A Religion of Peace? Comparing Islam – Hunter Stuart.
Just because medieval Islamic scripture decrees certain things doesn’t mean that contemporary Muslims do them. The vast majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are peaceful people. Indeed, Islam itself is based on peaceful values: the word “Islam” comes from the Arabic word for peace (salaam). Muslims’ primary way of greeting each other is salaam alaykum, or “Peace be upon you.”
The Koran also contradicts itself about the whole accepting-people-of-other-religions thing. Though some verses advocate killing infidels, others say the opposite. “There shall be no coercion in matters of faith,” says the 2nd sura, for example. The Koran also encourages its followers time and again to be kind, generous and loving to each other. “Compete with each other in doing good,” says one verse. “Allah is with those who are of service to others,” says another.
The Koran says that those who “wage war against Allah” should be punished with execution, crucifixion, or the “cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides,” which sounds particularly unpleasant. Again, “waging war against Allah” is vague. That very vagueness is exactly what terror groups like the Islamic State or Al Qaeda exploit to increase their own power.
The Koran was written in the 7th century in the Arabian Peninsula during a time of war. The prophet Muhammad and his early followers had to fight constantly for survival in a brutal desert environment where various tribes were competing for resources. In other words, the first Muslims were a scrappy, persecuted crew in a dog-eat-dog world and this experience almost definitely influenced the way they wrote the holy texts that later became Islamic scripture.
Knowing the historical context of the birth of Islam helps us understand why parts of the Koran and other Islamic texts are so brutal. There are over 100 verses that appear to condone violence in one way or another in the Koran alone — and that’s not even getting into the hadiths, or sayings, of the prophet Muhammad, which include some pretty gruesome stuff, too.
Some Koranic verses are explicitly violent. “Kill [nonbelievers] wherever you find them,” says a line in the 2nd sura, or chapter. “Strike off their heads and strike from them every fingertip,” says another, also referring to what Muslims should do when they encounter someone of another faith.
Other verses in the Koran do not explicitly condone violence but could be interpreted that way. One widely quoted (and sometimes misquoted — even by Obama) verse occurs in the holy book’s 5th sura. It states that murder is bad unless someone has “spread mischief in the land.” Obviously “spreading mischief” or “villainy” (as it’s sometimes translated) in “the land” can be interpreted in a wide variety of ways, which has proved problematic for Islam over the years.
In Islamic scripture, it’s not just infidels who deserve to die. The hadiths (which are the second-most important piece of Islamic scripture after the Koran) contain stories of gay people and adulterers being put to death for their abominable crimes — and some people have taken this to mean that Islam allows for homosexuality and adultery to be punished by execution.
It’s also important to remember that Islam is a younger religion than Christianity or Judaism and therefore may just be going through a kind of rebellious adolescent phase. Christianity was the age that Islam is now about 1300 years ago. Remember what Christianity was doing 1300 years ago? Gearing up to savage the Western world with the systematic rape-pillage-and-murder campaign known as The Crusades — that’s what.
But don’t think Christianity has since grown up and stopped mass murdering people since then. The Holocaust, after all, happened in Europe — one of the most Christian and supposedly enlightened places in the world — a mere 70 years ago. Radical Christians have committed contemptible crimes more recently, too. Look at the dozens of Christians who have murdered abortion doctors or bombed abortion clinics, for example. Most of those killers believed they were following Christian doctrine the same way a suicide bomber from Libya or Pakistan believes he’s acting in accordance with Islam.
What’s more, many of the white American men who’ve committed horrifying mass shootings in the US in recent years — from Dylann Roof to Adam Lanza to Jared Lee Loughner — came from Christian backgrounds, but the media rarely scrutinizes their religious heritage when searching for a motive. Instead, news outlets choose to employ the very morally problematic double standard of suggesting that black and brown killers are terrorists while white people are “mentally ill” or merely “lone wolves.”
The Bible, like the Koran, contains plenty of violent stuff. The book of Deuteronomy is clear about what Christians should do if they encounter someone who believes in another god: “Take the man or woman who has done this evil deed … and stone that person to death.” The Pentateuch in the Old Testament notoriously suggests that gay people should be executed. “If a man lies with a man as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” Sheesh!
Judaism has plenty of violence in it, too. Like Christianity and Islam, Judaism also suggests that homosexuals should be punished with death for their “detestable” acts. Jewish law also prescribes violent punishment for women who cheat on their husbands (controversially, it doesn’t consider a married man cheating on his wife to technically be adultery).
