Conflict, theology and history make Muslims more religious than others, experts say
A recent global survey suggests that Muslims are more religious than Christians and Hindus.
December 3rd, 2011
10:00 PM ET

Conflict, theology and history make Muslims more religious than others, experts say

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

(CNN) - Every religion has its true believers and its doubters, its pious and its pragmatists, but new evidence suggests that Muslims tend to be more committed to their faith than other believers.

Muslims are much more likely than Christians and Hindus to say that their own faith is the only true path to paradise, according to a recent global survey, and they are more inclined to say their religion is an important part of their daily lives.

Muslims also have a much greater tendency to say their religion motivates them to do good works, said the survey, released over the summer by Ipsos-Mori, a British research company that polls around the world.

Islam is the world's second-largest religion - behind Christianity and ahead of Hinduism, the third largest. With some 1.5 billion followers and rising, Islam's influence may be growing even faster than its numbers as the Arab Spring topples long-reigning secular rulers and opens the way to religiously inspired political parties.

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But while there's no doubt about the importance of Islam, experts have different theories about why Muslims appear to be more religious than members of other global faiths - and contrasting views on whether to fear the depth of Muslims' commitment to their faith.

One explanation lies in current affairs, says Azyumardi Azra, an expert on Islam in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim majority country.

Many Muslims increasingly define themselves in contrast with what they see as the Christian West, says Azra, the director of the graduate school at the State Islamic University in Jakarta.

"When they confront the West that they perceive or misperceive as morally in decline, many Muslims feel that Islam is the best way of life. Islam for them is the only salvation," he says.

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That feeling has become stronger since the September 11 attacks, as many Muslims believe there is a "growing conflict between Islam and the so-called West," he says.

"Unfortunately this growing attachment to Islam among Muslims in general has been used and abused by literal-minded Muslims and the jihadists for their own purposes," he says.

But other experts say that deep religious commitment doesn't necessarily lead to violence.

"Being more religious doesn't necessarily mean that they will become suicide bombers," says Ed Husain, a former radical Islamist who is now a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

In fact, Husain argues that religious upbringing "could be an antidote" to radicalism.

American Muslim women who cover explain their choice

The people most likely to become Islamist radicals, he says, are those who were raised without a religious education and came to Islam later, as "born-agains."

Muslims raised with a grounding in their religion are better able to resist the distortions of Islam peddled by recruiters to radical causes, some experts like Husain argue, making them less likely to turn to violence.

But he agrees that Muslims are strongly attached to their faith, and says the reason lies in the religion itself.

"Muslims have this mindset that we alone possess the final truth," Husain says.

Muslims believe "Jews and Christians went before us and Mohammed was the last prophet," says Husain, whose book "The Islamist" chronicles his experiences with radicals. "Our prophet aimed to nullify the message of the previous prophets."

The depth of the Muslim commitment to Islam is not only a matter of theology and current events, but of education and history, as well, other experts say.

"Where religion is linked into the state institutions, where religion is deeply ingrained from childhood, you are getting this feeling that 'My way is the only way,'" says Fiyaz Mughal, the director of Faith Matters, a conflict-resolution organization in London.

The Ipsos-Mori survey results included two countries with a strong link between religion and the state: Legally Muslim Saudi Arabia, which calls itself the guardian of Islam's two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina; and Indonesia, home of the world's largest Muslim population.

The third majority Muslim country in the study is Turkey, which has a very different relationship with religion. It was founded after World War I as a legally secular country. But despite generations of trying to separate mosque and state, Turkey is now governed by an Islam-inspired party, the AKP.

Turkey's experience shows how difficult it can be to untangle government and religion in Muslim majority countries and helps explain the Muslim commitment to their religion, says Azyumardi Azra, the Indonesia expert.

He notes that there has been no "Enlightenment" in Islam as there was in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, weakening the link between church and state in many Christian countries.

"Muslim communities have never experienced intense secularization that took place in Europe and the West in general," says Azra. "So Islam is still adhered to very strongly."

But it's not only the link between mosque and state in many Muslim majority countries that ties followers to their faith, says professor Akbar Ahmed, a former Pakistani diplomat who has written a book about Islam around the world.

Like Christians who wear "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets, many Muslims feel a deep personal connection to the founder of their faith, the prophet Muhammad, he says.

Muhammad isn't simply a historical figure to them, but rather a personal inspiration to hundreds of millions of people around the world today.

