What a Billion Muslims Really Think: In the Wake of the September 11, 2001 Terror Attacks on America, a Long-Term, Large-Scale Study of Muslim Beliefs Was Done. Some Findings Will Surprise You; Others Not So Much

Article excerpt

Immediately after the horrific terror attacks that took place on September 11 of 2001, Americans were asking themselves, "Why is this happening to us? Why do they hate us?" Since the hijackers of the commercial airliners that were flown into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were all Muslims, "they," of course, meant all of those who are followers of Islam. In an attempt to find answers to those and many other questions, the Gallup Organization launched in 2001 the most extensive polling campaign ever conducted in the Muslim world. Over a period of five years, tens of thousands of Muslims were personally interviewed in more than 35 countries where 90 percent of the world's Muslims reside, including the United States, where the number of Muslim citizens now exceeds the number of Jewish citizens. The results of that huge survey were reported in the 2009 documentary Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Believe. (That 56-minute video can be viewed online by typing the title into any Internet search engine.)

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Muslims and Misconceptions

The data from that opinion poll reveal that much of the conventional wisdom regarding Muslims is simply wrong, starting with the general impression that the stereotypical Muslim is an Arab. In fact, only around 15 percent of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims are Arabs. Here is a list of the 10 countries with the largest Muslim populations:

Indonesia    205 million
Pakistan     178 million
India        177 million
Bangladesh   149 million
Egypt         80 million
Nigeria       76 million
Iran          75 million
Turkey        75 million
Algeria       35 million
Morocco       32 million

Only Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco have predominantly Arab populations.

A host of other misconceptions, relating to everything from democratic values to women's rights to terrorism, are discussed and refuted. Many of the misconceptions are fostered by a media that thrives on sensationalism. "If it bleeds, it leads" is the maxim often cited. An examination of the U.S. media revealed that 57 percent of the reporting relating to Muslims had to do with the activities of so-called "Muslim militants," such as Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban, even though they make up only about one percent of all Muslims. That type of reporting is inherently biased, as is the constant reference to "Muslim terrorists." When Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19 of 1995, the media did not label him a "Christian terrorist," even though he was motivated by the role that the federal government played in the deaths of members of the Branch Davidian religious cult in Waco, Texas, during February of 1993. Nor are members of the Ku Klux Klan labeled as "Christian terrorists," despite their trademark cross burnings.

When the question was asked, "Does the West respect the Muslim world?" the percentage of Muslims who answered in the negative in selected countries was as follows:

Palestine      84%
Egypt          80%
Turkey         68%
Iran           62%
United States  54%
Malaysia       42%

In fact, Muslims around the world have concerns similar to those of the non-Muslims who live in the West, because human nature does not vary according to religion or politics or geography. For example, all human beings want to be able to raise their children in a safe environment. In addition, the vast majority of Muslims favor the democratic principles and political freedoms that are popular in the West. When asked about their support for freedom of speech, for example, the percentage of Muslims who answered in the affirmative in selected countries was as follows:

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United States  97%
Egypt          94%
Iran           92%
Indonesia      90%
Turkey         88%
Pakistan       82%

Even in the area of greatest divergence, relating to gender issues and the status of women, the differences are more a matter of culture than of religion. …