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.
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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.
Funny part is "atheists" always target Christianity.. why?... Because they don't fight back... If you seriously believe in your you are doing then how about you cowards take on Islam and not take the easy route out?
Go live in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Mojo.
Muslims aren't denying equal rights to fellow Americans. They aren't calling doctors murderers in our country based on a fantasy that the Bible condemns abortion. If Muslims were in the U.S. doing those things, atheists and agnostics would be complaining the same way.
Totally agree Atheists go after the easy targets because of "turn the other cheek." But they won't go after Islam, in fact whenever someone brings up Islam atheists immediately change the subject to Christianity.
I hate all religions equally.
Guess you didn't read what I wrote. Muslims aren't here in our nation denying equal rights to Americans like Christians do.
"The Fraud of Islam" by Amil Imani.
They're more religious because it's the only religion that has the 'international community' (including the US State Department) investing billions upon billions of dollars to inflict its slave-taking ideology on the masses.
It's a human rights removal system, so of course the international community of big-lie regimes are going to love it. Did Carter attack Afghanistan with Christians or Jews? No, he used Muslims. Has the US created any Christian only or Jew-only states? No, our soldiers only do this for Islam–the human rights removal system.
Umm...Israel? 1947? Created specifically to give the Jewish people their own country? Supported by the United States who remains one of their greatest allies? Carved out of a piece of predominately Muslim territory? Ringing any bells, here?
What you see is all rituals, a facade. behind that there is no Islamic character to speak of. The most corrupt leaders you can find are in all these so called `Muslim countries. Saddam, Mubarak, Bashar, Bin Ali, Saleh Saudi princes etc. are all ritualistic Muslims and the same goes for most of the population being ruled by them. The percentage of population following the true spirit of Islam is probably one percent and that includes the converted Muslims. Don`t be deceived by their 5 times call for prayers, 30 days fasting, pilgrimage etc. Scratch the surface to find the real character behind all that. I come from a non -believing Muslim family and have seen it all up close.
you're a fool
historically, impoverished and lesser educated tend to be more faith based in their daily lives. it is what gives them hope.
Never say things without knowledge of it. Study all religions without biases. After you will see which one touches your heart and that one will be the truth. The Quran is the last book to mankind despite what you here from other people and media about it. We must separate ourselves from everything and research ourselves. the truth is out there but you must know every book sent to mankind in order to achieve what you don't understand. in addition if you believe in a supreme being he will give you understanding in your quest for knowledge of him. then you will see without the wool, hear without the muffs and get smarter by the second. but you won't know until you try.
bellshiite makes the grass grow!
Most Muslims in the world have no choice but to be religious or at least appear that way to save their hides.
One God,One faith,One baptism.There is but one God and more than 2000 years ago he sent his only begotten son (jesus) into the world he created to redeem man and save us ALL from our sins.Many religions have traditions and ceremonies that are practiced,but there is no real spiritual connection to the one true God of this universe.All men are called to the repentance of sin and ALL must be born again by the receiving of christ to inherit the kingdom of GOD.Whatever your religion is called,if there is no repentance of sin and no acceptance of jesus christ as LORD,all else is invain and deception.
I believe in fairies and gargoyles. Will this get me into heaven?
Because the most radical are illiterate, and only know what their radical imams tell them.
The author comes close to the real reason Muslims are more religious than other faiths when he touches on the link between state and religion. What we in the west fail to grasp is that Islam is more than just a belief system, it is a way of life, a way of structuring one's life via rules & codes set forth over a thousand years ago. Islam is as much a socio-economic-political system as it is a religion. Of course Muslims are going to be more religious.
Some in deep thought spirit seek
Some lost in awe, of doubt reek
I fear the voice, hidden but not weak
Cry out "awake! Both ways are oblique."
These people want to be told what to do. They need someone to tell them what to do. If you give them a choice, they would hate you. If you reason with them, they would curse you. If you treat them as equal, they would hurt you. You can't blame them neither. Those humans in that region have been through thousand of years of selective breeding by despotic regimes for the most masochistic.
