Monday, August 22, 2011

Survey of French Muslim Attitudes

This is a weekly post by Nidhal Guessoum (see his earlier posts here). Nidhal is an astrophysicist and Professor of Physics at American University of Sharjah and is the author of Islam's Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science.
A very interesting study of the evolution of socio-religious attitudes of French Muslims over the past two decades was recently produced by IFOP (the leading French market research and opinion poll institute) for La Croix, the French catholic daily. It reviews surveys conducted on the whole French population between 1989 and 2011 (March) where each time the Muslim sub-population could be identified and its viewpoints could be compared to those of the general population. In total, over 4000 people who present themselves as ‘Muslim’ were queried, and the uncertainties over the tallied responses is estimated at a few percent.

The ‘Muslim’ label is of course an ambiguous one, and the report is careful to distinguish and categorize people of that “social” group into 3 sub-groups: A) believing and practicing Muslims (41% in 2011); B) believing (but not “practicing”) Muslims (34 % in 2011); C) of Muslim origin (22 % in 2011). In fact, it does so by asking respondents to identify themselves as belonging to one of these groups. It later correlates this self-labeling with the practices and attitudes that the respondents are asked about and finds that “being a practicing Muslim” correlates most strongly with two practices: praying each day and going to the mosque on Friday. Other practices, e.g. fasting in Ramadan, do(es) not make people declare themselves as “practicing Muslims”.

Here below are the highlights (for me) and some comments:
• Praying daily, after dropping from 41 % to 31 % between 1989 and 1994, has increased steadily to 39 %; likewise for going to the mosque on Friday, which has increased to 25 % (one must recall that Friday is a working day in France), particularly among the youth, increasing from 7 % to 23 %. (La Croix points out that only 5 % of French Catholics go to church at least once a month.) Another small surprise (for me) is that unlike the case in much of the Muslim world where the Friday prayer at the mosque remains largely a male activity, in France 16 % of (practicing) Muslim women do that, compared to 35 % of (practicing) Muslim men.
• Fasting in Ramadan provided another surprise for me: 71 % of respondents declare fasting the whole month, with an additional 9 % doing it “some days”. The percentage of those stating openly that they do not fast has decreased from 32 to 20 %. In France, considering various social factors, this is quite impressive.
• Alcohol drinking has also decreased from 39 to 32 % – with only 22 % of women, compared to 44 % of men.
• Consumption of halal food (meat and products containing meat or extracts from islamically slaughtered animals) is quite high, though the surveys do not go back far enough for any time trend to be identified: 59 % of respondents stated that they “systematically” buy halal meat and products, with an additional 15 % saying that they do “most of the time”.
• Women wearing headscarves (the “veil”, as the French refer to it) regularly represent 26 % of “practicing Muslim women”, with an additional 6 % doing it sometimes or rarely. Most interestingly, the practice is still much stronger among older women: 30 % of those 50 years or more, 16 % of the 35-50 year-olds, and 8 % of those less than 35 years old (for the regular wearers).
• The survey asked Muslim women the extent to which they would accept seeing their daughters marry a non-Muslim man. Predictably, the answers varied tremendously among those who define themselves as “practicing”, “believing (but ‘not practicing’)”, and “of Muslim origin”. Full acceptance was: 29 %, 56 %, and 76 %. Reluctance/unhappiness: 27 %, 30 %, and 17 %. A spectrum of other opinions were also expressed.
The report, in powerpoint-style pages of graphs and histograms, can be found (in French) here.
I’ll be very interested to hear readers’ comments, particularly those who live in western lands.

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