. (return to text)

28 According to John Esposito, “The Quran contains no clear or explicit text regarding birth control. However, the traditions (hadith) of Muhammad do. Though some traditions forbid birth control the majority permit it.” See Esposito, John L. 2003. “Birth Control/Contraception.” In The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford University Press, page 44. (return to text)

29 The Quran and hadith do not condone honor killings, that is, taking the life of a family member who has allegedly brought shame on his or her family. See Gill, Aisha. 2011. “Reconfiguring ‘Honour’-Based Violence as a Form of Gendered Violence.” In Idriss, Mohammad Mazher and Tahir Abbas, editors. Honour, Violence, Women and Islam. Routledge, pages 222-223. (return to text)