What are Today’s Muslims Saying?

Beyond the five pillars, though, what are Muslims all about, all over the world?  What are their hopes and fears, their dreams and concerns?  2005 Gallup survey data of American households produced two majority answers to the question, “What do you admire most about Muslim societies?”  The most frequent response was “nothing”.  Not lagging far behind was the answer, “I don’t know”.  Together the two answers represented almost 60% of all Americans.  A Washington Post/ABC News poll that took place about five years after the 9/11 attacks showed that almost half of all Americans had a negative view of Islam.  Although we all are responsible for our own awareness, admittedly, the ordinary American would need extraordinary determination and persistence to obtain any valid information on this subject.  Between “24” episodes or Wolf Blitzer Situation Room CNN programs, the media exposure to mainstream Islam is virtually nonexistent in the US.

In all likelihood, Christians rely on statements from evangelical leaders such as the son of Billy Graham (Franklin Graham), who said, “It wasn’t Methodists flying into these buildings, it wasn’t Lutherans, it was an attack on this country by people of the Islamic faith”, or televangelist Pat Robertson, who giddily rejoiced in a hypothetical ensuing conflict between Muslims and gays in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting in summer of 2016, claiming the lives of 49 and wounding 53.

Many non-right-wing–Christian Americans probably fall into the category of “I don’t know”.  Thanks to the groundbreaking data from Muslim majority countries collected by Gallup between 2001 and 2007, along with its informative exposition by John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed in their extremely insightful book, “Who Speaks for Islam?”,  we are not limited to the irrational rantings of televangelists or non—factual mainstream media news programs for a factual understanding of the viewpoints of Muslims.

From a general perspective, survey responses show that Muslim households are primarily concerned with the same matters as American households.  When asked what the United States could do to improve their lives, the most common responses of Muslims were to reduce unemployment and improve the economic infrastructure.  (Who speaks for Islam, P 62).  When asked about their dreams for the future of their country, the majority of Muslims, including the politically radicalized, cited improved economic conditions, greater security, and an end to civil tensions.  Next in line for those who identified themselves as moderates were improvements in education.  For those identifying themselves as politically radicalized, democratic ideals and freedom of speech came next.  (Who speaks for Islam, P 94).

Jobs, education, economic improvement, safety, freedom of speech… answers that represent 90% of the Muslim world, even including those with radicalized viewpoints.  How can this be?  In a sampling that represents 90% of all Muslims on the planet, their primary concerns are employment and education?  What about all those reports telling us that, “It is the duty of every Muslim male to wage war against infidels – not just by preaching and persuading, but by any means necessary and as the world has seen, by extreme violence whenever possible. It is one of the core beliefs of Islam.”?   (http://www.targetofopportunity.com/islam.htm)

As we have shown, it is categorically NOT one of the core beliefs, and as the survey results show, the primary concerns of the vast majority of Muslims do not include anything even remotely related to the violent subjugation of all to Islam.

With respect to the issues of jihad and Sharia law, the data continues to be enlightening.  When queried about the meaning of jihad, interestingly, only the island nation of Indonesia produced an outright majority response equating the meaning of jihad with sacrificing one’s life for the sake of Islam.  More common responses were, “a commitment to hard work” and “achieving one’s goals in life”, “struggling to achieve a noble cause”, “promoting peace, harmony, or cooperation and assisting others”, and “living the principles of Islam”.  (Who speaks for Islam, P 21).

Focusing specifically on the the 9/11 attacks, 93% of those surveyed did not agree with the statement that the attacks were “completely justified”.  (Who speaks for Islam, P 69).  When questioned about their devotion to Islam, both the 93% who were against the attacks and the 7% who were for them considered themselves devoted Muslims.  In fact, those who condemn the 9/11 attacks often cited verses from the Quran as their justification.  Additional data that will be expounded upon in the next chapter will show that the primary motivation for virtually all terror attacks is politically-based, and is not driven by religious/idealistic principles.

At the risk of being redundant, I reiterate that 93% of Muslims oppose the 9/11 attacks and many cite Quranic justification in support of this view.

