Five takeaways from Pew’s comprehensive study on Islam
April 30th, 2013
03:33 PM ET

Five takeaways from Pew’s comprehensive study on Islam

By Dan Merica, CNN
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Washington (CNN) – A Pew Research Center study released Tuesday takes an in-depth look at Islam, including how Muslims around the world view extremism, sharia law and the meeting of religion and politics.

The study is a four-year effort by Pew, which conducted 38,000 face-to-face interview in 80-plus languages for the survey. In total, 39 countries and territories were included, all of which had over 10 million Muslims living there.

Here are the report’s five major takeaways:

1.) Differences between U.S. and international Muslims are vast

While Muslims in the United States share a belief system with Muslims abroad, the Pew survey released Tuesday and a Pew survey on American Muslims from 2011 reveals wide differences between the two groups.

An overwhelming number of Muslims outside the United States told Pew that “Islam is the only religion that leads to eternal life in heaven.” Ninety-six percent of Egyptians and Jordanians, 95% of Iraqis and 94% of Moroccan Muslims responded that “Islam alone” leads to heaven.

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When all Muslims outside the United States were considered, only 18% said many religions can lead to heaven. In the United States, that number is 56%, according to the 2011 survey.

Additionally, U.S. Muslims were more likely to have friends who were not Muslim.

“About half of U.S. Muslims say that all (7%) or most (41%) of their close friends are followers of Islam, and half say that some (36%) or hardly any (14%) of their close friends are Muslim,” the survey reports.

By contrast, an average of 95% of Muslims outside the United States said “most or all of their friends are Muslims.”

2.) Sharia law favored, especially by more devout Muslims

A whopping 99% of Muslims in Afghanistan told Pew that they favor sharia law – a Muslim code that dictates everything from dietary laws to morals – as the official law of the land.

Though Afghanistan is by far the most supportive of sharia, majorities in countries like Iraq (91%), Palestinian territories (89%) and Malaysia (86%) favor applying sharia to everyone in their respective countries. Support for this viewpoint was particularly strong in Southeast Asia, South Asia, Middle East-North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Analysis of the survey results by Pew found “most Muslims believe sharia is the revealed word of God rather than a body of law developed by men based on the word of God.”

Those who approve sharia becoming the law of the land generally pray more than their Muslim brethren.

Muslims who pray several times a day in Russia, for example, are over twice as likely to favor implementing Islamic law as the law of the land. The same split between those who pray several times a day and those who pray less often can be seen in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Tunisia and Turkey.

3.) Most Muslims believe religion, politics should be intertwined

A majority of Muslims surveyed in Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Middle East-North Africa told Pew that religious leaders in their respective countries should have political influence.

Much like favoring sharia law, religious devotion played an important role in these beliefs.

"Devout Muslims tend to be more supportive of religious leaders playing a role in politics,” the survey reads. “In a number of countries, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa but also in Southern and Eastern Europe, Muslims who pray several times a day are more likely than those who pray less frequently to say religious leaders should have at least some influence on political matters."

4.) Around the world, Muslims heralded religious freedom

Despite views that Islam should influence politics and law, an overwhelming number of Muslims told Pew that religious freedom was a good thing.

Ninety-seven percent of Muslims in South Asia, 95% in Eastern Europe, 94% in sub-Saharan Africa and 85% in the Middle East and North Africa responded positively to religious freedom, according to the poll.

“Overall, Muslims broadly support the idea of religious freedom,” the study states. “Among Muslims who say people of different religions are very free to practice their faith, three-quarters or more in each country say this is a good thing.”

5.) Islamic extremism widely rejected, but still a concern

Carrying out violent acts in the name of Islam is strongly rejected by Muslims around the world, according to the survey.

While a majority of Muslims, according to Pew, in all countries surveyed said “suicide bombing in defense of Islam” was rarely or never justified, “there are some countries in which substantial minorities think violence against civilians is at least sometimes justified.”

For example, in the Palestinian territories, 40% of Muslims said suicide bombing was often or sometime justified. In Afghanistan that number was 39% and in Egypt that number was 29%.

Despite most country’s disapproval of violence in the name of Islam, religious extremism – and in particular Muslim extremism – is a concern for a majority of Muslims in the world, according to the survey.

