What Muslims Think
New book examines what the more than 1
billion Muslims think about gender, race and terrorism
what more than 1 billion people think is an ambitious project by any standard.
But Georgetown University Prof. John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed,
executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, helped organize
just such a survey and managed to condense their findings into a mere 204
pages. Their new book, Who
Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, is based on a
Gallup Poll, the largest of its kind, which surveyed some 50,000 Muslims in
more than 35 countries. It asked questions about gender, race, terrorism, the
separation of church and state, and the prospects of peace with the West. U.S.
News spoke with Mogahed about the findings. Excerpts:
Afghan boys at
a Muslim school.
Influence of a Moderate Muslim Cleric
Mufti Provides Voice of Moderation
Britain Ready for Sharia?
Meet the Grand Mufti
learned more about Muslims than we knew in 2001?
We did a survey of Americans in 2002, asking what they knew about the beliefs
and opinions of Muslims around the world. Fifty-four percent said they knew
nothing or not much. We asked that same question in 2007, after we've had two
wars and a great deal more media coverage of Muslims, and this time 57 percent
said they knew nothing or not much. We are no closer to truly understanding
this part of the world, even as we are more engaged with it.
misunderstand the West?
Asked what they most admired and most resented about the West, they answered
first technology and second, democracy. People would mention their support for
freedom of speech, the rule of law, and the transparency of government. What
they most disliked was the perceived moral laxity and libertinism of the West,
which, interestingly, is exactly what Americans said when we polled them on
those two questions. There is common ground on that issue.
Even in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia, there were only percentages in the
single digits that said they admired nothing about the West. When we asked
Americans what they admired about the Muslim world, the most frequent response
How are the
antiwestern Muslims different?
Compared with the entire population of Muslims, those who don't condemn the
9/11 attacks are no more likely to say that they are religious. But they are
much more likely to say that the United States is not serious about promoting
democracy in their part of the world and that the United States will not allow
them to fashion their own political future. When we asked their greatest fear,
while the general population will talk about personal safety, this radicalized
group most fears political domination and occupation. They have a heightened
sense of being threatened and dominated by the West. But those same people are
also far more likely to say that greater democracy will help Muslims progress.
So, they have a greater desire for autonomy and a greater sense that freedom is
What makes a
We asked how many people condone the 9/11 attacks and found that the vast
majority condemn the attacks; only 7 percent thought it was completely
justified. We also asked about attacks on civilians in general, the moral
justifiability of sacrificing one's life, and about the moral justifiability of
attacking civilians as an individual or as a military. We asked those 7 percent
about why they felt the attacks were justified and, surprisingly, not a single
one offered a religious justification. Instead, the responses sounded like
revolutionaries; they talked about American imperialism. Instead of piety
motivating their responses, it was politics.
percent is still some 100 million people.
It is a lot of people, and we have to take them seriously. But they are not
hardened terrorists; they are more like the cheering section. For example, they
are more likely than the general population to say that relations with the West
are of personal concern. They are just more likely to be skeptical of the
West's goodwill in return. They just don't think that there is much hope in a
diplomatic or peaceful means of change. They've lost faith in the peaceful
ability to change things.
American correlation to that?
When we asked Americans, we found that 6 percent thought it was completely
justifiable to deliberately target civilians and 24 percent said that bombing
and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians are often or sometimes
How can we
bridge these gaps?
Public diplomacy is important. It's not just about Muslims admiring us and
respecting us; what's more important to them is that we admire and respect
them. Muslims give us a long list of things they admire about the West, yet
when asked what we can do to improve things, they want us to respect them and
stop looking down on them. Our public diplomacy needs to move from selling
America to affirming other cultures for what they are.