Once again Islam is in the news for reasons that have to do with violence and a clash of ideals with Western freedom of speech. Last week, two Islamic terrorists broke into the headquarters of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and coldly executed several of is cartoonists and editors, killing a total of 12 people, including a police officer of Algerian descent. The motivation for the attack appears to be in retaliation of the paper's numerous cartoons portraying the Islamic religion and their prophet Mohammad in ways they consider offensive.
thousands around the world have staged marches supporting Charlie Hebdo and free speech. "Je Suis Charlie" (I Am Charlie) became their motto. Pundits and talking heads from around the world have come out and given their two cents on the attacks and the problems with terrorism, immigration, and conflicting values the West faces with Islam. When people are killed over cartoons, it is every free speech advocate's duty to make those cartoons seen as much as possible. I really wished Hitchens were alive today as I have no doubt he'd have a lot of interesting things to say about the matter.
Someone who's opinion I also respect, and who is still alive, is Bill Maher, and he said over on Jimmy Kimmel recently, "I'm the liberal in this debate. I'm for free speech. To be a liberal you have to stand up for liberal principles, it's not my fault that the part of the world that is most against liberal principles is the Muslim part of the world." Another person whose opinion I admire is Sam Harris. He said on Real Time a few months ago (in a debate that got a lot of attention) that there are about 20 percent of Muslims who are sympathetic to the extremist tactics employed by terrorists. He was challenged over those numbers, and so I decided to take a look into the data that Maher, Harris and others often cite that shows disturbingly large percentages of Muslims worldwide holding beliefs that are antithetical to common liberal Western values.
In his criticism of Islam, Maher often cites a well publicized study conducted by the Pew Forum about the opinions of Muslims in various countries on a wide variety of issues, focusing on religion, politics, and morality. The study has raised some eyebrows in how alarmingly high the numbers of Muslims are who think that sharia (Islamic) should be the law of the land, adulterers should be stoned to death, and who think the penalty for leaving Islam should be death. But the numbers are a bit deceiving and Maher tends to exaggerate them when making his point, allowing his critics to an open door to attack him.
Let's take a look at that survey and crunch some numbers. I want to see if we can assess the overall extent to which Muslims around the world view sharia and and hold ideas that conflict with common Western values.
According to the Pew Forum study, The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society, which conducted over 38,000 face-to-face interviews in 39 countries, it found that there is a global average of:
- 58% of Muslims who think sharia law should be the law but apply only to Muslims
- 85% of Muslims who think wives should always obey their husbands
- 53% of Muslims who think that wearing the veil should be a woman's decision
- 90% of Muslims who think that homosexuality is morally wrong
- 84% of Muslims who think that sex outside of marriage is morally wrong
- 80% of Muslims who think that drinking alcohol is morally wrong
- 72% of Muslims who think that suicide bombing or other violence against civilians is never justified
Some of these numbers are shocking, but some of them are conciliating. Let's take a look at some raw numbers to know how many Muslims think these things around the world.
There are about 50 Muslim majority countries in the world. Of the 39 countries used in the survey, the total number of Muslims in the countries surveyed amounts to 1,062,203,000. That is 65.5% of the total world's Muslim population of 1,619,314,000, according to Wikipedia. When those surveyed were asked, "Do you favor or oppose making sharia law, or Islamic law, the official law of the land in our country?" the percentages who favored when applied to the amount in the study would total to 738,713,490, which would make a total of 69.5% of the 1,062,203,000 population of Muslims in the countries in this survey. That means that there are at least 738,713,490 Muslims around the world who favor making sharia law, or Islamic law, the official law of their country.
One aspect of the survey that can be misleading is that many of the questions are asked only of Muslims who said they favor making sharia the law of the land. So, for example, when asked "Do You Favor Corporal Punishments for Crimes Such as Theft?" it is being asked only among Muslims who say sharia should be the law of the land. This bring the total percentages down. If country X has 100 million Muslims, and 80% want sharia law, and 50% of them favor corporal punishment, then only 40% or 40 million Muslims favor corporal punishment, not 50%. It's very easy to make this mistake when looking at the number without perspective.
