What a Billion Muslims Really Think

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

The Gallup Center recently surveyed more than 90% of the global Muslim community about their opinions on a variety of topics, ranging from democracy to Islam to radicalism to women's rights. With nearly 40 Muslim countries represented, it is the largest and most in-depth study of its kind. One surprising finding: when asked what they admired most and least about the West, both Muslims and Westerners (who were also surveyed) gave the exact same answer. The findings have been published in a new book, Who Speaks For Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think. Today we talk to Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies and co-author of the book, who will break it all down for us.

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What exactly does it mean to have surveyed "more than 90% of the global Muslim community"?

Sent by andy carvin, npr | 2:41 PM | 3-3-2008

It seems that you present this with the same light that "mainstream" media does; that Muslims somehow have no values or that their Religion does not advocate human rights or womens rights (it does). Are you referring to the expression of Islam through culture? Or are you covering what the teachings of Islam are? This needs to be made clear. Its not as though Muslims are just by nature against the "West". There is far to much history to boil down this topic.

Sent by Jon | 3:12 PM | 3-3-2008

As a Muslim who lives in South Carolina it surprises me that there is very little willingness to learn about Islam. There are more doctrinal similarities with Christianity than in Judaism. In fact Muslims believe Jesus to be the Messiah while Judaism rejects this. Why is there so much resistance to simply learning more about Islam.

Also, since the "Black September" movement Islam has been deliberately associated with terrorism. For close to forty years this is all Americans have learned of Islam. Catholocism isn't blamed for the terrorist acts of the IRA why aren't there clearer distinctions made in the American media?

Sent by Wadell Muhammad | 3:22 PM | 3-3-2008

What is the point of this? You can find similarities in anything and any group of people if you look hard enough. Differences are equally as important or more so. None of this changes the bigotry and oppression of both Christians and Muslims. Its yet another search for common ground between opposing religions who's very beliefs don't allow for common ground. Unless the fundamental beliefs of these religions are revised there is no room for each other in their world view.

Sent by Scott M | 3:22 PM | 3-3-2008

I have lived in the U.S. for almost 15 years and the general level of ignorance about muslims among Americans has always bothered me. When I tell people that I attended a school run by the Catholic Church, and that my mother is still a teacher in that same school, the usual response that I get is.."I thought Christians were being killed over there." Generalization about any group is almost always wrong.

Sent by Sayeed | 3:22 PM | 3-3-2008

I'm curious how much the view that Muslim women have of western women as "degraded" was explored. Is a woman who simply dresses attractively degraded, or is it more focused on women like Brittney Spears who appear to define and value themselves by their sex appeal?

Is there a distinction between not hiding yourself from men's eyes and actively seeking to attract them? Is a woman who goes jogging shorts and t-shirt degrading herself?

Sent by Nate, Portland OR | 3:23 PM | 3-3-2008

I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio as a first generation American female. My experience has taken me away from Islam (I do not follow a religion) because of the prejudice against women from men. My family was European and I was taught that the Koran put women higher on a pedestal but in actuality I witnessed women rights being depressed even in this country. Educated women from different areas believed in arranged marriages, and being second class to their male counter parts. Women were beaten for making eye contact with men other than their husbands, women who where under-educated were treated the worse. I belonged to a Mosque that was very multicultural and it was my experience that the people from the Arab Countries were the harshest when it came to judging Americans and treating their women poorly. The others were more likely to blend into society and more accepting of other cultures.

Sent by S. Krauss | 3:31 PM | 3-3-2008

I wonder how Muslims feel about issues like "honor killings" and female genital mutilation? Also, given that many Muslims fee it is wrong to kill civilians how do they feel about killing those who through self expression denigrate their religion? These are issues which I find compelling. And then of course, what about gay people? Do Mulsims believe gay people should just killed or jailed or regarded as human trash?

Sent by Francis | 3:40 PM | 3-3-2008

I am a Muslim American woman who has lived in the US all her life. As a practicing member of my religion, and as someone who is very familiar with the Qur'an (Koran) and Shari'ah law, I was glad to hear that respondents in the Muslim world viewed Islam as a religion that puts woman up, so to speak. Our religion advocates equality between men and women; in the sight of God, males are in no way superior to males. The "hijab" (veil) that we Muslim women wear is a way to preserve our modesty and dignity; a woman hides her physical appeal from men other than her husband. Instead, she puts forth her mind, her intellect, and her actions before the broader community, to be judged by those things instead of her physical attributes. In what way are these principles degrading to women? The Western world has a lot to learn about Muslims, and this discussion is an important step in the right direction.

Sent by Layla | 3:46 PM | 3-3-2008

When listening to the discussion of Muslim opinion and a comparison of it to US opinion I was struck by the lack of attention to the concept of "separation of church and state". For many Americans, including me, this is a key issue. Without a strong commitment to this principle, a state, any state, automatically divides its people into 1st class and 2nd class citizens. Is it possible that religious communities will ever appreciate its importance?

