The news about how Muslims outside the U.S. think about Islam and its relationship to politics and society is both reassuring and, at the same time, somewhat disconcerting -- at least for many non-Muslim Americans.
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life this week released this report based on surveys of Muslims in 39 different countries (shown on this map from the report). The report paints a picture of devout Muslims who want Islam's "teachings to shape not only their personal lives but also their societies and politics."
For most Americans, that raises the spectre of a theocracy, a troubling concept in a country that cherishes religious freedom. And yet the Pew report suggests that Muslims are far from unified in their thinking about that. Indeed, one of the obvious conclusions to draw from the report is that although Islam clearly is a monotheistic religion it is far from being monolithic. Like Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and every other major religion in the world, Islam has many divisions and Muslims often have opinions and beliefs that differ from those held by other Muslims. Not only that, but there's often quite a big difference between the thinking of Muslims in America and Muslims elsewhere in the world.
Here's an interesting conclusion from the executive summary of the report:
"Overall, the survey finds that most Muslims see no inherent tension between being religiously devout and living in a modern society. Nor do they see any conflict between religion and science. Many favor democracy over authoritarian rule, believe that humans and other living things have evolved over time and say they personally enjoy Western movies, music and television – even though most think Western popular culture undermines public morality."
(Hard to argue with the last point.)
The seemingly widespread support among Muslims for shari'a, or Islamic law, also may be disturbing to non-Muslims, but it's important to understand that most Muslims want shari'a to be mandatory only for Muslims.
Beyond that, it's crucial that non-Muslims understand just what shari'a is. To gain that understanding people would do well not to take the word of rabid radio talk show hosts who predict it will mean the end of civilization as we know it if it's allowed ever to be used in the U.S.
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SOME PAPAL SLAMS AT FAT CATS
Yesterday morning I had CNBC on and heard several of the talking heads there praise Pope Francis for a strong tweet (@Pontifex) in which he said: "My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centred mindset bent on profit at any cost." Later in the day, this story moved quoting the pope via Vatican Radio as saying that the people who died in the building collapse in a Bangladesh factory recently were "slave labor." Friends, this is what's called using your prophetic voice. And few people have a more listened-to voice than a pope.