My own experience in conversations with dozens of Muslims absolutely validates the fact that Muslims condemn terrorism on the basis of the teaching of the Quran.  Nearly every Muslim that I’ve spoken with since beginning my research for this book has quoted two Quranic verses to me, with depth of emotion:

2:256 “There shall be no compulsion in religion; the right way has become distinct from the wrong way. Whoever renounces evil and believes in God has grasped the most trustworthy handle; which does not break. God is Hearing and Knowing”, and

5:32 “Because of that We ordained for the Children of Israel: that whoever kills a person—unless it is for murder or corruption on earth—it is as if he killed the whole of mankind; and whoever saves it, it is as if he saved the whole of mankind.”

My close friend, Mohammed, was quick to correct me in a recent conversation in which I misquoted this verse to refer to “all people”.  With deep conviction in his eyes he said, “not all people, all of mankind who has ever lived and ever will live”.  I am moved to tears almost every time I speak with Mohammed.

With respect to the concepts of democracy and Sharia law, which are usually seen as mutually exclusive, the data is again helpful.  Of all the countries surveyed, only a handful returned majorities saying that Sharia law should have no place in government.  In the many countries where Sharia law was favored, only a minority favored Sharia law as the only source of legislation.  Most favor a balance between a secular legal system and Sharia law.  In the United States, at this point 100% of non-Muslims I have spoken with are incredulous that Muslims, especially Muslim women, are in favor of Sharia law, equating it to the often publicized Wahhabi/Islamic State version involving harsh and violent punishments and strict enforcement of various restrictions as ridiculous as displaying flowers that are too bright.  However Sharia law in its most authentic form emphasizes family law and social egalitarianism, and is seen as a form of constitutional protection against autocratic rulers.  The many Muslims I have spoken with about this consider it one and the same with the practice of the Islamic faith.  Muslims simply want to be governed with the fairness exemplified and taught by Mohammed in the Quran.

I find it curious that so many Americans find fault with Muslims for wanting their faith to have a place in the legislative practices of their nations, because another Gallup poll, taken in 2006, produced results that show a clear majority of Americans definitively want the Bible to be used as the source for laws in America.  9% of Americans would like the Bible to be the only source for legislation.  In addition, 42% of Americans would like religious leaders to play a direct role in creating a constitution, while 55% feel that religious leaders should have no part whatsoever.  Astonishingly, “these numbers are almost identical to those in Iran”.  (Who speaks for Islam, P 49).

In addition to huge misperceptions about what mainstream Muslims believe about jihad and Sharia law, most Americans seem completely in the dark when it comes to understanding the role of women in Islamic society.

We have already seen that Mohammed himself was quite secure in the presence of strong women, namely Khadija, his first wife, who was 15 years Mohammed’s senior and a prominent member of Mecca’s elite international merchant community, and perhaps his youngest wife, Aisha, who apparently had no problem standing up to Mohammed and, far from having a submissive role in a male-dominated society, in the famous, “Battle of the Camel”, the camel was Aisha’s as she passionately led the army into battle.  Mohammed’s teaching with respect to women was revolutionary for seventh century Arabia, granting women generally equal status with men, having rights to family inheritance as well as fair treatment in the case of divorce.

Over time, the teaching of the various legal scholars throughout the world of Islam would follow regional cultural norms more so than the example of Mohammed.  For this reason, even today, there is huge variety in the role and rights of women in majority Muslim countries.  While in Wahhabi-ist Saudi Arabia, women are forbidden to drive, in neighboring country United Arab Emirates, women are allowed to be commercial and military pilots, one even commanding missions as the pilot on bombing raids of ISIS territory in Syria.  In Afghanistan, in some regions women are entirely covered, seeing out only through fabric screens in their burqas, while Turkish women hold their own with the women of New York City, holding positions of leadership and wearing the latest European fashions.  No less than nine Muslim women have been heads of state as president or prime minister, with the women leaders of Mauritius, Bangladesh, and Kosovo in power as of the writing of this book.  Megawati Sukarnoputri was president of the largest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia, leading over 200 million Muslims.  Bangladesh has had two female Prime Ministers.

