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.
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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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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.
Muslims are More religious out of FEAR and to be accepted ... It is an OUTWARD form of worship......if they don't ..outwardly pray the 5times per day...they could be outcastes by their Imam and family, a woman MUST wear a headscarf....otherwise she is NOT
Considered a devout Muslim!!! Islam is a religion that rules by the SWORD an not out of love and compassion
I feel sorry for you that you are quite uninformed about Islam. You knowledge is based on the the news from the media. Once you know the real Islam you will not write what you have written. Islam is religion of passion, love , respect and spirituality which should be part of your daily life not for only one day when people go to church or other place of worship. This is misconception that islam was spread by sword. Sword was used only when muslims were attacked. Hitler, and other known crusaders were not muslims.No one forces anyone to pray or wear hijab in civilized islamic world. This is between the person and the God. May God give you the wisdom to understand Islam.
Bella you are gravely mistaken. I am a muslim woman who does not pray 5 times a day and does not wear a headscarve and I have never felt any less muslim than some one who does. Neither my imam or my family has nullified me as a muslim because I do not do those things. I also know many muslim men and women who are the same.
I fear that your perception of islam is propelled by what you see in the news and hear by word of mouth. I suggest that you take a basic college course on Islam and its adherents or maybe speak to a group of muslims before you make overarching generalizations about muslims.
my AMEN was for Bella btw...
We got ourselves a major in Mainstream Media here!!! Damn.. you must know a lot because you believe everything you're told on the news.
Thats not true.. We are beleive in it and there is no threat from Imam or other people. My wife has choice either to wear or not but she choses to wear it due to belief in the religion. Also she gets the protections from the hindering eyes..
Sounds fantastic, Mahmood. Tell your story to the Taliban.
Well, Seri, you may not feel any less Muslim because you don't wear a scarf and pray 5 times a day, but there are a whole lot of Muslims out there who would consider you a dangerous heretic for that. You must live in a very tolerant, non-Muslim majority country. The Taliban have been known to kill men because their beard is too short to suit their view of Allah's taste.
thank you amhmood
@ mahmood Ameen Alhumdolillah
muslims are more stupider than the other stupid religious people, next topic.
How stupid am I ? hmmm
"MORE Stupider", Really ?
@Really, from the comments you posted your a f--n retard
Jass, it's called satire.
If by committed you mean more committed to killing others, using women and children as human suicide bombs, and spewing vitriolic hatred at others, that's committed all right.
Ignorance is evident on this board............................................
Its good to see ignorant people they are a lesson to us all.
Yeah but seeing my religion being bashed about like this is painful.....and they are unwilling to see the other side. We have a saying in my language: one can lead the horse to the water source but can not make them drink.........
@Really, You sand monkeys are so touchy about your crazy religion maybe there's something in the tea you drink
This article is nothing but statistics. Therefore, whatever you commented did not change anything.
And for all the non Muslims, please before you play the role of an expert and call Muslims terrorists and ignorants, y don't you bother reading more about Islam and the Quran and understanding it. I will not discuss anything about Islam here because it's pointless. But don't go fighting people who have nothing but respect to you and your religions. Don't think you are experts just because you heard bin Ladin blew up the towers. If you are really educated, ou would know that Islam forbade doing such thing and disowned anyone who folloews such path.
Wow I was just hear to chat I am bored.
Sorry, I have read the Quran and found it to be a paranoid fable warning of Jews and Christians with no real value. It may have had some significance 1400 yrs ago but is of little significance today. It's wonderful that you believe this stuff but it's still a man made book of fiction....
"But don't go fighting people who have nothing but respect to you and your religions."
@Really, maybe drawing a picture of mohammed will ebb your boredom, then wiping your a– with it
But don't forget, a person who never how to write or read could never write a book made out of 600 pages perfectly, discuss prophets from centuries before, discuss Adam and eve. Read more about Islam and you will find the story of the Jew who went to Mohammad to confirm that he was the prophet in the Islam since the Torah mentioned that, and you will also find the story of the Christian priest who met Mohammad as a child, and 33 years before he becomes a prophet, but he was able to see the description of Mohammad he knew from what Christianity and bible had. And yes Islam has nothing but respect to Christianity and Judaism "dscon" :). trust me , I lived in Jordan for 17 years, and just for records, I have friends that till this day I dont knwo if they are muslims or Christians. why religions live happy together in countries but not in others. I hope that will be a good enough hint to click the idea that religions are not the main issue. :).
"rdude", you are making the point!!!!
I have never seen a Muslim abusing Jesus, they always talk with respect about him. dont use ypur time hating, use this time to really know who people are. you are hating islam because a person that Islam diswoned killed 3000 people, yet you are not considering the 1000's of innocent muslims killed in palestine, afghanistan, adn iraq everyday. adn why you have no emotions towards them, even though they are humans just like you? because the whole knowledge you have about islam is "BIN LADIN" which is not even a muslim. Id you are really going for the freedom and peoples rights how come you defend palestinians who are invaded for the past 60 years??? Did you forget that Jesus was born in Palestine?????
how come you DON'T defend palestinians who are invaded for ***
My invisible sky wizard is far more powerful than your invisible sky wizard. LOL. It's 2012. Isn't it time to give up all mythologies?
I bet my eye in the sky can take it out.
funny and true
Lol freaking awesome
Slave of Allah means submission to Allah using free will that has been given to us. Everything in Universe follows the instructions earth revolves around sun you get the seasons. We have been given a choice. Islam doesn't mean peace it means submission (to Allah) that is all. Now if you want to make your owns Gods your will you responsibility. I understand your analogy, and yet it portrays a great distance between God and Man set up by the Islamic way. God has so much better for us than merely to be ruled by physical law like the planets. Jesus says "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with me."