"When a Muslim is fasting or is asked to give charity or behave in a certain way, he is constantly reminded of the example set by the prophet many centuries ago," argues Ahmed, the author of "Journey Into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization."

His book is based on interviews with Muslims around the world, and one thing he found wherever he traveled was admiration for Muhammad.

"One of the questions was, 'Who is your role model?' From Morocco to Indonesia, it was the prophet, the prophet, the prophet," says Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington.

But while Ahmed sees similar patterns across the Islamic world, Ed Husain, the former radical, said it was important to understand its diversity, as well.

"There is no monolithic religiosity - Muslims in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia are following different versions of Islam," says Husain. "All we're seeing (in the survey) is an adherence to a faith."

Political scientist Farid Senzai, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in Washington, raised questions about the survey's findings.

"Look at the countries that are surveyed - Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Turkey," he says. "There are about 300 million Muslims in those three countries, (who make up) about 20% of Muslims globally."

Islam is "incredibly important" in Saudi Arabia, he says.

"But in Tunisia or Morocco you could have had a different result. It would have been nice if they had picked a few more Arab countries and had a bit more diversity," says Senzai.

The pollster, Ipsos-Mori, does monthly surveys in 24 countries, three of which are majority Muslim – Turkey, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. The other countries range from India to the United States, and Mexico to South Korea, and are the same each month, regardless of the subject the pollsters are investigating.

In the survey released in July, about six in 10 Muslims in the survey said their religion was the only way to salvation, while only a quarter of Hindus and two out of 10 Christians made that claim about their own faiths.

More than nine out of 10 Muslims said their faith was important in their lives, while the figure was 86% for Hindus and 66% for Christians.

Ipsos-Mori surveyed 18,473 adults via an online panel in April and released the findings in July. Results were weighted to make the results as representative as possible, but the pollster cautioned that because the survey was conducted online, it was harder to get representative results in poorer countries where internet access is not widespread.

CNN polling director Keating Holland also warns that in an "opt-in" survey, where respondents actively choose to participate, results tend to come from "people who are confident in their opinions and express them openly... not good for intensely private matters like faith or income or sex."

Online surveys in countries that are not entirely free are also open to the possibility that pollsters get "the approved response" in those nations, "where the people who are most likely to be willing to talk about such matters are the ones who hold, or at least verbalize, opinions that won't get them in trouble if they are expressed," Holland says.

That may have been an issue in Saudi Arabia, where respondents were given the choice of not answering questions on religion due to their potential sensitivity in the kingdom. The Saudi sample was the smallest, with 354 participants, meaning "findings for Saudi Arabia must be treated with caution," Ipsos-Mori said.

About 1,000 people participated in most countries, but sample sizes were smaller in the three majority Muslim countries and in eight other countries.

The survey participants did not reflect the true percentage of Christians and Muslims in the world. Christians were over-represented – as were people who said they had no religion – and Muslims were under-represented.

Nearly half the respondents identified themselves as Christian. Eleven percent were Muslim, 4% were Buddhist, 3% were Hindu and 3% were "other." A quarter said they had no religion and 6% refused to say.

Fiyaz Mughal, the interfaith expert, argues that even though the countries surveyed might not be representative of the entire Muslim world, the findings about Muslims rang broadly true. Muslims in different countries were committed to their faith for different reasons, he says.

"Saudi Arabia is an institutionally religious state. Indonesia has religion tied into its culture," says Mughal.

But Muslim immigrants to Europe also show strong ties to their religion, either as a defense mechanism in the face of a perceived threat, or because of an effort to cling to identity, he contends.

He detects a link between insular communities and commitment to faith regardless of what religion is involved. It is prevalent in Muslim Saudi Arabia, but he has seen it among Israeli Jews as well, he says.

"The Israeli Jewish perspective is that (the dispute with the Palestinians) is a conflict of land and religion which are integrally linked," Mughal says.

"What does play a role in that scenario is a sense of isolationism and seclusion in Israeli Jewish religious communities, a growing trend to say, 'Our way is the only way,'" he says.

Religious leaders of all faiths need to combat those kinds of attitudes because of the greater diversity people encounter in the world today, he argues.

They have a responsibility to teach their congregations "that if they are following a religion, it is not as brutal or exclusive as possible," Mughal says. "Things are changing. The world is a different place from what it was even 20 years ago."

Politicians, too, "need to take these issues quite seriously," he says.