Headlines are dominated by stories of Muslim terrorism; stories about Jewish terrorism are few and far between. That’s partly explained by there being far fewer Jews in the world than there are Muslims (16 million Jews compared to 1.6 billion Muslims). So to some extent, you not hearing about Jewish terrorism is just statistical: Since terrorists come from all religions and all cultures, it follows that the larger ones will have more terrorists, numerically speaking.
But Jewish terrorism still happens. In fact, the Jews were masters of guerrilla warfare thousands of years before Al Qaeda was even born. More recently, in the 1930s and 40s, Jewish militant groups in pre-state Israel, like the Irgun and the Stern Gang, carried out insurgent attacks on the British military and government workers who were in charge of Palestine at that time. Some of the leaders of these underground Jewish militias went on to occupy top roles in the government of Israel when the country was created in 1948.
Jewish terrorism still happens in Israel today. In Israeli settlements in the disputed West Bank, a secretive ultra-Zionist group called The Hilltop Youth carries out assaults on Muslim and Christian Palestinians and their property. They also attack the IDF, which they view as illegitimate. The gang has perpetrated hundreds of attacks in recent years. In July 2015, for example, suspected Hilltop Youth members firebombed the home of the Dawabshes, a family of Palestinian Muslims, and spray-painted Jewish stars on the side of the house before fleeing the scene. The attack destroyed the home and killed both the Dawabshe parents and their 18-month-old baby.
So are we right to be wary of Islam? Yes, but no more so than all of the Abrahamic faiths, all of which are rooted in scripture that at times condones violence. Islam is no exception. But are Muslims innately more violent than anyone else? No. And singling them out that way is misguided and dangerous.
Hunter Stuart, Dose.com
I’m a 34-year-old writer in Chicago, working as a senior editor at Dose, a digital media agency.
I have nine years of experience as an editor, journalist and video producer. I recently spent 1.5 years working as a reporter in Jerusalem, where I covered conflict, culture and technology for Vice, Al Jazeera English, The Jerusalem Post and others.
From 2010-2015, I was a staff editor at HuffPost in New York City, where I worked in a number of different roles, including as a business reporter, a video producer and a social media editor.
Muslims and Islam: Key findings in the U.S. and around the world
By Michael Lipka, Pew Research Center.
Muslims are the fastest-growing religious group in the world. The growth and regional migration of Muslims, combined with the ongoing impact of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) and other extremist groups that commit acts of violence in the name of Islam, have brought Muslims and the Islamic faith to the forefront of the political debate in many countries. Yet many facts about Muslims are not well known in some of these places, and most Americans – who live in a country with a relatively small Muslim population – have said they know little or nothing about Islam.
Here are answers to some key questions about Muslims, compiled from several Pew Research Center reports published in recent years:
How many Muslims are there? Where do they live?
There were 1.8 billion Muslims in the world as of 2015 – roughly 24% of the global population – according to a Pew Research Center estimate. But while Islam is currently the world’s second-largest religion (after Christianity), it is the fastest-growing major religion. Indeed, if current demographic trends continue, the number of Muslims is expected to exceed the number of Christians by the end of this century.
Although many countries in the Middle East-North Africa region, where the religion originated in the seventh century, are heavily Muslim, the region is home to only about 20% of the world’s Muslims. A majority of the Muslims globally (62%) live in the Asia-Pacific region, including large populations in Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Turkey.
Indonesia is currently the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, but Pew Research Center projects that India will have that distinction by the year 2050 (while remaining a majority-Hindu country), with more than 300 million Muslims.
The Muslim population in Europe also is growing; we project 10% of all Europeans will be Muslims by 2050.
How many Muslims are there in the United States?
According to our estimate, there are about 3.45 million Muslims of all ages in the U.S., or about 1.1% of the U.S. population. This is based on an analysis of census statistics and data from a 2017 survey of U.S.
Muslims, which was conducted in English as well as Arabic, Farsi and Urdu. Based on the same analysis, Pew Research Center also estimates that there are 2.15 million Muslim adults in the country, and that a majority of them (58%) are immigrants.
Our demographic projections estimate that Muslims will make up 2.1% of the U.S. population by the year 2050, surpassing people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion as the second-largest faith group in the country (not including people who say they have no religion).
A 2013 Pew Research Center report estimated that the Muslim share of immigrants granted permanent residency status (green cards) increased from about 5% in 1992 to roughly 10% in 2012, representing about 100,000 immigrants in that year.
Why is the global Muslim population growing?
There are two major factors behind the rapid projected growth of Islam, and both involve simple demographics. For one, Muslims have more children than members of other religious groups.
Around the world, each Muslim woman has an average of 2.9 children, compared with 2.2 for all other groups combined.
