Monday, August 13, 2012

Pew Survey: Importance of religion for Muslims and their religious practice

by Salman Hameed

Just a few months ago, I had a post about a Pew Survey that looked at how the Muslim world sees American science and technology as well as the drone warfare. Now there is another Pew report out that looks at the religious practices of Muslims worldwide. I will have a couple of posts highlighting various aspects of the report pertinent to our discussions here. In fact, just this past Friday we had talked about the importance of religion in the worldview of Egyptian science teachers. So let's start with the importance of religion for Muslims across the globe:

This is a striking plot. It highlights the need for sensitivity towards religion when dealing with issues at the intersection of science & religion in much of the Muslim world. By sensitivity I don't mean to play down the science - but rather to be cognizant of the important role that religion plays in everyday life. Biological evolution, for example, is accepted by many Muslims and rejected by others. From science communication perspective, it will be a loosing battle if evolution is presented as an idea inherently against religion.

How often do Muslims pray in different countries? This is a question that we had included in our own work on Muslim physicians and medical students and had found a large variation between countries - with Malaysia and Turkey on two extremes, and Pakistan in the middle. Here is the Pew survey that more or less gives us a similar trend.

I think Bangladesh is a surprise here - it is even lower than Turkey.

There is one other plot I wanted to share here. The survey also asked a question about the perceptions of religious orthodoxy. In particular, it asked about if "there is only one interpretation of Islam" or can it be interpreted in different ways. Not surprisingly, a majority of respondents in most countries agreed with the single interpretation statement, with Morocco, Tunisia, the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon and Iraq being the exceptions, with under 50%. And here is a plot that shows that the opinion of Muslims in the US on this matter is different than the global Muslim community.

I will have more from this Pew survey tomorrow. In the mean time, you can access the full report here.


Amina said...

The high religiosity of sub-Saharan Africa is interesting. That region tends to be over-looked in general statements about the "Muslim World".

Salman Hameed said...


Yes - that is really interesting. I would have guessed the religiosity bit, but am surprised about daily prayers and mosque attendance (I didn't include the plot about mosque attendance here, but sub-Saharan Africa again had the highest percentages). May be it is because there is an active rivalry with Evangelical (and Catholic) Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa - and that may have sharpen the piety boundaries.

By the way, here is an earlier Pew survey that showed that the sub-Saharan Africa also has a lot of mixing with local religious traditions.

Yusuf said...

Are you sure that evolution is accepted by many Muslims? Maybe I'm hanging around the wrong people. I accept evolution, but sadly no Muslim I know accepts it.

Salman Hameed said...


We have been conducting oral interviews with Muslim medical doctors and medical students. We find that a number of them have no problem with evolution, and some even with human evolution. This is different from country to country. We found more openness to evolution amongst Pakistanis and Turks, and less so in Malaysia. And of course, there are Muslim evolutionary biologists out there as well. For example, see this talk by Ehab Abouheif or see this interview with Jordanian molecular biologist, Rana Dajani.

Two more points: For some "Darwin's theory of evolution" means atheism. But if you ask them about if animals have been a product of evolution, then their responses are more positive. Second, most people - even those who accept evolution - think that others don't accept evolution. This is an interesting perception issue.

Yusuf said...

OK, thanks for this Salman. I can see how people can confuse evolution with atheism, but if they study it with an open mind, then they'll discover that it's compatible with Islam.