Constructing the worldview of Islam is an interesting experiment in human psychology and religion. This sample essay on the central beliefs, values, and practices of Islam is critical in making sure that people have comprehensive views of what it means to be a Muslim.
The Worldview of Islam
Islam, like most other global religions is a variable one. Often accused more harshly of being a religion caged in violence and extremism, Islam is broad and quite different depending on the region in which it is practiced. The central beliefs, values and practices in Islam such as how Sharia law is viewed, morality, beliefs about women and how Islam interacts with cultures and people of other faiths rests on a range among different regions and countries of the world. Muslims polled in the regions of Southern-Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and Africa, show on a multitude of issues how variable the faith of Islam can be. Muslims polled in the United States regarding interfaith relations also offers some insight into how Muslims residing in Western countries compare to Muslims living in non-Western countries.
Wordview of Sharia Law
Sharia law, a topic of contention among Muslims as well as non-Muslims has become a focal point of the faith. It is arguably, a very important belief and value within the faith and so it is important to investigate the interpretation and subsequent application for Sharia law among Muslims from different countries around the world. In a 2013 Pew Report, it was found that,
“…most Muslims believe sharia is the revealed word of God rather than a body of law developed by men…but this opinion is far from universal” (Bell 41).
From the very beginning it is easy to see how variable Islam is as a faith. Russia, for example, contains a 56 percent belief among Muslims that in fact Sharia law is sanctioned by God but in looking at Egypt, that number jumps to 75 percent. In terms of region, the Middle-East and North Africa have the strongest stance on the divine mandate of Sharia law (42). In addition to how Muslims interpret Sharia law it is also important to recognize how they believe the law should be applied.
In the examination of the different regions and their support for making Sharia law the ultimate governance of the land, there are very significant and divergent viewpoints. For example, Afghanistan and Iraq both polled with a support of over 90 percent whereas the countries of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkey, all located in Central Asia, polled at just 8, 10 and 12 percent respectively. Russia stands out in particular compared to other European countries with a poll of 42 percent support which was 22 points higher than its closest competition of Kosovo (46). Through investigating the interpretation and application of Sharia law by the world’s Muslims as a cornerstone value and belief, it is pertinent to further explore the concept of morality which a central theme within Sharia law and consequently the Islamic faith.
Islam and Morality
Morality in a general sense seems to be agreed upon by many Muslims from different regions around the world.
“Most Muslims agree on certain moral principles…[and that] some behaviors – including drinking alcohol, sex outside marriage, homosexuality and committing suicide – are immoral.”(73).
Put under a more specific context however, such as focusing on familial circumstances, the polls begin to show a variance,
“There is less agreement, however, when it comes to other moral questions related to marriage and family life” (73).
One good example of the agreement on morality in a general sense is shown in the poll question: is it necessary to believe in God to be moral? Only two countries, Kazakhstan (56 percent) and Albania (49 percent) polled with a majority for the answer no. The regions of the world with overwhelming agreement for the answer yes lie in the Middle East where four countries polled above 90 percent and in Southeast Asia where all countries polled were 94 percent or higher (74). As stated above, principles are relatively uniform across the board but familial circumstances offer a diverse result.
A question that resulted in a variety of answers was: is divorce moral? Surprisingly,
“in 15 of the 37 countries where the question was asked, at least half of Muslims consider divorce a morally acceptable practice.” (82).
The interesting thing about this poll result is that the results are not correlated in the same direction within the same region. For example, South Asian countries Bangladesh and Pakistan have radically different views on divorce but very similar views on the requirement discussed above for a belief in God in order to be moral. Bangladesh polled at 62 percent for the act of divorce as morally acceptable whereas only 17 percent of Muslims in Pakistan feel that divorce is morally acceptable. The only region that shared uniformity on this issue was Southern-Eastern Europe where the vast majority of all four countries polled considered divorce morally acceptable (82). Often crossing paths with morality in Islam is the role of women in the faith. Like some of the above moral concepts, the belief about women in the minds of Muslims is also variable.
One topic of particular sensitivity within and outside of the faith of Islam is women wearing the veil. The poll asked Muslims whether or not women should have the choice to wear the veil. In general, there is worldwide support from Muslims for a woman’s right to choose with 20 countries out of 39 polled in agreement. Of the 19 countries that voted against a women’s right to choose, 18 were located in Sub-Saharan Africa, with just 29 percent support in the lowest ranked Democratic Republic of Congo.
South-Eastern Europe was by far the most uniform in acceptance with over 90 percent support in two of the countries polled (92). The next topic of contention, whether or not a woman should have to obey her husband produced much more consistent results throughout the various regions for Muslims,
“Muslims in most countries surveyed say that a wife should obey her husband. In 20 of the 23 countries where the question was asked, at least half of Muslims believe a wife must obey her spouse” (93).
Once again, Southern-Eastern European Muslims were more liberal in their answer, consistent with the above statistics.
Interfaith relations and Islam
Interfaith relations is perhaps the most important category of results considering how Islam has been characterized as the “black sheep” of religions in recent decades. Overall the results are a bit discouraging,
“Muslims around the world agree that Islam is the one true faith that leads to salvation. Many Muslims also say it is their religious duty to convert others to Islam. Many Muslims say they know little about Christianity and other faiths. And few believe Islam and other religions have a lot in common” (109).
In examining the first question of whether or not other faiths can lead to heaven the results are uniform with one outlier in an unexpected region.
A majority of 34 of the 38 countries polled claim that Islam is the only faith that can lead to heaven, however Kazakhstan was overwhelmingly in support of other faiths with 49 percent in favor of other paths and just 29 percent against. The countries most against other faiths as acceptable pathways were in the Middle-East and North Africa with Morocco, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt all polling at 94 percent or higher. (110). Looking at United States Muslims, there is quite a difference when taking all of the countries polled in comparison. 56 percent of American Muslims believe that other faiths lead to heaven, compared to an 18 percent average for the rest of the world (140). It is possible that this has to do with the fact that America is predominately Christian and also more progressive in their political structure.
Another area within interfaith relations that generated a mixed result was the question of converting as a value within Islam.
“In most countries surveyed, at least half of Muslims believe it is their religious duty to try to convert others to the Islamic faith” (112).
However, it is important to note that once again, Muslims are divided between regions but generally united within the same region. For example, all countries polled in Southern-Eastern Europe had a rejection of the duty to convert whereas all countries polled in South Asia as well as Sub-Saharan Africa felt that attempting to convert others is a practice that should be carried out as part of the Islamic faith. However, Indonesia was an interesting outlier in Southeast Asian countries polled especially since Indonesia had a record of more conservative results when questions were asked in other categories. In this case, the duty to convert was rejected at 65 percent, with just 31 percent in favor of conversion (112). A consistent theme shown throughout the study is a result of extreme variance, sometimes diverting from the expected pattern.
The faith of Islam and the Muslims who practice it are not always consistent and uniform in their way of life, especially on the macro level. Like all other world religions, there is variability and differences of opinion on what appear to be core beliefs, values and practices. It is important to note that this does not necessarily make the beliefs, values and practices less important but rather leaves them more open for interpretation and increased understanding inside and outside the faith of Islam. The 2013 Pew report has shown above everything else that Islam cannot be viewed and treated as a singular and identical faith throughout the world and should be examined objectively on a case by case and issue by issue basis in order to get an accurate and fair representation of the faith and the Muslims who practice it.
Bell, James. “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society.” Pew Research Centers Religion Public Life Project RSS. N.p., 30 Apr. 2013. Web. 13 Dec. 2013. .