3 Simple Charts That Explain What Muslims Believe


The Pew Forum recently released a 226-page report exploring opinions and beliefs from Muslim communities around the world. The survey, which was conducted through more than 38,000 face-to-face interviews in more than 80 languages, delves into the Muslim world’s insights on everything from Sharia law to alcohol consumption. The findings were simple: Just as all religions, Islam is subjective in many ways and the few who interpret it in a radical and dangerous way are in no way indicative of the overwhelming majority who don’t.

The first finding — and one that intrigues the Western world the most — is that the majority of Muslims want to implement sharia law, but almost no one was in consensus as to what exactly sharia means.

Support for sharia is highest in Afghanistan, where 99% of the people support sharia. The Palestinian territories, Malaysia, Niger, and Pakistan follow Afghanistan, also holding a high preference for sharia law. Central Asia and Europe, on the other hand, rank amongst the lowest for support for sharia.

A Washington Post graph clarifies the data even further.

But, before all the Islamophobes get up in arms about how Sharia law is taking over the world, Pew notes that there is little agreement even within the Muslim world as to what Sharia law actually is. There is a major split, for example, amongst Muslims as to whether or not corporal punishment is acceptable — religiously, legally and socially – for issues such as adultery, divorce, and thievery. And the reason for that is simple. As Wajahat Ali explains in his article, Understanding Sharia Law, Sharia is neither static nor is it easily defined.

It is open to interpretation in terms of serving as a moral compass, and is largely concerned with religious duties such as praying and fasting, and, most importantly, ensures a welfare state. Because of this, he says, “Any observant Muslim would consider him or herself a sharia adherent. It is impossible to find a Muslim who practices any ritual and does not believe himself or herself to be complying with Sharia.”

Most Muslims also believe that drinking is “morally wrong.” In Southeast Asia, alcohol is condemned by as many as 91% of the population, and even in Southern-Eastern Europe, seen to be far more liberal in most other issues by Pew, 62% of Muslims are against alcohol consumption.

However, just because most Muslim’s believe that alcohol consumption is immoral, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they always abstain from drinking it. The black market for alcohol is flourishing in Libya, while Iranians have become experts at brewing it in their own homes. And in Pakistan, according to a Pakistani who runs an AA-styled clinic, “drinks can be ordered to the door quicker than pizza.”

However, drinking has much to do with social status — like in Pakistan, where, according to Dr. Ali, drinking has more to do with emulating the rich and famous than anything else.

Unsurprisingly, most Muslims also believe that suicide bombings that are carried out in the name of Islam are never justified. Throughout Europe and Central Asia, less than 10% of Muslims see bombings as defensible. However, in Palestine and Afghanistan, up to 40% and 39% respectively say that suicide bombings are sometime acceptable. However, while suicide bombings haven’t been common in Palestine since the Second Intifada, Afghanistan still sees them as a constant occurrence.

There were also a few other key findings:

-More than half of the Muslims in the countries surveyed are becoming increasingly concerned with extremist groups within their own countries.

-In the countries where a question regarding “honor killings” was asked, the majority of respondents said that the practice is never justified. Only in two countries — Afghanistan and Iraq – did the majority condone the killings.

-Most Muslims don’t see differences between the two major sects — Sunnis and Shias — as a major issue. Nevertheless, over a third of the respondents in both Pakistan and Lebanon see the Sunni-Shia conflict as a major problem.

In the end, it is clear that Islam is practiced differently with different cultural contexts throughout the world — a clear indication that, just as with all religions, Islam is subjective and can be interpreted very differently by everyone.