Islam is the world’s second largest religion with approximately 2.2 billion followers. The study, based on more than 38,000 face-to-face interviews conducted with self-identified Muslims in 39 countries and territories across the globe, shows that while deeply committed to their faith, Muslims want Islam’s teachings to shape their personal lives, societies and politics.
While there is a strong backing for Sharia to be the official law of the land (nearly 60 percent of those surveyed), there is a variance by country. For example, fewer than one in 10 Muslims subscribe to Sharia as the official law in Azerbaijan and just 12 percent of Turkish Muslims agree. However, that is in stark contrast to the 99 percent of those surveyed in Afghanistan who are in support of Sharia and 74 percent of Muslims in Egypt.
Support for making Sharia the official law of the land is higher in countries like Pakistan (84 percent) and Morocco (83 percent) where the constitution or basic laws favor Islam over other religions. The study also showed that countries with Muslims praying several times a day are more likely to support Sharia as an official law than those where Muslims pray less frequently.
Many Muslims also share the view that religious leaders should have some influence over political matters in their respective countries. The study showed that Muslims are more in favor of a democratic system rather than having one strong hand guiding their country.
“You can have a democracy and yet also have strong support for Islam to play a role in politics,” said Farid Senzai, an assistant professor at Santa Clara University.
While there seems to be a strong show of support for Sharia, data shows that Muslims are in favor of religious freedom for people of other faiths. For example, 73 percent of Muslims say members of other religions are free to practice their faith, and 93 percent of them say that such freedom is a “good thing.”
Those Muslims who support Sharia think that such Islamic law should apply only to Muslims. There also tends to be a varied understanding or interpretation of what Shari actually means in practice in various countries.
“There is no monolithic code,” Amaney Jamal, an associate professor of politics at Princeton University, said in a conference call with reporters. “Sharia has different meanings, definitions and understandings, based on the actual experiences of countries with or without Sharia.”
Most Muslims seem to think that Sharia should be used in a domestic sphere to settle family or property disputes, and most countries surveyed showed much less support for severe punishment like cutting off the hands of thieves or executing those who convert from Islam to another faith. Muslims in South Asian countries showed the greatest support for corporal punishment and execution.
A majority of Muslims also indicated that Islam is the one true faith leading to eternal life in heaven and that belief in God is necessary to be a moral person. In Pakistan, for example, 92 percent of Muslims believe Islam is the only faith that leads to salvation. In the United States, only 51 percent of Muslims share that same belief.
Muslims also showed staunch opposition to behaviors they determined to be wrong like prostitution (91 percent), homosexuality (90 percent), suicide (88 percent), sex outside marriage (84 percent), drinking alcohol (80 percent), abortion (77 percent) and euthanasia (74 percent).
More than 75 percent of Muslims indicated that religious extremism such as suicide bombings and violence against civilians is rarely or never justified, though there were minorities in the Palestinian territories (40 percent), Afghanistan (39 percent), Egypt (29 percent) and Bangladesh (26 percent) that believed such violence sometimes was justified.
About half of Muslims in countries surveyed expressed concern about religious extremism in their nations, most notably Indonesia (78 percent), Iraq (68 percent), Egypt (67 percent) and Tunisia (67 percent). They tend to be more worried about Islamic extremists than Christian extremists.
A majority of those surveyed also said “honor killings” are not justified. Exceptions were found in Afghanistan and Iraq where execution of women who allegedly shamed their families by engaging in premarital sex or adultery was condoned.
Eighty-one percent of Muslims in the United States said violence against civilians is never justified, a higher percentage than the global population surveyed (72 percent).
Muslims in America also express strong commitment to their faith and tend not to see a conflict between being devout and living in a modern society. American Muslims are more likely than those in other countries to have friends who do not share their faith and are more open to the idea that religions other than Islam can lead to eternal life in heaven.
From a cultural and modern society perspective, 85 percent of those surveyed said wives always should obey their husbands. That stance was predominantly taken by Muslims in Southeast Asia (93 percent), South Asia (88 percent) and Middle East/North Africa (87 percent). More than half (53 percent) of those responding to the study said veiling in public should be a woman’s decision.