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Global Muslim Survey Finds Support for Sharia, But Also Religious Pluralism

A majority of Muslims around the world believe sharia - or traditional Islamic law - should prevail in the countries in which they live, but at the same time most say they favor religious freedom for people of other faiths, according to a new survey.

The survey by the Pew Research Center is based on more than 38,000 face-to-face interviews in countries where Muslims are both a majority and a minority.

Its focus was on Muslim views on religion and politics. One of the key findings was that six in 10 Muslims in the Middle East and nearly eight in 10 in sub-Saharan Africa believe their national laws should be based on the Islamic code of sharia. In Afghanistan, the figure was 99 percent.

Pew researcher Jim Bell acknowledged the difficulties of conducting the survey in countries where such topics may be sensitive or have what he called "socially desirable answers."

“It's possible to read into some of the findings that this is obviously a very popular answer to say that sharia should be made the official law of the country," said Bell.

But, he said specific follow-up questions suggested the understanding of sharia varies from place to place, and is often seen as useful in property and family disputes.

“As we look across regions and countries, there's often less support in many countries for applying sharia in the form of criminal punishments or enforcing the death penalty for Muslims who renounce their faith and convert to another religion," he said.

Bell also said that despite support for sharia, most Muslims think it does not apply to non-Muslims. He said that in spite of restrictions on non-Muslim communities in a number of countries, many say they favor religious freedom for people of other faiths.

The researchers compared the findings with earlier surveys and found that American Muslims are much more likely to have close friends of other faiths, and more than half say other religions can lead to eternal life in Heaven. That's compared to 96 percent of Egyptian Muslims and 92 percent of Pakistani Muslims, and overwhelming majorities in other countries, who say Islam is the only true religion.