So I have been doing research for this report on global attitudes toward Islam. It’s freelance work, so I have no idea what they are going to do with my research, and I also feel kind of squicky about how brief I am having to be about it - it’s kind of tough to sum up a nation’s attitude toward a religion in 3-5 sentences - so I thought I would post some of it here.
The vast majority of media reporting on Islam in Europe or North America focuses on the negative. So, for example, instead of saying, “72% of Britons said they DO NOT think Islam is a violent religion,” they will nearly always say, “28% of Britons think Islam is a violent religion.” However, it is really terrifying to see the numbers of people in Western nations who think that Islam is not compatible with their values or that it is an inherently violent religion.
Russia has a significant Muslim population, at 10% (that is from Pew, but a lot of less credible sources like Wikipedia say 6.5-7%), and obviously the Russian media is pretty anti-Muslim (Putin kind of flip-flops on it, but it definitely seems like he makes noises about being open to cultural diversity when he has to and then does NOT do that). Intriguingly, surveys suggest that Russians have a far more negative attitude toward Islam than toward Muslims in Russia. While up to 40% of Russians express a negative attitude toward Islam as a religion, only 12% express a negative attitude toward Muslims with whom they come into contact in their daily lives.
Trying to find information on modern attitudes toward Islam in SE Asia is hard because most English-speaking sites want to focus on the history of Islam in those nations. It...honestly feels kind of Othering, in that they would prefer to focus on the more mystical aspect (old-timey information about religion always feels more mystical) than on current events, but I am willing to be told I am wrong about this interpretation. I realize that there simply is a much larger Muslim population in SE Asia than in Europe or...well, anywhere, but still, you’d think somebody would have written about it (fun fact in case you didn’t know: 62% of the world’s Muslims are in the Asia-Pacific region).
Islam in SE Asia tends to be syncretic; it has adopted local customs and beliefs and also has a lot more Sufi influence than in other places. That is true of religion in that region in general; it is really common for people to employ practices and beliefs from a number of religions or traditions without experiencing any dissonance. The same is true to a degree in sub-Saharan Africa, where people comfortably believe in Christianity or Islam and also witchcraft. However, there is a lot more conflict between Christianity and Islam there, with a sort of “fault line” running from Somalia to Senegal, where the population shifts from majority Christian to majority Muslim.
In China, Muslims are mostly members of two ethnic groups: Hui and Uyghur. Both groups have been in China for centuries, but the Hui assimilated fairly quickly, and the Uyghur did not; they were not officially under Chinese rule until the 18th century, and today, a lot of them don’t speak Mandarin. This leads to all of the conflict and tension you might expect: Uyghurs are targeted with acts billed as “counter-terrorist” or “anti-separationist,” and they respond with protests and, at times, violence, and the whole thing is a cycle. But it is really interesting, I think, that China does not view Muslims indiscriminately and instead focuses on ethnic differences. I mean, still not great, but different than the Western approach (which basically codes fear of non-white people in terms of worldviews and value systems).
Pretty much everyone is worried about Islamic extremism, which is to be expected, although obviously there are plenty of people who believe that this is solely a Western concern, and the Middle East is all pro-ISIS. However, I was really interested in the fact that, as of 2013, Christians in sub-Saharan Africa were more concerned about Christian extremism than Muslim extremism, and vice versa for Muslims.
So that’s all. I mean, there was a ton more, but this is already getting long. It’s a bit all over the place, and a lot of it might be kind of basic (I’m sure plenty of you know far more than this about the individual nations mentioned!), but I needed to dump it somewhere where I knew it would be received thoughtfully because I am really conflicted about handing over such a simplistic assessment of a sensitive topic to a group about which I know nothing. Particularly because it was due today, right on the heels of the Nice attack, and I just have a really bad taste in my mouth about it and hope that they use it for good.