"In the Middle East there are countries - the Saudi Arabias - where you need to be saying that diversity, while it may not be a part of the country, is something they have to deal with when moving in a globalized area," he says.

But Senzai, the political scientist, says that it's also important for the West to take the Muslim world on its own terms.

"Many Muslims want religion to play a role in politics," he says. "To assume that everyone around the world wants to be like the West - that they want liberal secular democracy - is an absurd idea."

- CNN's Nima Elbagir and Atika Shubert contributed to this report.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: 9/11 • Islam • Middle East

soundoff (5,459 Responses)
  1. blu_c_divr

    The true path is education, the more educated one gets, the less radical and blind one becomes. Study world cultures, language, science, math and art, and you will become enlightened.

    December 5, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  2. Swapan(India)

    "More likely to say their's path is the truest"!That's not being religious. That is being intolerant. From such a point of view it will move to the next best thing, Demand for separate law applicable on them, Shariat, then Jaziya tax on non muslims, and so on on..... But being an Indian i agree with what the author has to say about they turning to terrorism. It is unlikely for a true devouts to turn terrorist. Its the youths(muslims or otherwise) who discovers the beauty of Islam within two or three weeks of audience with a mullah that we have to worry about.

    December 5, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
  3. Ibrahim

    To thee We sent the Scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety: so judge between them by what Allah hath revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging from the Truth that hath come to thee. To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah. it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute; 5:48

    Christ the son of Mary was no more than an apostle; many were the apostles that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how Allah doth make His signs clear to them; yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth! 5:75

    December 5, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
  4. mohamed ghouse

    masha allah .......allah is great

    December 5, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
  5. Hisho

    Who say we are beating our women
    Dont say some thing you didnt know about
    If you want to know just make searsh how many women beating in US for just one day
    We love our women thats why we did not naked them as you do so if you say that treating them you must say it to your self they are not just body to show and play
    You must respect them

    December 5, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • PooCorn


      [Sura 4:34] The men are made responsible for the women, and GOD has endowed them with certain qualities, and made them the bread earners. The righteous women will cheerfully accept this arrangement, since it is GOD's commandment, and honor their husbands during their absence. If you experience rebellion from the women, you shall first talk to them, then (you may use negative incentives like) deserting them in bed, then you may (as a last alternative) beat them. If they obey you, you are not permitted to transgress against them. GOD is Most High, Supreme.

      Here's what the koran has to say about the worth of women:


      Hisho, maybe you should research your bloody religion before trying to defend it. It's a terrible, disgusting belief system.

      December 5, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • Rex

      Popcoorn, check this link



      Hope that helps


      December 6, 2011 at 1:39 am |
  6. msian

    christian and Jews are far away from true path. Allah sent Quran to earth because bible has changed a lot

    December 5, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • ashrakay

      All religions are far from truth.

      December 5, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • PooCorn

      Islam is based on christianity. Therefore it is as equally flawed as the bible as a whole. Even more considering it went ahead and built itself on even more stupidity.

      December 5, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • Jeff Williams

      """Islam is based on christianity. Therefore it is as equally flawed as the bible as a whole."""

      The Qur'an is 'The Holy Book Version 3.0'. If it was truly inspired by God then it IS the latest manual available for the human race – except that the Book of Mormon came after that (which would be Version 4.0, right?)

      But wait, then there was "Dianetics". So that would be Version 5.0.

      Oh, dear – WHAT to believe?

      December 19, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  7. Reuven Schlenker

    Excuse me, but Muslims are not brain washed. Many of our greatest philosophers were devout adherents of Islam. Does anybody recognize the names of Al ghazzali, Jalladin Rumi, Omar Khyamm or Avaciena? Do you know why we have the writings of the Greek philosophers? It was because the Moslem philosophers translated them into Arabic, the works of Socrates, Aristotle, Herodotus, Thyucides and Pathagoras before YOU CHRISTIANS burnt the great library of Alexandria during your Crusades.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • Green Furhammer

      if it wasn't for muslims, the crusades never would have happened. just saying.

      and i'm not a christian either. religion is a waste of time.

      December 5, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Swapan(India)

      How many of these people that you have mentioned were religious mullahs?

      December 5, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  8. Green Furhammer

    so the religion with the most holes in its story has the most devout followers.

    talk about irony.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • Snow

      ..and the one with the same number of holes is second..

      December 5, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • ashrakay

      The bigger the deception, the more fervent the followers.

