PEW Forum: The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society

no to suicide bombing

The PEW Forum on Religion & Public Life has issued a very detailed poll of the Muslim countries

Chapter 1: Beliefs About Sharia

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According to the survey findings, most Muslims believe sharia is the revealed word of God rather than a body of law developed by men based on the word of God. Muslims also tend to believe sharia has only one, true understanding, but this opinion is far from universal; in some countries, substantial minorities of Muslims believe sharia should be open to multiple interpretations. Religious commitment is closely linked to views about sharia: Muslims who pray several times a day are more likely to say sharia is the revealed word of God, to say that it has only one interpretation and to support the implementation of Islamic law in their country.

April 30, 2013

The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society

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Overwhelming percentages of Muslims in many countries want Islamic law (sharia) to be the official law of the land, according to a worldwide survey by the Pew Research Center. But many supporters of sharia say it should apply only to their country’s Muslim population.

Moreover, Muslims are not equally comfortable with all aspects of sharia: While most favor using religious law in family and property disputes, fewer support the application of severe punishments – such as whippings or cutting off hands – in criminal cases. The survey also shows that Muslims differ widely in how they interpret certain aspects of sharia, including whether divorce and family planning are morally acceptable.

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The survey involved a total of more than 38,000 face-to-face interviews in 80-plus languages. It covered Muslims in 39 countries, which are divided into six regions in this report – Southern and Eastern Europe (Russia and the Balkans), Central Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa.

Regional Differences

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Attitudes toward Islamic law vary significantly by region. Support for making sharia the law of the land is highest in South Asia (median of 84%). Medians of at least six-in-ten Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa (64%), the Middle East-North Africa region (74%) and Southeast Asia (77%) also favor enshrining sharia as official law. But in two regions, far fewer Muslims say Islamic law should be endorsed by their governments: Southern and Eastern Europe (18%) and Central Asia (12%).

Within regions, support for enshrining sharia as official law is particularly high in some countries with predominantly Muslim populations, such as Afghanistan and Iraq.1 But support for sharia is not limited to countries where Muslims make up a majority of the population. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, Muslims constitute less than a fifth of the population in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique and Uganda; yet in each of these countries, at least half of Muslims (52%-74%) say they want sharia to be the official law of the land.

Conversely, in some countries where Muslims make up more than 90% of the population, relatively few want their government to codify Islamic law; this is the case in Tajikistan (27%), Turkey (12%) and Azerbaijan (8%).

Distinct legal and political cultures may help to explain the differing levels of support for sharia. Many of the countries surveyed in Central Asia and Southern and Eastern Europe share a history of separating religion and the state. The policies of modern Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, for example, emphasized the creation of a secular government; other countries in these two regions experienced decades of secularization under communist rule. By contrast, governments in many of the countries surveyed in South Asia and the Middle East-North Africa region have officially embraced Islam.

Sharia

Sharia, or Islamic law, offers moral and legal guidance for nearly all aspects of life – from marriage and divorce, to inheritance and contracts, to criminal punishments. Sharia, in its broadest definition, refers to the ethical principles set down in Islam’s holy book (the Quran) and examples of actions by the Prophet Muhammad (sunna). The Islamic jurisprudence that comes out of the human exercise of codifying and interpreting these principles is known as fiqh. Muslim scholars and jurists continue to debate the boundary between sharia and fiqh as well as other aspects of Islamic law.

Existing Legal Frameworks

Indeed, the survey finds that support for making sharia the law of the land is often higher in countries where the constitution or basic laws already favor Islam over other religions.2 Majorities in such countries say sharia should be enshrined as official law, including at least nine-in-ten Muslims in Afghanistan (99%) and Iraq (91%). By comparison, in countries where Islam is not legally favored, roughly a third or fewer Muslims say sharia should be the law of the land. Support is especially low in Kazakhstan (10%) and Azerbaijan (8%).3

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Read further

The Muslim Times’ Chief Editor’s response

There is a lot of information to digest in this survey and everyone from Islamophobes, Islamomaniacs and moderate Muslims will have their spin on this.

My first response is that the Muslim Times and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community believe deeply in separation of Mosque and State.  Here I link some reading materials to that effect:

Separation of Mosque-Church and State

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