Muslims are also the youngest (median age of 24 years old in 2015) of all major religious groups, seven years younger than the median age of non-Muslims. As a result, a larger share of Muslims already are, or will soon be, at the point in their lives when they begin having children. This, combined with high fertility rates, will fuel Muslim population growth.
While it does not change the global population, migration is helping to increase the Muslim population in some regions, including North America and Europe.
How do Americans view Muslims and Islam?
A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2017 asked Americans to rate members of nine religious groups on a “feeling thermometer” from 0 to 100, where 0 reflects the coldest, most negative possible rating and 100 the warmest, most positive rating. Overall, Americans gave Muslims an average rating of 48 degrees, similar to atheists (50).
Americans view more warmly the seven other religious groups mentioned in the survey (Jews, Catholics, mainline Protestants, evangelical Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Mormons). But views toward Muslims (as well as several of the other groups) are now warmer than they were a few years ago; in 2014, U.S. adults gave Muslims an average rating of 40 degrees in a similar survey.
Republicans and those who lean toward the Republican Party gave Muslims an average rating of 39, considerably cooler than Democrats’ rating toward Muslims (56).
This partisan gap extends to several other questions about Muslims and Islam. Indeed, Republicans and Republican leaners also are more likely than Democrats and those who lean Democratic to say they are very concerned about extremism in the name of Islam, both around the world (67% vs. 40%) and in the U.S. (64% vs. 30%). In addition, a December 2016 survey found that more Republicans than Democrats say Islam is likelier than other religions to encourage violence among its believers (63% vs. 26% of Democrats). And while most Americans (69%) believe there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims in the U.S. today, views are again split by party: 85% of Democrats and those who lean Democratic and 49% of Republicans and GOP leaners hold this view.
Republicans also are more likely than Democrats to say that Islam is not part of mainstream American society (68% vs. 37%) and that there is a natural conflict between Islam and democracy (65% vs. 30%).
About half of Americans (49%) think at least “some” U.S. Muslims are anti-American, greater than the share who say “just a few” or “none” are anti-American, according to a January 2016 survey. Views on this question have become much more partisan in the last 14 years (see graphic).
But most Americans do not see widespread support for extremism among Muslims living in the U.S., according to a February 2017 survey. Overall, 40% say there is not much support for extremism among U.S. Muslims, while an additional 15% say there is none at all. About a quarter say there is a fair amount of support (24%) for extremism among U.S. Muslims; 11% say there is a great deal of support.
How do Europeans view Muslims?
In spring 2016, we asked residents of 10 European counties for their impression of how many Muslims in their country support extremist groups, such as ISIS. In most cases, the prevailing view is that “just some” or “very few” Muslims support ISIS, but in Italy, 46% say “many” or “most” do.
The same survey asked Europeans whether they viewed Muslims favorably or unfavorably. Perceptions varied across European nations: Majorities in Hungary, Italy, Poland and Greece say they view Muslims unfavorably, while negative attitudes toward Muslims are much less common in France, Germany, the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Northern and Western Europe. People who place themselves on the right side of the ideological scale are much more likely than those on the left to see Muslims negatively.
What characteristics do people in the Muslim world and people in the West associate with each other?
A 2011 survey asked about characteristics Westerners and Muslims may associate with one another. Across the seven Muslim-majority countries and territories surveyed, a median of 68% of Muslims said they view Westerners as selfish.
Considerable shares also called Westerners other negative adjectives, including violent (median of 66%), greedy (64%) and immoral (61%), while fewer attributed positive characteristics like “respectful of women” (44%), honest (33%) and tolerant (31%) to Westerners.
Westerners’ views of Muslims were more mixed. A median of 50% across four Western European countries, the U.S. and Russia called Muslims violent and a median of 58% called them “fanatical,” but fewer used negative words like greedy, immoral or selfish. A median of just 22% of Westerners said Muslims are respectful of women, but far more said Muslims are honest (median of 51%) and generous (41%).
What do Muslims around the world believe?
Like any religious group, the religious beliefs and practices of Muslims vary depending on many factors, including where in the world they live. But Muslims around the world are almost universally united by a belief in one God and the Prophet Muhammad, and the practice of certain religious rituals, such as fasting during Ramadan, is widespread.
In other areas, however, there is less unity. For instance, a Pew Research Center survey of Muslims in 39 countries asked Muslims whether they want sharia law, a legal code based on the Quran and other Islamic scripture, to be the official law of the land in their country. Responses on this question vary widely. Nearly all Muslims in Afghanistan (99%) and most in Iraq (91%) and Pakistan (84%) support sharia law as official law. But in some other countries, especially in Eastern Europe and Central Asia – including Turkey (12%), Kazakhstan (10%) and Azerbaijan (8%) – relatively few favor the implementation of sharia law.
