Who Speaks for Muslims
What a Billion Muslims Really Think

Authors: John L. Esposito & Dalia Mogahed

Gallup Press, 2007

Esposito is a professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University. Mogahed is a senior analyst and executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.

This book draws from data gathered by Gallup between 2001 and 2007, from "tens of thousands of hour-long, face-to-face interviews with residents of more than 35 nations that are predominately Muslim or have substantial Muslim populations." The following are snippets from the book's 166 pages.

"The majority of the world's Muslims live in Asia and Africa, not the Arab world." To many Muslims Islam "is a spiritual mental map that offers a sense of meaning, guidance, purpose, and hope." Muslims see the first Muslim as Adam – the first man. Islam asserts that all nations were sent prophets and apostles (Koran 35:24) who were taught the same basic message of belief in one unique God, and in this regard, all the prophets are believed to have been "Muslims." This includes the Prophet Jesus.

Muslims tend to perceive a 'double standard' in the U.S. promotion of democracy, what the book describes as America's "long track record of supporting authoritarian regimes and failure to promote democracy in the Muslim world as it did in other areas and countries after the fall of the Soviet Union."

What makes a dangeous Muslim radical? Militants and terrorists "have been educated individuals from middle-class and working class backgrounds. Some have been devout; others not."

"Unemployment, like poverty, has been a major social problem from Algeria to Egypt and in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. Yet, neither unemployment nor job status differentiate radicals from moderates."

"Does personal piety correlate with radical views? The answer is no." For example, in Indonesia... many of those who condemn terrorism cite humanitarian or religious justifications to support their response. Not one respondent in Indonesia "who condones the attacks of 9/11 cites the Koran for justification." Instead, their "responses are markedly secular and worldly. For example, one Indonesian respondent says, 'The U.S. government is too controlling toward other countries, seems like colonizing.'"

Terrorists appeal to religion to recruit suicide bombers, as do the Marxist Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka in appealing to Hindu identity in recruiting suicide bombers for their cause. The authors connect suicide bombings with the motives apart from religion. They do not mention motives behind the 2002 bombing in Bali, killing Australians and others, alleged to have been committed by an Islamist group led by radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashi, described as having connections to al-Qaeda. Osama bin Laden described the Bali bombings as retaliation for support of the United States in its "war on terror" and for Australia's role in the liberation of East Timor.

When asked what they admire about the West, both the politically radicalized and moderates mention: technology; the West's value system of hard work, self-responsibility, rule of law, cooperation; and its democracy, respect of human rights, freedom of speech, and gender equality. (The last of these perhaps mentioned mostly by women.)

Fifty percent of the "politically radicalized...say that 'moving toward greater governmental democracy' will foster progress in the Arab/Muslim world." For moderates this was thirty-five percent. "And even more surprising, the politically radicalized are more likely than moderates to associate Arab/Islamic nations with an eagerness to have better relationships with the West." For the politically radicalized this was the response of 58 percent, versus 44 percent for moderates.

In ten predominantly Muslim countries, 68 percent of respondents view the United States as ruthless, 68 percent as scientifically and technologically advanced, 66 percent as aggressive, 65 percent as conceited, and 64 percent as decadent. (p. 84)

"A primary catalyst or driver of radicalism...is the threat of political domination and occupation." Asked what the West can do "to improve relations with the Muslim world," the most frequent response is: more respect, consideration, and understanding of Islam as a religion. Responses include: stop interfering, meddling in our internal affairs, colonizing, and controlling natural resources. (pp. 91-92).

"[M]ajorities of the politically radicalized and moderates say they do not want religious leaders to be directly in charge. Nevertheless, radicals are more likely to want religious leaders to play an 'advisory' role, consistent with the tradition role of ulama as 'advisers' to rulers."

The authors describe Muslims as not having a monopoly on sympathy for terrorist acts.

A recent study shows that only 46% of Americans think that "bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians" are "never justified," while 24% believe these attacks are "often or sometimes justified."

Contrast this with data taken the same year from some of the largest majority Muslim nations, in which 74% of respondents in Indonesia agree that terrorist attacks are "never justified"; in Pakistan, that figure is 86%; in Bangladesh, 81%; and in Iran, 80%.

Similarly, 6% of the American public thinks that attacks in which civilians are targets are "completely justified." (p. 95)

"[A]bout 9 in 10 Muslims are moderates."

"The minority (7%) who condone the attacks and view the United States unfavorably are no more religious than the general population."

The book concludes that, "Our world isn't safer; it's more dangerous. A major source of that danger, global terrorism, is on the rise and will likely remain a threat for the foreseeable future."

Meanwhile there are people in the United States who have been quick to demonize Islam. Some equate Islam with terrorism. Cartoons have satirized not Osama bin Laden or other al-Qaeda figures but "the venerated Prophet Muhammad, whom Muslims regard as the ideal model of Muslim life and values." This appears as "a direct attack on Islam" and is "a denigration of the faith."

Of Britons polled, 57 percent believe that free speech protection should not be allowed newspapers for printing pictures of the Prophet Muhammad. For the French who were polled this was 45 percent. "More than 75% of both populations say that a cartoon making light of the Holocaust should not be allowed under protection of free speech, and roughly 86% of the British and French public say the same about newspapers printing racial slurs."

The authors conclude that framing the debate about the cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in absolute terms "played directly into the hands of religious extremists and some autocratic rulers who charge that 'Western' democracy is anti-religious and incompatible with Islam."

Meanwhile, "many Muslims say they would guarantee free speech... if it was up to them to draft a constitution for a new country."

Forty-four percent of Americans say Muslims are too extreme in their religious beliefs. Less than half believe that U.S. Muslims are loyal to the United States.

Nearly one-quarter of Americans, 22%, say they would not want a Muslim as a neighbor... Thirty-two percent say they admire nothing about the Muslim world, and 25% admit they simply "don't know." (p. 155)

The authors conclude that "ongoing conflict between the West and the Muslim world is not inevitable. It is about policy, not a clash of principles." The authors describe the "pervasive preception among Muslims" about U.S. motives regarding Afghanistan and Iraq – perceptions regarded by a majority of Westerners as distortions. Many Westerners would like to see improved thinking among Muslims as well as their fellow Westerners. The authors, nevertheless, see a possibility of better relations between Muslims and non-Muslims:

Today, less than a generation after the civil rights struggle, a majority of blacks and whites in America say that relations between their groups are good. These hopeful examples underscore the possibility of improving relations between groups – even those whose conflicts lasted centuries – and the relative speed by which this is possible when there is a greater understanding of the conflict's root cause.

The book has five chapters:

1. Who Are Muslims?
2. Democracy or Theocracy?
3. What Makes a Radical?
4. What Do Women Want?
5. Clash or Coexistence?

Copyright © 2008-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.