So regarding corporal punishment, when asked in 20 of the original 39 countries, by calculating the percentages of those who favor corporal punishment, of the percentage who favor sharia law, we get a total of 364,885,696 Muslims, out of a total Muslim population of 824,186,000 in the 20 countries surveyed. They represent 22.53% of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims, however since only 20 countries are listed, the real percentage of the world's Muslims who favor corporal punishment is likely much higher.
Regarding stoning as a punishment for adultery, when Muslims in 20 out of the 39 countries surveyed were asked, those who favor sharia as the law of the land who favor stoning add up to a total of 385,863,454. They represent 23.86% of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims, however since only 20 countries are listed, the real percentage of the world's Muslims who favor stoning is likely much higher. In a country like Pakistan, 89% of those who favor sharia favor stoning. Since 84% of Pakistani Muslims favor sharia as the official law of their country, that means only 74.76% of Pakistani Muslims support stoning as a punishment for adultery, lower than 89% but still disturbingly high. Six countries had percentages over 50% with the adjusted numbers, (Malaysia 51.6%, Afghanistan 84.15%, Pakistan 74.76%, Egypt 59.94%, Iraq 52.78%, Palestinian territories 74.76%).
Regarding the death penalty for leaving Islam, when Muslims in 20 out of the 30 countries surveyed were asked, those who favor the death penalty for leaving Islam total to 300,980,522, roughly the same population as the US. They represent 18.59% of the wold's 1.6 billion Muslims, but again, this only accounts for 20 countries. The real percentage is likely much higher. Six countries had percentages who favor death for leaving Islam over 50% with the adjusted numbers, (Malaysia 53.32%, Afghanistan 78.21%, Pakistan 63.84%, Egypt 63.64%, Jordan 58.22%, Palestinian Territories 58.74%).
The survey also showed that the global median of Muslims who say suicide bombing is never justified is 72%. If we apply that to the total Muslim population of the 39 countries included in the survey, then that means there are 206,839,777.2 Muslims that do say that suicide bombing in defense of Islam is at least sometimes justified (28%). If we were to survey all 50 Muslim majority countries, that number will surely be higher, as countries like Iran, Algeria, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia were not included in any of these surveys. Applying the 28% to the world's 1.6 billion Muslims gives us 453,407,920 Muslims who think it is at least sometimes justified to kill civilians in suicide bombing. That's almost the population of the European Union.
So when Bill Maher and others say things like "hundreds of millions of [Muslims] support an attack like [the attack on Charlie Hebdo]" as he did recently on Jimmy Kimmel, they're not bullshitting. They're not making up Islamophobic lies. They're speaking the truth. The statistics don't lie. It is not a tiny fringe of Muslims who support barbaric laws and think killing civilians in the name of Islam is justified, it's hundreds of millions. And this means that Islam is going to be a big problem for some time. As Sam Harris says, we have to prop up the moderates, give them a voice and our support, and encourage them to reform Islam from the inside. We can help them do this by promoting Western values and criticizing fundamentalist Islam. They have a much better chance of reforming Islam than any outsider like myself does. Islam is long over due for an enlightenment, and unless this happens we are going to see a continued clash of civilizations between fundamentalist Islam and the West, and it won't be pretty.
Here are some of my statistics:
|Country||Muslim population||% Favor sharia||Total||% who favor corporal punishment and who say sharia should be law||Total||% of Muslims who favor stoning as a punishment for adultery and who say sharia should be law||Total|
- Total number of Muslims in the surveyed countries who would support making sharia the law of their land and the percentage of the total worldwide Muslim population:
- Total number of Muslims who favor corporal punishment and who say sharia should be law of the land and the percentage of the total worldwide Muslim population:
- Total number of Muslims who favor stoning adulterers and who say sharia should be law of the land and the percentage of the total worldwide Muslim population:
|Country||Muslim population||% Favor sharia||% of total Muslims population who favor sharia and who favor stoning after adjustment||% of Muslims who favor death penalty for apostasy and who favor sharia law||Total # of Muslims||% of Muslims who favor sharia and death for apostasy after adjustment|
- Total number of Muslims who favor death penalty for apostasy and who favor sharia law and the percentage of the total worldwide Muslim population:
*Based on Muslims who favor making sharia the law in
^Interviews conducted with Muslims in five southern