Some conservatives have been rabidly citing the hot statistic that 25% of American Muslims support terrorism. Where did this come from, and is it actually true?
It’s the result of a poll commissioned by the Center for Security Policy, which has spun it as an alarming revelation. But what do the poll and its results actually say? Fortunately, they were nice enough to share the questions, results, and methodology, so we can learn quite a bit from how it was conducted.
First of all, only Muslims were polled. If the respondent said they weren’t Muslim, the poll was over. This is fair enough, since the intent was to poll Muslims.
Getting down into the meat of the questions, there are some interesting details in here.
How do you characterize shariah?
- 47% A GUIDE TO THE PERSONAL PRACTICE OF ISLAM
- 25% A COMPREHENSIVE PROGRAM GOVERNING ALL ASPECTS OF THE FAITHFUL MUSLIM’S LIFE
- 11% THE MUSLIM GOD ALLAH’S LAW THAT MUSLIMS MUST FOLLOW AND IMPOSE WORLDWIDE VIA JIHAD
- 12% DON’T KNOW
- 4% NO ANSWER
(Emphasis mine.) So, only 11% support the extreme interpretation of shariah that conservatives routinely tout as the only definition. Imagine that.
With respect to shariah, do you believe that:
- 45% IT IS UP TO THE INDIVIDUAL MUSLIM TO DEFINE SHARIAH
- 26% THERE IS ONLY ONE TRUE SHARIAH AS INTERPRETED BY ISLAMIC AUTHORITIES AND NO FAITHFUL MUSLIM CAN DEPART FROM IT
- 13% MUSLIMS WHO DO NOT FOLLOW SHARIAH ARE NOT FAITHFUL MUSLIMS
- 10% DON’T KNOW
- 6% NO ANSWER
In other words, 45% don’t believe there is any single, true definition of shariah. So much for Muslims being a monolithic bloc. Here we see that 26% believe there is only one true shariah, and 13% believe those who don’t follow shariah (regardless of how you define it) aren’t faithful Muslims. I will note that pretty much the same proportion of Americans–not American Christians, but of all Americans–believe that the Bible is the literal word of God. Not a huge difference.
If shariah conflicts with the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which law should be considered supreme?
- 43% THE U.S. CONSTITUTION AND BILL OF RIGHTS
- 33% SHARIAH
- 17% DON’T KNOW
- 8% NO ANSWER
Only a third of Muslims believe shariah should supersede the US Constitution? Well, that’s OK. 57% of Republican primary voters support establishing Christianity as the state religion of the US. 9. Should Muslims in the U.S. have their own courts or tribunals in America to apply shariah law or should they be subject to American laws and courts?
* 39% AMERICAN COURTS ONLY * 36% BE FREE TO CHOOSE EITHER * 15% SHARIAH COURTS ONLY * 7% DON’T KNOW * 3% NO ANSWER
That makes 75% of American Muslims who are fine with submitting to government courts, with only 15% wanting shariah-only. 42% of Americans believe God created humans in their present form, which is a far more outlandish idea. I’ll take that 15%, thanks.
Moving on down:
51% of Muslims believe that they should at least have the choice of being governed according to shariah law. 32% disagree with even having the choice.
But 60% also agree that shariah law is compatible with the US Constitution, so it seems likely that wanting the choice comes at least in some part from a belief that the two are not separate and irreconcilable, but similar systems of justice that can be brought to terms with one another.
“I believe that violence against those that insult the prophet Muhammad, the Qur’an, or Islamic faith is sometimes acceptable.”
16% strongly agreed with this, 13% somewhat agreed, 14% somewhat disagreed, and 47% strongly disagreed. And it’s 64% overall–almost two thirds–who disagree. I will note that supporting violence isn’t the same as carrying it out, and in the US there are actual instances of anti-abortion activists murdering people in the name of their religious beliefs. Where are the American Muslims murdering infidels for insulting Muhammad?
“Violence against Americans here in the United States can be justified as part of the global jihad.”
Ah, here we come to the stat everyone is talking about. 13% strongly agreed with this and 12% somewhat agreed. That’s the 25% that’s being cited all over. But just for fun, let’s find out what other things 25% of Americans believe.
* [25% think the sun goes around the Earth.](http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/02/14/277058739/1-in-4-americans-think-the-sun-goes-around-the-earth-survey-says) * [25% of Americans think God decides the outcome of sporting events.](http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/football/god-plays-role-deciding-sports-events-25-americans-article-1.2090686) * [28% of Americans believe in a global New World Order conspiracy.](http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/apr/02/americans-obama-anti-christ-conspiracy-theories) * [28% of Americans believe Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11.](https://web.archive.org/web/20170930093655/http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/main/2013/04/conspiracy-theory-poll-results-.html) (Some other fun ones at that link, too.)
Believe it or not, it was hard to find polls showing 1⁄4 of Americans believing ridiculous things, not because Americans tend not to believe nonsense, but because it’s usually way more than 25%. Once again, American Muslims prove themselves far more reasonable than Americans in general.
