Political Issues Key to Muslim-West Engagement

by Magali Rheault

Those ready for engagement most often cite politics as root of tensions

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As President Barack Obama reiterated his commitment to improving relations with global Muslim communities during his Asia tour, Gallup findings underscore the need to address political issues. Irrespective of where they live, individuals who are ready for Muslim-West engagement say tensions between majority Muslim and Western societies stem from differences in political interests, rather than religion or culture.


Across 55 countries, spanning four continents, individuals are classified as either "Ready" or "Not Ready" for engagement based on their responses to questions about respect, conflict, commitment to improving relations, and the benefit or threat of interactions between Muslim and Western societies. Those who are Ready answered these questions affirmatively -- additional information about these questions and groupings is available at the end of this article. When asked about the root causes of Muslim-West tensions, those classified as "Ready" living in majority Muslim countries are far more likely to attribute them to political interests (46%) rather than religious (34%) or cultural (13%) differences. Similarly, Ready Western residents are more likely to cite politics (39%) than religion (30%) or culture (28%). However, those Not Ready for engagement are far more likely to say such tensions arise from religion, regardless of whether they live in a majority Muslim (55%) or Western (46%) country.

These findings are based on Gallup's latest report, "Measuring the State of Muslim-West Relations: Assessing the 'New Beginning.'" The report presents an in-depth analysis of Muslim-West relations -- one of the core themes outlined in Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, which Gallup published in 2008. In addition, "Assessing the 'New Beginning'" explores new dimensions of Muslim-West relations, such as the Ready vs. Not Ready groups, and proposes a set of recommendations for policymakers and civil society.

The findings also shatter some stereotypes about the demographic profiles of those who are or aren't ready for engagement. In Western societies, Ready individuals tend to be men, single, and slightly younger than those classified as Not Ready. But education is not a factor.

In Muslim majority societies, a different profile emerges. Gender, age, and education are not factors in individuals' readiness for improved relations. However, Ready Muslims are slightly less likely to be single than those who are classified as Not Ready, 35% vs. 39%, respectively.

Religious service attendance is another important characteristic that differentiates the two groups. Ready Muslims are far more likely than those who are Not Ready to say they attended a religious service in the past week, 72% vs. 60%.


Across predominantly Muslim and Western countries, those classified as Not Ready are more likely to attribute tensions to religion. As such, the findings suggest that framing these tensions by opposing Islam and "the West" only reinforces Not Ready individuals' entrenchment in non-dialogue. Instead, leaders and policymakers should rely on already common values to improve the Muslim-West dialogue while addressing political issues that remain at the core of the tensions for many around the world.

Read the complete report.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact or call 202.715.3030.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with more than 120,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted between 2006 and 2010 in 55 countries and areas. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranged from a low of ±3.3 percentage points in Bahrain and Kuwait to a high of ±4.5 percentage points in Senegal. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.



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