This is a very intimate spiritual thing and also shows God as wanting to dwell with us and within us.
Threat of violence is a very real motivator. Death penalty for any dissent. Allow free will and open debate to reign and we will see just how devout the followers are.
Not in Quran no earthly prescribed by Quran for people who leave Islam.
I mean't earthly punishment.
Explain Apostasy to us. Is it not prevalent in most nations whose law is Sharia based?
I hope you realize there is not a SINGLE country that actually FOLLOWS Sharia correctly.....
@ashrakay Well its made by people of that area surely a father would not want his son to be Muslim so if his son is not Muslim he will have to live in shame in society. So I think to prevent it they made that punishment but it is not in Quran. You can leave Islam no punishment in this world.
Jews should be ashamed of themselves! Sadly, they lack that capacity. The Internet is one long anti-Islam hatefest. I am one of the few voices of reason.
Not all Jews are bad.
So here we have a guy with the handle "Hitler II" talking about hate??? Good God!
Islam is growing so rapidly because of a extremely high birth rate worldwide. They have a population where many woman are illiterate or told their place is at home raising children. Many Muslim woman are viewed as " baby making machines", inferior to the men (which of course is ridiculous) Pretty pathetic that in 2011 those weak must be forced fed a fable from a man made book of fiction. There are billions of clueless souls looking for direction. The true answer is to believe in yourself and family, enjoy this life (the only one) and stop the subservient nonsense...
Really I would have thought all that killing would have put a stop to it.
@ashrakay Killing Children that was about Night time raids on enemies in which Children were killed accidentally and Muslims were hesitant to go to war. If Muslims didn't fight them the enemies would have destroyed them just as the collateral damage US shrugs off in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"Then I heard the LORD say to the other men, "Follow him through the city and kill everyone whose forehead is not marked. Show no mercy; have no pity! Kill them all – old and young, girls and women and little children. But do not touch anyone with the mark. Begin your task right here at the Temple." So they began by killing the seventy leaders. "Defile the Temple!" the LORD commanded. "Fill its courtyards with the bodies of those you kill! Go!" So they went throughout the city and did as they were told." (Ezekiel 9:5-7)
This is what the Lord of hosts has to say: 'I will punish what Amalek did to Israel when he barred his way as he was coming up from Egypt. Go, now, attack Amalek, and deal with him and all that he has under the ban. Do not spare him, but kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and asses.' (1 Samuel 15:2-3 NAB)
When the people heard the sound of the horns, they shouted as loud as they could. Suddenly, the walls of Jericho collapsed, and the Israelites charged straight into the city from every side and captured it. They completely destroyed everything in it – men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep, donkeys – everything. (Joshua 6:20-21 NLT)
I can't wait to hear more of your brilliant self-deluded justification.
The researcher never mentioned the educational and economical status of those in the survey. There are facts that may downsize the muslim Population.
1.Everyone born in Muslim family is considered muslim although an infant have no concept of God or religion, and they can't renounce their religion because it can be punished by death by extreme measure or there ignored or kept in the shadow if they do.
2.As mentioned before Education or the lack of it, I wanna know how many muslims have really read the koran. Women can not get high education in many Muslim majority countries, they're married off young and in their teens, those who do have an higher education have limited legal rights.
Unfortunately being very religious, specially islam is associated as been in low education,economic class!
first of all you should change your name as quickly as you can from alireza to rajiv (hindu) tim (christian) or samuel (jewish) since you have a problem with child being born as a muslims. what a joke !! muslim mean submit to will of god...muslim believe anything and everything submits to the will of god including either it is a stages of child development in the womb or the the entire galactic system or worshipping Him the way he instructed. the rest of your comments are traditional and valid to the culture and it has nothing to do with Muslim..
because they're brainwashed.... stopped jamming Islam down our throats CNN
Here more Islam.
@PTI, whatever helps you keep that fantasy alive...
Once all islums become christian then everyone will be better off
I can tell you for sure if a Muslim becomes a Christian it will only be for the money. Most of people who leave Islam become atheists.
Really-That answers why there are so many smart atheists on this board!!! Not! ie., the Muslim converts et al.
ashrakay" its great that you at least have reference but once again the whole issue is about CONTEXT! I would love to explain but these comment boards are not worth it.
Are you suggesting that muslims do not believe that they are in a cosmic war in a struggle against the forces of evil?
@ashrakay That struggle is not just fighting it is a struggle against our own desires that are bad too.
anyone dumb enough to believe the y get 70 virgins in heaven for being a martyr, wearing those stupid towels over their head, and oppressing their women should be ignorant enough to be dedicated to their faith. the mulsim religin is in the same place christianity was 700 years ago. so by my calculations thye should come around in another 500-600 years and learn not to spread their beliefs by war.
The Muslims are more "religious" because they are forced from an early age under threat of death. We forget that the middle east was home to many brilliant thinkers before Islam took over. But don't kid yourselves, the leaders of the Catholic church and all the Christians would love to have religious law rule the people.
Islam is not a religion, it is a cult. (a satanic one). Hte mere fact of been a mulslim should be punisable by death. They are not more religious, they have more mentally challenged. Islam and mulsims, are excluslivly causing trouble, pain suffering, wars and other atrocities.
So ummm what do you call the actions of the US?
all religions are a cult.