My suggestion is: don't give them a choice, like the Great Muhammad. Yes, the Great Muhammad conquered these people and made them salves and look how happy they are. Look! their women enjoy being treated like slaves. Their men enjoy sacrificing themselves. Who are we to argue with these masochists? We should just take out our whips and make them happy. XD
In the final analysis it is about assurance. The assuance of one's salvation. For the Muslim it's about working your way to Paradise (salvation being earned through human merit) and hoping that they will accepted and not rejected once they die. The Muslin as no assurance of salvation and therefore they must only hope their works, their prayers,and their pilgrimages are sufficent for their acceptance. As a Christian my assurance is based on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It's not based on any good works I can do but solely on the redemptive work of Jesus. The Bible states, "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent is Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."(1 John 4:9-10). This is what sets Christianity apart from the other world religions, the Person of Jesus Christ. If Jesus did not live, die on the cross, and rise from the dead in history, then Christianity is without foundation. Whether or not Buddha or Muhammad lived, however, is not essential to the truth-claims they made, for the same truth-claims could have been made by someone else. Why are Muslims so religious: it is because their salvation is based on works and the Bible clearly states the good and righteous works of a person are not a means of salvation or a right standing before God.
Islam attracts suicide bombers because it has no respect for human life and has zero tolerance for non-Muslims (infidels). It's an abomination and needs to be exterminated.
Why? Well Fear of getting beheaded, battery acid sprayed pm your face, stoned to death, rapped, and tortured.... Do you seriously have to ask this question?
That's what that religion is about.... look at Muslims countries (except Turkey)
Not to put a damper on the entire premise of this article, but Islam does not teach that Christians and Jews are excluded from heaven. For example, Surah 2:62 is generally translated to say: "Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad] – those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness – will have their reward with the lord, no fear will be concerning them, nor will they grieve.” In other words, those who truly believe in the God of Abraham and judgment day – and act on that belief – will be rewarded by God.
Also, the article’s assertion that Islam plays a greater role in daily life of its adherents than Christianity plays in the life of Christians reflects the difference in how Muhammad (PBUH) and Jesus (PBUH) are portrayed in the Qur'an and the Bible, respectively. The Bible chronicles only 3 years of Jesus' (PBUH) ministry and provides little information on how his family, his trade, and how he lived his daily life. The Bible gives general principles for a relationship with God and our fellow man, but provides little detailed guidance on specific subjects. In contrast, the Qur'an (and the Hadith) give very (arguably overly) detailed rules for conduct in virtually every aspect of life. In this respect, Islam and Judaism are very similar. For example, Christians wouldn't think to follow Jesus' (PBUH) example for the proper hand with which to eat; the Bible doesn't mention it. The same isn't true for Muslims. Arguably, the Muslim tendency to adhere to tradition is influenced by this fact.
I won’t attempt to justify the violence perpetrated in the name of Islam, however, a number of those commenting here seem convinced that Islam is a uniquely violent religion. I will assume those comments are rooted in ignorance rather than bigotry. Rather than recount the atrocities committed by various religions, I will simply say, please do a little research. With so much information available, the public debate should certainly be more educated than what seems to pop up on CNN.com boards.
What about other religions? So is it OK for Islam to exterminate all Buddhists? Taoists? Shinto adherents? Sikhs? Hindus? Jains? Islam has just about exterminated all the Zoroastrians.
Very well said. Somehow the opponents of Islam never bother to at least know what it really is. Hence they would say Allah refers to a moon god; Muslims worship Muhammad (pbuh), and the like.
Who gives a rip what some ancient writer put in a book. It means nothing.
There is no such thing as judgement day. We only think there might be.
the purpose of islam is to overpower women into believing it is true so they can submit to throwback men who otherwise would not stand any chance in finding a women yet a beautiful women. islam is a great evil shielded by outdated and intolerant ideaologies. it is a dangerous practice.
There are no gods. Let's move on.
Would you please provide the absolute, universal argument and proof and by whom, and when?
Thanks, that would really help.
Yes there are, and if you don't get your a$$ outside in the morning, and do your burnt offering, there is no telling all the bad things that are going to come down on your head.
The burden of proof of God's existence is not for non-believers to prove, after all they don't run around proclaiming an all powerful invisible ethereal God exists. The burden of proof falls upon those who make the claim, especially to those who actively attempt to covert non-believers into believers.
