Muslims more devout
Muslims are more religious than people of other faiths, according to an international survey.
The research in 24 countries by British research company Ipsos-MORI shows that Muslims are more inclined than other believers to say their religion is the only true one, more inclined to say religion is an important part of their lives and more inclined to say it motivates them to good works, the survey shows.
The survey came to my attention via CNN, who did a long and interesting report, seeking to explain why this might be the case.
Devotion or confidence about religion is, of course, not synonymous with extremism, let alone terrorism.
Ipsos-MORI surveys the same 24 countries on different questions every month. The poll on religion found that 61 per cent in Muslim-majority countries say their faith is the only true path to salvation or paradise, compared with 19 per cent in Christian-majority countries, while 61 per cent of Muslims say their religion motivates them to give time and money to people in need, compared with 24 per cent in Christian countries. But, across the survey, more than half said religion made no difference because they saw giving time or money to those in need as important in any case.
Ipsos MORI chief Ben Page says on the website: “The survey is a good reminder to many in (the West) of how much religion matters – and is a force for good – in much of the world. Our analysis shows people would rather keep politics separate from religion, but that in a globalising world, it still matters more than many in old Europe think.”
More than 90 per cent of Muslims say their faith is important, 86 per cent of Hindus and 66 per cent of Christians. While the West mostly takes the desirability of separating church and state for granted — for good historical reasons — the Muslim world generally does not, though it also has had its share of sectarian strife.
The CNN report suggests conflict, theology and history combine to make Muslims more attached to their religion. Many Muslims define themselves in contrast to the West, which they see as in moral decline, and since 9/11 they tend to see the West as at war with Islam, in a deep ideological conflict.
Second, Islam had no Reformation or Enlightenment, and has not had the same drive to a secular society, leaving religion more strongly entrenched in social structures.
Muslims also believe themselves to the final, ultimate religion, the last word after the earlier chapters of the older monotheistic religions. They take varying approaches to Christians and Jews, the ‘‘people of the book’’, ranging from openness to violent opposition, partly because the Koran itself expresses various attitudes. They are much less open to other religions, and especially those that came later, such as the Baha’is, who are even more viciously persecuted in places like Iran than Christians or Jews.
Third, the CNN report says, Muslims do not see Muhammad as simply an historical figure, but as a personal inspiration and model to be followed. To which I add that Islam is a highly disciplined religion whose practices strongly shape a Muslim's day (eg praying five times a day), keeping the faith in the forefront of the mind.
Fourth, most Muslim-majority countries do not separate religion and politics, as Western countries do. Turkey and Indonesia have secular Constitutions, but Turkey is governed by an Islamic party, and Indonesia’s political culture is steeped in Islam. (Ipsos-MORI surveys Turkey, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia as its Muslim-majority countries.)
Washington political scientist Farid Senzai tells CNN that the West must take the Muslim world on its own terms. ‘‘Many Muslims want religion to play a role in politics. To assume that everyone around the world wants liberal secular democracy is an absurd idea.’’
Devotion or confidence about religion is, of course, not synonymous with extremism, let alone terrorism. But the Arab Spring may prove very bad news for Christians and other minorities in the Middle East, for women, and even for Muslim men deemed insufficiently devout, if disturbing early signs are confirmed.
NB: The survey acknowledges methodological limitations. It is opt-in — 18,473 adults did the survey in the 24 countries — and nearly half identified as Christian, a quarter as not religious, 11 per cent as Muslim, 4 per cent as Buddhist and 3 per cent as Hindu.
Over to you.
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