World

Majorities See Religion and Democracy as Compatible

For Muslims, successful integration may be possible

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Throughout the past decade, Islamist parties and movements have gained political influence in predominantly Muslim nations. In Egypt in 2005, for example, 88 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were elected to parliament as independents, and last year, Hamas defeated the PLO to win the Palestinian Authority's general legislative elections. Such successes have raised awareness, especially in the West, about the influence of Islamist groups on politics. They also help to perpetuate the notion that religion and democracy are incompatible, and that the two together are more akin to a theocratic system of government where clerics control all aspects of society.

The voices of the world's Muslims, and even Americans, tell a different story. The Gallup World Poll asked respondents in many predominantly Muslim nations and in the United States about their attitudes toward the role of religion in the democratic process. Majorities in all countries surveyed, save for Turkey's secular society, say religion should have at least some influence on legislation. However, positive opinions about the role of religion in the secular sphere do not imply that respondents are in favor of establishing theocratic forms of government. Instead, support for the use of religion in law appears to stem from respondents' assertions that religion plays an important role in their daily lives.

Religious Principles and Democracy

Gallup World Poll data suggest that Muslim respondents believe that religion and democracy can coexist. The reliance on Shari'a, the complex body of Islamic rules and principles that govern all aspects of life, as a source of legislation receives widespread support among both men and women in all Muslim countries surveyed except for Turkey. Sixty-six percent of Iranians and 54% of Indonesians support the reliance on Shari'a as one of the sources of legislation. In Egypt and Pakistan, 67% and 59% of respondents, respectively, believe Shari'a must be the only source of legislation. The secular roots of modern Turkey explain why a majority of respondents (57%) in that nation say that Shari'a should not be a source of legislation. As a point of comparison, almost half of Americans (46%) say the Bible must be one of the sources of legislation, and 9% believe it must be the only source.

In general, which of these statements comes closest to your own point of view?

Shari'a must be the only source of legislation

Shari'a must be a source of legislation, but not the only source

Shari'a should not be a source of legislation

%

%

%

Egypt

67

24

1

Pakistan

59

22

4

Palestinian
Territory

44

46

5

Indonesia

14

54

18

Iran

14

66

13

Turkey

9

23

57

 

 

 

The Bible must be the only source of legislation

The Bible must be a source of legislation, but not the only source

The Bible should not be a source of legislation

United States

9%

46

44

Defining Islamic Democracy

Respondents' desire to incorporate religious principles into a national legal system does not appear to translate into support for theocracies. Majorities of respondents tell the Gallup World Poll they do not want religious leaders to have a direct role in writing national legislation, drafting the country's constitution, or controlling foreign policy. Seventy-four percent of Turks, 65% of Americans, 56% of Iranians, and 53% of Indonesians would reject the direct role of clerics or other religious leaders in the writing of national legislation. In the Palestinian Territory and Pakistan, where support for a direct role is stronger, significant minorities, 44% and 40%, still believe religious leaders should be confined to an advisory role or play no role at all. Interestingly, Turks (74%) are more likely than Americans (65%) to say that religious leaders should have no direct role in the writing of national legislation.

In the area of writing national legislation -- that is, drafting new laws to which everyone would be subject, do you think you would probably recommend that the role of religious leaders should be:

No direct role

Limited to advising those government officials who hold this responsibility?

Put directly in charge of this function?

%

%

%

Turkey

74

15

6

Iran

56

26

12

Indonesia

53

29

16

Palestinian Territory

44

30

24

Pakistan

40

27

19

United States

65

28

4

In all surveyed countries, large majorities of individuals tell Gallup that religion plays an important role in their lives. Virtually all respondents in Egypt, Indonesia, and Pakistan say religion is important part of their daily lives. Seventy-four percent of Iranians say religion is important to them (by comparison, 68% of Americans say the same). Richard W. Bulliet of Columbia University contends in his book The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization that "All that restrained rulers from acting as tyrants was Islamic law, Shari'a. Since the law was based on divine rather then human principles, no ruler could change it to serve his own interests." In this view, it is the divine nature of religious law that limits a government's potential abuses.

Increasingly strong social networks have enabled many moderate Islamist groups to reach out to large constituencies, which in turn have helped movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood become important political actors. Furthermore, in cultures where religion plays an important role, including the United States, the populace does not necessarily perceive partial reliance on religious principles to guide the political process as incompatible with democracy. The juxtaposition of Muslims and Americans' attitudes reinforces the notion that a democracy doesn't always require a dramatic separation of church and state. If Muslims around the world cast their ballots in favor of mainstream Islamist parties, and such parties show a commitment to good governance, the data suggest Muslims may be able to integrate religion and democracy successfully.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 or more adults ages 15 and older administered from March 2005 to September 2006 in Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, the Palestinian Territory and Turkey. In the U.S., results are based on telephone interviews with 1,001 adults ages 18 and older and conducted in February 2006. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. 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.

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/28762/Majorities-Muslims-Americans-See-Religion-Law-Compatible.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030