      December 5, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
    • PooCorn

      Fundamentalists often believe that screaming and shouting justifies their words and somehow makes them truth.

      December 5, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • Ibrahim

      30. So set thou thy face steadily and truly to the Faith: (establish) Allah.s handiwork according to the pattern on which He has made mankind: no change (let there be) in the work (wrought) by Allah. that is the standard Religion: but most among mankind understand not. Surah 30. Ar-Rum (The Romans, The Byzantines).

      It is truth That all religions are a waste of time, except Islam.

      December 5, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • PooCorn

      Islam is the biggest waste of time. Why don't you post some scripture about where the koran tells you to beat your wife? I'm sure everyone would love to hear how loving allah is.

      December 5, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • Ibrahim

      Can you tell me one verse in The Holy Qur'an, tells to beat wife, while she is loyalty? In my opinion the law will not punish any person while the person is sincere, but if the person (a man or a woman) is against the law what to do. I do not want Dispute. I think you also do not want to Dispute.

      December 5, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
    • Rex


      check this article:


      hope u can be an honest student of this faith


      December 6, 2011 at 1:54 am |
  9. Sanjay

    This research to me and to some people is really ridiculous. Its meaningless and questionable in all aspect. Religion- islam, budha, christian, atheist....what for?
    To be honest.....the researcher and the so-called professors should have a better thing to discuss rather than feed the growing future leaders with their misdemeanors and ill-plays. I'm not a religuos bigot or fanatics. I respect all religion....i respect people's norms, values and cultures but would never antagonize my belief with others.
    Contrarily to the research.....i have lived and survived all my life in islamic-infested regions where all they do is main, kill, subdue and anilhilate christians...in the name of faith....Lemme ask all these professors...is that your faith?...is that your teachings?....In terms of peace...can you explain to me the radicalism in Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan?...what of Nigeria, Iran, Iraq and the rest? Tell yourself the truth...To me islam is a cult of forceful coercion...not willful...Why is Islam flourishing in the West and Christianity waning in Paskistan (where the government has sanctioned christianity and Jesus)? why is islam flourshing in liberal countries like USA and christians reducing in Egypt, Indonesia, Turkey, Malaysia, Libya and the rest. To me...if at any reason i would wish to change my faith....i did rather become a Hindu or Budhist which are the most peaceful religion in the world than join Islam....

    December 5, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  10. Reuven Schlenker

    Look, I'm Jewish and a hard right wing Zionist but this irrational hate-filled criticizm of Islam is 1930's Nazi. What is your program? I wish to remind you that all the top Nazis, starting with Hitler, including Goebbels Goering, Borman, Hess and Himmler came from good Catholic christia familes. So where do you fit in?

    December 5, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • Sam

      Wowyou need an education. Hitler wasn't a Christian. Do yourself a favor and google Bana nazi and huseinni nazi. Islam spread the hate. Where do you think the yellow badges originated? Islam, under Calph Omar . All evil against Jews came from the quran and hadiths. Educate yourself.

      December 5, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
    • ashrakay

      @Sam, actually, this is a quote from Hitler from a speech in Munich in 1922
      "My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was his fight against the Jewish poison. Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice."

      December 5, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  11. JH

    Muslims are more brainwashed than your average person. Christians and Jews for the most part are able to separate their delusions from reality, if only for long enough to get them through the day, but Muslims are not. This is probably why Muslims have contributed astonishingly little to humanity. They had a sorta-good period around when they were first starting out, in 8th century Persia, but that was more due to the long and illustrious history of science in Persia than Islam. Then after that they just descended into 1000 BC and have stayed there ever since. Consider: Jews make up 0.02% of the world's population, yet have won over a third of all Nobel prizes in science. Muslims make up over 33% of the population and have won... three. Pity.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • msian

      this is a sign of Judgement day, muslims are weak eventhough their population spread nicely across continent. Other than muslims think they are strong and in the right path but actually they are not. Allah just wanna test u

      December 5, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • ashrakay

      45% of americans believe in the literal translation of the bible. Almost 70% believe in angelic messengers. A little crazy, is still crazy.

      December 5, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
  12. franco

    Moreover Islam should be called MUHAMMEDIANS... and it is just a copy of the Judaism...

    The true is beyond words, Doctrines are words..

