Muslims in Europe: Basis for Greater Understanding Already Exists

by Zsolt Nyiri, Ph.D.
Regional Research Director for Europe, Gallup World Poll


PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup's recent surveys of Muslims in London, Paris, and Berlin point to the need for greater understanding between Europe's Muslim residents and the broader societies in which they live. But these surveys also offer plenty of evidence that the foundation for that understanding is already in place.

Perhaps most importantly, the results reflect a desire among both Muslims and the general public of the countries studied to improve mutual understanding of ethnic and religious differences. For example, majorities of all groups interviewed expressed a preference for living in a neighborhood with mixed ethnic and religious backgrounds, rather than one where most people shared their own background.

Perhaps the first step toward greater understanding is to dispel common misperceptions on both sides. The European public should recognize, for example, that isolated terrorist attacks do not imply that most Muslims advocate or tolerate the use of violence. Asked to rate the moral acceptability of using violence in the name of a noble cause on a five-point scale, the proportion of Muslims in London who chose a low rating of one or two was 81% compared to 72% of the British public overall. In France, the corresponding numbers were 77% of Parisian Muslims vs. 79% of the French public. In Germany, they were 94% of Muslims in Berlin vs. 75% of the German public. In other words, Muslims in the capital city were less likely than the overall public to approve of such violence in Germany and the U.K., while the percentages were similar in France.

Moreover, the data fail to support fears that Muslims do not respect democratic institutions. In fact, Muslim respondents in each city are likely -- in some cases more likely than the general public -- to express confidence in the country's democratic institutions. About two-thirds of Muslims in London (64%) say they have confidence in the British government, for example, compared to just 36% of the British public overall. Parisian Muslims are as likely as the French public to express confidence in the French government, 40% vs. 36%, respectively. The question was not asked in Germany.

In turn, Muslims themselves may benefit from a greater understanding of Europeans' secular mindset. Parisian Muslims, for example, should acknowledge the possibility that the highly secular French public does not disapprove of displaying Muslim religious symbols in public because they are Muslim, but simply because they are religious. In France, 64% of the overall population felt removing the Muslim face veil was necessary to integrate members into society -- but 54% said the same about wearing large, visible Christian crosses.

Finally, majorities of Muslims in all three cities (69% in London, 66% in Paris, 87% in Berlin) feel Muslims should be more involved in the politics of their country than they are today. This sentiment is reflected in varying degrees in the broader populations: a clear majority of Britons (63%) agree, as do about half of French respondents (51%). Only in Germany does the percentage agreeing represent a minority (29%).

Survey Methods

Surveys of Muslims in London, Paris, and Berlin were all conducted between November 2006 and February 2007. In London and Paris, probability samples were used in neighborhoods where Muslim penetration was 5 to 10% or more. All interviews in London and Paris were conducted face-to-face in respondents' homes. In Berlin, random digit dialing was used with a sample that used first names and family names to increase the probability of reaching a Muslim household. Sample sizes were 512 in London, 502 in Paris, and 504 in Berlin. The maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points for each survey.

General public surveys were all conducted between December 2006 and January 2007, using random digit dialing in each country to reach representative samples of adult population aged 15 and older. Sample sizes were 1,204 in the U.K., 1,220 in France, and 1,221 in Germany. The maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points for each survey. 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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