“Around the World, Muslims Heralded Religious Freedom”

So reports CNN’s belief blog, as one of the “[f]ive takeaways” from the Pew Research Center’s new survey of Muslims around the world:

Despite views that Islam should influence politics and law, an overwhelming number of Muslims told Pew that religious freedom was a good thing.

Ninety-seven percent of Muslims in South Asia, 95% in Eastern Europe, 94% in sub-Saharan Africa and 85% in the Middle East and North Africa responded positively to religious freedom, according to the poll.

“Overall, Muslims broadly support the idea of religious freedom,” the study states. “Among Muslims who say people of different religions are very free to practice their faith, three-quarters or more in each country say this is a good thing.”

Lovely! But here’s what the CNN blog post doesn’t report: In many countries huge percentages of Muslims favor “the death penalty for people who leave the Muslim religion” (Q92b). For instance, in South Asia, death for apostates is favored by 79% of Afghan Muslims, 75% of Pakistani Muslims, and 43% of Bangladeshi Muslims. In the Middle East and North Africa, the numbers were 88% in Egypt, 83% in Jordan, 62% in the Palestinian Territories, 41% in Iraq, 18% in Tunisia, and 17% in Lebanon.

Respondents to the survey did respond very positively to the notion of religious freedom for members of other religions. But CNN’s labeling this as “support [for] the idea of religious freedom” seems rather misleading, give how much support there is for lethal denial of what most Americans would likely see as a fundamental aspect of religious freedom — the freedom to choose what to believe.

I should note that the survey helps remind us that the Islamic world is hardly monolithic, both among regions, among countries within a region, and within each country. Support for the death penalty for apostates is 12% or lower in Southeastern European countries, Central Asian countries (1% in Azerbaijan, for instance), and Turkey. Likewise, 16% of Indonesian Muslims support the death penalty for apostates, while 58% of Malaysian Muslims do; and I noted above the Lebanon/Jordan gulf and Egypt/Tunisia gulf. Still, one shouldn’t deny, I think, that there are very anti-religious-freedom views that appear to be dominant in several important countries, and common in many others.

UPDATE: See also this Deseret News article:

The idea of Sharia as a legal code strikes fear into many Westerners who hear about its severe penalties for crimes or apostasy. For example, Oklahoma lawmakers passed a bill in April that would prohibit Sharia or other foreign laws from being enforced in that state’s courtrooms.

Senzai believes such actions can be attributed to concerted efforts since 9/11 to demonize Islam as antithetical to democracy. But, he said, survey results showing that Muslims’ support for democracy (regional medians ranging from 72 percent to 45 percent) and religious freedom (medians ranging from 97 percent to 94 percent) indicate that Islamic law and Muslims themselves are more nuanced in their views of religious law in the public sphere than Westerners realize.

So fear about “severe penalties for … apostasy” stems from efforts “to demonize Islam,” while in reality Muslims throughout the world support “religious freedom.” Those evil demonizers, just making stuff up!

FURTHER UPDATE: I e-mailed the author of the Deseret News article, and to his credit he promptly responded: “I didn’t connect the Muslim concept of religious freedom to the concepts of democracy and punishment under sharia as well as I should have. How it was explained to me was that majorities of Muslims in some of the countries you cited believe sharia should apply only to Muslims and in only certain cases, such as family and property disputes, allowing other faiths to be free worship as they will. But, I think Egypt has been an exception to that, although the scholar from Princeton , Jamal, said leaders in the Muslim Brotherhood there are backing off their push to apply sharia broadly because they don’t see they have the public fully behind them.”

STILL FURTHER UPDATE: The Deseret News article has been updated, with some text (italicized below) inserted into the paragraph following the ones I quote:

The Pew study found Muslims are most comfortable using Sharia to settle family or property disputes. In most countries surveyed, there was less support for severe punishments, such as cutting off the hands of thieves. In Pakistan, where 84 percent of Muslims support codifying Sharia, those same people say it should only apply to Muslims. That exclusiveness explains why 96 percent of Pakistani Muslims support religious freedom for others, yet 76 percent support executing apostates from Islam.

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