    Wake up people

    December 5, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • Christelle

      "Zum Glfcck, nicht bei uns." (Fortunately, not at our place.) Then his guests who've aubesd his hospitality explain that the Fire Brigade is responding to a diversionary call that they placed....and then they burn him and his wife alive in their house. And no help comes because they've all been dispatched far away from the real scene of the crime. The original meaning of the play was a condemnation of Swiss "neutrality" during WW2, and an attack on the many people who acquiesced to Hitler e1 la Chamberlain until it was too late. Maybe the common tie between the left and Islamic extremism is a revolt against the system....It largely seems based on certain idealistic fantasies of creating a new world order from the ashes of this one. I'm just not sure the two sides have fully thought out their bizarre union.

      September 7, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  13. franco

    Yes, it is true. Just like Mc Donald is the most spread food chain in the world.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  14. ytuque

    "Muslims are much more likely than Christians and Hindus to say that their own faith is the only true path to paradise." This doesn't imply they are more devout but rather more intolerant.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  15. Muneef

    Well seems all had enough spilling their hate towards Islam but let me say that to you Islam is our Ark of Noah that will save us believers from the floods that are taking place..they are not only floods of water but as well political and wars floods that are taking place worldwide...
    Better to understand Islam rather than hating or fearing without knowledge of what it says or means therefore should visit and understand it well ;

    December 5, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • gliese42

      Muneef@ the only good thing about Islam is that it protect women by covering them with burqas, polygamy is encouraged to prevent adultery, pork and beer is out but I never understood why they never ban cigarettes and you are promised 88 virgins in heaven. It will end abortion and gay rights too.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • Muneef

      Dear read more you will learn more about it;


      By the way any thing that is harmful to health and body is considered hated by Islam although smoking not clearly specified as harram but since it is damageable to health then it is hated (Makkroh).

      December 6, 2011 at 6:11 am |
  16. Reality

    How much money would the following save the US taxpayers ?:

    Saving 1.5 billion lost Muslims:
    There never were and never will be any angels i.e. no Gabriel, no Islam and therefore no more koranic-driven acts of horror and terror

    One trillion dollars over the next several years as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will end.

    Eighteen billion dollars/yr to Pakistan will stop.

    Four billion dollars/yr to Egypt will end.

    Saving 2 billion lost Christians including the Mormons:
    There were never any bodily resurrections and there will never be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, no Christianity!!!i.e. No Easter, no Christianity.

    The Mormon empire will now become taxable as will all Christian "religions" and non-profits since there is no longer any claim to being a tax-exempt religion.

    Saving 15.5 million Orthodox followers of Judaism:
    Abraham and Moses probably never existed.

    Four billion dollars/yr to Israel saved.

    All Jewish sects and non-profits will no longer be tax exempt.

    Now all we need to do is convince these 3.5+ billion global and local citizens that they have been conned all these centuries Time for a Twitter and FaceBook campaign!!!!

    (Note: the Earth globe already has one billion agnostics/atheists on board)


    December 5, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Wow Reality ...when I saw the ti'tle of this article I was sure your head was going to launch into low orbit. 😀

      December 5, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  17. alb

    Meaning of the word ..... Aslam
    Those who do not know is that the receipt of your life and yourself to God
    Islam is a religion of peace, freedom, and go and read about the history of Islam and see for yourself how great is this Islam
    The Muslims of the conditions of his religion and that improves the honors of any person, even if it was not a Muslim and this is what God ordered us in his book
    We do not accept anyone who harms us and insult Islam and Muslims because we do not transgress on others
    But that is over and we become a scapegoat for ourselves and our children and our money for the redemption of Islam and Muslims
    We love the life of the Hereafter over the life of minimum
    And death in the way of Allah is the wish of every Muslim

    December 5, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • ashrakay

      A religion of peace born out of a book teaching war and violence? Laughable

      December 5, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  18. Muneef


    December 5, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • PooCorn

      Stop posting this garbage.

      December 5, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
  19. Md. Jafrul Islam

    I have a message about the CNN post a comment layout. After i post comment. CNN Show me a word that is- Soundoff (5269 Responses. They should show a cordial message for accomplished the post comment to the user.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • Green Furhammer

      they take you to your reply once it's posted.

      if it brings you to the top, then you've angered the word filter.

      what more do you want? a free trip to mecca?

      December 5, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  20. Md. Jafrul Islam

    Good Day Everybody. I am also a Muslim. From my site its the real true about us(Muslims), are the most devout and monotheistic religion people of the world.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • Green Furhammer

      i can see how islam would be appealing if you're into beating women and treating them like objects.

      after all, that's what the koran tells you to do.

      December 5, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.