"Yes there are..." Please provide them. The whole world awaits your enlightened philosophical wisdom.
Sure, Maxx – Simply take all your own arguments against the existence of Zeus, Ra, Ganesh, etc. and apply them to your own god.
I'm sorry but I cannot agree. You will have to show that it is true that the burden of proof lies at the believer's foot. I will give you a quick lesson in philosophy which I would hope you would research carefully. It is accepted in the field of philosophy that you cannot prove a negation in the absolute. I can no more prove God's existence than you can prove the negation. You will have to find another line of argument.
Vegas: as a believer I'll be happy to take on that burden of proof as soon as you are willing to take on the burden of explaining how the universe (let alone life) came into existence without a great creator. I'm not refuting the principle of evolution - which is a scientifically accepted principle. But evolution can't take you from A to Z...
You cannot prove that Zeus, et al do or do not not exist either. Give it a try. You cannot even prove that you are not a brain in an alien vat somewhere in the universe akin to the Matrix. Try it.
Umm, well, like, their gettin real mad. And when they get mad enough, then they will come and get you.
Yes, good show. Science cannot go back and perform a 1st person experience of the past. Yes there is strong evidence for evolution, but it should be mentioned that the atheistic Darwinian interpretation of evolution is only but one possible interpretation – with some rather startling ramifications. The 20th century should have taught us all that.
Neither of us can prove that Santa Claus isn't real. So what? Even without "proof," we can say with fairly good confidence that there is no Santa at the North Pole.
However, we cannot say that in the universe of 500 billion stars that God does not exist. Are you sure he's not out there? How will you prove it? Again, you cannot prove a negation in the absolute. And your santa claus argument is a straw man. We're not talking about santa claus. We are discussing God. Please keep the argument straight and do not red herring me please. Thank you.
We agree that you cannot prove that Zeus does not exist. So tell me: why do you not worship Zeus?
Indeed – why do you not worship Zeus? I do not believe that Zeus characterizes the perfection of that which I seek. Zeus appears a little too much like we are rather than we express his perfection. But, even Zeus is never defined as deity in terms of perfection, rather, a little less than perfection – which is more like – me. Perhaps if I should worship Zeus, I might be equally justified to worship – me. But, I understand myself to be less than perfect and therefore neither are worthy of worship.
@Krishna Read below to see how great Hinduism is
BBC News, Dec 2nd, 2011
India Dalit boy 'killed over high-caste man's name'
A low-caste Dalit boy has been killed in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh for sharing a name with a man of a higher caste, police say. They said Neeraj Kumar's father Ram Sumer had been asked to change the names of two sons as they were the same as those of Jawahar Chaudhary's sons.
@ProudMuslim The caste system has nothing to do with Hinduism. It was introduced by the invading Aryans and the strict caste system is nowhere to be found in Hindu texts. Idiot.
That's pretty abhorrent, but that's not a comment on Hinduism, just on the idiot and the culture he grew in. He would kill his Hindu brother in law just as easily for other equally stupid reasons.
Bigoted, idiotic, Hindus will commit atrocities the same way bigoted idiotic Muslims will.
The sensible ones in both parties will behave sensibly.
Being stupid is not a religion thing. Bigoted idiotic Christian Americans think it is OK to kill hundreds of thousands of innocents in Iraq, but here the motivation is not religion, its politics/money. Does that matter?
I think the only take-away lesson here is that Muslims are a little more religious. Its just their way of life; good for them. Being religious is not the same as being stupid.
I am atheist, I don't believe in fairy stories. I believe in science, reason, and rationality. All I said was that if people need religion to fulfill whatever weakness in their life, it would be better to be a Christian than Muslim. "With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion." – American physicist and Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg.
can you elaborate why it would be better to be christian than muslim.
"Aetheist" is a noun. I am Borg.
Sassan, you are an oh so typical condescending and self inflating atheist. Are you atheist because you are too pompous to accept that you are not the greatest being that exists in the world? I doubt your being atheist has anything to do with being pompous... In like manner, for the vast majority of people who have a religious belief, it isn't because they have a "weakness" that they are trying to supplement. This is the most ridiculous and self serving suggestion