So, what role does religion really play in Muslims' lives? According to Gallup Polls in 2001 and 2005-2007, of countries with substantial or predominantly Muslim populations, majorities in many countries (several in the 90% range) say that religion is an important part of their daily lives. Sizable percentages rate "having an enriched religious/spiritual life" as an aspect of life that is essential, that one cannot live without. Asked what they admire most about the Islamic world, the No. 1 response from significant percentages of populations in countries as diverse as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia is "people's sincere adherence to Islam."
Many regard religion as a primary marker of identity, a source of meaning and guidance, consolation and community, and essential to their progress. Majorities of both men and women in many predominantly Muslim countries want to see Islamic principles, Sharia, as a source of legislation. These respondents have much in common with the majority of Americans who wish to see the Bible as a source of legislation. Both groups emphasize the importance of family values and are deeply concerned about issues of social morality. In fact, what respondents in the Muslim world and a significant number of Americans say they admire least about Western civilization is an excessive libertinism in society.
Islam is not to its adherents what it might appear to outside observers: simply a restrictive shell of rules and punishments. To many Muslims, it is a spiritual mental map that offers a sense of meaning, guidance, purpose, and hope. Vast majorities of residents in predominantly Muslim countries say their lives have an important purpose (90% of Egyptians, 91% of Saudis).
The importance of religion is reinforced by what Muslims say about their traditions and customs, which also continue to play a central role in their lives. When asked, "Are there traditions and customs that are important to you, or not?" majorities in many predominantly Muslim countries say "yes": Jordan (96%), Saudi Arabia (95%), Turkey (90%), and Egypt (87%). This contrasts sharply with percentages of those answering "yes" to the same question in the United States (54%) and especially in European countries such as the United Kingdom (36%), France (20%), and Belgium (23%).
If religion is regarded by so many Muslims as a core life value, beyond the sensational images and religious rhetoric of extremists, what is this faith that has won the devotion of so many? What does it mean to be Muslim? What principles call more than a billion people, with different languages and cultures, spread all over the world?
Based on the largest and most in-depth study of its kind, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think presents the remarkable findings of the Gallup Poll of the Muslim world, the first ever data-based analysis of the points of view of more than 90% of the global Muslim community, spanning more than 35 nations.