Muslims in South-east Asia most moderate: Poll

Posted in Broader Middle East , Religion and Politics , Asia | 26-Mar-08 | Author: Bhagyashree Garekar| Source: Straits Times

They are also among the most religious Muslims in the world, according to survey

WASHINGTON - SOUTH-EAST Asia's Muslims are among the most religious and the most moderate in the world. And most of them would like to see the syariah as a source - but not the only source - of law in their countries.

These were among the findings of the most comprehensive survey ever of Muslims which showed that Islamic radicals formed a minority - 7 per cent - of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims.

The Gallup survey was conducted in 40 predominantly Muslim countries and covered 90 per cent of the world's Muslim population. It defined as radicals those Muslims who felt that the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States were 'completely justified' and who had an 'unfavourable' or 'very unfavourable' opinion of the US.

The survey found that South-east Asia had a smaller percentage of radicals than the world average, with the figure at 2 per cent in Indonesia.

Gallup did not release the figures for the other South-east Asian nations, except to say that they were also in single digits. Muslims in Singapore were not surveyed.

Ms Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the Washington, DC-based Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies, said South-east Asian Muslims were moderate.

'South-east Asians, overall, do tend to be more moderate than the Middle Easterners in their views of the US, the Sept 11 attacks,' she told The Straits Times.

'Our survey found that there always was some support in any society for the Sept 11 attacks, but in South-east Asia we saw little support for the attacks.'

The survey also reflected a rise in religiosity seen across the globe. 'We find majorities all over the world saying religion is an important part of their daily lives, and South-east Asia is no exception,' said Ms Mogahed.

In Indonesia, 97 per cent of respondents said that religion formed an important part of their lives.

In Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, the figures were 84, 96 and 95 per cent respectively.

Among the South Asian nations, the Bangladeshis showed up as the most religious (99 per cent), followed by the Pakistanis (93 per cent) and the Indians (83 per cent).

Western Europe bucked the trend, with only one in three people there saying religion was important to them, Ms Mogahed said. In the US, 68 per cent said likewise.

The survey also showed that most Muslims wanted Islamic jurisprudence, or the syariah, to be used as a source of legislation in their societies - just like how a majority of Americans wish to see the Bible as a source of legislation.

This was especially true in South-east Asia - though many did not want syariah to be the only source. Only a minority wanted it as the only source of legislation, while, at the same time, very few did not want it as a source at all.

In Indonesia, 52 per cent supported the syariah as a source of law - but not the only source - as did 30 per cent in Malaysia.

In contrast, more people in the two mainly Muslim South Asian nations - Pakistan (51 per cent) and Bangladesh (57 per cent) - supported adopting syariah as the only source of law in their country.

Support for syariah as the only source of law was also high in some Arab countries, like Egypt (66 per cent) and Jordan (54 per cent).

The survey, conducted over a six-year period beginning soon after the Sept 11 attacks, found that opinions of the US had worsened considerably among Muslims worldwide, partly because of the Iraq war.

Ms Mogahed, an American of Egyptian descent, said that she was surprised by how much Muslims in Asia were talking about Iraq.

'This was not a problem in their backyard and they don't share an ethnicity with the Iraqis. Yet they were very concerned,' she said of Muslims in Indonesia and Malaysia.

'It does show a global identity to some degree among Muslims.'

Ms Dalia, who has co-written a book Who Speaks For Islam interpreting the findings of the survey, said that the survey helped people understand the diversity, nuance and patterns in Muslim opinions.

'We are rooting our understanding in facts, rather than in expert opinion, assumptions or anecdotal evidence. It is meant to give those people, who have been essentially unheard, a voice,' she said.

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