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“At least half of Muslims in 22 of the 36 countries where the question was asked say they are at least somewhat concerned about religious extremist groups in their country,” the report reads. “In most countries, Muslims are much more worried about Islamic extremists than Christian extremists.”

Concern over Muslims extremism was at it highest in Indonesia, Iraq and Guinea Bissau, where over 45% of Muslims said they were either very or somewhat concerned about violence in the name of Islam.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Belief • Islam • Islamic law • Polls

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soundoff (1,682 Responses)
  1. Tom

    According to Sharia Law (among other things):
    1) People have the freedom to think, to believe, to speak.
    2) Killing an innocent whatsoever was his/her religion is to be prosecuted
    3) Men and women are equal except that inheritence is divided 2:1 as men are responsible for bringing bread to their families while woman are not responsible to put her money in the necessities of the household.

    The prophet said: the best of you in manners is that who is best to his wife (treating his wife well).

    There is one take on that study: it seems that it didn't control for the level of education and the socio-economic status because they will affect the understanding of people.

    April 30, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
  2. HenryMiller

    All religion is a kind of—usually benign—insanity, but non-US Muslims seem to be crazier than most.

    April 30, 2013 at 11:02 pm |
  3. McDuck Quackerton

    Unless heaven is the name of some town you can travel to, no one goes to heaven.

    April 30, 2013 at 11:01 pm |
    • Rex

      I'm not sure who goes to heaven. But I'm absolutely sure that Mohammed was not allowed there. Remember what he did to a minor child named Aisha?

      April 30, 2013 at 11:24 pm |
  4. who is God?

    Define Haven? (based on link saying Who goes to Haven)

    April 30, 2013 at 10:57 pm |
  5. TRE

    a person goes to heaven by Grace alone, through Faith alone, in CHRIST alone, according to scripture alone,all for the glory of GOD alone!! He who has an ear to ear, Lord let them hear.

    April 30, 2013 at 10:55 pm |
    • Answer

      Don't fear your death.

      April 30, 2013 at 10:57 pm |
    • TRE

      Christ overcame death, no fear in death for the Christian, To be absent from the body is to be present with the LORD.

      April 30, 2013 at 11:00 pm |
    • Athy

      Get real, folks, it's all bullshit.

      April 30, 2013 at 11:02 pm |
    • Answer


      Your kind reeks of insecurity and fear.

      April 30, 2013 at 11:03 pm |
    • TRE

      No ear to hear. Just believe man ,, Christ will give you life.

      April 30, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      My invisible pink unicorn is praying that you get a clue.

      April 30, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
    • Answer

      The Christ you're after is the garbage man or that gardener...

      Have fun in your imagination. Always wanting that eternal life... so soothing and comfortable.

      The small comforts to free from yourself from fear. You gotta do it everyday to make it through your day.

      April 30, 2013 at 11:09 pm |
    • Answer

      Listen to your "christian bubble music".. find all materials specific to your bubble, don't ever deviate.

      That indoctrination of sin. Don't touch yourself ~there~.

      Fear to step out of the bubble. Preach fear to your fellows. Preach the burn in hell. Always the fear.

      April 30, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
  6. Homer10

    Many hyper Christians say the same thing. Except that only they will go to Heaven. All their other religious friends, will go to he11 because they just aren't religious enough. Yeah, there are just as many @whole Christians as there are @whole Muslims. Religion is the source of most of the evil on this Earth.

    April 30, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
    • Bostontola

      people within some Christian sects don't even think the people in other Christian sects will go to heaven. Same for Muslims, many Sunnis don't think Shiites will go to heaven and vice versa.

      April 30, 2013 at 11:05 pm |
  7. ToniCarter

    The 72 virgins call mmnn, they are no longer virgins

    April 30, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
  8. Lew

    Muz zies love Sharia.

    April 30, 2013 at 10:52 pm |
  9. Answer

    Hey CNN, could you guys get one of your "researchers" to do an article on whether how many muslims nowadays will be willing blow themselves up – with an indepth comparison – to the changes to their worded 'virgins' vs 'raisins'?