How do Muslims feel about groups like ISIS?
Recent surveys show that most people in several countries with significant Muslim populations have an unfavorable view of ISIS, including virtually all respondents in Lebanon and 94% in Jordan. Relatively small shares say they see ISIS favorably. In some countries, considerable portions of the population do not offer an opinion about ISIS, including a majority (62%) of Pakistanis.
Favorable views of ISIS are somewhat higher in Nigeria (14%) than most other nations. Among Nigerian Muslims, 20% say they see ISIS favorably (compared with 7% of Nigerian Christians). The Nigerian militant group Boko Haram, which has been conducting a terrorist campaign in the country for years, has sworn allegiance to ISIS.
More generally, Muslims mostly say that suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilians in the name of Islam are rarely or never justified, including 92% in Indonesia and 91% in Iraq. In the United States, a 2011 survey found that 86% of Muslims say such tactics are rarely or never justified. An additional 7% say suicide bombings are sometimes justified and 1% say they are often justified.
In a few countries, a quarter or more of Muslims say these acts of violence are at least sometimes justified, including 40% in the Palestinian territories, 39% in Afghanistan, 29% in Egypt and 26% in Bangladesh.
In many cases, people in countries with large Muslim populations are as concerned as Western nations about the threat of Islamic extremism, and have become increasingly concerned in recent years.
About two-thirds of people in Nigeria (68%) and Lebanon (67%) said in 2016 that they are very concerned about Islamic extremism in their country, both up significantly since 2013.
What do American Muslims believe?
Our 2017 survey of U.S. Muslims finds that Muslims in the United States perceive a lot of discrimination against their religious group. Moreover, a solid majority of U.S.
Muslims are leery of President Donald Trump and think their fellow Americans do not see Islam as part of mainstream U.S. society. At the same time, however, Muslim Americans overwhelmingly say they are proud to be Americans, believe that hard work generally brings success in this country and are satisfied with the way things are going in their own lives.
Half of Muslim Americans say it has become harder to be Muslim in the U.S. in recent years. And 48% say they have experienced at least one incident of discrimination in the past 12 months. But alongside these reports of discrimination, a similar – and growing – share (49%) of Muslim Americans say someone has expressed support for them because of their religion in the past year. And 55% think Americans in general are friendly toward U.S. Muslims, compared with just 14% who say they are unfriendly.
Living in a religiously pluralistic society, Muslim Americans are more likely than Muslims in many other largely Muslim-majority nations to have a lot of non-Muslim friends. Only about a third (36%) of U.S. Muslims say all or most of their close friends are also Muslims, compared with a global median of 95% in the 39 countries we surveyed.
Roughly two-thirds of U.S. Muslims (65%) say religion is very important in their lives. About six-in-ten (59%) report praying at least daily and 43% say they attend religious services at least weekly. By some of these traditional measures, Muslims in the U.S. are roughly as religious as U.S. Christians, although they are less religious than Muslims in many other nations.
When it comes to political and social views, Muslims are far more likely to identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party (66%) than the Republican Party (13%) and to say they prefer a bigger government providing more services (67%) over a smaller government providing fewer services (25%). And about half of U.S. Muslims (52%) now say homosexuality should be accepted by society, up considerably from 2011 (39%) and 2007 (27%).
What is the difference between Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims?
Sunnis and Shiites are two subgroups of Muslims, just as Catholics and Protestants are two subgroups within Christianity. The Sunni-Shiite divide is nearly 1,400 years old, dating back to a dispute over the succession of leadership in the Muslim community following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632. While the two groups agree on some core tenets of Islam, there are differences in beliefs and practices, and in some cases Sunnis do not consider Shiites to be Muslims.
With the exception of a few countries, including Iran (which is majority Shiite) as well as Iraq and Lebanon (which are split), most nations with a large number of Muslims have more Sunnis than Shiites. In the U.S., 55% identify as Sunnis and 16% as Shiites (with the rest identifying with neither group, including some who say they are just a Muslim).
Note: This post was updated on Aug. 9, 2017. It was originally published Dec. 7, 2015.
Correction: U.S. Muslim population estimates in this post, including the chart “Number of Muslims in the U.S. continues to grow,” were corrected on Nov. 14, 2017. For details, see Appendix B: Survey Methodology, note 37, of the report “U.S. Muslims Concerned About Their Place in Society, but Continue to Believe in the American Dream.”
Michael Lipka is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center