April 30, 2013

The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society

Chapter 5: Relations Among Muslims

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Muslims see themselves as more devout than other Muslims in their country. Despite this fact, few see tensions between Muslims who are more religious and those who are less religious as a very big problem. Similarly, few Muslims say tensions between Sunnis and Shias are a very big problem in their country.

Perceived Levels of Devotion – Personal and Societal

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Majorities of Muslims in 17 of the 23 countries where the question was asked say the way they live their lives reflects the hadith and sunna (actions and words of the Prophet Muhammad) at least a little.35 However, in only five of the countries surveyed do at least half say their lives reflect the hadith and sunna a lot.

Muslims in South Asia and Southeast Asia are among the most likely to say they adhere to hadith and sunna. More than three-quarters of Muslims in each country surveyed in these regions say they follow the hadith and sunna at least a little, including a nearly universal proportion in Afghanistan (97%), and roughly nine-in-ten in Thailand and Pakistan (87% each). At least seven-in-ten Afghan (75%) and Thai Muslims (70%) say their lives reflect hadith and sunna a lot.

At least half of Muslims in nearly every country surveyed in the Middle East and North Africa say they adhere to hadith and sunna at least somewhat, including more than three-quarters of Muslims in Iraq (82%), Morocco (81%) and Tunisia (76%). However, with the exception of Iraqi Muslims (55%), fewer than three-in-ten Muslims in each of the countries surveyed in this region say their lives follow the hadith and sunna a lot.

Similarly, more than half of Muslims in most countries surveyed in Central Asia say they follow hadith and sunna at least a little; the one exception is Kazakhstan (38%). Self-described adherence to the hadith and sunna is particularly high in Turkey (76%) and Azerbaijan (72%), though only a third or fewer Muslims in these countries say their lives reflect the hadith and sunna a lot.

Muslims in Southern and Eastern Europe diverge in their adherence to the hadith and sunna. About six-in-ten Muslims in Russia (58%) and half in Bosnia-Herzegovina say they adhere to the hadith and sunna at least a little. Far fewer Muslims in Kosovo and Albania (20% each) say their lives reflect the hadith and sunna, while more than four-in-ten (46% each) are unsure. Less than a quarter in any of the Southern and Eastern European countries surveyed say their lives reflect the hadith and sunna a lot.

Overall, Muslims who pray several times a day are more likely than those who pray less often to say they follow the hadith and sunna in their daily lives. For example, 76% of Lebanese Muslims who pray several times a day say they follow the hadith and sunna at least a little; among those who pray less often, 22% say the same. There are double-digit gaps on this question in 19 of the 23 countries surveyed.

The survey also asked Muslims the extent to which most people in their country live in accordance with the hadith and sunna. In many countries surveyed, Muslims are more likely to say their own lives adhere to the hadith and sunna than they are to say the same about Muslims in the broader society. The gap between perceptions of themselves and their fellow Muslims is especially wide in the Middle East and North Africa. For example, in Lebanon, 56% say they follow the hadith and sunna at least a little, while just 24% say most Lebanese Muslims do the same. The difference in perceptions is also particularly large in Morocco (+26 percentage points), Iraq (+23), Egypt and the Palestinian territories (+21 each).

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Conflict Between More and Less Religious Muslims

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Despite the fact that many Muslims see themselves as more devout than other Muslims in their country, overall, few consider tensions between Muslims who are more religious and those who are less religious to be a very big problem in their country. Fewer than a third of Muslims in all 23 countries where the question was asked say these types of tensions are a pressing issue.

Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa are among the most likely to say tensions between Muslims who are more devout and those who are less devout represent a very big problem in their country. Roughly a quarter or more in the Palestinian territories (31%), Egypt (27%), Tunisia (26%), Lebanon (25%) and Morocco (24%) say these types of tensions are very problematic; somewhat fewer hold this view in Jordan (17%) and Iraq (12%).

In South Asia, more than one-in-five Muslims in Pakistan (26%) and Afghanistan (21%) say tensions between devout Muslims and those who are less devout are a very big problem. In Bangladesh, 14% take this view.

In Southeast Asia, roughly one-in-five Muslims in Indonesia (19%) and Thailand (18%) say tensions between more and less devout Muslims are a problem in their country. Roughly one-in-ten in Malaysia (11%) hold this view.

Muslims in Central Asia as well as Southern and Eastern Europe are among the least likely to say tensions between Muslims who are more devout and those who are less devout are a major problem. While 17% in Kazakhstan and 15% in Turkey believe these types of tensions among Muslims are a very big concern in their country, less than one-in-ten say the same in Kyrgyzstan (8%), Tajikistan (4%), Uzbekistan (3%) and Azerbaijan (1%). In Southern and Eastern Europe, 16% of Bosnian Muslims say these types of tensions are a very big problem, compared with just one-in-ten or fewer among Muslims in Russia (10%), Kosovo (10%) and Albania (3%).

Concern About Sunni-Shia Conflict

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In the seven countries where the question was asked, a minority of Muslims believe tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims (the two main sects of Islam) are a very big problem in their country.

The percentage of Muslims who see Sunni-Shia tensions as a very big problem is highest in Lebanon (38%) and Pakistan (34%), both of which have a history of sectarian violence. Fewer Muslims in Iraq (23%) see Sunni-Shia tensions as a very big national problem, despite that country’s own sectarian struggles. In Afghanistan, one-in-five Muslims view Sunni-Shia tensions as a serious issue.

In Turkey and Tajikistan, fewer than one-in-six Muslims (14% each) say Sunni-Shia tensions are a very big problem. Almost no Muslims in Azerbaijan consider sectarian differences in their country to be very problematic.

In both Iraq and Lebanon, Sunnis are considerably more likely than Shias to rate sectarian conflict as a very big problem in their country. Fully, 40% of Iraqi Sunnis and 48% of Lebanese Sunnis see conflict with Shias as a major problem. By comparison, 11% of Iraqi Shias and 27% of Lebanese Shias see sectarian conflict as a very big problem.


Footnotes:

35 For more on the hadith and sunna, see the Glossary. (return to text)

Photo Credit: © Scott E Barbour