So, what is jihad, anyway?
Which of the following comes closest to your understanding of the term “jihad”?
- 51% MUSLIMS’ PEACEFUL, PERSONAL STRUGGLE TO BE MORE RELIGIOUS
- 16% VIOLENT HOLY WAR AGAINST UNBELIEVERS OF ISLAM
- 11% NON-VIOLENT ACTIONS BY MUSLIMS TO UNDERMINE NON-MUSLIM STATES AND PEOPLES
- 18% DO NOT KNOW/CANNOT JUDGE
- 4% REFUSED
Again, seems there’s just that 16% to worry about. 51%–the majority–gave a response that’s not altogether different from how most Americans would describe their own approach to Christianity.
Do you think the use of violence in the United States is justified in order to make shariah the law of the land in this country?
- 19% YES
- 66% NO
- 11% DON’T KNOW
- 4% NO ANSWER
The 66% “NO” is pretty resounding, I would say. Again: if you find less than a 25% threshold on any answer, you’ve hit the demographic that is some combination of uninformed, inept, and/or enjoys messing with pollsters. In short: unrepresentative.
Do you believe that it is legitimate to use violence to punish those who give offense to Islam by, for example, portraying the prophet Mohammed?
- 24% YES
- 60% NO
- 11% DON’T KNOW
- 5% NO ANSWER
It might surprise you to know that less than 37% of Americans believe they have the right to blaspheme religion. That is obviously not the same thing as believing in a violent response to blasphemy, but clearly the (minority) of Muslims who are deeply upset by blasphemy are not alone.
Moving down a bit more, it turns out only about half of American Muslims consider themselves at least “somewhat” familiar with ISIS/ISIL. But what do they think of ISIS, anyway?
Based on your understanding of Islam, which of the following best describes the beliefs of the Islamic State?
- 43% THEIR BELIEFS ARE UN-ISLAMIC
- 29% THEIR BELIEFS ARE ISLAMIC, BUT AN INCORRECT INTERPRETATION OF THE FAITH
- 9% THEIR BELIEFS ARE CORRECT AND CONSISTENT WITH SHARIAH
- 14% DO NOT KNOW/NOT SURE
- 4% NO ANSWER
All told, that’s 72% who believe ISIS is either flatly un-Islamic or a bad interpretation of it–in other words, that’s closing in on 3⁄4 of American Muslims who don’t agree with ISIS’ ideology, and only 9% who do. (This does not make them members of ISIS nor does it make them terrorists, of course.)
There are some other questions in there about al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, which I will skip because they are a bit outside the scope here. Let’s look at the demographics.
Are most American Muslims Arab? The answer might surprise you!
Which of the following best describes your racial background?
- 32% CAUCASIAN OR WHITE
- 24% AFRICAN-AMERICAN OR BLACK
- 20% ASIAN OR PACIFIC ISLANDER ****
- 16% MIDDLE EASTERN
- 3% HISPANIC OR LATINO
- 2% NATIVE AMERICAN
- 3% MULTI-RACIAL OR OTHER, SPECIFIED (NET)
- 1% DECLINE TO STATE
In summary, more than half of American Muslims are either white or black, and only a sixth are of Middle Eastern descent.
Additionally, 67% of respondents considered themselves “observant” Muslims, and 41% were Sunni. 39% were non-specific and 13% were Shi’a.
Going on to political identification, there is an interesting disparity:
* **29% TOTAL CONSERVATIVE (NET)** * 15% VERY CONSERVATIVE * 15% SOMEWHAT CONSERVATIVE * 35% MODERATE * **23% TOTAL LIBERAL (NET)** * 12% SOMEWHAT LIBERAL * 11% VERY LIBERAL * 2% LIBERTARIAN
* **19% TOTAL REPUBLICAN (NET)** * 3% TEA PARTY REPUBLICAN * 6% STRONG REPUBLICAN * 5% NOT-SO-STRONG REPUBLICAN * 6% INDEPENDENT LEANING REPUBLICAN * 19% INDEPENDENT * **48% TOTAL DEMOCRAT (NET)** * 9% INDEPENDENT LEANING DEMOCRAT * 8% NOT-SO-STRONG DEMOCRAT * 27% STRONG DEMOCRAT * 5% PROGRESSIVE DEMOCRAT
In other words, Muslims lean conservative but are more likely to vote for Democrats. It’s a shame Republicans go out of their way to alienate Muslims–seems they could pick up some votes there if they were willing to tap into the conservative elements. Evidently, Islamophobia has its cost at the voting booth.
The proportion of Muslims who consider themselves liberal is about the same as the general population, but Americans in general are substantially more conservative.
And there you have it. Contrary to how the poll is being spun by conservative outlets, the results are actually quite promising. Comparatively few Muslims support religious violence–the vast majority unequivocally condemn it. 25% sounds like a lot until you put it in context with other polls of people believing absurdities.