Sent by J. Chapman | 4:03 PM | 3-3-2008

Does separation of church and state mean separation FROM religion or separation OF religion? Because as the Gallup polls show, the majority of religious believers (Christians and Muslims respectively) want the Bible or the Koran to be a (or the) source of legislation and governance. If we understand our democratic government as a contract of the people, don't "the people" have the right to want to change the government to be in accord with their beliefs? Every modern government struggles with this balance.

Sent by Rebecca Hodges | 4:49 PM | 3-3-2008

With a billion Muslims out there, one can hardly assume that all believe the same principles, even when based on the Qur'an. While some terrify me with their horrible maltreatment of people, others I admire and respect because they hold the dignity of humanity so high. Each Muslim is influenced by the culture in which he is raised, and often the cultural laws outweigh religious ones. I don't recall reading about any shocking maltreatment of women in the Qur'an (as compared to the Bible), but when Islam is put into practice, these ideals are warped a bit to conform to the reader's interpretation. For instance, genital mutilation is generally only practiced by people in the Northern Africa region, just as Christian "snake-handling" is generally only practiced by those living in parts of the U.S. A survey of 90% of Muslims could easily show us that the majority are not the devils that the media loves to portray.

Sent by Natalie | 10:46 AM | 3-4-2008

What I would really like to know is, when did being a muslim become a crime? 911 was tragic but those were a few radicals; what about the many (so-called) christians who have killed people in the name of christ. This is history you know. People do stupid things but not everyone who belongs to a religion answers for all.

Sent by Angela | 12:03 PM | 3-4-2008

I think it is important for Muslims to learn more about other religions and not from Islamic sources. Understanding is a two way street. Islam built its foundation on its own divergent and opposing beliefs about Jesus, in spite of what Muslims claim, and these false claims of treating Jesus 'equally' are in the end the barriers to trust, when it is not a truth being spoken but a lie. As for the 'modesty' issue, it is not about modesty, but about the cultural identity of the Muslim being separated from any other woman. A western woman wearing modest clothing and respecting the idea of chastity is still taunted and called unsavory names by Muslim men because they are not wearing the Muslim 'costume' that is a only and external symbol of Islam.

Muslims should not be the gauge though, of the religion, the collective whole even can't define what the religion contains, it is the religion itself that must be given to critical analysis, just as all other religions. If the human being Muhammad is found to be exemplary in fact, and not just in myth, and if the precepts of Islam are not in any way at fault for some of the crimes we see acted out by humans claiming it to Islam, then it is indeed the human error and not the religion. But if the religion does not withstand the critical eye, if there are really teachings in it that bring division, hate, enmity, strife or encourages any violence or oppression of any human, then it MUST be called for what it is, a danger to those who may be the victims of its teachings.

This is the education we all need about Islam, from its own texts. Not just Non-Muslims, but Muslims also, who often have no idea at all what their own Hadith have to say about Muhammad and his examples and teachings.

Sent by Dianne | 10:54 AM | 3-7-2008

This report by NPR changed my views in a number of important ways. I heard compelling evidence that our war against Iraq is not about giving them 'democracy.' They would approach democracy on their own, unless Gallup is lying about its procedures and findings. This report just about slams you with the fact that 9-11, and terrorism in general, is about what we usually refer to as 'the culture war.' It is about abortion. It is about using women's bodies and sexuality to sell and promote -- whatever needs sold. It is about protecting the incredible economic asset of the family. When it was asserted by Bush, etc., that our kids are dying in Iraq to protect 'American values' I thought they were referring to economic values or democracy. I had no idea it meant protecting the media's relentless promotion of the likes of Britney Spears. Hell, I'd like to blow something up myself when I see what was made of the civil rights and the original feminist movements. This survey makes me think I'd like to see a Muslim run for office here. A REAL Muslim, for which Obama does not, according to this survey, qualify.(By the way, reveals him to be a particularly poor choice to negotiate with Muslims; he's the most pro-abortion candidate ever. Iran called it right recently, to say none of the presidential candidates is a good choice, for Muslims.)

Scott was right (above comment) when he said, what's the point of this survey for non-believers? Not much except to suggest that, as a non-believer, he ought to enlist. Because he's the enemy, not me. But for believers, both Christians and Muslims, it brought home to me: we are fighting for the same things, and apparently we believe in it just about as passionately. This program made me completely anti-war. It ought to make the Scotts of the world completely pro-war, however. It's a mind-blower, for sure. I want to see CNN and Fox take it up! We hardly ever have info this important. I was convinced by the program that if I want to fight terrorism, I'd better start with my local porn pusher. I'd better start with those 'get-your-divorce-before they-run-out' lawyer ads. I'd better start with dressing more modestly. Because that's WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT, according to this prestigious survey. Who'd 'a' thunk it? Who's listening?

Sent by Janet Baker | 2:01 PM | 3-12-2008