Monday, August 20, 2012

Pew Survey: Mahdi, Jesus, Devotional Dancing and Sorcery

by Salman Hameed

This is a follow-up to two previous posts on a recent Pew Survey of the Muslim world. The first post looked at religiosity patterns across different countries and the second looked at the sectarian divide across the Muslim world (you can also download the full report here). Here is the third and final post looking at the way Muslims across different nations look at Islamic eschatology, sorcery and devotional dancing.

Couple of quick points. I find it fascinating that throughout history people find that their time is the really important time. This is the reason they look for signs of end-of times in their own particular era (see my recent post: The Folly of Seeking Premonitions in Sacred Texts). For many, this provides meaning and value to their lives and beliefs.

The second coming of Jesus is also accepted within the Islamic tradition and is expected to happen close of the End-times. Here is how Muslims in different countries view that Jesus' imminent return will be in their own lifetimes:

What struck me about these statistics was the striking difference between Pakistan and Bangladesh (formerly of the same country) and Malaysia and its next door neighbor, Indonesia. Why would there be such huge differences between these two sets of countries? Is it a particular popular culture meme (say a movie or a television serial) that has skewed the numbers higher in Pakistan compared to Bangladesh, and the same in Malaysia with respect to Indonesia.

And then here are the stats about the appearance of Mahdi (he is considered to be the 12th Imam for Shias, but he is mentioned in some Sunni traditions as well). Here the differences between Pakistan-Bangladesh and Malaysia-Indonesia are still significant, but less sever than the plot above. Interestingly, I don't see any significant jump in countries with large Shia populations (Iraq and Lebanon).

And here is the belief in witchcraft. First of all, Tanzania is off the charts here - but this belief is common more or less throughout the Muslim world. But note again the striking difference between Pakistan (50%) and Bangladesh (9%). Indonesia, on the other hand, has a higher belief in witchcraft that Malaysia. I don't think there is enough information here to say anything about the causal relations for these differences - but it would be fascinating to explore the cultural and societal factors that shape these diverse responses:

And it seems  that there is not much love for devotional dancing with the huge exception of Turkey! C'mon - what happened to sufi-incpired devotional dancing to Qawwali?

These are all fascinating numbers and it will be interesting to see how they track over the coming years. 


Amina said...

The idea of being literally moved by the intoxicating power of qawwali etc. isn't the same as purposefully dancing to express devotion. So I can see why the South Asian response is that way. Mevlevi sema is theoretically also a response to mystical intoxication but it has developed into something much more intentional. Same for the Rifais.

I'm curious what language was used for "witchcraft". Does it make sense to lump various different practices and beliefs into one category?

Salman Hameed said...

Amina - Thanks for the clarification. So what do you think would be the response of South Asians to Mevlevi sema?

I coudn't find the language used for witchcraft. My guess would be something akin to "Kala Jadoo" in south asia - and, of course, all those variants for different regions. By the way, the belief in witchcraft/sorcery is high, but the its use is considered not permissible in Islam , according to the same Pew Survey.

Amina said...

Since the Quran forbids sihr, istidraj, and certain kinds of divination, for scripturalist types any magic that's equated with those categories would have to a) exist and b) be forbidden. Kala jadu would be probably fit there. But other magical healing practices, exorcising jinns, etc. could be considered acceptable, not-witchcraft, and/or a scam.

Salman Hameed said...

Thanks - that makes sense.

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