In a wonderful TED talk by filmmaker Julia Bacha entitled, “How Women Wage Conflict without Violence”, she cites a very enlightening study conducted by Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth, documented in their book, Why Civil Resistance Works.  In their study of the major nonviolent and violent conflicts that took place between 1900 and 2006, they found that nonviolent campaigns were over twice as effective in producing the desired changes than violence.  Julia Bacha goes on to cite the research of Victor Asal, which indicates that a major factor in the choice to use nonviolent resistance as a means of producing political change is whether women are allowed to play key roles in the public life of the society.

It is my firm conviction that women and girls, both Muslim and non-Muslim, have yet to play a key role in reversing the trend of ever increasing conflict in the Middle East, and terror events – whether suicide bombings or US drone attacks.

Sadly, the portrayal of Muslim women in the US media shows almost exclusively an image of oppression and victimization.

What is the real story?  Fortunately, there is actual data to counterbalance the non—factual  rhetoric and images that flood the airwaves in the United States.  On the subject of higher education, while the countries of Brazil and the Czech Republic show 4% and 11% respectively for the number of women pursuing education in a trade school or university after high school, in Iran the majority of college students are women (52%), while Egypt, Jordan, and even restrictive Saudi Arabia have numbers in the 30th percentile.

Since the British colonial era of the early 1900s, the Western world has obsessed with the dress of the women of Islam.  From the simple headscarf, known as the hijab, worn by Muslim women all over the world, to the full head and body covering known as the burqa, famously worn in light blue by the women of Afghanistan, Westerners have long seen this as a symbol of oppression.  But what do Muslim women think?  When asked to compare themselves to women of the West, a common response was that it was the women of the Western world who lacked self-respect, submitting to the will of men and putting themselves on display for all to see.  I have to admit, they have a point.

And besides, what is the difference between the garb of the holy christian women, and the women of Islam?

 

 

 

 

 

 

What about Sharia law?  Surely Muslim women must be passionately opposed to something so violently oppressive.  Again, the essence of true Sharia law is completely unknown to a huge percentage of the American populace, largely due to the exclusive presentation of the violent and extreme Wahhabi-ist version of Sharia law imposed by Saudi Arabia and the Islamic State groups.  As previously noted, Sharia law in mainstream Islam is primarily associated with family law.

How do they feel about United States political involvement in the Middle East?  “… with the exception of 10 countries surveyed, majorities disagree with the statement that ‘the US is serious about encouraging the establishment of democratic systems of government in this region.’”  In fact, we are seen as openly hypocritical.  On the one hand, believing ourselves to be inherently different from other nations (known as, American Exceptionalism) because of our self–supposed staunch commitment to democratic ideals and human rights throughout the world, while simultaneously having a decades–long history of putting aside any requirements for democracy in the name of keeping the oil flowing or establishing remote military bases, while autocratic dictators put in place by the United States broadly and horrifically abuse the human rights of their citizens.

Respondents were asked: “Suppose someone from the government of the United States were to ask you in private , what is the most important thing the United States could do to improve the quality of life of people like you in this country.  What would your recommendation be?”  The most common responses, after “reduce unemployment and improve the economic infrastructure,” are “stop interfering in the internal affairs of Arab/Islamic states,” “stop imposing your beliefs and policies,” “respect our political rights and stop controlling us,” and “give us our own freedom.”

In addition to resenting the hypocrisy of Americans with regard to believing themselves to be promoting worldwide democracy and respect for human rights, in general, Muslims feel disrespected by Americans.  When asked, “what do you admire least about the West?”, among the top responses was hatred or degradation of Islam and Muslims.  In terms of what the West can do to improve relations with the Muslim world, there are no surprises in the most frequent answers:

  • demonstrate more respect; more consideration
  • do not underestimate the status of Arab/Muslim countries
  • demonstrate more understanding of Islam as a religion, and do not downgrade what Islam stands for 85

The responses representing 57% of Americans, who state that they respect nothing about the Muslim world, or that they don’t know what they respect about it, would seem to validate these responses from the Muslim world.

Survey results obtained from, Who Speaks for Islam, by John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed.

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