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Within regions, support for enshrining sharia as official law is particularly high in some countries with predominantly Muslim populations, such as Afghanistan and Iraq.1 But support for sharia is not limited to countries where Muslims make up a majority of the population. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, Muslims constitute less than a fifth of the population in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique and Uganda; yet in each of these countries, at least half of Muslims (52%-74%) say they want sharia to be the official law of the land.
Across the countries surveyed, support for making sharia the official law of the land generally varies little by age, gender or education. In the few countries where support for Islamic law varies significantly by age, older Muslims tend to favor enshrining sharia as the law of the land more than younger Muslims do. This is particularly true in the Middle East-North Africa region, where Muslims ages 35 and older are more likely than those 18-34 to back sharia in Lebanon (+22 percentage points), Jordan (+12), Tunisia (+12) and the Palestinian territories (+10).
For a region with an odd number of countries, the median on a particular question is the middle spot among the countries surveyed in that region. For regions with an even number of countries, the median is computed as the average of the two countries at the middle of the list (e.g., where six nations are shown, the median is the average of the third and fourth countries listed in the region).
In most countries where the question was asked, roughly three-quarters or more Muslims reject suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians. And in most countries, the prevailing view is that such acts are never justified as a means of defending Islam from its enemies. Yet there are some countries in which substantial minorities think violence against civilians is at least sometimes justified. This view is particularly widespread among Muslims in the Palestinian territories (40%), Afghanistan (39%), Egypt (29%) and Bangladesh (26%).
The survey asked in particular about relations between Muslims and Christians. In nearly all countries, fewer than half of Muslims say that many or most members of either religious group are hostile toward the other group. In five countries, however, more than three-in-ten Muslims describe many or most Christians as antagonistic toward Muslims: Egypt (50%), Guinea Bissau (41%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (37%), Chad (34%) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (31%). And in three countries similar percentages say many or most Muslims are hostile toward Christians: Guinea Bissau (49%), Chad (38%) and Egypt (35%). (For more details on Muslim-Christian tensions, see Views of Muslim-Christian Hostilities in Chapter 6: Interfaith Relations.)
Devout Muslims tend to be more supportive of religious leaders playing a role in politics. 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. At a country level, this gap is especially wide in Lebanon, where Muslims who pray several times a day are nearly four times more likely than other Muslims (51% vs. 13%) to say religious leaders should play a role in politics.
Western music, movies and television have become a fixture of contemporary society in many parts of the world. The survey finds that, at a personal level, many Muslims enjoy Western popular culture. This is especially true in Southern and Eastern Europe (66%), Central Asia (52%) and sub-Saharan Africa (51%), where medians of at least 50% say they like Western entertainment. Fewer in Southeast Asia (41%) and the Middle East and North Africa (38%) share this view. Favorable opinions of Western music, movies and television are even rarer in South Asia (25%).
In 2011, the Pew Research Center conducted its second nationally representative survey of Muslims in the United States. When that survey is compared with the global survey of Muslims, some key differences emerge between U.S. Muslims and Muslims in other countries. In general, American Muslims are more at ease in the contemporary world. About six-in-ten Muslims living in the U.S. (63%) say there is no tension between being religiously devout and living in a modern society, compared with a median of 54% of Muslims worldwide. American Muslims also are more likely than Muslims in other parts of the world to say that many religions can lead to eternal salvation (56% vs. global median of 18%). Additionally, U.S. Muslims are much less likely than Muslims worldwide to say that all or most of their close friends are Muslim (48% vs. global median of 95%).
Muslims in the U.S. are about as likely as Muslims in other countries to view science and religion as fully compatible. In the U.S., 59% of Muslims say there generally is not a conflict between science and religion, compared with a median of 54% globally among Muslims. However, American Muslims are somewhat less likely to believe in evolution than are Muslims in other parts of the world (45% vs. global median of 53%). Indeed, when it comes to evolution, U.S. Muslims are closer to U.S. Christians (46% of whom say they believe in evolution) than they are to fellow Muslims elsewhere in the world.
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Some of these differences are apparent at a regional level. For example, at least eight-in-ten Muslims in every country surveyed in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and South Asia say that religion is very important in their lives. Across the Middle East and North Africa, roughly six-in-ten or more say the same. And in the United States, a 2011 Pew Research Center survey found that nearly seven-in-ten Muslims (69%) say religion is very important to them. (For more comparisons with U.S. Muslims, see Appendix A.) But religion plays a much less central role for some Muslims, particularly in nations that only recently have emerged from communism. No more than half of those surveyed in Russia, the Balkans and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia say religion is very important in their lives. The one exception across this broad swath of Eastern Europe, Southern Europe and Central Asia is Turkey, which never came under communist rule; fully two-thirds of Turkish Muslims (67%) say religion is very important to them.
There are also differences in how male and female Muslims practice their faith. In most of the 39 countries surveyed, men are more likely than women to attend mosque. This is especially true in Central Asia and South Asia, where majorities of women in most of the countries surveyed say they never attend mosque. However, this disparity appears to result from cultural norms or local customs that constrain women from attending mosque, rather than from differences in the importance that Muslim women and men place on religion. In most countries surveyed, for example, women are about as likely as men to read (or listen to readings from) the Quran on a daily basis. And there are no consistent differences between men and women when it comes to the frequency of prayer or participation in annual rites, such as almsgiving and fasting during Ramadan.
Fasting during the month of Ramadan, which according to Islamic tradition is required of all healthy, adult Muslims, is part of an annual rite in which individuals place renewed emphasis on the teachings of the Quran. The survey finds that many Muslims in all six major geographical regions surveyed observe the month-long, daytime fast during Ramadan. In Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa, medians of more than nine-in-ten say they fast annually (94%-99%). Many Muslims in Southern and Eastern Europe and in Central Asia also report fasting during Ramadan.
But even though the idea of a single faith is widespread, the survey finds that Muslims differ significantly in their assessments of the importance of religion in their lives, as well as in their views about the forms of worship that should be accepted as part of the Islamic faith.
Muslims in Central Asia, as well as in Southern and Eastern Europe, also tend to be less observant than their counterparts in other regions when it comes to mosque attendance. Just over four-in-ten Turkish Muslims (44%) say they visit their local mosque once a week or more, while three-in-ten do the same in Tajikistan and Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the remaining countries, fewer than a quarter of Muslims say they go to worship services at least once a week. 2b1af7f3a8