Most Muslims Are Not Extremists

In Judaism, there are very conservative Hasidic Jews, somewhat less conservative orthodox Jews, as well as moderate and liberal Jews. There are many different versions of Judaism because believers have differing ideas about what it means to be a Jew: beliefs and practices vary.

In Christianity, there are Lutherans, Baptists, Calvinists, Anglicans, other denominations, and non-denominational Protestants. Among Catholics, there are liberals, moderates, and conservatives, holding a wide range of different ideas about Catholic doctrine and discipline.

Neither Judaism nor Christianity are monolithic religions with only one exact form for belief and practice. And the same is true for the Muslim religion. Islam is not a monolithic religion. As is the case with Christianity and Judaism, believers have a range of different ideas about their faith. Not all Muslims are extremists or fundamentalists.

Read the Poll at Pew Research: The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society

Some Muslims believe that their religion requires them to compel others to join Islam, and to suppress other religions. Other Muslims believe in freedom of religion and in democracy. Some Muslims want to be governed by Sharia law (religious doctrine applied to criminal and civil legal disputes). Some think Sharia law should only apply to Muslims; others would prefer to live in a nation without Sharia law for anyone.

Few U.S. Muslims voice support for suicide bombing or other forms of violence against civilians in the name of Islam; 81% say such acts are never justified, while fewer than one-in-ten say violence against civilians either is often justified (1%) or is sometimes justified (7%) to defend Islam. Around the world, most Muslims also reject suicide bombing and other attacks against civilians. However, substantial minorities in several countries say such acts of violence are at least sometimes justified, including 26% of Muslims in Bangladesh, 29% in Egypt, 39% in Afghanistan and 40% in the Palestinian territories.

Most Muslims in most nations reject honor killings, and harsh penalties for Muslims who leave the religion. Most Muslims are afraid of the Muslim extremists; they do not support ISIL or al-Qaeda or other violent groups.

At least half of Muslims in most countries surveyed say they are concerned about religious extremist groups in their country, including two-thirds or more of Muslims in Egypt (67%), Tunisia (67%), Iraq (68%), Guinea Bissau (72%) and Indonesia (78%). On balance, more are worried about Islamic extremists than about Christian extremists.

However, the support for making Sharia law the law of the land is alarmingly high in many nations. And a substantial minority of Muslims believe Sharia law should apply to all citizens, not only Muslims. Support for stoning for adultery and the death penalty for leaving Islam has a majority in some Muslim nations, but a minority in many other Muslim nations.

Many Muslims believe in religious freedom. But many others think that Islam is the only path to Heaven, and that all other believers should convert to Islam.

The above cited Pew Research poll proves two points.

First the good news: Muslims hold a wide range of different beliefs. Islam is not a monolithic religion. Many Muslims do not believe that their religion requires them to kill, to force conversions, to impose harsh penalties, or to oppress women. A clear majority in many Muslim nations and a substantial minority in other nations believe that women should decide for themselves if they will wear a veil. Not all Muslims are extremists. Most Muslims reject Islam extremist groups.

Now the bad news: there is an alarming amount of support among Muslims for Sharia law, for harsh penalties, for suppression of other religions. While most of these Muslims still do not support violent extremist groups, their attitudes have an enabling effect on such groups. There is much overlap between the viewpoint of extremists and a larger minority who, while rejecting the most extreme point of view, still believe that Islam should be the only religion.

The danger posed by radical Muslim extremists is not inherent to the Islamic faith. A person can be moderate and peaceful and still practice Islam. But the more fundamentalist interpretation of Islam has an alarming amount of support in the current situation worldwide. We should not condemn anyone who devoutly practices a moderate peaceful form of Islam. But we must be on guard against the rise of Islamic extremism.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

See a list of my books and booklets here.

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