    April 30, 2013 at 10:52 pm |
  10. Bostontola

    Islamic countries are headed backwards. It's sad because they were leaders in civilization a thousand years ago.

    April 30, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
    • MarkH

      Just like cavemen at their time.

      April 30, 2013 at 11:03 pm |
  11. David from Nor Cal

    I seriously do not see how a majority can rationally say they support religious freedom AND sharia law and religiously driven politics. That doesn't even remotely make sense! If you support religious freedom of all, you cannot have religion in politics or the law. Period. End of discussion.

    "Imagine no religion" – John Lennon

    April 30, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
  12. Robert

    So, in other words: Between 1/3 and 1/2 of Muslims support terrorism in the name of Islam. And that's only the people who admitted that support in a face-to-face interview. The numbers are probably even higher than that. If you don't realize that Islam is dangerous you have your head buried DEEP in the sand.

    April 30, 2013 at 10:48 pm |
  13. Bostontola


    April 30, 2013 at 10:48 pm |
    • ouldmould


      April 30, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
  14. Crusader

    I think these people need to be ostracized by every civilized nation on earth. They cannot get along with any other nation or religion..and their 'religion' of hate and intolerance is widely regarded as abhorrent. There needs to be a worldwide muslim tax to offset the security and medical costs they inflict on innocent citizens. They justified the Crusades in the year 1095 and they certainly justify it TODAY!

    April 30, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
    • Dandy

      Apparently you don't know sh it about the Crusades...

      April 30, 2013 at 10:53 pm |
    • Athy

      Crusader seems to be a little deficient in history.

      April 30, 2013 at 11:05 pm |
  15. tet1953

    All organized religion is bad. Islam is among the worst, followed closely by Catholicism.

    April 30, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
    • Robert

      You are right on. The worst religions are those that discourage free thought and have strict doctrines that must be blindly followed.

      April 30, 2013 at 10:45 pm |
    • Johnson

      Jehovah Witness much worse. Catholics don't knock on my door. When Muslims accept modern science and evolution, the world will be a step closer to peace.

      April 30, 2013 at 11:12 pm |
  16. Fred Smith

    CNN still full of godless communist losers I see.

    April 30, 2013 at 10:37 pm |
    • Answer

      Order your heaven virgin.. today.

      Only raisins for I-slam.

      April 30, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
    • Athy

      Good for them.

      April 30, 2013 at 11:06 pm |
  17. NB

    Do any of you even read the article, or do you just go straight to the comment box and bash on Islam?

    April 30, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
    • Scholar

      The correct answer to your question is just "yes".

      April 30, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
  18. Bill

    "Islamic extremism widely rejected"

    I call. Like most other polls, they'll tell the pollster what they think they want to hear, not what they believe.

    That's even more true since the interviews were face to face.

    April 30, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
    • Bobpitt

      extremist are a cancer no matter what side they are on, or what ever church they attend, extremist are bad news..

      April 30, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
    • Answer

      slam, will, get, raisins, after, boom. Iman, apologist, say, raisins. Laugh.

      April 30, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
  19. Bluejeans

    HOW MANY VIRGINS are the bad guys guaranteed in heaven if they harm so-called infidels? Something like 17? What happens on day 18? Sloppy seconds? Not very bright, are they.....

    April 30, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
    • Answer

      There is the other business of those virgins being in infinite supply.

      And of course they like them fair skinned and blonde. Those poor blondes are in for torture at their mercy.

      April 30, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
    • Bobpitt

      And you think Christians are better? get real....!!!

      April 30, 2013 at 10:37 pm |
    • Bobpitt

      I don't care what religion says what... I just want my blond virgins right now..!!!

      April 30, 2013 at 10:41 pm |
    • Answer

      Step right up and place your order for a heaven virgin...

      Please choose:

      1) submissive blonde


      2) dominatrix blonde


      April 30, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
  20. wallstreetcrime

    Not surprisingly, the results likely mirror American' Christian beliefs about Christianity.

    April 30, 2013 at 10:29 pm |
    • Chad

      Did you read the article?

      “In most countries, Muslims are much more worried about Islamic extremists than Christian extremists.”

      April 30, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
    • Answer


      Do you smoke afterwards ~wink~ with "Rachel"?

      April 30, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
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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.