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Muslim Beliefs & Practices: A Global Demographic Assessment
Executive Summary Survey Overview
- The three Pew Research surveys compiled and analyzed by the Muslim Global Demographic Project encompass about 1.1 billion Muslims (two-thirds of the global Muslim population) living in 39 countries. Not every country was polled in all of the survey questions.
- Sectarian divisions are a major source of conflict within Islam. Each sect believes it represents the true teaching of the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad. 67% (736.3 million) of Muslims surveyed believe that there is only one true interpretation of Islam’s teachings. Disagreements over the interpretation of Islam have sometimes resulted in deadly violence, mostly between Sunnis and Shias. In the Middle East and South Asia, there are tens of thousands of sectarian militants whose actions could spark a broader conflict (Q1).
- Very devout Muslims—those who say their lives reflect the hadith and the sunna to a considerable degree—comprise 41% (369.7 million) of the survey population. They are more likely to say that sharia (Islamic law) is the revealed word of Allah, that Islam and sharia have only one interpretation, that proselytizing is a religious duty, and that sharia should be the official law of their country (Q2). They are also probably more likely to support extreme punishments such as amputation and stoning.
- Though Muslims are evenly divided over the belief that there is only one interpretation of sharia, 69% of Muslims (741.8 million) in the survey countries favor making sharia the official law of their country (Q3, Q4) and 64% (581 million) believe it is the revealed word of Allah (Q4aa).
- About one-third to one-half of Muslims in the survey countries (274.0 million - 463.3 million) believe sharia should be applied to non-Muslims in some way, and support extreme punishments such as whippings, amputations, stoning for adultery, and the death penalty for apostasy (Q5-Q8).
- About one-third of Muslims surveyed (349.4 million - 361.8 million) support the forced veiling of women and say that honor killings are justified, in at least some circumstances, for women who commit pre or extra-marital sex (Q9, Q10)
- Nearly 33% (333.7 million) of Muslims surveyed said they are concerned about Islamic extremist groups in their country (few were concerned about Christian extremists). Nearly 17% (177.1 million) said that violence against civilians can be justified in order to “defend Islam from its enemies.” The defense of Islam can be broader than resistance to armed attacks. For many Muslims, insulting Islam or Muhammad is regarded as an attack on Islam (Q11, Q12).
- 46% (503.5 million) of Muslims surveyed believe in the “evil eye”—that certain people can cast curses or spells that cause bad things to happen to others. They also believe that its power can be overcome by incantations (ruqyah) and washings. These beliefs are based on the teachings and examples of Muhammad found in the canonical traditions, or hadith (Q13).
- Nearly one-third of Muslims in the survey population (353.6 million) believe there is a natural conflict between being a devout religious person and living in a modern society. Most Muslims agree that Western music, movies, and television pose a threat to morality in their country (Q14).
- In addition to the high degree of support for sharia, about one-third to one-half of Muslims (274.0 million - 503.5 million) in the survey uphold beliefs and practices (mostly related to sharia) that are contrary to many Western values, such as separation of religion and state, religious and individual freedom, freedom of speech, equality of persons under the law, protection from cruel and inhuman punishment, the right of self-determination, gender equality, and the rejection of superstition (Q5, Q6, Q7, Q8, Q9, Q10, Q13, Q14).
Security, Terrorism, and the Potential Threat to Western Culture
- Many Muslims reject basic universal rights and freedoms.
- A pre-scientific worldview continues to inhibit Islamic historical and scientific inquiry.
- Very devout Muslims are likely to reject the legitimacy of Western laws and government.
- Converting non-Muslims and promoting sharia are religious imperatives (Q15).
- Intolerance of non-Muslims is widespread and continues to be taught.
- Terrorism can be religiously justified to defend the integrity and reputation of Islam.
- Over 100 million Muslims can justify acts of terrorism in the defense of Islam.