What do Muslims think? Same old, same old….

The results of the ICM poll of Muslims in the UK which were discussed on Channel 4  are not as groundbreaking as their promoters would like us to think and actually display major flaws.

First, you do not draw a Muslim sampling without comparing to other religious groups. This is a flaw of most surveys conducted in Europe which compare a Muslim sampling to “non Muslims”. In these conditions, it is impossible to draw definitive conclusions since the Muslim/non Muslim divide is ideological not scientific.

Second, there is no revelation in this poll. Since at least the 2007 Gallup poll, we know that Muslims across Europe display conservative values on family life, sexuality and women while at the same time expressing high levels of loyalties to the country of Europe to which they belong. Having conservative family views does not mean lack of integration. In the US, Christian fundamentalists display the same values but nobody would say that they are not socially integrated!

The issue in Europe is that Muslims are the only religious group that seems to hold on these moral values in contrast to most Europeans who have less, if no identification to their religion and the moral prescriptions attached to it. In other words, the gap is not between “religious” Muslims and “secular” British but rather between the European and American contexts in which Muslims are living. Across European countries, the level of self-declared religiosity in the general population is systematically much lower than among Muslim groups while, in the United States, this is not the case.  The general context of religiosity and social legitimacy of religions in each country is the real discriminatory factor that must be understood to grasp the situation of Islam and Muslims in any country.

Third, this ICM poll revealed  that more than half of Muslims rejected  homosexuality.

This is not a revelation either. The World Value Survey has been showing this result across Muslim majority and minorities for more than a decade. The question then is: why are Muslims across the board more intolerant vis-a-vis homosexuality than other monotheistic groups? It is a very different angle to think that British Muslims are unique in their reprobation of gay rights.

The same nuanced approach has to be applied to any data on the intolerance vis a vis women rights. It is misleading to think that the majority of Muslims in the UK or elsewhere want to confine women in the stifling status of  Saudi women.  Those are the minority. The majority across Muslim countries like in the UK are not opposed to women’s right to education, work, political participation. It is after all what the Islamic tradition prescribes. But women rights can be diminished in family life through their marriage and especially in minority context, the divorce procedure, that remains a prerogative of the husband. Again, is this specific to Muslim men? Certainly not

After all, Jewish women in Europe and the US face the same ordeal and sometimes, rabbinical court can be less accommodating than Sharia courts in this domain.

Such systematic comparison with other religious traditions would also clarify the misunderstanding about Sharia. When Muslims claim it in Europe it is not about making it the law of the state. It is about asserting their right to marry and divorce according to their religious prescriptions, which is a principle recognized in civil secular law, even if it is a challenge when it comes to preserving  gender equality in all religions.

In sum, in order to effectively assess the religious situation of Muslims in the UK it is crucial to make sure that we do not blow out of proportion so called specificities that are actually shared across religious groups especially when it comes to family and gender issues. It is also important to not surrender to fear by seeing all manifestations of Islam, including the conservative ones as an indicator of terrorism.

In the long term such a suspicion affects religious freedom for all religions.




The Royal Commonwealth Society

Living in Ghana and Trinidad in my 20s was not only a great introduction to rice and roti, but also to one of the many strengths of the Commonwealth: its religious diversity. Whilst the reasons for this diversity are often painful to accept, most Commonwealth countries now reflect the values found in the Charter of religious freedom and inclusion, affording their people the right to be a full citizen without reference to their religious beliefs or their choice not to have any.

I am therefore heartened that this year’s theme is “an inclusive Commonwealth”. The broad spectrum of beliefs across our 53 counties deserves to be a source of celebration, and parliamentarians like myself are in a unique position to protect this.

An inclusive Commonwealth means including those of all faiths and none. It is this fundamental right that our new team for the Commonwealth Initiative for Freedom of Religion or Belief, ‘CIFoRB’, which is based at the University of Birmingham and in London will promote.

We will be listening to and working with parliamentarians who want to further their country’s record for religious freedom. Sadly there are a growing number of cases within the Commonwealth where religious freedom is under threat and people are suffering. This is an opportunity for the Commonwealth countries to work together to bring about important changes that will result in a truly inclusive Commonwealth.


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